Sunday, November 6, 2016

Let the rebuild begin

If anyone here checks the Facebook page, you know by now that the season ended with a bang at the NASA East Coast Championships. Not a good bang.  A buddy of mine was driving my car in Thursday practice and #265 got away from him at Turn 9 at Watkins Glen.  Not a very forgiving place to go sideways. He hit the wall at about 45 degree angle at 33 mph and subsequently tagged the back corner in the resulting spin after the hit.  He came away perfectly unharmed, all the safety gear doing exactly what it's designed  to do.  But we were done for the Championship before it even started, and the season was over.  T'was a shame since with the new clutch and brake master cylinder the car was running as good as it had all season.  I think we could have fought for the win on Sunday, though perhaps not considering what a crash fest the Championship race turned out to be.

The damage was extensive. Unless you're a real Corvette nerd it would bore you to hear the the list of parts needed, but you can get the idea from this picture.  Thankfully motor and suspension parts were unharmed.  Frame needs to be cut, straightened, and a new section welded in.  Of course it would be silly to not make upgrades as long as the car is getting torn apart, so we're adding an AJ Hartman carbon fiber hood and leaning forward a new racing radiator and ducting the air out the hood for increased downforce and better cooling.  While we're at it we have to flip the intake manifold and run the air intake into the cabin.  So we might as well add a Fast 102 intake manifold as well as an LS2 throttle body and fuel rails to take advantage of the new ST2 rule allowing more horsepower next year.  Yay racecars.  We'll also make a new splitter but this time use 3/8" thick wood and wrap it in carbon fiber for stiffness and lightness. I'll be doing the carbon fiber work so I assure you it will not be pretty but it will be functional.

The wing itself has minor repairable damage, but all the mounts need to be replaced.  Seeing how far all the aluminum bent, it's quite a testament to the strength of properly made carbon fiber parts. Thanks to Kognition Racing for making a solid wing! AMT Motorsport will be making all new mounting hardware milled from carbon fiber plate this off season, and we'll take the opportunity to move the wing a little higher and further back on the car. Car is also getting new wide fenders put on so we can run the absurdly wide 335 Hoosier A7s that have become the norm on racing Corvettes.

The car finally made it to Peter Agapaglou at Autosport Fab in Plainville, CT last week.  Pete got right to work taking the broken bits off the car and taking inventory of any extra parts that needed to replaced that we hadn't already acquired.  Luckily there were no surprises.  

See? Not that bad-ish.

Engine needs to be removed to facilitate frame straightening, cutting, and re-welding.  Oh hey and while the engine's out we may as well get rid of the needle bearings that run the rocker arms and switch to a solid trunnion  upgrade! Yay racecars!

Trunnion upgrade comes from Straub Technologies. Price is actually quite reasonable and the quality is high.  Point of these parts are simply to remove any little metal bits that could possibly come apart in the heads and grenade the motor.  The stock rollers have needle bearings with hundreds of tiny little cylindrical metal pieces.  Just one of those failing would cause big engine damage, so we're being proactive in taking those out of the equation.  While the motor is out Pete will do a full inspection to make sure everything still looks good in the bottom end of the motor.  Motor doesn't have 20 hours on it so the damn thing better be cherry.

Clear shot of the frame damage.  We'd hoped that maybe the damage was isolated to only the front of the car since it was bent so heavily, but it appears the car may have a sway all the way to the back.   That's no big deal - the car had to go on a frame machine anyway so once they start tugging the frame with 30 tons of force, it'll get back to where it's supposed to be.   The car is now at AC Automotive in Hartford, CT and they're taking care of all the body damage. Oh, and of course the steering rack will be taken out and sent out to Turn One for a full re-build and upgrades.  Yay racecars.

In other news, we finally have some official AMT Motorsport product on the shelves and ready to sell!  One thing I thought I'd be doing with this blog is more product information and now that the season is over and we're waiting for the car to return we're finishing up projects at a good clip.  We currently have Full Floating Rotor Kits ready to ship as well Upper Control Arm Stud Kits.  Within 2 weeks we'll be shipping Camber Kits. Shortly after that we'll be accepting control arms for spherical bushing upgrades.  After that we'll be finishing up our low profile seat mount brackets.  We have camera mounting equipment and zero-clearance racing mirror mounts coming shortly as well.  

As always thanks for anyone out there reading this!  Please respond with any questions and comments you might have and pass the blog along to any of your friends who might be interested in all this absurd Corvette stuff.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Still waiting for a trouble-free weekend

Round 4 of the NASA NE race series took us to Palmer, Massachusetts and The Thrill at Whiskey Hill on July 23-25.  The actual name of the track is Palmer Motorsports Park but it's built on the side of a mountain known as Whiskey Hill.  Palmer is a 2.3 mile roller coaster with 190 feet of elevation change.  It is a winding, technical track where the main straight isn't really straight at all, and there is very little run off and room for error.  The track is brand new and only opened in the beginning of last year.

