The first SCCA Majors for the 2018 season and first time to test out the new Generation 3 car against the fastest racers on the West Coast. A huge field was expected with 230+ entries spread across 8 run groups as people qualified for the up coming SCCA National Championship Runoff at Sonoma later in the year. Spec Racer Ford Gen 3 (SRF3) was a large field so we got our own run group.
Prior to the weekend we took care of maintenance item on the car including a new replacement solenoid, oil change and replacing some suspension bearings. We also spent an afternoon refining the suspension set up on the car, checking castor, camber, toe and corner weights. Unfortunately for the National level competition the number 77 was already taken so I needed to update my numbers on the car. I picked the number 82 and will be running it for the SCCA Majors this year.
Friday - Test Day
With wet weather predicted for the test day it was going to be another interesting racing weekend. The rain came in as predicted Thursday night and everything was already soaking wet when we arrived at the track.
Prior to arriving at Thunderhill Raceway, I was looking forward to getting some run time on the car and working on the corners I had identified while reviewing my video and data. There were several places I was over braking and few corners where I could get to full throttle earlier by adjusting my driving inputs.
It was pouring out on track and most of the paddock had flowing water. I had a few work things to take care of so decided to just do a couple of sessions in the afternoon to shake down the car and get it ready.
We had spent some time before the race weekend preparing the car so there was little to do except swap over to wet tires and disconnect the rear sway bar before heading out on track. A splash of fuel, mount the camera and we were good to go.
It was definitely wet out on track and I wasn't able to work on what I had planned for the weekend. Instead I worked on my rain driving and feeling the car in the wet. I made a mistake and clipped some paint while getting to the throttle too early in Turn 15. I spun the car out, sliding off track into the grass. A quick removal of the grass, once over and I was back out for the next session.
I was able to put in some good laps despite the wet weather. Those two sessions gave the car a proper shakedown but there was going to be work to do on my driving to compete at the Majors level.
At the end of the day the rain was starting to subside, I checked over the car and put the new rain cover on overnight to keep it dry.
Arriving to the track on Saturday morning and the sun was out. The paddock and track started to dry out.
The new car cover had done the job and the car wasn't flooded by the rain.
The first qualifying session for Spec Racer Ford was scheduled for mid morning. The later start gave me a little time check over the car and get the data and video systems set up.
I swapped out my rain tires for a fresh set of Hoosier slicks and reconnected the rear sway bar. The car was ready to head out onto the drying track.
Unfortunately the qualifying session wasn't clean. I spun locking the brakes into Turn 14. I also went off track avoiding a car as I crested the hill on the exit of Turn 5. Quick reflexes saved the car from ending up much worse.
My onboard AIM data system showed a decent time, not fast but not slow either. Checking the time sheets, I qualified 22nd out of a group of 28 cars with a time of 2:02.680.
I downloaded my data and checked it against my previous fast laps at the track. There were some obvious areas to improve and a few things to try the next time out on track. Also clear in the data was the lack of a tail wind down the front straight that really helped last time.
Checking over the car, I had lost the safety wire on the rear inboard half shaft boot and sprayed the back of the car with bearing grease. Yuck. After replacing the grease and reinstalling the boot it was time to clean the car. It is a messy job cleaning bearing grease off a hot race car and it took some time to complete.
Starting 22nd, pole position had a problem on the out lap pulling into the pits with a faulty alternator. I went outside on the start and made up 3 positions despite not getting the best run. I went inside in Turn 5 and got pinched as the outside car turned down on me. I lost momentum and positions.
At the end of Lap 1, I was back to where I started in 22nd. By lap 2, I was 20th gaining back a couple of positions. On Lap 5, I got past two of the slower guys and then my big break came on lap 6 where I worked hard and moved up to 15th position. One more position on Lap 7 as a fellow competitor pulled off after losing 3rd gear.
The car in 13th went off in the penultimate lap, then I got passed by Mike Keller in Turn 1. He made a mistake coming out of Turn 5 and I passed on the inside to Turn 6, we raced hard to the finish.
At the checkered flag I was 13th making up 9 positions in the race!
I felt good about the race and the car was working well. Checking the rear half shaft boots, the safety wire was still in place and no sign of any new grease leaking out. Problem solved for the weekend. A thorough car inspection and basic maintenance and the car was ready for another day of track duty.
Unfortunately my paddock mate had hit the car in front and crushed the radiator and bent the front rocker. Ric from CSR Performance and I spent the evening repairing the car and putting it back together for the morning qualifying. We got the nose and suspension sorted that evening just as the sun was setting. I left the track at 8pm and headed back to town to get some food, shower and rest.
Before going to bed I looked over my data and went over my last times compared to a fellow competitor and my previous laps in March. Good laps but there were areas to improve. I wasn’t carrying as much speed into the turns and over slowed in several key corners. Loosing a few tenths here and there over the length of a lap. It all added up. I had work to do in the morning qualifying. Turn 6 is especially important as it is the turn leading onto the greatest section of full throttle. I was giving up as much as half a second to my previously laps due to my exit speeds being just 4mph slower.
Arriving in the morning the car and track had dried out with no new sign of rain. There were still a few items to take care of on the number 5 car prior to qualifying.
The cool morning air and a nice clean track was great for the car. The revs were up at the end of the straights and coming of the corners. I got some good fast laps and my data showed a 2:00.8. I was feeling good pulling back into the paddock. However, the great track conditions meant the whole field improved and I ended up back in 22nd place.
The race was going to be interesting as the top 25 cars were all within 3 seconds of the leader. Several packs of cars were separated by tenths of a second, some even separated by a few thousandths. Spec Racer Ford is famous for close hard racing and it showed.
Downloading my data from the AIM Solo and my newly acquired ApexPro. I have been using the device to help improve my cornering. It provides great visual feedback that is more timely then checking the predictive timer on corner exit or looking at my data traces after the session. Combing video playback for the LEDs and my data system overlays enables me to break up the various track elements including braking, corner entry, mid turn and corner exit.
I prepared the car and myself before Race 2. Running through my checklists and fueling the car. It was going to be fun I was starting 22nd but there were several cars ahead turning very similar lap times.
On the start I made up a couple of spots but lost out in the jumble of the Turn 3-4-5 complex and end back in 22nd, again. Entering onto the back straight Yoni got a run on me and I was 23rd after the first lap.
The next lap a few cars went wide and I made a pass into Turn 10 and out of Turn 11. I was up to 18th for the next couple of laps. Another pass in Turn 9 and some fast laps and I was running in a group of 5. By Lap 9, I had made my way up to 15th place.
Then on Lap 11 disaster struck two cars came together at the top of the hill in Turn 5 and left me with no where to go except to the outside on the dirt. By the time I got back up to speed I had dropped back to 17th place.
I spent the next two laps catching back up to the field. I earned my way back up to 15th place and battled with 14th right up until the checkered flag. I finished 15th making up 7 places in the race and had a lot of fun doing it!
As I pulled into impound on the loud speaker I was announced as Driver of the Weekend. A great honor and I was ecstatic! Each weekend one of the worker crews picks a single driver for the coveted award. Being recognized by the workers, most of who are volunteers, was a great priviledge.
As I went to leave the starter motor wouldn't disengage, I had to kill the motor and the master switch. With the help of a few fellow racers I had to push the car back to my paddock so I could diagnose the issue.
Sadly it wasn't an easy fix and with the help of Ric, John and Andre we pushed the car into the trailer. Another replacement starter solenoid would be needed.
Thank you to all our sponsors and partners that provide great products and assistance to make the race weekend possible. Special thanks to the fellow racers that helped with pushing the car around. Big thank you to all the SCCA workers and volunteers that handled the huge fields and provided us the opportunity for great racing.
Our next race is at the end of May at the newly named WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.