2017 SCCA Majors at Thunderhill

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford SCCA Majors 2017.JPG

The SCCA Majors is a great way to mix it up with the best racers on the West Coast. Racers qualifying for the SCCA Runoffs compete including people from out of region. This gives a great opportunity to race with different competitors and also learn from the best.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Millennium Engineering.JPG

Thanks to the support of our title sponsor Millennium Engineering and Integration Company I was able to attend both the SCCA Majors and the Friday test day.

Test Day

After a disappointing end to the last race weekend with electrical issues cutting the last race short, I was looking forward to getting the car back out to the track and seeing if we solved the problem.

In preparation, Ric at CSR Performance, had swapped out the master and ignitions switches, investigated and cleaned up any suspect wiring and I had purchased additional parts to help identify the culprit.

The morning was cold and windy. The sun rose in the sky casting long morning shadows over the paddock. The test day, starts with a short 10-15 minute open practice allowing you to scrub in tires, bed brakes and do a visual reconnaissance of the track. Things to look for include changes in the pavement or modified curbing.

Leaving the pits with a lot of hesitation, had we fixed the problem? I got on the throttle and the motor sang and ran all the way through the rev range. Shifting up to 3rd, still good. Turn 1 quickly approached and I grabbed 4th the motor still winding out. I was hopeful but hesitant. Turn 6 had been an issue last race but this time nothing, had we solved it? It seemed so. Ecstatic I got down to running the car fast and taking in all the visual info of the track. I pulled into the paddock checked the tire pressures and got ready to go back out.

For the remainder of the days the cars were split into 3 distinct run groups. The next session the car ran fast. The track was windy pushing the car around a little in the fast turns. The cool air helped and I was flying down the front straight with a tail wind but suffered on the back straight with a head wind. Checking the lap times I was quick, firing off a few low 2 minute 4 second laps. Pulling into the pits, I was happy. It hadn't been a fluke, the problem was solved. Or so it seemed.

The next session out, the last one before the lunch break, and disaster struck the car was misfiring and badly. I couldn't get a solid period of acceleration and was super slow. Pulling into the pits early I was deflated.

Over the lunch break I checked over the wiring. Maybe something had come loose. I performed the wiggle test while the car was running but found nothing. Made sure the spark plug wires were secure, yep they seemed fine. I decided to swap out the ignition coil for a new one.

The next session more misfires. After 2-3 laps it cleared up again and the car ran strong. Was it a charging issue? Checked the voltage out of the alternator it was good. Checked the alternator wiring and connections nothing loose or even marginal.

The next session came too quick. Back in the car. Damn, still there. What could it be? I focused. Was it happening on bumps? In the straights? Left turns? Right turns? Elevation changes? I couldn't find a consistent pattern. Then it cleared up again after 3 laps.

What had changed? The car ran fine in the cool morning air. Was it temperature dependent? Was resistance building up with the heat? Maybe it was a fuel pressure issue.

With the help of Ric, we plumbed in a fuel pressure gauge. Now I could see the fuel pressure real time in the cockpit. Next session out, driving hard, watch the gauge. A fast corner, watch the gauge. The right-left-right of Turns 3, 4 and 5, watch the gauge. Turn in, watch the gauge. Apex, watch the gauge. Track out, watch the gauge. Fuel pressure was good and strong 42-45 psi.

Other racers came by to help diagnose. Have you tried fuel filter? Yep. Fuel pressure? Good and strong. Ignition coil? Just swapped it. Spark plugs, they are new. Ignition switch? Brand new. You know the old masters can go bad sometimes? Yep, it's new too. Frustrated and unable to find the problem the next session came up too quick.

With the last session of the day it was time to have some fun and set tire pressures on the race tires for tomorrows qualifying.

The problem hadn't been solved. Time to pull the car apart again. But before we do that let's get the checklist out of the way and make sure the rest of the cars systems are good. Brakes, bearings, fluids all check. Ok check the torque on the axle nuts and wheel studs.

Crack. What was that? A wheel stud snapped. Looking at the broken piece, wow that was lucky. It was corroded. Glad that happened in the pits and not out on track. Good thing I did the checks.

Removing the left rear hub, the rest of the stud was rusted in place. We tried to press the driveshaft spline out and replace the bearing just to remove the stubborn stud. Except everything was frozen in place so much so that press was not able to pop it out. We swapped in a spare upright and got back to the business of electrical trouble shooting.

Time to pull all the spark plugs. To get to spark plug number one you have to remove the alternator. Now was as good a time as any to recheck all the alternator wiring. Pulling all the spark plugs they came out clean, no obvious broken insulation. The tips were relatively clean and color as expected. The plug wires also looked in good condition.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Spark Plug Removal.JPG

We checked over the wiring once again, convinced it was in the chassis harness somewhere. Rewiring the chassis was going to be a bigger job than we could tackle at the track. The sun was setting and we were running out of daylight. With the little light we had left we put the car back together and buttoned it up for the night.

I was exhausted. Time to get food, crash and hopefully some rest.

Qualifying 1

Up early to get the car ready for the morning qualifying I arrived at the track. Looked over the car and did a last minute alignment check. The rear toe needed adjustment since we had swapped the upright. A few quick turns of the steering arms and the car was good to go.

Pulling up to the grid, I wasn't sure what to expect. The qualifying session started and I had the same misfire issues. I pulled offline and pointed the other qualifiers past until it cleared up after a few laps. It mostly cleared up but was still misfiring in left hand turns. I pushed hard to get a few solid fast laps. I saw a 2:05 and change, not my best. I pulled back paddock.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford SCCA Majors Troubleshooting Electrical Issues.JPG

With 3 hours before Race 1, I got down to business and checked over that car again. The plug wires looked good but decided to swap them for new ones. I pulled out the wiring diagram and started checking continuity on the ignition and grounding circuits.

