26 & 27 July 2007 Virginia International Raceway
VIR Test and GRM UTCC
As the sun slowly rose out of the East Texas sky it granted us visibility and warmth as the rig pulled up through the big piney woods to Interstate 20. Once on 20, we headed East for another 18 hours or so seeing the sun go down behind us as the states got smaller and smaller. Wade and I traded off driving and we did good on time and fuel mileage and pulled onto the shoulder of an exit less than an hour from VIR in the wee hours of Thursday morning. The Synergy Race shop didn't open for a few hours so we caught a quick nap and then gobbled up the last little bit of windshield time and checked out the Synergy shop. Sorry there are no pictures, but they have a VERY sweet setup and since they are prepping for some upcoming events also, they will be running on the track at lunch and as long as I'm ready they are going to let me play also. They are prepping a Daytona Prototype and a Rolex GT car and I'm very grateful for their hospitality.
Wade and I leave the shop and head into the track (it is almost a 1/4 mile away! ha ha). The Lotus Club had the track rented and were running the full course while we quickly unloaded the car and paddocked in the soon-to-be GRM UTCC area. Since the Lotus club was only using 20% of the paddock this was no big deal. Flashback to the test site as we looked around and saw the paddock was gravel. Argh. They had the isles asphalted, but all the places to actually drop trailer and have the car was gravel. Pain in the rear! We quickly unloaded the car (on an un-used asphalt ribbon) and I checked corner weights (I'd tell you, but you'd hate me) and strung the car as Wade ran a quick checklist. We slapped on one 'Synergy Racing' sticker as a just-in-case and made the final checks. Several of the Lotii guys drove by and gave us some curious looks and one even joked that "I've already got the protest forms filled out!". Everyone was nice and most were just wanting a closer look at the (I heard this from two of them) 'Vader Car'. As they broke for lunch, Synergy was bringing the DP car down the entrance road and I hopped in Scratcher and fired her up. Everything in the Lotus pits stopped as we went to grid. It must have been a sight with a pure-white DP car (NO stickers at all), a pure black GT1 car and Wade behind us in the WDMS golf cart. Sweet!
Since they already had the barricades up, we couldn't switch to just running the north course. The problem with the full course is that Scratcher really was not geared for the kind of speeds that a car like her will see and I'm pretty sure I'll be lifting pretty quick.
Quick terminology clarification: I have three sets of tires with us (all mounted up and ready to go) and they are all radials (they also make them in bias-ply, but they aren't as fast...or as expensive ;-). The first is the set of Bridgestones that were the spec-tires for the Trans-Am series and they are pretty hard. We used these for the test on Tuesday evening and while they fit and work, they are a lot harder of a tire than the other two sets. The second set is 'normal' size tires and they are in pretty good shape and the last set is the 'jumbos' and they are in great shape.
Bridgestone 'spec' radials: Front = 325/35/16 Rear = 335/45/16
Goodyear Normal Front = 25.5x12.0x16 (240) Rear 27x13.0x16 (430)
Goodyear Jumbos Front = 25.5 x 14.0x16 (377) Rear 28.5 x 14.5x16 (377)
The number in parenthesis next to the Goodyears' size is the compound number. It tells you how 'soft' the tire is. The lower the number, the softer (and theoretically faster) it is. The problem with too soft is that they will wear out very quick and might overheat and not 'come back' (be grippy). The problem with the harder compounds is that for a coolish event or a one-lap wonder they are less than ideal. Typically the hotter it is, you usually go with a harder tire so it will last the event. A soft tire on a hot day may be really fast for a few laps then you'll burn them up and be in trouble.
Above: Scaling the car. All four corners are within 20 pounds of each.
Above: Wade wiring up the DL1. Dang those are cool sunglasses!!
Above and below: Synergy boys and their toys
Above: Ready to go on track!
Above: 1 sticker, 1 sticker only.
Above: Damn this car looks good. I included this picture as they include the VIR 'Pit Suites' which are rooms above the garages in the background. The rooms have a balcony on the other side and you walk out of your front door and can look right out on to the track which is 20' down and maybe 40' away. Totally incredible to have facilities that close. They weren't even that expensive and the convenience was HUGE. In the above picture you can also see the paddock access roads are paved, but the rest is gravel. I hate gravel. The car hates gravel. Ick. Test site flashbacks.
Above: Looking left and then right out of our front door. That is the pit entrance on the left and then on the right you can see the track and pit road. Awesome. The room had two full-size beds, a flatscreen tv, the ac blew ice cubes and the water was hot. Very very nice. If you go to VIR look into staying there and you can rent the garage below your room and not have to deal with all the rocks and gravel.
On to the test!!!
