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After completing 0 laps at Limerock in July, the entire engine wiring harness was rebuilt to exorcise the electronic demons that had been plaguing the car. Car was tested at Limerock the week before our race at Watkins Glen and everything worked fine. Raced at Watkins Glen and managed 2nd place finishes in both Saturday and Sunday races and 2nd in TTU on Saturday. Car ran great 2 days in a row for the first time in I don't know how long.
If you'd like to WATCH the Vlog of this weekend rather than spending all your time reading my silly words, just click here.
I straight up didn't write a post about our racing endeavors (attempt) at Limerock in July for 2 reasons: 1) The car didn't run at all and 2) I was just too depressed to talk about it much. After finishing the last race at NJMP in June on a relative high note I came to Limerock with cautiously hopeful expectations. Those hopes were dashed in pit lane on the way to the first warm up lap of the weekend. Car had absolutely zero power and I pulled in after one slow lap to see what error codes the datalogger was displaying. Turns out BOTH knock sensors were reportedly on the fritz at the same time, out of the blue. With the wind fully out of my sails I spent the morning on my back under the car looking at knock sensor wiring trying to find a smoking gun. There wasn't one. Car was back on the trailer after lunch ready to go to Pete at Autosport Fab to form a plan to deal with this electronic crap once and for all.
Perhaps in the end it was fate anyway. My good friend and ST2 competitor Mike Phillips blew his motor in the downhill during the race. In a ball of flames he spun in his own oil and crashed into the outside wall at the exit of the downhill. Another racer in ST2 in his new-for-the-season Panoz spun in the same oil and crashed right into the back of Mike's car. Mike's car was a mangled mess and he STILL doesn't know if the car is salvageable at this point. Even if it is it needs a whole new drivetrain, suspension, aero, and pretty much every body panel. I haven't heard from Scott Mohr on the status of his Panoz, but he was not exactly bullish on the prospect of the car being fixable. Luckily both drivers were unharmed - a testament to the importance of well designed and constructed cages. Shaken up by my friends' accidents I towed my car and trailer to Autosport Fab and dumped the whole rig off with Pete, not sure when I'd see the car again.
To top it all off I woke up the next morning with food poisoning, and crawled between my bed and the bathroom for the next 24 hours. Perhaps that weekend was just never supposed to happen.
After a little back and forth we decided to send the entire wiring harness out to be rebuilt/repaired. There was talk of going to stand alone engine management but between the expense, time, complexity and having to actually learn stand alone engine management software and tuning, we decided to just stick with what we had. After 14 years in a hot, ripped up race car it was just time to start fresh with a new mess of wires so that's what we did. Pete went thru the car while he had it apart to make sure everything else was still in good shape and happily it was. Pete tested the car at Limerock on September 18th and reported that everything worked flawlessly. He even thought he turned some 58 second laps in the car which is pretty dang quick, and faster than I've ever managed to go at Limerock between problems and traffic, so that was nice to hear.
My dad and brother Kevin joined me at Watkins Glen for the weekend to provide assistance and moral support. My dad and I started this crazy addiction together in 2006 and he was up visiting from his home in Florida so it was good to have him there at a race weekend. We'd spent a ton of time together at HPDE events over the years but he's never been able to actually watch me race. I was especially glad he came because he also has a 2019 Corvette Grandsport on order and now he's all pumped up for track days at Sebring! My brother has helped at quite a few race weekends and he was also there filming for a Vlog series we're starting to work on. You can find the link to that Vlog Episode at the top and bottom of this post.
As usual I approached the morning with cautious optimism. I've become very good at managing my expectations and since my success rate at Watkins Glen has basically been 0% since 2016 it was important to keep myself in check. I rolled out for the morning warm up and managed some 2:04 laps, but more importantly did not have a single issue arise during the whole 20 minutes. It was a small victory indeed but at this point I have to pick my battles. I got some extra sessions running in TTU for the weekend which were going to put more wear into my already worn Hoosier A7 tires, but I didn't care. My goal for Saturday was to simply run the car all day without problems so ultimate lap times and even winning my classes were not my greatest concerns.
I eeked out a 2:02 in TTU which happily was good enough for second place in a field of 7 which meant I had a Hoosier A7 coming my way! Been a long time since that's happened! The best TTU time went to Anthony Nick in his wicked C6Z track monster. Anthony is a good customer, great guy, and managed his best time ever of 1:58 in his 560+whp beast. Happy to report Anthony is looking to join our ranks in ST2 next year so for the off season he's scheduled the car for a full cage and other required safety accouterments for wheel to wheel racing.
