Pitt Race – SCCA Majors – 5/11-5/12/19

Pitt Race is my second round of the SCCA Majors this year. The format is a bit different from the NASA stuff and kicks off Saturday morning by going straight into qualifying. No practice, no warmup, just get out there and throw down some flyers. I had raced GTS2 at Pitt Race in 2017 so was familiar with the track. It is a nice facility that has been updated and the track repaved. The elevation change and blind turns make it exciting as you trust yourself that the track is still in the same spot as you squeeze the throttle to the floor.

Qualifying went really well. I had previously done a 1.58 in my GTS2 E36 M3. The track record for Touring 1 was a 1.48, but luckily my T1 E46 is a much faster car than the E36. Within a few laps I saw a 1.51 on my AiM dash. Not bad, but I knew there was more in it. Backed it off for a lap to cool down the tires and get a gap and made a final run to put down a good qualifying time. I was rewarded with a 1.50 and a P3 stating position.

The race was a lot less interesting and I was not thrilled with my own driving. A car behind us tried to win into T1 at the start of the race. It created this huge mess of splitters, brake ducting, and all sorts of debris through the turn. I went off line several times to avoid both cars and debris. Ended up picking up a bunch of old rubber off line on the track and it became a disaster to drive as I tip toed around with slag on the tires. While I finished P3, I was not thrilled with my driving for the day. My punishment was to take a heat gun to the tires and scrape off the extra rubber I had picked up on track.

Sunday once again brought rain. The forecast was supposed to be clear after raining overnight, but an eerie mist that continued all day kept the track damp. I put rains on just to be safe, but there was definitely way more grip than I expected for how wet it was. Pitt race has a lot of grip in the rain, maybe in part due to the repaved surface from 2017. Another P3 for the day.

With the event being just four days away at VIR, Hugh and I took some time after the race to prep the car so that I wouldn’t have much to do during the week. The alignment was a bit off, but nothing drastic. Loaded the car up and we were ready to head home. The racing wasn’t quite satisfying enough for the weekend. As we packed up, we decided to check out the massive karting course. They were still open! Not a single person was on the track. We quickly paid and sat thru the safety briefing. The track was wet with enough of a mist coming down that it would stay wet.

Karting in the rain might be one of my favorite things ever. Normally I feel beat up after a couple of sessions, but karting sideways in the wet doesn’t beat you up as badly, and is an excellent car control exercise. The course took a few laps to learn and Hugh and I picked up the pace. Soon we were tandem drifting through the first few turns. One of the kart track employees saw that we weren’t total noobs at driving and joined us for the next round. We were soaked from the spray of our karts, and  a spin or two in the mud. It was a good way to wrap up the weekend at Pittsburgh International Race Complex. Long haul home to get back to work, and then off to VIR in a few days.

NJMP Lightning – NASA NE 5/3-5/5/19

The first NASA NorthEast race of the season was at NJMP Lightning. This isn’t a favorite track of mine, but it has been growing on me in the past few years. The weekend started on with Friday’s test day. Four sessions of open testing with the faster Thunder race group. Thunder Race group consists of the faster half of racecars that run with NASA. Super Touring Unlimited, 1, 2, 3, German Touring Series 3, 4, Unlimited, American Iron, and American Iron Extreme.

Friday’s practice day started with a 1.12 around the track. I needed to find 2 more seconds to be competitive in the Super Touring 2 field. Super Touring 2 is a 1:8 power to weight ratio class. I was low on power and heavy on weight, but the ST2 field was too good to pass up. Racing a variety of cars like the Corvettes and Mustangs was also good to get used to since it similarly reflects the SCCA T1 field. By the end of the day Friday, I was at a low 1.11 around the track.

Saturday morning I opted to skip practice. I had plenty of seat time on Friday to get comfortable around the track, and there was no point on beating on the car any more than necessary. After looking at data Friday night, I identified some areas for improvement and visualized how I would put those in place. Doing my homework yielded me a 1.10.7 for qualifying. I was sitting in P3 when I pulled off. As I rolled across scales, I pulled out Race Hero to see that my fellow ST2ers were able to put down some even faster times. I was starting the race 5th with only a few tenths that separated all of us.

