Races 3&4 SCCA SFR Championship

The first SCCA race weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the 2018 Season! Coming off great pace at Thunderhill Raceway we were looking to improve at this difficult track.

The weather predictions called for heavy rain on both the Friday and Saturday. On the drive down from San Jose to the track the rain was coming down strong. Arriving into the track and the circuit was soaked, large amounts of standing water and small rivers running across several turns. It was definitely going to be a wet practice session.

Preparations

Arriving at the track with heavy rain there was talk amongst the drivers on whether it was going be possible to run the practice session. Everyone was dusting off the rain tires and getting the car ready for the wet conditions.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Rain Tires.JPG

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is famous for it's sound restriction so much so that many cars have a special "Laguna Muffler". Since Spec Racer Ford Gen3 is a specification class everyone must run the same SCCA Enterprises muffler designed to meet the strict sound limits. Installing the muffler requires removal of the standard muffler and slipping and clamping the much louder muffler into place. My muffler was brand new as this was the first time running the Gen3 car at Laguna Seca.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Muffler.JPG

Going out for the first practice session in the wet I had prepared for driving in the rain. Clear visor without tear offs and rain tires. 

Exiting the pit lane the water was everywhere, running in streams across the track, complete corners were washed out soaked in a combination of sandy mud and flowing water. No lap records were going to be broken this morning.

I used the practice laps to get a feel for the car and refresh my visual memory and feel of the track. With so much water it was difficult to get on the power in turns and squaring off the corners was essential to survival. 

I had a few moments spinning the car in Turns 5 and 9. I only got 2.5 laps before coming in. A short session but it was a good refresh on the track especially in wet conditions. With rain predicted for the afternoon qualifying session it was good to know where the water would be and where to take it gingerly. 

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Mazda Raceway Paddock.JPG

Throughout the day it rained on and off, I spent the day trying to stay warm and dry. In between the rain I checked over the car, got mentally prepared. I disconnected the sway bar to soften up the rear suspension of the car.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Rear Sway Bar Disconnected.JPG

Just before Qualifying there were storms in the distance and we spent the time leading up trying to decide on wet vs rain tires. By the time of qualifying it was clear wet tires would be needed as various corners on the track still had small stream and there was a light rain.

As we headed to grid I was chatting to a few workers and they mentioned power had gone out in and around the track. With the field of cars waiting we were asked to kill our motors. Qualifying was cancelled, they had lost the timing loops and all the land lines to the corners. With no communications and limited ability to record times qualifying was going to be a bust.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Wet Weather Cover Up Qualifying Postponed.JPG

The drivers met with the stewards and the idea was brought forward of doing a quick qualifying before the morning race. The drivers voted and agreed. The race was set to start at 9am but we decided to do a 15 minute qualifying at 830 followed immediately after by the race.

I used my end of the day checklist to prepare the car. I topped up the fuel tank to max, making sure I had enough for two back to back sessions. Covering up the car to avoid a wet cockpit incase of the overnight rain.  It was time to head to the hotel to warm up, dry out my gear and get some much needed rest.

Qualifying 3

Arriving at the track early Saturday morning the rain was even heavier than Friday. The entire paddock was flooded and the track was awash with water flowing through the turns. This was going to be another interesting morning.

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As the sun rose the weather started to clear. There was still a light rain but the dark heavy storm clouds had broken. The cars arrived to a very wet grid as we prepared to head out on track for qualifying.

 Photo: Ben Beames

Photo: Ben Beames

Entering the track it was still water logged despite the sun coming out. The first few laps were interesting with several cars involved in spins and off track excursions.

I put a few decent laps together and was on a flyer when I pushed the car too hard exiting Turn 11 and spun. I ended up up near the pit wall but with so many cars trying to get fast laps I had to wait for traffic to clear before I could get going again. As the session ended I returned to the paddock. Based on my data I put together a reasonable lap of 2:07.5 despite the wet conditions.

Race 3

After a quick once over of the car, we all quickly returned to the grid for the start of the race. Without time to check I had no idea how well I had done in qualifying and wasn't sure where I placed. Arriving on grid I was pleasantly surprised as I was directed towards the front. I had qualified 6th in the wet with a lap of 2:07.445.

On the formation lap the rain had died down but the track was still soaked. Each of the cars in front kicking up a cloud of water, visibility was poor. As we formed up for the start I used a microfiber towel to clear my visor.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Race 1 Formation Lap.JPG

We got the green flag early as the field thundered down the track.

I got a good start and moved up into 5th place.

Entering into Turn 2 and people took it easy with everyone struggling for grip no one took drastic chances at the front and we made it through cleanly.

6th place went in hot into Turn 3 and I checked up narrowly avoiding them spin in front of me. I lost a bit of time to the front of the field but was still in one piece and on the track.

I pushed hard catching up in Turns 4, 5 and 6 and caught the front pack heading into the corkscrew. Coming around Turn 11 and a car was off on the outside.

Heading down the front straight the double yellow flags were out and the field waved everyone off letting them know they were slowing down. 

Unfortunately with the poor visibility some people hadn't seen the yellow flags and I got hit from behind. The next two laps were a full course caution as they cleared the track of incidents.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Race 1 Turn 11.JPG

I got a bad restart with little grip coming out of Turn 11 onto the front straight. 

I made up ground in Turns 2 and 3 and caught the front pack heading into Turn 4. I had good pace coming out for Turn 10 and was side by side with 3rd place entering Turn 11. Unfortunately they lost grip on the inside and swung wide pushing me to the outside. 

I lost momentum and was back to 5th place on the front straight. 

The next lap around I got the pass done in Turn 11 and was up to 4th position.

Next lap I locked up the front wheels in Turn 2 and lost another position. I spent the next few laps making up the ground I lost. 

