Round 2 Recap: Putnam Park

Posted: May 18, 2011 in Racing

You know you had a bad racing weekend when you are driving back home Friday night or Saturday morning.  As I sit in solitude driving the 9 hour trip back home as a complete grump – I’m not alone in having these issues happen.  However, this was the first DNS (did not start) in my career – and my expectations of being a strong contender in my region is now becoming a pipe dream.  What is even more depressing is that we had 12 944-Spec cars in our group – the largest field Midwest 944-Spec has ever had.

The weekend started out great – I got to visit BENMS Thursday and pick up some parts not needed for my car.  I was also able to hang out with Nick & Dennis for a little bit.

Is this Palmer’s car?

'57 Chevy (?) & MG

Lotus Europa & Indy Car

To help out the group I headed off early to Putnam in order to flag off our commune so we can all pit together.  I was able to get us a pit area right next to NASA central, bathrooms, and a very quick walk to pit row.  I had a lot of time so I decided to do a track walk and get a real close look at the track – and traction as rain was forecasted for the weekend.  I was also able to meet Ron Hlozansky from Traqmate as he was here this weekend to help out racers with his system.  He noted he may have time to look over some of my data this weekend – which I found very helpful and courteous.

Shiny = Slippery when wet.

Friday rolls around and my roommate, Sid, and I head over to the track early to see our cars, help set up the pit area, and get ready to run some laps and take along a coach (I asked my friend Bryan Cohn to coach me if he had time on Friday as I needed some racing instruction / coaching – as I’ve never had one before).  As I sat and watched Dennis pull Lisa out of the trailer – I get to hear her “uncorked”.  I had the muffler removed to free up what little HP these cars have and give it a nice sound.  They also fixed her notorious idle issues as Nick discovered a major vacuum leak at the brake booster which was causing erratic idle issues.  I was able to catch a quick video.  However as I was listening in I didn’t notice the problem that would quickly end my weekend (notice when the car is revved it stumbles a little).

New Dashboard & Gauges!

First session rolls around quickly and I suit up and get in and head out to the track.  As I try to pull out of the pits onto the track the car stumbles repeatedly and won’t go to redline.  I sit dumbfounded as to why and try a bunch of things such as shut it off and restart it thinking ECU issue, try throttle inputs to see what is going on (such as heavy foot / light foot).  The car won’t rev over 3-4k rpms and will stumble upon any heavy throttle at any RPM.  As I limp around the track in 2nd gear just above idle I’m hoping it is some small issue – quick and easy to fit and on main reason why I find it so useful that this series provides an onsite mechanic.

I pull back into the pits and hand her over to Nick & Dennis and they start trouble shooting.  They spent a couple hours trying everything under the sun, changing out sensors, ecus, coil, wires, plugs – checking wiring, vacuum lines, injectors, voltage to various sensors and the fuel pump (even flow testing the fuel pump).  Seems the car will run with the TPS and AFM disconnected (meaning I have a vacuum leak somewhere else causing that).  Nick then goes to plan b and calls a guy named Johanne.  It must be serious when you call a German.  They start going through checklists recommended and it has already been tested.  We then run a compression test and get 148 / 158 / 161 / 141 from 1 – 4 on the cylinders.  Not bad but not great.  This leads us to the conclusion it’s an internal problem that is causing the issue.  Unfortunately Putnam Park does not allow overnight camping and you must exit the track by 7:30 PM or be eating by the vicious attack dogs they release on the property (the latter are lawyers if you stay b/c it violates their insurance – though same thing).

Jim Trying to Figure Out Problem

So – I can’t run at all on Friday nor the race weekend.  Well the day turned out to not be a total loss as my friend Sid arranged to let me drive his car Friday in the HPDE 1-2 group so I can get some seat time before the Enduro that evening.  This is why I enjoy racing with this group so much.  We are all here to help each other out and help each other get better.  So I get to run some laps with Neal coaching me and enjoy point-bys to a 150hp 944 by a 400+ hp Z06 Corvette and many other high powered cars.  To say more about Sid – as I was now settled that my race weekend was over Sid then tried to check wiring and see if there’s a wire grounding somewhere in the harness by bending the wiring loom.  I owe Sid some good sake!

I still raced b/c Sid and I co drive in the NASA Enduro series E3 class using his car.  And we were doing quite well besides the fact that Timing & Scoring was completely down during the Enduro.  We were doing pretty well too as I stayed in the car for a long time and passed several cars in class and many other cars in class already pitted.  At the end of the race we were the top 944 in class but nowhere near the podium as I screwed up.  I made my first serious mistake in my racing career- a mix of probably too much aggression, frustration and a touch of desperation.  I started out the race in 15th place (qualifying was simply a number drawn from a hat).  Seems my trick of leaving my thumb over the 5 showing only the 1 didn’t mean we were on pole position.

