Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course SpecE30

I had to miss the last 2 SpecE30 races due to other commitments, but I had still been active with coaching BMW Club Racers and testing a new supercar called the Mach 7 Motorsports Falcon. However, it was nice to get back into the Spec cars, as their inherent similarity really push us to dig deep to maximize our performance on track. The #007 car has had a large share of issues this year, starting with a fried wire harness and stemming from there, but we’ve worked hard to get the car performing at its peak level again, as well as continuing its development.

We arrived at Mid-Ohio just before dusk on Friday, already knowing that our usual SpecE30 compound had been overrun. With the NASA National Championships being held at Mid-Ohio in September, we had a large number of out-of-region competitors attending in order to learn the track. In fact, we had Robert Grace join us from the Mid-Atlantic region, which is one of the largest regions for SpecE30. Robert is considered to be their regional hot-shoe, especially since Mike Skeen moved to the pros and Chris Cobetto moved to another class. We found ourselves some room among the other SpecE30’s, though, and got unloaded before heading to the hotel.

Limited as we are on adjustability, we were making small suspension adjustments, hoping to find a bit more speed in the car. Saturday morning’s practice session was a bit short – only 4 laps – but, on old “practice” tires, I set a 1:44.234, running the Pro Course. This was a time that no one, including myself, would match all weekend. The temperature rose rapidly after that morning session, reducing the grip levels for everyone. We had to rely on my feel for the car, more so than strictly lap times, in order to evaluate the changes that we were making. We made an adjustment going into qualifying and posted a 1:44.429. This was good enough for the pole, but concerning at the same time. The driver who qualified 2nd was Cameron Bullard – a relatively newer driver, only 20 years old, who was at least a second off my pace all of last year. I had helped him out in April by having his rear suspension completely refreshed (parts from Ireland Engineering and work performed at DTR Performance) and setting up his alignment. For that, he returned the favor by qualifying 0.333 seconds behind me. That was definitely within fighting distance. With 3 separate race groups, we were all thankful to be separated from the Spec Miatas. However, we had some very fast GTS (German Touring Series) cars in the group ahead of us. I would be leading off the start of our 2nd wave of cars, taking our own green flag on the back straight for the first time I can remember.

Qualifying Video from Side of Car – IN HD!

On the start of the race, Cameron dragged me down through Turns 7 and 8, but I pulled into the lead from there. He pressured me for a few laps before I was able to open up a gap wide enough to take a deep breath every once in a while. From there, I just tried to run consistent and quick laps, working through traffic as efficiently as possible. I had increased the gap to a half a straight away between us and was feeling comfortable with the car’s performance. On lap 7, though, as I was approaching the Keyhole, I entered to find a Porsche 944 spinning ahead of me. I could have picked a direction and shot by, hoping that his car hooked the other way, but I decided to play it safe and slow down to see which way his car was going. He ended up heading backwards off the track and I pulled to the right. Unfortunately, this had absolutely killed my exit speed onto the back straight. To make matters worse, I was going so slow that I needed 2nd gear and I couldn’t find it. I so rarely downshift to 2nd that I might have put it over in the Reverse gate, but regardless, it took a couple tries to get it engaged. As it ripped to redline and I upshifted to 3rd, Cameron blasted by on my right, having gotten full exit speed from the Keyhole.

Well, this race just got interesting… I gave chase as he pulled away from me down the straight. I pushed to get close and when we came around to the start finish line, I was within two car-lengths. As we entered Turn 1, I saw him turn in a couple feet early and, while he held a sweet 4-wheel drift right to the curbing, he pushed off the outside of the turn. I watched his splitter grab a big scoop of dirt and grass before it proceeded to fold under his car. He came right back on and was able to rejoin the battle, albeit with a little less grip in the front, and he held off Jeremy Lucas to finish on the 2nd podium position. In the meantime, I had run the remaining laps uncontested and brought the 007 home in 1st place, with a 7.5 second gap to 2nd!

Race 1 Video - IN HD!

