Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mid Ohio - SpecE30

It’s amazing how much work there is to be done in the off-season to a car that won all but one race in 2010. The work surrounded mainly around 2 items. The first was a rules change that decreased our minimum weight requirement 50 lbs while also allowing us to place our ballast weight more strategically. The second item was a personal commitment to increasing the level of safety in my car. That meant a new wrap-around seat, HANS-specific harnesses, and quick-disconnect steering wheel. A lot of the remaining work went into “while we’re in there” items. I also repainted both sides of the car to create a fresh canvas for my sponsors’ logos. I was out of town for work 5 days a week for the 3 months leading up to the first event, so there is no way I would have completed the car without the help of my Crew Chief, Nate Thulin. Nate was in my garage on many weeknights that I was away and was with me almost every minute that I was working on the car. A huge thanks goes out to him for his hard work and support! Our focus this year is on the NASA SpecE30 National Championship at Mid-Ohio in September, and Nate is as big a part in the effort as I am.

There have been some changes for this season in regards to sponsorship. Scott Barton’s and Kevin Kreisa of DTR Performance continue the support they’ve shown me since the beginning and continues their support of the past 2 years. New for 2011, though, is an increase in support from Ireland Engineering and a new sponsor, IMGT3 Performance. is a national online supplier of racing and performance parts, created for customers who seek high quality parts, great customer service, parts delivered on-time, and at the right price. And, of course, for those of you who don’t know, Anthony Magagnoli Racing is “officially official”, providing professional driver coaching and race vehicle support! Visit for details!

On the weekend of April 1-3, I was coaching for the BMWCCA Club Race School at Mid-Ohio. While this is a great event for advanced drivers and to-be racers to attend, it was also a great opportunity for us to shake down the car. And shake it down, we did… On a cold weekend that had snow, sleet, hail, and rain at different times, we still had ample opportunity to sort out a suspension issue we were having. But, unfortunately, it also revealed another issue. The ignition coil mount broke its spot welds off the wheel well and it fell down while I was on track. It shorted against the exhaust manifold and fried my wire harness. Literally. After working on it all day in the freezing cold, I gave up and sent it to a shop a little over an hour north of the track, where it eventually received a new wire harness.

So, I got the car back on Friday night, as Denny, having just completed the NASA comp school, was nice enough to go pick it up for me while I drove up to the track. Michael Osborne conducted some late-night annual tech inspections and we just had a couple items to attend to in the morning. However, I found that the car wasn’t as ready as I thought. There were several issues related to the work done on the car that I wasn’t expecting.

We had 11 SpecE30’s at our season-opener, which is a new record for the Great Lakes region! I personally recruited a couple of the new guys, so I was happy to see them out there, enjoying the challenge of their first event. My car was sporting its return to the number 007, which had been my number in BMWCCA Club Racing, but it had been owned by another NASA racer until this year.

I managed to qualify the car on pole, but it needed some attention before the race. I worked on getting it ready, while Michael Osborne and company prepared a nice lunch for the group. SpecE30 was the second largest race group, only smaller than SpecMiata, so our starting order was changed so that we were in the first wave of cars, in front of the Miatas. This proved to work out great, as we didn’t have to deal with nearly as much Miata traffic.

When we started the race, I had the inside of the front row, with Michael Osborne to my left. On the start, he had picked the wrong gear, but Rob Gagliardo had gotten a good jump from one row back and we went side-by-side through 7 and 8. From there, though, I pulled ahead and started opening a lead on the field. Within a few laps, I lost sight of those behind me. But, at about mid-race, the engine missed once and I thought to myself that it didn’t sound like something random… And sure enough, it happened again on the next lap. And on the next, and then the engine was cutting out for longer and longer, coming out of every left-hander, as the fuel level went down.

(Tom Hitzeman photo)

The car was fading fast, so I tried to get off-line in the places where the engine would cut out so I didn’t get rear-ended by other cars. I tried to keep my speed up and get to the end. I took the white flag and, as I came around the keyhole and onto the back straight, I looked across to Turn 2 and counted off the SpecE30’s. I accounted for all but Simon Hunter. As I braked at the end of the straight, he appeared in my mirror, quickly making up ground. Each time the engine cut out, he made up several car-lengths. As we came through the carousel and onto the front straight, the car fell on it’s face again and I only tracked-out to mid-track. Simon came flying through the last turn, tracking-out all the way to the right. My engine picked back up, but he had huge closing speed on me as we approached the finish line. I made my one legitimate defensive move, moving to the right side of the track. This caused Simon to check up and dodge me to the left to pull past. We crossed the line side-by-side, but I had just enough to cross the line ONE FOOT ahead of him!

Race 1, from Rob Gagliardo:

NASA Great Lakes - Saturday race

(Tom Hitzeman photo)

A win is a win, but I was obviously having a fuel delivery issue. With the help of some of my competitors, I investigated after the race and found the in-tank pump not to be running. It seemed that the relay may have come loose, so we zip tied the relay down and called it a night. We went to KC’s Steakhouse for a group dinner, which was nice to all get together. A quick visit in to see my friend Loretta turned our 30+ minute wait into less than 5.

Sunday morning’s qualifying session was damp and we only got 4 laps. With that, however, I qualified on pole, 5 seconds faster than the next closest car! The 007 seemed to be running just fine, as well. We had a long break until the race, so I took the opportunity to do some work on the car and then have another lunch with the group, provided by the Osborne crew.

(Aaron Eberle photo)

At the start of the second race, I had Richard Bratton to my left, with Michael Osborne and Denny Barker behind us. Michael got a good launch, splitting Richard and I on the back straight and leading us through Turn 7 and over “Madness”. Giving chase, I resumed the lead with a pass going into Turn 14 (“the fast left”). With the 10 other SpecE30’s in my mirror, I focused on putting a gap between us. On the next lap around, though, the car made its first fateful stutter… I shook my head in frustration, as I knew that there would be no way that I could pull out enough of a lead over the next couple laps to make up for the loss in power that I would soon see. We had obviously not found the root cause of the issue.

(Tom Hitzeman photo)

The engine cut got worse sooner in the race than on Saturday and was the engine was running lean enough to compromise power on every straight-away. Since running lean can destroy an engine, I was short-shifting in an attempt to preserve it. It didn’t take too long for the guys to catch back up as the problem worsened. As each guy caught me, I put up the best fight I could, holding position - or even re-passing - through the turns. When we hit the straights, though, getting out of their way was the only sensible thing to do. I dropped back one or two spots at a time, struggling to get the car to the end. When I finally crossed the finish line, I found myself in a frustrating 7th place out of the 11 cars. It was the knowledge that I could pull away from the field, but being kept back by a mechanical issue, that really upset me. I have 2 more SpecE30 race weekends at Mid-Ohio (July and August) before the National Championships. I will be spending more time between now and then coaching there, too, so I plan to have lots of seat time and fully maximize my “home track advantage” in the Nationals.

Race 2, from Rob Gagliardo:

NASA Great Lakes - Sunday race.

A big thanks goes out to my 2011 sponsors: IMGT3 Performance, Ireland Engineering,, DTR Performance, and!

(Aaron Eberle photo)

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