Coming into the 2018 season we upgraded the Spec Racer Ford to the Generation 3. The 3rd Generation Spec Racer Ford includes an upgraded drivetrain with a new 1.6 ltr Ford Sigma engine producing an additional 30 horsepower. The transmission is upgraded with a new final drive and performance clutch. The upgrade kit also includes all new air box, oil cooler, ECU and wiring harness. TheGen3 package reduces the overall car weight by 110 pounds and combined with the increased horsepower reduces lap times by approximately 2-3 seconds.
Friday - Test Day
Arriving early at Thunderhill Raceway on a very cold Friday morning I was looking forward to getting some run time on the car and checking it over. Unfortunately a few issues with loading the cars at shop meant they didn't arrive until late afternoon.
With the car unloaded in the late afternoon we checked it over and got the final touches set up. The Gen3 conversion had been a lot of work and I wanted to make sure I hadn't missed anything before we got out on track.
Starting the car did not go smoothly, we couldn't get it to fire. The starter motor gave a click without engaging. Swapping in another battery to make sure it wasn't a voltage problem. Still no start. A booster and we still couldn't get the car to fire, rocking the car back and forth in gear to make sure it wasn't a starter motor engagement issue, and it still wouldn't start. Sounded like a bad solenoid. Then all of a sudden after several tries it fired up and we got it warmed up.
Preparing to get out on track after checking the coolant level for air pockets we were ready to go out on track. With the starter issues we unfortunately had to push start the car. As I was gearing up it started to pour down with rain. Heading out onto the track the rain was coming down strong. Cold slick tires made for an interesting Turn 1 and the rear end slid out. Luckily I caught the car without stalling it.
Taking it easy in the tough conditions I got the car up to temperature and watched the gauges like a hawk. Unfortunately coming out of Turn 11, I lost the rear end and spun the car. This time I didn't catch it, I stalled the car and couldn't get it started. Sorry to all the other test drivers, I had to be towed in as the starter motor wouldn't engage.
With the rain still coming down, I looked over the car. The good news was no leaks. We tried striking the starter solenoid to see if it was stuck but to no avail. It was time to pull the starter motor. I scrounged around with the other Spec Racer Ford teams to find a new solenoid.
Removing the starter motor took me longer than expected, it was difficult to reach and the bolts had thread locker holding the nuts tight in place. After a lot of struggles I finally got the starter unit out and went to swap in the new solenoid. The new solenoid was larger and didn't look the same. With most competitors back at the hotel out of the rain, I tried the replacement part. I got it installed into the car with some struggle.
Alas, it didn't work. The solenoid was the wrong type and appeared to cause issues with the engagement mechanism. It was late, dark and I was soaking wet from the rain. With no other parts available it was time to head to the hotel and get some rest before an early start to try and fix the issue in the morning.
Arriving early Saturday morning to the track, I retrieved the starter motor out of the car. I talked Vic at Flat Out Racing as he offered to help me in the morning when he arrived at the track. I removed the starter motor again in preparation for the replacement solenoid.
Inspection & Registration
While I waited for Vic, it was time to take care of the paperwork. At the start of each race season you need to get your safety gear inspected and approved. The annual inspection includes checks for the needed certification labels on the race suit, shoes, gloves, arm restraints, helmet and head & neck restraint device. The scrutineers check to ensure there are no holes and everything is in good usable condition to keep me safe. Once you pass you get a competition sticker on your helmet and can proceed to registration.
With the correct sticker on my helmet, log book and license in hand I could proceed to get registered for the event. Signing in at registration and I retrieved my wrist band and Tech sticker for the car. These two items are checked on the grid before you can proceed out onto the track.
With my gear sorted and all the paperwork taken care of it was time to get the starter motor sorted. Vic and the team at Flat Out cobbled together a used solenoid, with a little track side Macguyver action soldering a wire to used unit that had a broken tab. Slotting it into the car was a lot faster this time, I wasn't tired and had lots of practice. With fingers crossed the car started first time. With moments to spare it was time to check over the car and get ready for the practice session.
I got the car warmed up as I suited up and got ready for my first full on track session of the weekend. Heading out on track it was time to get used to the new horsepower and check the car was running smoothly ahead of qualifying in the afternoon. Several areas of the track were different from the old car, especially in gear selection and the higher entry speeds into braking zones. I made mental notes and looked for areas where I could improve. But the car felt good and the gauges gave no warning of issues. Oil pressure stable, water temps steady and in range.
Pulling into the paddock after the session, I checked over the car and got it prepared for afternoon qualifying. Torque the axle nuts and lug nuts, check. Fuel the car, done. Inspect the oil level, looks good. Examine the brake, all good. But what is this? At the front of the car, I see a small amount of fluid. One of the long tubes connecting the motor to the front radiator had a small leak. The hose clamp had stripped, loosening up. A quick replacement and small top up of water and it was solved. Survey the jam nuts on the suspension and they are all tight.
As we waited for Qualifying 1 in the afternoon the big question was rain or no rain. The forecast had predicted rain at 1pm and we were scheduled to go out at 1:35pm. We all had our rain tires prepped and ready to go. The radar map showed rain building. We could see it in the distance but it was heading south of the track. I took a chance and stayed on slicks.
With the coolant leak issue resolved the car was prepared for Qualifying 1 and I was finally ready to turn some fast lap times. With the rain still on my mind as I pulled into grid I hoped for the best. I figured even if it started to rain I could at least get 1 or 2 quick laps before the track was soaked and I would need rain tires. I took to the track and got the car up to temperature and worked the tires to get heat in despite the cold weather. The rain stayed away the entire session. I was still getting used to the Gen3 upgrades with different shift points and greater speed. I was able to put in a decent time of 2:02.807 still with plenty of time left out on track to find tomorrow.
