Pandemic throws 2020 schedule into a tailspin

My initial plans for the 2020 season have ground to a halt due to the pandemic. The Tire Rack Street Survival event I was going to instruct at in April? Cancelled. The Sebring 12 Hour race I was going to miss due to the NCAA tournament games I was going to attend, but watch on the DVR? Cancelled and cancelled. My first flagging opportunity will be in the first weekend of May, but I’m doubting it’ll happen. Autocross has been up in the air since last year due to the lack of sites my SCCA region has gained. We had a plan to host a few events at a site about 1 hour south of my home, but since the pandemic broke loose I haven’t heard any more about it.

Personally, my first organized event is our June track day at Lime Rock Park with my Patroon BMW chapter. I’m starting to think that will likely fall victim. Trillium Chapter’s Calabogie track weekend I’m scheduled to attend in July? It’s probably a 50/50 shot of happening at this point. Even if the US decides to end the guidelines for the pandemic, who knows if Canada will do the same?

Stay safe, ‘cuz it’s gotten weird out there.

2019 SCCA Runoffs @ ViR

Just got back from a week away at the 2019 running of the SCCA Runoffs, the national championship event for SCCA road racing competitors.

I signed up to corner marshal for six days of the event – basically all of the qualifying and races, minus the test days. This was my second Runoffs, having attended the 2017 Runoffs held at Indy.

It was exciting to visit ViR, a track I haven’t been to since 2005, when I was participating in One Lap of America as a co-driver in a lightly modified E46 BMW owned by my friend Christo Tinkov. The SCCA staff did a good job of changing up our assignments each day, making sure we got different stations each day and thus different perspectives of the track. I was at 1 (Horse Shoe), 6 (Snake), 7 (Snake), 9 (Climbing Esses), 15 (Rollercoaster), and 17 (Hog Pen).

Rustic stations look great, but the shingles leave a lot to be desired when it starts to rain.
The view of Oak Tree from the access road.
Jared Lendrum brought his T3 STI and his T4 BRZ.
Honda had a T3 Civic factory racer on site.
The data acquisition guys from MoHud discuss their work.
With vendors on site, you can try on flagger suits before you buy them.
Working station 1, we discuss how we’ll work the day.
MoHud racers Jared Lendrum and Charlie Campbell attend the NER paddock party.
MoHud flag chief Rich Alexander catches up with Montreal F1 friends.
Found MoHud racer Jason Smith and his AS Mustang.
Flag meetings kick off before the sun comes up.
A Spec Racer Ford left it’s hood at our station after dropping two wheels over the curbing.
I’ll take a ride from anyone.
Beautiful moon over our cabin in Buffalo Junction, Va.
A back marker spraying oil for 2 laps meant big problems for competitors in the GT-1 race.
The tradition toast ends the event, honoring those members who have passed during the year.

By the end of the week, we all agreed that after being on our feet all week, we’d appreciate the sitting for the long ride home that much more. It seemed odd not being in that early morning flag routine come Monday morning. A good way to send off the year that was the 2019 race season.

Vinyl wrap for the Evo

I have a family friend’s daughter who recently got a new job at a graphics shop. I was checking out the website and noticed they did vinyl wraps for vehicles, so I figured I throw them a bone and have them do my Evo’s hood. It’s a bit road rashed at this point with all the track days I’ve done with it, so it could use a refresh. I think the results are pretty good! As a buddy point out to me, most carbon fiber hoods for the Evo actually weigh MORE than the stock aluminum hood (unless you get a dry carbon fiber one, which is four figures), so the wrap makes a lot of sense for me.

Thanks to the gang at Graphicworx for the nice job!

MoHud Solo event #2 @ Berkshire Mall

We had good weather for our first autocross on Sunday August 11th, 2019, at the now-closed Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough, MA. The lot that is available for use and in appropriate condition was somewhat small (D below), so the course was pretty tight for the Evo. I couldn’t really get on the power, which is the Evo’s forte, so I was left fighting it out mid-pack while the nimble cars ruled the day, with the exception of a very well driven F Street Camaro. Cars were gridded up in the upper left corner of the C lot, and cars were paddocked in the rest of the lot to the right. We had a lot spectators show up, which is unusual. The 65 entrants put on a good show for them, and even one of the EMTs attending the town mandated ambulance got to take a ride. Event results can be found on the MoHud Solo webpage.

Trillium Chapter BMW CCA @ Calabogie Motorsports Park

My first time back to Calabogie Motorsports Park since 2017, when I blew a turbo in my first session and discovered the real value of my newly purchased 2016 Chevy Colorado tow vehicle and a 2015 Econotrailer. It’s a great facility, with yet another new garage onsite, and has a fantastic track layout. The track has a reputation of being a real tire grinder, and that once again held true. I arrived with a set of Nitto NT-01 tires that had six light sessions from Lime Rock Park on them, and when I left after three days, two tires had the outlines of tread on them, and the other two were worn smooth.

The hot weather that plagued the northeast US the weekend of July 19th, 2019, was also present in western Ontario. Friday’s portion was an open track day for attendees, so I had no students to take care and could focus on my driving. This was to be the coming out of my Evo after a season of mechanical issues, including the aforementioned turbo demise, a rebuilt tranny, a replaced head gasket, and my more recent CV boot replacement and rerouted brake ducting. These changes held up to a last-minute event I attended at the end of June with CT Valley Chapter BMW CCA at Lime Rock, and so I was hopeful they would do the same here. Spoiler alert: the car held up well. I was a bit worn out, but the Evo was good.

Days Two and Three were a traditional HPDE, and I was assigned two students. Neither of my students had been to this track before, so I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to sign anyone off in good conscience at least until the second day of the HPDE. This is no fault of the students, as I had a very difficult time as an A student when I first visited, taking three sessions before I learned every corner. The heat was brutal, and having back-to-back-to-back sessions of an instructor session, the A session, and the B session meant you were in a car for nearly a full hour. I ended up skipping a session or two of my own. As luck would have it, my A student got bumped down to C as it was a lightly attended group and allowed him to better learn the track without having to continuously watch his mirrors and issue point-bys. My B student was a very critical thinker on the track that quickly picked up a set of skills that made him one of the quickest cars out there, despite his modest HP car. Both were very entertaining gentlemen and underscored my sense of track folks being some of the best folks around.

Trillium Chapter put on this event, and they did a hell of a job. Isi P, the president of the chapter, wasn’t driving this weekend, and he did much of the heavy lifting in making sure the event went smooth. Need coolers of ice for the 40 cases of water for attendees? Isi got them. The food shack is no longer on site and can’t feed the 100+ attendees? Isi arranged with a local grocery store to make brown bag lunches each day for attendees to purchase. He did a hell of a job.

Another side story was from a fellow instructor I met from the Quebec BMW CC chapter. He showed us Americans an email that Quebec Chapter and Ottawa Chapter members received an email urging them to boycott this event. We were stumped as to why, but as we dug into the details, we found out that Trillium Chapter, centered in Toronto, was drummed out of BMW Club Canada due to a disagreement between Trillium and the other Canadian chapters based on voting rights – Trillium members represent about 40% of total Club Canada membership, so they wanted proportional voting as opposed to 1 chapter, 1 vote. I heard the arguments from both sides, and I had to agree that Trillium made a good point. Why should another Club Canada chapter with 19 members have the same say as a chapter with 1,000 members? We flew a pirate and beer flag as part of our paddock camp, and we felt the pirate flag held even more meaning after learning about this issue. Oh, the resolution for Trillium is they petitioned and were granted the ability to join BMW Car Club of America, so this move has actually benefited them as they gained

I had done some homework and verified that the local Calabogie Brewing microbrewery had some good stock on hand, so I stopped in and stocked up on some of their Five Island Watermelon Gose and Front Porch Kolsch. One of the highlights of this event is come 5pm when the track goes cold, we gather under our EZ Up and start bench racing with some brews. Being this far into Canada, there’s not much going on in Calabogie, so many just hang around the track and socialize on a regular basis. Our gang of 4 Patroon Chapter members were able to paddock together and visited on a regular basis, and were able to attract a steady stream of characters to stop in and visit with us. Great times!

Crossing the border note: I bring my stepson’s old BMX bike with me, on a rack attached to my trailer. The Canadian border guard took one look at it and said “Who uses that bike?” I told him I do, and I could see he was going to challenge me on that before he broke out into a smile and just accepted my answer.

IMSA & WEC – Super Sebring 2019 Prologue

The Super Sebring event was a great event, but it turned out to be a grind for the flagger crew. Other than the Wednesday of the event, the rest of the days – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – were incredibly long days (and nights).

We started our event with registering as corner marshals with Central Florida Region of SCCA, and then wandering around the WEC paddock.

Super Sebring paddock crawl brings Fernando Alonso at the Toyota Gazoo garage.

Other than Mr. Alonso, we really didn’t see any other motorsports “stars”, but there were some amazing sights.

Ever see a tent holding 15,000 Michelin race tires?

The WEC has a decent span of cars, and seem to resemble many of the marques and models racing in the IMSA Weathertech Series.

Friday’s WEC race was OK, but they definitely needed a bigger field of cars, and also need competition that can match the Toyota hybrids. Double the number of cars out there and it would have been a phenomenal event. Saturday’s IMSA race was more entertaining, but the rain Saturday morning meant it had a slow start before the action really got heated up.

So after working both races, here are the differences that impacted flaggers:

  • Headlights: the WEC cars use amazingly bright LED lights that seemed to be almost twice as bright as the IMSA cars. We ended up wearing sunglasses during the night time portions in order to look at oncoming cars when blue flagging.
  • Sound: the WEC cars were noticeably louder than the IMSA cars, and thus caused more discomfort when attempting to communicate among your corner co-workers. Noise is a major complaint by non-race fans, and cars can be plenty fast without being noisy, so I don’t understand why a series wouldn’t address this issue.
  • Safety Cars & Full Course Yellows: While the WEC’s FIA flagging rules can be quite complex in some circumstances, their safety car and full course yellow procedures are great in that they greatly increase on-course safety.

IMSA & WEC -Super Sebring 2019

In a few days I’ll be headed to Florida to see some family in Daytona and then head further south to Sebring International Raceway for the 67th 12 Hours of Sebring, where I’ll be flagging with the Turn 10 crew for the 4th time. This year’s event is being dubbed “Super Sebring” because the World Endurance Challenge is running their own 12 hour race, in addition to the traditional IMSA 12 hour race. From a flagger perspective, this is going to be bonkers. In the past we’ve worked gradually up to the 12 hour race on Saturday, having a normal 8am – 6pm hot track on Wednesday, going late until 9:30pm on Thursday for night practice, back to a normal 8am – 6pm for Friday, and then the exhausting Saturday 12 hour race, which usually takes us to 11pm.

For this year, this well-spaced pace is disrupted due to the needs of the WEC. From what I’ve seen of the IMSA schedule, that gentle pace is out the window, replaced with a quiet Wednesday, then night practice on Thursday until 9pm, followed by Friday’s WEC 12hr/1000km race ending at midnight, and then Saturday’s IMSA 12hr race ending at 11pm. Last year we were short on flaggers, and thus some of our crew couldn’t do the 3hrs on/1hr off rotation we typically do. Even with some time off, by the last hour of the race, I was asleep on my feet, staring at cars coming out of Turn 10 and trying to determine if I needed to blue flag for them as they approached us at Turn 11.

2018’s Turn 10 flagger crew, standing in the Turn 10 fan’s area. Lee, Greg, and the gang always take care of us race day morning by inviting us into their compound for a great breakfast before we tackle the race start at 10:30am.
After the 12hr race, we pack up and leave Sebring for another year.
Did you see the canopy blow out onto the track during the 2018 12 Hour race? Our crew down at Turn 11 had some interesting radio calls to make.

Evo @ STMTuned.com – November 10th, 2018

STM had the Evo ready to pick up after a week. As suspected, it had a blown head gasket. They machined the head, but said the rest of the head components looked good, so the bill was less than expected. They also fixed the tune to ensure the engine wouldn’t blow the head gasket again. They also pointed out that there were some non-OEM parts used in the work performed, which STM replaced.

As it was basically winter time here and I had many pressing issues to attend to, there was no opportunity to test the car outside of getting it on and off the trailer. Next up will be a track day with Patroon at Lime Rock Park in May 2019.

Patroon BMW CCA – HPDE at Palmer Motorsports Park – October 12-13-14, 2018

Well, this was supposed to be a farewell to the 2018 driving season for me, but I didn’t get to do much driving.  Back in September, I took my Evo down to Canton, CT to a shop called RRT Motorsports for some mods and maintenance. Several Albany-area Evo owners recommended the place, and the owner, a young guy by the name of Raif, was friendly and seemed pretty knowledgeable.  I had a pretty extensive/expensive list of things I needed done, including:

– transmission rebuild w/ beefed-up syncros
– new clutch and throwout bearing installation
– GSC S2 cams installation and tune

Raif suggested carbon syncros for the transmission rebuild, and putting a new water pump and timing belt on the car while he was in there; it was a good idea and I agreed.  Well, the car came back and seemed pretty strong: the tranny was now shifting relatively smooth, the clutch was solid, and the new cams and tune seemed to be rock-solid.  Time to take it to the track and check it out. Prior to the track event, I started to throw codes related to the front O2 sensor, and Raif and I decided it was likely the sensor had failed. $340 for a new sensor, and I had my friend Adam install it, along with some new front brake rotors and pads.

