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TL:DR - Raced with NASA Northeast at Limerock on July 12 and 13. I won both races Saturday and Sunday, set an ST2 track record, and won TTU both days by over a second. I was somewhere around 5 seconds faster this year than I was 2 years ago. Here's how I did it.
This is the second version of this blog entry. I just hit "delete" on a couple hours of work which was going to be my typical too-long race recap from the NASA event at Limerock from July 2019. I started writing blogs about the ins and outs of my racing because my problems over the last few years were so numerous that it made the drama of the weekend somewhat (at least I hope) entertaining to read. Maybe there was some insight to be gained from my struggles that would help current or aspiring racers overcome some challenges they may face and perhaps give the non-drivers a look into "that racing life."
So after writing multiple pages with that in mind about the Limerock race I realized that it really wasn't very interesting at all. Everything went perfect. Car ran great, I blitzed all sessions in both days, won 4 tires, set a track record, and was home in time for dinner on Saturday. It was the easiest weekend of racing I've had since I started racing in 2015. For the first time ever I heard mutterings of "cheater" around the paddock and on social media. No one says that when you lose, but when you win by a lot evidently they do. I had no challenge from any of my competitors which made the races feel like an HPDE session. That's not particularly fun racing but I can attest it's a hell of a lot better than 1) breaking down 2) not starting the race at all or 3) losing. I'm not saying this to gloat. I'm saying that I was able to make massive improvements in my driving in a rather short amount of time. This post is an attempt to show you exactly how I did that, and hopefully it's of interest to the non-drivers and helps make the drivers out there faster.
Despite Limerock being the closest thing I have to a home track at only 80 miles away, I don’t have nearly as much time there as I should. That’s because 1) my car is too loud to be there 90% of the days it’s open and 2) my car has been in various states of repair the last 4 years. I have completed exactly zero laps there in timed competition but it's not from lack of trying. In 2015 my motor blew and the replacement wasn’t ready in time. In 2016 the dry sump for said motor wasn’t ready in time. In 2017 that motor blew but NASA didn’t race at Limerock that year so just as well. And finally in 2018 electronic gremlins with my second new motor sidelined me as soon as I got off the trailer. So while I’ve been trying since 2015 to actually race at Limerock it had not yet come to pass.
Knowing this I tried to get a few extra days on track before the race in July. I instructed with Audi NEQ 2 days in May. In the busy instructor group I was setting consistent lap times in the 58 second range, which is real fast for an HPDE group but not nearly fast enough to win my ST2 race class. In June I instructed one day with BMW Connecticut Valley chapter and set my best lap time of 57.8, with a best rolling lap time of 57.1. “Rolling lap time” is your fastest time around the track from some point to some point, but not necessarily across the Start/Finish line. It’s a good reference time because at an HPDE you can get held up in a lot of places waiting for a point by, so the rolling lap time can give you an idea of the truer pace of the car when traffic is slowing you down in different places.
With 3 weeks to go before the race I knew that a 57.1 was a decent time but would really need to be in the low 56 range to challenge for the win. My buddy Mike Phillips had done a 55.6ish in qualifying last year and had set the ST2 track record of 56.5 or so during the race. I was looking to lop off nearly 2 seconds from my best lap of 57.8 but would have no more chances to practice before the race weekend. What was I to do? Call in the professionals.
In the beginning of this season I started utilizing the services of a company called Racers360. It was started by a pro racer named Dion Von Moltke, and if you travel in our circles you know Dion has himself a Rolex from winning the 24 hours of Daytona and has also won the 12 hours of Sebring twice. There are a lot of pro coaches available to hire out there but a Pro of Dion’s caliber could easily cost you $5000 a day to bring him to the track. So Dion started a company with a fairly radical approach - he and his stable of Pro Coaches will review your best lap and send you back a 20 minute critique for only $100. While I think anyone could benefit from this type of coaching, I feel the biggest value is for guys like me - drivers who are looking to shave off the last second or two from their lap times. If you’re looking to lop off your first 10 seconds then I think you’ll get more value from having someone in the car and working on technique and building confidence and speed in the car. But I’m looking for .1 second per corner. Blink your eyes right now. That’s all I'm hoping to find in every turn but on a track with 10 turns there’s my second per lap.
So I submitted my 57.8 lap for review and within 24 hours I had a review from pro coach Cameron Lawerence, who himself also won the Rolex 24 hour in an IMSA GTD car in 2015 amongst his other accolades. By looking at the video as well as my data overlays Cameron had me working on 2 specific things with my driving. 1) trail braking more into every turn in order to carry more weight on the nose thereby reducing understeer and getting the car to rotate mid corner so that 2) I could get to full power sooner at the apex and carry a little more exit speed. That’s it. Those are pretty much the 2 biggest points that separate the pros from the amateurs. The Mid corner speeds (slowest part of the turn) may be nearly the same between an amateur (me) and a Pro, but the attitude of the car at the point allow the pros (Cameron) to be at full throttle sooner, thereby increasing exit speed, and carrying that exit speed all the way until the next application of the brake pedal.
