Chapter 269 - September 2018
NASA NATS AT COTA
After the test at COTA (chapter 268, fun times!), we had about 16 days before SLJHMR needed to get loaded up to go back to COTA for the big show. We had learned a TON during the testing and we were very proud of our times in the 100+ degree track temps in the heat of a very hot day. We did a LOT of direct A/B testing and had metric crap tons of video and AIM data to sift through. Louis and I talked a lot and we (mostly Louis...) came up with a few critical changes that we felt would give us the best chance and the GSpeed crew pushed hard to get all their in-house and supported cars ready.
Current NASA TT3 COTA Track Record holder has arrived....
I arrived at the track late Thursday evening in the rig and found myself very thankful that we had lower paddock parking and garage spots. With rain heavily in the forecast, it would really be nice (and it was!). As with all TT events during rain weekends, you can usually count on at least ONE session being all/mostly dry but my mind kept drifting back to the WRL weekend at COTA a few years back where it simply rained or drizzled the entire time. We had really good non-DOT rains, but according to TT rules we'd need to add weight to run them. The GSpeed crew built a bracket that bolts where the passenger seat does and I brought plenty of weights in case we needed to make that work.
This was the NASA Nationals for the first time in several years in one spot. Previously, NASA had ran TWO "nationals", one on the east coast and one on the west. While this made it easier for 'coasties' to attend and the middle folks could attend either (both?) sides, it still tainted a 'national champion' because that winner really did not win over everyone entered, just the ones on their coast. It is not an easy position for NASA as most mid-west tracks cannot handle a huge nationals event and so it created a serious buzz when early in the year it was announced there would be a single event and it would be at the 'bucket list' track, COTA. This was nice for us Texas folks as we already test there and Louis and I are fairly familiar with the needs of that track. Even further, TT3 was well subscribed (10 cars...not phenomenal, but a stout class) and the class favorite (not me, heh) had scores of championships and was the odds-on favorite to continue that. This was stacking up to be quite the challenge! While my 40-win streak had died earlier in the year, the next streak had begun and I hate breaking a streak. I'd need to be fast...and even though we were the track record holder, this would not be some easy win.
The track: COTA is indeed a 'bucket list' track because it is possibly the (currently) most expensive track in America, but it is also a Formula1 track and how cool is it to race where the top-of-the-pyramid folks race? Sadly, honestly, the track (for me) does not live up to the hype. The facility is damn impressive with lots of clean bathrooms, great garages, meeting rooms, great room for paddocks and parking, and a track-monitoring room full of live feeds of the track where the race control folks can keep a great eye on everything. But...the track is a Tilke track, named after a guy named (shazam) Tilke who has designed several F1 tracks and it simply has no soul. It has technical parts and precision is your friend and it has interesting punishment/reward portions...but still. Every time you get up to a good amount of speed you have to shut it right back down in order to make some obscenely tight corner. On the first part of the esses you do turn the steering wheel at over 100mph (assuming quick car) and that is where you are slowing it down. The carousel (T-16/17/18) allows for good speed and is the only place that makes the heart kinda-beat. Conversely, a track like TWS, had so much soul it was staggering and a huge contributor to the sadness of racers is that epic track (TWS) is gone. In a properly fast car, you'd be over 100mph three times a lap and have to turn the steering wheel and really put the risk out there. Proper fun.
Getting fuel and a wipe down....life is good
Don't get me wrong, it is still fun to race there and traffic always makes things interesting, but to me the track is a bit neutered. Speaking of neutered, we heard Thursday testing folks were reporting that the big diamonds (some folks call them 'turtles') were up at the apexes of most corners and that the washboards were installed between the first and second white line which completely discouraged going to the second white line. Since neither of these were in place for the May event (or the August test) lap times would greatly suffer. Of course, it is the same for everyone but running that 2:22 (which reset the track record by some 5 seconds and won the event) that we ran in May would be awfully tough even with the upgrades we (Louis) had done. Regardless, the track is what it is, it is the same for everyone, and fast folks were showing up in TT3 and we had honed our "A" game to a fine edge and hopefully we'd come out on top.
