Chapter 256 - May 2017


WRL at TWS with Pontini

This event was about two months out and the Pontini team asked if I'd like to come play team-member with their band of brothers for the upcoming WRL at TWS event. I jumped at the chance since our team was not going to make it due to scheduling conflicts with 3 of our main drivers. The team said they'd be in early Friday for the Friday afternoon test day and I'd come down and we'd all get a few laps in the car to not only get familiar but also to do a little shakedown. 

THE FORECAST WAS RAIN on Saturday. 100% Guaranteed. For sure. Gonna rain. Buckets. Predicting 80% or so at the beginning of the week all the way to 100% by the end of the week. 

So, the team looked at their options and ended up bringing a used set of 315 Azenis and went ahead and purchased some on-sale-good-price Contis. The Contis were very highly rated in the rain and were soft to the touch. I was skeptical about them lasting an entire weekend (Azenis, OTOH, wear like iron!) but after all of us took some laps on Friday the Contis were looking great. They finger-tested at least 15 durometer points under the Azenis, and we had the Azenis as backups, but since it was going to rain...

Above: Testing out the Conti's on Friday. LOTS OF GRIP! Note the deflection of the outboard tires!

We took some in-car vid on Friday and that night I quickly edited a solid endurance-pace lap and posted it and we all talked about it. We were going to conserve shifting and work on a nice even pace. The big change in the car from last event was the CTS-V brakes on the front. I don't have too much to say about them other than they were awesome. Every time all the time awesome. They sourced some G-Loc pads from Vorshlag and they were flawless. One thing the team forgot (but was due to arrive on Saturday!) was the radios. So I brought mine Saturday morning and we tried to rig up some earphones where a driver could at least hear the team. It kinda worked. Some of the time. 

Friday evening debrief, McCall: "and I go like this", Costas: "like this?", Magyar: "he keeps using that word...I do not think it means what he thinks it means"

Saturday dawned for the 8-hour race (a 7-hour race was planned for Sunday) with clouds looming all around. Some a dark shade of black, some a slightly darker shade of black. However, for the moment the radar showed no precipitation for the first few hours. 

Thirty-three cars took the green, divided into four classes. Pontini slots into GP3 and there were 12 cars in class. With the start in the dry, the team elected to start Faust, and then see what happened. As a guest I was just happy to be there, but I also have the most experience at TWS in the wet and so the thought was to put me in for the start of the rain. Faust takes the green and works to keep the nose clean, cut good laps and save the car. Endurance racing is all about leaving a car for the next driver and the first driver always has the most traffic and the most red-mist drivers to deal with, but Faust handled it with ease, cutting nice solid laps. After the first 8-9 laps letting the field sort itself out, he got to work from 14th place overall and began to pick off cars with clean passes. He found relatively clean track on lap 26 and threw down his fastest lap of a 2:04.8. By lap 32, he had worked us into 11th, with 10th on lap 35. 9th on lap 37 and then 8th on lap 40. 

Start of the race on Saturday. I'm wondering all the things that can go wrong and how long would it take to fix them...

One of the things we did NOT do on Friday was a fuel-mileage run. The car has run COTA and TWS before (both tracks with a lot of WOT per lap) and ran almost 2 hours on fuel. We were banking on that figure, but apparently our bank was part of the sub-prime home lending fiasco and we didn't get the notice from the feds. Doh!

Saturday goes green!!

So, the team is all comfy in the pits and Adam just shows up after his 42nd lap. We are not even suited up to re-fuel and Adam starts to climb out. DOH!

So we have the pitstop from hell as I suit up as quick as possible and start to climb in the car as the rain clouds are CLOSE now and McCall said "Costas, get in the car!". With fueling running a bit behind, I even took the time to plug in my earphones and turn the radio off and then on and heard a *BEEP* in my ear so at least MY side of the comms were working. Finally, everything was done and with a painful stop that took 7 precious minutes I was underway. 

We tumbled waaaay down the order and I began my stint in 17th place overall. Ug. I could only put my head down and get to work, all the while hoping and praying that the dark clouds would deliver. For the first 15-20 minutes it sadly got lighter. I was picking off cars left and right and while it wasn't really hot in the car, it wasn't cool either. Then...the slightly darker shade of black clouds came over and the wind changed direction and even in my suit I could feel the temperature drop. OH YES!

