After a little more than 6 months of dormancy Sandy was released back into the wild at Palm Beach International Raceway. Predicting that I would be a little rusty behind the wheel, I decided to do the Friday test day. Since I didn't want to prematurely burn through the prime heat cycles on my new set of HoHos, I bought another set of wheels so that I could get warmed up my old rubber. It turned out to be a wise decision as PBIR is extremely abrasive and chews through tires faster than any other track I have been to.
This track tears through tires so fast that your unloaded front tire will pick up enough tire worms that it makes it feel like you have a flat tire when it gets loaded up again because the tire is out of balance with all the crap it has collected. Once the tire is fully loaded all of those tire worms get flung into the brake ducts, wheel wells, wheels, etc. After the enduro we pulled over 5 pounds of rubber from Sandy's underside.
Ok, back to the story, Friday went well other than the GoPro shitting the bed again (they have since sent me a new one free of charge!). There were only a handful of other Spec Miatas(SM) there, not enough to properly judge my pace. The Data Aq was working flawlessly and helped me figure out which lines worked around the giant late apex corners of PBIR. On the last session of the day, a couple laps before I came in, I noticed a vibration through the steering wheel whenever the left front was loaded. I came in to see if the tire was low, it wasn't, but it had accumulated a large clump of tire turds. I removed the excess rubber and prayed for the best.
Big Ups to my whole race crew(Kyle, Angela, Thomas, Brent) who made the trek to PBIR by Saturday morning. My first session was qualifying for the SM sprint race. The vibration from yesterday hadn't gone away, in fact it was getting worse each lap. I had to pit, only completing 3 or 4 hot laps. I brought the car in and jacked up the left front. The wheel had about a half inch of back-and-forth play a.k.a. the wheel bearing was effed. I was pissed. I had literally just replaced that specific wheel bearing a couple weeks ago with one of the top shelf "blue-printed-special-secret-sauce-greased-bad-ass-almost-cheating-but-not-quite" wheel bearings sold. Luckily I had brought my spare 239,000 mile wheel bearings that Sandy came with. Crew Chief Kyle and I, (read mainly Kyle) removed the necessary components and got to swapping.
|That is not supposed to look like that|
I got back out on track and cautiously felt out the left front, making sure everything was good. It was. I tried to find a car with similar speed and hook up with in qualifying to bump draft down the back straight, but didn't get the chance. I also noticed I still didn't have the power that the 99s had on the straights. Bummer. The rest of qualifying went well and I qualified 4th for the enduro.
I wish I had in-car footage for the start of the sprint race. Holy Shit. I will try my best to describe what happened. Here it goes... So the field was SMs combined with ITA, ITB, ITS and a couple others, it was relatively packed.
Everything started normal, cars were in 2 single file lines and the pole sitter as usual begins to go to full throttle as the pace car peals off. Same as every race. I gap the car in front of me then make an aggressively early start anticipating the green flag, it works and as the green flag drops I am making a solid run on the car in front of me, but then in an instant a huge cloud of tire smoke plumes up ahead of us. The car in front of me dives to the left and as he cuts across me I see a car that is nearly stopped -- right in front of me. So I swerve hard to the right, off the track, narrowly missing him. I still have my foot pegged to the throttle, cause obviously I don't want to loose any positions. Now I am in the grass drivers right side of the track, maybe 500ft passed the Start/Finish. I get the car straightened out as I see I am rapidly approaching a slightly raised access road running perpendicular to the track through the grass. I clinch as Sandy hits the ledge of the pavement and briefly gets airborne. I slam back on to the pavement, but seem to be no worse for the wear. I ease the car back on to the track and slot into traffic.
