Saturday, May 13, 2017

Season Opening Race at NJMP

It's been a long off season, and this blog has been silent since the end of last year.  There have been much goings on with the AMT Motorsport C5Z race car as well as the business of AMT Motorsport.  Our product offerings have gained quite a bit of traction in the marketplace in the first few months of 2017.  Items are moving faster than expected and we've been expediting bringing new products to the marketplace that our customers have demanded.  I'll discuss these new products in upcoming blog posts shortly, but for now let's recap the first race of the year - The NASA Northeast Shakedown at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

Thursday May 4th -

After a long off season the car finally was back together and running around the middle of April.  Almost every body panel on the car was replaced.  Peter Agapoglou and his crew at Autosport Fab in Plainville Connecticut we instrumental in the rebirth of the car after the accident,  We added a new wing, a new hood, and did some pretty extensive modifications to the front of the car to aid in downforce and cooling.  We tested the car at NJMP in April with Audi NEQ and while the car had some warts, it ran well in its re-born state.

 The car was trailered down to NJMP Thursday May 4th and we setup shop in the paddock.  Forecast was for pouring rain on the Friday test day so there were no plans to unload the car before Saturday morning.  I was skipping the Friday test session to spend the day in NYC with my wife and in-laws to enjoy a viewing of Hamilton.  It's a hard knock life.

Friday May 5th -

The weather persons got their forecast right - nothing but rain on Friday and lots of it.  I did get to the track around 7am to prepare for the weekend and hoped for a break in the rain so I could get the car through it's annual race tech inspection.  That break in the rain came around 9:00am and I hurriedly started to unload the car to get it through tech before the rain re-started. I misjudged that window.  Around 9:05 it started coming down in sideways sheets.  My car has no windows, no wipers, and the air intake is now at the base of the windshield, so in a panicked state I through wood over the air intake to keep the sealed air intake box from filling with water.  I was barely able to navigate to the tech garage through the down pour. A mix of driving through the paddock with my face out the window and wiping the windshield with my hand found me safely through tech and loading the car back on to the trailer as quickly as possible.  I might as well have jumped in a pool.  I had to wring the water out of the dollar bills in my wallet that resided in my back pocket - that's how wet it was.  I hurried back to the hotel in my drenched state and headed off to New York City. I was not jealous of those who stayed behind and got to use their Hoosier Wet Tires all day for Friday practice.

Saturday May 6th -

My Friday in New York was wonderful.  I left NYC at 4:30 am on Saturday to make the 2 hour drive back to NJMP to get back to the track by 7am.  After several meetings and check ins with our race group leaders, the time had to come to practice on track with our race group.  My race group is the Thunder Race group which is comprised of the fastest cars in the NASA organization.  Most cars in this group will be running lap times from the 1:15s to as low as 1:06s for the fastest no-holds-or-wallets-barred Super Unlimited Group.  My group is ST2 where the only real restriction is a power to weight ratio of 8lbs per horsepower.  The group is made up mostly of Corvettes with the odd Factory Five Daytona, Mitsubishi Evo, or crossover BMW coming to play as well.

I had the luxury of having 2 sets of sticker Hoosiers for the weekend, since both sets were unused on that fateful day in September where the car was crashed at the National Championship.  I went out on new tires and had practice times in the low 1:12s.  Not terrible, but certainly not what I was hoping for given that I had qualified last year with a 1:10.0 and that the car had significant upgrades made to it over the winter.

I went out again for the Thunder qualifying session about an hour later and had more unhappy results. I qualified with a 1:12.2 which would put me 9th overall but find me starting 5th on the grid for the actual race. That's more than 2 seconds off my qualifying time from last year. During the qualifying session I managed to pick up a rock in my brand new windshield.  The car didn't have a nick on the windshield in the 4 years I owned it and now on the second session out I pick up a rock chip.  To add insult to injury my right rear inner fender liner ejected itself at about 130 mph.  I saw smoke coming out the back from the tire rubbing and then a BANG - fiberglass went sailing through the sky and the car behind me collected the fender liner on his hood.  I'm assuming it did no damage otherwise someone would have found me in the paddock and complained.  Sorry about that.  Final salt in the wound was my brand new front left tire had a puncture when I came back to the paddock, and it was flat as a pancake and un-repairable.  First time that's happened as well. Pissed about my flat tire and not so happy about my qualifying times, I slapped on my second set of Hoosiers for the upcoming race at 3pm.  Still not sure why I was going so slow I wasn't particularly positive about my chances in the race.  I'd had a lot of bad luck since Friday and was at the stage where I sometimes wonder why I'm even doing this.  I decided I should probably take it easy in the race and just finish the best I could and come back stronger on Sunday.