I qualified second in our field of 6 ST2 cars for Saturday. 8 were scheduled for the day but Doug Winston had a last minute differential problem with this C5 Corvette. John Robbins was supposed to be running his Evo X but I didn't see him at all until Saturday evening when his trailer was leaving the track. That means he came all the way up for the weekend and didn't manage to turn a single lap. I know how that feels. Mike Kuna qualified on pole with a 2:00.7 in his awesome widebody E46 M3 and myself nipping at his heels .2 seconds behind. Another .2 seconds behind me was Eric Wong in his V8-swapped BMW. Eric made the trip up from Maryland to try and steal some NASA Northeast trophies. Keith Workman was P4 breaking in a new dry sumped LS3, followed by Alan Cohen in his fire breathing Caddy, and finally John Gatzemeyer in his C5 Corvette. Our wave of cars was uncharacteristically starting behind the GTS field which means we would be passing slower out-of-class cars a lot sooner than we normally would.
As the green flag dropped for the start of our ST wave I got a run on Mike Kuna but he defended his position down to the entry of turn 1. Alan Cohen blew past everyone at the start in his monster power (but heavy) CTS-V and Eric found himself in 4th taking the outside line through turn 1. I kept Kuna within a car length or two for the first lap looking for my opportunities to make a clean pass. He was defending his position by blocking the inside line at every braking zone. I'd hoped that by taking these compromised lines I'd be able to take the optimal racing line and get a run on him onto one of the straights, but the track went full course yellow after only 1 lap. There was an incident with an ST3 Thunder Roadster at the end of the braking zone on the main straight, and it put us under yellow for about 3 very slows laps. My brother was in the stands at turn 9 watching for the lights on the Pace Truck to go out and radio'd to me in the car when he was sure the truck was heading into pit lane. I managed to get a run on Mike Kuna at the restart and passed him at turn 1 and never saw him again. By this time Eric Wong had made up some ground and was breathing down my neck up thru the esses. Because the restart bunched everyone up together we were slicing and dicing thru slower traffic. Coming up the toe of the boot I found myself going 3 wide around a GTS3 and GTS4 car carrying much more speed than both of them. I'd guessed (and hoped) that the GTS4 car that was racing no body was going to give me room at the exit of the toe, but instead he tracked all the way out - killing my momentum and allowing Eric Wong to sail right past me in the Sole of the Boot. That put him in first place and shortly there after an incident involving an STU stock car put the track back to full course yellow, and we finished the race under caution. Was a bummer to relinquish my first place position that way, but that, as they say, is racing. I guessed wrong and Eric guessed right. The 30 minute race saw a total of 3 green laps which was a bummer, but at least I ended my day with 2 second place trophies, and a car that hadn't skipped a beat the entire day. My brother Kevin and I celebrated with beers and cigars and went to bed hoping for another beautiful and sunny dry day on Sunday.
We woke up to a cold, wet drizzle that wasn't in the forecast for the day. Watkins Glen weather is always a crap shoot outside the months of May-early September in my experience. They had 2 inches of snow in April for the AER race. And the 2 days after our NASA event a Porsche club event was all but cancelled when the first day was solid fog and the second day was mostly fog followed by rain. Anyway point is no one knows what the weather is going to do at The Glen early or late season, so we never put too much stock in the forecast.
I've learned by now at this point in my racing career that you always bring your rain tires, no matter what the forecast is. So we swapped over from the Hoosier A7s to the Hoosier H20s and went out for a morning TTU session to scout the conditions. We ran 2:34s in miserable wet, slick conditions with about 4 other brave souls. The track was very greasy and I was glad to have that 20 minute session to test the conditions before qualifying, because at this point they were calling for the rain to continue until 11am.
I got my car to grid super early for Thunder qualifying. This would allow me to have the best vision at the front of the pack and I could set the pace on the out lap. Having tested the track conditions I was confident someone was going to stuff it in the wall very soon into the session, so I suspected that one green lap was all we were going to get before we found ourselves under caution. And that is exactly what happened. On our first flying lap a GTS3 car lost it in the toe of the boot and hit the outside wall. We drove back to the pits under black flags, and I kept my speed up thru pit lane trying to get across the start/finish line in case that was going to be our only lap of the session. I crossed the line with a 2:46 and hoped that would be enough to count as a good lap. Luckily they held us all at the end of pit lane while they collected the car in the wall. I knew that meant they were going to send us out for one more lap since most people never got a timed lap in the first place. They held us for about 10 minutes and finally we were released. The conditions were no different so I just hustled it in the wet the best I could, still leading the pack and taking advantage of decent vision and my previous laps from the morning session. In the end I qualified P1 overall with a 2:33 - 6 seconds ahead of Eric Wong and 15 seconds ahead of Mike Kuna. That would put me in a great position for the start of the race. Only question now was what the weather was going to do.