However, no one actually wants a race track built anywhere near where they live.  Most new race track construction is met heavily by political road blocks and a few (but very loud) local voices screaming "Not in my town!"  Thusly the biggest issue met by most racers this weekend was the strict 100 dB sound limit.  On the Friday test day many racers were scrambling to quiet down their too-loud exhausts by adding turn downs (exhaust extensions that point the sound in a different direction), baffles (material in the exhaust to knock sound waves down) and in many cases running to NAPA to bolt or weld on elaborate (and often hilarious) muffler setups.  Luckily we took the AMT Motorsport C5Z to Palmer 3 weeks prior to test our own exhaust setup against the dB meters.  A combination of turndowns with baffles installed them snuck us in at 96dB and thusly had no concerns about the 100 dB limit.  Several cars in racing in ST2 were well over 100 dB which caused them problems all weekend.  Between the sound limit and lack of at-track facilities it would surprise me if NASA continues to run races there in the future which is a shame since Palmer is a great drivers' track.

Saturday July 24

We got to the track around 7:15am and it was already 80 degrees and muggy.  Forecast was for mid-90s and high humidity so I was very happy to get a new piece of cooling gear for my helmet.  It's called a Cool-a-Clava and it hooks into my Cool Shirt setup and runs ice water through my helmet.  It proved to be worth its weight in gold this weekend.  Special thanks to Robert Zecca from Driving Impressions for the fast turn around on this new product to have it ready for the race weekend.

My friend, championship winning, Rainman-Corvette-guru and all around awesome dude Ben Lesnak was going to be driving my car this weekend in the TT sessions while I was sticking to racing.  Ben needed some more TT points to qualify for the East Coast Championship and I offered to have him drive my car for the weekend. The previous month at NJMP he'd rented a "race car" (using the term loosely) 30 seconds per lap slower than the rest of the field, so I'd hoped he'd have a lot more fun in a fast car at Palmer.

Those hopes were dashed within 2 laps.  Ben only got one reconnaissance lap for his TT session before the clutch pedal went to the floor, would not return, and the car would no longer shift.  Seems the pedal was not releasing the clutch mechanism after the car got hot.  Peter Agapoglou from Autosport Fab was on hand for the weekend providing track side support, and quickly got to work bleeding the clutch. The fluid coming out of the clutch was black and toasty, so we'd hoped that would be the cure to our woes.  We went out in the Race Practice session with our fingers crossed but to no avail - the clutch stopped working within one hard lap.

Qualifying went as expected with only 4th gear available. John George in his Factory Five and Adrian Wlostowski in his Corvette Grandsport both laid down scorching lap times at 1:40.9 and 1:41.9 respectively.  Pat McMahon is his Factory Five managed a 1:44.4 while I was 1.5 seconds adrift with a 1:46.0. Doug Winston was fighting the dB level issue all weekend, and had to shift at way low RPMs so he brought up the back of the ST2 field with a 1:58.  There were several out of class BMWs splitting the ST2 cars, but because GTS starts the race in their own wave, I'd be starting 4th in ST2 and 4th overall out of 23 cars.

I got to grid for the race and noticed Adrian was absent in the P2 spot.  He ended up getting to grid too late and started the race Dead F'ing Last.  I knew how that felt from my last race at NJMP.  He's fast enough that he'd easily make his way past everyone and probably finish P2 overall and have fun doing it, but to start in last when you qualified P2 overall sucks.  He'd be driving with a fist full of anger.

I was hoping I could get at least 2 minutes out of my clutch so I could race hard for the opening lap.  I knew it was a matter of time before I started dropping places using only one gear.  Coming to the start/finish in 3rd gear I was looking way down the track for the green flag, only to realize the flagging station was much closer than I realized.  I didn't floor the throttle until I heard everyone else do it, and by then it's way too late.  So I quickly gave up one place to AJ Hartman in his all-carbon fiber American Iron Mustang before turn 1.  However because the Mustangs don't exactly fly through the turns and AJ knew I was racing the 2 Factory Fives in front of me I easily got by him between turns 3 and 4 - AJ courteously lifting off the gas for a moment to get me by with haste.  3rd gear worked for the remainder of the lap, so I was able to close the gap to Pat in P2 throughout the lap. I got a run on him on the main straight and snuck past him on the outside into turn 1.  However coming into turn 4 the car would no longer shift, so I was forced to putt along through the slowest turn on the track with about 3000 rpm less than I would have liked.  I pointed Pat by at the exit of turn 4 and figured my race was pretty much over.  All I needed to do was to complete 7 or so laps so I could get credit for finishing the race.  However Pat had an oil line blow off his car right in front of me before turn 5.  Oil covered my windscreen, and Pat went careening off the track backwards at turn 5, barely nudging the tire wall and causing no real damage to his car.