The race started out well with even though I missed almost all of Friday’s practice runs and I only had about 10 laps in a DE group.  I lost several positions at the start – mainly to cars with 100+ more HP than mine that started behind me on grid, but I also let a couple Spec Miatas in class by which were must faster than me.  After that I settled into a groove and started picking up the pace consistently running 1:26 laptimes – a decent Enduro pace.  I was able to then reel back in several other cars in class (even ones I let pass me in the first couple of laps).  In our normal race groups Spec Miatas and 944-Spec are different classes and do not compete, however in Enduro we are in the E3 race group and compete w/in the same class (fun!).

About 1/2 way through the race we must have been doing pretty well as my pace was good, car was running great and many other competitors were pitting already (944 has a larger fuel tank so we can run longer and in some races it give us the advantage of only needing 1 pit stop to gas up).  That is until I caught up with Angel who was driving Ray’s 944-Spec car.  I caught him pretty quickly and what ensued as a multi lap battle of me trying to pass him without forcing the issue.  Repeatedly I would get right on his bumper and try to brake up the inside but it would hurt my exit speed or the following corner he would have the inside line.  The place where I was much than him was one of the most dangerous places to pass on the track (turn 1/2 complex)  Turn 1/2 complex is a high speed slightly cambered corner.  I was much faster in 1 that the exit to 1 and entrance to turn 2 I would carry substantially more speed, unfortunately Angle had to brake significantly more into the entrance to turn 2 that several times I almost rear ended him.

After several laps of we were caught by a Spec Miata I previously passed who then started putting pressure on me enough that I let him by hoping I could follow him if Angel permitted the pass to him.  So I let him by and in Turn 10 he was pressuring Angel getting side by side slowing them both up.  I got an even better run out of 10 but had no where to go and a lot of momentum so I bump drafted the black Miata hoping he’d get a good run down the straight and I could follow him through.  Well in the chaos of turn 10 another white Miata that was much faster than us down the straight took the far inside lane as he had an unimpeded exit to turn 10.

So we go down the main straight over 100mph with Angel in the 944 on the left (outside) and two Miatas (on his inside) going 3 wide and with me following behind the middle car (black Miata).  As we approach Turn 1 I decided I was going to follow the middle Miata through and stay on the inside so I can then pass Angel.  Well it turns out I followed the wrong car as the black Miata hit his brakes much earlier than the other two (so soon I wasn’t expecting it).  What ensued was one of the scariest driving moments in my racing career.  In order to avoid the black Miata I had to jerk the car to the left side of the track (outside) hoping I can then slow down for the corner…well Angel is there starting to brake hard in a straight line and I’m still recovering the car to the point where I can only brake very little and only go straight and off track at a high speed.

Unfortunately the off track vector I had aimed me directly for berm that would have ramped me over the entrance road to Putnam Park if the hay bales in front would not stop me!  All concentrated on was not hitting it so I gave it some light braking to get the car to steer to the right.  Well it worked as I was able to miss that damn berm but my high rate of speed gave me some dukes of hazard style air time going over these small moguls, with the car also skipping over the gravel trap like a flat stone thrown across a pond.  At the end of that wild ride the car still steered, the engine worked, all gauges read normal so I started my way back to the track.  That is until white smoke came up under the hood.  I smelled burning grass – not gas or oil, just grass but enough that it was about to catch fire and fire in the engine bay is not good.  So I pulled off right next to a flag station to get some help as I did not want to set off the cars fire system as that would automatically end our enduro race.  Seems my incident caused a red flag lap so I feel bad in messing up anyone elses’ race b/c of it.

That evening I had several margaritas…probably more than I should but Saturday is officially a normal weekend now with no racing so I could do it.  How I hate Tequila but not so much in a margarita.

The rest of the group had a great weekend of racing (with exception of Ray whose car threw a rod ending his weekend too).  Eric posted a great video of the Saturday rain race, so enjoy:

Lessons learned this weekend: #1: Don’t take anything for granted – a lot of hard work and effort off the track is required to be successful.  #2: Enduro races are won by being consistent, mitigating mistakes, and taking care of the equipment.

I also had a wonderful epiphany this weekend about the progression of my driving.  I can remember doing my first DE 6 years ago and thinking of how good a driver I was – only to be humbled.  After doing DEs for quite a time I started again thinking I was a good driver until I started running with the Advanced groups – only to be humbled.  After becoming an instructor and now teaching high performance driving to new students I was again thinking how good of a driver I was – only to be humbled again.  I started racing a couple years ago and thought I was a good driver until I ran in a Spec class with some of the fastest guys in the country – yet another humbling feeling.  Just waiting for my next humbling…and there you go – you want to learn to drive fast – expect to be humbled frequently!

Going Home - Still with a Smile

  1. Palmer says:

    Hey man.

    We have all been there atleast once or twice with the racecars. Sucks you had to drive back all that way; and lots of thinking to get yourself in trouble I am sure.

    Well lets hope it gets figured out and that you can make Gingerman.

    Lets also hope that my car atleast has doors on it by the time you blog next 😉

    Later Gator

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