We arrived at the track on Sunday morning to a fog that was thick enough to mandate the cancellation of our morning practice. So much for testing a change we had made since the previous day’s race… Considering the big picture, we decided to risk the qualifying session to evaluate the change. This turned out to put us in a bit of turmoil, as the qualifying session did not go as planned…

During our 4-lap session, I ended up running with an out-of-class car that was hindering me in the turns and I was not able to get a clean lap. The cars that qualified 2, 4, and 6 were impounded for weight checks and for dyno runs. In my head, I assumed that we had still qualified 1st. However, when I looked at the qualifying sheet, I realized that I had actually qualified 3rd. Cameron was second and the pole-sitter was Mid-Ohio newcomer Robert Grace. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t panic a little bit. We were not sure whether we were slower due to the other car or the change in the suspension, so I set to analyzing the video and data to compare against my feeling of how the car was acting. Should we return to the previous day’s setup, which PROVED to be good enough to win? Or, should we continue to evaluate the change, which I felt should make the car a touch quicker, overall, and risk the race? I ultimately decided that I would look forward to having a real race on my hands and we would let the cards fall where they may.

Between qualifying and the race, we did some checks on track width and differential break-away torque so that we could be familiar with the procedure and see where we all stood in terms of compliance. This drew some interesting results. We also eagerly attended the dyno sessions for the 3 cars that were selected. I realized very quickly why my motor never feels very strong compared to the others… While I make a good peak horsepower number, I’m down on torque across the powerband.

On the start, I had Robert Grace in front of me and Michael Osborne beside me. I was amused to watch Michael bump Cameron, as Cam wasn’t moving up into his line up position as quickly as Michael would’ve liked. We got sorted, though, and rolled onto the back straight, awaiting the green flag. Robert and I jumped at the same time, while Cameron was either in the wrong gear or taking a nap. I pulled ahead and followed Robert into Turn 7 and through Madness.

Coming through Turn 1, I pulled along side him, to the inside on the exit, and we went side-by-side up to the Keyhole. And then side-by-side down the back straight. And through Turn 7, and 8, and 9, where I gave him a little too much room and allowed him to pull back ahead, while Cameron was right on my rear bumper. I gave chase again and when we went through Turn 1 this time, I got the run and passed him on the OUTside, with 2 wheels in the grass, and we dragged up to the Keyhole again. This time I had the inside line and made the pass going in. I would love to see this guy’s dyno sheet, though, because he managed to get beside me again at the end of the back straight. I had the inside line for T7, though, and I used it to hold on to the lead.

On our next time through Turn 1, I watched Grace get completely sideways through the apex and I watched the other SpecE30’s scatter to avoid contact. Fortunately there was none and they kept going, but this also gave me a bit of a gap to the rest of the field and allowed me to focus on turning laps. Jeremy Lucas was the next car back and I watched him hold the gap, and a couple times he seemed to shrink it. I put my head down analyzed and made sure to hit all my marks, as I had been off a foot here or a foot there while I was in traffic on the first few laps. This improved my times and opened the gap back up through the remaining laps. The only challenge was a particularly hard-headed driver in a GTS 330i, supposedly a World Challenge-prepared car, who I had passed in traffic. He had about 100 hp on me, so he had the legs on the straights. On the LAST lap, he was closing on me on the back straight. I clearly positioned my car on the right side of the track (approaching the right-hand Turn 7) to indicate that I did not want to be passed here. Well, he pressed the issue and dove WAY to the inside, probably with tires in the grass, so I pulled back to the left under braking so he didn’t punt me off the track with his idiocy. Still, with being off-line and distracted with paying attention to him, as well as giving him room, it put me wide in T7 and in the marbles. Nothing that I couldn’t handle, but it really pissed me off that he was that slow and being bull-headed about the position with an out-of-class car. Of course, I still passed him in Turn 8 and gapped him through the remaining turns to bring home the class win, with another 7.5 second gap back to Lucas in 2nd place, while Grace had worked his way back up into 3rd.

Race 2 Video

3rd-to-1st - Driver Cam

As always, we have a lot of work to do between races, despite the positive results from this weekend. We will be racing on August 13-14 again at Mid-Ohio, and then we are expecting 30 SpecE30’s for the National Championships on September 8-10! Keep an eye out to see how the season progresses!

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

All photos courtesy of Katelyn Harley Moss.

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