The Thunder Race grid found John George in his beautiful brand new Factory Five Daytona Coupe in P1 with a 1:10.3 in qualifying. Adrian Wlostoski was alongside in P2 in his C6 Corvette Grandsport with a 1:11.0.  Adrian won the regional championship last year by a fair margin and has basically become the man to beat in my class.  John won a lot of races last year in his Factory Five Cobra (including the National Champtionship in ST2) but this year brings a brand new and undeveloped car. However his practice and qualifying pace showed he was going to be as fast as ever.  Michael Kuna made the switch from the all-German series GTS4 to race with us in ST2 and would be starting in front of me with a 1:11.1.  Behind me were some American Iron Mustangs as well as some ST2 competitors who didn't fare as well in qualifying.  John Gatzemeyer crashed his C5 Corvette in qualifying and made contact with Doug Winston in his C5 Corvette as well. Both guys would be out of the race for Saturday.  John Robbins had problems with this Mitstubishi Evo 10 so he wasn't starting the race and Alan Cohen was DQ'd in qualifying so he'd be starting at the back of the pack in his 550hp Patriot Missile - a Cadillac CTS-V weighing in at something like 4400 lbs.  All told, of the 10 cars that had signed up for for ST2 only 5 would be taking the green flag.

We rolled out on the formation lap and started warming our tires.  As we started to fall into our positions around the backside of the track the pace car kept us around 45mph.  This was a great speed for me since that allows me to use my very potent second gear for the start of the race.  The leaders tend to set the pace after the pace car merges off for pitlane, and that pace usually winds up around 65 mph - right out of second gear range for me and the low RPM range of third gear.  I happily shifted to second gear and waited for the starter to drop the green flag. Greg Miceli was not racing this weekend and was on the radio with me.  He spotted the flag and shouted "Green Green Green!" through my ear and off I went.  The car took off like a rocketship and I jumped two cars right at the start - Michael Kuna in his BMW and an out of class SU racer in a Factory Five Cobra.  I got great drive out of turn 1 and managed to pass Adrian on the inside going into turn 2 for second place.  The car felt great, but in my excited state with not-so-warm tires I over cooked my entry speed into turn 4 and took a long trip through the grass.  I dropped 2 places and found myself back in 4th place behind Kuna, John, and Adrian.  I buckled down and got on with the race.

I didn't know if it was the brand new set of tires I was running or just my elevated heart rate for the race, but the car and myself were on fire.  I quickly and easily passed Michael Kuna and looked down at my lap timer and saw I was knocking off laps in the high 1:09s!  That was faster than I'd ever gone and you generally don't set your fastest laps of the weekend during a race.  I could see John and Adrian about 5 to 6 seconds up the road so I focused on doing all that I could to catch them.  To my amazement I caught up with John in about 10 laps.  Catching a guy is one thing but passing him is something completely different.  Luckily a misstep by John in turn 4 found him with 2 wheels in the dirt.  I capitalized with a good run through turn 4 and 5, and kept my speed advantage all the way through the back straight, and passed him with relative ease into turn 7.  I had a big sideways moment through turn 7 (see video below) but managed to keep it together and stayed ahead of John for the rest of the race.  Adrian had checked out by this point and was 9 seconds ahead by the time I got around John.  He would end up 13 seconds ahead of me to win the race - myself in P2 and John rounding out the podium a few seconds behind me.

I'd somehow managed to clock the fastest lap of the race with a 1:09.45 with Adrian just a smidge off with a 1:09.49.  I had an absolute blast during the race and it made me remember all over again just why in the hell I do this.  It was refreshing after the weekend I'd had up to this point.  The beers went down smooth for the post race celebration, and I was thrilled to take the podium with my fellow ST2 competitors and friends Adrian and John.  Excuse my metal face - it's just in my nature when I take publicity pictures.

Here's a fun high quality video from the cockpit of John George.  I make my entrance at the 15:00 mark, and you can see my save/near disaster at 15:05.  I would love to show you the video from my car, but my GoPro battery died just as the race started.  I feel like I'm the only one who makes rookie mistakes in his third season.

