Barely three weeks have passed since our last race, but it was once again time to pack our bags and head up to sunny Sonoma, CA for Round 4 of the 2017 NASA Super Touring Series (June 17-18). This weekend was special for a variety of reasons. First, it's rare for NASA to repeat racetracks back to back during the season. Second, it was Father's Day weekend. And third, it was the first time my good friends, Graham Downey and Liam Downey were returning to NASA Pro Racing after a 6 year hiatus. I have long since heard stories of the "golden era" of Honda Challenge (2005-2010), so I was more than thrilled to finally be able to drive with and race against the two of them because they competed during many of those golden years (Graham is a 3-time national champion: he won at nationals in 2008, 2009, and 2010).
We arrived at the track on Friday night and the Downey family had already set up our pit area with their toter home, stacker trailer, and most importantly (as we would soon learn) for the two-day race weekend; canopy.
The next day, we began with morning practice and I quickly discovered an interesting problem. The engine stutter was back, and this time it felt worse than back in May. "Irene" seemed to be noticeably down on power, so I decided to cut my session short and come in early. We thought perhaps the car was just running too cold (since at 8:25am the water temp was only reading 167 degrees), so after blocking off more of my massive v-mounted radiator we were optimistic for qualifying at 11:05am.
Qualifying ended up being a disappointment as well. The cutting out issue was even worse and as such, I only managed a 1:58 before the engine went into limp mode with a check engine light on. I was able to coast "Irene" back into the pits and this time we discovered that my crank position sensor had gone bad. This was puzzling, because we had just replaced this part last season and OEM Honda sensors almost NEVER fail; so two bad sensors in less than a year was very odd. But we filed the issue away for later and focused on getting "Irene" fixed. After swapping in a brand new sensor we fired up the engine and "Irene" was back! Game on.
The race started at 2:30pm and I was starting in P7. Meanwhile, Graham had qualified P2 (Jon Burgis in an E36 BMW M3 was on Pole). Liam was P8 and our friends, Martin Tagliavini, from Supertech Performance was P6, while Percy Howard was P5.
Watch the full race video below, but be warned that it ends just a few laps short of going full distance because a black Ultima GTR in SU class ended up colliding with a PTE Mazda Miata in Lap 11 and there was a massive fire (you can see a huge plume of smoke 5-stories high as I'm coming around Turn 7 at time stamp 15:00). Fortunately, both drivers escaped with minor cuts and bruises only. As such, the race results were based on our positions in Lap 11 and so I finished the race in P4. All in all, I'm pretty pleased because I had a good start and I overtook 3 cars for position during the course of the race (Graham won the race, Martin P5, Percy P6, and Liam P7). Watch the video below:
Sunday proved to be even hotter than Saturday, with the weather creeping well into the 100's. "Irene" ran well, and so I was able to get a great practice session in. I qualified P4, Graham P2, Martin P7, and Liam P8.
I thought it would be more fun to watch the second (Sunday) race from Martin's and Liam's perspectives this time:
During the race another interesting thing happened, the engine stutter came back. So halfway through the race, I decided to dial it back in order to be driving just fast enough to keep my position (ahead of Martin). I was worried about triggering another check engine light so I began shifting earlier and lifting and braking earlier into corners. Fortunately, I kept the car running and fought hard to keep my 4th position once the checkered flag was thrown.
All in all, it was a super fun weekend. P4 both days and "Irene" was still in one piece. We learned that we definitely have some more work to do though. Jon is committed to getting the engine issue resolved (we plan to order a brand new wiring harness from Honda and to install fresh valvetrain from my partners at Supertech Performance). We are also planning to change the engine oil, transmission oil, and differential with fresh fluids from our partners at Motul USA. Round 5 at Thunderhill Raceway is in August. As always, check back soon for updates!