Each year the SCCA San Francisco Region holds the Spec Racer Ford Festival. This year it was at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The festival is great as the Spec Racer Fords get 3 races instead of the normal two. It was also the Regions first weekend this year at MRLS and so attracted competitors from Southern California and Oregon.
Thursday: Test Day
Arriving early for the Thursday Test Day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca the fog had yet to clear. The track looks fantastic in the early morning fog with a special atmospheric feel as you drive through the gates and into the paddock.
Before heading out on track, I installed my data system and set up my camera. Looking over the car with my checklist one last time before getting ready to head out on track.
The damaged shock from the last race weekend had resulted in the front pan being worn and buckling. This meant the radiator had come loose and there was now a gap. Any gaps in the front area result in poor radiator flow and affect the engine cooling. Prior to the race weekend I replaced the front pan and addressed these issues, as well as doing a full set up on that car.
The first session out, the track was still damp and greasy and the cold tires added to the fun. Although I wasn't able to push the car as hard as I would have liked I got into a good rhythm and picked up all my usual visual cues. Coming in I set my tire pressures for the day. The good news was the preparations had all worked out and the car was running well, with good water temps thanks to the new pan.
As the day went on I picked up speed and worked through my list. I tried different lines ahead of the race. I also experimented with modulating my braking or lifting into the various turns. I struggled for speed out of Turn 11 and worked on the hairpin at Turn 2.
As I felt comfortable in the car and reacquainted with the track again, I was having trouble with understeer. I made a quick adjustment to the front sway bars and that helped. I felt more confident in being able to get the car where I needed to in the turns.
As the day went on there were a few interesting moments on the track with cars spinning or going off in front of me. Luckily I made it through the day unscathed.
The last session of the day allowed all cars under the sound limit of 90dB to run on track. This made for an interesting session. Normally Spec Racer Fords have their our own run group so they are the only cars out on track. This session there were also Miatas in various race prep and it was fun to run with them.
At the end of the day I completed my checklist and the car was good to go for Friday. Friday would involve a practice session in the morning and qualifying in the afternoon. That evening I went over my video and data and determine the key areas to improve my lap times.
There are strict sound restriction as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca requiring Spec Racer Fords to have a special muffler. In the early mornings and late evening the sound limits are lower so the quieter cars run during these sessions. This means that the Spec Racer Fords and Mazda Miatas have sessions early in the morning and then late in the afternoon with a wide gap between sessions. It makes for a long day but provides plenty of time to deal with issues between sessions.
The Friday practice session went well I worked on the key areas I had determined the night before and applied myself in improving overall speed and consistency. I saw faster and more repeatable lap times but still about 1 second off my personal best.
Fueling the car after the practice session I noticed a small leak in the fuel filler hose. Over time these hoses harden and develop small cracks that can turn into leaks.
Replacing a fuel filler hose is straight forward but it can take some time to work it free from the car. Getting the new one in place also takes a little finesse.
I highly recommend getting the car as high in the air as you can to work under it making it much easier to access. Safety first make sure to use good quality jack stands and safety glasses to prevent dirt, grime or even fuel getting in your eyes.
Once the new hose was in place and secured it was time to refill the car with fuel and check for any leaks. Thankfully there were no leaks and the fix had worked.
With the fuel hose problem resolved it was time to get a new set of tires for the racing this weekend. I had used up an old set on a test day and wanted to get one cycle on the new tires before running them the next day.
I don't often go out for qualifying on a brand new set of tires referred to as Stickers. You have to be careful as the tires can be slippery if there is any left over mold release compound on the tires. You also have to avoid overheating the tires to prolong their life.
The Spec Racer Ford Festival had brought out a large field of 42 Spec Racer Fords, 27 Gen3s and 15 Gen2s.
The first turn on the track coming out of the hot pits is the hairpin in Turn 2. I approached with caution but still felt the car slipping and sliding underneath me on the new tires.
