My first time at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Leading up to the event I had a last minute work trip that got interrupted by bad weather. Unfortunately I got stuck in airports and a had an unplanned overnight stay. The outcome was I didn’t get much sleep all week long. Having broken the get lots of rest rule already, it was time to go racing.
An early morning drive to the track and then unloading the car. With the crash damage from the last race at Thunderhill we weren’t able to finish all the paint and decals in time before the event. This meant a few last minute touches needed to be done at the track. A few quick holes and some rivets and the body clips were done.
I needed to take the car through technical inspection to get it approved before heading out on track. As it was early in the day, I was able to get in and out quickly and get my log book signed off. Next up was registration, I needed my helmet sticker, log book and race license. I got my tech stickers, wrist bands and test day labels.
Saturday - Test Day
At the SCCA Runoffs you have to run fuel that is specific to the event. You need to clean out your old fuel and replace with fresh fuel. This is achieved by pumping the tank empty add some fresh event fuel. Then run the car and repeat until any traces of the old fuel are removed. For the first session we loaded fresh fuel into the car and headed out on track to start the flushing process.
Heading out on track I focused on my test plan, feeling what the car was doing and working on the corners we identified during my test day with Ross Bentley. It took a few laps to get back into the groove. I ended the session with a fast lap of 1:49.353.
A quick debrief, more fresh fuel and an inspection over the car before heading out for the second session. Putting in some solid laps and then reaching for 4th gear heading into the esses of Turns 8/8A and the engine just hits the rev limiter. Did I miss the gear? I tried again and nothing. Shifting up to 5th and the gear engaged fine. Trying again for 4th gear and the car just revs again. Definitely a gearbox problem. Sadly, we lost 4th gear. Pulling into the pits and off track to park the car.
A quick search around the paddock and Flat Out Racing had a spare transmission. We got started draining the fluids and pulling the motor. Thanks to John Black for the cherry picker and helping hand disconnecting all the ancillaries.
With the gear box out we also decided to put in a brand new sprung clutch that would hopefully reduce the shock loads and provide more life to the fresh transmission.
We got the engine and transmission back in the car. Working into the night, I finally got all the ancillary systems reconnected. Next up was refilling all the fluids, some fresh Red Line Oil D4 ATF for the transmission and a mixture of Water Wetter and deionized water for the coolant system.
With everything put back together we put the car cover on and called it a night. Dark out when leaving the paddock it was time to head to the hotel for a shower and some much needed rest.
Sunday - Test Day
Starting the motor up in the morning to burp the air out of the coolant system, inspect for leaks and make sure everything was hooked up right. Despite burping the motor and letting the coolant sit overnight there were still temperature spikes after the first few laps. I pulled in quickly releasing the trapped air pockets and topping up the coolant system. Heading back on track and the temperatures were solid.
With the car back up and running it was time to get back to the test plan and continue flushing the fuel system to pass the fuel test.
Over the lunch break we swapped in a brand new steering wheel. The old steering wheel had a slight bend from the Thunderhill crash. Big thanks to our friend Emmett for perfectly machining the holes to mate with the steering shaft.
Setting the steering wheel straight and a minor adjustment to front toe and we were ready to hit the track again for the afternoon sessions. A fresh fuel sample and we passed the test.
The second test day went much better. We tuned the car setup with changes to the shock rebound settings and softened the rear sway bar. Thanks to Jeff Braun and Ross Bentley for the recent race car set up webinars that really helped me to understand the car feeling and get more rear grip on the slippery Sonoma Raceway track surface.
With the car running well, we went through our checklist and got the car prepared for the Monday test day.
Monday - Test Day
We dedicated Monday to getting the car prepared for qualifying and the race. First thing was tires. Putting a fresh set on our new lighter cast wheels we used one session to put a short scrub on the tires. The Hoosier tires seem to work best with around 5 laps on them to scrub them in and then leaving overnight before using again. We then dismounted these tires and stored them out of the element for the main race.
Next up over the lunch break we swapped in a fresh set of new front rotors and brake pads. We then switched the lightly used front brakes for the worn out rear brakes. With fresher brakes all around the wheel drag was significantly reduced.
My test tires were looking a little worse for wear. John Black offered up a set with only a few cycles on them that he was going to throw out. I grabbed them and managed to squeezed out a few more heat cycles as I bedded the brakes and completed the last few sessions.
We adjusted the rear sway bar and tweaked the suspension settings to match the changing track conditions. With these additional set up adjustments the car was feeling good.
Unfortunately I pushed a little too hard in Turn 11, lost the rear end and got a little too close to the inside tire barrels. I scuffed the fresh nose, caused a few cracks and slightly bent the front pan.
Before the next session we made a quick trackside fiberglass repair and used some Channellocks to straighten the bent belly pan.
A quick scrub and clean of the nose and the car was back to looking great. Heading back out on track for the last test session our goal was just to have some fun.
We ended the final test day with some decent laps and a solid working set up. I then went through the usual maintenance items and a quick suspension nut and bolt check. With the test days complete it was time to get back to the vinyl work we had put off when we lost the transmission.
The qualifying for the SCCA Runoffs is spread out over 3 separate days. Each day has only a single short 20 minute session. The SCCA schedules the qualifying sessions to be at or very close to the same time of day as the race. For Spec Racer Ford this meant our qualifying sessions were in the afternoon just after lunch.
