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The 7th weekend in the ICSCC schedule was this past weekend and it was also the 9th race of the year in the PRO3 championship.  This is an annual event held at Portland International Raceways, using the chicane configuration of the 1.97 mile circuit.  PIR is an awesome track, that is quite different than the rest of the pacific northwest tracks.  It is more short, little to no elevation changes and pretty smooth track surface.  It doesn’t use up tires or brakes much and is known for being easy to get to 90% of an optimal lap time but that last 10% is really, really tough to get through.  You have to really be precise and consistent.

Gama 3

Typically, it’s a really scenic and fan friendly circuit with great views of Mt. Hood in the background of pictures and big blue skies.  However, this past weekend, with all the forest fires going on in Oregon, Washington and California, there was a good amount of smoke in the air.  Going into the weekend, we felt really good after a 4th place finish at the Car Tender Challenge at Pacific Raceways.  We did regular maintenance on the car, put fresh front brake pads (Performance Friction) and felt good about the Toyo RR’s that only had 5 heat cycles on them from the last race.

Friday Test and Tune

Each race weekend, there is an Test and Tune, sometimes mixed with HPDE type drivers.  For this past Test and Tune, we were focused on getting the tire pressures dialed in as we would have similar weather each day, getting used to a hard mounted seat (got rid of the slider that had a bit too much slop) and as always, doing testing on Track Attack updates that are under development.

Overall, the day went really well with progress each session.  By the 3rd session, we were easily putting down lap times near personal bests and felt confident about being able to get into the 1:30.xxx mark.  On the last session, we did find out the hard way the importance of knowing where your fuel pickup is located and how the orientation of the track impacts when you run out of gas.  :)

Gama 7

Saturday Qualifying and 1 Hour Mini-Enduro

We had an AM practice, afternoon qualifying session 1 for the main Group 1 race, qualifying for the Saturday mini-enduro and the mini-enduro itself.  Practice went pretty well but just not able to put a full lap together, getting to 1:31.1xx mark.  So close!  In the mini-enduro qualifying, we had a solid showing with the temperatures rising and qualified 2nd in ME2 class.

The afternoon qualifying for the Group 1 race was quite eventful.  We made a big effort to get on grid early and make sure we were turning laps with some of the big hitters in the series to catch some drafts and try to learn some things.  This plan was working well as we got behind Chris Hart, the current PRO3 series points leader but as we approached the last turn on the out-lap, went to brakes and the pedal went to the floor.  As the car went off-track, was fortunate enough to catch the car, pump the brakes and get some pressure back.  A little frazzled, got the car back on track and tested the brakes – all good.  A bit perplexed, we carried on getting a flying start to the next lap but as we got past turn 7, black flags started waving and into the hot-pits we went.  Turns out several cars were crossing the blend line, resulting in black flag session for a reprimand.

A few minutes later, we got started again but we only had time for 4 or 5 laps and there was traffic everywhere.  Came away with a disappointing 1:32.1xx.

Gama 2

So we shifted focus to the mini-Enduro, estimating the necessary fuel and thinking through pit stop strategy.  We decided that I would start the race and pit about mid-way through the pit-window, handing the car over to Cody Smith of Code Red Racing and the 2013 PRO3 Series Champion.

Coming around for the green flag, we got a good start and was leading after the 1st lap. Started building a gap but traffic that was slow in the corners and fast in the straights held me up and Kevin Doyle from KD Motorsports took full advantage. He was on me and in my mirrors for the next 8 or so laps until when I went in too hot into turn 1, went sideways and decided to take the safe route out.  Ended up falling back about 8-10 seconds.

5 or 6 laps later, I handed the car over to Cody but during the pit stop, we couldn’t get the lap belt adjusted quickly enough so we lost a bunch of time, going down a lap. Cody still put down some awesome laps, putting pressure on the Bastos theme PRO3 car of Bruce Humberstone, eventually passing him. We ended up 4th in ME2 but still had a great time.  Watch the full race here on Trackattackapp.com.  

DashKidsEnduro

37 laps, 1 hour, 2 drivers and 4th place.

Sunday Group 1 Qualifying and Group 1 Race

Sunday morning, we had plenty of time to plan and attack in qualifying to improve in the grid.  Despite knowing that I had to tap the brakes a couple of times before the braking zones, I just didn’t have confidence of having the brakes reliably there going into turn 12 and I ended up going through turn 10, 11 and 12 slower than normal.  Ended up with a 1:31.285 – an improvement from Saturday but not the 1:30.5xx we knew the car was capable of and we were shooting for.  So we started the race 24th overall and 11th in PRO3.