Always diverse fields at a WRL race! 

Nope. Other than a few drops here and there we got zero rain. By lap 60 I had gotten us to 11th, then, in a yuuuuuge gap in traffic I put down 14 laps in a row that were 2:05s and lower, with lap 66 being a nice 2:02.7 (for our fastest lap of the day). The Contis were good to drive on, and you could be quick and tidy and the feedback was nice. It was a very precise tire, much easier to hit an exact spot versus the Azenis we drove at COTA (on both Pontini and Bic). By lap 80 we knew I'd soon need a splash as it was decided I'd stay in the car for a long stint with rain still looming. The team could ask me a question on the front straight and I could either give them a thumbs up or down out the window, or I could key the mic and click once or twice so we worked out a 1-way comm system to kindof sorta work. I came in on lap 81 from 7th place for a quick-fill-up. The team was totally ready and I was out quickly, only falling down to 9th starting lap 82. 8th on lap 91 and then 7th on lap 102! The car was running like a timex and was just super easy to drive at this pace. I snuck into 6th on lap 104 and then 5th overall on lap 108! I was trying to conserve fuel running a gear up when I could and with no rain, trying to take it easy on the tires. I finally got a fuel stumble on lap 118 and the team was ready so I pitted on lap 119, still in 5th place overall! 

Three words. When I'm right seat it is "gasgasgas" and when I'm left seat or crew it is "keep making laps". #wordstoliveby

With the team fully ready we did a stop a full 3 minutes and 15 seconds faster than our first stop (a lap and a half in the Pontini!!). I was out of the car stupid-quick as McCall slid in. I helped belt him in and then took a quick look at the car as well. The front tires looked worn, but were fairly even and I was pretty sure they'd make the day OK. Magyar and Faust got the car fueled fast with Keith covering on fire bottle. McCall motored down pit row and onto the track only dropping two spots down to 7th and worked to get up to speed starting Pontini's 120th lap. On lap 124 he got us into 6th and then the next lap got us into 5th! While McCall didn't set our fastest lap, he is a model of consistency having, by far, the smallest gap between all his clean lap times. He's good in traffic, conserves the car and drives clean. On lap 154 he made the pass for 4th overall  and kept that spot till the end of his stint on lap 167. 

Yellow flag generator. 

By now, our team had been rehearsing the pitstop mantra by not just following our board of assignments, but looking for shortcuts and better ways to get the car out faster. The stop to pull out McCall and put in Magyar was incredible, shaving a full 30 seconds off our last stop and the result was NOT LOSING OUR OVERALL POSITION when Magyar took Pontini around starting lap 168, still in 4th place overall. 

Final driver swap on Saturday. McCall out, Magyar in, Faust on belts, Costas on fuel and Keith on fire. Ron is shuffling fuel jugs. Busy busy! 

OVERVIEW - At this point things are looking pretty good. The overall leader is a GP1 car, followed closely by a GP2 car on the same lap, then a GP3 car that had solid pace and fast drivers (and ALL their stops were short! LOL) was another lap back. We were a few laps behind them (2nd in GP3, 4th overall), with almost a lap on the 5th place overall car, also a GP3 entry. GP3 was TOUGH this race!! With about 45 minutes to go we figured it would be close on fuel, but a podium was looking pretty strong and while the top step wasn't in the cards unless the GP3 leader broke, it looked like we could hold off the 3rd place GP3 car as Magyar could match their clean lap times with a little to spare. The field was spread way out by now, a few cars had failures and were in the pits and Magyar was doing a great job maintaining our position as the minutes wound down. This was looking good. 


Above: Our falling from 2nd in GP3 to 3rd is right here.... 

Until he got a flat tire. DOH! He showed up with a dead left front (surprised me, I figured the RF would be the victim) and it took us a while to swap the tire as the jack would not even go under the car! We instantly lost 2nd in GP3, but we had several laps on the 4th place GP3 car so we dumped in a can of fuel, changed BOTH fronts for good measure and sent him back out in 6th overall where he stayed, running our final lap 209 and securing TEAM PONTINI their first ever trophy finish! WAHOO!!

