Having missed races 5 & 6, I was looking forward to the weekend at Sonoma Raceway. It turned out to be my toughest race weekend yet.
I was excited going into the weekend as I had some new vinyl made for my helmet and the car. I had also looked over my track notes, data, videos and had been practicing using Forza on the Xbox. I really felt prepared going out on track.
The first session out the car felt good as we got the tire pressures sorted. I quickly improved on my lap times and beat my own personal best by several seconds putting down a lap of 1:52.957. I pushed a little too hard in Turn 4 and put my left rear in the dirt causing me to spin and I kissed my tail against the inside wall.
After looking over the car and verifying everything was ok, we checked the alignment just to make sure I hadn't whacked anything in the back. Everything looked good and we quickly got the car ready for the next session.
In checking over the car and getting everything sorted we hadn't mixed fuel for the second session so I went out to do about 10 laps before coming in for fuel. After a quick fueling I went to start the car and it wouldn't start the battery was low. After checking the charge circuit it confirmed the alternator was dead. We source a replacement alternator and got it installed in preparation for Session 3.
Session 3 was luckily uneventful, I worked on improving my lap times and consistency. I tried different lines for Turns 6 and 11, while trying to refine my entry and exit for Turns 4 and 7. I couldn't get the car to turn in right for Turn 4 or 7 with lots of push. Unfortunately, the session ended early under black flags. For Session 4 we decided to adjust the front sway bar softening it up by 1/4 inch to see if that helped.
In the past few seasons I had been lucky with only a few incidents requiring a radiator and/or nose. The last session of the test day coming down the front straight the motor over rev'd and I heard a bad rattling. Thinking I had destroyed the motor, I pulled aside out of the way so I didn't spread oil all over the track. Course workers checked the car and nothing was leaking. Turned out I had lost 3rd gear and limped her home to the pits.
We picked up a rebuilt transmission from the local Customer Service Representative AccelRaceTek. We pulled the motor and replaced the tranny Thursday night finishing up all the ancillaries Friday morning ready for the practice session. It was a huge job and we were exhausted afterwards. A big thank you to Ric at CSR Performance for all the work and effort to get me back out on track.
After the Friday morning practice the car felt good but we checked everything over again just to make sure it was ready for qualifying. I looked over the data and could see that my big losses in time were Turns 4, 6 and 7. I was also having trouble shifting to 4th gear, losing a lot of momentum on the front straight. We made some adjustments to the linkage and that helped.
During qualifying I didn't manage to repeat my earlier performance but I still put down a decent lap time ending up 8th in Spec Racer Ford and 22nd overall.
Just before Race 1, the vinyl decal from the TenTenthsPodcast guys arrived and we got it onto the car. A big thank you to Adam, Michael and Robbie for all their support! If you aren't already a listener go check out their podcast.
For Race 1, I got a decent start but there was some shuffling due to a spin in Turn 2. A couple of incidents resulted in the deployment of the Safety Car and a full course caution.
There was some great racing in Spec Racer Ford with shuffling back and forth between places 4th through 9th.
I pushed a little too hard chasing 5th place and lifted part way through Turn 10 resulting in a bad spin where I crunched the front left against the tire wall. Ending my race.
We spent the day repairing the car. We changed the front left suspension components, checked the radiator for leaks and only needed to replace the front cap that had been distorted. Some hastily cobbled together fiberglass and a quick paddock alignment with help from Bob Breton and I was able to make it out just in time for our second Qualifying session.
Getting the car to the grid just in time for the rollout, I was able to put in a few decent laps and ended up qualifying 7th in Spec Racer Ford and 19th overall. After the session we checked over the car again and got it prepped for the Sunday morning race.
Race 2 didn't start as expected either. I still don't know quite what happened on the start even after reviewing my video. I got a great start but it appears I somehow got tapped from behind after crossing the starting line and spun into Tony pushing both of our cars into the outside wall. I was extremely glad to hear he was ok. After the rescue workers checked the car nothing appeared to be broken or leaking so I was cleared to continue. I chased down the pack under the safety car, just making it in time for the restart.
I worked my way past places 21st through 23rd putting myself into 8th place in Spec Racer Ford. Then I was on the hunt for 7th place.
Putting in a few 1:53 laps I was starting to gain ground.
Then with poor throttle control I spun in Turn 10 again, this time keeping it off the wall and managing to keep on going. I ended up finishing the race 8th in Spec Racer Ford and 19th overall.
Pulling into impound I checked to see Tony was ok and talked to the stewards about the first lap incident. Tony was fine and had already let them know that something must have happened to spin me. We both weren't sure what happened. The stewards chalked it up to a racing incident and were glad that we were both ok. I of course apologized and helped make Tony's car a roller so we could get it into the trailer. My car in need of some TLC was still able to be driven onto the trailer.
Congratulations to Bob Breton, #51 Spec Racer Ford Gen3 and Jeff Cook, #32 Spec Racer Ford that had clean sweeps for the weekend with 2 poles and 2 wins each.
Exhausted, I headed home disappointed, but on later reflection I realized all the things I had learned from that weekend. From working and repairing the car to the on track performance. Despite my spins, I had significantly improved from the previous year. I had lost sight of that over the weekend as I was constantly rushing to get the car back together just before the next session started. A big thank you to all that helped throughout the weekend:
- Ric Heer of CSR Performance for the parts and his tireless work
- The TenTenthsPodcast boys for their continued support
- AxcelRaceTek for the alternator and transmission
- Meghan Frolli for the photos
- Rod Simmons for the fantastic vinyl work
- Bob Breton for the advice and setup help
- The fantastic Spec Racer Ford racers for checking in on me during the weekend and all their support
- All the SCCA workers that donate their time to make this possible
- My friends Eddie, Roland and Greg who came out to see the action
Hopefully the next race weekend runs a lot smoother.