Right after the qualifying, we took off the wheels to inspect everything and see if we could find a way to improve the pad knock-back.  We found that the passenger front locking collar on the coilover had come loose, resulting in movement that was equal to a bad wheel bearing.  We tightened it up and decided to do some testing during lunch time race car rides with kids.  Thankfully, w had that extra track time and determined that the issue persisted so we sourced a new set of calipers from Advanced Auto Fabrications (AAF Spokane, WA) and swapped them in.

Gama 5

During the warm up lap for the race, I drove on the curbing hard to see if we had fixed the issue and thankfully, we had!

Thanks to Reid Morris on the headset, I got a great start and was able to pass a handful of cars right away. By mid-way through the first lap, it became a battle with four other PRO3 cars. About a third of the way in, the #191 made a good move in turn 7 and got in front of me. Very quickly there after, I started feeling what felt like brake fade, usually going into a braking zone as I got closer to the #191. I thought the brake problems were continuing but then I saw the fuel spilling out of his car in left hand turns and realized I was too close, losing grip and getting it all over my windshield.

I decided to back off a little and see if I can get a run somewhere but a couple laps later he got the meatball and I was able to move forward to resume the chase after the Bastos #114. Early on I got close behind him but just not close enough or the right run to make an overtake stick, so I decided to stick to his rear as long as I could and see if he would give me an opening. It came with 3 or 4 laps left in the race as he got a little sideways in a couple of turns and then we hit the oil that a Datsun 510 put down on the track. I saw him wiggle, held off on full throttle until we got past it and got around him. After that, I just focused on putting down clean laps and not letting the yellow flags and traffic give up the gap I built (I almost overtook the Watson’s PRO3 car under yellow in the second to last lap, or so because I didn’t see the yellow until the last second – sorry Dave!!).

Overall, awesome race and we made the most of what we had going into the race and finished 5th. Was able to crack 1.30.xxx for the first time on Saturday during the mini-Enduro and feel confident that we could have done it during qualifying if we would have put the new calipers in earlier but it is what it is. Watch the full race here.  

Started 11th, Finished 5th!

Started 11th, Finished 5th!

Up next is the last round of the PRO3 championship at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, WA.  We’re shooting to make some improvements to the car, freshen it up and do some testing and coaching before the race weekend.

Lastly, enjoy some awesome photos taken by Austin from Flying Bye Photography – thanks Austin!

 

2014 on the racing front was a great year, with a lot of highs and a few lows but all in all, a great year.  After an eventful end to 2013, the focus moved from competitive time trials in a relatively high horsepower car (NASA TT3 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 9) to the world of competitive spec racing. Why the shift?  Having the ability to start a fresh, I wanted to focus on becoming the absolute best driver I could be in one year.  This would encompass a number of activities but when it came to deciding on the car to drive, it came down to one make and model, a BMW E30 race car.  The E30 is an iconic car across the world but here in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, one of the largest and most competitive club racing classes exists – the PRO3 racing class.  This is essentially a spec class (with the pro’s and con’s associated with any spec class) with over 70 known built race cars, 16 races over 12 or so race weekends and each race weekend having between 25-45 PRO3 cars on the grid, in a multi-class field as part of the International Conference of Sports Car Clubs (ICSCC). What’s a blog post without some cool videos?  Here’s an awesome documentary put out on the E30 car and PRO3 racing is featured about halfway.

Here was the plan for 2014 on the driver development front:

  1. Earn a full competition license for wheel to wheel racing.
  2. Drive a full schedule of NASA TTC events (more available track time to focus on my driving versus congested practice and qualifying for a race).
  3. Compliment NASA TTC with 5-7 PRO3 race weekends.
  4. Go Kart during the winter (indoor) and in between race weekends (Summer) in the respective racing leagues.
  5. Train for a half marathon in preparation for an 8 hour endurance race at the end of the season.
  6. Get within 3 seconds of the top 5 drivers at each race track.

So, how’d it go?

Earn a Full Competition License for Wheel to Wheel Racing

Mission accomplished!  In 2013, I completed a 2 day racing school and 2 of the 3 required races to obtain a full racing license with ICSCC (I could have gotten a NASA or SCCA license in 2013 but that’s a story for another post) and would have completed by 3rd race but the spectacular end to the 2013 season stopped me from being able to race the final race of the season.  So in April of 2014, I completed 3rd and final required race and a couple months later (due to additional volunteer working requirements), I finally got my license.  Here is the video of my final race where I started second from last as the licensing director staged us in a reverse qualifying order.

