December 31, 2014
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:
- Earn a full competition license for wheel to wheel racing.
- 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).
- Compliment NASA TTC with 5-7 PRO3 race weekends.
- Go Kart during the winter (indoor) and in between race weekends (Summer) in the respective racing leagues.
- Train for a half marathon in preparation for an 8 hour endurance race at the end of the season.
- 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!