I assumed the tow truck would come to rescue him since he was not in a very good place to be stranded, but oddly (I thought) the race continued with only a standing yellow at the scene of his accident.  We raced for another 7 laps and in that time Adrian made his way through the pack and zipped by me while I was stuck in 4th gear.  I wouldn't have had much for him anyway - Adrian was flying all weekend.  However 2 laps after he passed me, he dove into the pits!  I assumed he had some problem (which was the cause of him coming to grid late) and he had to pit because of it.  Turns out that he too was victim of the low dB limits.  He was black flagged for being too noisy and forced to finish at the bottom of the ST2 cars.

With Adrian gone and Pat on the side of the track I'm now sitting pretty in second place with John George half a lap up the track in P1.  I figured I might as well keep driving the car in 4th gear to see if I could wind up with a trophy!  I ended up running a best lap of 1:45.4 stuck in 4th gear and did finish P2. Poking around in 4th gear forced me to keep my entry and mid corner speeds up - felt like I was driving a GTI again.  After looking at the data the lack of gearbox cost me at least 2 seconds of lap time in acceleration alone.  Still doesn't get me into the blistering 1:40s that John George was getting, but respectable enough.  I received my second place trophy and went to dinner.  I knew I only got second due to attrition and luck, but I'll take it. I hoped my luck would continue on in to Sunday.

Sunday July 25

Sunday morning started much the same as Saturday - hot and humid.  We got to the track around 7:30 am and Pete was already busy adjusting the alignment on my car.  The man is dedicated - his daughter was born only 2 days prior and I told him he was certainly allowed to skip our event.  My wife would have divorced me had I left 2 days after the birth of our son.  Anyway my car seemed to be chewing up the outside edge of the front tires, so he put another degree of negative camber in the front tires.  Happy to say the AMT Motorsport camber plates made adjusting the camber an easy process, and we locked it in solid at a little more than 3 degrees.  A quick toe adjustment with Pete's string setup and we were ready to qualify.

The car seemed to be getting worse the more it drove and the hotter it got.  For this qualifying session I was not even able to get a half lap before the clutch started acting up.  I managed a 1:44.3 which put me 3rd in ST2 and 7th overall out of 21 cars.  John and Adrian both upped their game from the day before - Adrian with a 1:40.4 and John with a disgustingly quick 1:39.9.  Pat was a little less than a second behind me in P4 and Alan Cohen in his massive Cadillac CTS-V was P5 in ST2 with a 1:48.8.  Allen's car has a bunch of horsepower but also a bunch of weight, and Palmer is a track that really favors light, nimble cars.  Lots of power doesn't do much for you here.  Doug Winston went home Sunday unable to get his car quiet enough to even get on track.  Adrian on the other hand rigged up a ridiculously silly but effective turndown system and was finally able to sneak in under the 100 dB limit.

I started P3 overall for the race - John and Adrian in front of me and Pat starting next to me on the outside of the track.  I got a much better start at the green flag but was balked by John George who missed a shift. I was slow going into turn 1, and because I couldn't shift down a gear I wasn't able to pick up speed out of turn 1 and lost a position to out-of-class American Iron racer Albert Watson in his Fox body Mustang.  Behind me now was AJ Hartman again who was racing Al Watson, so I let AJ go by so he could focus on his race with Al.  Unfortunately that meant I was stuck behind this battle for basically the remainder of the race.  Even with only 4th gear I was still 2-3 seconds per lap faster than the two AI cars, but with no power out of the slow corners I would just have been holding them up at those key spots and getting in the way of their race.  After a couple of laps the GTS traffic started to catch us, and seeing as those guys were battling for their race as well I let all them all go by quickly and efficiently.  With 5 or 6 laps to go I started to see Alan Cohen in his CTS-V making ground on me.  Now I was getting worried - it was one thing to be cordial and let out-of-class racers by me but I wasn't about to hand over a position to a car in my class 2-3 seconds per lap slower even if I was wounded. Just as I was starting to figure out ways to hold him at bay a full course yellow came out.  My very good friend Greg Miceli was stranded at turn 3.  His ST3 E36 BMW M3 just decided to shut off on him, so the field bunched up under the caution period while he was flat bedded off the track.  At the restart Alan was right behind me.  Luckily the slow laps allowed the clutch to cool off enough that I could get it into third gear for restart.  I was able to pull away from him on the main straight and maintained the gap til the end of the race.  Unfortunately the race was ended when John George and Adrian came together at turn 1 battling for 1st position.  John nudged Adrian in the right rear, sending him spinning off track at a fairly high rate of speed and Adrian hit the tire wall at a pretty good clip with the right front of his car.  Adrian is perfectly fine and it seemed the damage was mostly cosmetic (but lots of it and expensive).  John felt terrible but it appeared to the Race Director to be a "racing incident" between two guys going hard after each other.  Adrian finished in last place with a DNF and John kept his 1st place win.  I finished in third behind Pat, due to Adrian's DNF.