Racing with a bunch of Corvettes seems to be the theme for 2019
Neat capture of myself with Jenn Krpata in her ST1 car

The race was fun. At the start, the Corvettes pulled away with ease. I managed to make up that distance in the braking zones, but being significantly overweight for the class, my competitors started to pull away. As we hit traffic from out of class cars, I was able to reel them back in and put some pressure on them. A full course yellow came out when a prototype car spun off into the sand trap at T7. I watched as three of my competitors missed the flags and continued to race. They were later disqualified for passing under yellow. Doug Winston and I had a close couple of laps. I managed to pass him going into Turn 2. There was a local yellow over the crest of 5, so I tried to wave off his pass but he didn’t see it in time and passed me back under yellow.

Despite the passes under yellow, it was a fun NASA season opener with the Super Touring 2 guys. The post race DQs bumped me to third. Podium for the first NASA round in the new car. Very reminiscent of my first race in the E36 in 2017 where I also took 3rd on Saturday.

Sunday’s weather brought a constant showers which left me uninterested in racing in the rain. While I’d normally run in the rain, the car was is still very new to me and there are plenty more races in the upcoming weeks.

SCCA Majors at Summit Point – 4/26-4/28/2019

When you build a new car, and you finally are about to hit the track, there are so many things that can go wrong. Or there are so many things that can go right. 

Luckily last weekend, my experience was the latter. My Hi-Speed Motorsports built E46 M3 was ready to hit the track for the first time ever after a long winter build. 

Gridding up with Hugh Stewart’s #23

As I strapped in and fired her up, I noticed how different the car was to my old E36. There were a lot of doubts that went through my mind leading up to the weekend. Was I going to be overwhelmed by the power difference? Was I rushing things going into a race weekend with only a day of testing? I was nervous.

The forecast for Friday morning and afternoon was rainy. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of driving a new car in the rain. Luckily, the rain held out and I quickly brought the car to grid. First session, I was told by Hugh to just do a few easy laps. “Make sure nothing falls off”. Lol. Reassuring right? A few laps later, we checked over the car. Everything looked and felt good. Now it is time to get to work.

Second session was better. I wasn’t quite sure where the limiter was. Used to the 7k redline in the S52, I was short shifting without realizing how far off I was from 8200. Did a 1.19 around Summit. Not bad. At least I’m going faster than I did in my old car. My best in the E36 was a 1.21.7. I knew there was more grip in the new car. Got my time down to a low 1.19 by the third session before the rain came down.

Saturday morning gave us a session of practice. I warmed up my mind and car, with a few laps. In qualifying I brought it down to a 1.18. Sweet! Qualified P4. Hugh and Jonathan were in the 1.17 range so I still had some work to do but getting faster. I saw a black flag come out, pointed at me. Uh oh. Brought the car into pits. I was pulled aside and given a warning for blowing the sound limit. SCCA rules have a 103db sound limit and my car blew a 109 several times! Yikes. Thats loud. I lost my qualifying time for blowing the sound limit. Time to start my first race in the E46 from the back of the race group.

Starting from the back of the pack always makes for good race video. Of course I didn’t set up my new SmartyCam right and didn’t capture any of it. By Turn 3, I had made it back up to P4 and had a good view of the bumpers of Jonathan Vasquez, Hugh Stewart, and Joe Gaudette. Halfway through they started to gap me, and I got the dreaded sound warning at start finish. This forced me to lift for a large section of track into T1 where the sound meter was located. Needless to say this hurt my times for the rest of the race as I watched the top 3 drive away. I maintained a comfortable gap to P5 so I just stayed where I was, lifting for the sound meter for the remainder of the race.

First race photo captured by Tian Xia

After the race, Hugh and I ran out to NAPA where we bought a 4″ elbow and he quickly welded the piece onto my exhaust. This turned the exhaust the opposite direction of the sound meter, hopefully diffusing the sound before it got there. Nut and bolt everything, and then time for some rest.

Hugh broke out the welder to turn my exhaust away from the sound meter

Sunday’s race almost seemed like a wash. We woke up to rain pounding down on the track. Only a few cars were going out for their qualifying sessions. By the time our race group was called, the rain had stopped but the track was still damp. We upped our starting tire pressure by 2psi and gridded up. The first few laps were damp, but surprisingly more grip than we expected. Black flag all came out halfway through for a car on fire in T1. After cleanup, we took the green again for another 10 laps. I ended up with the same sound warning despite our efforts to turn the exhaust away from the sound meter. Had to settle for a P4 again.

Overall a really successful first weekend at the track. I’m happy with the times in the new car and my quick adjustment to the new build. It will be a busy season with the car with four race weekends in a row!

Hi-Speed Motorsports BMWs: Myself, Hugh Stewart, and Jonathan Vasquez