The first few laps were slower as I built up heat and broke the tires in. I was able to put in a few good lap times but was still a little slower than my personal best time at the track. I recorded a 1:45.240 (recorded as an unofficial 1:45.377 in video below) enough to put me in 8th for Spec Racer Ford and 32nd overall, faster than some Gen3s. Starting mid pack the race was going to be fun.
Saturday: MEI Day at the Track
Our title sponsor for the first half of the season Millennium Engineering and Integration Services has an office the San Francisco Bay Area with over 100 engineers and professionals working onsite at NASA Ames Research Center. With the close proximity of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca at only a short 1.5 hour drive made it a great opportunity for our partners to come out and see the racing. We arranged for an event at the track. Colleagues, friends and family came out to see the racing Saturday morning. We produced some trackside apparel for them to wear including custom embroidered Hats and T-shirts featuring MEI and Kanga Motorsports branding.
The opening race started well. Starting in 8th I was on the outside, I didn't get the best jump at the start but worked my way up to 7th by Turn 3. Coming into Turn 6 there was an incident from the Gen3s and the #71 of Jerry Aplass was stuck on the outside of Turn 6. With the number 27 on the inside missing a tail.
Round the front straight there was another Gen3 stuck off track on the inside of the exit of the hair pin. Coming back around there were now yellow flags in Turn 6 with the car was still stuck on the outside. Coming up the hill there was now a full course caution.
We spent the next 4.5 laps under the safety car before the re-start.
On the restart coming into Turn 5 there was another tail in the middle of the road and a waving yellow. Having cleared the incident I got a run on 6th place going into Turn 6 and made a faster exit heading up the hill. I completed the pass for 6th going on the inside into the corkscrew.
Down the front straight either I got a bad exit in Turn 12 or my motor wasn't pulling as strong as Bruce got inside going into the hair pin.
Again more yellow flags this time in Turn 3 and double yellows in Turn 4. I checked up not knowing what was ahead and we were going to be under safety car. Number 11 apparently hadn't seen the flags as he decided to illegally pass me before Turn 5. I was now in 8th and a little annoyed at the pass under yellow.
Then number 72 went by me up the hill before Turn 7. It had been more than 3 corners of double yellows and people were still trying to pass. Now in 9th place and I was more than a little annoyed. Then #72 slowed quickly dropping behind me, I guess he realized finally it was safety car.
After another yellow flag lap we were back to racing. I got a decent start but cars just seemed to pull away from me on the front straight. A lap later going into Turn 5 #11 made a pass for 6th place. I was close behind and then the current 6th place checked up at corner entry and I had no where to go. My front left contacted his rear right destroying fiberglass in the process. I also lost all the momentum up the hill and dropped back to 10th.
Coming down into Turn 11 the number 46 car put two wheels off and spun inside. I was now up to 9th and that is where I finished. We had more safety car laps then racing laps and my nose was a little worse than I started but the MEI team still enjoyed the action.
After the race the MEI team joined me in impound where we discussed the race and a some good laughs.
It was great to have so much support for the event and lots of interest in the racing from the team. There was lots of questions about what was involved in the various aspects.
As part of MEI Day at the Track we took a group photo with those available. Some of the team were still off exploring the race cars in the paddock but we got a few people together. Everyone enjoyed all the sights and sounds of a race weekend.
Employees, friends and family also had the opportunity to get up close with the race car and experience sitting inside it for photo opportunities.
I think there was even the sign of some future racers, especially with young Charles enjoying himself behind the wheel.
After spending some fantastic time with the MEI team they headed off to find lunch. I needed to get down to business of repairing and finishing preparations for the afternoon qualifying session.
After the hit on the front left I checked for any bent, cracked or misaligned parts. The most obvious indicator is the front wheel toe, a bend in the steering link would have the wheel pointing in the wrong direction. The toe looked good. Checking the other components and it looked like I got away lucky, with only minor damage.
The brake duct had become detached from the lower pan. Bending the aluminum back into place and a few quick rivets and the front section of the car was back together.
The next thing to tackle was repairing the front nose fiberglass. We previously put together a quick guide for doing trackside fiberglass repairs. Luckily the impact had not fractured the fiberglass into lots of little pieces.
We were able to pop the fiberglass back into place mostly intact. We reinforced the cracked fiberglass seams with thin aluminum sheets and some rivets. A little duct tape to secure everything in place and the nose was ready to go back on the car. Not pretty but functional.
With the car repaired it was time to get underway for qualifying. The group was bunched up, so I waited in the hot pits to get a gap and some clear track ahead of me.
Coming around on my out lap there was a car beached on the outside of Turn 11. Heading down the front straight the start finish was showing a black flag. The entire field headed into the hot pits.
After a few minutes the car was clear and the session had resumed. Unfortunately the field was even more bunched up now with limited track time remaining to get a good lap.
The field also now contained a jumbled mix of theGen3 and Gen2 cars including a mixture of pace in both classes. I got one clean lap but then ran into slow traffic and lost time getting around them on the next few laps.
I got a good run out of Turn 11 onto the front straight on a hot lap. Coming into the Turn 2 hairpin the was another car that had spun. It was placed in between the two apexes, not a good place to be. Then a Gen3 checked up and slowed unexpectantly going into Turn 3. I didn't get another clear lap for the rest of the session due to slower traffic or pointing by the faster Gen3s.
Then the checkered flag came out. I had to settle for a 1:46.786 a poor time putting back to 10th place out of 14 cars in class. There was going to be a lot of work to do during the race.
That evening the region had arranged for a Spec Racer Ford group photo on the front straight not all the drivers or cars could make it but we had a great turn out. Seeing so many cars grouped together with the various colours was a nice end to the day.
Early Sunday morning I checked over the car, getting it ready for the impending race before heading over to grid.
We went out on the pace lap behind the pace car. The Spec Racer Fords Gen3s and Gen2s each had separate starts to help provide racing room. As we rounded Turn 10 the field formed up and got ready for the green flag.
I got a decent start but again cars seemed to pull away me on the front straight. I got passed going into Turn 2 on the inside but had position going into Turn 3. Heading into Turn 5 a car spun to the outside and then another car to the inside of Turn 6. I was now up to 7th.
Heading into Turn 11 the #55 of Brian Duddy snapped the lower outside rear rod end and with the wheel partially disconnected spinning the car to the outside of the turn. We again went under safety car as they cleared the now stricken car from Turn 11.
On the restart, I got a great start and was heading up on the inside on the front straight. The car to my right moved left and tapped my right front pushing me towards the wall. I had to back out to avoid hitting the wall and lost momentum. Without speed down the rest of the straight I was passed by 3 other cars forcing me back to 10th place.
I spent the rest of the race trying to catch up the positions I had lost. I ended the race in 8th. The finishing position of the race also determined the grid for the Spec Race Ford Festival race. So I would start 8th for the next race.
Spec Racer Ford Festival Race
Starting on the grid in 8th place as we headed out onto the pace lap a couple of cars had issues taking the field. Consequently, I actually ended up starting 6th on the outside.
I got a great start heading down into the hairpin at Turn 2, I was now up to 5th place. Another good run to Turn 3 and I was 4th. Heading out of Turn 6 and I was now in 3rd place.
Then another safety car. On the restart a slower Gen3 lost it in Turn 4 and several cars took evasive action. I spun trying to avoid multiple cars. Luckily no one hit anyone else. Unfortunately the number 11 was beached in the sand on the outside of Turn 4. I got going again but was now dead last. Another safety car came out while crews worked to clear the car.
On the restart, I was dead last but managed to work my way through the field back up to 6th place.
Thank you Millennium Engineering and Integration Company for the fantastic support this year and making Saturday so fun!
Thanks to all the Sports Car Club of America - San Francisco Region volunteers and workers that make this possible.
Thanks also to all the great friends that came out to support me and watch me race throughout the weekend.
A big thank you to all our partners and sponsors, their products and services enable us to keep racing. Support the companies that support racers.