A spin in Turn 5 and I was down to 7th position. I pushed on, trying to be smooth with my inputs but still carry as much speed as I could.

A car was off on the inside of Turn 4 and I gained back positions. I was back up to 5th place. Everyone was struggling with the wet conditions and looking for grip. Like myself almost everyone had a few moments loosing and gaining track positions.

A bad downshift in Turn 2 and dropped to 6th place where I finished the race a couple of laps latter. A tough race with challenging conditions but I had done well to keep the car on the track and survive until the finish with the front group. I learned a lot in the wet and had a great opportunity to work on my car control.

After the race I caught up with a few friends that had come to visit. I was then called to the stewards. They asked about the side by side in Turn 11, I chalked it up to racing with no hard feelings.

Later in the day I was called back to the stewards. Apparently they didn't know at the time but apparently on the penultimate lap, I had blown the sound limit by 1dB. The Spec Racer Fords all run a specification exhaust and muffler system. There was nothing I could do as we aren't allowed to modify the specification exhaust system.

After meeting with the stewards they weren’t sure what to do and needed time to discuss the situation. I later learned that several people had struggled with sound and there were a few cars in qualifying that had also blown the sound limits. 

The decision came down from the stewards, I wouldn't be disqualified but I was docked 1 lap from my finishing position. This pushed me all the way down the order and I ended up 11th, 1 lap down.

Qualifying 4

Around lunch time the rain had stopped and the clouds finally cleared. With the sun out, the paddock and track was starting to dry out. There was still lots of water in various turns but the improved conditions meant we would be able to switch to slicks for qualifying.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Preparations Between Sessions.JPG

I prepared the car for qualifying. The rear shunt had knocked my toe out of whack. I realigned the front and rear of the car and reconnected the rear sway bar.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Fans Enjoying the Car.jpg

Friends came to visit me at the track and they brought their kids along. They each got a chance to sit in the race car and learn more about the racing. Josephine was all smiles in the race car, even though she couldn't see over the steering wheel.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Fan.JPG

As I headed out for qualifying Sal cheered me on. I later learned that he was cheering me on the entire session and had a lot of fun at the race track. Maybe he will have a race car in his future.

Heading out on course there was a drying line but there were still a couple of corners that were wet, especially Turn 3 which had two small streams running across it. Turn 3 is normally a key turn as it provides the speed leading up to Turn 4, 5 and 6 as you head uphill.

With no one able to get on the power early exiting Turn 3 the lap times were lower than normal. I qualified 7th with a best time of 1:47.236.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Talking to Fans.JPG

After qualifying I spent some time talking with friends and their kids as they asked me more about what it was like to be out on track. Sal suggested that I just go faster. Good advice. For the race tomorrow it looked like it would be sunny and dry so maybe I would be able to pick up the pace.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Race Preparations.JPG

Running through my checklist I went over the car ensuring everything was in good condition. The brakes just needed a small amount of extra brake fluid to account for the worn discs and pads. Oil and water levels were good. Wheel bearings and suspension were tight. Topping up on fuel and I was ready for the race in the morning.

Race 4

Arriving at the Laguna Seca Sunday morning the weather was great, cool temperatures with the sun shining brightly.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Sunshine Grid.JPG

The field of Spec Racer Fords arrived preparing for the race to start. The first dry race of the season at the historic track. This was going to be fun.

We headed out onto the front straight in our starting positions. On the out lap I tried to get heat into the brakes and tires. Inspecting all the corners for grip. There was still water in Turn 3 but most of the track at this point was relatively drive. However the Friday and Saturday rain had washed some of the fine sand and gravel onto the track. There was less overall grip in most of the track surface and still some mud on the outside of Turn 9.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Race 2 Start.JPG

I got a bad start. I missed a shift and quickly dropped to 12th. Frustrated I needed to focus and get on with it. I got a little too throttle happy in the still wet Turn 3 and spun. Damn this was going to be tough to make up the time I had lost.

I pushed hard putting in fast laps. I quickly caught up the back of the field and worked on gaining back positions.

I was 13th and made a pass on the inside of Turn 9 and was up to twelfth position.

I spent the next few laps chasing down the next car, each lap gaining more and more. I tried my hardest to turn the fastest laps I could, despite the tricky grip levels.

I made the next pass exiting Turn 6, now up to 11th.

More fast laps. I got right up behind 10th place but couldn't make the pass before the double yellow flags came out, a full course caution. On the restart I got a decent run.

With the restart we only had 2 laps left so I had to get the pass done. I was faster in various section but I couldn't get enough of a run to get alongside.

Heading into Turn 2 the car in front made a mistake and ran wide but recovered. I got a great exit out of Turn 3 and got alongside going into Turn 4. I braked early and focused on corner exit.

It worked I got on the throttle sooner and had the run all the way down to Turn 5. He was still next to me but I used the camber on the outside and got a great run up to Turn 6.

Making the pass well before the corner I just had to bring it home on the final lap. Oh no. I lost it coming out of the corkscrew and ran wide. I  recovered without loosing a position.

At the checkered flag I finished 10th.

Kanga Motorsports Spec Racer Ford Laguna Seca 2018 Checkered Flag.JPG

My first weekend in the wet at Laguna Seca and a great time in the Spec Racer Ford Gen3. I made a few mistakes that cost me positions but now I know what to work on. I had a lot of fun despite the weather and gained some valuable car control skills.

Thank you to all our sponsors and partners. Special thanks to friends and family that came out to the races to support me. I really loved talking to all the kids and friends as they got to see the wheel to wheel action up close. Thank you to all the SCCA workers and volunteers that braved the cold and rain so we could race.

The next race is only two weeks away at the SCCA Majors Thunderhill Raceway!

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James Chartres

San Jose, CA