So yet again the weekend was a bit of a bust due to more mechanical issues.  It's becoming a theme for the season this year.  Good news is that the issue appears to be bad clutch master cylinder.  I replaced the part today in about 30 minutes and will try and drive the car "around the block" in the next few days to see if that cures the issue.  If not then it's a slave cylinder which entails a lengthy and expensive transmission tear down.

I'm hoping all mechanical woes are cured in time for the East Coast National Championships at Watkins Glen in September.  The fastest racers in the Eastern US will be in attendance vying for the National Title.  If the car finally comes together and runs well at The Glen then at least we'll have a fighting chance at bringing home the trophy.  Time will tell.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hard Charging

June 17-19 marked round 3 of the NASA Northeast Racing season.  We found ourselves back at New Jersey Motorsports Park racing at the Thunderbolt circuit.  NASA NE might as well build a head quarters there since that's where 80% of the racing is this season.  It's a track I enjoy very much and also where I got my first (and only) two race wins in October of last year.

Week of the race:
The AMT Motorsport C5Z was dropped off at 12:30am on Tuesday morning.  That is indeed an odd hour to accept a race car but there was still lots of work to be done before the car could be loaded up Thursday afternoon to head down to NJMP.  The car had a 4 stage ARE dry sump installed over the past several weeks that took longer than expected so we were behind the 8-ball. We missed the chance to test the car on Monday the 13th at Palmer Motorsports Park so it's maiden voyage would be a race weekend.

Tuesday was spent making billet brackets to hold the Race Tech Dash2Pro as well as a plate to hold the buttons to control it on the steering wheel.  We came up with a real nice and easy mounting solution if you use a stock steering column in your C5 or C6.  Most dash installs are custom jobs, but we have a plug and play solution going forward that we think anyone who installs a product like this would appreciate.  Pictures attached of the work.  These are prototypes - the finished product will sit lower so you can see the entire dash through the steering wheel.  As it is the shift lights are not easily visible by the top of the wheel.  Another 1/4'' lower or more and it will be perfect.  The steering wheel button plates will be available shortly as well.  

Second order of business was to install the AP Racing rear brakes on the car.  The car is not terrible with the stock brake setup in the rear, but the AP kit allows for thicker pads that last much longer than stock pads. We can also use our AMT Motorsport full floating rotors for always-solid stopping power and rotors that will last seemingly forever.  Big thick pads and big rotors also lead to confidence on the brakes, and coming three wide into turn 1 at 145mph you appreciate confidence. I'd hoped I'd never have to be worried about the rear brakes again, however testing on Friday would prove otherwise.
Friday, June 17
Friday was a test and tune session where racers, TT'rs, and advanced HPDE drivers can get 2 hours of track time throughout the day to sort out the car.  As per usual the Corvette had undergone yet another major change since the last time it was driven in anger, so the testing time was necessary.  First order of business was to do 3 or 4 installation laps just to get the car warm and bed the brakes.  There were dozens of fittings and lines added with the dry sump system so it's important to go through all of them and make sure nothing was leaking.  No leaks were found, and the dry sump appeared to have done it's job in keeping oil out of the intake system, thusly eliminating the smoke screens we were laying down 2 months ago.  Other major function of the dry sump is to keep a steady supply of oil running through the motor in all conditions (especially high G turns) where the standard sump might run out of oil and blow the motor.  Also working as planned - so far so good.

Second test session was run at something closer to race pace, with lap times in the 1:28-1:29 range.  Car started out OK, but the brakes started to feel like poop early in the session.  The car was engaging Ice Mode every time I hit the brakes.  Essentially something was causing the ABS to freak out and rather than the car allowing ABS not to engage, it instead engages ABS way too early and the car stops like crap and the brake pedal feel is terrible.  Data would show that in Ice Mode the car is only braking at 1G, where with my setup should easily be over 1.5Gs.  Again losing 50% braking force is neither fast or confidence inspiring, so it was definitely cause for concern.  We checked tire temps and while the temperature spread was good (meaning the setup on the car is correct) the left rear tire was way hot - over 220 degrees after a slow lap through the pits! We hadn't yet thought about the new left rear caliper being the cause of our issues, but time would tell.

I drove my buddy Tony's BMW GTS2 car between my second and third sessions.  Tony hadn't been to the track before and I was hoping I could set a faster lap so he could compare the data with his AIM MXL2 dash.  The car was a peach to drive, and I ended up 3 seconds quicker than his previous best - a 1:34.something.  Happy to report that Tony ended up in the 1:33s by the end of the weekend and came in third place in the Sunday race.  Congrats Tony!

Drove the third session of the day which went more or less the same as the second session - not so great.  Brakes were still bad and there was smoke coming from hood when the car was slowed.  Upon inspection we found the oil was coming from the left valve cover, which pointed to a bad valve cover gasket.  The oil loss was not great, but of course it's dripping right onto the headers hence the smoke.  Smoke from the hood of your car is also not confidence inspiring, so we put it on the trailer and would install a new valve cover gasket that night.

