Arriving early at the track Thursday morning I had put together a session plan to work on the various aspects of the car and specific corners.
Thursday - Test Day
Before the race weekend we had rebuilt the Brake Calipers on all four corners. Consequently, the warm up session was dedicated to checking the brake system, visual reference checks of the track and doing a baseline.
The test day was fun working on various corners where the data showed either I was inconsistent or loosing time to some of the faster racers. I was able to get some great sessions and saw improvements including my new personal best time of 1:59.561 breaking the 2 minute barrier for the first time on the Thunderhill East 3-mile track.
The test day was split in half. The morning on the Thunderhill East 3-mile track and the afternoon dedicated to the joint Thunderhill 5-mile track. I had only driven the 5-mile track a few times in the past. I was still learning a lot as the day progressed. I was able to shave seconds off my lap time on every session with a best time of 3:14.195.
Unfortunately, in the later sessions of the test day the start motor was intermittent. Sometimes it would start sometimes it wouldn’t. We were able to still get out for every session by push starting the car.
At the end of the day we decided to completely change out the Gen3 starter motor. Thanks to FlatOut Racing who had a spare starter motor on hand. That afternoon we got the new starter motor in place and it all worked fine after the install.
As the sun was setting we went through the checklist on the car and made sure it was ready for the next day.
Arriving at the track Friday morning, I went through the usual routine of uncovering the car and setting up my cameras and data systems.
This season I have been using the ApexPro as an additional data system that provides real time feedback. It uses a series of red and green light to indicate the level of grip the car has. Red indicates the maximum potential left you are not using and green the level you are using. If are consistently seeing all green lights during braking, entry, mid and corner exit you are driving at the limit. Recently the system was updated with CrewView where you can live stream the ApexPro data from your mobile device. If you want to follow along with future on track sessions and events log into the ApexPro app and find the username: kangajames.
During the morning practice session I wasn’t able to break the two minute barrier. On the very last lap I was able to put in a best time of 2:00.812. Checking the data there were some subtle differences that I noticed but no big glaring issues. I was just a little bit slower on various corners. After the session I checked over the car in preparation for qualifying.
Before the race weekend I had purchased some new light weight wheels from SCCA Enterprises for the upcoming 2018 SCCA National Championship Runoffs races. I then head over to Hoosier to get some new tires on these wheels and replace my old worn out tires on my other set of the older style shelby wheels.
In the afternoon qualifying session I struggled to repeat my performances from the test day. The best time I managed was a 2:01.303. Almost 2 seconds off my best lap time. Pulling into the paddock I checked the results. I had qualified 12th for the Saturday morning race. I would have lots of work to do to move up to the pointy end of the field. I tend to have good starts at Thunderhill and looked forward to the challenge.
That afternoon I had a little spare time at the track. After approximately 20-25 hours on the new motor we decided to do a dyno test to see the power, torque and air fuel ratio numbers. It was also an opportune time to get a baseline on the motor performance ahead of the 2018 SCCA National Championship Runoffs, in October.
After the dyno test I went over the checklist on the car and prepped it for the race. Checking the usual suspension, engine and transmission items. The new starter motor was holding up well and wheel bearings seemed good. A quick clean of the car and it was time to get the cover on and get some rest. A good thing as Saturday turned out to be a very long day.
We arrived early Saturday morning as we were the first run group on track for Race 13. The sky was smokey with the recent California wildfires causing a hazy red sky as the sun rose over the hills. The sun cast a red/orange tinge over the entire paddock. There was also some ash on the car cover as we got the car ready for the race.
As we headed out for the pace lap I was in 12th place. I got a fantastic start and made up three positions before Turn 1. By the end of the first lap I had moved up to 8th. I battled with the #71 Red/White Jerry Aplass but settled in behind to put down some fast laps building a gap to the other racers in back.
A few mistakes and I had drifted behind the lead group. As I caught back up with the lead group, I diced with the #23 Black/Red of Jim Davenport but I couldn’t get the pass done.
As the lead pack shuffled the newly built #45 Blue/Gold Spec Racer Ford Gen3 of Tom Burt was just ahead of me. As we progressed in the race we began to catch the slower traffic. I caught a slower car in the important Turn 14/15 complex and lost a lot of time down the front straight dropping far behind the lead pack of cars.
On lap 8, I again caught slow traffic at just the wrong time and had to check up in the full throttle fast section of Turns 7 and 8. The #46 white/red/blue of Steve Zadie capitalized and made the pass going into Turn 9. We continued to put in fast lap times as I tried to keep up with Steve and he tried to catch the lead pack. At the end of the race I finished 9th! Happy with a top 10 finish!
Thunderhill 3-mile Fast Lap
During Race 13, I was also able to repeat another fast lap under 2 minutes just like the test day. The cool morning air obviously helped. Chasing down a fast Steve Zadig was definitely a benefit.