I prepared the car for the races tomorrow looking everything over to make sure it was not loose or leaking. Running through my checklist and ensuring everything was good before tackling a few small cosmetic items. The update to Gen3 meant I had to replace some of the cars decals. I had also borrowed a battery to get the car started so bought a new fresh battery to put into the car. The car was in good shape for tomorrow.
Late in the afternoon the rain came in and dumped down on the track and paddock. Luckily I had already finished my work on the car and place a tarp over my cockpit to keep it dry for Sunday. Checking the qualifying results and I was 15th of 20 cars. Not the fastest but there were obvious places where I could go faster and looking over my data and video that night really helped. I knew where I was losing time and where I could make big gains in the race.
Arriving at the track very early Sunday morning after the rain and cold night, there was snow on the mountains in the distance. Pulling up to our paddock the car was covered in ice and water from the day before. The tarp had kept my seat and cockpit dry. All I had to do was reinstall my data system and wipe down the rest of the car to get it ready for the race.
Going to start the car to warm it up and it wouldn't start. I was worried it was the starter again but a quick voltage check and it was the brand new battery completely dead. Nothing had been left on over night. We later learned it had an internal short and was junk. With little time to make the grid we jump started the car and got it going, but it was too late. I had to start the race from the very back.
Starting in the pit lane is agonizing for a driver as they watch entire field go past before they are released out onto the track. Because we had two generations of cars the Spec Racer Ford Gen3s (SRF3) and the Spec Racer Ford Gen2s (SRF) we had split starts with a gap in-between. I had to wait for both groups of cars to go past before I could even start.
Thundering out of the pit lane I was in 22nd place and a long way behind both fields. I knuckled down and focused on doing solid, clean fast laps. I quickly caught up to some cars that had been off course because of an incident on the opening lap. Then I caught the slower SRFs and worked my way through the field. I also caught and passed a couple of slower SRF3s along the way. But I ran out of laps. The race ended and at the checkered flag I had clawed my way back to 15th place, passing the entire Spec Racer Ford Gen2 field and several Gen3s.
Determined to do better I went over my lap times and made notes on where I could improve for the second qualifying just before lunch.
Each year the race car goes through an annual technical inspection in order for it to compete for the rest of the season. Mine was set to expire next weekend so while I had some time I decided to take it over to the scrutineers to have it checked out. The scruitneering team inspect the car looking over all the safety items and ensuring the car is in good condition, suitable for racing and meets the class rules. Things they look for include the expiration dates on the harnesses, excessive suspension or steering play, kill switch operation, brake & rain light function and a fully charged fire suppression system.
Before qualifying 2, I picked up another brand new battery to put into the car. Learning from our lesson we tested the voltage levels before installing and checked it had enough charge to start the car. Heading out for the session I got some great clean runs. Including banking a lap several seconds faster than my personal best. I had another faster lap going but messed up Turn 8 sending me spinning across the track at over 95 miles per hour. The next fast lap, I pushed too hard exiting Turn 5 resulting in a spin just before the checkered flag flew. My best time was a 2:00.113 placing me in 5th position behind a super fast lap of 1:58.944 set by Nei Ng to place him on the pole. Checking the qualifying sheet, I had done very well beating out several of the really fast guys.
With the car running well during qualifying all I had to do was check it over and top it up with fuel. waiting for Race 2, I was curious what the car weighed fully loaded. I headed over to the scales and recorded a weight of 1609 lbs (730 kg) including driver and helmet. During the race, I would burn about 3-4 gallons of fuel. Even with this weight, I was well over the minimum weight of 1560 pounds (707 kg).
Unlike the rest of the weekend going into Race 2 went smoothly as we rolled out to take the field, I was in 4th place. The 2nd place car had gone home early moving everyone up 1 spot on the grid.
On the pace lap I scrubbed the junk off the tires, warmed the brakes and got some heat into the tires. As the pace car pulled off we were ready to go racing. I got a decent start and stayed on the outside. Entering into Turn 1 the 1st place car had an issue and spun. Several cars got caught up in the chaos and I got hit pushing me off into the dirt on the outside exit.
As I tried to get back on track several cars went past and I was in 4th place. The double yellow flags came out and we were under the safety car. It took several laps to clean up the mess before we got restarted.
I got a good restart pulling out a lead from the cars behind me. Our lead group of cars pulled away from the field. I battled it out with the third place car, trying to get past. I was faster in different sections but couldn't get past. Entering Turn 3, I had to check up and lost a place. Now in 5th, the car in front also lost a place and we were back to battling. I got along side several times but couldn't quite get the pass done. We only got 8 laps at full race speed. On the last lap I had my nose right under his tail but couldn't get past. I backed off a little trying to get a run on the back straight and then closing on the front straight I was drafting behind but couldn't get the pass done. A great fun race, I finished in 5th place.
My first weekend in the Spec Racer Ford Gen3 and I had a great result finishing 5th out of 17 cars. With limited time in the new car I was happy with my performance.
Thank you to all our sponsors and partners. Special thanks to Ric from CSR Performance for helping me with the car build, Vic from Flat Out for help trouble shoot the starter motor. Big thank you to all the SCCA workers and volunteers that braved the cold and rain so we could race.
The next race is only a week away at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca!