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Grand Am Cup Racing 2006

Team News And Photo Site

Barber Motorsports Park - July 29th, 30th 2006
After Mid-Ohio, I did a little soul searching, and decided that I could no longer put forth the required investment to continue racing in Grand Am Cup.  I didn't go to the Barber race at all - if I'm not racing myself, I have little to no interest in being there.  I'm just not one of these guys that likes to watch other folks race.  The truth is that I'd just sit there and mope and wish I was out there battling on track. 

As such, the account that I am relaying here, is based on my conversations with Danny upon his return.  So I don't have first hand knowledge of what happened, but I'll give it a shot.


A week after the disappointing Mid-Ohio race, Danny and Doc put a new motor into the RX-8.  As part of this process, when they were removing the old motor, they discovered two things:

1)  The RX-8 had the wrong spark plugs in it.  The plug body wasn't long enough and didn't extend the electrode far enough into the combustion chamber.  This also had the effect of lowering the overall compression of the motor (because the plugs took up less space).  This meant we didn't get full power out of each of the two engine rotors.

2)  One of the plug wires to a "leading" plug was not properly attached to the spark plug.  You really have to force the wire on the plug until it snaps, and this wire was just resting on the plug, not fully inserted.

Doc also noted from some of the data I sent him after the race, that the car had indeed been running lean above 8,000rpms.   So just when the car should have been making maximum power it wasn't.   Doc said we were lucky we didn't blow it up.

So at Mid-Ohio, we really didn't have a chance...

Doc and Danny decided to swap out the old motor for the new one anyway, just to be safe.  After all, we had overheated it and run it lean, so its longevity was suspect.  Note:  Upon subsequent tear-down of the old motor, it was found to be generally ok, so it has been rebuilt, and Danny now has a good spare. 

With a new motor now in the car, Doc and Danny took it to a chassis dyno and tuned the motor.  This allowed them to verify that everything was working properly.    Its probably a good idea to do this before every race - its cheap insurance to make sure you aren't chasing your tail at the track.  

Danny wanted to see how far the car could go with the two best drivers he could find, so he lined up two crack drivers for Barber - Jeff Altenburg and Chip VanVurst.  Jeff Altenburg's resume is so long I couldn't post it all here, but he is currently an extremely successful Speed World Challenge Driver, has won rookie of the year in the Trans Am series, has two SCCA National Championships - the list goes on.  He's as good as they come.  And Chip VanVurst is an accomplished SCCA club racer that is every bit as fast as Jeff.  

With a good motor, and great drivers lined up, Danny set off to Barber.  For crew, Danny brought Sri and Scott from German Speed Merchants, a truck driver named Larry who also knew how to use a wrench, Danny's son Brian and his friend Brad, and last but not least, Doc himself. 

Thursday was a practice day, and Chip and Jeff got their first crack at Barber Motorsports Park in the RX-8.  Neither of them had driven Barber before, and its a bewildering 15 turns in only 2.3 miles.  That's a pretty busy track, and its not very easy to learn. 

While Jeff has driven RX-8's before, I don't know that Chip has.  After getting familiar with the car and the track, they set to work to see if they could make improvements. Jeff is experienced at car setup, since he worked with Tri-Point Engineering to develop the top finishing World Challenge Mazda Protege's and Mazda 626's.  







This picture was lifted from the Tri-Point Engineering website. With Mazda factory support, the Tri-Point team has turned the Mazdas from street cars to World Challenge Podium Takers.

Please note:  I did NOT take any of these pictures - I scavenged them from the internet.  If anyone takes offense to me reusing a picture that they took, send me an email and I'll remove it.  Or just send me your details, and I'll give you credit on the website.

Danny said there was no rest between sessions - basically the guys worked like dogs trying different spring rates, shock settings, sway bar settings, alignment settings, until they were satisfied with the car's setup. This is where Jeff's experience in chassis tuning really helped.  And as good as Jeff is, Chip showed that he deserved to be there as well, by laying down laps just as fast as Jeff.  They were a well matched pair to determine the potential of the car.

<photo by "Sput">

It took every test session available to get the car setup the way the two drivers wanted it, but finally they were satisfied.   Altenburg qualified the car 21st out of 28 ST cars on the grid.   A few cars were cut by Grand Am to keep the field a reasonable size, given the short nature of the track.  Obviously Jeff is a better driver than 21st on the grid (right now Jeff is #5 in points in the World Challenge series, while driving a Mazda 6 against BMW's, Acura's and the like), so our RX-8, even in its best trim (new motor, optimized suspension), still needs some work.   

<another photo by "Sput">

The race itself was your fairly standard Grand Am Cup Race.   The exception was that it was called off early, because some massive thunderstorms were heading into the area, and Grand Am was afraid of a repeat of what happened at Mid-Ohio.  So instead of 77 laps or so, they called it finished after just 55 with little or no warning.  This was unfortunate for the Silverback racing team, as they had just completed a pitstop, and did not have a chance to work their way back up through the field.  Ultimately this translated into a relatively poor finish (25th position), which did not necessarily reflect the capabilities of the drivers.  But racing is like that sometimes.  You can see the final results at this link

Minor Update - This just in - at the "Grand Prix of Trois Rivieres" (the race after Barber), Jeff Altenburg teamed up with Charles Espenlaub in one of the Davis Acura RSX's.  Jeff was 2nd fastest in the first practice, and he and Charles finished 4th overall  in the race.  Congrat's to Jeff - he hasn't lost his touch!

I don't have any video from the Barber race weekend to share with you, which I know is a big disappointment.  So just for yucks, I am posting some video of me in my ex-World Challenge BMW, taking Danny's son Brian for a ride around Carolina Motorsports Park, a race track located between Charlotte, NC and Columbia, SC.  

I'm not sure what the future holds for me and Grand Am Cup racing.  I don't have the financial backing to fund a seat right now.  However If someone approaches me with an offer to drive, I probably won't turn it down, in exchange for building them a kick-ass website, and giving them some great over-the-net publicity. 

Meanwhile, I have a few other irons in the fire, and I'll be back racing, if not here, then somewhere else...

  Next up, just wait and see...