After lunch the rain had subsided and the track was slowly starting to dry. The Lightning race group definitely had to deal with some slick but drying track conditions, and luckily our race group was 90 minutes after theirs. My brother and I played weatherman for 30 minutes looking at every radar we could find and concurred that it was not going to rain for our race. Unfortunately that meant I had to make some body modifications to the rear fenders in order to accommodate the too-tall Hoosier 345/35 tires I was going to run for the race. I'd never run these tires before and took them for a quick spin on the final Saturday TT session. I thought they may rub the fenders in the uphill and sho' nuff I definitely smelled burning rubber thru the Esses during our test run. So in order to run the sticker A7s the executive decision was made to take a jig saw to my rear fenders to create more room for the tall tires. It hurt to do it, but honestly it came out better than I expected, and you can't even really tell from the on track pictures. So with the fenders cut and tires mounted, we made our way to our grid position to prepare to roll out for the race.
The skies cleared for the start of the race and after a last second check of the radar we were sure we were going to have at least 30 minutes of no rain. Now all we had to do was hope we'd also have 30 minutes of actual racing instead of the Yellow Fest from Saturday's race. As pole sitter I was able to choose which side of the track I started on so I opted for the inside line for the run down to turn 1. We pulled out behind the pace truck and attempted to put some heat in our tires on the cool track surface. There were a few isolated spots of moisture still on the track but they were mostly off the main racing surface and would have little effect on our lines during the race.
As the pace truck pulled off I maintained a speed of 50 mph or so which would put me in the sweet spot for a second gear launch while I waited for the flagger to show the green flag. Once I saw the flaggers' shoulder move I was on the gas and making the run down to T1, trying to hold off Mike Kuna behind me and Eric Wong to my left. We all got through turn 1 cleanly and made our run up thru the Esses. On the very first lap it became immediately apparent that Eric Wong was a bit faster than me in a straight line. He closed the gap in the Esses and was right on my bumper in the braking zone for the bus stop. I'd then pull away from him in the slow to medium speed corners, and he'd reel me back in on the main straight and back straights. He and I checked out from the rest of the ST field and maintained about a second gap between us for the first 5 laps of the race - me usually gaining thru the turns and losing time in the straights. My tire was indeed smoking thru the Esses as I could smell the burning rubber. Without knowing exactly what was rubbing I just hoped it wasn't the edge of my fenders cutting into the side wall of the tire and compromising its structural integrity at 145 mph.
It may have been that thought in the back of my head that caused me to have a bauble on lap 6, or maybe it was the too tall tire in the rear that I wasn't used to. Whatever it was the car pulled hard to the left while braking for the bus stop, was uncomfortable thru the bus stop, and felt weird thru the carousel almost 9mph slower than I normally take it. I got on the radio to Kevin to tell him I thought something was wrong with the car, and I pointed Eric by going into the laces of the boot. Watkins Glen is not a place I wanted to be fighting hard and not feel comfortable in the car, so I backed off for a few turns to settle down and see if the car would come back to me. It did feel better, and I spent the next 6 laps trying to reel Eric back in to re-take the lead.
Unfortunately I just ran out of time and was never able to get a run on him in the fast parts of the track due to my straight line speed deficiency. We both ran our fastest 5 laps at the end of the race, and we crossed the finish line with just a .3 second gap between us. Eric's best lap was a 2:00.4 to my 2:00.5. It was an awesome race and it doesn't feel too bad to come that close to a guy like Eric who's been racing and winning championships for almost a decade. I learned a lot when I was ahead of him and I learned a lot when I was behind him, so hopefully I can take those lessons and fight for some more race wins in the future now that the car has FINALLY (I hope) been sorted and will run for a whole weekend without issues.
Next order of business is to figure out why my car doesn't seem to want to go as fast in a straight line as it should. We have some good working theories, and already have a plan in place to fix that. We'll be doing some testing at New York Safety Track in the next couple weeks to see if we can eek out a few more miles per hour in a straight line. We'll be filming that day for the upcoming Vlog and Blog so I hope to see you back here shortly with that info. Thanks for reading. Please check out the Vlog below and give us a like and a comment. Shake and bake!