The SCCA Majors provided the first opportunity to compete with the new Generation 3 car at Sonoma Raceway before the National Championship, the 2018 SCCA Runoffs!
Thursday - Test Day
The Thursday Test day was very busy on track. The Spec Racer Fords were grouped with the Spec Miatas with up to 70 cars on track at the same time. The speed differential between the two types of cars and different levels of driver experience meant for a lot of overtaking and passing.
I was able to complete 3 test sessions working on various aspects of Sonoma Raceway. Between the heat and drivers new to the track the sessions were interrupted by multiple black flags due to cars going off course.
In the first test session I was able to record a best lap of 1:51.929 despite the traffic. In the second session, I improved my time to a 151.839. As the temperatures got hotter I wasn't able to reduce my times further.
For the last test session I put on a fresh set of tires to scrub them in ahead of the weekends racing.
Immediately, I noticed the difference in grip levels. I took it easy on the tires and focused on being smooth without any brake lock ups. In the hot and busy conditions my fastest time was only a 1:52.087.
After the last session of the day I head over to registration and got myself and the car all checked in for the weekend of racing. With so many competitors registered for the weekend the line was already long. The SCCA team were fast and efficient getting the racers out quickly.
That afternoon I checked over the car and swapped back to my practice set of tires. Next I checked the bearings, brakes and fluids. The car was in good shape. I also pulled my data and video. That night I reviewed where I could improve against some previous fast laps a fellow competitor had given me. The were lots of areas to improve. In some corners, such as 7 and 11, I was doing well. Other corners like Turns 3/3A and 8/8A I was loosing time and needed to be on the throttle more.
Arriving early, I took the car cover off and checked the tire pressures and got my gear ready before heading out on track for the morning practice session.
For the morning practice I used up my old tires and it showed in the lap time. I was struggling to get the car to turn in for corners. The fronts had very little grip and I was just washing out on corner entry.
Unfortunately fellow competitor Bob Breton in the #51 had a problem and pulled off the track. He had either lost the clutch or damaged the transmission. We got his car under the canopy and I helped undoing the engine ancillaries so we could extract the motor.
It turned out the inner splines of the clutch disc had sheared off completely. This meant the clutch was just floating around free spinning.
Heading into the afternoon the temperatures were hot and the track greasy. There was a large field of 52 Spec Racer Fords competing at the event.
For qualifying 1, I wasn't able to put together a clean lap. Although I showed good pace in various segments of different laps, I would either blow a turn or be off throttle in a later segment ruining the lap time.
The best lap I squeezed out was a 1:52.315 early in the session. Checking the times I was 37th out of 52 cars. After a good performance on the test day I was a little bit frustrated with myself.
After each session the scrutineers were performing technical inspections and the entire field was pulled into impound. Since there were so many cars it was easier just to have everyone in impound then try and catch just the cars they needed to talk too. The stewards talk to drivers if there were any incidents or issues reported by the corner work. The tech crew look over the car and make sure they are legal and safe.
After qualifying I checked over the car and got it prepared for the Qualifying 2 session on Saturday morning. I needed to make the most of that session in order to better position myself for the races.
The rear brake pads had been worn down so I decided to swap them out with a fresher set that I had already bedded in. Then I ran through my checklist before calling it an evening and heading out to dinner with my wife that came to visit.
I had spent time Friday evening going over my data and video. I found some key corners where small improvements could reduce my lap times. I prioritized 3 corners and prepared to head out on track for the short 15 minute qualifying session.
Heading out for Qualifying 2, Hank Raymond in an older Spec Racer Ford pointed me by and I was able to put in some fast laps.
My data and video review had worked. I was able to put in fast time of 1:51.235. I moved up to 28th on the grid out of 52 cars.
On the last lap of the session I locked my brakes coming into Turn 7 as the car in front braked early. The rear stepped left and I thought I clipped the wall. Coming in and inspecting the car I couldn't see any issues. Playing it safe I went over the car doing a full alignment check ahead of the afternoon sprint race.
Before the Sprint race, friends came by the track to see the car and cheer me on. It is really great when people come to visit and support our racing!
Hannah and Dan both got an opportunity to sit in the race car before they headed off to watch in the grand stands.
