Former US Secretary of State and four star general Colin Powell once said, "there are no secrets to success." "It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure." We couldn't agree more. After a pretty good weekend (4th place both days) at Sonoma Raceway back in June, our team spent the entire month of July improving, learning, and preparing for Round 5 of the 2017 NASA Super Touring Series August 12th and 13th. The result? A great weekend at Thunderhill Raceway; we walked away with 1st Place on Saturday and 5th Place on Sunday in ST4 class (out of 14 cars, the largest field we've had to date this year).
So what did we do? A lot. For starters, we wanted to address the issue of "Irene" constantly frying cam position sensors and triggering random shut-downs under heavy load. After checking just about everything we could think of, Jon and Son made the executive decision to remove and replace the entire engine wiring harness with a brand-new one from Honda. In addition, we called in a huge favor through Jei Chang (thank you!) at Blacktrax Performance to get a brand-new adapter harness from Hondata (they do not normally sell these separately). We also upgraded to a larger intake filter, new Supertech valvesprings (thanks, Martin and Willy), and installed a new seat with improved driving position. Afterwards, we gave "Irene" some fresh Motul 300V engine oil, and spent some time on the dyno with engine tuning wizard Jei; before bringing the car back to Trackspec for a final once-over (which included an alignment and corner-balance).
As we do for most weekend races, Friday evenings are reserved for loading up and towing up to the track. After a quick stop at Walmart for water (and let's be honest, ice cream) we unloaded in the paddock and went to the hotel to grab some much-needed sleep. Morning arrived, and when we got back to the paddock we found Liam using his super cool Wunder Aligner system (of which he also happens to be the exclusive US distributor) to make sure that his EG6 Honda Civic's alignment setup was perfect and ready for racing. We really dig how easy the Wunder Aligner is to use, and how it enables you to quickly make adjustments at the track. It's like having a portable alignment rack on the go!
Graham was unable to get his EM1 Honda Civic ready in time for this weekend, and as such I decided to let him race in "Irene" on Saturday. But first, I went out for morning practice so that I could get used to some of the recent changes. The new seating position was immediately noticeable. I was significantly more comfortable and found I now had better leverage over the steering wheel. But I also noticed that the tires didn't feel good anymore (they had 8+ days on them), and also the car felt a bit sluggish. So after coming in and remembering that only days earlier we discovered my battery had gone bad and so we replaced it; I decided to reload my recent tune (in case something had gotten reset within the ECU during the battery swap) before Graham took the car out for qualifying. The outcome? He managed to put the car on pole position for the race...on old tires.
You may remember that after every qualifying (and race) session, we are required in Super Touring to go over the scales to ensure that all cars are running their legal minimum weight. When Graham got to tech, we were told that "Irene" along with several other cars were being pulled for compliance dyno checks to ensure that we were making less than the maximum allowed horsepower. NASA officials immediately stuck an "evidence, do not open!" sticker on the hood to prevent anyone from opening/tampering with it, and we were ushered to the MCE dyno located by the garages in the paddock. The result was as we expected, "Irene" was making well below the maximum amount of horsepower allowed (226 peak whp) and was well over the minimum allowed weight (2,790 lbs). With the race officials satisfied, we were released and went back to the rig where Ashly Downey (thank you!) then spent the next 30 minutes removing the evidence seal sticker from the car (those stupid things are designed to break apart, so they are ridiculously difficult to get off).
With a 4 hour break in between qualifying and the race, we grabbed lunch together as a team and then mounted fresh sticker tires on "Irene" in preparation for the 4:45pm green flag. Graham drove amazingly well, and finished 1st (in class) with a commanding lead and a blistering lap time of 1:55.594. Liam also gained two positions during the race and finished in 8th with a best lap time of 2:06.769.
Watch the full race from inside "Irene" and see Graham take the fight to some ST3 cars (which are a lot faster, being allowed 10:1 power to weight ratio as compared to 12:1 for ST4). Pardon the incorrect track map overlay (I forgot my SD card reader at home and didn't realize my Smartycam HD had the 5-mile course file pulled up instead).
We celebrated over delicious barbecue (thanks, NASA) and went back to the hotel to rest (okay, maybe we also drank a bottle of Jameson) before race two on Sunday. When morning arrived, and it was now my turn to drive. Graham had given me a target time of 2:00 for the day and after hitting a 2:02 during morning practice, I was feeling pretty good. Liam was also able to improve his lap time already from the day before too. The weather was also thankfully just a few degrees cooler.
After reviewing AIM data and thinking through what I needed to focus on in qualifying, I went out and promptly found those two seconds with a 2:00 lap time and the 5th starting position in ST4 secured for the 12:45pm race.
Watch the action-packed race from inside "Irene" as I battled with Andrew Ogilvie (green/yellow EG6 Honda Civic), Ian Barberi (#74 black E36 BMW M3), and Jon Burgis (#95 black E36 BMW M3). At one point, they each passed me for position because of my mis-shifts/mistakes, but I was able to regain ground and pass all but Jon by the time the checkered flag was thrown to finish P5 (where I started the race). All jokes aside, it was hard fought and tons of fun.
Round 6 will take place at Sonoma Raceway September 9th-10th. We can't wait!