Best time of the day was a 1:28.1.  Not good enough, but not bad considering the brakes were crap and the track was much hotter and slicker than the last time we raced here in October.  New suspension felt fantastic and all mid-corner speeds were higher than they've ever been, so the car (and driver) are definitely heading in the right direction.

Friday 6:00pm - Saturday 3:30am
We started working on the car at AJ Hartman's shop just 10 minutes from the track.  Valve cover gasket was an easier job than expected and was replaced in less than an hour.  The remaining 8 hours was spent wiring in the fancy new Dash2Pro.  My friend Ben Lesnak had offered to do the install because he's an awesome dude and because AMT has made him a couple simple parts for his own ridiculous ST2 Corvette.  Hopefully his car will never actually be finished because when it is an amazing car with a great driver will be really (REALLY) hard to beat.  Ben did a fantastic job wiring in the Dash using all pro-style materials and pro-style expertise.  Unfortunately the process took a bit longer than expected but that happens when you aim for perfection.  The Dash worked great, and I got to the hotel at 3:45 and set my alarm for 7:15. Lovely.

Saturday, June 18
After a 2.5 hour nap it was back to the track.  We were met there by Tyler Cooke, pro driver for Bimmerworld and racing in the competitive ST Class in the Continental Tire Racing Series.  Tyler was there to help extract every ounce of lap time the car and driver had available as well as provide tutelage on the radio in regard to race craft.  Unfortunately Tyler was mending an injured wrist and not able to drive the car to set a flying lap to compare against.  Fortunately his assistance on the radio would prove very important.

Practice for the Thunder Race group was at 10am.  To our chagrin the brakes were no better on Saturday than they were on Friday even though we changed pads in the hopes it would cure the braking woes.  Additionally, the replaced valve cover gasket did not stop the small leak coming from the valve covers. Slightly better, but not fixed.

We went out in a TT session to try and get more time out of the car and put to practice some of the pointers Tyler had given on finding more speed on the track.  The car lasted only half a lap before smoke started billowing out of the engine bay and filling the cabin with smoke.  Luckily this was not my first time experiencing such a thing, so I calmly poked my way back to the pits and brought it into the paddock to source the problem.  Oil pressure was good throughout the ordeal so I was confident nothing catastrophic had happened.

We popped the hood and the engine was covered in oil.  We took a few things apart and found that a line from the oil cooler had sprung a leak and was squirting oil all over the place at a ridiculous rate.  Think about a super-soaker squirt gun volume of oil spraying everywhere.  Dejected by my constant bad luck during the weekend, I was ready to put the damn thing back on the trailer and go home.  Again Tony Bodine came to the rescue.  He wouldn't allow me to not try and at least fix the car.  

I know nothing about AN lines or how to deal with them, so I rode across the paddock to see Pat McMahon, fellow ST2 competitor, engine expert, and all around awesome dude.  Pat lent us some tools, told us what needed to be done, and we were on our way.  We disassembled the hose, cut the hose for a fresh seal to the AN fitting, slapped it back together, fired up the motor and we had fixed the leak.  Again "we" is a loose term.  Tony Bodine did all the real work on my car, at the expense of his own track time.  He finished my car, and with a couple minutes to spare hopped in his car to go qualify for the GTS2 race.  Unfortunately I had more work to do to finish the car and wasn't able to qualify.  I'd be starting the race from the back of the grid.

And not just from the back of my grid, but apparently from the back of the entire grid!  Generally ST cars and GTS cars start in two different waves.  I assumed I'd be starting from the back of the ST field, but ended up starting behind the GTS2 cars all the way back in 43rd place.  Knowing I had no shot at the podium Tyler assured me this was going to be a fun race and I was going to learn a lot about race craft.  He was absolutely correct.

As the green flag dropped I quickly made up 5 or 6 spots before turn 1.  One would hope so, since I have double the horsepower of most cars at this end of the grid.  After turn 1 I went on a tear for the next 14 laps passing as many cars as I could and having a blast along the way.  Most cars were easy to get by for the first half of the race due to the power difference.  I then came up on higher horsepower cars from my own field, and passes on these vehicles needed to be made under braking or by being a bit brave through the high speed turns.  I had one particularly good 3 lap battle with an out-of-class ST1 Corvette with probably 75 more horsepower than my car.  He was fast in the straights but parking it in the turns (like most Corvette drivers).  Tyler watched this battle unfold and was feeding me tips over the radio.  Eventually I was able to get a run on him out of the Octopus where I'm flat on the power through the very fast turn 12 and some perhaps less-brave folks are not.  I got about a foot off the ST1 Corvette's bumper, rode it all the way down the straight, and despite my miserable braking performance got him under braking into turn 1.  I shouted to Tyler over the radio and went after the next cars in sight.

Unfortunately on Lap 14 two very fast SU cars (Super Unlimited - meaning no power to weight restrictions) came together on the front straight about 5 seconds in front of me.  I saw a plume of dust coming from the track and originally thought nothing of it.  I quickly realized at about 130 mph that there were two stricken cars sitting in the middle of the track as well as a slew of parts that had been scattered in the wreck.  I slowed the car in a hurry and diced between the two cars and their various parts, only to find the race had been Red Flagged before I made it to turn 1.  Rightfully so - it was a massive wreck that took time to clear and the medical staff needed to make sure both drivers were OK (they were, thankfully).

By the time the dust settled I'd made it up to 12th place overall, 6th out of 7 in my class, and made 28 passes earning me Hard Charger award for the race.  Would I rather have been battling for 1st instead of 6th?  Absolutely.  But the race was an absolute blast and I made more passes in one race then some cars make in a season.  With Tyler coaching me on the radio I received a master class on race craft in 30 minutes.  

Earlier I used the word "luck." There's a not a ton of luck in racing.  You do the work, you prepare the car, you practice your driving and your technique and THEN (with maybe just a dash of luck) you can win races.  I was in no position to come away with wins this weekend with an untested car that had undergone major surgery.  Unfortunately time ran out and we weren't able to put the car through it's paces before it came time to race.  Things didn't break because we were unlucky they broke because we hadn't prepared.  A lot of learning was done this weekend and we'll be back stronger for the next race.

So besides a not so great weekend the car ultimately held together, we have a great base going forward, and the data showed that once again, with the car running properly I absolutely have the pace to run at the winning end of the pack.  We'll see if we can put it all together for the next NASA race at Palmer Motorsports Park in July.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

"If You Ain't First You're Last." - Reese Bobby

April 15th marked the start of the NASA Northeast racing season at New Jersey Motorsports Park.  Friday was a test and tune while Saturday and Sunday were the qualifying and sprint race days.  Having made a bunch of very serious suspension changes to the car over the winter I was really excited to get the car on track for the first time since October of 2015, where I lucked in to winning my first 2 races.  Apprehension was added due to the fact that I picked the car up from the shop on my way down to NJMP on Thursday afternoon.  The car was just coming off the lift when I got there. Talk about finishing in the nick of time.

After an unfortunately long tow on Thursday afternoon, the car and trailer were dropped off at the track Thursday night.  Friday morning started with sunshine and temps in the 50s.  Forecast was for sun and 70 all weekend long.  Perfect racing weather.

Friday's testing session went fairly well but not without some issues.  My motor is creating a ton of oil mist, which is then getting collected in the catch can.  The catch can fills in about 3 laps of running, at which point the oil has to go somewhere so it goes back into the intake, and gets combusted - leaving a rather embarrassing smoke screen through a couple of corners.  I was black flagged a couple times Friday by concerned corner workers who assumed my car was blowing up. "No, it's just a Corvette, everything's fine..." I assured them.  We figured that in a 30 minute session the car is burning through about 1.5 quarts of oil.  Not good and not particularly reassuring to look back and see smoke bombs going off when you're supposed to be driving at 10/10ths.

So at the end of the day I went about a second faster than my best lap last year on old Hoosier A7s.  Happy to say that all AMT Motorsport products performed flawlessly.  The monoball control arm bushings are a revelation, especially since I've been running on 12 year old rubber bushings this whole time.  The car is super responsive and very easy to put on the edge.  Between those and the new Penske 8300 Double Adjustable shocks and coil overs, the car is hooked up.  A little more seat time to get a feel for the car, and I'm confident I'll get another half second out of it and be looking at track-record lap times.


More beautiful weather met us Saturday morning.  My brother Kevin snuck into my room late Friday night, and we were up at 6AM to scarf some waffles and get to the track in preparation for the day. Kev has a BMW 325i race car that he bought from Bimmerworld last year.  Our track obsession became a family affair bout 5 years ago when Kev started tracking his Jetta.  He then switched to a 2012 Mustang GT and landed on the purpose-built Beemer last year.  Car is a blast.

The morning test session went well.  Still running on old A7s I had a best time of 1:10.7.  Definitely not setting the world on fire but very respectable for the age of the tires.  Car was still blowing smoke but there wasn't much I was going to be able to do about that for the rest of the weekend.

Qualifying was a bit of a disappointment.  I made the mistake of getting to grid right in the middle of the pack.  There were 40 or so cars in our race group on the 1.8 mile Lightning track we were running at NJMP.  Our classes are all mixed, so the fast guys can qualify in the 1:08s with cars running as slow as 1:18s.  May not sound like much but it would be like me trying to race Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France - not even in the same realm of speed.  I knew I was in trouble when we left the pits and I was warming my tires and was immediately passed by a GTS2 car who just had to get in front of me so he could get a clean lap.  Yeah, right.

I pushed as hard as I could ( a little too hard - had a big 4 wheels-off at turn 1) but was held up everywhere by slow traffic.  There really should be more cooperation between racers in qualifying.  It's possible that everyone could get 2 clean flying laps with a little bit of discussion.  Instead it's treated like a 5 lap race where no one wants to let anyone pass and we're all fighting each other for position.  I wound up qualifying with a 1:10.114.  More than a half second faster than my previous best but still slow on sticker A7s.  I had at least another easy half second of pace that I couldn't realize due to traffic.  P1 in my class (and P1 overall) was Adrian with a 1:09.239 with Paul in P2 right on his heels at 1:09.544.  I wound up P3 out of 7 in my class and would be starting the race P5 overall.

The race for me, was quite short.  I'm embarrassed to say I'll have a new nickname in the paddock after this event.  All the cars left on their formation laps and for this race we did two formation laps, one of which was in the Missing Man formation in honor of Carl Mehne a beloved GTS3 racer who we lost 3 years ago.  Not lost while racing mind you, but his memory and family have been honored every year at this event since his death.

Adrenaline started building as we approached the Start/Finish line.  My brother Kevin keyed the radio and shouted "Green Green Green" as soon as the starter hinted at moving his flag.  I got a decent start but was held up coming in to turn 1 by an out of class Viper who started in front of me.  I got through turn 1 clean, and shut the door in T2 on Pat McMahon in a Factory Five Cobra.  He told me at the beginning of the race that he'd be all over me like a swarm of gnats, and he was right.  I left him too much room coming up into turn 5, and he snuck in at the apex, darting in with his 2800lbs car like, well like a gnat.

It was around this time I started to feel a vibration on the left side of the car.  It quickly got worse, and I told Kevin over the radio "Awww shit, I think my wheels are falling off."  I went into the pits, pulled up to my trailer, and sure enough all five lugs on the left rear were coming off.  Remember when I said I'd have new nickname in the paddock?  That name is "Torque," as in "torque your lugnuts before every time you get in the car you moron!"  I unsuited, got to the stands, and watched the rest of the race as a spectator, quietly telling my surrounding friends that I skipped one of the first rules of driving on track.  A buddy of mine texted me (Corvette racer and an ST1 Champion) to make sure I was OK, and when I told him what happened he said "Hey, I forgot to put gas in my car once and didn't even get through the first lap." So it sucks and it's embarrassing, but it happens.  I got a DNF for the race, and having won my first two races I could officially say that, at least in my case "if you ain't first you're last."

I entered a TT (time trial) session for the last outing of the day.  I had to sign up for TTU (Unlimited) meaning it's an unrestricted class for power and weight.  No one had signed up for my actual TT class that corresponds with my race class (ST2/TT2) so I hoped if I'd ripped off a flyer in TTU I could still win a couple tires on Saturday.  Traffic was again an issue as it was with qualifying and honestly I was tired and discouraged from the day, and could only muster another 1:10.1.  I later checked the data at the hotel and found I had a best "Rolling Lap" of 1:09.4, meaning that at some point I strung together a lap that fast but it wasn't from the Start/Finish line.  So maybe from Turn 7 to the next Turn 7 I did a 1:09.4.  That was encouraging since it was only .2 seconds of the ST2 pole, but again I need to make that flying lap happen from Start/Finish for it to count.  But it tells me the car (and I) certainly have the pace to be on pole and fight at the pointy end of the field.  I have a lot to learn about racing and race craft but I can at least drive the car at a competitive speed and I see another easy .5 second that I can shave off the lap with better driving. I ended up P2 out of 6 for the day in TTU, just high enough in the standings to come home with a big fat pile of nothing.


More perfect weather was forecast for Sunday.  The morning preparations were a little more relaxed since there is no practice session for racers on Sunday - only a qualifier and the race.
This time I got to the qualifying grid as soon as it opened, and I was second in line behind my very good friend Jeff Segal racing his E46 M3 in GTS4. GTS is a class for all-German cars, numbers again relating to power to weight.  A GTS4 BMW will run a very similar lap time to an ST2 Corvette so I was glad to have him in front of me.  The rest of the field gridded up in short order.  I realized things are much better when you're close to the front of the grid.  There in fact was discussion and collaboration among the first 10-15 cars on the grid.  We all agreed on a half lap warm up, give ourselves each about a second of space, and take off on a flyer at turn 7.  That way everyone warms up the same, everyone creates a small gap, and everyone has the same opportunity to put in a flyer before the field gets caught up in a couple of laps.  Honestly the TT groups do it best - they actually grid you based on your previous lap times.  I see no reason why they can't grid the race qualifiers in the same way. So you'll be running around guys with similar lap times giving you many more clean and unimpeded laps.

So we took off as planned for qualifying.  I probably shouldn't have given Jeff quite as much room in front of me as we could be a smidge faster together on the straights if we were drafting each other.  Car felt decent, I thought I was hustling, and in the end 1:09.99 popped up on my lap timer.  Still not as fast I needed to be, but at least getting me past the psychological barrier of the "One O-Nines." I'd hoped that my other competitors had gone a bit slower from their best qualifier yesterday as well now running on "used" tires as I was.  However it's very possible that the other guys are budgeting 2 sets of sticker tires for the weekend where as I only use 1 set for the weekend.  Still trying to win on some sort of budget!