Friday dawned with rain and found our little troupe already hustling to ensure we stayed in front of the schedule. The race groups had some sessions and then we had one TT session late in the day after our daily TT meeting. We dyno'd that (rainy humid) morning to ensure we were in compliance and we were close, but fine.
Chatting with Fair on grid and family time at the race track!
COMPLIANCE: We claim a max dyno average, and a minimum weight (the two of which determine our power-to-weight and thus our class) and turn that in (along with a copy of the dyno) and as long as our weight coming off track is our claimed number or higher, and if we are dyno'd after a session and our average is at or lower than claimed, we are in compliance. Our TT3 car has less power per pound than a TT2 or TT1/TTU car, but more power per pound than a TT4 or TT5 car. Simple, right? As for the driving part, NASA would rely on corner workers to notify them if we exceeded track limits as well as NASA staff in the control room full of TVs to keep an extra eye on us.
I was told specifically "yeah, YOU are being watched closely"......heh
The Stage: Let me set the stage for you. We were in Garage 29 and 27. Sadly we could not get them side-by-side, but in the end it worked out okay. In 29 we had the red C5z TT car SLJHMR that I was driving, a black C5 TT1 car driven by Eifling, a yellow C5z that Perkins owns/drives and the white/blue C6 of Messer who was running TT1. The backstory is that Messer put in a fresh motor and Louis dydno'd it only to have the motor have serious issues keeping water inside the watery places. With a day left to go before loadout, rather than attempt a fix that might or might not work, they elected to swap out the motors completely to a spare GSpeed LSx and quickly dyno it and get to COTA. The new motor was keeping the watery bits in the watery bits places so all seemed good, but the team was ready for another issue and kept a close eye on the blue/white 176 TT1 machine. Garage 27 held the yellow C5z of Cooper so we were back and forth with him a lot. The GSpeed crew of Louis, Corey, Ian, Jason, plus Anthony from HPR and WDMS crewdog Rivas as well as wives and families all pitched in to keep us on point and make sure we were all ready for whatever session was next.
As the race groups shuttled off and on the track we stayed busy keeping the cars fueled and on the proper tires. As the afternoon arrived and the first TT meeting ended it would be time to go to grid for our only Friday session that would 'set the grid' for the official sessions that started Saturday. So, while the lap times did not count for an official lap, getting near the front was critical if you wanted to avoid slower cars and get a clean lap. It stopped drizzling about 20 minutes before our session and so we put on dry tires (A7) and went to grid. The first grid would be set by when you registered and since I registered pretty late I was near the back of the grid. I was not too worried because it would be a long session and hopefully with a decent semi-clear lap I could get near the pointy end of the grid.
The GSpeed direct fleet. GSpeed also supported/helped a few other cars as well.
So when we launched (I was about 35th out of 50) there was a bit of a dry line and with 50 cars running it was starting to dry a bit more. My first few laps were mired in traffic trains as going offline into the damp was something most folks were not risking. In the 4 laps or so it took me to clear a few bunches and start getting some clear laps, the drizzle began again and our dryness went away. I *felt* like I was pretty quick and I was faster than anyone I was around, but the leaders of the group could have all gotten much better laps than me, so when the checker flew, I came in. At impound the car was weighed (legal, yay!) and released.
The gang (minus Corey) and PROOF it was not me bending the diffuser by going over the washboards!
Times: Well, while it was true I was faster than most folks and gridded 4th for the first session tomorrow, I was in 2nd in TT3. Ug. The event hadn't really even begun and I had work to do. There were ten of us in TT3 which honestly was a bit smaller than I expected but still a strong challenge. There were two corvettes, the GSpeed C5 and the C4 of Schotz who has won several NASA championships and according the the live broadcasts was the easy favorite to win. There were several BMW M3s, an S2000, a 911 and an EVO and Vorshlag's big Mustang driven by Terry Fair. Fair had run the May event with a nearly stock Coyote and paid the price. He was awfully quick for 200 treadwear street tires, with a full interior/AC car...but still 10 seconds off SLJHMRs pace. He really stepped up his game for Nationals, vowing to half the gap. He upgraded to big Forgestar wheels and 315A7 purple crack along with slick MCS adjustables and appropriate spring rates and topped it all off with hugeriffic G-Loc brakes that would really be great at the every-time-you-really-speed-up-ya-gotta-slow-waaaay-down track like COTA.
