Just did a NASA weekend at Homestead-Miami speedway this past weekend and did a test with the new NASA 99 rules on Alex Bolanos' front running SCCA national car. I must say, if NASA was looking to eliminate the advantages a top level 99 has, they hit the nail right on top of the head!
The basis was to Test the NASA rule set for 99's on a front running SCCA driver and car for Saturdays spec miata racing, and then have him switch to the SCCA rule set and race in the PT class in our "thunder" group (big, fast cars). It was ideal because it was the same driver, same car, same tires, on the same weekend. On Saturday, the race results were:
1st: 1.6 (Blanchard)
2nd: 99 (Rollin)
3rd: 1.6 (Wehmeyer)
Bolanos (99) was running second to Blanchard when he dropped out of the race prematurely, and I (1.6) was running 3rd closely behind Bolanos when I had a handling issue that kept me from turning consistent laps. When we all gathered at impound, everyone came in right on weight and the results were staggering, the top 3 lap times (Blanchard, myself, and Bolanos) were all within tenths, hundreds, or even thousandths of a second off of each other in the 1:48 range! All of our cars are built well and are fast, with the higher level of prep and development going to Alex's car, as it is his SCCA championship chaser.
On the track, the cars were EXACTLY the same in terms of power. Cliff's car and mine were dead nuts even down the straits and out of corners, the only differences were in set-up's, braking points, lines, and good ol' driver skill! Alex's 99 seemed to lack a little torque out of the hairpins, but pulled through the mid-range better and evened out on the top end with the 1.6's. Several times throughout the race I found myself inches from Cliff or Alex's bumper and could not even bump draft them, where in previous races against Alex's 99 at the same track using last years 99 rules, he walked away from me out of the corners and through the mid range. There is a big difference for sure, and it's definitely evening out the playing field down here on our flat tracks (Homestead is a NASCAR roval).
Alex was supposed to provide data from his traqmate for submission to NASA national, and I am not sure what happened on that front.
Alex did not run his car on Sunday, he ran Cliffs other car, which is a 99. He ended up finishing 3rd behind Blanchard and myself, his lap times were a half second or so off of ours, which is understandable being he was in a car that was not his. Since Alex's car was parked, no data was able to be gathered from the experiment using the SCCA rules in the PT class. Cliff's car was racing in PT with Alex at the wheel, but I am unsure if the SCCA plate was used or of they just had a fun run with no plate, because the lap times were in the 1:47.5 range, which was faster than any SM time of the weekend. If it was in SCCA trim, there is still a definite advantage as Alex was in Cliff's car once again, which is not his normal car. I'd like to think another half second or so would be had in his own car in SCCA trim. Just to note, the existing SCCA lap record at Homestead is a 1:48.1, so we are talking so seriously good times here.
So, this is what happened when a top level driver, in a top prepped 99 used the 2011 NASA SM rules in a race with other well prepped 1.6's (no na 1.8 cars in the top 5). At this track, the car was dead even with the 1.6. Essentially what I see here is that NASA's new rule set made a top level 99 no better than a well prepped 1.6. This might have been the point in NASA's rule change, and if so, they have nailed it. I also think that NASA has it's own program and agenda, which is to build up it's race group within it's own HPDE ranks and not rely on crossover racers from the SCCA, and keeping the rules the way they are for the 99 cars will do that, as top prepped 99's and their owners will most likely stick with the SCCA where their cars are faster. But the 85% of regional based SM owners that don't have top prepped 99 front running cars will be happier in NASA competition, as their cars will be more competitive then they would be in SCCA competition.
Call it "not good for the better or the class", but I think it will prolong the class. The racers with home built or mid pack early na cars will come back out of the woodwork and jump back into the sport without thinking they need a pro prepped 99 to be competitive. We have seen this happen already, we had several new drivers attend this past race that have not raced with us before, and they didn't come up through the NASA HPDE ranks.
Fire away, call me biased because I have a 1.6, or call me NASA biased, but to me, you can't escape the fact that the lap times are pretty damn close between cars with these rules.
I will put a link to the race results when they are available. And please excuse the typo's if any, this was done on an iPhone.
Owner/Driver - 5X Racing