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Grand Am Cup Racing 2006

Team News And Photo Site

VIR Practice Update - March & April 2006

"If this sets the tone for the rest of the season, it is going to be..."

  <<==== Click for short Video Highlight

I think the word the announcer in the video clip was going to use was "awesome", but I'm not sure.   That was my spin, which I showed from inside the car during one of my videos on the Daytona Race page.  Well, its nice to make the highlight reel, but I'm not sure this is the right way to do it!  Thanks to Brian Phillips of Rehagen Racing for capturing that clip for me.

I've been reminded that its been too long since we've had an update, so I decided to take some time to get you up to speed on our team developments.  The Grand Am Cup racing season has a huge gap in it from January to April, and its hard to keep your enthusiasm and energy level up during that time.  It hasn't been made easier by the fact that coming off the Daytona race, Danny and I knew we had a lot of work to do before the April VIR race. 

Thinking back on Daytona, I have to hand it to Danny and Doc when they insisted we get the car back out on track to finish the race.   I was thinking that after our 30 minute "pit stop", we ought to just pack the car up, but in retrospect that would have been a huge mistake. 

I now know that finishing the race, despite all the hardships, means something.  I don't why it matters so much to me that we finished, but it does.   That was an important lesson that I won't forget.

Since Daytona, Danny and I have been taking the RX-8 to the track to try to work out any remaining reliability issues with it, and just to get some more practice.  Or at least attempting to, because sometimes mother nature just wouldn't cooperate.

February 11, 2006 - VIR Full Course

The Tarheel Sports Car Club rented Virginia International Raceway, aka "VIR", February 11-12 for a driving school / time trial, so Danny and I made plans to instruct so we could get some track time.  A week before the event, the weather forecast was pretty good, but as we got closer, it became iffy at best.  Rob and Nick were going to bring up an RX-8 or two from their Roar Team as well.

Check out F&S Enterprises - these guys go to track events and races, and take quality photographs, like this one.  The day started out 35 degrees and wet, so I decided to have a few laps in my street car, a BMW 325i, but that was all the track time I got.  By noon the rain turned to huge puffy flakes of snow, so the weekend was over almost as soon as it had begun.  The event was closed down by lunch time.

While I was on track "playing around", Danny and Doc and Rob and Nick were having a "come to Jesus" meeting to discuss the future of our team effort.  The meeting lasted three long hours, and during this time, it was decided that we would split from Rob and Nick (Roar Racing) - we would agree to disagree, so to speak. 

So now we are a 1 car team - Doc owns the car, and Danny and I rent it from him for the remainder of the season.   Here are the key changes:

1)  Our relationship with Roar is over.

2)  Roar won't be transporting our car, so we have to make other arrangements to get it to/from the races.

3)  Doc won't be supporting Roar any more, so he will have more dedicated time to work on our car. 

The net of it is, that neither side was getting what it needed out of the partnership.  Actually, its been like a soap opera behind the scenes - heck, I could write a book about what goes on, but then I wouldn't have any friends left!!!  Some things are better left unsaid, just remember there are always two sides to the story, and I'm not planning to use this website as a bully pulpit. 

February 26-27, 2006 - Roebling Road Raceway

A couple of weeks pass, and we make another attempt at getting some track time.  The BMW Club is renting Roebling Road for a drivers school, so Danny and I sign up to instruct.  Its halfway between North Carolina and Miami, so Doc will tow the car up from his shop in Florida, and Danny and I will drive down and meet him there. 

And while rain follows us like a shadow, this time we aren't deterred.  It rained all day Saturday, but Doc planned ahead and picked up a gently used set of rain-specific racing tires from Sylvain Tremblay at SpeedSource, so now we could practice in the worst of downpours.   Sylvain is just a great guy, and a real asset to the Mazda Motorsports community.

The weather clears up nicely for Sunday,  and here you see Doc continuing to tune the programming on the RX-8's ECU / computer.   The car makes pretty good power on the top end, but the part-throttle response is pretty poor, so it still needs some more work.  The body damage from Daytona hasn't been fixed at this point, but with a little "persuasion" the passenger doors now open.  

