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
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
Tri-Point Engineering to develop the top
finishing World Challenge Mazda Protege's and Mazda
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
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
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
<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
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
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,
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...