Thunderhill Raceway Park: Friday October 6th - Sunday October 8th, 2017. This weekend marked the first time Trackspec Autosports had ever competed in the NASA Western States Championships. The event is still commonly referred to as, "NASA Nationals," because up until 2015 it gathered racers from across the United States together to compete against one another. But since then, NASA has split the national championships into two events (East and West) in order to make it easier for racers to still compete against the very best; without having to tow more than halfway across the country. The result? We finished 8th in Super Touring 4 (ST4). But the journey to get there? Well, that's where things got interesting...
The format for Champs this year was:
- Friday - one 20 minute warm up session, a 20 minute qualifying session, and then qualifying race #1 (30 mins)
- Saturday - two 20 minute warm up sessions, and then qualifying race #2 (30 mins)
- Sunday - an optional 20 minute hardship practice in the morning (for all classes), and then the Super Touring 4 championship race (50 mins)
Our friends, Liam and Graham Downey, from Romax Auto Group & Wunder Aligner USA provided logistics/transportation support for the weekend with their huge stacker trailer. They towed up to the track on Wednesday evening and spent most of Thursday setting up. So by the time the rest of the team (Tom, Victoria, Jon, Drew) arrived on Thursday night, everything was ready to go. Tom had decided early on to pit together with Martin Tagliavini, from Supertech Performance. Martin is a close personal friend of Tom's and has been racing with us all year in Super Touring 4 in his very own Honda S2000. The two of them have had great battles together, and are jokingly "frenemies."
We were also excited to finally meet Danny Puskar, from G-LOC Brakes, in person. Danny flew all the way out from the East Coast to support Tom, and other G-LOC sponsored drivers for the weekend. As you may already know, we recently became authorized G-LOC dealers and installers.
Friday morning arrived, and Tom went out for warm up at 10am -- only to discover that the engine was running very rough (it would hiccup through the RPM band). After trying to drive through it for 1-2 laps, he came in. We initially thought the issue was being caused by a faulty crank or cam position sensor (which had previously presented similar symptoms), or a bad alternator. So after changing these things and with the car driving fine in the paddock, we put Graham in the car to go out and qualify at 1140am. Turns out, the problem was still present (but would only display itself on track). As such, we recorded a 2:04 lap time which meant starting second to last on the grid for qualifying race #1.
Fortunately, we had 3 hours before the race and after diagnosing just about everything we could think of; we finally figured it out. One of the engine grounds was ever so slightly loose. Of course it's always the last thing you check, right? Lesson learned.
The race was at 345pm and because we were already starting second to last on the grid, Tom decided to put Graham back into the car; just in case something was still wrong (with 10+ years of racing experience, Graham was the best person for the job and could limp the car through if need be). This was important because the starting position for Sunday's championship race was based on finishing position from Friday and Saturday.
Well, as it turns out the car was definitely fixed. Graham charged hard at the drop of the green flag and went from P12 to P3 by the end of the first lap. He then fought with Anthony Zwain, driving the EDGE Motorworks E36 BMW M3, and Austin Newmark, in a Kraftwerks supercharged Mazda Miata, for the next 12 laps as the three of them exchanged positions. Graham ran the fastest lap of the race (a 1:55.1) and even led the race for a bit. But then, on Lap 13, as he was chasing Anthony into Turn 14, Graham made contact with a PTE Miata who was out of class and already down a lap as they went three wide around Turn 15 (Graham on the outside, Miata in the middle, Anthony on the inside). All we could do was watch as Irene went airborne for a brief moment, and then landed (right-side up, fortunately) with enough damage that Graham was unable to steer and thereby unable to continue. He ended up rolling the car over to fire safety, and had to wait until the race was over to get towed in.
Ride along with Graham during Friday's qualifying race #1 here:
After "Irene" came back into the pits we were able to fully assess the damage:
- a missing over-fender
- a cracked fender
- a cracked front bumper
- a cracked splitter
- a shattered front knuckle
- a bent upper control arm
- a broken abs sensor
- and last but not least, a broken wheel
Jon, Drew, and Graham immediately got to work taking everything apart, inspecting everything that may or may not have been damaged and figuring out what could be fixed vs. what needed to be replaced. Graham ended up making a trip down to Morgan Hill in order to grab some of the parts required to get "Irene" back to fighting form. It ended up being a very long night.
Saturday morning began with a quick alignment using the awesome Wunder Aligner mobile setup (which has saved us quite a few times this season). We also riveted on a spare over fender (not the right size, but oh well it worked), and Tom went out for warm up at 10am; cautiously optimistic that the car would drive well. And, it did! After getting comfortable he was immediately lapping in the 2:01's. During the 1150am warmup, Tom got the car down to 1:59's.
Qualifying race #2 was at 3:50pm and the starting position was based on the fastest lap time from Friday. As such, it meant that Tom was starting the race from pole.
Ride along with Tom during qualifying race #2 to a finish of P6:
After the race, the team worked hard to mount brand new tires and then gave the car a complete once-over to make sure that everything was ready for Sunday's championship race. They also reviewed videos and looked at data in order to prepare.
Tom took the car out at 9am on Sunday morning during the hardship practice to scrub in the fresh set of sticker tires. During that session, an NP01 went off at Turn 9 and spilled hot oil onto the dry brush. This resulted in a HUGE fire that delayed the entire day's schedule by 2+ hours. For a few moments, there was even talk about how we might have been done for the weekend. Luckily, local fire crews got things under control and in lieu of a normal opening ceremony with an Air Force fly over, we had Cal-Fire fly over complete with 2 helicopters and a fire-retardant dumping plane.
With the fire delay, our race didn't start until 5pm. Tom gridded up P8 for the race (based on results from Friday and Saturday). He drove a hard-fought 50 minutes from green flag to checker to finish P8.
Ride along for the 2017 Super Touring 4 Western States Championship race here (keep an eye out for Lap 15 when Tom has an epic save down T9):
Next up: It's time to prepare "Irene" for the final Northern California Regional Super Touring 4 race at Sonoma on October 28-29. We are also competing in the final NASA WERC (National Auto Sport Association Western Endurance Racing Championship) event of the year: a 3.5 hour endurance race that very same weekend (Saturday). We are excited to finish the season strong!