Our team spent the last few weeks (after a less than ideal weekend at Thunderhill last month) busy preparing for Round 3 of the 2019 Super Touring Championship season at Sonoma Raceway by making some significant improvements to “Heidi.”
We cleaned up the engine tune with Jei from Blacktrax Performance
We added new camber shims and swapped to different Eibach springs (thanks, Jeremy, Mark, and Tony!)
We rebuilt the gearbox and shifter (thanks, Marc)
We made the front splitter stronger
We did a better job of ducting the brakes and intake
After everything was complete, Graham and I took Monday the 13th off to test at Sonoma with help from Marc (Toyo Tires) and Erik/Bryan (JRZ Suspension Engineering). It was really worth doing! We collected a ton of data, experimented with different shock and alignment settings, and ultimately found more time in the car. We also gained a better understanding of my 12 32 dampers, as well as of the Toyo RR tire.
So, it was safe to say that going into this race weekend meant we felt well-prepared and optimistic about how we would do. The one snag? Weather.
We always look ahead at forecasts and unfortunately this weekend showed heavy rain on both days. This meant that we had to reach out to my tire partners at Toyo for a set of wets. They quickly sent over some RA1s to use. Thanks, Karl!
On Friday night, we arrived at the track and after unloading we went out as a group to celebrate Martin’s (from Supertech Performance) birthday. This weekend we were joined by my friends Nick B and Lindsay, as well as Nick C who I will now refer to as, Cahill. Nick B planned to drive his V8 Miata in HPDE 4, while Cahill was coming for another very special reason. Cahill is the creative genius behind http://cahillfilms.com. He is an award winning filmmaker and former National Geographic cover photographer. He also happens to be a huge gearhead (with a badass track-built turbo Miata).
Recently, Cahill and I had been talking about the idea of filming a short documentary piece about racing and my new car, “Heidi.” Fortunately, our schedules aligned and he was able to join us for a weekend of filming and fun times at the racetrack in his LS powered mini-home schoolbus (visit @bluebusadventure on Instagram to see what I’m talking about).
On Saturday morning we learned that 12 cars were signed up in our class (Super Touring 4, or ST4). Warm up was early, 8:00am. It was also fairly dry and the track felt good. I clicked off a 1:48.6. Not bad. Qualifying was at 10:20am and the weather was still great. I was really happy to run a new personal best at Sonoma in ST4 trim, a 1:47.4.
My time was good enough for P2 for the race, which I was really pumped about. And then...the rain started. And boy, was it heavy. We decided to switch from the RR (dry tire) to the RA1 (wet tire) and holy hell, not only was there a lot of water on track but I struggled really badly with visibility. My front windshield fogged over so bad that I could barely see. I almost thought about pulling in. But since we weren’t going that fast, I opted to loosen my shoulder belts a bit so I could just barely wipe the glass with my glove. It looks and sounds hilarious now, but it was pretty intense in the moment. Ride-along with me for a harrowing wet (and blind) race here:
Special thanks to Liam for guiding me around the track most of the race. If it wasn’t for him, I would have had no idea where I was going. With his help, I actually finished P5 in class. Phew!
Sunday morning arrived and the rain wasn’t showing any sign of letting up. During morning warm-up I was only able to lay down a 2:22 on RA1s. When it was time to qualify, the rain stopped and I was recorded a 1:55.6 which put me in P4 for the race behind the 3 EDGE cars who were once again on Hoosier H2Os.
And then, that’s when the bipolar nature of this weekend’s weather really began. Every hour, the sky would be sunny and blue, the track would appear to dry out. But, suddenly and without warning it would dump rain. This repeated itself at least 4 or 5 times. All of our weather apps were totally off. We were super frustrated.
We kept going back and forth between what tires to use, and what fuel strategy to run (dry vs. wet).
If we went out on dry tires but it rained, we would struggle during the race to find any kind of grip and it would be very dangerous. If we went out on wets and then it dried up, we would risk overheating the tires.
Also, when it rains less fuel is consumed because you aren’t accelerating as hard out of the corners. So ideally, we can get away with running less fuel. But again...because the weather was unpredictable we risked running out of fuel if for some reason things dried up.
In the end, I opted to stay on the RA1s for the race and we found a happy medium in terms of fuel. Looking back, this proved to be a smart decision because while it wasn’t raining when the race began, the conditions changed drastically from green flag to checkered. I feel I drove really well, fighting hard to put “Heidi” in 3rd Place on the podium with Ian Barberi attacking from behind the entire time. What a battle!
Ride along with me here for a wet and wild race to P3 in class and P5 overall:
Ride along with Ian Barberi during Sunday’s race for a better perspective of just how close our battle was!
Phew. What a great weekend. I am pumped that we have finally fought our way back to being on the podium. I’m confident that with more seat time and more testing, we will continue to stay there this season as we challenge for that coveted top spot. In the meantime, we will be hard at work preparing for Round 4 in June (at Sonoma again). Thank you to my team and our partners for making everything possible.
PS: Be sure to check back soon for Cahill’s film to be released!