Friday was a test day at Palmer, and since we were running the track in a clockwise direction for the first time, I decided it would be a good way to learn the track so to better instruct my student I was assigned Saturday and Sunday.  The car was strong in the cold, sunny weather, and I felt really good about the outcome of the RRT work. But when I got into the pits, I noticed what appeared to be smoke coming off the right front of the car. Figuring it may be a stuck brake piston or piece of race rubber stuck to a hot rotor, I got out to see what was up.  I was greeted by a growing puddle of green coolant from under the nose of the car.  I checked the dash and sure enough the temp gauge was pegged.  I had apparently overheated during the session and was dumping coolant – that would explain why the car got a bit greasy in left turns towards the end of the session.

I traded some emails at the track Friday with Raif, and noted the O2 sensor code was back despite the new O2 sensor. He took a look in the old tune and found that the 02 codes were all disabled previously, so I really didn’t need a new 02 sensor.  That annoyed me – wish he had did his homework prior to all that.

After some troubleshooting with my buddy Phil S – a former Evo owner – we confirmed the water pump wasn’t leaking, and the thermostat was functioning. I bought a new radiator cap to confirm it wasn’t a pressurization issue, and went back out in the afternoon session.  The car ran well for about 10 minutes before I noticed the temp gauge start to climb once again, and all suspicions pointed to it being a leaky head gasket. I had noticed that Raif was a drag racer at heart – his Evo is a 1300HP 1/4 mile beast – and didn’t seem to know too much about track driving or road racing.  He told me he had turned up the boost when he tuned it, and it picked up 30HP over the last tune I had at STM (part of the back story).  The added boost and dyno numbers were a sure sign I’d gone out of the safety zone of a stock block according to Phil, and I’m guessing he’s probably right.  How to prove that it was that and not just a naturally failing head gasket on a 15 year old car with 88K miles of hard motorsports usage is the real challenge.

So, I turned to the local Albany Evo crowd to see if they had any good suggestions.  They suggested taking it to STM for expert diagnosis. My issue was STM had told me earlier this summer they were no longer performing mechanical work due to the loss of a mechanic, but the suggester told me they had just brought a friend’s Evo back from STM 3 weeks ago.  I made a call and was told they were indeed taking in limited work, so I have an appointment to tow the Evo out to Spencerport on 10/29 and hopefully get it all straightened out without too much more $$$ flying out of my pockets.

SCCA Road Racing – NER NERRC Finale Weekend at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park

What a great time!  SCCA road racing can be very exciting as long as the car counts are up, and this event delivered, with over 180 cars registered for the event.

Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park isn’t exactly the premier road course in New England, but it certainly brought out the cars for this event held October 5th & 6th, 2018. The weather was a bit cool, but it stayed dry, which I’m sure the drivers appreciated, as did the volunteers.

I worked station 4 on Friday, and station 1 on Saturday.  Friday we had a lot of pull-offs use the short chute in front of station and helped station 3 with those calls as much as we could, but despite a few spins in our corner, it was just enough excitement to keep us entertained. Unfortunately, the last race of the day provided the topper when Flatout Motorsports cars #00 and #91 got together while attempting to both get around a slower car. They touched side-to-side near the nose, and when they came together again they ended touching front tires, which didn’t go well. One of them literally had the nose of the car jump into the air, with both coming to rest against the armco on driver’s left just at the exit of 4.  Amazingly, both cars ended up driving away. Only one of the cars really had visible damage.  By Saturday the Flatout crew had repaired both cars and they both rejoined the fray.

Saturday was a busy day at station 1, which covers the end of the front straight and the curve leading over to turn 3. We had some spins, some bumping, and in one case, a Miata #13 that attempted a banzai passing move down driver’s right into turn 1, locking up all tires as he skidded like a missile into the cars that had already begun the turn, knocking into cars #16 and then #171. I kept my eyes on the cars that were contacted in order to report the incident to control.  Eventually both #16 and #171 regained their composure and rejoined the race, but I hadn’t notice #13 leave the scene.  One of my co-flaggers had watched the #13 car keep going straight after contacting both of the others cars, driving all the way out to the tire wall due to a damaged right front suspension.   We called out the EVs to come get the #13 car due to its exposure, and they came out with a flatbed to retrieve it. Later in the day, as the races continued, we saw the #13 leave the track.

It was a fantastic way to bring the 2018 flagger season to a close.  Looking forward to the opening of the 2019 season at Sebring, with the addition of the 12 hour WEC race in conjunction with the IMSA 12 hour race.  Fun times ahead.