The DP and GT car are both on track as I warm the engine and get all strapped in. Wade does a final 'latch' check and gives me the thumbs up. Here goes nothing. I launch and the first part of the track is familiar (a few hundred VIR North course laps on GTR2!) but instead of passing under the bridge and turning right, I continue through some esses and down to the tree turn. I scoot back down the backstretch and into the rollercoaster, hogpen and then the front straight and duck into the pits. Wade gives the car a lookover and with another thumbs up I scoot away again. The steering feels great and the brakes are incredible. The power is smooth with power well past 7500rpm. I take one pretty fast entire lap and am pleased to see the engine temperature only sitting on 175 (it is well over 90 degrees and a ton of humidity...made me feel like I was at tws!). With the car feeling so good, I take another lap and really air out the car on the front straight. The blindish left on the front straight is taken wide open and I track out and then bleed off the speed into the oh-so-slow (from well over 150 to ~48mph) t-1/2 complex. As I shoot up to the Nascar Bend (a lefthander back closer to the paddock) the shifter ball goes loose and I miss third. And I just KNOW that everyone within about 48 miles could hear it. Argh. I tighten the shifterball (later, I put a big flatwasher and lockwasher AND locktite on it!!) as I get into the corner and scoot on down the track. Of course, that was the front straight and 1/2 complex and Nascar Bend that Wade got on video!). I'll have it on youtube soon.
Anyway, so I scoot around for a few more laps and bring it back in. We bleed down some tire pressures and Wade again checks the car over as I kill another bottle of gatorade. It is hot, sunny, hot, bright, humid, sunny, and warm. The dash is silver and is causing me heck going into T1. I can't see the brake markers until they go by and then, really, what's the point? Heh.
Above: Clicking on at about 150 bending into the first kink on the front straight. Need to lower the nose.
With only 10 minutes left of our time, I hop in to do three more fast-ish (no corner workers, no EVs) laps. The lugs are checked, air pressure tweaked and with a thumbs up after the latch check I launch. Lunch is nearly over and the Lotii guys are hanging about and peeking at Scratcher and the Synergy rides. I pass by the front straight twice, both times at full song. The car is on the jumbos and the balance is good and the grip is phenominal. I can take the two bends on the front straight flat out (and I'm well over 150mph by the time I reach the first one!) and then drop the nose for t1. The last time by I take some time and cool the car a bit (the water never got over 180 on the track for the whole weekend) going to the far side and going into the tree turn I am determined to wait a bit later and carry some good exit speed. Previously I'd apexed a few feet too early and I wanted this corner right. So I setup just right and quick match-revs downshift to first and really stick my foot into it. The big 14.5" wide goodyears are good and hot and stick well. Then all hell breaks loose. An evilbad piercing noise is suddenly everywhere and the whole hatch area of the car is completely full of smoke and the cabin is right behind it. A quick gauge check reveals good oil pressure and temp ok, a shake of the steering says it is fine too. The car is a bit sluggish, but not bad. I don't feel like a tire is gone down. I gingerly take the car back to the pits as the smoke dissipates and head to the paddock. We pull the tail and find the lower link on the driversside has decided it does not want to play straight anymore and it looks like a boomerang. And it went right against the tire. Great.
Above: Note the lower link against the tire. That's bad.
We quickly pull the link and head over the hill to the Synergy team. They point us across to a race-fab shop where the guy there tells us how awesome he could fix it but that he can't as he has too much to do. He tells us of a place in town that might be able to help and we take off in the Duramax to figure something out. We need stronger links but only have the heim joints that are with us. Maybe being in Nascar country we can find heims and rods. Hmmm...
Above: A little piece of Heaven in Danville, VA.
Dale cuts four lengths of tube as I keep my hands away from moving machinery.
With a little lube and a deadblow, the old tubes get shoved into the new tubes. Instant strength. Will it be enough?
Dale at Jarrett Welding in Danville is our savior. He has us up and going in less than half an hour. We considered cutting new thicker tube and tapping them but the time constraints were tight and this seemed like a great idea. The jumbos rub in the back anyway as the rear diff is too far forward, but I can't fix that now. When we get home we'll get longer stronger links along with a longer driveshaft and be good-to-go, but for tech (which started in a few quick hours) this would have to work. I hope it worked on the track. THANKS DALE and TAMMY!!!
Wade and I get back to the track and get to work on the links. When we are wrapping up, the rest of the crew shows up! Nick, Cody and Fertitta are a very welcome sight. They all flew in and grabbed a rental car and drove to the track. They immediately take over and begin thrashing. Wade and I left College Station Wednesday at 6am and it was Thursday afternoon and we both had maybe 3 hours of sleep. All kinds of stuff got wrapped up quick and we were ready for tech! The jumbos came off for the normal goodyear rears but the jumbo fronts stayed on. Radiator overflow was installed (spare gatorade bottle, some hose and some zipties), all fluids checked, suspension checked, etc.
Above: VIR had an honest-to-goodness tech shed that is very nice (just like the rest of the facility with the exception of the gravel pits!)
After tech we got the car down to the garage under our suite (which wasn't really ours, but was empty and we needed light) and the stickerfest began. I was fading bad and went upstairs and grabbed a shower and came down later to check on them. It was really starting to look awfully good.
Above: Sticking the stickers...
The finished product on Friday morning...
Ready to read the VIR story? Check the news section, it should be there soon!