Races 7 & 8 Sonoma Raceway

The SCCA San Francisco Region only has one race weekend at Sonoma Raceway each year. I was excited coming into the weekend as I really like the track and thought I could improve my performance compared to last year. The track is a challenge, but a lot of fun as well.

Thursday: Test Day

The test day starts by registering with the front office for the number of test sessions you want to run and letting them know your car number, showing them your license and paying them to use the track.

Spec Racer Ford Kanga Motorsports Sonoma Raceway Test Day Registration.JPG

Once you have paid you will receive a colored wrist band and a sticker for your car. You mount the sticker on the front windshield or roll bar if you don't have one. The sticker lets the workers know the car is good to go on track. The wrist band shows them the driver has the credentials and is allowed out on track. You show the wrist band to track entry in the hot pits.

I like to use the first session of the day to get back up to speed and get reacquainted wit the track. Coming into the weekend I had done preparations including looking at my old track map notes, videos and data review. I felt ready to go and hoped I would improve my track times over last year.

The first session ended early as I heard the exhaust note change and it sounded like the header was coming loose. 

Spec Racer Ford Kanga Motorsports Sonoma Raceway Exhaust Safety Wire Issue.JPG

Pulling into the pits, I checked tire pressures and then removed the rear tail to see what the issue was. As I removed the fiberglass tail the exhaust header almost fell off the car. It was held in place only by the rear exhaust hanger.

The safety wire holding the the exhaust together had fatigued and broken loose. Putting the exhaust back in place, I then applied new safety wire and tripled up just to make sure the exhaust wouldn't come loose again.

The first session I posted a fast time of 1:53.297 beating my previous personal best. Before the next session I switched the tires over to some used tires I had. I wanted to save my good tires for the races later in the weekend.

The next session out there was traffic to negotiate as more cars were testing. We ran with the Formula cars and prototypes so there was a lot of speed differential and you had to be very aware of your surroundings. A black flag came out early in the session and we waited while the track was cleaned up before we got back underway.

Coming off track after the session, I checked over the car. Filled it with fuel, torqued the wheels and check all the fluids. Inspecting the safety wire on the exhaust and everything looked good.

After the lunch break, I headed out for the 3rd session there was a lot of traffic with lots of cars on track. It was hard to get a clean lap so I worked on various corners and getting the best exit speed I could.

An early incident brought out the black flags as a formula car had hit the outside wall on the entry to Turn 7. 

Late in the 3rd session I heard the exhaust note change again and the lower pipe had become detached. Fresh safety wire, more fuel and the car was ready for the final session of the day.

I prepped my gear with a new visor tear off and got suited for the session. Heading out on track I had a few areas of the track I still needed to work on. I wanted to get faster coming off Turn 4 and Turn 7. I also wanted to carry more speed through Turn 10.

At the end of the session I brought the car in having learned a lot and I quickly wrote down in my notes some areas to look at that evening in the data and video.

SCCA Registration for the weekend opened up early that afternoon and I got my SCCA wristband and Tech sticker for the car.

That afternoon I went through my checklist on the car inspecting all aspects including the tires, brakes, suspension, fluids, fueling the car and a nut and bolt check.

During the race weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where I had damaged the front nose. Ric at CSR Performance had repaired and repainted the nose before the weekend.

Thursday afternoon I had time to install the decals onto the car including the Kanga Motorsports branding and sponsor decals.

Our friends at TenTenthsPodcast have always been very supportive and their previous decal had been destroyed in the prior incident. A fresh decal for on the front corner really helped the look of the car.

With the new decals in place including the front numbers and sponsors the car looked fantastic ready for the race weekend.

Spec Racer Ford Kanga Motorsports Sonoma Raceway Nose.JPG

After the long test day I headed to the hotel to relax. I spent a lot of time looking over my video and data to determine where I could improve my lap times. Taking a lot of notes I made a plan to work on various aspects throughout the weekend.

Friday: Practise

Practise was good and clean. I got some decent laps and really enjoyed myself.

Spec Racer Ford Kanga Motorsports Sonoma Raceway Gearing Up.JPG

With the cool weather and overcast skies the car felt good out on track.

I posted a lap time of 1:54.076 not as fast as my lap times yesterday but good enough to put me 5th on the timesheet in my class. I still had work to do but felt good about my performance. 

Qualifying 7

The tires I had tested on were well worn down with very little rubber remaining. Before qualifying I switched out my tires for some newer used rubber.

During the session I had a lot of fun. I put together a few decent laps. In the end I qualified 7th of 12 cars with a best time of 1:53.975. There was a large field of Gen3 cars meaning I qualified 36th overall out of 42 cars.

Unfortunately I had to end the session early again the exhaust broke loose from the safety wire. It was now clear that the safety wire would only hold for a session or maybe two before it fatigued. So I decided I was going to swap out the safety wire after every session.

That evening I inspected the car and prepared it for the next day. I have a running list of items to check on the car at the end of the day. As I find new things I add to the list and try to see what are the most common items to look for during a weekend.

Back to the hotel room and where plugged in all the devices to charge. I spent more time looking over my video and data and seeing where I was loosing time. I also looked at what I was doing well and if I could piece together a good theoretical lap. The data was promising if I could do each corner well I would have a very good lap time in the 1:52s. I felt up beat for the race Saturday morning.

Saturday: Race 7

Before the start of the first races of the day the US National Anthem is played.

The Spec Racer Fords had a large grid for Race 7 with a total of 42 cars. There were 30 Gen3 cars and 12 Gen2 cars.

I got a great start as the green flag dropped. Making a pass into Turn 1 and I had the inside for Turn 2. I was now up to 6th place.