At the suggestion of another racer I also pulled the crank angle sensor checked it was plugged in tight, clean and correctly mounted and gapped to the crank wheel.

I also cleaned up any loose wires and made sure everything was mounted securely. With all the changes in place it was time to put the car back together, fuel it and do the last minute checks before the race.

Race 1

The Spec Racer Ford Gen3s and the Spec Racer Fords had opted for a split start so that slower Gen3s wouldn't impede the faster Spec Racer Fords.

I hadn't even checked the qualifying times being so busy working on the car. I rolled up to the grid and started in 5th place. On the out lap the car was popping and misfiring this was not going to be good. The green flag dropped, the throttle went down and the car sputtered and chugged.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford SCCA Turn 11.JPG

I pulled out to the left and quickly dropped to 10th place at the back of the field. For the next few laps I struggled to keep up with the pack until the misfire cleared.

I fought back throughout the race. I made my way up to 6th place. Swapping places with Geno a few times. On the last lap he caught me going into Turn 14. Geno went inside and swung out wide, I tucked in low and got on the gas early, accelerating hard. A classic over under as we excited turn 15. We drag raced down the front straight for 6th place. As we crossed the line I couldn't tell. Checking the results I lost out to Geno. He beat me by 0.01 seconds. I finished in 7th place.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Swapping the ECU and Ignition Controller.JPG

After the race we ran down the list of other possible culprits we could investigate while we were at the track. We borrowed a spare ECU and Ignition Control module from the local CSR and got about swapping them into the car.

I finished the afternoon off by going over the checklist and made sure the rest of the car was solid for Qualifying 2 Sunday morning.

After a long couple of the days struggling and wrenching on the race car, it was time to get some rest. Thanks to Super 8 Willows, CA I was able to get a good nights sleep, dreaming about race cars.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Super8 Restful Evening.JPG

Qualifying 2

Arriving at the track the air was cold. On the Friday test day in the cool morning air the car had run great. Rolling out of the pits for qualifying the car felt good.

An off track excursion by one of the cars and an early black flag came out. With the emergency crews dispatched they quickly rescued the stranded race car. When the session restarted there was only time for a few clean laps.

The SCCA Majors use the fastest laps from the previous qualifying and race to set the grid. I didn't put a better lap together. But without realizing it I had qualified 4th.

The car ran great but I was nervous that it was because of the cool air not because we had fixed the problem.

Race 2

On the out lap for Race 2 the car was good, the problem was solved! But I couldn't think about it, I had to focus on the race start. The green flag dropped and the field thundered into Turn 1.

We were 2 wide coming out of Turn 1 and going into Turn 2. As we came out of Turn 2, I was in 3rd just ahead of Mike Boyle.

As we crested the rise going into Turn 3 there was a vigorous yellow flag. We slowed down as we avoided the stricken car stranded in the middle of the track. A few laps under the pace car and green flag was flying for the restart. I hung to the back of Nei in second place for the next few laps. 

With the restart the field had bunched up against the slower Gen3s. Nei was unlucky he caught one of them at just the wrong time having to slow going into Turn 9. I had the momentum and was able to make the pass out of 9 and heading into Turn 10.

I had worked my way into 2nd place but was now besieged by a pack of cars including slow Gen3s and the fast Spec Racer Fords. The next few laps we ran fast passing Gen3s and trying not to make a mistake.

Exciting Turn 6 I missed a shift and Nei capitalized passing me for 2nd. I managed to stay in 3rd for a few laps before we got caught by one of the faster Gen3s that had earlier spun off.

A Gen3 tucked inside me for Turn 8 and I had to back off, losing all momentum on the run up to Turn 9. Mike Boyle had the speed and passed me for 3rd place. Trying to catch up, I caught some slower gen3s and lost ground. They would pass me on the straights but then I was stuck behind them in the twisty 2-3-4-5 complex.

I got by one exciting turn 9 and then a kind fellow racer pointed me by in Turn 3. Thank you. I chased down Mike for the rest of the race looking for a way to catch up and get by. I thought I felt the motor stumble once or twice a lap.

Mike got held up by a Gen3 in the twisties and I was able to gain. Then the Gen3 spun off in front of him in Turn 6. Mike took evasive action into the grass. He was slow, I had the momentum coming out of Turn 8. I got along side Mike heading up to Turn 9 but didn’t think I could make it stick so tucked in behind.

With just over two laps to go Mike put the hammer down and I struggled to keep up. He was much faster in Turn 1 but I could gain in the tight stuff. Coming out of Turn 6 he had fantastic speed and he gained a few more car lengths on me.

He slowly pulled away in Turns 1 and 6 again but I would gain a little ground in Turn 9 and the twisties but it wasn’t enough to make up the deficit. 

Some fantastic laps by Mike and he had eked out a good solid lead and was clear to the checkered flag.

I finished the race settling for 4th. Fantastic fun and some great wheel to wheel action, I just couldn’t put it together this time. Finishing the race I was elated that we had solved the electrical issue. But pulling back to the trailer I was unsure and concerned that I might have hurt the motor.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Rear SCCA Workers.JPG

Thank you to all those that made this weekend possible including friends, family, sponsors and partners, particularly our title sponsor for this race Millennium Engineering and Integration Company. Special thanks to Ric at CSR Performance for helping me with the car, trouble shooting and trying to diagnose the electrical issues. Big thank you to all the SCCA workers and volunteers that put in the hard work and long hours so that we have the opportunity to race.

Previous Race Reports

James Chartres

San Jose, CA