Man it was awesome to get back out on the track again. Two years is too long between races. Even better that it was at Hallett. God that's a fun track. So, my last time driving on a track was the NASA Hallett June race in 2016 (same race exactly two years ago). That was immediately following the retub after backing into the tree at TWS off T7.
With the two year hiatus, I knew I'd be slow and just wanted to finish the weekend in one piece. I really didn't expect much, and tried not to put too much pressure on myself and drive outside my ability.
Test n Tune
Friday was just about getting back in the car, and relearning the feel of driving at some sort of pace. My first session was about 12 seconds off my best laps from two years prior. In the second and third session, I was coming up the learning curve, but I started loosing power on the exit of T2/T6 (lefts), but none of the other corners. Tried running more gas, checked most electrical connections...couldn't find a smoking gun. I pulled data from the car and you could clearly see a 1.5-1.7 second drop in fuel pressure to 3psi. The drop was sharp, as was the recovery---like an on/off edge.
After the third session we pulled the fuel pump. Everything looked ok with the pump and sock. Measured the distance to the bottom of the tank, and the pump...the sock was clearly resting on the bottom of the well. Finally, I inspected the connector on the fuel pump. The female contacts on the pump side (not the sender side) looked like they were compressed away from the pin. I tried wiggling the connector while watching fuel pressure, but couldn't see an effect on the gage. Anyway, I used a dental tool to push the female contacts back together to hopefully engage the pins. Sessions 4 and 5, problem gone.
From a driving perspective, by the end of the day I was still about 3 seconds off. But, I was more comfortable in the car. I was having a small handling issue in T2 (loose on throttle), and was getting monster psi growth in the RR. We added some cross, and adjusted tire pressures. That was the ticket. I made tons of ground in T2 for the rest of the weekend.
Format for the weekend was Qual, and three races. Finishing order for each race, set the grid for the following race. Qual grid was set by season points, so I was going to be at the back. That's where I wanted to be anyway as I didn't want to stuff anyone else's qual. I did want to get a little space from the guy in front of my, because I knew I was faster than him....but, I didn't want to mess with trying to get around him.
I got a decent amount of space, and was able to get a lap about 1 second faster than my Friday best lap. But, there was more to be had, and then I caught that car, and that was that. I ended up 30th out of 31.
My goal was to race clean, and finish maybe a few spots farther up the grid for race 2 while continuing to get more comfortable. Everything went according to that plan until the final turn (T10) on the final lap. I got punted by a guy who simply overheated, dehydrated, and lost focus---completely missed his brake marker and drove right through my LR bumper. I got turned about 90 degrees, and I think I dropped the rear wheels off the outside before gather it up and grabbing second gear. I lost two spots that I'd previously gained by the time I crossed the s/f. Still, I finished 25th...so I gained 5 spots, and never made any major mistakes.
Same goal as race1. Being a little farther up the grid (with cars behind me) I got to spend a lot more time in traffic, and mixing it up with those around me. Lots of good battles in tight sections of the course (T2-T6), where it takes a lot of focus to drive off line with cars on one or occasionally both sides. My car was clearly good under braking and the second gear corners. Maybe its the lighter 1.6 that helps that, I think there was only one other 1.6L that I saw (#13). I also found I was able to run the 4/5/6 complex better than those around me. So, I could close up through 4/5/6, stay close through 7/8 and then get them under braking entering the Bitch. The extra rpm of the 1.6L seemed to help leading up T7/8 where the NBs had to grab 4th. I gained another 4 spots and finished 21st....which set my grid for the championship race on Sunday.
I had one bit of contact. I got a good run through T2/3 and climbing the hill to T4. I was in a group of 4-5 cars, and I'd taken the inside line through T2 which put me on the outside of the group climbing the hill. I had a run on the #2 car, and thought I could hold the outside line through T4 (right) and maybe get position for the entry into T5 (left). I got outside the #2 as we climbed the hill, but he walked me to the grass, where I stopped giving up ground and he drove into my RF before I could lift and back out of the position. Neither of us lost a position.
This is a long race----50 minutes starting after lunch at 12:45p. It was also HOT. I wasn't really sure what to do with pressures. In race2, I didn't get as much growth as I was expecting...and the same thing happened in morning warmup. This led me to decide NOT lower my cold pressures as I probably should have. I probably should have dropped them by 2+psi, but I only went down by 1 psi. Anyway, the tires were a handful in the last 3rd of the race. I didn't get hot pressures after because they pulled us off directly for the awards, but they felt overinflated in the later stages.
Race3 was awesome. I was constantly in traffic. I made up 3 positions on the start up to 18th, but lost two on lap 2 back to 20th. After lap two I never lost another position. I steadily climbed from 20th, and gained another position every 3-4 laps. I finally climbed to 14th with about 6 laps to go, and was 7 seconds behind 13th. All this is, of course, based on post-race data...I only knew that I cleared my last pass as the race was winding down...and the #21 was a long way in the distance. My tires were clearly off, and like I said felt over-inflated.
I have had a tendancy to make a big mistake late in these long races. So, my focus was on just hitting my marks and not making any mistakes that might cost me whatever positions I had gained. I had no one in my mirrors, and I could only see the #21 on longer sections of the course. I didn't figure I had much chance of catching him and only a good chance of going off if I really pushed. So, I settled into a rhythm for a couple laps, when I noticed that I was clearly gaining on the #21. Also my tires started to feel a little more "forgiving", so I decided to try a little harder. In the last 3 laps I made up 4 seconds on the #21, and I was now within a couple seconds of him...but, then the white flag came out. I wasn't able to get to his bumper...but, I finished the race in 13th place after another car DNF'd.
It was a hard day on the cars....there were lots of DNF's. It was hot on the drivers, I know there was at least one who DNF'd simply due to the heat even though the car was ok.
My best lap in Race3, was ~1/2s off my best lap ever...after two years away. I finished all 3 races with no major driving mistakes, no offs, not even a dropped wheel (Chris would probably say I wasn't trying hard enough :-). I couldn't find a way to drive the car off the Bitch....and I was trying. The car was really good there, but I could have used an LSD I was spinning the inside tire...and had to work to try and keep that tire down on the ground. AND I FINISHED 13TH (and won some Toyo Bucks)...my highest ever finish in my short racing career.
Totally stoked! Thanks for reading.