The #9 of Joe Briggs was slow in Turn 6 and I got a run and went outside unfortunately we ran out of room and I went into the dirt on the exit of Turn 6. I lost as spot due to lack of momentum up into Turn 7. Back in 7th place as we came into Turn 10 there was a Gen3 car immobile on the infield side and we went under safety car. 

The restart was hard to see for the Gen2 cars as we were far back away from the green flag. I lost a little ground as the front pack drove away.

I had a good exit out of Turn 11 and we went three wide down the front straight. I got the door closed coming into Turn 12 and had to back out a little bit to avoid contact.

Heading into Turn 7 the pack bunched up and I went to the outside line and made the pass. I was now in 6th position. 

I raced hard behind Joe keeping up with him on the back half of the track but he would pull away on the front half.

Coming around Turn 12 I saw #53 Mike Boyle going slow on the track and passed him on the front straight. I found out he had a mechanical issue and thought he had damaged the gear box.

I finished 5th gaining two positions when the checkered flag fell.

Thanks to all the Sports Car Club of America - San Francisco Region volunteers and workers that make this possible.

Qualifying 8

The qualifying session was late in the afternoon on Saturday the track was hot from baking in the sun all day. I went out and struggled to get the front of the car to turn in and didn't feel I could get on full throttle as early as I should.

The session had some early traffic as the field spaced out. I got some fast laps in early in the session but was slower than Friday qualifying.

I posted a best time of 1:53.889 enough to place me in 7th position in class, out of 12 Gen2 cars. In the larger field I was 36th overall of 43 cars beating the lap times of a few of the Gen3s.

At the end of the day I ran through my checklist on the car, looking over all the usual maintenance items, brakes, fluids, fuel and suspension. As a precaution I also replaced all the safety wire on the exhaust tabs to ensure it did not come loose during the race.

That evening we spent some time with friends enjoying dinner together. Our friends also had pet goats. My fiancée was very happy getting to feed a baby goat as she giggled away with joy. It was a great time to catch up with friends and relax after a hard day at the race track.

Sunday: Race 8

The second and final race of the weekend was late morning just before lunch. Before heading out I did the few last minute checks including setting the tire pressures. Sunday weather hadn't disappointed and it was warm and sunny late morning so I had to sure the tires didn't start out too high.

With the car ready it was time to head to the grid and get lined up ready for release on to the track. A last minute good luck and thank you to Ric at CSR Performance and we were ready to race.

There field consisted of 41 Spec Racer Fords: 29 Gen3s and 12 Gen2s. Due to the difference in speed the faster Gen2s were turning quicker times than the slow Gen3s so we had split starts all weekend.

Spec Racer Ford Kanga Motorsports Sonoma Raceway Race 2 Gen3 Start.JPG

The Gen3s began the race slightly head following the SCCA San Francisco Region pace car.

The Gen2s followed with a gap behind an additional Porsche Safety car.

As the flag flew I got a decent start and the field bunched up several cars went wide while I went inside. The #55 Stephen Controulis tried to get across to the apex and hit me. The contact caused him to spin and I lost significant time to the front of the pack.

The #98 Gary Umphenour passed us during the incident. I was still in 7th but had lost a bunch of time. It was going to be tough to chase them down for the rest of the race. 

I spent several laps chasing down Gary trying to past. I could get close in Turns 11 and 7 but could not get the pass done.

On lap 3 heading out of Turn 10 I wast fast and had a good run down into the braking zone of Turn 11. Slipping to the inside Gary gave me racing room.

Side by side in Turn 11. I just had to get the car rotated and get to full throttle before Gary.

I made the pass but he was right on my tail on the front straight. We spent the next few laps chasing down the front pack that we could see in the distance while Gary was still on my tail.

On the 4th lap #53 Mike Boyle pulled off with mechanical issues. Moving me to 5th position. Coming around #48 Nei Ng was off track looked like he had spun. I was now up to 4th.

On lap 5 heading into Turn 7 Gary got a run on me and went inside. I left him room and went out wide hoping to get back on the throttle and beat him out of the turn into the esess. Unfortunately he went wide and we had side to side contact, I was hit in the rear.

As I continued down the track the car felt weird in the rear. Coming out of 8 I couldn't get the car turned for 8a and went in the dirt and down the escape road. I was now back to 6th place. The steering wheel didn't seem to steer straight maybe the rear toe was affected.

Coming into Turn 10 there were yellow flags and a car was stationary on course. The double yellows came out and we were under safety car. The field bunched up as the racers got ready for the restart.

After 3 laps we were back under green and racing.

I tried to stay with the lead pack but was slowly dropping back. I got passed by #55 Stephen Controls the next lap in Turn 11. I was now back into 7th place.

On Lap 12 Places 2nd, 3rd and 4th got tangled up in an incident at Turn 7. All three cars were damaged and unable to continue moving me up to 4th place.

On the final lap #98 Gary Umphendour and #55 Stephen Controulis got together in Turn 2 causing Gary to spin. I had to take some drastic evasive action to avoid hitting Gary and kept going. I was now in 3rd place.

At the end of the race only 8 Gen3 cars finished the race from a starting grid of 12. I had survived the race despite the large amount of attrition.

Getting out of the car I was pumped knowing that I had finished well.

The incidents on track caused a few cars to be pulled into impound after the race. Also the top finishers are always pulled in. The cars and drivers stay in impound until incidents are resolved and the drivers are cleared to go.

My first podium finish, I was 3rd when the chequred flag waved.

Thanks to the great friends that came out to support me and watch me race throughout the weekend. Also big thank you to those following along on social media, especially all the messages of support.

Spec Racer Ford Kanga Motorsports Sonoma Raceway Gearing First Podium.JPG

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James Chartres

San Jose, CA