July was a nice break month for us. With no racing on the calendar, we used that time to do a few things:
- Sourced (thanks, Graham) and began building another duplicate J32A2 engine with Supertech valve train (thanks, Martin), P2R fuel rails, and other performance goodies
- Rebuilt a spare AP2 transmission with fresh OEM gears that we sent out for WPC coating treatment
- Replaced all 4 corners with brand new Honda OEM knuckles, hubs, and bearings
- Re-measured bump-steer and made some changes to my alignment/roll-center setup
- Went to Laguna Seca and...
- Did some hooning with my F80 M3 "Betty" while also finishing 2nd in B2 class for Bimmer Challenge
- Tested our new Spec E46 build and won 1st Place in B5 class for Bimmer Challenge
On Friday August 3rd, we loaded up at the shop and made our way up north to Willows, CA. Round 5 of the NASA NorCal season was taking place at Thunderhill Raceway, but this particular weekend would be run in reverse (Thunderhill is normally run counter-clockwise) . For those of you who have never done it before, it's faster, more dangerous (coming around T1 clockwise means you're tracking out onto the blend line which leads into the hot-pit wall), and in my very personal opinion; more fun.
Right before we got on the road, I got a call from Martin letting me know that his splitter had been damaged during testing (they went up a day early) and that he needed us to bring a spare bumper (thanks, Grace) and splitter. Fortunately, we had those things readily on hand.
Saturday, August 4th
Because I haven't driven Thunderhill in Reverse in a while, I decided to have my good friend and teammate, Graham Downey race in ST4 on Saturday while I focused on relearning the track and doing Time Trials (TT). In morning practice, I was lapping in the 2:05's and eventually I got down to 2:00 by the end of the day. Solid progress, considering the last time I'd driven T-Hill backwards was when I first got my competition license many years ago.
I was also happy to verify that my new helmet and helmet blower setup worked beautifully in 99 degree heat. Phew! This was something we installed in preparation for Circuit of the Americas in September, because it gets HOT in Austin, TX.
Graham in the meantime, qualified the car on pole position with a lap time of 1:55. Take a ride with him here:
As you can see, the California fires were really affecting the air quality. It was hazy and smoky the entire weekend. Ride-along with Graham as he had a terrific battle with 2nd place finisher, Andy Kitowski in his TC Design E46 in ST4 trim. Graham ended up winning the race. Woohoo!
This particular weekend had an odd schedule. There was no qualifying on Sunday which meant that after the ST4 race, there was another qualifying session later in the day. Since I was racing on Sunday, I qualified the car in order to earn my own starting position. I ended up P6, in front of Martin, and behind Liam.
Sunday, August 5th
The next morning, I had a bit of a breakthrough. I ran a 1:59 in morning practice, after spending much of the evening watching videos and reviewing data. Then, in the Time Trials session I recorded a 1:58.1, which should have been a 1:57.4 after reviewing data. The reason it wasn't? As I was coming around T2, Son said something over the radio to me that I didn't hear. As I approached T1, I saw 5-6 cars going into the hot pit lane so I checked up; thinking it was a full-course black and that's what Son was trying to tell me. But no, it was just that a bunch of people decided to pull off at the same time. So, by the time I looked to the start/finish flagger and realized it wasn't I had lost about 12mph. I immediately got back on throttle and recorded a 1:58.1. Looking back at the AIM data, that lift cost me 0.7 seconds. Doh! The good news though, is that this time was 2nd fastest of the day in TT4 class in Time Trials.
Ride along with me here:
Poor, Liam. His radiator blew up during morning practice, so he went to Autozone in town and bought an OEM replacement. We hoped it would last the race.
It's important to stay hydrated and cool during a race weekend. Ice cold watermelon certainly did the trick.
The race was exciting. I made a terrific move on Liam early on, moving myself from P6 to P5. Unfortunately for Liam, his radiator didn't last and he overheated. As such, he retired early. Then, I made a critical mistake trailing on the brakes just a hair too long into T15-T14 and I spun. 3 cars passed me and I ended up chasing down Martin and Jeff Birdwell (Edge Motorworks E36 M3). We exchanged positions a few times and in the end, I finished P6; where I started. But damn, what a good fight. There were some seriously hairy moments when we passed through several packs of Thunder Roadsters and Legends. I went off-roading...a lot, in order to get around some of them.
What's wild is, on the last lap of the race I noticed my engine was sounding a little odd. As I rolled past the checkered flag, I felt my car was really down on power and I noticed the oil pressure was very low (barely 20 psi). As soon as I got into the paddock, the engine died and I couldn't restart it. We ended up pushing my car over the scales (to check for weight compliance) before pushing it back to our pit area. We tried cranking it a few times, but it just wouldn't go. Our theory (which was later confirmed), is that it was a spun rod bearing. Ugh.
Fortunately, we have 5 weeks to rebuild this engine and to also get the other spare engine, transmission, and other parts put together in time. It's going to be a close one!
We are super excited for this year's NASA National Championships, September 14-16 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX. Stay tuned for updates and be sure to follow along @trackspecautosports and @tomchutang on Instagram. Wish us luck!