The car handles fairly well on track, and we are getting some much needed practice, but unfortunately we discover that the fuel system problem that caused our 30 minute "pit stop" at Daytona still isn't fixed.  This is despite the fact that back in his shop Doc has been working on the fuel system, and swapping out every moving part or electrical component that could cause the issue.

The RX-8 fuel tank is really like 2 fuel tanks - a passenger side and a drivers side, with this hump in the middle that goes over the drive shaft tunnel, kind of like a pair of saddle bags.  The fuel pump itself sits inside the tank on the drivers side (indicated by the number "3" in the diagram above).  It has a scavenging tube which crosses over the "hump" in the middle, and allows it to siphon fuel from the passenger side.  It seems like we can only use about 1/2 the fuel in the tank before the fuel pressure drops and becomes inconsistent - so our first inclination was that the siphoning tube was clogged or disconnected.  So we remove a cover on the passenger side of the tank, and we can see with our own eyes that side of the tank is bone dry (which is good).  In fact, all of the remaining fuel is on the driver's side of the tank where the fuel pump sits.  How strange.  We try different fuel pumps and that doesn't fix it. So we are back to the drawing board, but this time we have at least eliminated a few culprits.

Danny and I load the car on his trailer.  Danny will take the car back to Jon's shop, German Speed Merchants, in Wilmington, NC.   This is because we are planning to do some more testing with the car at VIR, and this way Doc won't have to transport it all the way from Florida every time we want to drive it.

We drew straws and I lost, so I got the task of driving the car into the trailer, and crawling out the window.  You can see its a pretty tight fit - I'm going to need to go back on that diet...

March 3-5, 2006 - VIR Grand East Course

I'm in Hawaii vacationing with my wife, but Danny is able to take the car to VIR by instructing for a BMW drivers school.  He reports back that the fueling problem is fixed.  Doc came up to Wilmington and replaced some more of the hard plastic components inside the fuel tank, and we can now draw down to about the last 2 1/2 gallons in the tank before we get fuel starvation.  I'm not sure that is good enough, though, to make it through a 2+ hour race on one fuel stop.   Our fuel mileage is pretty abysmal and it looks like we can only go about 57 minutes max before we get bad fuel starvation.  And I suspect that number may be optimistic.  Of course, some full course yellows during the race will stretch our mileage, but not by much, because typically the pace during the yellows is still pretty high.   Maybe with some more work on the fuel mapping of the computer, we can improve that.

Another F&S Enterpises photo, with Danny at the wheel.  Here you can see the body repair on the RX-8 has commenced.  You can view more photo's from this event at their website.

Afterwards, Danny negotiates with Doc to buy the RX-8 outright.  It turns out Danny had invested with Doc in the development of the car, and he already had an interest in it.  So in less than a month, the racing team has reorganized once more.

1)  Danny is team owner.  He owns the car, and he has the final say on everything.  I rent my "seat" from Danny now, not from Doc.

2)  Doc is now an engineering consultant to the team.  As we speak, Doc has built another RX-8 for Mike Smellie and some other driver to compete in.   This car may be ready for the VIR race next month.  So Doc will be pretty busy with his other effort, but he should have some time at the races to help us with our car as needed.

3)  Jon's German Speed Merchants shop will provide race support.  GSM will prepare the car between races and provide crew support. 

4)  Danny will take responsibility for transporting the car to races.  Occasionally Jon might help out in that regard, particularly when we are taking the car to "test days".

So this test day is pretty successful.  The fueling problem is declared fixed, and Danny got a whopping 400 miles of practice with the car.

March 25-26, 2006 - VIR North Course

Mazda Club is renting the North Course of VIR for the weekend.  You know the drill - Danny and I sign up to instruct.   Instructing gives us the freedom to hop in the RX-8 pretty much anytime we want and take a few laps in it.  It does carry with it the responsibility of riding with other students and making sure they have a safe and fun event.   All-in-all it means a pretty busy weekend for us - hopping in and out of student cars, and into the RX-8 for practice, in an almost continuous rotation.

Its a chilly March weekend, temperatures in the high 30's, and clouds threaten rain throughout the day.   We are supposedly in a drought here in the east, but lately every track event has included some rain.  Jon hauled the car up in his GSM trailer - Danny wasn't going to be able to join us until the second day - he was vacationing with his family on a cruise.  Better get that in now, because once the season starts back up, you won't have time for that kind of thing. 

Its a pretty heavy rain in the morning, and we didn't bring rain tires - an oversight on our part.  I go out on the slicks and can't keep the car on track (I go off twice in one session), so I decide to pack it in until it dries up a bit.  People are joking about how dorky I am driving, but in my defense, I am on slicks, and the water was puddled all over the place.  The Grand Am Cup Hoosiers have no grooves what-so-ever, so they are very different from the standard club race Hoosiers.  Plus they are a relatively hard compound that refuses to heat up in the cold temps.  Excuses, excuses, I know. Fortunately the rain clouds scatter, and we get a little sun for the middle part of the day.

Its now purple.  Well, not all the way purple.  Purple and red.   Danny had told me he has arranged for some guy to put some fancy graphics on it, so you hardly won't notice its two different colors.  I've seen some photo-shopped pictures of the car with the new graphics, so I'll reserve judgment until we see the final product.

No more body damage.   The body shop did a great job getting the car ready.   Of course no one at the Mazda event recognized the car, which gave us kind of a stealth profile for the weekend.  People would come up and ask us if we brought the Grand Am Cup car with us, when they were standing next to it.

Today the car runs without incident, and Jon has very little to do except try to stay warm by catching the few rays of winter sun that occasionally peek through the clouds.  We don't seem to have any type of fuel starvation issues, which is a very good thing.  Its nice to have that issue behind us.

The overall engine drive-ability is still causing me fits - the engine backfires and pops when you breathe off the throttle, making it difficult to smoothly balance the car in turns.  Under full throttle its fine, but anything less than that and the car can be somewhat unpredictable - you give a little lift off the gas (maybe to transfer some weight to the front in order to get the nose to tuck-in), and it may turn into a really big lift even though you barely moved the throttle.  Then you have to "catch" the car, which makes it difficult to drive smoothly.  So we have some work to do.

Jon has some experience with programming engine computers, and since Doc can't be with us during all of these test weekends, we decide it would be a pretty good idea if he could figure out how to tweak the computer. 

So Jon and I decide to pop open the hood and see if we can't figure this thing out.  Unsnapping the underhood plastic covers that house the RX-8's computer, we find a shiny silver metal box that seems to be velcro-ed on top of the standard Mazda ECU (Engine Control Unit).  There are no logo's on this box - they have been removed for some reason.  Doc probably peeled them off to keep casual observers from knowing exactly what it is - racers want to keep their technology secret, after all.  But I'm not going to do that - once we figure out what this sucker is, I'm going to let you know.  Doc's going to kill me when he reads this...sorry Doc! 

Hmmm, this is curious.  It appears that this silver box is a "piggy back" type computer - it doesn't replace the Mazda ECU, but it plugs between the ECU and the car, and modifies the ECU's output to the fuel injectors and the spark plugs.   Its not as sophisticated as the Motec Engine Management that the SpeedSource cars run.  The Motec systems completely replace the Mazda ECU, and can run as much as $8,000, while something like this piggy-back unit can be had for under $1000 dollars. 

I find the word "Trust" in small letters on the unit, and what appears to be a model number.  I whip open my laptop (and using the free wireless network that VIR provides - awesome), I eventually come up with this:

THE e-MANAGE ULTIMATE (Engine Control Unit Manager)

"Ideal for optimizing and fine-tuning performance products such as; Exhaust, Air Intake, Intercoolers, Boost Controllers and Turbo upgrades, the e-manage Ultimate does it better than any other system on the market. The GReddy e-manage Ultimate does what no other piggyback ECU can, engineered to preserve the best features of the original e-manage (Economically priced, there is no need for tuning from scratch and it is compatible with most Japanese performance vehicles). Some of the new Ultimate features include; add and subtract fuel and ignition maps, a two-preset memory, A/F Target Map (for self tuning), built-in adapters and correction maps, and extensive data logging with Map Tracing for easier tuning. The new e-manage Ultimate includes the Support Tool CD to access all features from a standard USB cable."

Ok, now we know what we are dealing with.   We don't have the Greddy software or the cable to talk to this thing from my laptop, so we are temporarily stuck.  Jon is going to deal with this when he gets the car back to the shop.  He's going to order the software and the cable, and take a stab at tweaking the programming.  We don't want to lose the valuable work that Doc has done, but we have to improve the engine drive-ability because the way it is right now, it's taking some of the fun out of this!  Its making the car a bit of a chore to drive, instead of a pleasure.  

I throw the video camera in the car, and manage to record a session.   Its a drivers school so we can't officially time the car, but we can go back and look at video to see how we are doing. This lap on the video was a 1:43 - I estimate we need to do a 1:39-1:40 on the North Course in order to be halfway competitive with top running Grand Am ST cars. But given the track conditions (cold, starting to rain), the fact that it wasn't a completely unobstructed lap (I had to enter turn 7 off line to get by a Porsche) and that we are running on old tires (costing about 1-1.5 seconds), this might not be too bad.   

  <<<==== Click on Picture for Video

The next day arrives with a little more sunshine, so no rain is in the forecast for a change. 

And speaking of Mr. Sunshine, Danny Warbucks has flown up this morning in the ol' Seawind 3000, and he seems well rested from his weeklong cruise through the Caribbean with his family. This gas powered golf cart is Danny's newest toy, and a very worthwhile purchase.  Race track paddocks are huge, and often you are pressed for time.  Not to mention it can be 1/4 mile walk to the rest room.  So for the races it is invaluable to have a pit cart that you can use to carry tires or tow your massive toolbox around with, or to just go to the bathroom. 

The rear seat flips down to make it like a pickup truck, so you can carry tools, tires, etc, or flip it back to carry people.

Its a fairly uneventful day.  Danny and I spend it flogging the RX-8, burning up the old leftover tires we have from Daytona.  These Hoosiers are fairly slow wearing tires, which means after we race on them, we can practice on them for several weekends - but they definitely get hard to drive on as they get used up.  ALL of the racing and practicing we have done up to now, has been on 3 sets of tires.  As they age, they lose about "2 seconds of grip" compared to a new tire (on a typical lap) - I base this on back-to-back testing I did at Roebling back in January.  Today we finally wear one tire down to the cord, and discover that its not at all like the Hoosier tires that we are used to racing with in Club Racing.  It appears to be a bias ply tire, not a radial.  How did we not know this?  We just never thought to ask.  That explains why we'll need to set up the suspension so much differently than we are used to for our club racers.  Based on some of the tire temperature data we have been collecting, it appears we need a lot less camber in the car, and the tire pressures need to be a lot lower as well. 

One of Jon's customer's, Bill Koff, has brought this neat little Lotus Elise sports car.  Super small, super light, the ultimate track car. The engine is actually built by Toyota, so you get the benefit of having a Lotus with the reliability of a Camry.  If I had a few spare bucks, I'd buy one myself.

Another of Jon's customers, Rob MacClaskey, owns this pristine BMW M3, which is completely stripped out and ready to race, just add numbers.  It has a full cage, a racing suspension and a motor to match.   Rob is using these driving schools to hone his skills, and I expect within a year or so he'll be campaigning it in BMWCCA Club racing, which is where I got my start with wheel-to-wheel racing.

(L-R) Rob MacClaskey, Max Koff (son of Lotus owner Bill), and Jon, ready to call it a day.  One of the really neat things about racing and drivers schools is that you see a lot of father-son pairs at the track.  Max is having a ball learning to take a Toyota MR2 to its limits, and he's not doing so on the public highways. 

March 25-26, 2006 - VIR North Course

Jon has been working on the car since the last event.  He has now tweaked the Greddy piggy-back computer, in an effort to improve the drive-ability of the car.  After all the repair work, it was decided he should re-corner balanced the car and re-align it, so he spent quite a bit of time doing that.  He took some of the camber out of the suspension, because these Grand Am Cup Hoosier tires are NOTHING like the ones most club racers use.   He also put a new gasket on the the differential, which had developed a leak, and generally went over the car to make sure nothing was about to break.

The Tarheel Sports Car Club was holding a combination driver's school and time trial at VIR, so we decide to take advantage of that.  Danny hauled the car up in his rig, and brought along GSM mechanic Matt Hayelle, who was a great help throughout the weekend.

Once again the weekend starts out with rain.  We're prepared though, because Danny brought the used rain tires that Doc purchased for us for the earlier Roebling event.  Danny takes the car out during the first instructor session and reports the RX-8 is  much improved.

But then it dries up, and it turns out we don't have enough dry tires mounted up to continue testing.  We still have 3 used/old tires mounted up, but that doesn't make a set.  We hadn't worn out all of our old tires, but we really wanted to test the car on new tires so that we could better evaluate its handling.  Danny ordered 2 new sets of Grand Am Cup Hoosiers, but was unable to find a tire shop that could mount them all the way.  Most of the tires just wouldn't seat on the rims (they wouldn't "bead up"), so we have only two of 8 new tires fully mounted up.    I spend lunch time trying a couple of local tire places, but these tires are extremely difficult to mount, and these places don't have the right equipment.  I return to the track so that I can instruct my two students for the afternoon.  Danny has the afternoon off from instructing, so he heads off in search of a tire shop that can do the job.  

In order to keep myself entertained between sessions, I beat the tar out of my street BMW, giving joy rides to students.  Unfortunately I'm just a bit tooooo rambunctious with my driving, and I'm black flagged by the corner workers for being a little wild.  Sidenote:  In the next morning instructor's meeting, Mark Vitacco, chief instructor, warns all of the instructors - "This is NOT a drifting competition", as he shoots me a sideways glance.  

Danny's rig holds two cars, so he brought this other project car, which he and his son Brian built together (there's that father-son thing again).  Its still a little chilly - they've taped off the grill to keep too much air from getting under the hood.   This E30-M3 is very light, and has a stout race motor under the hood, which is just the way Danny likes his cars.    Since this afternoon I couldn't drive the RX-8, Danny offered to let me drive this car for fun, but I had to decline.  The last time I drove one of Danny's personal cars (his $400,000 M3 GTR racecar), I disintegrated the clutch before I even got to turn 3.   I offered to pay for it, but he wouldn't take a dime - said I didn't do anything in the car that he wouldn't do.   Uh, I don't know about that, but that's just the kind of guy Danny is.  He wouldn't take a dime from me, and that was a pretty pricy triple-plate carbon fiber clutch that I disintegrated into a million smithereans (probably cost as much as some folk's cars).

Yep, Danny's a special guy...

Kevin Butler, a Tarheel Sports Car Club member, also likes light and powerful cars - he stuffed a 1.8L supercharged engine into his little Miata, so now it has the power to match its great handling.   

The engine bay is very "clean" on Kevin's Supercharged conversion.  He did all the work himself and it looks like it could have come from the factory that way.

This is Grover McNair, owner of McNair Performance, an import car repair and tuning shop right near RDU (Raleigh/Durham) Airport.  When I was just starting out with this racing thing, Grover was one of my first instructors, and he was always the benchmark by which my other instructors were measured.   Once I road with Grover, I knew I wanted to possess his skills.  He has the SCCA IT-7 track record at VIR, and Grover often travels the country instructing for professional driving schools. Grover is a true professional and I consider him a mentor and a great driving coach.  This weekend I asked Grover if he wouldn't mind driving the RX-8 to give us his opinion (once we got tires for it). 

Do not try to adjust your set - this picture didn't come out clear - I probably juggled the camera a bit - my bad.  But its the only picture I got of the ROAR team.  Bob and Nick brought two of their cars to the Tarheel event to test, and I must admit, they looked great.  They also had a couple of street driven RX-8's on hand, which gave them a full tent.  Nick said they have been spending 70 hours / week since the Daytona race working on the cars, and their preparation showed.  Bob was his usual gracious self - he's always a pleasure to talk to.  We are no longer partnered with Roar, but that doesn't mean we can't wish them well. 

Danny was able to find a tire shop crazy enough to finish mounting the tires onto the rims.  He said it took 160lbs of air pressure to get the tires to bead, and they sounded like a gunshot when they finally seated.  That is absolutely scary - I've mounted my own tires before, and never had to go above 70lbs or so of air pressure.  I'm surprised the tires didn't explode under that pressure.  No way would I have tried that - those tire shop guys were nuts to be standing next those tires with 160lbs of air in them.

This is a friend and one of my students this weekend, Matt Hensley, with his soup-ed up Subaru WRX.  It's chock-full of aftermarket modifications, such as a modified ECU, and JIC coil-over shocks, just like our RX-8.   Matt works for one of my customers, and I met him on the job.  When I found out he was a car nut and had a hopped-up Subaru and liked driving fast, I suggested he bring it to the track.  He did - this was his first full driving school - and he said he had an absolute blast!  He's hooked, and now unfortunately doomed to a life of poverty since all his expendable cash will now be flushed down the track commode...


The next morning arrived bright and clear, and now we had tires to drive on.  The only downside was that it was chilly (38 degrees).  Danny said that yesterday when he drove it (in the rain with rain tires), the RX-8 felt like a completely different car, which was a good thing.  I was really looking forward to trying it out - I hadn't driven it since Jon had reprogrammed the ECU, realigned it, Danny moved the seat forward, bent the brake pedal for better heel-and-toe, etc.  Lots of little changes that add up to make the car easier to drive fast.  Plus we had a fresh set of tires on it.  This was going to be fun.

Danny strapped me in the car, and I started it up - it actually held the idle pretty good and rev'ed smoothly - that was a welcome change.  Before I went out, Grover leaned in the window and gave me some good advice - take it easy for the first few laps, work up to it - its cold and even though the tires are new, they won't have the grip you are used to.

I took Grover's advice to heart, and took it pretty easy the first couple of laps - this morning's "instructor session" was quite crowded with cars, so I worked my way through traffic.  We were testing out a new radio setup and it was working well too, so I was able to report back to Danny that the car did indeed feel much better than ever before.   Actually, I think my words were "Is this the same car?" 

Before this weekend, Jon had called SpeedSource and gotten some advice from them on the suspension setup.  They wouldn't share all of their secrets with us (which is only fair), but they did give us some tips on setting up the car for the Grand Am Cup Hoosier tires.  And Jon had done wonders with tweaking Doc's programming on the Greddy Piggy-Back, and the car felt genuinely fun to drive.  I started pushing the car harder, and I was thinking, this is great - this is the best the car has ever felt.  And then I thought, Grover is really going to enjoy driving this thing.  The only downside is that the car feels a little loose, particularly when trail braking into turn 3, and also in the off-camber sections of the North Course crossover (turns 11 and 12).  But, heck, I'll take a loose car over an understeering car any day, so I can handle it (so I think).

Then, on the 5th lap, I make a catastrophic mistake...  

I let the back end of the car get out of line in turn 11 - too much throttle for the conditions.  I countersteer, and end up over-correcting going into turn 12 - now I'm hopelessly "behind" the car (using racing terminology).  Knowing that I've lost it, I put both feet in (clutch and brake) and then slide all the way up the hill.   My first reaction is that I'm absolutely in the clear, the car will stop well short of hitting anything - the corner worker station on the outside of turn 14 looks like its a mile away.  But the car just won't slow down on the damp grass, and it ends up going sideways into the tire wall.  I hit it completely broadside with the passenger side of the car, and it was quite a wallop.  The corner worker station is right on the other side of the tire wall - the corner worker could spit on me, he's so close - I'm sure he's waving the yellow flag at this point, warning the other cars of the incident.   I'm not really in any danger, so I crank the starter on the car, and it eventually starts.  Surprisingly, I can drive it right off the tire wall (which I had moved back 2 feet), and I carefully work my way back on track, heading slowly back to the pits.  I break the bad news to Danny on the radio, and tell him I hurt the car bad, although from inside the car, I can't tell exactly how badly.  I'm amazed to find that it actually seems to drive ok - the steering wheel is relatively straight, which is always a good sign.

As I pull into pit lane, the Pit Marshal looks at me funny when I tell him I hit a tire wall, because from his angle it looks fine - but he's standing just to the drivers side, and can't see the passenger side, which is completely torn up.  I pull it into the paddock, hop out, and survey the damage.  The passenger side front door is trashed, the front fender badly dented, the rear door damaged, and the rear quarter panel mangled.  Both rims look ok, as do the tires, and the wheels seem to be pointed in the right direction.  Mark Vitacco, insists I visit the medical station to make sure I'm ok.  The paramedics look me over, check my blood pressure, respiration, eyes, etc., and declare me to be reasonably ok.   I sign a waiver saying I won't sue them if I die, and head back to the paddock.  By the time I get back, the car is loaded in the rig and I then realize I don't have any pictures of the damage for the website.  So I crawl up onto the upper level, and snap a few so you can see what I did to it.

View of the front fender and the door.   The front fender will need to be replaced - fortunately it just bolts on.  The door as well - that foot-deep dent in it ain't gonna pound out.   This is way more damage than was done at Daytona.

The rear door is dented, and may be repairable - we'll see - you can't really see it from this angle.  It had been repaired once before from the Daytona Porsche damage, so we'll just have to see if it can be salvaged.  The rear quarter panel is pretty badly dented - it is major work to replace a rear quarter panel, as it is welded to the car, and part of the unibody.  That will be the toughest thing to fix - if it can be pounded out and bondo-ed that will save a lot of time.   But I'm thinking it will have to be replaced.

Needless to say, I am walking around feeling mighty guilty about letting down the "team", especially so close to the VIR race.  We only have 8-9 days to get the car ready for the race, and fixing this damage is going to consume most, if not all of those days.  We didn't need this at all - we had our hands full of things to do without having to deal with this self inflicted problem. 

I was also deeply disappointed that Grover wasn't able to drive the RX-8.  As a mentor, I really appreciate his input, and he has never steered me wrong.  The only mistakes I usually make are when I don't listen to his advice.   We really could have used Grover's input to set up the car for the upcoming race.  Grover took it in stride in his usual level-headed way - he's been doing this long enough to know that I'm probably going to crash a lot more cars before this whole thing is over - that's just part of racing, and you have to learn to deal with it.

Although I can drive my street car on track (it comes in handy as a backup track car), at this point I am so disgusted with myself, that I pack up my gear, and vow to sit out the rest of the day in self-punishment.   I'll finish up instructing my students, but I won't drive anymore myself.  One of the students who was nearby was asking me if I was afraid to go back out after a wreck like that.  I had to explain that no, that wasn't it at all, what I feel instead is GUILT.  In fact, the problem is that I DON'T fear crashing the car - even after a wreck like that.  And that's what scares me sometimes - I'm just not afraid to put the car at its limits or beyond them, and unfortunately the beyond part is what got me into trouble.  A seasoned racecar driver would have a better sense of self preservation.  Sigh.

Danny's not having any of my self-pity - he is insisting I get right back out on track - he doesn't want me moping around for two weeks before the race thinking about this.  He knows if I do that, I won't be any good when it comes time to race - he wants me back on the horse.  So after lunch, I hop in my trusty backup driver's school car, and take a few laps.  Actually, quite a bit more than a few. 

 And I must admit, it did feel pretty good.   Giddy-up...

Mark Vitacco's race prepared VW Scirocco.  Mark was the brainchild behind the THSCC driving school and time trial series - he and Stacy King (from the Triangle Z-Club) run the series jointly.  This is Mark's SCCA ITB car, kind of like the Old Yellar car Danny and I drove in the 13 hour Enduro.  Mark built this himself and you will not find a better prepared ITB car in the country, (no offense to Jon at GSM).  Here it is waiting on the grid, ready to run the time trial.

And one parting picture, before we wrap up for the day.   I couldn't resist the photo of this Ambulance that has been turned into a tow vehicle (see the racecar on the trailer behind it?).   This is a fantastic idea - I bet he has tons of useful storage inside the back of that, probably well organized too, with cabinets and racks.  Ambulances are built on top of heavy duty chassis, and have strong motors, so its a natural thing to do.

Unfortunately I also took some pictures of Matt Hayelle and Danny's son, Brian, lending us a hand, but they weren't on the camera when I went to download them.  I suspect my camera's memory card was full at the time, and I didn't realize it.  Matt and Brian were a great help to us this weekend, and I want to apologize to them for my photo-miscue.

So now we have some more work to do than anticipated, to get the car ready for the VIR Race.  Jon and Danny and I will be working our tails off, trying to get the car ready in time.  As I write this, most of the parts to repair the damage are onsite, and we expect to take the car to the body shop tomorrow morning.  Its going to be close, but we just might make it.

Wish us luck!


  Next up is the VIR Race!  Hopefully we'll have our damaged car ready in time.  Tune in soon for another update.



To go to the next story, click on this link: VIR Race