Sunday May 6th -

Knowing I had a rocketship I was pumped for the morning practice/qualifying session.  If I put a 1:09.4 down in the race I figured there was no reason I couldn't whip out a 1:08.something in qualifying.  Sadly, all I could muster in qualifying was a 1:11.656 putting me 6th overall and 4th in my class.  Adrian blasted the 1:08.9 I was looking for.  My college buddy Jake Namer brought his RX-7 racecar down and managed a 1:10.8 for P2, and Alan Cohen pipped me by .005 with a 1:11.651 for P3. John Gatzemeyer patched up his C5 but it was wonky in the rear and he got a 1:14.1. John Robbins got the Evo kinda running-ish but only crapped out a 1:19. Kuna ran a 1:12.1 but was DQ'd and would start from the back of the pack.  John George blew his motor in qualifying, bringing the grand total of ST2 starters to 7.

I was starting to think that I'm only good at driving in racing, since I couldn't seem to drive fast for TT or qualifying.  Perplexed, I brought the car on the trackside dyno to make sure it was making the full 380whp that it was tuned to only 4 weeks before.  Sho' nuff, the thing ran 380whp on the nose.  You could have overlayed the two graphs from the two different dynos and not have told the difference.  I decided I just must suck at qualifying and made it a point that I would sift through the data to figure out how I can be faster in qualifying.

As we took to the grid, my buddy Jake put his RX-7 in front of mine on the grid, revved it to 6000 RPM and quickly shut it down.  His car sounds like a couple of two stroke chain saws rattling around in a 55 gallon drum so I asked "Jake, do you just like to hear your car make noise...?" He told me he was advised by an old timey rotary tuner that the quick blast of high rpm cleans out the injectors and makes it easier to start the next time.  "OK" I said, and got into my car and buckled in at the 5 minute warning.

As we took off for the formation lap, Jake's car wasn't starting.  The starter gave him about a minute to try and get his car started, but when it wasn't happening the starter let the rest of the field take to the formation lap, leaving Jake alone and silent on the grid.  Turns out his motor blew with that last rev of the stupid rotary engine, and I was the last person to hear it's sweet terrible song.  He tells me I owe him a motor.  I tell him he owes me a tire for reducing the car count to 6. We'll call it a wash.

Again the pace car had us at 45mph and I was ready for a strong second gear start, but as soon as the green flagged waved and I mashed the loud pedal I knew this was going to be a different race than yesterday.  The car just didn't have the power it had on the Saturday race.  Instead of making ground at turn 1, I just watched as the leaders Alan and Adrian started to pull away.  I got by Alan within one lap since his 4400 sled is not exactly the fastest car through the turns or hardest on the brakes.  I managed to get on Adrian's bumper through turns 4 and 5 on Lap 2, but after that his tires were up to temp and he just pulled away from me every time the road got straight.  I managed to keep Alan behind me while he kept me honest for a few laps, but I'd built up a pretty comfortable lead after 5 or 6 laps.  I had some fun slicing through slower traffic while managing what seemed to be a huge power deficit.  Cars I just motored past on Saturday I was even with on the straights, so I had to do my passing on the brakes and in the turns.  I pulled out another 2nd place finish after a full 24 laps of green flag racing.  Adrian finished 31 seconds in front of me with a fast lap of 1:09.4 just like yesterday.  Despite my power problems I'd had whittled my fastest lap down to a 1:10.8.  Having to struggle in the straights allowed me to be more aggressive at turn entry and exit so I should be able to combine the data from my two races and get a pretty good idea of the cars' ultimate pace.  The track record for a race lap is a 1:08.9 and I'm confident when the stars align I can get my time down a mid to low 1:08.

As I packed up the trailer and got ready for the journey home, I shared my plight with Alex Rubenstein and Ben Lesnak - two Corvette gurus who could maybe shine some light on what I was convinced was a definite power issue.  After a couple e-mails back and forth the issue was identified.  My factory GM temperature gauge is having some sort of electrical issue that is spiking the gauge to 260 degrees intermittently.  The car is actually running at 170 degrees (verified by another water temp sensor I have wired into my RaceTech Dash) but because the factory gauge is pegged at 260, the ECU actually thinks the car is running at 260 degrees. The car then goes into a protection mode where it pulls 7 degrees of timing from the power band.  Alex surmised that equates to about a 50hp loss, and judging by the speed at which I was left in the dust by my competition I concur.  So, I don't actually suck at qualifying.  We're working on a solution to the problem now and it should be a straight forward fix.

Very much looking forward to the next race in June at NJMP where you can rest assured that I'll show up with all 380 of my ponies and hopefully race for the win!

1 comment:

  1. Great job Mark and thank you for the detailed update! I always enjoy reading your blogs. Hope you get that issue sorted before the next race. Sounds like you will. Good luck at NJMP in June. I really need to get down there....spending an inordinate amount of time at the Glen. Anthony