All of the commotion at the start had completely shuffled the running order. I started 6th and managed to come out of the chaos in 3rd. Kaakaaa! I closed in on the two cars in front of me and figured out where I had an advantage on them. I found I could out-brake them and generally carry more speed through the corners, but I couldn't hold them off of me on the back straight. I made my pass on the 2nd place car by out-braking him into turn 3 and made it stick by drafting the 1st place car on the back straight. A lap later I made a move into first place in the same spot going in to turn 3, that lasted until we came around to the back straight and the 2nd and 3rd place car freight-trained right past me. Now in 3rd, a few laps later, I made a pass on the 2nd place car that stuck for a while. In the closing laps he tried to retake 2nd place by dive-bombing me at the end of the front straight. I held my line and was carrying significantly more speed by taking a later apex. He went way way inside, and basically parked it trying to regain control. Placing his car directly in my line and having no where else to go, his left rear bumper and my right front bumper collided and sent him spinning. I kept at it and chased the leader, but began getting nervous when the fuel needle dropped below E. The last few laps I backed off a little and brought it home to finish in 2nd place. The highest result to date for Dirty Dactyl Racing!!!!!!
The last 3 laps or so I began short shifting because I was worried I wouldn't make minimum weight in tech. The top 3 cars are weighed right after the race, and if you don't pass you get DQ'ed. That stands for Dairy Queened. I was so nervous when we rolled the car up on the scales. The women working the scales said something to the effect of, "Wow, these guys really know how to set the weight of their cars!" I wish I could have seen the final weight, but I am pretty sure we were within 1lb or so of the minimum.
|Click to see the panorama of us in the technical impound|
I am soaked in sweat but still feel relatively sharp, which is good because I still have an hour-and-a-half endurance race to do. To prep for the enduro we rotate the tires, front left to rear right, and vice versa, check the AFR data to set fuel pressure, check oil level, drain the car then add 8 gallons of fuel, set tire pressures, fill my drink bottle with ice-water, ready the refueling jug, eat Gatorade chews and a banana.
The enduro starts with 2 pace laps then the green flag. I make a good start steadily working my way up through the field. In the enduro there are several different classes racing at the same time, so the disparity in speed can catch you off-guard if you aren't paying attention. I managed to get into the lead in Spec Miata for the first 7 or so laps until my tires started going off. I got caught by a pack of newer Miatas that were bump drafting together. I couldn't match their pace anymore. I noticed looking at the data later that when the tires went off my times dropped about 1.5 seconds a lap. No longer a contender for the lead I fell comfortably into 5th place and clicked off lap after lap in auto-pilot.
This race's pit stop went 10x better than the last endurance race we did. We still have a little work to do on our race gear prep as apparently a balaclava, fire suit and glasses aren't sufficient protection for the refueler. So I had to refuel the car again, but this time we had the speedy-pour jug and a funnel. I was able to refuel, chug Gatorade from Race Dr. Acton and make it back into the car with plenty of time to spare. I came out still in 5th. I notice that the tires have cooled enough in the pit stop that they life in them for a lap or so.
Fast forward until about ten minutes are left in the race, still in 5th, probably 30 seconds from 4th. A car spins and stalls on track. BRING OUT THE FULL COURSE CAUTION!!!.
I let my tires cool down after I caught the field. The tow truck got the stalled car out of the way with about 3 minutes left. I gapped the car in front of me and got a decent start when they threw the green flag. Everyone was fighting for position, it was a Last-Lap-Hail-Mary-Battle-Royal. I set-up the two cars battling in front of me by making sure I had a solid exit from turn 2. I passed both of those cars with 2-wheels off the track on the inside of turn 3. Then passed an ITA car on the outside of turn 4. I kept to the inside of turn 5 and passed another Spec Miata and another ITB car going into 6. I kept that gap by drafting an ITA car down the back straight. I protected the inside on the final horseshoe and prayed that the checker was coming, because the 3 Spec Miatas I had passed were quicker than me. Sure enough they threw checker and I came in 2nd. It was sweet. I went from 5th to 2nd in class, and since all the cars on track were on the lead lap, so I ended up moving from 10th overall to 4th overall! If it had gone another lap I don't think I would have been able to hold my position. Sometimes its good to be lucky.