Thursday Arrival: June 13th
Round 4 was once again at Sonoma Raceway and we were really excited because there was absolutely zero chance of rain this time around. The plan was to head up on Thursday evening because we wanted to do some more testing on Friday; before the NASA weekend began.
We were “light” for this event in the sense that Drew and his wife Kristen were expecting their first baby, so he was unable to attend. Jon and Victoria were also away on their honeymoon, so this meant that it was just me leaving from Trackspec. Shout-out to Isaac for helping me load up. He and I ended up at BonChon down the street for Game 6 of the NBA Finals. We were bummed that the Warriors lost, but it was a great game. Congratulations to Toronto, they definitely earned it.
I ran into a bit of traffic on 880 passing Oracle Arena, but made it to Sonoma by 10pm. Graham, Liam, Ashly, and the boys arrived closer to midnight and after getting everything situated in the paddock we called it a night.
Friday Test: June 14th
Friday morning arrived and we were the first group out on track. This test day was a bit different for several reasons. Instead of just open-track all day long, we had 3 run groups: GASS (Great American Stock car Series), TransAm (SCCA Pro Series), and Open (everyone else). Each run group only had 2 sessions. Open was from 8:15am-10:05am and 1:00pm-2:30pm. Not as much track time as we were hoping for, but it was a lot cheaper (only $180).
We drove a total of 53 laps, 45 for me and 8 for Graham. He consistently lapped in the 1:46’s while I was in the 1:48’s. Keep in mind, we weren’t out there to set PB’s but to try different lines and to intentionally run the car overweight (by filling it up with more fuel) to simulate race starts. We also intentionally ran the tires hot in order to simulate late race conditions when the tires are beginning to be overworked. This was great practice for me. I was happy to run good lap times in much heavier traffic than usual. Most test days are pretty empty (15 cars on track at any given time), but since this was right before a race weekend it was fairly crowded (we saw about 40 cars on track).
Saturday: June 15th
Saturday morning warmup was interesting, to say the least. As I mentioned earlier, this weekend NASA was running its usual race groups; plus the Great American Stock car Series (GASS), US Touring Car Championship (USTCC), Global MX-5 Cup, and the SCCA Pro Racing TransAm series.
This meant that GASS and TransAm had their own run groups. So our warm-up session contained a total of 110 cars from classes like Spec E30, Spec Miata, Spec E46, Thunder Roadsters, Legends, USTCC, Super Touring, and Global MX-5 Cup. It was quite chaotic. I think I only managed a 1:50 in all of that traffic.
Things only got worse from there. The qualifying grid was a hot mess, there were cars in the wrong positions so I was sent out in traffic and only managed a 1:49 which put me in P6 for the race.
So, the race. I had an amazing start going from P6 to P2 by Turn 3 and I was busy defending against Andre Eisenbach in the EDGE E36 coupe into Turn 11 when I got punted from behind. The damage was so bad that I was unable to continue. I managed to limp the car into the pits and after the race was over we assessed the damage: one bent wheel, one scuffed wheel, one bent rear lower control arm, and bodywork damage on the right rear quarter panel and door.
Fortunately, I was able to borrow a spare control arm from Tony Zwain at EDGE (thank you so much!) and after installing the arm, balancing my wheels, and quick alignment check we were back in business. Huge shout-out to my teammate, Graham Downey, for helping to get “Heidi” fixed so quickly. You are my hero.
Sunday: June 16th
Morning arrived, and it was the moment of truth. I was nervous about whether or not the car would drive well or if there were any other issues. Much to my surprise, “Heidi” felt amazing and I was able to record a 1:50 in warm-up traffic. The AIM data showed a 1:47 predictable in that session alone. I was pumped to know that the speed was there, I just had to connect the dots and also find space (remember: it was still crowded!)
Sunday was a bit different in that there wasn’t a regular qualifying session (for time). Instead, we were doing a qualifying race for position. So the position you finish in, during the qualifying race determines your starting position for the actual race. Make sense?
I started the qualifying race in P5 and had a great run going when unfortunately there was contact with Jon Burgis (black E36) coming out of Turn 9 into the entrance of Turn 10.
Fortunately, I was able to stay away from the wall (because anyone who has driven at Sonoma knows how scary Turn 10 can be because that wall just comes at you). I tried to continue battling and was making up ground on Jon again when I realized that because I had been knocked off track and into the grass my bumper inlet (and therefore radiator) meant that my water temps were getting dangerously high (above 230F). I didn’t want to risk blowing the engine, so I backed off and had to retire early.
NASA Race Control later ruled that Jon was at fault, given that he had moved over coming out of Turn 9, which left a large enough gap for me to pass and since I had also left him enough space going into Turn 10 by straddling the berm we should have been able to go through cleanly side by side. However, in my mind it was simply a racing incident. I think Jon is a great driver, a friend, and we are all good!
After I got back to the paddock, we thoroughly cleaned the bumper/radiator area and thought that our problems were over. We were wrong.
Right before the race, I went to get gas and saw the water temps climbing again; even with the fan on. Strange. My car usually never goes above 195 while idling in the paddock with the fan on. This time, it was already creeping above 210. I drove back to the paddock and we began to investigate. Time wasn’t on our side, since by then it was only 40 mins before the race.
We bled the cooling system, but realized that the culprit was likely a bad thermostat or water pump. We didn’t have enough time to do anything about it. I decided to try and go out for the out lap to see, but before I got around Turn 8 the water temp already climbed to 230F again. I shut it off and rolled into the pits. Bummer.
All in all, it was a really rough weekend for us. But that’s how racing goes. The highs, while rare, are wonderful. The trade off for those moments are often really tough lows.
The important thing is that we rallied as a team, we never gave up, and we are anxious to regroup before Round 5 at Thunderhill in August. Before then, we have a whole slew of things planned for “Heidi.” Including:
Lower rear control arms and alignment
Composite doors and some body work and TLC
Valve adjustment, compression and leakdown test
New radiator, water pump, motorsport thermostat, and o-rings
Fresh Ravenol fluids
New front splitter
Revised valving for our JRZ Suspension 12 32 race dampers with 50DA shaft and FA3030 piston
We can’t wait to get back out there! A huge thank you to all of our partners for supporting our program!