Check out the full race at the link above!

Check out the full race at the link above!

 Drive a Full Schedule of NASA Time Trials (TTC Class) Events

Though I shifted my focus to wheel to wheel racing, getting quality track time was also critical.  I love NASA and the NASA Northwest crew.  They put on a really good program which lets prospective racers or just drivers, experience and be around everything from their first time on the track, competitive time trials and even full on wheel to wheel racing.  A person can see the progression in person and it feels less daunting to move through the ranks.  I believe that because of this, the atmosphere is a lot more relaxed, there is a good amount of drivers but not too crowded and therefore, you get real quality track time.  I ended up doing all NASA Northwest weekends except the last one of the year at Portland (more on that below).  Each weekend prove valuable for working on my driving but also on-track testing of Track Attack builds.  Here are a few highlights from the year:

Big improvements in personal best lap times:

After the first race in April, we had the first NASA event at PIR (same track) but using the chicane configuration.  Once that first race was over, I had a ton of things I knew I could do better in but just wanted more track time to be able to implement.  So with the pro’s I listed above about NASA events, I made the most of them and dropped substantial time off my personal best lap times (in a PRO3 car the year prior that I had rented, in the low-1:38’s) hitting a solid 1:34.949 (not super fast but a huge improvement).

Fastest lap in 2013 - Right Click and Open in New Window

Fastest lap in 2013 – Right Click and Open in New Window

2014 Fastest Lap with NASA Northwest - Right Click and Open Link in New Window

2014 Fastest Lap with NASA Northwest – Right Click and Open Link in New Window

 

At some point, power matters:

In a mostly spec class, every detail makes a difference and I learned a year earlier than I had wanted that power is more than a detail.  The PRO3 car I purchased was built several years ago and while it was well set up, the engine pretty much original and tired.  The head had been replaced and ‘built’ but the bottom end was original with 230k+ miles (the odometer stopped working well before I had the car and it read 230k).  I knew I was going to be down on power from the get go but I was ok with that as long as the engine lasted the whole season.  It was not meant to be.  First, at the PIR NASA event above, we dyno’ed the car on a NASA standardized dyno (the one dyno used for all official dyno pulls to determine if a car is legal in class) and it put down 148whp – about 16whp below what a front running Spec E30 car puts down and between 30-40whp below what a front running PRO3 car puts down.  Disappointing but it at least provided perspective on what to expect. Second and finally, at the following month’s June NASA Northwest event at the Ridge Motorsports Park the engine decided it had enough.  After a day of testing on Friday which went well (made some progress on goals – a 2.5 second improvement from a year prior in a much more powerful PRO3 car I rented for a day), on the third session of a beautiful Saturday June afternoon, a rod decided it need to see the world.

End of the last lap, engine blows up - Right Click and Open in New Window

End of the last lap, engine blows up – Right Click and Open in New Window

After that weekend, it was time to make some expensive decisions.  Call it a year and start building a front running PRO3 engine or find a backup engine to get through the season?  Like all motorsport related decisions usually go, I went down the most expensive path – both.  Kind of.  I was able to find a decent running street engine that while it had wonky compression, put down a decent amount of power and was readily available.  I also gave a green light to start a front running engine build from Advanced Auto Fabrications in Spokane, WA – a shop that builds and maintains some of the best PRO3 cars around.  The engine would not be ready until the winter so it would be a 2015 investment.

2014 Sovren Historics featuring PRO3 Racing

Part of the reason I bought someone’s back up engine was to salvage the season but another reason was that PRO3 had been asked to be the featured racing class at SOVREN’s 2014 Historics event on 4th of July weekend.  3 days of racing all day long and 20k+ spectators watching some awesome racing and incredible vintage show cars.  I was able to get the new (to me) engine installed and ready to go with only a week to spare before the event.  Not only was it really fun racing the whole weekend but the lap times continued to tumble!  Below is the last race of the weekend, a shorter sprint race where positions were determined by the finishing position the previous day.  With 30+ cars in the field, I ended up just outside of the Top 10 at the end of the weekend.