Arriving at the track Tuesday morning we had some time to catch up with fellow racers and finally finish the vinyl and decal work on the car.
The SCCA Runoffs also have a lot of contingency sponsors that provide product, gift certificates or cash rewards for racers depending on their performance and finishing position. It is not only the top finishers that receive the rewards there are some companies that reward various places in the pack and even the “hard charger” for the racer that makes up the most places during the race.
Mounting the large decals on the front nose took a bit of work to make sure they were positioned correctly and straight.
With the decals finished the car was looking fantastic and ready to go fast on track.
Qualifying Session 1
For qualifying we put on a fresh set of Hoosier tires. With new tires it would take a few laps to get them up to temperature and working right. After 3-4 laps you can really feel when the front tires gain grip. Then you can start pushing the car hard to put in fast laps. With just a short 20 minute qualifying session we would need to make the most of it.
Unfortunately the first qualifying session did not work out that way. It ended up being a messy qualifying session with limited hot laps.
Starting off there was a conga line of 36 cars slowly going around the track scrubbing tires side to side. With people accelerating and braking the field got backed up. A half a dozen of us decided to pull into the pits to let the rest of the field go and gain track space.
As we gapped the field and head back out on track there was only a single clean lap. As we headed up the the hill into Turn 2 there was a car stranded bringing out the yellow flag on the hot lap. Immediately followed by the black flag.
The entire field pulled into the pits. Cars were darting left to have their crews inspect and adjust tire pressures. I pulled over to the side and let the entire field go past.
The new tires barely had any heat in them before the break. On the restart a handful of us waited to again gap the field, it worked. Getting only one flying lap I was able to bang out a 1:49.864 moving me up the order to 25th place for the next qualifying session.
Pulling in after the qualifying I checked over the car and got it prepared for the next day. I fueled the car and ran through our checklist. Pulling our data and looking over the video there were obvious areas to improve. With the limited track time, I felt I never got into a rhythm. Compared to the test days I knew I could do better.
Wednesday - Qualifying Session 2
With extra time Wednesday morning I decided to rebuild the rear sway bars. I had a few old rod ends that were bent and worn out that we replaced with fresh parts from our partners at Rod End Supply. We also took the opportunity to replace the sway bar bushings and refinish the sway bar linkage with a fresh coat of paint.
The Wednesday afternoon qualifying session went well without interruptions. I used the same tires as yesterday since they still had plenty of grip left.
Heading out on track again the entire field was again squeezed together. I dropped back to get some clear track. It didn’t work. On my flying lap the car in front dropped a wheel on the exit of 8A and I caught them heading into Turn 9. This meant I was offline and slow going through Turn 10.
I got a few other opportunities but had a tough time trying to put it all together for a full lap. Little mistakes here and there were costly. I got a good chance a few laps later but a driver error in Turn 11 resulted in a much slower lap. I finished the session 25th of 36 with a fastest time of 1:49.323. Faster than yesterday but still work to do to get into the 1:48s.
A little behind the scenes of the 2018 SCCA Runoffs. Our cars are very strictly controlled with a fixed rule set, sealed engines and specifications parts. This helps to keep the costs down and make the racing all about car set-up and driver skill.
After the qualifying session a large group of us were pulled into Technical Inspection by the Scrutineers. Each car was weighed and then directed to park ready for checks against the rule set.
Inspections meant removing the tail, air filter box, both a front and rear wheel, and the transmission speed cog sensor. The compliance checks included brake rotor thickness, brake pad material, throttle body inlet size, transmission inspection, air filter and additional visual inspections.
Without a pit crew available a few of us relied on the kindness of fellow competitors. Big thank you to Tim for giving us a helping hand to jack the car and remove the wheels. Later we paid him back with a few cold Kanga Brews.
After the the technical inspections were complete we were released by the stewards and able to return to our paddock.
That afternoon we fueled the car and again ran through the checklist. I also took some time to do a session debrief, review data and make a plan for the next qualifying session.
Thursday - Qualifying Session 3
The third and final qualifying session was again in the afternoon. Arriving at the track in the morning gave us some more time to catch up with fellow racers and friends.
Big thank you to our partners at FreeM USA for a fresh set of nomex undergarments. Lightweight, soft and comfortable. What more could you ask for on track?
Yesterday the segment times and data revealed several areas where we could improve our lap times if we put it all together. Before heading out on track we reviewed our test plan and prepared for the session.
On track we got down to business. We again had some fast sector times but Turn 11 was just not working. I spun on one lap pushing too hard and then had a little side bump from a fellow competitor on the last lap as they didn’t see me on the inside.
After the qualifying session I was pulled into impound due to the on track body contact. Checking the car there was only a slight scratch on the rub rail. After talking with the stewards the minor body contact was deemed to be an unintentional racing incident. The other driver hadn’t seen me while trying to avoid another slower car on track.
Unfortunately during qualifying the 1:48s still eluded me and the best I managed was a 1:49.360. We didn’t improve on our Wednesday time and would be starting 25th of 36 cars for the feature race. Read all about race day in Part 2 of our SCCA Runoffs coverage.
Thank you to all the fellow competitors, friends, fans and supporters that messaged or stopped by to wish us well throughout the week! As always thanks to our Sponsors and Partners, their continued support makes our racing program possible. Two thumbs up to all the SCCA Workers and Volunteers for giving their time make the event possible.
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