Needless to say I'm now a Bible-thumping Racers360 Zealot. I'd encourage anyone to visit their site and chat with Dion to see how they can help with your driving.
After digesting Cameron’s critiques, reviewing my data, creating track notes, making a plan of attack, and spending a couple hours on the iRacing simulator, I was ready to take to the track for the first TT warm up session on July 12. I say the above because I don’t want people to think I watched a 20 minute video and went out and set a track record. I put in the work to be able to execute on the coaching I received from Racers360. It doesn’t happen through osmosis.
In my first warm up session, on the same exact Hoosier A7s from 3 weeks ago (now with 12 heat cycles), in nearly identical weather conditions, with no changes to the car, I went out and did a 56.3 without really trying very hard at all. That would be the fastest TTU time of the day by more than a second. I stayed out for the Thunder (my race group) warm up session and whittled it down to a 56.1. I instantly lopped 1.7 seconds off my best time the first time out on the track from a 20 minute coaching session and a days work on my end. A fella could spend $7000 on a set of adjustable shocks and would be ecstatic to see that kind of improvement at Limerock. It cost me $100. Needless to say Racers360 has been by far the greatest return on investment I’ve had from money spent trying to go faster on track. Plus I gotta say it feels great to know the laptime came from my own ability rather than some very expensive addition to the car. The skills I’m working to develop now are going to translate to faster lap times at every track I visit.
The rest of the weekend road the same wave of positive results. I slapped on new tires for Thunder Qualifying and shaved off another second and did a 55.11. Funny thing about the new tires was that they had so much more grip than the old tires that I could seemingly just bomb around the track and set a fast lap without having to focus on the driving techniques I’d been working so hard on. I texted Dion and he cautioned me to be aware of that and he was 100% right. The data from the laps with the new tires is not nearly as good looking as the data with the old tires, which tells me that with more preparation and work I can go quite a bit faster still. Anyway that 55.1 was the fastest time of any car that day so I started the race P1 overall. I was next to a Super Unlimited tube frame Corvette on Michelin racing slicks driven by Scott Mohr. Scott has a couple hundred horsepower on me so he drops me like I’m standing still at the start but then slows me up a bit the turns before he drops me again by the next straight. We play that accordion game for about 10 laps before Scott pulls a gap but ultimately breaks something in the car that causes him to retire from the race and I finish P1 in class and P1 overall. My next closest competitor in ST2 was Doug Winston who finished 52 seconds behind me. My best lap from the race was 55.11 which reset the ST2 track record by over 1.4 seconds. I really wanted to be in the 54s and I could have done it if I wasn’t slowed up in the turns in the first few laps, but oh well. I should be well in to 54s next year and I think even a high 53 is possible with my setup.
Saturday was more of the same except it was much hotter with temps kissing the low 90s. I didn’t think I’d be able to go faster in the hotter temps and sho’ nuff my racing lap times were slower by about a second. I mustered a 56.1 in qualifying (though I was held up substantially and was on track for a 55.1 again) and a best lap of 56.3 in the race. Finished P1 overall, P1 in class, and brought home another pair of Hoosier tires. I did slap on my old Hoosiers for the morning warm ups and set times of 56.02 in both sessions, and the 56.02 again won TTU for the day. Those tires finished the day with 15 heat cycles on them. Some people will tell you Hoosier A7s aren’t competitive after 7 heat cycles, but those people have a lot more money than me.
If you know me or have read this blog you know what struggles I’ve had the past few years getting this car to the point that I could just put gas in it and drive. While this was by all accounts an easy race weekend for me the road here was long and filled with blood, sweat, tears and financial burden. The fact that I had to fight for it made it that much sweeter, but I didn’t fight alone. Pete Agapoglou from Autosport has done all the fab and setup work on this car since I’ve bought it. It is very solid, safe, and easy to drive and I have him to thank for that. I’ve spent a lot of time in the car with Drew Wikstrom from Tachterion Driver Development and his tutelage has gotten my skills and confidence to the point that they are now. Drew is far and away the best in-car coach I’ve used, and I’ve used many. Chad Golen and his crew built me a monster motor that’s been running flawlessly and doesn’t even sound like it’s working hard on track. Alex Reubenstein tuned the motor to make safe reliable power and saved my sanity when I was about ready to throw in the towel. Rick Kim at RKT56 takes care of the transmission and differential and has my complete confidence. Ben Lesnak setup all the data systems in my car and that data has been crucial to my results. Dion, Mike Skeen, and Cameron at Racers360 who are helping me find those last tenths to fight for race wins. Finally my wife Katie who puts up with all this craziness and has always been supportive of my passion. Many thanks to you all - we speak your names. Namaste.
Below you'll find some pics of the race results and links to the races and fast laps themselves. Fair warning, none of the race footage is particularly exciting. I guess if you're gonna watch one watch Saturday's since there seems to be more action overall and you can see the back and forth between myself and the SU car.