Almost got them!  Right Click and Open New Link in New Window

Almost got them! Right Click and Open New Link in New Window

I learned a ton during that weekend in terms of my driving, the difference of a stronger engine and the right final drive ratio and tires, can make.  I left that weekend wanting more time on the track to be able to make the changes I wanted in my driving but not having to worry about other cars to protect a position or simply having too much traffic.

Personal Bests!!

With half the season gone, improvement really started happening at a quick pace, which was awesome!  I was able to make massive improvements on my personal bests at the three of the four major race tracks in the northwest.  Wasn’t able to make it out to Oregon Raceway Park this past year, despite it being one of my favorite tracks.

Pacific Raceways July 19, 2014 – 1:39.927

Taking the lessons I had learned from 3 days of hard racing two weeks prior, I put them to good use and squeezed out another almost 2 seconds from my personal best times.

1:39.927 - Right Click and Open in New Window

1:39.927 – Right Click and Open in New Window

 

Portland International Raceway – August 10, 2014 – 1:31.898

A month later I headed back to Portland with an ambitious goal of improving my fastest lap and cracking the top 10 in a dry weather race with PRO3.  The latter didn’t happen but I did improve my best times by another 3 seconds.  Two big differences – first was that I was driving with a new (to me) engine with ~10-15 whp more than the original engine.  Also, I had studied a lot of video and data from some of the front running drivers who had shared data.  My only goals were to have the same or slightly later braking points and carry the same speed as them through each corner.  In the end, due to having much less power than them still, I was able to brake at the same or later positions easily and in about half the corners, carry the same or more speed.  My last race of the weekend ended too early due to pushing too hard after getting bumped off the track on lap 1.  Lessons learned but still a was a blast!

1:31.898 - Right Click and Open in New Window

1:31.898 – Right Click and Open in New Window

 The Ridge Motorsports Park – September 21, 2014 – 2:00.393

Last time at The Ridge for the year and I went for broke.  With the engine developing a slight hesitation around 6k RPM’s in each gear, I knew I would have to push super hard to get some good lap times and perform well in the races.  Specifically at the Ridge, there are two somewhat significant up hills where being down on torque to other cars is a big disadvantage, so my goal was to carry as much speed as possible as I approached the hills.  All in all, it paid off in that I was able to improve my best lap time by 1.5 seconds from my last time out at the Ridge in August.

2:00.393 - Right Click and Open in New Window

2:00.393 – Right Click and Open in New Window

 How’d the rest of the plan go?

Go Kart all year long, indoor and outdoor:

This went mostly to plan.  I competed in the local K1 monthly racing league up until the car racing season started landing 3 podium finishes over the 6 months I raced.  Once summer arrived, I shifted to outdoor racing at Pacific Grand Prix, which is located right next to Pacific Raceways.  After a few months of the Amateur League racing, I finally got my first win and upgrade to Pro-Am.  Unfortunately in my first Pro-Am race I got taken out in the final race and resulted in some back issues that I’m still recovering from to this day.  I haven’t been back in a Kart but am hoping to be fully healed up by mid-January and karting as much as possible in the rain.

Train for a half marathon in preparation for an 8 Hour endurance race in October:

The training went well, as I did a 17 week training program, running almost 800 miles in 2014 and running a half marathon in just over 2 hours in September.  Unfortunately my day job created a conflict the weekend of the race so I was not able to do the Endurance race.

Get within 3 seconds of the top 5 drivers at each track:

Pacific Raceways – check!  The fastest times and near (or new) track records were in the mid 1:36.xxx. The Ridge Motorsports Park – close but not quite there!  I can’t seem to find the qualifying sheets but I believe the fastest laps this year were in the mid to low 1:56’s.  This puts me at about 4 seconds from the absolute fastest and possibly within the top 5 but I can’t confirm. Portland International Raceways – check!  1:29.2x was the fastest PRO3 lap time in August (and I believe the year) which puts my 1:31.898 just under 3 seconds away. Why does 3 seconds matter?  In a future post I’ll give more details on what’s going on with the car during the off-season beyond just the engine.  I think those changes will result in ~2 second improvements (maybe more in some tracks) alone and with improvements in my driving, I think that will at least put me in striking distance with the front of the pack.  We’ll see.

Wrapping up

2014 was a tough but great year for me personally on the driving front.  A lot of highs, some lows and it wasn’t cheap but it was worth it.  We’ll see what 2015 has in the cards but I’m coming back guns a blazing and I hope you all are too!  Here is to 2015!

Getting more than a facelift for 2015

Getting more than a facelift for 2015

 

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