Loaded up the family, dog, motorhome, and car trailer for the 900 mile drive south to Sonoma. Day 1 was a leisurly drive to southern Oregon where we stopped for a nice dinner and then parked at a rest area for some sleep. At 2:30 AM we woke to our bed shaking and the sound of fiberglass tearing. A semi truck clipped the corner and was side swiping us. Seriously rude awakening. After about an hour of sleepy-eyed insurance exchange, it was back to bed for a couple more hours. Day two was planned to have minimal forward progress but instead to enjoy the fall weather in Ashland Oregon. Spent the day playing in Lithia Park and eating in town. Just before returning to the motorhome to get on the road, my older daughter fell from a tree branch and broke her arm. Day two officially sucks. We found a walk-in clinic with x-ray on site and found that it was a fairly minor compression fracture and was not displaced. Sling on, ibuprofen consumed and back on the road.
Day 3: I had scheduled a dyno appointment from the official dyno for the event on Thursday. While driving down on Wednesday, I received an email from NASA officials indicating that there were now two official dyno’s and that each class was assigned to a specific one. Naturally, my class was assigned to the other dyno. After a few phone calls, a new appointment was set up for testing Thursday afternoon with MCE.
We arrived at Sonoma to find the paddock very full and very disorganized. Parked in pre-grid to unload the car for dyno testing while some helpful NASA NW members secured parking in the TT area for several competitors. The dyno operators had been working hard all day and it was getting dark, windy, and cold by the time I got on… and there was a line behind me. Dyno results were 344 whp which was right between the previous two dyno results. HP curve still showed the power leveling off at the high end so apparently it wasn’t the exhaust restriction. With 344 whp, I was now about 120 lbs over weight. Better than 340 lbs based on the Service Pro Dyno but still not optimum. Oh well, my lap times will benefit a lot more from me focusing on learning the track than spending a bunch of time removing parts and having an imbalanced car.
Friday – Practice:
Started with Hoosier A6 tires that had about 12 heat cycles on them. Tires still felt great last time I used them and I knew it would take me a couple of practice sessions to really get up to speed anyway so why waste good tires. There were mostly TT# and TTletter classes and a few wheel-2-wheel race cars in the practice session which meant big discrepancies in lap times. That’s OK as I was barely keeping up with a Mini Cooper S in the first session (I think that Mini Cooper S went on to take the Championship win in TTB). My first session times were around 1:52. Second session times dropped to 1:49’s. Third session got slower as the front tires corded on the outside. Fourth practice session was after sun down and with 7 heat cycle old A7’s mounted, I dropped another second, 1:48’s.
This is an intimidating track with concrete walls all around, lots of elevation, and lots of accel and braking zones mid-corner. I love technical tracks and elevation. I’m not particularly fond of concrete walls. After practice, I reviewed some data and watched some in-car video and found a few key places to focus on.
Saturday – Competition Day 1:
The Time Trial Championships use the fastest lap put down during any of the competition sessions on Saturday and Sunday except the first session on Saturday which is only used to determine grid position. Grid position is critical especially when using Hoosier A compound tires as you only get 2 fast laps before the tires over heat and fall off. If you are behind a slower car, it may take you several laps to get by and you’re no longer getting your best lap. For the first session, grid was first come first served. I gridded early but gridded mid-pack as I didn’t want to be in the way of the really fast cars. This was not a smart move as it turns out. The car in front of me was turning 2:00+ minute laptimes for the first few laps. I finally made a pass exiting T11 and was on a flying lap when the red flags came out and all cars were stopped on track (never a good sign). A beautiful 69 Camaro went off in T10 and rolled into the wall. Driver left via ambulance but it was reported later that he was fine. I never got a chance to take a close look at the Camaro before the wreck but I did follow it on track during practice and it was beautiful and very fast. Something very awkward but so right about a ’60s muscle car with massive slicks ripping up a road course.
Decided to stay on the old A7’s since I was gridded 3rd from last anyway (lap time of 2:02). Was able to pick up another second with a 1:47. For the third session, I decided to put on my new A7’s despite the weather getting warmer and still learning the track. Got a 1:46.6. Last session saw a small improvement with a 1:46.4. Here comes that laptime plateau. Still a long ways from a podium spot.
Sunday – Final Competition Day:
Our group was the first out on track at 8:00 AM. Temps were around 45 F but the sun was out and this could be the fastest session of the weekend. The grid was very full. Nearly everyone set a new fast time including me with a 1:45.8. Making progress but still no closer to a podium finish. The second session was still early in the day and I dropped to a 1:45.6 and was still in 5th place.
Turn 1 is tricky. It’s a high speed sweeping uphill left hander that ends in a low speed off camber blind exit right hander. When turning 1:47-1:48’s, it was pretty straight forward as I was cutting it early and slowing down to drop 3 gears and set up for T2. Once I realized I was giving up valuable time in T1, I started carrying speed much deeper into the corner which made setting up for T2 very challenging and hair raising. I botched the downshift on both my fastest laps. By the time I figured out a better line through T1 that allowed me to stay full throttle in 6th gear into the hill, my tires and track conditions were degrading. With fresh tires and some new techniques learned for T1 and T7-T8, I think there was another second or two out there.
There was a large time gap between session 2 and session 3 and due to the heat in the afternoon, no one improved in session 3 or 4. First place was Bill Brinkop in a Corvette with a 1:40.120. Second was Greg Vannucci in a Lotus Exige Cup with a 1:40.920. Third was Cameron Fox in a BMW M3 with a 1:42.908. These guys are crazy fast and the field of TT3 competitors was also amazing.
Some video highlights/lowlights from the event. My camera was bumped down for Sunday so the spot metering was focused on the dash and subsequently washed out most of the track. Also, my fastest laps were full of mistakes and sloppy driving.
Overall, a fantastic event. Well organized and efficiently run. Despite several incidents on the course, the schedule was spot on. I learned a lot, which was exactly the point of all this, and am preparing for next year.
Professional photos available here (I ran in G group): http://headonphotos.net/gallery/NASA/NASAWC14/
NASA Championship results here: http://timingscoring.drivenasa.com/NASA_Championships/Western%20States%202014%20Sonoma%20Raceway/
NASA Western States Championship, Sonoma – 5th Place TT2, 1:45.652