SCCA SFR Races 13 & 14 Thunderhill

The final regional race weekend of the year was a shorter weekend, still 2 races but without a second qualifying. This time the test day was Thursday followed by races on Friday and Saturday.  

Spec Racer Ford Borrowed Body Work.JPG

I came into the weekend hoping to bring my new found speed from the year and improve my consistency and hopefully race craft. Unfortunately my body work and new paint wasn't ready in time for the race weekend. Ric from CSR Performance lent me his body work and generously allowed me to apply our Partners logos.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Sunrise.JPG

Racing with CSR Performance it was great to be pitted right next to the 2016 National Champion John Black just back from the SCCA Runoffs at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

CSR Performance Paddock Spec Racer Ford 2.JPG

The Thursday open test day saw a great mix of SCCA competitors a few LuckyDog/24HoursOfLeMons cars and a few teams getting ready for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. There was some great machinery out including, the Daytona Prototype of Fantasy Junction and the relatively new Élan NP01.

Prior to the test day we had gone through the car and I modified the setup slightly, trying some additional camber and slightly lower front ride height. The first session was focused on scrubbing in a new set of tyres for the weekend races.

After that we were getting the tire pressures set based on the track conditions. Last time we were at Thunderhill it was significantly hotter. As we were getting to the end of the season we also used up the remaining sets of tyres. By the end of the day the front tyres were done.

Spec Racer Ford using up old tyres.JPG

Following the last race I had also installed the BULTERBUILT Head Support System thanks to the support of our partners at BUTLERBUILT. Prior to the weekend I was excited to try it out. It did not disappoint. I had to adjust my routine for belting into the car, including putting my helmet and HANS on before entry. During the test day I was impressed, the system did not impact visibility, but it would greatly limit the amount of head movement incase of an impact over traditional roll bar padding. A great safety improvement to the car.

After the end of the test day it was time for new brake pads front and rear. The first session on race day was a short practice and this would allow us to bed the new brakes and also dial in the tyre pressures in preparation for qualifying later in the morning.

Practice

The practice session unfortunately ended a little early for me. I was able to bed the brakes but wasn't able to perfect the tyre pressures. Coming out of turn 9 the car bottomed out and lost power. I coasted off track and in sight of corner worker station. I tried to get the car started again and it fired right up. I limped back to the pits, but wasn't able to recreate the issue.

Suspecting an electrical issue and possible loose relay connection we went over all the electrical connections and made sure they were secure and latched. Checked plug wires were tight and the coil pack was connected and well grounded. There was no obvious cause of the issue. We further secured some connectors and the relays by tightening down a few zip ties.

Qualifying

For qualifying I went out initially pulling to the side to give myself some space. Unfortunately I took off too early and caught some of the slower cars on the first few laps. Normally this isn't an issue but I seemed to catch them at just the wrong times. Within a few laps the session was blacked flag with a car off course in a bad spot.

When the session restarted I knew I only had a couple of precious laps to get in a good time. I set out chasing down one of the front runners in SRF. Unfortunately a few cars went off in turns and I backed off out of caution and lost a little time.

By the end of the session I put in a decent lap time but was more than a second off the pole sitter for our class. Our run group includes both the Spec Racer Fords (SRFs) and the Gen3 cars. The Gen3 cars weigh 110 pounds lighter and have 30 more horsepower (29% more). At the end of qualifying there were a few Gen3 cars between myself and the leaders. I ended up 21st in qualifying overall and 7th in class. So there was going to be work to do in the race. 

During the qualifying session my alternator warning light was coming on. During the test day we had an issue with the alternator throwing a belt, after adjusting it again the belt seemed fine. The belt was good so we checked the charging circuit with a multimeter. The alternator had failed and and wasn't charging anymore. So for the second race weekend in a row we replaced the alternator. While changing out the alternator I also swapped out the worn out rod ends on the tensioner arm with brand new Nylafiber rod ends from our partners at Rod End Supply Co.

Alternator replacement Spec Racer Ford copy.JPG

Race 1

Hopefully, with the electrical gremlins resolved, I was ready for Race 1. The opening lap was very eventful. My car had a misfire at the start of the race that eventually cleared up but it meant I lost ground on the start. In turn 5 the blind over hill crest two cars lost their noses and third went wide into the grass. Luckily most cars avoided the melee, but the incident brought out a full course caution before the completion of the first lap. Then a stopped pace car meant the session was black flagged.

On the restart the Gen3s with the greater horsepower pulled me on the front straight and then I got slowed up by them in the tighter twisty corners where I was faster. I timed my pass wrong and took too much evasive action in turn 9 and went off. I was able to put in some fast laps and pass the Gen3 and catch 2nd and 3rd place. I was challenging for 3rd place when I ran wide in turn 14 trying to set up a run on the front straight and ended up finishing 4th in class, moving from 21st to 13th overall.

Kanga Motosports Spec Racer Ford Front.JPG

Race 2

The grid for Race 2 was set by the fastest times in Race 1 and because I had set some fast laps chasing down 3rd place, I was now qualified 16th overall and 4th in class.

During the pace lap one of the Gen3s had an issue and dropped back, causing a delay at the mid pack and the first start was waved off.

We thought we had solved the electrical issues now the battery had a good charge from the new alternator. But, again my car misfired at the start of the race, this time I lost a lot more ground with numerous cars passing me on the front straight. In hindsight we should have changed out the plugs and perhaps plug wires. Lesson learned and item added to the off season checklist.

I worked my way back past a Gen3 and caught the lead pack moving back into 4th. Making a move on 3rd place I got pinched in Turn 2 and we both dropped back. Continuing on we caught up again. I got passed in Turn 9 and dropped back to 5th. I was in 4th place when a full course caution came out after a nasty incident in Turn 14 that saw two competitors collide sending a lot of dirt and debris across the track.

I got a terrible run on the restart and dropped back to 5th battling with 4th place for the remaining laps. I ended the race in 5th place in class and 16th overall. I had fun with some great back and forth during the race. I learn't where I am faster and know where I need to practice my timing and off line driving for setting up passes at the next test day.

Big thank you to all those that have made this season possible!

Thanks to Ric at CSR Performance for all the hard work, hours on the car and all the advice Spec Racer Ford. Special thanks to all our partners for their support the TenTenthPodcast crew, Rod End Supply Co. and BUTLERBUILT.

Looking back on the season there were lots of ups and just a few downs but overall a great time with the SCCA San Francisco Region racing community.

Looking forward to the finale for my year the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill, December 3rd and 4th.

Other Race Reports

James Chartres

San Jose, CA