We returned to Thunderhill Raceway for Races 3 & 4 of the SCCA San Francisco Region Championship.
With the SCCA Majors behind us we had isolated the ignition issue to either the ECU or Ignition control module. Before this event, I spent time replacing the ECU and Ignition control module and going over the car in preparations for the next race. We completed a full set up and addressed open items on the car. Thanks to our partners at BUTLERBUILT we were also able to get a new seat cover installed, it really cleaned up the cockpit. With the electrical gremlins solved the weekend would allow me to focus more on my driving, competition and race craft.
A big thank you to our Partners at Millennium Engineering and Integration (MEI) Company who have been incredibly generous with their support. We were proud to once again campaign the MEI Company #77 Spec Racer Ford.
Arriving early for the test day we had great weather with mostly clear skies and a cool breeze ensuring temperatures were not too high.
I quickly spent the first early session on shake down and setting the tire pressures. Either the minor set up corrections or the renewed focus on my driving helped me to significantly drop my lap times. Running times consistently in the 2:03s to 2:04s. I was very happy with the performance. Since the last races I had gone over a lot of my data and found spots to work on for finding speed. The next session I focused on Turns 1 and 6 where I was over slowing the car.
I came in after the 2nd session of the day and noticed dried coolant on the expansion tank. It had sprung a leak under pressure. Luckily I had barely lost any coolant. On closer inspection the clamp had rubbed a very small hole in the weld. The local Customer Support Representative (CSR) AccelRaceTek had a spare loaner tank. After a quick drain of the coolant and a swap out, I was ready for the next session.
In the afternoon I worked on getting a better exit out of Turn 11 and pushing the car further in Turn 9. Later sessions I focused on trying to put it all together and get faster more consistent times.
Hoosier tires recommends a single short heat cycle followed by at least a 24 hour cure time before competition running. One of the afternoon session I dedicated to tire break in for the weekends competition.
Swapping out the tires between sessions is straight forward with the assistance of a cordless impact wrench and quick jack.
This season I had decided to take one session each weekend and just focus on having fun. The last session of the day I just enjoyed being in the moment and driving the car. Interesting enough there were some places on the track where I noticed improvements from being more relaxed.
A few minor issues with the car but overall a good solid test day. I had made improvements to the car and myself and on track showed obvious gains in lap times. Ending the day, I hoped the preparations and effort would lead up to improved performance on race day.
Before practice the next morning it was time swap the rear brake rotors that were getting close to the minimum thickness. I also ran through the end of the day checklist, followed by reviewing my video and data that evening to determine where I could continue to improve.
Saturday early morning practice went well, I teamed up with fellow CSR Performance racer Nei Ng and we spent the session running nose to tail drafting off of each other and observing where we were faster and slower than the other. Nei was fast on the front section but I would pull away on the back session. We posted the 2nd and 3rd fastest times in the class, with a 2:03.644 for myself.
For qualifying Nei and I had planned to run together again and see if we could get a draft off of each other down the front and back straights.
Unfortunately during my out lap for qualifying I got distracted checking something in the cockpit and turned in really early for Turn 1. Trying to correct on cold tires didn't go well, I spun ro the outside. Luckily I didn't mess up too bad and was able to keep going. However, I had lost my draft buddy and was stuck behind the pack including some of the slower cars.
As I worked my way through traffic, I struggled to get a clear lap and suffered by not qualifying well. I ended up 6th out of 13 cars in class. My best time was a 2:05.386, a lot slower than the morning practice. I would have some work to do during the race but knew I had the pace to work towards the front of the pack.
Starting 6th, I quickly moved my way up to 5th on the start in Turn 1. An incident in Turn 3 saw a waving local yellow flag and I slowed for the caution. Unfortunately a couple racers didn't see the flag and I lost ground as two racers snuck by on the inside putting me back to 7th place.
I spent the next few laps racing back and forth with 6th place. We both got held up by slower Gen3 cars. I would gain ground and the unfortunately lose when I had to check up or we met traffic. I managed to pull alongside a few times but couldn't get the pass done. I finally got by Tanner Briggs five laps later after he made a mistake exiting Turn 5.
While I struggled to get by Tanner, 5th place had pulled out a large lead. I spent the next 8 laps chasing down the #98 Gary Umphenour for the 5th spot. We got the one lap to go sign at the start/finish line and I pushed as hard as I could to catch him. Each turn I felt like I gained a little more and was chipping away at the lead. By Turn 9 I knew it was possible to catch him but passing was going to be hard.
I was right on him coming out of Turn 11 going into the back straight. Tucking up under his tail I got a little draft. He stayed inside so I went outside. Braking into Turn 14 he held his line and covered the apex. I got up right behind him exiting Turn 15 as we raced down the front straight. I got as much tow as I could, popped out to the left, pulling alongside.
It was a drag race to the finish. The race ended with a photo finish at the line and my transponder just tripped ahead. I just beat him finishing in 5th place by 0.012 seconds.
Sunday saw heavy winds at Thunderhill Raceway. It made for an interesting qualifying with gusts of winds pushing the car around in the fast corners. It also gave a boost down the front straight with a tail wind. But slower on the back straight with a head wind.
With clear track in front I was able to put in some fast laps and qualify 4th in class with a lap of 2:04.546 just a few tenths behind 2nd and 3rd place. If the times from qualifying were any indication, Race 4 was going to be fun. Many cars up and down the grid were within a few tenths of each other.
I started in 4th place. I got a good start and carried more speed to the outside of Turn 1. I had pulled ahead and was now in 3rd by the exit of Turn 1. Diving to the inside for Turn 2 I held my line. I couldn't catch 1st and 2nd in front as they very slowly pulled away. For the next few laps I gained a slight lead on 4th place. On lap 3, I locked the left front going into Turn 14 and lost momentum. Hank capitalized and tucked up behind me on the front straight.
Hank had me and popped inside on Turn 1. But I stayed on his tail now in 4th place. The next 3 laps I chased down Hank losing ground in some places and catching in others. Unfortunately I over cooked it in Turn 4 and lost the backend spinning to the outside. Back on track, I got down to business trying to make up the time I had lost.
On lap 8 I clipped the inside curb of Turn 11 and I thought I heard something in the suspension. Suddenly the front nose was rubbing on the ground. I was slow down the back straight. I continued down the back straight and braking into Turn 14 the car drastically pivoted and I barely kept the car under control. The front nose pan had bottomed out and was now also rubbing. I nursed the car into the pits and went back paddock. After I removed the front nose the problem was obvious. The upper eye of the left front shock had torn loose resulting in the front left suspension bottoming out.
On closer inspection of the upper shock eye it looks like the shock had worked itself loose and then tore out the last few threads. We were able to fix it enough to get the car back into the trailer. Back at the shop we will check all the shocks, replace the damaged part, use some Vibra-Tite and tighten down all the shock eyes to prevent it happening again.
Big thank you to all the SCCA Workers that donate their time to make the weekend possible. We also want to recognize all our Partners and Sponsors that provide the support so we can compete. With fast lap times and good pace we head confidently into the next weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, 2-4 June 2017.