In the end, I was back in P3 right where I was on Saturday, starting P5 overall.  2 flying laps was all I got before we caught up with the back of the field, and I didn't think I'd be muscling my way through traffic and get a better lap time. Adrian and Paul both qualified about a tenth slower than Saturday, and unfortunately my official time was 1:10.02, not the 1:09.99 that I had in my in car lap timer. Oh and those GTS4 guys I was talking about, the top 5 all qualified within .5 second of each other 1:09.3 to 1:09.8. All great drivers with great equipment.

The race on Sunday started much the same way as Saturday.  I got a nice start when the Green flag dropped, made up some ground before turn 1 on the two guys in front of me that I would be battling and the three of us went through turn 1 mostly nose to tail.  Pat McMahon was still right behind me in the damn Factory Five car, but this time I was aware of where he was and what he could do, and left him no openings.  He may have got on my outside going over turn 5, but the Corvette has longer legs than the FF, so I walked him down to turn 7 and from that point in only saw him in my rear view mirror.

Meanwhile Adrian and Paul were battling hard for first and second place, and I was slowly reeling them for about 3 laps while they battled.  While those guys are jockeying for position they're not usually driving the fastest line.  Once I put some daylight behind Pat and myself I was able to start driving the fastest line around the track, and by the 4th lap or so we were all running within a second or so of each other.

By this time we were just starting to catch slower GTS traffic.  The three of us came out of the bowl and on to the back straight and up on some GTS2 and GTS3 traffic.  Paul and Adrian were able to slip past both BMWs before the braking zone, and I'd hoped to follow them through.  However I was making a pass on both cars coming in to the braking zone and was squished in to the apex a little late and traveling a little too fast.  I couldn't make turn 1 at the speed I was going, so rather than stuffing it in and hoping I didn't spin I ran off into the dirt in control. I was pushing a bit too hard in the moment and probably should have just held back and passed the traffic after T1. Glad I didn't get hit by the BMW as I went off track.  Thanks for that, whoever you are.

As I was mowing the grass off turn 1 some of the grass got stuck in my radiator and the car quickly shot up 20 degrees in temperature. I realized this as I was trying to catch up to that damn Pat who capitalized on my off in turn 1 and retook third place. As the temps got near 220 (car was running under 200 all weekend) I backed off and resigned myself to finish the race while trying to keep the car cool, no longer fighting for the podium.

At this time we had a full course caution as the tow trucks came out to pull off a stricken ST2 Corvette at T1. We had about 2 caution laps and the race was restarted. After the restart the race quickly went back to full course yellow, and we didn't know why until we got back to the front straight. Three GTS cars got together in what looked to be a very high speed and devastating accident. It appeared to me that 2 of the 3 cars were totaled, and I hoped everyone was OK as I drove past the destruction. They brought the field back into the pits and called the race shortly after. They needed a lot of time to remove the cars and fix the track. Thank God no one was seriously hurt, but the cars are all in really bad shape. Bad things happen in racing some times.

So I ended up 4th on Sunday and DNF on Saturday. Certainly not the results I'd hoped for coming in to the weekend, but since I'd only done this once and won both times, my expectations were set a little too high. Most people look to their first win with hopeful anticipation, where I was looking at my first loss with unhealthy dread. I spent too much of the weekend worrying about everyone else's performance and not enough on my own.  But after pretty close racing on Sunday I was reminded of why I'm doing this in the first place - it's an absolute blast just to be out there. I know going forward I'll have a much healthier outlook on the whole race weekend experience. Can't wait to get out and race again with my NASA friends and family. Congrats to the winners in ST2 and watch out because I'm coming for you!

Link to Thunder race video from Sunday

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Welcome to the AMT Motorsport blog!  I've never done one of these before so accept my apologies if it takes me a little while to get up to speed with the whole process.

We decided a blog would be a better in-depth way to connect with our customers, friends, and racing fans.  You can only get so much information from a picture, a short Facebook post, or 140 characters on Twitter.  Sometimes long form is just the best way to connect, even in this modern era of 15 second attention spans. I'd like to be able to speak at length on some of the more interest goings-ons at AMT, whether that be race analysis, product explanations, CNC machining - whatever it is that might tickle my fancy.  Any questions you may have about any of the above please feel free to leave in the comments or send us a message and chances are we'll cover it in the future.

Anyway it's 4:00 a.m. and once again I'm up early before a race weekend.  First one of the year and there are a million things to do, one of which is driving to Connecticut today to pick up my car and bring it straight to the track for Friday testing.  Hopefully it works.  I'll try not to bombard this blog with posts, but I will try and hop on once a day during this first race weekend to recap that day's activities and with any luck (and preparation and work) share some jubilant stories of race wins.

See you at the track!