Pontini bringing home the hardware!

That evening we got the car checked out and swapped to the Azenis for the next day, bled brakes, checked fluids, etc. The narrow Contis (narrow compared to the 315 Azenis!) likely would have made the day just fine but an un-named driver apparently dropped a tire off pretty good and banged up the toe setting, causing the left-front to not be straight leading to excessive heat and then failure. Oops. We had fresh grilled burgers (omg, so freaking good) at the RV that night and I scooted home to sleep in my own bed. We were back at the car extra early as I brought strings and toe plates (and soldering iron, re-charged radios, cordless impact, etc) and we re-set the toe on the car. It was out by a good bit! Magyar soldered a radio connection and the team radios were once again installed with mine kept as a backup. With the toe fixed, the steering wheel was straight and we hoped for a good day. The fuel issue is thought to be a pickup problem as we are putting in a few gallons short of a full load when it sputters, but we don't have time to dig into that so we'll just deal with it today. One thing that *might* be a problem is the front brake pads. We did not have any spare race pads and the ones on the car were about half-pad. They had done a few short test days prior to the Saturday race, but with the second half of a pad always getting used up quicker than the first half, it was on our minds. The backup pads were some street ceramics that likely would not last long, so they were our last resort. 

Early Sunday: Keith, Magyar, Ron, McCall, Costas, Faust and the little V6 Pontini.

For some reason it was declared that I should start the race and I didn't argue. I like traffic and I like T1 in traffic and so I was happy to strap in and make the two warm-up laps, all the while feeling out the grip levels on the Azenis and already cautioning myself to be easy on the brakes.

Sometimes starts just suck and there is not a damn thing you can do. You're powerless to the forces of the Racing Gods...we all are. Like when the pace-speed the leader sets puts you right in between two gears and all those cars near you are right at the beginning of their powerbands. Or you're on the wrong end of the accordion and you've JUST slowed down to not hit the car in front when the green flies. Or due to placement, you cannot see the starter when he throws the green and so you're already caught out. Sometimes the day is just not yours and all you can do is try and put the whole "damn I just got a sh!tty start, damn damn damn" behind you and try and make up all those places you just lost. Those starts happen. 

This? This was *not* one of those starts. This was an insane start where the Racing Gods actually reached down from the heavens and bestowed years' worth of "best start ever" juju gently into my lap. My eyes were blessed with a perfect sight line to the starter, I was gifted the high lane on the track, and I was honored with a slight accordion on that gifted high lane that amplified as it worked its way back to my most hallowed starting slot. My utterly sanctified and fortunate racer's soul softly prodded my right foot. There was no fear. No anxiousness. Blessed calm washed over this revered beginning as my inspired and serious rate of closure had progressed to moments from immanent danger. Then the green waived it's salvation (as if directed to do so at the moment it would help me the most) and I simply steered up to the high line and began passing cars like a hungry hippo sucking down marbles with a massive speed advantage in incredibly thankful and appreciative hands. The term 'epic' is nowhere near impactful enough a word to describe how spiritual and utterly successful this start was.

On Saturday it took us 35 laps to get into 10th position overall. While the green flag flew on Sunday with Pontini in 21st, when the little white Pontiac finished the very first lap for Sunday we were in 10th place overall in no small part to those most finicky of Racing Gods. I said a word of thanks for about the 50th time and began lap 2 where I passed another car to finish that lap in 9th. Worked up to 7th by lap 5 and the fun began. I was battling with another GP3 car (miata) and we were catching faster class cars that could outrun us in the straights but held us up in the corners and some blatantly blocked. For all the blessings I got a half hour ago, this was downright frustrating. The miata I was battling was geared better for a few critical corners and I was suffering through those corner exits while enjoying a more balanced car with a touch more overall grip in the corners. I had him dead cold on the brakes and used them fairly well a few laps and remembered that we might run out of pad so I took it easy. I left a solid 1.0+ seconds a lap under braking simply to make sure we had pad at the end since we didn't have fresh pads for day 2. Even taking it easy on the brakes I could massively close up under braking, especially in places where trail-braking is optimum. Heading into the apex of T8, same for T11....totally crushed folks there.

VIDEO OF START AND LAP 1 =  <------Good stuff!!!

I have my Sunday stint on vid and will work to get it rendered and posted as it has some good stuff in it!

We never got any blue flags, except a few times when I'd finally get around a faster-class car and then the corner worker would show ME the blue flag and I'd say to myself 'clearly you've not been paying attention to the race at the pointy end' and proceed to slowly open the gap to the faster-class car. I got blatantly blocked a few times as well. Never heard anyone get in trouble for it. With only 1 corner worker per station they simply cannot effectively cover their zone to meet the rules. Oh well.


Left: Redundancy is good! Right: Showing Mom how to do the fast line in turn 1 !!!

While I got lucky with a double-stint on Saturday, I knew I'd only get one stint today and so I did the best I could. The Falken tires were old, but seemed to work well. Pontini actually got the tires from an autocrosser who used them for several events after getting them from a drift team who used them first. They were THREE years old, but came decently back to life. By lap 5 I was in 7th place overall, then 6th by lap 12. A fellow GP3 car, a miata, was running with me and we swapped back and forth depending on how hard I wanted to push the car. Within about 20 laps the track had fully dried out and I could run the carousel and the esses on my normal line and not run through a puddle or dampness. Even when it LOOKED dry at first, it wasn't! I never got the radio message from the team to try for an all-out lap, but laps 26 and 27 were both 2:02s, with my best being a 2:02.4 (Pontini's fastest lap of the weekend). I held a bit back, (not my car, first driver, need to leave a solid car for the rest of the day, etc etc), HOWEVER I didn't leave much on the table either. A 2:01 was in the car, but I doubt a 2flat. 


Above: Car 936 came onto pitroad several times with the hatch up. They clearly needed some better fasteners!

Lap 33 saw me sneak into 5th place overall and I could see by the watch on the rollbar my day was starting to wrap up. Lapping traffic and trying to keep lap times down, I kept ticking off the laps until lap 38 the car sputtered a moment in a right hand turn and I called the team and they said they were ready. On lap 39 I brought the car in and saw a VERY ready team and they pulled off a very quick stop putting a fresh McCall in the seat and he rumbled off down the pitlane. Compared to our first stop the previous day where we were caught out, our first stop today was a full three minutes faster!!! That is a lap and a half!!!

Sunday splash-and-go-under-yellow for McCall

McCall rejoined in 15th overall and quickly got to work. A lot of teams were starting their pit stops as well and the pitlane was a busy place. McCall had us down to 10th on lap 49 and then 9th on lap 50, staying in that range for dozens of laps. McCall was the one in the car for the big full-course yellow and we pulled him in for a top-off and sent him quickly back out. Since today's race was an hour shorter, it made sense to 1.5 stint McCall and then we'd only need to single stint Faust and Magyar. McCall kept picking off cars and was in 7th by lap 95, 6th by lap 99 and he stayed there till lap 108 where he pitted from the 6th overall position. Our stop shaved another 15 seconds off our morning stop and we lost only two spots to 8th overall as Faust quickly got up to speed. Faust got us back to 7th by lap 120 and then back in 6th on lap 143. Faust's stint was done and he got the fuel hiccup on lap 148 and he pitted on lap 149. Again, we pulled off an even faster pitstop, some 25 seconds faster again. Our stop only dropped us one spot to 7th as Magyar joined the fray and the race to the checker. 

McCall out, Faust in, Magyar belting, Costas fueling, Ron covering fire, Keith hustling jugs!  

In the end, Magyar held 7th overall, 4th in GP3 till the checker. The ebb and flow of the competitors close to us was back and forth. Sometimes we'd catch traffic poorly and the 3rd place GP3 car would pull out a bit, other times we were as close as 30 seconds back on the same lap. A trophy was not in the cards for us today, but a solid 4th in GP3 and 7th overall (out of 26) meant we were very happy with the result and the car was in great shape too. 


Overall we had a great weekend and a lot of fun. I was happy to help the team win their first podium and trophy on Saturday and look forward to driving again with them if they'll have me! 

Late update = The Pontini team pulled the fuel sending unit and found part of the fuel pickup was not fully attached. Next time we should be able to run several more gallons per stint and that will be great!