Wreckers to Checkers

The first race of 2018 took place at Sebring International Raceway. We brought the Blood Racer and the Boxster down for the SCCA Majors Super Tour.

This is the top tier of amateur racing, a level above the regional races I’ve been competing in. The talent pool is incredibly deep in Spec Miata. I was about 3 seconds off the pace of the leaders and qualified 36 out of 60 some odd drivers. The top 20 were separated by less than a second.

T3 is an interesting class with a variety of cars and talent. The Boxster was quick right off the trailer and I qualified on Pole. Hunting for that extra bit of grip on the Hoosiers I made an error in turn 1 in the second qualifying session. I sailed the car in but did not get back to enough power. When the car hit the bump at apex, the rear lost grip and came around. The correction took me off track and into the tire wall to driver’s right. I was really disappointed. Fortunately it was all cosmetic. I avoided breaking the radiator (right behind the bumper cover) and there was no suspension damage.

Brian and Jim did a bit of creative body sculpting. With a hammer.

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There was no time to dwell on the mistake as the schedule moved quickly to wheel to wheel action. The first Miata race was mayhem. A few guys up front came together creating a parking lot in turn 3, and someone drilled the wall hard on the start. We got about 3 laps of green flag racing after the extended red flag cleanup. I made a few passes on the restart and finished 30th.

In T3 the start was clean and I lead the race from flag to flag. Although there was not as much competition as Spec Miata, it was a cool experience to win. I got to do victory laps, a podium celebration, photos, and an interview.  I also found those extra seconds I was looking for in qualifying. While keeping the car on the track.

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Sunday’s SM race had lots of green flag laps and fierce mid pack action. I stuck to Brock’s bumper but couldn’t capitalize on his mistake out of turn 5.  I finished mid pack again, but turned my fastest laps of the weekend and got much closer to the pace of the front runners.

The second T3 race was manic at the start. The leaders stacked everyone up in the first few turns. There was some questionable driving and more than a few overly optimistic passes. The second place T3 car (BMW 330) made a go of it, but I got a good drive off Turn 10 and put a slower car between us.

I won the second race to complete the sweep in the Boxster. That car is so fun to drive and win with. It is a ringer in the Touring 3 class. I wish more Spec Boxster guys would come over from PCA and play.

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Anyway, stay tuned because we get to do it all over again at Sebring in a few weeks with the Porsche Club of America.

Southern Fried Motor with a side of Smoked Brakes

The last few weekends have been dominated by training for a 26.2mi footrace scheduled at the end of October. For giggles, I wore my Garmin watch during the last race at Barber. The results were quite striking.

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My average heart rate during the 25 minute qualifying session was equivalent to a fast tempo run. Multiply that by 4 practice sessions, 2 qualifying sessions, and two races over the course of a weekend. That is some serious aerobic demand. And we’re not carrying anywhere near the corner speeds and G-loads of a higher horsepower car. It’s no wonder that most pro drivers are elite runners or cyclists. It will be interesting to see how the marathon training translates to endurance in the car.

Speaking of pros, last weekend was the SCCA Runoffs at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For those that don’t know, the Runoffs are the championship race, the Super Bowl of amateur road racing.

Over 110 Miata drivers attended, so many that field was split into two for qualifying. Those in the slowest group competed in a ‘last chance’ race to make the final 72 cars in the big show.

Young ace Preston Pardus won it in fine fashion with his teammate Sellin Rollan in second.

The Speedwerks team was well represented. Senter drove a solid race, finishing in the top half of the field in his new VVT car. Check out the Spec Miata Man Drama Facebook page for a hilarous recap of the action.

Also under the tent was Spec Racer Ford ace Tray Ayers who went on to win it all in a stacked field of 72 drivers.

Tray is the man.

Back to the BumpDraft report (and lowly regional racing).

My last two events included a Miata race at Barber Motorsports Park and a co-drive in the IP racer with JB at Road Atlanta.

In Birmingham I qualified 3rd for the first race and drove well. I finished on the podium after fending off a charging Skip Jr. in the closing stages.