A tough qualifying session in the midday heat. A black flag during the session for the entire group meant there were only few hot laps available. The best lap I could get was a 2:02.131 which placed me starting 11th for Race 14. Being that far back in the field I would again need to get a great start to run with the front pack.
After the qualifying I checked over the car and made sure everything was good to go for the afternoon race. With the hot sun out we put both cars in the shade to keep them cool. During the break I got some lunch and tried to stay cool and hydrated.
As the cars thundered down the back straight I was prepared this time starting 11th. On the inside line heading into Turn 1, I had to be careful of the cars around me. The field started to accelerate down the front straight and I timed it just right heading to the outside as I passed three cars before heading inside for Turn 1. I had moved up to 8th but lost a position into Turn 3. The cars ahead were jostling for position and the #14 spun going into Turn 11. Thundering down the back straight, I was up to 8th place. Coming around Turn 14 the #09 spun, the #46 in front of me tried to avoid it but collied spinning the car further and I had no where to go.
Big thank you to Krysti Booton the flagger on Turn 15 station that checked to see all the drivers were ok. Huge thank you to the entire Emergency Crew that were quickly on the scene so we could get out of the cars safely and also for transporting the car off course to our pits.
The car sustained significant damage in the impact. The right front corner had broken suspension including a bent and torn upper rocker arm and a destroyed lower A arm. The front pan, radiator and other aluminum ducting was crumpled, ripped and bolts torn out.
The front nose also sustained a large amount of damage crumpling in the impact. It was going to take some work to get it ready for the Sunday race. Not the relaxing Saturday evening we were hoping for.
After the incident we were released by the Stewards and the scrutineers of Tech revoked my annual inspection sticker until we could perform the necessary suspension repairs. We needed to repair the car and get it inspected before we could take the racecar back on track.
We began the repair process by draining any remaining radiator coolant and removing all the damaged parts. There were a lot. We were lucky there was no significant frame damage except for a slightly tweaked upper rocker mount. We were able to the fix the mount and begin the repair process.
We worked late into the evening as the sun was starting to set. Luckily Thunderhill Raceway has lights that remain on in the paddock until 10pm. After the lights went out we used head lamps to work into the night.
We got most of the front together before we called it quits at about 11pm. Heading to get a shower and some sleep before returning to the track early in the morning.
Sunday - 5 mile track
Arriving early at the track we got to watch the sunrise as we worked to put the car together.
Most of the elements were in place from the late night of work. Now it was time to get everything tightened up and in the right place. We took the opportunity to replace all the front suspension joints with new Rod Ends from our partners at Rod End Supply.
Grabbing that bag of zip ties it was time to reconnect all the brake ducting and radiator rock shield.
Connecting the hoses and filling the car with water was the next step. To get all the air bubbles out of the system you need to put the wheels back on the car and raise the rear. Then start the car up and let it get up to temperature to have the thermostat open. You have to be careful and make sure to keep adding water/coolant/water wetter to the expansion tank as the air escapes and the fluid drains out. Then turn the car off and let the motor cool off. It can take a few start ups to get all the air out of the system.
With the car back together it was time to adjust the suspension and try to get a rough set up on the car. With all the suspension on the right side being replaced we had to reset all the rod ends on the lower A arm. Then adjust the toe on the car to get the steering right.
Next up was fixing the fiberglass nose. The large number of cracks meant we had to strengthen and reinforce the fiberglass with aluminum sheet metal and pop rivets. The aim is to piece it together and make sure it is rigid enough not to collapse at speed with the aerodynamic load.
With the car repaired we then had to take the car back through Tech Inspection to get the car signed off and the log book approved before we could take the track. Unfortunately all this work meant we missed the morning qualifying and had to start from the back for Race 15.
We got the car back together for the final race! She wasn’t the prettiest but she looked a lot better than the night before. We weren’t sure about the set up and they weren’t allowing hardship laps for the 5 mile course.
I started from the back and was making up positions. Unfortunately the water temperature was slowly rising. I made it up to 11th before pulling off on lap 6 to avoid overheating the motor. The high on track temperatures were not helping us. The front nose was moving around a lot at high speed. We suspect the broken nose with the reinforcement was either closing the radiator opening or not sealing well enough to flow enough air into the radiator. A hard and tiring weekend but we bounced back. At the end of the race I had placed 13th.
Thank you to all our Sponsors and Partners. Thanks to Ric from CSR Performance for helping me get the car back together. Really appreciate all the great people that stopped by to say hi, lend a tool, check in and wish me well throughout the weekend!
Big thank you to all the SCCA Workers and Volunteers for a fantastic season of racing, they braved lots of rain and hot extremes all year just so we could race.
The next race is the 2018 SCCA National Championship the Runoffs at Sonoma! The final race of the season. We will be competing with the best racers from across North America in a single race to name the National Champion.
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