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It's been a little over a month since our last race outing at NJMP Lightning with NASA. A big win on Saturday and a crushing loss on Sunday meant there were questions to be answered - namely why the hell was I so slow in the rain? Having discovered my rain tires were 8 years old I took my Hoosier Tire winnings from Saturday and had them send me a set of brandy new wet-only H20s. Unlike most Corvette drivers I'd be praying for rain at my next event to put them to the test to try and redeem my dignity and sanity.
5 days after racing at NJMP I was scheduled to instruct with the Audi NEQ club at Limerock. This meant I'd need to swap on my ultra quiet stock exhaust to be able to pass the draconian 86db sound limit, but other than that I made zero changes to the car. I was only planning on attending the Saturday event but as fate would have it the weather-folks were forecasting wet weather all day on Friday! I rushed to get the new H20s mounted and hoped the "good" forecast would hold for the day. However Limerock resides in a hole in the rolling hills of Connecticut and for whatever reason (in my experience) bad weather seems to skip over that place. Unfortunately that was the case on Friday and the forecast for a glorious day of rain turned out to be a lightly overcast and mostly lovely day of dry weather. Darn it. I'd have to leave my wet weather testing for another time. Saturday was even more beautiful than Friday. I drove the 2 days on my quite old Pirelli DH scrubs with something like 20 heat cycles on them and managed a best lap of 57.8 thru traffic. I'll need to be somewhere in the low 56s to be competitive in a race but I hope that with big fresh Hoosier A7s and The Fire inside of me during actual competition that will be attainable.
For Round 2 NASA Northeast found itself at the familiar grounds of New Jersey Motorsports Park, this time to run on the longer and more technical Thunderbolt track. I really enjoy both the tracks at NJMP but Thunderbolt is my favorite. It's got some fast high speed sweepers which play to the strengths of cars (like mine) with a lot of aero upgrades. It features smooth pavement and lots of safe run off areas so it's great track to really push the limits of man and machine without huge consequences.
I skipped the Saturday festivities as I was out of the country the previous two weekends and wanted to spend the day with my little guy Anders. However I was very much keeping tabs using the Racehero app to see what the 12 cars in ST2 were doing throughout the day. The usual suspects were scheduled to run with the addition of two comp school rookies and a couple of not-so-regulars. Adrian from FAST Auto was racing his ST2 Corvette this weekend which he doesn't do much these days since he and his team support about 5 customer cars at NASA events. Jake Namer had his 996 Porsche GT3 out of the garage and ready to rock. Arthur Dopart joined the ST2 ranks in his new Mustang after graduating comp school. And finally pro-racer Robert Thorne opted to run ST2 as opposed to his slowly dying class of GTS4 since we had 11 cars, and GTS4 only had 3. With Robert moving that made the count 12 and 2, respectively. 12 cars in ST2 is by far the most I've seen in the Northeast since I started racing in 2015. Might actually be the largest ST2 group in the whole country, so it's pretty exciting times!
Robert Thorne threw down a blistering qualifying lap time of 1:23.087 with Adrian at a 1:26.1 and everyone else filling out within 2 seconds behind him. My best time at the track last year was a 1:26 so I was confident I could play with Adrian in a race but would have nothing for Robert. The previous track record in ST2 was 1:23.8 so he was definitely hustling. The race itself saw only about 6 laps of green and finished under yellow. There was a pretty serious incident involving BMWs from three different classes. As it was explained to me, a GTS4 car and an ST2 BMW came together at turn 4 and the ST2 car suffered a cut tire. The BMW with the cut tire spun at the exit of 5, and an oncoming Spec E46 BMW collected him in the rear. Both cars were severely damaged but gladly all drivers were unhurt. Anyway Robert Thorne maintained his 1:23 pace to finish first, followed by AJ Hartman and Doug Winston. Adrian wasn't able to start the race due to a failing slave cylinder.
I got to the track first thing Sunday morning to make myself ready. I was a little out of my normal routine so I wanted to be sure to have ample time to get through all the important stuff before I took to the track for the TT session at 9:30. I paddocked next to my good buddy and AMT customer Anthony Nick. Anthony had a major impact at Thunderbolt in October and his C6Z was being rebuilt and turned into a full race car ever since. He made comp school by the skin of his teeth on Friday and happy to say he passed with flying colors. He'll eventually be taking some power out of his monster motor to run with us in ST2 but he didn't have time to tune it before the weekend, so he'd just be getting his laps in classed in SU, which is the catch all "run whatcha brung" class. After all the issues he's had in the last 7 months it was great to see him back on track.
Other than putting my loud exhaust back on and giving the car a once over it was unchanged from Limerock. Great to finally be able to drive this car repeatedly without something breaking down! I didn't bother to mount fresh tires for this one-day event so I'd be using the Hoosier A7s from the last event in May. They had 3 heat cycles on them which means they've been out on track 3 times. Doesn't sound like much but A7s are fastest their first time out and get slower from there. However 3 HCs is a very low number overall so they'd still be plenty fast. If I sucked there would be no blaming it on bad tires.