The start of the Sprint Race was decent, holding my position until coming out of Turn 3A where I got a great run down to Turn 4, 5 and 6. Passing the orange/black #77 of Andre Perra and the solid orange #22 of John MacIntyre. At the end of the opening lap I had gone from 28th to 26th place.
Coming out of Turn 2, I made a pass on the yellow #29 car of Leo Del Castillo heading into Turn 3/3A. Then there was a giant dust cloud with no visibility heading into Turn 4. Hoping to avoid an incident I kept the car straight and prepared to take evasive action. A car had gone off but the track was clear and I pushed on. At the end of the second lap I was up to 24th.
I lost positions as the tires got hot and I struggled for grip coming off the corners. I was slow coming out of Turn 10. The orange/black #77 of Andre Perra passed me under braking going into Turn 11. Dropping down to 25th spot for the next 3 laps.
On lap 10 I raced back and forth with the white/blue #72 of Vince Balch, going side by side in several corners. Vince got a better run coming out of Turn 11 and passed me dropping me to 26th for the next 2 laps.
On the penultimate lap coming out of Turn 6 the yellow #29 car of Leo Del Castillo got along side and made a fantastic inside pass in Turn 7.
I finished 27th with a best lap 1:51.940.
After the race I went over the car and cleaned the body work from the race debris and rubber. As the sun was getting low in the sky there were ash clouds forming in the distance from the wildfires burning north of the track.
Waking up Sunday morning some of the ash from the wildfires had despoiled on my street car and the race car cover. I had a bit of time before the Sunday Feature Race so I headed up to race control to say hello to friends and see how the weekend was going from their perspective.
I also met with our partners at Wine Country Motor Sports and checked to see how their weekend sale was going. It was great to spot the signed photo we had sent them for their support in the 2017 season.
It was a wild ride heading up to Turn 2 on the start. As the field rounded the corner for Turn 1. I could see tire smoke ahead and cars were all over the place taking evasive action.
I moved left and luckily the orange #22 car of John MacIntyre gave me enough room to go to the outside and avoid the cars.
Coming out of the mayhem I shifted to second powered down and got down to business hot on the tail of the car in front.
Coming out of Turn 5 into Turn 6, I saw the double yellow flags. I waved off to the let the other cars behind know I was slowing. Then backed of the throttle for the eventual accordion braking ahead when the cars come to a stop.
As I slowed exiting Turn 6 two cars passed me under double yellow. In the moment I was very annoyed.
Coming around Turn 7 and through assess of Turn 8 and 8A I could count the cars in from. In the opening lap I had gone from 32nd on the grid to 19th.
I later found out I was one of the luckier ones. Several racers had sustained damaged ending their race. Others had fallen way back in the field and had to make their way through slower traffic.
We had three laps under the safety car before the green flag restart.
Shortly after the restart the red and yellow #97 car in front dropped out. It appeared to have in issue that might have been caused by the opening lap melee. I was now in 18th place, where I stayed for the next two laps.
There was a group of fast guys behind me but I had managed to get a good restart and gapped them for the first few laps before they started gaining. I worked my way up to 17th and then they started to catch me.
Over the next few laps I fought hard to maintain position. I over slowed for Turn 6. Leo in the #29 went to the inside going into Turn 7. Vince in the #72 followed close behind and I was left with the wide line trying to keep up. I was now back in 19th position.
On the next lap I got passed coming out of Turn 11 by Nei in the blue #5. Then the #77 of Andre got a along side on the front straight. I was now in 21st position. I drove on trying to keep up. Nei and Leo had a great battle going. My fastest lap of the feature race was a 1:51.589. It helped me close the gap but I was struggling to put in consecutive fast laps.
Heading out of Turn 7 Andre in the #77 spun and I was up to 20th position. There was a bit of a gap behind me but I could see the fast moving Tom Burt coming back through the field after the first lap incident. He passed me coming out of Turn 11 just before the penultimate lap.
I was in 21st position when I crossed the start/finish line for the checkered flag.
A fantastic weekend of racing at an amazing race track. I learned a lot but there is still work to do. I need to get faster and put down more consistent laps.
Thank you to all our sponsors and partners. Special thanks to all the friends that visited the race track and stopped bye to wish me well. Ric from CSR Performance was a big help getting the car ready for the event. Big thank you to all the SCCA workers and volunteers that braved the hot and long days so we could race.
The next race is only a few weeks away at the SCCA Races 11 & 12 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca!