I've been accepted to the Ultimate Track Car Challenge @ Virginia International Raceway May 18/19!
UTCC is a no holds barred, no rules time attack competition held at VIR every year. It's put together by Grassroots Motorsports. Coincides with NASA's Hyperfest which is a motorsports festival with live music shows late into the night, vendor rows, drifting, w2w racing and lots of other stuff going on. It's probably the single largest amateur motorsports event in North America. Tens of thousands of people will filter through the gates during the 4 day event.
I'm joining the guys at 949Racing / Supermiata to make the journey to Virginia and see if we can raise some eyebrows of those who never thought a Miata could play in the deep end. They're taking Bullet, the car they ran at SLB 2017 but now with the knob turned wayyy up on the boost and making north of 400whp. That will be a monster. Mine will be the car with less power but more refined aero and probably more total downforce. VIR has some suuuper long straights so I expect more power will make the faster car there, but in the Miatas vs the World conquest, I think between the two cars we'll be able to accomplish a lot.
The plan after GTA Round 1 was to make a few big aero updates to the car with the relatively large gap I had before Round 3 in June. I was just starting to dive into that when I got word about UTCC. Suddenly the timeframe was cut in half, the car needs to be ready to head across the country by May 13! I axed a few things off the list that I knew I couldn't get to, and spent every day since then in the shop after work to bring as much of the updates to fruition in time. The largest change is an entirely new front end aero setup, but I also had to make several changes to be NASA compliant (like moving the lithium battery from the passenger area to the trunk), and move to a new even larger rear wing. I'll have pics at some point.
Format for UTCC this year is interesting. Friday is as it has always been, essentially a time attack format where fastest lap time of the day from multiple sessions counts. However, new for 2018, the fastest 20 cars plus 3 staff picks go to a Knockout round on Saturday:
The field of 23 cars will be released from the false grid onto a green track. After two laps, the three cars with the slowest best lap times will be black flagged and will immediately return to the pits. With each successive lap the three slowest cars for THAT lap will be removed. That means each lap is unique and only serves to eliminate the three slowest cars on that lap. This process continues with each lap until the field has been trimmed to the fastest five. The top five will receive a white flag at the start/finish line indicating they are on their final lap. The fastest time for that final lap is the winner.
After the Knockout Finals are complete, we’ll pull the top five cars over to the podium by the tech shed in the paddock and announce first, second and third place and hand out awards.
The key to this competition is consistency, since the times reset with every round. And per the NASA time trials rules, if a driver places more than two wheels off course during an incident, or has both front or both rear wheels off course at the same time, they are automatically eliminated.
It's been a lot of long hours to get the new front finished in time for UTCC (original deadline for next event was June). Tested Friday at WSIR with the 949 guys. Mega grip, doing 1:27's while just cruising and doing systems check on cycled RC1s.
Lots of scraping, ride height was a little too low. Lost a CV joint boot on the right axle which ended the day, but I had found the weak points that needed correction so it was job done. Sat/Sun were long days. Built struts to support the rear endplates (GT1000 is an animal, serious suction under that wing, Emilio and I were both bending the endplates through T8 and down the front straight). Resized the front endplates, made new titanium wear strips for the front endplates with rounded edges to reduce the shock when they scrape, added an additional mounting point in the splitter with corresponding mount in the frame (good problem to have, tons of downforce), pulled the axle and replaced the boot, raised the car a half inch front and rear to improve clearance. Got it buttoned up last night and the car's with 949 now.
Three days to catch up on sleep. I'm not stoked about the weather forecast, there's definitely going to be rain at some point this weekend, but we have a tire strategy in place.
Whew! It’s been a crazy few weeks. Some of you guys have probably already seen posts about the event elsewhere but I want to be sure to keep the build thread up to date.
The final couple weeks prepping for UTCC were full of a lot of long days. Moti of Blackbird Fabworx and I had just finished up the new front aero config and it would be debuting at UTCC. For the new splitter I had to make all new mountings, ducting and airdam. I also moved to a new GT1000 wing at the rear to balance. Just a couple days before the car needed to be loaded up for the journey I got out to Willow Springs International Raceway for a shakedown.
First impressions were great. Mega grip, doing 1:27's while just cruising and doing systems check on used RC1 tires. Front aero was doing a lot of scraping, ride height was a little too low. Lost a CV joint boot on the right axle which ended the day, but I had found the weak points that needed correction so it was job done.
Sat/Sun were long days. Built struts to support the rear endplates (GT1000 is an animal, serious suction under that wing, Emilio and I were both bending the endplates through T8 and down the front straight). Resized the front endplates, made new titanium wear strips for the front endplates with rounded edges to reduce the shock when they scrape, added an additional mounting point in the splitter with corresponding mount in the frame (good problem to have, tons of downforce), pulled the axle and replaced the boot, raised the car a half inch front and rear to improve clearance. Got it buttoned up and then loaded with the 949 guys. Sonny and Manny began the tow across the country. I had 3 days to catch up on sleep.
The weather forecast wasn’t looking good for UTCC on Friday, but guys from that area said it can change rapidly. We made sure we had a rain tire strategy and packed jackets and rain-X. Well, everyone but John, who only wears shorts and T shirts...
Thursday came, CA to VA.
Prepping Friday morning, very wet.
Morning conditions were abysmal, needed to pack snorkels. Went out anyways on the rain tires and did some easy laps. Some epic pics were the up-side:
The weather was shifting constantly. We would watch the weather till the last minute, pick tires, go out and then the weather would change as soon as you hit the track. Rain tires can’t be run on a dry line because you’ll literally burn them to nothing in less than a lap, and slicks simply don’t work in the rain. UTCC drivers were split into an A and B group, with both Emilio in the Supermiata and myself in group B. During group A’s first timed session, the track dried up and there was a nearly completely dry line all the way around the track. That session got delayed a couple times due to cars going off, etc. and went super long which pushed our group B session later and later. Not knowing what the conditions were on-track, we both went out on rain tires.
On the out-lap we discovered what group A had been enjoying: a perfectly dry line. We both quickly worked our way around the track careful to not overheat the rain tires and then pulled right back in to the pits to swap to slicks. The team swapped Emilio’s wheels first, he went back out, and then they jumped to my car. As the jack released and let me back on to the ground, the first rain drops began to fall again. By the time I got to the track entry, it was pouring. I went out, determined to try to get a lap in just to have something in the books. It was standing water everywhere and the slicks felt like there was nothing connected to the steering wheel. I had an off in T4, and on wet grass the only thing to stop you is the tire wall.
I was OK, but this was a really low moment for me, sitting in the car unable to see how badly it was damaged and knowing there was no way for any of that new aero to have survived. So many hours in the car, so much work from everyone to get it all the way across the country, and I get a couple soaking wet laps and the weekend is over. The tow truck brought me back to the pits, damaging the hood during the tow just to help rub things in.
Back in the pits it was as I feared: the splitter was destroyed along with damage to the ducting, hood, fender, door, barge board, the rear wing and the steering. The 949 guys shared their condolences but immediately sprang into “how can we get this thing back on the track?” mode. I was still reeling from the anger and frustration of so many hours lost and so many more suddenly piled up ahead of me to repair it, but Emilio had some sage words of advice: “When you’re home and you look back on today a month from now, you’ll wish you had tried to repair it if you don’t.” I sat down for a little while to think things through, and anger turned to determination. This is not how this weekend was going to end.
We came up with a game plan to graft 949’s small backup splitter on to the car, build new splitter mounts, hammer the fender into rough shape, leave the rest of the body damage as it was and tape up the rest, and just run what was left of the wing (which was just the primary element). Everyone jumped in and helped. At some point, someone dropped by our pits to make sure I was OK for those following along on MiataTurbo.net which I really appreciated and snapped this pic. Not sure why I was smiling, likely just delusional:
She wasn’t pretty, but it would do:
Sonny did an on-the-fly toe fix to get the wheels pointed roughly straight. Then we discovered the power steering rack had cracked and lost fluid. That required some more Macgyvering; with no way to seal the rack, we scavenged a couple lines from the steering cooler to create a loop from the pump outlet back to the reservoir so the pump could run and cycle its fluid and not burn itself up. We left the steering rack just open-air depowered with tape over the open ports. It might not feel great, but I could steer.
To be sure we had enough work to do, Bullet went into the wall the session after me. Emilio somehow got it back to the pits without a tow, so about the time we got Hyper patched up it was time to jump on Bullet as get that one back into shape.
Sonny made this montage from me going back out for the final session of the day. It felt as big as any win to just be driving the car back out onto the track.
I was just happy to be moving:
The conditions were even worse than the morning. They black flagged the session and shut the track down for the day due to the rain flooding a portion of the track. Back in the pits though, it was high fives all around.
With such terrible conditions ruining most of the day and only half the UTCC field getting a chance at a decent lap, GRM pulled some strings to give everyone a single session on Saturday. We crossed our fingers with the hopes of getting a shot at a dry track, but the rain gods weren’t going to let that fly. When the session came on Saturday, a massive cloud rolled in and dumped on the track just 15 minutes before the session, and left about 30 minutes after the session ended. No chance.
Unfortunately, this means the UTCC results for this year are pretty much meaningless; the top half of the results are group A who got nearly dry conditions for one session, group B never got a shot.
With Saturday’s UTCC session pointless, we all turned our attention to supporting Bullet which was being driven by Sonny in STU and TTU against a bunch of exotic hardware.
The forecast for Sunday looked clear and I realized I might be able to get a chance at some dry laps. Sunday morning I spoke with the NASA staff and lucked into getting a spot in HPDE3. YES I was going to finally get to drive VIR a bit.
First session was full of traffic and got cut short by the splitter scraping on the ground. We got to work reinforcing and adding mounts. More Macguyvering, and a couple endplates gave their lives to further support the damaged splitter.
Second session out, the splitter was holding and I was just loving the chance to begin to feel the rhythm of VIR’s complexes at some speed. There was zero aero grip compared to what the car usually has and the steering was a little wonky, but the car still felt decently quick and I was going to enjoy this. Still had traffic on every lap but began to get the feel of things and find a little speed. Here are a 2:03 and 2:04 among traffic:
Third session, finally a bit of clear track ahead of me. 1:58.9 Second fastest Miata to ever lap VIR, behind only Bullet which Sonny did a 1:57.x in on Saturday. I’ll take that. Bruised and battered, but still fighting:
In the craze of the weekend I had forgotten to charge the GoPro so I didn’t get that lap on video. C’est la vie.
The team after three days of busting our butts in the rain. Low on sleep, a little loopy, and thoroughly satisfied:
Looking at TT results for Sunday: https://racehero.io/events/nasa-ma-vir- ... 18/results If I had ran NASA TT my 1:58.9 would have taken 3rd overall for the entire day, behind only two TTU cars (Dan Raver in the LS7 Superlight and Sonny in Bullet). Faster than every entry in TT1, TT2, etc.
It wasn’t the way any of us envisioned the weekend going, but I was still all smiles just to have had a dry day at VIR and a respectable lap time to hang my hat on until we have a chance to return.
The car had to make the week-long trip back across the country, and it was still held together by duct tape. By the end of Sunday, I didn’t want to even think about all the work that lay ahead to repair the car. Before we left for VIR I had signed up for Global Time Attack’s ProAm round 2 on June 3. There’s no way I was going to make that event.
I flew home and had a few days to myself before the car returned to think things over. One day in, I had already decided I was going to run at GTA. When the car returned I had four days with it before I needed to be on the road to Willow Springs International Raceway. I did a full inspection on the car, separated the list of repairs by priority and focused on just what it absolutely needed. The 2017 front and rear aero package came out of the office and went back on, and I rebuilt a few items that were needed to make that possible.
It was a hectic few days, but by Friday it was ready to rock.
Willow Springs International Raceway, GTA ProAm Round 2. Just days from arriving back in CA with a broken car.
Session 1 was already hot out in the desert. I took an early lead with a 1:26.8. With most of the Unlimited class cars on the East coast for the recent Pro event we realized that I was in the race for the top time of the day, with a Limited AWD GTR nipping at my heels a few thousands behind, and the rest of the Limited class a bit further behind.
By mid-day it was 104°F ambient / 138°F surface temps. Way too hot for the tires, they were greasy even on the out lap, which made for a wild ride at full pace. It’s been a while since I’ve driven WSIR so despite the heat I found a few more tenths with a 1:26.5. The GTR went slower, and I took the overall top time of day in addition to my class win.
Sorry for the lack of updates gents, things always get crazy at the end of the season and with the additional chaos of moving our Goodwin Racing home to a new larger location I've been even more tied up.
We won the Pro Am round 3 at Buttonwillow which also meant winning the ProAm season for Limited class (the season points are measured against competitors with all drivetrains).
For that event I got the repaired GT1000 wing back on the car. Had to trim it down a lot in angle to balance with the 2017 front end. It was a hot day but still the first time I was able to take Riverside completely flat out, so the wing is definitely an improvement over the last... which is saying quite a bit coming from a massive Kognition airfoil before. I used to enter Riverside at about 110 mph and bleed down to 106 or so at the apex before accelerating out. This time I'm entering with my foot on the floor never lifting and at that same point I was doing 106, now I'm at 114 mph and climbing. Power felt low all day and I had worries the engine was getting tired. Then in the last session after splashing some fresh gas in the power came back. I did some backtracking in my head on the age of the E85 that I had left in the tank and it was just at the 3 month mark in age. One of those things.. you know E85 ages out but then when you have an experience like that it really underlines it for you. I'll be ensuring I get fresh fuel for every event in the future.
Following that, all eyes have been set on Superlap Battle. The primary focus has been rebuilding the 2018 front aero, with a trip back up to Blackbird Fabworx. We ended up cutting the splitter in half, putting the good half back in the mold and building out the other half fresh the same way we made the original. Pretty darn cool to do the whole layup and put it under vacuum and the finished half and the fresh carbon half just suck into the mold like a glove and cure together. Not saying it was easy, but certainly rewarding.
Finished splitter came back to San Diego with me and then it was thrash time to rebuild the brackets, ducting, front bumper, etc. for that front end. The last of the VIR damage disappeared with the addition of some carbon/kevlar fenders.
Tired of the issues with the SPEC clutch I swapped to a Luk factory clutch/flywheel. Not ideal, but given the choice between 20 lbs and a clutch that works, I know what I'm picking. Lots of other small updates like changing to Stoptech's race floating rotor that allows a little more float which should help with knockback from the flexible factory front uprights. Full inspection on the car, replaced several bits, etc. Another corner balance and alignment and then we were ready to do a shakedown of all the new stuff.
With Superlap Battle coming up on the 8th, I went out to Streets of Willow this past Saturday. Great shakedown overall, worked through the many little things that always pop up on shakedowns with new parts, and the car feels great. The good news is the clutch is shifting way better. The bad news is that 5th gear is toast, too many times grinding into gear and the damage was already done before I changed to the factory clutch. It got worse through the day to where at the end of the day it refused to go into 5th any more.
Despite that, we happened to set a new Miata lap record for CCW with a 1:19.31... while coasting down the straight in 4th, and on the street tires we run at GTA. So, a lot of things are working right. Both aero and mechanical grip are dialed.
So, we're back at the shop and last night I got the drivetrain out. I have another MV7 here, it's the one I was running in 2017 that never shifted right because the shifter pivot was seized. We fiddled with the pivot for a couple hours and got it freed up, so in it went! This trans has had plenty of grinding into gear on the old spec clutch as well, so its health is unknown but it was still working when it came out so now with the good clutch in it hopefully it's happy. Sit rep as of last night:
She's back in the car now, getting the last bits bolted on and fluids in tonight. Fingers crossed the trans is good and we'll be rocking and rolling in two days at Buttonwillow.