The last SCCA race weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the 2018 Season! Coming off the great competition at the SCCA Sonoma Majors it was time to focus on being faster at this historic track.
Arriving early at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on a Friday morning I was looking forward to getting some fast laps in. I had limited time with work commitments so focused on reviewing my data and video to identify key areas to improve. I prioritized the corners that would give me the best gains. Turn 9 coming out of the corkscrew, Turn 4 needed more entry speed, and Turn 11 was costing me all the way up the front straight. I was doing Turn 6 really well and Turn 5 just needed minor improvements.
First thing to do was get to Registration, Log Book, Helmet and License inspections are traded for a competition wristband and roll bar sticker, well that and the entry fee dollars.
That morning we also had a visit by a young race fan and his Dad. It is always great to see how happy people are when they get to sit in a race car.
Cool temperatures provided for a great practice. Heading out on track there was an early black flag with a car stuck on the outside of Turn 5.
After getting back out on track I was able to put some fast laps with consistent mid to low 1:41 laps. Then I put in a great lap putting lots of improvements together with a new personal best of 1:40.775. This was also on old used tires.
After the practice I was feeling great about the time and checked the live timing to find I was 10th in the session a great result within a fast field of 29 Spec Racer Ford Gen3s and 10 Gen2s.
Looking back at my data and debriefing the session. I felt good I had big improvements in lap time in the Corkscrew, Turn 9 and Turn 10 complex. Driving the car at the limit was the key. I like many racers need to get more comfortable putting and keeping the car on the edge in the fast tricky corners. The cool dense air also helped with a small but noticeable increase in acceleration on the speed trace plots for the front straight.
We had some down time between practice and qualifying so I took the opportunity to do some maintenance on the car replacing all four Upper Ball Joints. Brand new ball joints with some fresh Redline CV-2 grease. Unfortunately I was missing one of the set screws for the upper ball joints that helps keep the dust out and the grease in. Nothing a trip to a good hardware store couldn't fix.
When changing out and disassembling the suspension components it is important to check the setup. A lot easier to do in the shop. At the track, I marked out the location of the car and recorded a baseline for castor, camber and toe. Then after replacing the ball joints, put the car back in the same position and remeasured. I then adjusted the set-up to match the previous baseline.
Castor and camber were very close. I then made some adjustments to the the toe on the car. The rear had very slight toe out, not good for fast corners resulting in a loose back end. I adjusted the rear until a slight toe in was achieved, making the rear more stable.
Due to the sound restriction at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca the Spec Miatas and Spec Racer Fords tend to run early in the morning and late in the afternoon when the sound limits are the lowest. That means there is often a large time gap between the on track sessions. This can be tricky as the cool sometimes damp early morning conditions can change to hot and sunny in the afternoon and have a large affect on the overall grip levels of the track. Key to managing the changing conditions is to set the tire pressures and use your out lap to sense grip levels before putting in a qualifying flyer.
The track had definitely heated up. Heading into Qualifying 1, I needed to bleed 1.5 psi from each of the tires to put them in the optimum range for the session.
I struggled get to power coming out of the turns and my aggressive throttle was causing the rear end to step out on corner exit. The car still felt good, I just wasn't able to put together laps as fast as I had in the morning practice. A frustration I am sure many racers have felt during a racing weekend.
I was running consistent laps in the low 1:42 range about 1 to 1.5 seconds off my morning pace. I qualified 16th out of 29 with a fastest lap of 1:42.247. There was going to be some work to do in the race.
After qualifying, I inspected the car and went through my checklist. The rear rotors were wearing down and the front pads were getting low, but they both still had life left. Not wanting to change the brake components without time to bed-in them in before the race I opted to use up the remaining life in the race.
The rest of the car was in good shape, all fluids checked out. All that was needed was fuel, inspecting the nuts and bolts, torquing the lug nuts and putting the car cover on before leaving the track.
That night I spent some time going over my data and video. Looking for the difference between my morning and afternoon pace. While the hotter conditions played a factor my morning laps were much faster but not necessarily cleaner. I was hustling the car more and using the grip better in the morning. In the afternoon I was smoother but not right on the limit in multiple turns. The morning lap video also showed me using more of the track even too much in some turns with the occasional one wheel kicking up dirt.
Exhausted it was time to get some rest before the morning race.
Saturday morning was foggy with damp air. Arriving at the track the car cover was damp.
Checking the tire pressures I needed to add a little air before the race. Unfortunately our compressor wasn't working but I was able to borrow some air thanks to MBI Racing. Just before we gridded up my wife arrived to cheer me on and wish me well.
I was getting suited up and driving the car over to the grid the fog was starting to lift and it looked like we would be able to start on time.
I got a good start holding position on the front straight and avoiding any incidents. We went three wide into the hairpin of Turn 2. I got a great run out of Turn 4 and passed the Green #86 of David Kay. I gained another position when the Red & White #71 of Jerry Aplass spun on the next lap in Turn 2.
Two laps later I gained another position when the Orange #22 of John MacIntyre locked up heading into Turn 2. I spent the next few laps chasing down the Black/Orange #47 of Charlie Pigeon. I got a great run out of Turn 6 heading up the hill and made the pass under braking heading into the Corkscrew.
Next up was the White #7 of Bill Jordan. He was faster on the front half of the track but I was quicker on the back stretch heading up the hill and out of the Corkscrew. Braking hard into Turn 11, Bill was very clean, leaving me racing room and I got the pass done as we thundered down the front straight.
I spent a few laps chasing down the racers in front. Then the Yellow #9 of Joe Briggs and Dark Blue #64 of Mike Smith ran wide on the outside of Turn 11 passing traffic. I had just the right timing and got along side Mike but he out braked me into Turn 2 edging ahead. Sadly, two laps later Mike had a problem and dropped out of the race.