So Friday night the forecast was not good for Saturday. Lots of rain but the forecast for Sunday was mostly good at this point. As usual for TT, we need ONE good dry session and assuming you can lay it down and not spin or go four off (which would DQ you for that session) then you're all set. Fastest single lap (not DQ'd, LOL) wins. I went to sleep thinking about the track, analyzing approach angles, optimizing entry speeds and minimizing lap times. <sigh>
We've got three sessions Saturday and for the first one it was pouring an hour before the session. The crew quickly put the final touches on the weight-mount that bolts to the passenger floor so we can run non-DOT rains. We have conti rains that are REALLY nice and I'm looking forward to trying them. Of course, with an AWD Evo in the class, I'm sure he wanted rain even more than I did! We roll to grid and I slot into 4th, with the C4 (grey with pimpy yellow graphics! Me likey!!) one slot in front of me on A7s. One of us guessed wrong. Lots of us were on rains, a few on drys. Who was right? As the last 10 minutes of the previous session wraps up the rain fizzles out and from our grid we can see a distinct dry line forming in Turn 1. We finally launch and I'm incredibly impressed with the lateral grip and braking of the rains. The turn-in is crisp but even with 2xx horsepower I cannot get the car to hook up and the C4 slowly walks away from me. My second lap was only barely faster than my first and the track kept drying and so I came in so I would not trash the rains. It was painfully obvious who was wrong, we were the ones in back. Crap.
Live feed pushed out to the internets so folks could follow along!
The C4 put it in P1 overall and I slid to P13, 6th in TT3 (SIXTH!!!). Fair was right behind me in P14, 7th in TT3 and he had tried well-worn streets. P1 was a 2:30 and I had a 2:37 and Fair was a tenth behind me. Again we were all weighed and back to the garage for SLJHMR. A few hours later it was time to toss the coin again as it was damp with a threat of rain. A big band or moisture was coming but it looked like it was going to graze us, so we put on fresh A7s and rolled to a small grid as most folks decided to sit this one out. The previous group had a semi-dry line and as we launched. In my six laps I kept getting faster and faster, taking about 5 seconds a lap off my time but it simply was not drying out fast enough and although I ended up P1 for the session, my 2:43 did not help me in the overall standings. If we'd have had another lap or maybe three I could have done some damage, but this was simply shaping up to not be our day. Surely we could turn it around in the final session of the day since it was supposed to keep slowly drying out.
I was still P13 on grid for the final Saturday session and while 13 has always been good to me, being far back is never fun. Maybe this session would turn us around and get us on the right path. The track was mostly dry with no chance of rain so we had a full grid. For Nationals there is no passing on the outlap without a point and again no passing on hot lap 1 without a point. This isn't the procedure that we usually follow in NASA Texas region, but it does have merits. We migrate out for the session and it takes a lot of patience to not pass these now-slower cars in lap one as I put down a not bueno 2:30. Passing a few cars on lap two I still manage a 2:25 and a mostly clear third lap puts down a 2:24 and Louis calls me in. The C4 had run a 2:27 on lap 2 and came in so while I had advanced to P5 on grid, we were now P1 in TT3 as we rolled into impound. Also good news was Messer ran a 2:20 to be P1 in TT1 class and overall. Wahoo.
But....hold those Wahoos. At impound we were put in a line to go to the dyno with a lot of other cars. The GSpeed crew worked fast to pull off the diffuser and just after Messer blew the dyno (put down too much power), so did we. Crap. Messer's was a bit understandable as he had a fresh motor and I'd bet that once it got some run time it sealed up and got more efficient. For us, our average was 4hp too much and while our time was DQd, we did get to keep the P5 starting spot. We dealt directly with Greg (head of NASA TT) and anyone who has been around NASA TT and Nationals has (just like me) certainly heard stories. This being our first NASA Nationals (both mine and GSpeed's), we were getting up to speed on the rules side not as quick as we'd like. Lots of folks dynod for TT and race classes and some seemed to not keep their cool, but I was happy that GSpeed and the NASA tech crew we worked with were very professional and encouraged discussion and clarity. We were dealt with very fairly.