After checking in with TT and Race Directors I got the car out at 9:30 for the first TT session. I think I ran something like a 1:25 but didn't pay much attention to my lap timer or the official results from NASA. I only had 20 minutes to get the car to grid for the all important qualifying session. I checked tire pressures and basically got the car right to grid without checking anything. We rolled for qualifying and I put in a couple laps that felt quick-ish, but at the end something was definitely feeling off. The car was pushing (understeering) in places it never does, and as I slowed down I heard something scraping on left hand turns. Uh oh. I rolled thru scales at 3129lbs (basically a full tank) and the scrutineers mentioned "just so ya know your exhaust is hanging off on the right side." That would explain the scraping sound. Knowing I just attached the exhaust 2 days before I figured I forgot to tighten something and should be no biggie. It was a little bigger deal than that unfortunately. The exhaust was hanging because my right rear upper sway bar bolt had stripped out the cradle and took my exhaust hanger with it. So essentially my rear sway bar was disconnected during qualifying, and the muffler then separated from the mid pipe. So I had a couple fixes to make. Drill, tap, helicoil, and bolt up the sway bar and get some hardware to re-attach the muffler to the mid pipe. Neither of which would or should be a big deal at the shop but lying on the ground with 2 hours before the race start and none of the needed tools I was in a scramble. Oh and to add insult to injury, I never set an actual qualifying time. My transponder was still in my suitcase and I forgot to put it on the car. That's what I get for messing with my routine.
Thrash to Autozone, Lowe's, and borrowing some tools from the FAST Auto crew and with assistance from John at VanBortel Chevrolet, I had the cradle drilled, tapped, and helicoil'd, sway bar bolted up, exhaust re-hung, and re-attached with about 40 minutes to spare. Plenty of time for a quick breather and hot dog before the race start. I'd be starting from 14th place having not logged an official time. Robert Throne blasted an absurd 1:21.9 qualifying time. That was faster than the ST1 and SU fastest times by nearly 3 seconds, and is well under the ST1 track record. Knowing I had zero chance of catching him and winning the race, I resigned myself to the fact that this would be a good opportunity to practice my race craft and just have fun with it. I'd try and win my Hoosier tires in one of the TT sessions as opposed to winning the race.
The race was a hoot, and once again reminded me why I continue to pursue this crazy hobby. I'm not a pro racer and the reason I'm here should and never will be "because I have to win." As long as I'm competitive with the folks around me and can have some good battles then I'm happy. If I can run near the pointy end then even better. I started in 14th place and made it up to second in class and 4th overall. First lap shenanigannery saw me in the dirt when I snuck up on Doug Winston's blindspot at the exit of turn 6. I got the car back on track quickly and safely and with no issues other than some grass in the radiator and oil cooler. The oil got a smidge warm (275F) in the second half of the race so I started short shifting to try and keep the RPMs down which had a minimal effect on lap times (thank you torque) and I was well clear of the rest of the field (except for Robert of course) by then anyway.
See the video below for the first half of the race. It's only the first half because after the file got too large on the GoPro and it SHOULD have started recording a second one (as any GoPro user knows) it decided not to. So while the second half of the race was just as entertaining as the first, you'll have to take my word for it. This GoPro 7 Black will be the last GoPro product I buy before moving on to some better and more reliable options. I'm continually let down by all of their products.
Here are the highlights from the video:
:25 - Race start and a clean run down to T1
:43 - I head around the outside of T1 to get past Doug Winston, but I get behind Keith Workman driving a borrowed car off line and get balked.
:56 - I keep a high corner speed thru Turn 3 and get Keith before the brake zone to T4
1:07 - Anthony Nick gives me a room on the inside of T4 so I can go after Doug
1:14 - I start going around the outside of Doug at T5 but he moves over on me (he didn't know I was there) and I mow the lawn
2:02 - Getting a run on Keith onto the straight, I lift a smidge since he's a bit slower thru there. You can see I'm still closing on him pretty hard, but I'm down something like 50whp on that car so you see how quickly my head of steam turns into a deficit...
2:36 -...but my much lighter car is better under brakes so I get him easily into Turn 4
3:17 - Driving around the outside of rookie Arthur Dopat in the octopus
3:30 - Little draft and a head of steam allows me to follow John Gatzmeyer and Doug Winston down the straight, and a very tight 3 wide squeeze, before I shoot thru under braking
6:08 - Jenn Krpata gives me room on the inside of the octopus to go after Jake Namer. Jenn also sold me a very nice Kid Kart for my son on Sunday so she was doing me favors all weekend!
7:08: Getting ready to pass Jake until I see the standing yellow at the flag station up ahead. Admittedly I didn't see it at Turn 5. Laser focused I guess. I'm an entrepreneur. Henry Ford III. (End inside jokes). Jake politely reminds me not to pass with the a finger wag, which I didn't see til I reviewed the video.
Yellow flag comes out after that and the video ends. I end up passing Jake, AJ Hartman, and Chris Benoist somehow during the race, but for the life of me I can't remember where or when. If only the GoPro actually did the one job it has.
So the race was a hoot, I finish second, which is good enough for 1 tire. However I decide to stick around til the end of the day to go out in the last TT session, and rip off a 1:24.5 to win TTU for the day and 2 Hoosier tires. That's the fastest recorded lap I have at this track with HC number 7 on the tires. So I'm sure with fresh rubber I can get down into the 23s. Still a long ways to go to Robert.
Anytime someone beats up a track record that much an eye brow gets raised. I saw a video of Robert with data doing a 1:21.6ish from a few weeks back, and the difference is staggering. He's about 10mph faster in all the fast turns and 5mph faster in all the slow turns. His top speed is a mere 140mph where mine is 144. So he's an excellent driver, with a car making huge grip, at 2700lbs and 300whp. There's a reason why he's driven Pro seasons in Pirelli World Challenge while most of us have not. Very glad to have him in the ST2 ranks and look forward to upping my game to try and keep up with him!
So despite some setbacks and missteps on my end, it was a great Sunday overall. Get's me super pumped for the upcoming race July 12 and 13 at Limerock. Hope to see you there!!
Oh, and last but not least here's a picture of my man on his new to him Kid Kart. He's more than a little excited, as is his daddy.