I was now up to 9th position. Then I made a mistake on the exit of Turn 6. I had turned in a little too early and dropped an outside wheel loosing momentum up the hill. Charlie capitalized and made the pass into the Corkscrew.
Toward the end of the race Bill Jordan came back with some fast laps reeling me in. With two laps to go he made the pass inside at the hair pin. I spent the remainder of the race chasing behind. He would pull away and then I would catch him but he was just faster. I finished strong just outside a top ten in 11th place after starting 16th.
Afterwards Charlie and I joked and had a great time talking about the race.
With a large amount of time before the next qualifying session it was time to take care of the car. I swapped out the camera batteries, downloaded the video files and checked out my data from the race.
Next up was maintenance and taking care of a few other items on the car. The front brakes needed newer pads.
I also swapped out the rear brake rotors for a fresh set.
I replaced the missing set screw in the right rear ball joint.
I use grip tape on the brake pedal and floor of the pedal box to provide a good pivot point for my foot work. Over time the tape wears out or comes unstuck. A fresh set of tape really cleaned up the pedal area and should provide me more confidence under braking.
I took a lunch break and sat in the shade to have a rest. My work colleague Tony Koudsi and his daughter showed up. They were excited to see the car and had been walking around the paddock and watching some of the racing. He thought it was fantastic that the event was free to watch and was impressed with all the various types of race cars that were present for the weekend.
I then squared the car away putting the body work back on and reinstalling the wheels. Just as I was finishing up final preparations on the car my wife showed up to see the afternoon qualifying session. Then our good friends Lisa and Laura arrived to provide support and see the on track action.
I again struggled for grip during the qualifying session and although I had some clear laps without traffic, I never pieced together a good time. Gaining on the back section but loosing out time in a few key turns.
My fastest time was 1:42.159, I qualified 17th. The hot track and dusty conditions seemed to affect everyone as most lap times were slower, except for the pole sitter #10 Mike Miserendino.
After qualifying Tony and his daughter came by to congratulate me. They also got photos sitting in the race car. Great to see more people smiling away in the blue and white racing machine.
That evening I ran through the checklist ensuring the car was ready for the Sunday morning race. All the maintenance work I had done throughout the weekend had payed off and the car was solid. Fresh upper ball joints, good quality brakes, new grip tape and a few other odds and ends. A splash of fuel, the mandatory wheel bearing test on each corner, followed by the usual fluid checks and the car was fit to race.
Putting the car cover back on before the evening fog and mist rolled in. I headed out from the track to have dinner with my wife and friends.
Arriving at the track Sunday morning the fog was heavy with a far amount of mist on the ground. A long time friend Ryan came down to see the early morning race. He was very interested in the car asking a lot of great questions before sliding into the seat and enjoying a racer view from the cockpit.
The heavy fog caused a lack of visibility on track. In some sections the corner workers we unable to see the track. It took 30 minutes before the fog started to clear and race could be started.
I got a good start but not enough to make up positions on the straight. Heading into Turn 2, I passed the Yellow #9 of Joe Briggs and the Blue & Orange #55 of Stephen Controulis. Accelerating out of Turn 4 and braking into Turn 5, I passed the Green #86 of David Kay.
The Black #9 of Robert Sachs spun exiting Turn 11 and I moved up from 17th to 13th by the end of the opening lap. On the next few laps I battled with the Yellow #9 of Joe Briggs, he passed me into Turn 2, I passed up the hill in Turn 6, then he passed me again braking into Turn 11.
On lap 8 the Orange #03 of Tanner Briggs lost an oil fitting, spilling oil on the inside of the track. I spun on the oil in Turn 2 and couldn't get the car fired. I dropped from 14th to 22nd as cars flew bye, before I got going again.
Then there was a big incident on the exit of Turn 3 with two stricken cars. The safety car was deployed, as workers retrieved the cars and cleaned up the debris. The entire field was under the safety car for the next 4 laps.
On the restart I was towards the back in 22nd place. The Turn 11 Flagler dropped the double yellows as the green flag flew. I pulled left and went inside gain 2 positions on the front straight.
Turn 2 was hectic with the field bunching up. A fast run out of Turn 3 and I caught numerous racers slow in Turn 4. On the exit of Turn 4 we were three wide as we caught a slower lapped car. I tucked behind to get a draft and pulled inside heading under the bridge for Turn 5 gaining 2 more positions.
Hard on the brakes, rotate the car using the camber of the curve to catch the car. Then squeezed hard on the throttle as I approached the Apex. Full throttle, shift to 4th and more full throttle up to Turn 6. A quick dap of the brakes shifting load to the front tires. Turn in and max throttle as the car hits the dip, bottoming out just before the Apex. A great run up the hill as the throttle was pegged open gaining another position.
On the next lap I gained even more time heading up the hill and through the Corkscrew roller coaster. Driving hard out of Turn 10, heading three wide into the tight Turn 11. I was on the inside, braking late and took my line to the Apex.
I moved up gaining two more positions as we thundered down the front straight. We got the 1 lap to go signal as we flew past the starter stand.
I could see Steven Cento up ahead. I gained on him corner by corner but wasn't able to get past and followed close behind as the checkered flag flew. At the end of the race I was 14th with a fastest Lap of 1:42.076.
A fantastic weekend of racing.
Big thank you to all the friends and fans that came out to support us throughout the race weekend. Specials thanks to all our Sponsors and Partners. Ric from CSR Performance was a big help getting the car prepared for the weekend since I didn't have time with my busy work schedule. Shout out to all the SCCA workers and volunteers that made the event happen.
The next race is a few weeks away at Thunderhill Raceway, 31st August to 2nd September for the three race double points Season Final!