It was almost dark when SLJHMR got back to the garage. We had an agreement with the dyno guys to be there at 630am to re-dyno again so we could update our paperwork. We'd pull a bit more power out, re-certify (turn updated paperwork in) and add some weight just in case. Messer decided to jump to TTU and that way Louis could simply uncork that motor and we'd see what the 176 could REALLY do. I was jealous...we were pulling MORE power out and Messer was getting to add another hundred!!!
Saturday night was not fun. With my time DQ'd I'd fallen even further down the list as other cars got quick dry times. We were even MORE behind the 8-ball now and we only had two sessions on Sunday to make it happen. Good news: No rain on Sunday. Better news: We kept our good grid spot. Best news: We had a fast car.
Conti rains on a drying track....not optimal.
Sunday started off where Saturday ended. SLJHMR was at the dyno at 6:30. No dyno guys. 7:00, no guys. 7:30 still no guys and I had to go to the first TT meeting. So we did not get to dyno and it was time for the morning session. I was upset the dyno guys told us to our face they'd be there early and never showed. Not bueno.
The morning TT meeting was good and I updated our data to ensure compliance. All the TT meetings were a touch longer than absolutely needed, but they were really good. The officials were quick to call out folks for stupid stuff and would DQ folks' sessions when required. Considering this was nationals and the money competitors spent for precious few sessions, having rules enforced and offending drivers punished was VERY welcome. Being an official is rarely fun (I do that too), but it was much appreciated. After the meeting it was time for the "money session". We had a heck of a hill to climb.
Pic in the slick on slicks by Punky!
However, as Dad would say, "that ain't no hill for a stepper", and it wasn't. My job did not change. The car was fast and it was time to show it, again. The morning session would be the fastest since it was mostly dry and the air was good. The sun was coming and the track (and air) would likely get worse, so it was time to make it happen. The grid was full and it was time to get some. We even decided to keep our backup set of sticker tires off the car. Louis and I were confident we could do it on the used tires we had on the car already. Louis' faith in my ability never waivers and that always pushes me even harder to do as good a job as I can.
Nearing the end of our outlap (I'm P5), I could see Troy in P1 drop the hammer and he was GONE. He threw down a 2:16 to put a major stamp on the TT event to claim P1 in TTU and overall fastest in TT. Wow. I put my head down and with a little less power (lol!) and a little less weight/hp, SLJHMR stopped the clocks at a 2:23 while the C4's best was a 2:25. On one hand I was ecstatic to be P1 and put up the 2:23, but on the other it was not what I'd call a super clean lap. With the slight dampness (if you watch the vid, look out the rear cam and you can see the still-dark pavement where moisture was....hint: nearly everywhere) I ran a bit compromised to ensure no spins/offs and I also made a few small mistakes. A 2:22 was on the table and I just missed it, but now the big test came. We were way over weight (2920!) but by the time that tech finished the group in front of us and got caught up, they had another batch of cars coming in. SLJHMR and a few others were going to dyno, but we still had to remove the diffuser and time was getting short for our final session. Tech kindly agreed to just let SLJHMR sit in impound till the next session and then go straight to grid, then post-session we'd do awards (since it would be the final official session) and THEN go to dyno. There was an afternoon "fun run" session for TT, but we'd likely miss it and be at the dyno.
SLJHMR waiting in impound. #BigTahrs #BigGrip #ClassLeader #C5Mafia
The post-session download for the money session was short because, a) the car was really good, and b) we could not do a thing about it. The car was in impound as Louis and I debriefed and so turning knobs or making other changes could not happen. Regardless, the car was just almost perfect. A car setup like this one is a dream to drive because it will let you drive to your own style and work for you. SLJHMR was on that balance that allows you to use a bit of weight transfer to induce oversteer or understeer at will, and critically allow you to run over the initial small rumbles with impunity. A lot of cars got upset going over the rumbles and so the drivers had to shrink the track down a bit in order to not upset the chassis. SLJHMR soaked up those red and white curbs with ease and this saved us time where tenths count. We had one smallish issue that had plagued us since our first event in May and while Louis had improved the car, we still were losing time there. On the balance sheet of the lap, had we made a change to eliminate that certain issue, it might have cost us time elsewhere and so at this point it was simply tolerated...however, the other 98% of the lap was awesome. We also talked about the still-wet-but-drying track that compromised my line a bit in places and also made me keep a tiny bit in reserve because going 4 wheels off was an instant DQ that we could not afford. So I pushed and ran hard, but still not quite as hard as possible to ensure the safety of the lap.
Lots of cars got balled up....here is one
So SLJHMR sat in impound for a few hours and then finally, 10 minutes before the final TT timed session a tech-escort (thanks Christina!) and I went to grid for the final session. The C4 didn't show up, but quite a few other cars did and due to the air and surface temp the track was going away from us. We launched and while I didn't have much faith we could go faster, it turned out I was right..which was about time since I guessed wrong on tires twice the day before. My first flyer was a 26 and halfway though lap 2 I was pushing and only saw a low 25 on the predictive so I aborted and saved the tires and kept the fuel load. We went to impound (weight was very legal!) and then a few minutes later we had awards. The entire GSpeed crew (and my family) showed up and when TT3 was called it was nice to go to the top step of that podium at my first NASA Nats. I got a slick black cowboy hat with a gold #1 embroidered on the side, a very large and nice trophy and a big checker flag that says "National Champion 2018 NASA COTA". Love that flag! It will look great next to my Road Atlanta flag I got 'back in the day' for winning a national there back in the 'gravity cavity' days. #Cherished
VID LINK HERE: https://vimeo.com/291203464
I won't bore you or make you wait...SLJHMR then put down an average of 271hp and weighed 2920 against a certify of 285hp/2879lbs. For our power level we were 180 pounds heavy! I get to keep the flag!!! <wahoo!> Don't get me wrong, the trophy is nice and the hat is cool, but that flag tho!!! #ShopWallArt
1st place hat on the mirror, big 3d trophy and a really slick flag. #WinningNationals (diffuser removed for dyno)
Fair ended up halving the gap and ran a 2:28 to end up 5 seconds off SLJHMR in a full weight (and heavy) coyote with full interior and AC. My guess is he will go bigger tires and aero to mimic the 2011 "big red" mustang they used to have but that's a guess. If he pulls weight out, he'll have to pull power as well, so it will be interesting to see next steps on his project. His writeup is on the Vorshlag page here: http://www.vorshlag.com/forums/showthread.php?t=8324&page=3 if you want to read more Nats report stuff from another perspective.
GSpeed's two champions for the event. Not bad for GSpeed's first time at NATS!!!
Where did the our time stack up compared to the rest of the TT field? Up until the final session SLJHMR was also winning TT2, but in that final session one TT2 driver nipped our time by 0.2 and so SLJHMR would have finished 2nd in the field of 11 TT2 cars. For the five folks in TT1, SLJHMR would have made the final podium spot and for the 7 cars in TTU, SLJHMR again would have snagged the final podium position as well. Wow.
Huge thanks to the entire GSpeed crew and Anthony from HPR and Rivas for coming up from San Antonio to pitch in as well. Anna and the family as always are so supportive and it makes it so much nicer. Leaving COTA with the champion hardware on our first attempt was really nice and a serious TEAM effort. Speaking of HPR, the motor in SLJHMR was build by the same folks that have made Scratcher so successful. Runs strong, no leaks, temperatures stable, starts every time. It does not get much better than that!!! www.horsepower-research.com
Interesting tidbit: When we ran the May event the crew never added anything but fuel to the car. Brakes were not bled, oil not added, coolant not added...nothing! The car started every time and ran like a top. At the action-packed two-day test, other than the adjustments we made to test, we never had to do anything mechanical to the car (save a clutch switch adjustment which took a moment). Here at NATS, other than the time to add weight, swap tires, R&R the diffuser for the dyno sessions, we again did not work on the car save one minor bolt-tightening. Rock solid. It allowed us to focus on the setup and allowed me to focus on the driving. Kudos to GSpeed for making it look so easy.
The National Championship is really sweet! The hat, on the other hand... and me and the much-better half!!
NASA official update here: https://nasaspeed.news/race-coverage/championships/nasa-announces-2018-time-trial-national-champions/ (actually my TT streak was interrupted in Jan of 2018, but nobody had me verify the verbiage before it was published)