During Sunday’s qualifying the fan belt decided to suddenly exit stage left. I had warning lights on the dash, but I always have a low battery voltage on the out lap from running the Coolshirt on grid. By the time I realized what was going on, the water temp was pegged at 250. I pulled over and shut the car off. Too late, the motor was cooked. Drago, my engine builder, said the exact same thing happened to him at that track a few years ago. He was quick to recognize the problem, but it still cost him an engine. A little consolation that there wasn't much I could have done.

Still. RIP BloodRacer engine #1. Ye were a good one. The new power plant will debut soon.

In the aftermath, Brian and I went through the AIM system and reconfigured all of the parameters. I have a much more in-depth understanding of the warnings. And motivation to check the gauges compulsively.

Right after that JB invited me to co-drive the 90 minute Enduro with him at Road Atlanta. It was a good opportunity to wash off the melted motor blues. Unfortunatley the ABS was working intermittently all weekend which made the M3 a bit unpredictable in the braking zone.

I summonded my Miata brake foot (no ABS) and qualified P2 overall, 1st in class. Lippe passed me on the start into turn 1. I returned the favor on the back straight and never looked back. Even with a spin coming out of turn 7, we had a 15 second lead when I turned the car over to JB.

He put in some solid laps in traffic and held the gap. Some luck also went our way when a few competitors were penalized for speeding in pit lane. We finished 3rd overall and 1st in class, winning by a lap.

JB was frustrated by the mechanical gremlins and retired the car without competing in the sprint races. I’m really proud of how he drove, no easy feat without ABS. Not to mention the fact that the Hoosiers were mostly square by then.

We’ll be back at it with the M3 in December at Roebling Road. ABS and all.

That’s the racing update. Time to start preparing for the 2018 Runoffs at Sonoma. It’s gonna be epic.

 

 

Rubbin's racin'?

Summer is in full swing in the southeast. As the mercury rises and the tarmac shimmers, the racing absolutely sizzles. This year's July Fry at Road Atlanta was aptly named for the temperature as well as the on track action.

When things get a little too hot, it always pays to take a step back and cool down. I came away from the weekend with this lesson firmly entrenched in my racing consciousness.

A spec class naturally fosters tight competition. Good racing and contact, in my opinion, are mutually exclusive. A number of top SM drivers share this sentiment and have petitioned the SCCA to review these incidents and start penalizing offending drivers. 

Germane to this discussion (find the thread on MazdaRacers.com) is the idea that the intent of the driver matters. That the motive of a particular race move should be taken into consideration when assessing penalties.

Here's where this argument fails: It is very difficult to interpret intent. In or out of the cockpit.

Saturday's race is a canonical example. 

I was a bit off pace, not having raced at my home track in over a year.  A few small errors let the green and silver car behind me close the gap.  In the late stages of the race, we had contact 3 times. Once I was hit from behind coming out of 10A, and twice side by side into the braking zone of the same corner.

My thought process was this- First hit: accidental,  he misjudged the closing rate. Second hit: Woah, did he just bump me side to side at 105 MPH? Did I squeeze him?

Third hit: What the hell? Is this guy trying to intimidate me? Payback because he though I hit him?

When I got out of the car I was a bit hot under the collar. I was mostly frustrated with myself about my lack of execution that put me in that position, but also irritated that another driver would intentionally bang into me.

I went to talk to him, video in hand. Fortunately he was racing in the enduro so I passed the word along to his team that I was not okay with what happened. This gave me some much needed time to cool off. 

Sunday's race had us battling again, this time cleanly. It was a fierce, but respectful contest.

Afterwords, he took the time to come over and talk to me. From his vantage point,  I had intentionally nudged him as an intimidation tactic. 

We cleared the air in couple of minutes of friendly conversation. I was genuinely glad to make his acquaintance, and look forward to racing against him on his home turf in Charlotte a few weeks from now. 

 Within those few moments my perspective shifted 180 degrees. It all hinged upon the ability   (or lack thereof) to interpret intent. 

If the side to side contact down the back straight had resulted in either car spinning into the wall, bending sheet metal and possibly bones, it doesn't matter that I only 'intended' to push him to the edge of the outside track and no further. 

I hope the Spec Miata class can get back to keeping the racing close but clean. And when it isn't, I plan check the emotions and focus on the driving. Respecting each other will go a long way to fix the on track incidents, and prevent them in the paddock.

Up next on BumpDraft, a way to keep your head cool, literally.