Friday: New Livery
After our successful test day at Sonoma on Friday March 1st, Graham and I brought “Heidi” down to SS Customs in Redwood City, CA that very same evening for the installation of this year’s livery. I was thrilled to once again partner with Adam and Scott from Skepple on the design, and my longtime friend, Shareef, from SSC on the print/install. The plan was that they would finish the car in time for the season opener, and boy...did they deliver!
Two weeks later on Friday, March 15th I landed at SFO in the afternoon; following a short work trip up to Seattle. Drew picked me up from the airport and we went straight down to SSC to pick up “Heidi.” Jon and Victoria met us there and together we got to see Shareef’s team work their magic as they put the finishing touches on the new vinyl wrap.
I love it so much! After a quick dinner, we loaded up and made our way over to Sonoma Raceway. Excited for the weekend ahead.
Saturday: Race #1
Saturday morning arrived and we began the day by going to get “Heidi’s” annual tech inspection done. Afterwards, I went out for morning practice at 8am. Morning practice with NASA is often exciting and filled with chaos and traffic because they combine both A group (Spec Miata, Spec E30) and C group (Super Unlimited, Super Touring, Legends and Thunder Roadster), so it ends up being more than 70 cars on track at the same time. “Heidi” felt good though, and I managed some 1:52s during the short 20 minute session.
During qualifying, I struggled to find room and ended up only doing a 1:49.7 (according to my satellite based AIM MXL2 system). But when I got back to the pits, I discovered a major issue. Apparently, the AMB system at Sonoma was acting up and several competitors either didn’t have correct lap times recorded, or none at all. In my instance, the system had recorded only two lap times for me: a 9:43 and a 5:33. Definitely not right. So, despite knowing that my actual lap time would have been good enough for P8 on grid (out of 16 cars in ST4 class), I ended up having to start the race from the very back. In order to prevent this from happening again, we asked NASA to remove and re-add me in the AMB system. After a lot of arm-twisting, they agreed. Fortunately for us, that seemed to work.
During the race, I gained several positions and was feeling pretty good about how I started. But then, after a few laps I began to notice the engine was feeling sluggish and the oil pressure was getting dangerously low (dipping into the teens, when it should be between 35-55 psi).
I didn’t want to risk blowing up the engine, so I began to slow down (not accelerating as hard, shifting early) with the goal of just finishing the race to collect some points. I ended the race in P15. Sucks, but I wanted to be able to fight another day and at least get through the weekend.
Saturday Race #1 Video
After the race, we immediately got to work looking at data and trying to diagnose the issue. We didn’t find anything too obvious, but we decided to try and band-aid the low oil pressure issue by changing to a heavier weight oil (from 10w40 to Ravenol 10w60). We also swapped to a fresh oil filter (in case the one we had was clogged). The plan was to test the car in the morning and decide if it was worth running race #2.
Sunday: Race #2
Sunday morning and I was anxious to get back out on track to see if the car was running better. Fortunately, the nice folks at NASA let me pop into a TT (Time Trial) session to see if my car was working correctly. I was happy to discover that it was certainly better, oil pressure stayed between 25-45. This meant the car was drivable, albeit definitely down on power a bit compared to my test earlier in the month. Huge thank you to Jim, from Ravenol, for coming through with a good enough fix that allowed us to stay in the fight.
Once again, I had to start the race from the back. But I pushed hard, being aggressive during the right times and patient during others. As such, I carefully fought my way all the way up to P7 when the checkered flag was thrown. Shout-out to my buddy, Chris Lock, for battling with me the entire time and working through the pack behind me. You definitely made me work for it. That was such a fun race!
Sunday Race #2 Video
Watch Sunday’s race from another point of view
Important note: we discovered after the race that because one of the cars missed grid but jumped the pack during the out-lap, his finishing position didn’t count so he was moved to the very back. This meant that officially, we finished P6 on Sunday.
So what’s next? We are anxious to regroup before Round 2 in April at Thunderhill. We know that there are deeper issues that we will resolve between now and then. We plan on replacing the rod bearings, upgrading the oil pump, swapping to fresh sensors, and adding an accusump to the system. We’re confident that pending engine issues and AMB issues, we will qualify well and race better. If we can go from last to P6, we can definitely fight for podiums and wins when we are within better striking distance.
The season is long, but we have an awesome team and great partners so we are confident we will have a great year ahead. Special thanks to Marc from Toyo Tires for getting us fresh Proxes RR rubber for the second time in less than a month. You’re the best!