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.

Formula E – NYC e-Prix, Brooklyn, NY – July 14-15, 2018

Next up on the calendar was another pro flagging event: the NYC E-Prix in Brooklyn, NY. I had heard good things about this event last year, and decided it would be a good way to dip my toes in the world of FIA open wheel racing. I have friends who flag at Formula 1 events, and based on the stories I hear and what I imagine from them, I’ve always been a bit intimidated to try my hand at flagging them. Any time I come up on formula racers at SCCA events, I always find them difficult to identify – all you see is a nose and some indeterminate colors, and rarely can you see a number. Blue flagging a race can be a real challenge with that. So how better to see if my fears were real than to sign up for the Formula E race, and play a small part on some hugely experienced marshal team?

I signed up and was set for my adventure, safe in my anonymity, but then I got some emails that gave me a shiver. “You are receiving this email as you have been selected to be a post captain for the 2018 Formula E-Brooklyn race.” Gulp. Captains are supposed to know what they’re doing – they’ve obviously made some sort of mistake. I reached out to some of my more experienced flagger friends who were attending, and told them what had happened. The general reaction was along the lines of “You’ll do fine”. Oh, then alright. I tore into the materials they had emailed us. Decided it was pretty safe to skip the parts where it described how to build a car, and went right to the flagging rules and intervention descriptions. As a newer flagger (started in 2009), I’m definitely part of the post-intervention era in flaggers, and don’t have a lot of experience in attending to disabled cars, and especially ones with wings, and huge batteries/electrical shock risks like these. They provided a movie to show you how to assess and handle a car in the event of an accident (hint: there are multiple lights on the cowl to indicate whether a car is good (green), the electrical system has become unsafe (red or no light), and whether the drive sustained g forces sufficient to warrant a trip to medical (blue light)).

The schedule for marshals was excruciating, too: buses departed hotels at approximately 5am on Saturday and 6am Sunday, only to have a session at 7:30a on track, then have massive amounts of downtime since there are no supporting series in attendance, and batteries require time to charge!

My station, and my fellow marshals, turned out to be great. We faced the harbor, and had the Statue of Liberty across from us in the distance. In addition, the Freedom Tower was just off to our right. The podium, and all its ceremonies, were right behind us (we kept our gear out of the sun and rain by keeping it under the stage). One of the bigger surprises was that they staged the cars right in front of our station, so we got to watch the grid walk activity happen right in front of us. Saturday I was just in awe of being so close to the action, but on Sunday Liv Tyler, who earlier had done some demo laps in the Formula E spec car, poked her head into our cutout to pose for a quick selfie with one of my teammates. She smile at me and all I could do is smile back, star struck.

SCCA Road Racing – NER “NERRC #3 “Paddock Crawl” @ Lime Rock Park

The weekend of June 15 & 16 brought some new highs and lows for me. MoHud flag chief Rich Alexander and I offered to co-chief this event to help cover for NER’s current flag chief, who is busy planning for her upcoming wedding. This was a good opportunity to expand my experience in Control that I started this year at the Palmer event, and I was looking forward to the challenge. Rich had me go through the exercise of staffing stations, and he had also lined up another control person to help mentor me on the art of communication. I’d learned a lot my last time at Palmer (especially what NOT to do), and felt up to the challenge.

It was pretty chaotic in control – we had our usual radio issues, and if you’ve ever worked race control before, you’ll know that clear and quick communication are critical to making a race go smoothly. We ended up renting Lime Rock’s radios and had a good day Friday. The “Paddock Crawl” portion at the end of the day is always a fun time. Racers and organizers alike bring various foods and beverages and offer them to folks who wander around from place to place. I had some very good food, and Mohawk-Hudson’s very own Team Bucci has become pretty good at putting together a great chip, salsa, and margarita station.

Saturday dawned and the event was once again marred by ongoing radio issues. We couldn’t hear some of the stations, and everyone became pretty frustrated. We did our best to carry on with the event, but before we got to lunch I experienced a pretty serious vision issue. Unfortunately I needed to get to an ophthalmologist ASAP, so my friend Rich took me back to Albany. As it turned out, I had a small bleed in my eye that cleared up somewhat within hours, but it has left a ton of floaters in my left eye and some odd noise I constantly see. Nothing I can’t overcome, but it was scary when it happened.

Pirelli World Challenge @ Lime Rock Park – Grand Prix of Lime Rock

Memorial Day weekend brings professional race series to Lime Rock Park in CT, and I usually participate by flagging at the events. This year’s event focused on the Pirelli World Challenge series (http://world-challenge.com/), featuring their full complement of classes to our little bullring of a track, Lime Rock Park: Touring Car A (TCA), Touring Car (TC), Touring Car R (TCR), Grand Touring Sport A (GTSA), Grand Touring Sport (GTS), as well as Grand Touring A (GTA) and Grand Touring (GT).

As always, we were a bit light on flaggers, but the quality of those individuals who came out meant there was a lot of experience on stations. My most memorable moment of the event was while working outpost at Station 1, which means I was across track from the flagging post at Turn 1 at the end of the front straight (aka “Big Bend”). While the Sprint X race was happening, I happened to have what I found out to be a Ginetta roll off the track and down the runoff area, pulling up next to me. Watching the race later on the DVR, I found out that the #24 of Frank Gannett got jumped by the #50 of Preston Calvert in the Downhill, and it apparently broke something in the suspension that was highlighted when he went to brake coming into Big Bend. I eventually got Frank to move the car down to the end of the runoff and him out of the car. He came up and joined me at my post, and we chatted while watching the race progress. We talked a bit about his incident, and he mentioned he wasn’t sure if he was leaking anything. I just happened to glance at the pavement where he first stopped, looking for signs of moisture, when I noticed something black on the pavement. The item was undulating, in a very snake-like manner, and thus we figured out pretty quick it was a snake headed our way. The real question was what kind of snake? LRP is famous for having some ornery rattlesnakes around, and that thought became foremost in my mind. As it got closer – 20 ft, 15 ft, 10 ft – it became pretty apparent that a) it had a small, but very articulated viper head, and b) it definitely had a diamond pattern on it, although the color was dark gray, almost black. The rattlers I’ve seen are usually tan or brown in color, being western rattlesnakes, so I wasn’t sure about an eastern rattlesnake. Turns out it was a Timber Rattlesnake, and s/he appeared to be making a beeline for our position. I mentioned the possibility of a visit to Mr. Gannett, which prompted him to tell me a story about gators at Moroso Raceway in Florida. In the short time that story took, the snake was now about 8 ft from us. “If it gets any closer, you and I are getting up on this TV stand” I told Frank, and he agreed it sounded like a plan (this is why I loved Frank – he was personable, pleasant, entertaining, and he didn’t give me any grief about missing the race). Just as we decided to move, the snake took an abrupt right angle turn and decided to disappear into the tirewall directly in front of us. I was relieved initially, but now I realized I couldn’t keep track of where it was and kept looking down at the end of the tirewall to make sure it didn’t change its mind.

Before we knew it the race had ended and the tow trucks were coming to pick up Frank’s car, so we said our goodbyes. It certainly gave me some good flagger story material to tell.

New Experiences at NER SCCA Road Race @ Whiskey Hill Raceway

Had a very interesting weekend this past weekend at Whiskey Hill Raceway (aka Palmer Motorsport Park), in Palmer, MA.  I went expecting to do my bit as a volunteer flagger for NER’s Opening Weekend event.  However, when I checked in I was informed I would be working in Control for the weekend.  This was a bit of a surprise, but I realized that since I was going to be acting as a co-chief for the June NER race at Lime Rock, I should get some experience prior to that.  Saturday was a nice day out, so I was bummed I wasn’t out on station but instead stuck in the trailer. Sunday completely changed my mind on that, with cold temps and rain much of the day.

I’ve gotten a fairly good patter with my radio communication on station, but working Control was a different perspective.  I tried to remember all the communicators I had heard over the years and remember the phrases and terminology they use in different situations.  My first job on Saturday was as a logger; write down in shorthand every radio call.  Sounds easy, but it took a few times to get comfortable with all the shorthand that is commonly used.  Once that became familiar I had a good time, getting to hear the stewards’ discussions and finally see all that occurs in Control that I’ve only gotten snippets about in the past.  Fortunately for me I was teamed up with Pete “Thumper” Villaume, who is a really nice guy and very competent as a control person.  He showed me the ropes and I tried to absorb as much as I could from him given all the circumstances that came up.

Sunday I was asked if I wanted to try the radio, and rather than shy away from it I decided to tackle it head on.  It was not too difficult until incidents happened on track, and that’s when I realized how much I didn’t know yet.  Thumper did his best to coach me, but unfortunately some of the terms he used I simply wasn’t familiar with, so like a dog who doesn’t understand his owner, I’d cock my head at him and hope he’d rephrase his suggestion in a manner that I was able to understand.  “Stand up 2” didn’t mean much to me when it was first said, but once it was explained that I should ask Rescue 2 to “Stand Up”, or get ready to go, then I completely understood.  Unfortunately we couldn’t risk the racers’ safety with much more learning on the job, so I handed back radio duties to Thumper after the 3rd session and went back to logging.  So thankful to all that gave me the opportunity to learn more from that side of the radio.

Oh, and my motel room featured bed bugs that ultimately gave me a nasty set of bites on my head, jaw, neck, right arm, and my shoulders.  Thanks Hamilton Inn, Sturbridge, MA!  The owner was polite about my complaint, but ultimately didn’t believe me.  He told me flat out he was going to rent my room even if I moved to another room because he was fully booked for the weekend. He also offered to cancel my 2nd night and give me a refund, but for some reason threw in that he could simply rent my room for more than I had paid for it.  At that point I wasn’t impressed, and while I took the offer of a different room (that didn’t have bed bugs), my resolve to reflect this issue in my online reviews was determined by his negligence for his other guests.

A new site… long overdue.

I recently had new business cards made up, not because there was any need to but because the image on my old business cards featured my very stock-looking BBY Evo 8, and now it’s a more non-stock looking BBY Evo 8.  Gotta rep the wing…

I finally handed out a new card (Hi to Adam F!), and realized my website address on the new business cards point to my extremely creaky Earthlink website.  I’m no longer an Earthlink customer, but I guess Earthlink websites never die, they just stick around forever stuck in a weird 1999-2007 vibe. So I decided to finally use this push to take the plunge and whip up a quicky WP site.  I administer one for the MoHud Region of SCCA, so I figured I could use the practice on my own site.  It’ll slowly get built up around here…