Life After "Irene"
Following my crash at Sonoma last October I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted to continue racing with NASA in Super Touring because the ST4 class is growing steadily and we have great camaraderie amongst the competitors in the field. For a brief moment, I actually considered building another S2000 but realized after 9 years with the platform that it was time to move on and do something new. As such, in November we began tearing down what was left of “Irene” and selling any remaining/usable parts (I still have some things available: like the J32 V6 engine and JRZ race triple dampers, so hit me up or tell your friends!)
I went back and forth between platforms (briefly even considering a Lotus, but then realizing I’m too fluffy to get in and out of that car in a hurry) and finally landed on the BMW M3 because it has been shown as the car to have and the car to beat in ST4. It is also a platform that is widely supported where parts are plentiful and relatively cheap. I considered both the E36 and the E46, and after pricing out what would be involved to build one and considering timing (developing a race car from scratch takes time, which was something we didn’t have considering by then it was already December and the first race of the year is always in March), I decided it would be faster and more cost-effective to just buy a proven race car.
And that’s when I remembered, Tristan Littlehale was selling his championship winning ST3 E36 M3 race car. So, before the holiday break he and I got to talking…
Fast forward to January and after a quick trip down to Saratoga, Jon and I returned on a Sunday afternoon with my “new” race-car, a 1997 BMW M3 in Dakar Yellow that I decided to name, “Heidi” (after my favorite supermodel of all time, Heidi Klum). This car had been sitting for almost a year, so the first thing we did was get the power washer out and give her a good cleaning. It came flush with goodies, a TC Design FIA roll-cage, an S54 engine, AEM 7-series Infinity ECU (I have long history and partnership with AEM, so this was perfect), a ZF 5 speed (these are better because they’re easily rebuildable), a Diffs Online Magic 3.73 rear end, AP Racing brakes (front & rear), and much, much more.
For 2019, I partnered with my buddy, Eddie Lee, and his new forged wheel company: Titan-7. I’m running some sweet 18 inch one-piece forged T-S5 wheels that are absolutely beautiful.
Dyno Tuning at Blacktrax Performance
After transferring all of stuff over (AIM electronics, Recaro seat, new SafeCraft belts, cool-suit box, and helmet blower) we brought the car over to Jei Chang, at Blacktrax Performance for dyno tuning. Jei helped us build an ST4-legal (detuned) power map. Thanks, Jei!
For 2019, my longtime friends and partners at JRZ Suspension Engineering asked if I would be interested in running new dampers that were much more advanced than what I had on “Irene.” Of course the answer was, hell yes! So what are these badass new shocks? They are triple adjustable 12 32 motorsport dampers fully upgraded with dry-break quick disconnects, JRZ spherical bearing top hats, JRZ 50DA shafts, and JRZ FA3030 pistons. As always, the plan was to run them with Eibach ERS (Eibach Race Series) main springs and tender springs.
However, there was one hiccup. JRZ ran out of the sizes I needed, so I had to get them direct from Eibach (in Southern California) which normally is never a problem. Unfortunately, there was some sort of delivery delay and in order to prevent us from missing our test, Eibach, being the awesome friends that they are; called PSI (Performance Shock Inc.) at Sonoma on my behalf and asked them to give me the parts I needed. Eibach told them they would backfill their inventory on my behalf. Phew. I am still really blown away by how awesome these companies are, and how fortunate I am to have their partnership and support. Thanks, guys. Really. You are top notch.
This year, I signed with Toyo Tires and am thrilled to be competing on their proven Proxes RR. Huge shout-out to Karl and Marc for giving me the opportunity to represent such an awesome company like Toyo. I also really appreciate that they sent me some fresh rubber right away for my test day at Sonoma.
First Test at Sonoma Raceway
On Friday, March 1st, I met my teammate, friend, and co-driver, Graham Downey at the shop at 5am so we could get up to Sonoma in time for open testing. These days are awesome because there are no sessions, the track is just hot from 8:30am until 4:00pm and it’s for drivers with wheel-to-wheel competition licenses only so everyone (ideally) on track is aware and knows how to get around each other cleanly and safely.
Our goals for the day were:
Make sure the car is performing well from an engine and chassis health perspective (yes)
Dial in my seating and steering positions (done)
Dial in the dampers (done)
Ensure our alignment settings were ideal to maximize the performance of the Toyo RR tires (done - super easy to do since we had Toyo sharing tire data with us)
Get comfortable with the car (done)
Keep in mind, I haven’t driven at Sonoma since my crash. So, I was a little nervous, but after settling in I found the E36 is super easy to drive. It has great balance and is about 80 lbs lighter than my S2000 with the J32 V6. After my first outing, I had already gotten my lap times down to 1:51s. The track was mostly dry, but since it had rained so much earlier in the week the entire area was flooded; this meant that water was actually seeping up from underground, through and onto the track surface (especially at T7-T8). As such, we had to be pretty cautious through that section. Graham jumped in to assess the car and helped to fine tune the dampers and alignment. He also helped coach me using data and soon enough, I was down in the low 1:48s with a lap time that was nearly 1 second faster than my previous ST4 PB.
By the end of the day, I was getting really comfortable and super happy with the car. Huge thank you to Graham for helping me have an awesome first time out with “Heidi.” We have some small tweaks to make before the first race of the season, as well as a new livery (designed by Skepple, wrapped by SS Customs) that I am stoked to debut. 2019 looks to be a very promising season. We are definitely ready to bring the fight.
Ride along with me and “Heidi” for 3 laps around Sonoma: