Hey guys, Tom Tang here. I’m excited to write the first of many blog posts here on Trackspec Autosports' website. As you may have seen or heard, I’ve teamed up with Trackspec for the 2017 season and together we are campaigning my Honda S2000, “Irene,” in the NASA Super Touring series (in ST4 class). We’re also aiming to qualify for and to then compete at this year’s NASA Western States Championships which will take place at our “home course” here in Northern California: Thunderhill Raceway.
As such, my goal is to report back after each race weekend about what transpired, and since racing is always full of drama and excitement, I’m sure there will be no shortage of interesting things to write about. In addition, I hope to give a behind-the-scenes look at just how hard our team works in between events to improve not only the car, but also myself as a driver.
So, here goes! Round 3 of the 2017 NASA Super Touring series was held at Sonoma Raceway (formerly “Infineon,” and before that, “Sears Point”) located in; you guessed it, Sonoma, CA. Each regular-season NASA race weekend takes place over the course of two days (in this instance, Sat May 20th and Sun May 21st).
We planned to head up to the racetrack on Friday afternoon after work hours. But before we set off, several things happened. First, Jon and Son did a thorough inspection of “Irene” after a slightly harrowing test-date just a week earlier (see previous post by Victoria for those details). The guys wanted to ensure that “Irene” was ready to go; both mechanically (alignment, suspension, etc.) and also with regard to fluids (we use Motul USA RBF660, 300V 5w40, and Gear Comp). They also installed an ASM oil filter stopper, which prevents the oil filter from backing out and/or falling off (never again!)
NASA requires any car that has changed classes to do a “compliance dyno” before it is allowed to race (or even qualify) for points, and since I competed in ST3 last year this rule applied to me. I reached out to the guys over at TFB Performance (located conveniently at Sonoma Raceway) to schedule an appointment (thanks for squeezing us in, guys!) so that once we arrived at the track we unloaded “Irene” and had her on their NASA-approved Dyno Jet right away. After 3 pulls, we calculated the average horsepower to be 217whp (well below what’s allowed based with our declared minimum weight of 2,750 lbs).
We set up our pit area with my good friend (and longtime technical partner) Martin Tagliavini from Supertech Performance who is currently in the process of getting his NASA rookie racing license (and also competing in ST4 with a Honda S2000). Our cars share a lot of history as we have been tracking together for years, and the 3-way Penske shocks on his car were actually first developed on "Irene" back in 2012. I also only ever run Supertech Performance valvetrain components because they have always been and remain the very best in the business.
Saturday morning arrived, and it was game time. Drew and Son worked to get “Irene” ready for practice by setting tire pressures, connecting our radios, checking fluid levels, adding ice/water to the cool-shirt system, and going over many other items on our "beginning of day" check-list. Meanwhile, I went to attend the drivers meeting and then I stopped by scrutineering to grab our 2017 Annual Tech sticker from the NASA officials.
Now keep in mind, this was my first time ever driving at Sonoma Raceway. Prior to this weekend, I had never even done a track day at Sonoma because I was always genuinely worried about how narrow it is there, and how there are just so many walls with very little run off. But, I felt prepared because I had spent the last few weeks watching in-car videos, reading about each turn in detail, and I even fired up my Playstation to "drive" some virtual laps in Gran Turismo. I'm glad I did, because the minute I went out for morning practice most of the sections of the track quickly clicked together. My fastest lap during that session? A 1:56.6. Not bad, for a first-timer. But I also knew that there was plenty of time to be gained.
Some drivers are able to naturally pick up a race track and gain pace very quickly by using intuition. For me, I have always benefited from and relied on data. That's why I partner with AIM Sports and we run an MXL2 dash display with GPS data acquisition along with a Smartycam HD. I'm able to use video and detailed data to figure out where I can brake later, pick up the gas earlier, and what line means a faster entry and/or exit speed for each corner. This translated to a 1:53.6 in qualifying, which put us P7 out of 9 cars. I was really happy that I had found 3 seconds right away.
NASA requires all Super Touring cars to roll over the scales after qualifying and after each race to ensure that cars are not under their minimum declared weight. If a car is ever found to be under weight, their results are immediately disqualified. Fortunately, we don't really have to worry about this since "Irene" is overweight for the amount of power that we are currently making.
After lunch, we swapped the tires on "Irene" from front to back to help balance wear and then it was off to the pre-grid for our 3:50pm race. I battled with and was passed by Percy Howard in his EDGE Motorworks BMW M3 in the middle of the race, but I was able to stay cool, drive hard, and eventually regain my position with only one lap to go (passing him between T2-T3), resulting in a 5th place in class finish. But more importantly, I was really pleased that I had run my fastest time of the day in race conditions (and also during the hottest time of day), a 1:52.4.
Watch the full Saturday race video here:
On Sunday morning we were joined by my good friend, Graham Downey (former 3-time Honda Challenge National Champion), who came to hang out and to support me along with his dad, Liam, and two adorable sons, Rory and Max. In addition, they brought along a very cool new gadget: this incredible portable laser alignment system.
The setup is built in Germany and it works really well. It's way faster than using strings! We checked my alignment and made a few minor adjustments before I went out for morning practice. The result? I ran my new personal best, a 1:51.4. If anyone is interested in getting this setup for themselves, let me know!
Qualifying was cut short and as such, I only managed a 1:52.7 before they threw a full course black to bring everyone back in. My friend, Giles Powell, had been testing the new Valkyrie Autosport 370Z and unfortunately he had crashed into the tire barrier at T11. As such, they needed to send the fire & rescue team out to bring him and the car back in. Fortunately, he wasn't injured.
I was supposed to start the 1:25pm race in P2 based on qualifying results, but apparently Andrew Kidd (driving a turbo Miata) had a malfunctioning transponder and after showing NASA officials his in-car video with lap timing, they inserted him in between myself and the pole-sitter, Jon Burgis (driving a BMW M3). As such, I started the race from P3 and worked hard to keep my position. When the checkered flag was thrown, I was still in P3! Shout-out to Percy who once again drove a great race, and definitely kept the pressure on behind me.
Watch the full Sunday race video here:
I was thrilled to finish on the podium (3rd place in class) at the end of the weekend after a great first race of the year with my Trackspec Autosports Honda S2000. We had made a ton of changes during the off-season and it felt so good to see all of our hard work pay off. I can't wait for our next race in June (17-18) which will bring us back to Sonoma Raceway once more. We will work to try and make small improvements to "Irene" in the meantime. Check back soon for updates!
My favorite photo from the weekend. Team photo (missing Graham/Liam/Rory/Max/Mark) with Victoria, Drew, Son, Jon, and Herb.