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March 6-8 - NOLA Majors Weekend

Executive Summary:

First time ever racing at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans (hence the name). After running as high as fifth in the class of seven, we finished seventh on Saturday and then fourth on Sunday to gain 31 points towards the 50 needed to earn an invitation to the 2015 Runoffs. Although we do have some things to fix, the car we loaded into the trailer on Sunday afternoon still had all four tires attached and pointing in the correct direction so now it’s on to the Road Atlanta Majors the weekend of March 20-22.

Longer version:

Although Cuervo is eligible to compete in GT2 it’s not really competitive with the “real” GT2 cars in the class. At Road Atlanta the GT2 record is in the 1:26 range and the very best I’ve ever run there is a 1:30, but with the 2015 Runoffs being held at Daytona I figured that would be the best chance I’d ever have to keep the class leaders in sight after they dropped the green (i.e. – Cuervo handles pretty well on the straights! <g>). Last year Jay Gomer and I shared the car over the same weekend (and it worked out well), but for 2015 I/we decided I’d run three Majors weekends in an effort to earn a Runoffs invitation before turning the car over the Jay for the bulk of the SARRC season. If everything was still going strong come August, we’d then make a decision on whether or not to spend a week in Florida in late September.

In February 2014 I attended the first ever SCCA road race at NOLA Motorsports Park, and I was VERY impressed with the facility. I wasn’t sure how well it would race, but the infrastructure, locale, and relative proximity to Atlanta (about ten hours towing) meant it merited serious consideration for our 2015 BK Racing plans. It’s also about three hours from my son’s family in Pensacola, so when their March 7-8 weekend was announced we made definite plans to attend as our first event of the year.

Over the winter we replaced the entire exhaust system with a new Hedman Husler Hedder set-up, upgraded the front brakes with larger rotors, replaced the windshield with one you can actually see through (it was pretty rough in the bright sunshine at the ARRC), and did normal off-season maintenance. We finished everything up by March 1, loaded up that week (dodging the snowflakes) and I headed out for the Big Easy at 0530 on Thursday, March 5. I took my time heading south and rolled into NOLA around 3:30 that afternoon, signed in, then waited for my old Solo I (now Track Trials) buddy, John Centanni, to come let me into his trackside garage space. John & I pushed each other pretty hard back in the late 90’s in our Corvettes and he’d gotten out of things since then, but when I attended last year he apparently got the bug again. At any rate I jumped at the chance when he offered to let us hang out in the shop that weekend, and we were very appreciative as we watched others struggle putting up awnings in Thursday evening’s 40/40 conditions (40 degrees and 40 mph winds)!

Since the goal of the weekend was to simply finish both races and earn points, we used the tires we ran in November at the ARRC by GRM. The first session during Friday’s track-sanctioned test day was devoted to bedding the new pads and rotors, plus we wanted to get a general idea of gearing and which way the track went. Because of that I went out at the back of the pack, ran three or four progressively faster laps, then cooled the brakes for a lap before coming in. Everything looked good, so for the second session (again starting at the back) I planned to turn the wick up a bit. It took me two laps to work though/around some traffic, so when I came down the front straight to start the third lap I was surprised to see the starter waving a flag! He’d already shown up the green flag, so I was thinking, “What’s this about?” Then as I got closer I realized it was the checker to end the session, so I stayed on the throttle to check our gearing on the front straight (we topped out at 153 MPH), then came in. When Jay inquired it ends up they had allowed the first session to run long, so they made up for it by checkering the second session 10 minutes early.

For the third (and final for us since we wanted to prep the car for being Group 1 on Saturday) session I got to the grid early to eliminate some of the traffic issues. I did a fairly conservative first lap to warm everything up again and let the rest of the group spread out, then turned laps of 1:56.5, 1:55.3, and 1:55.7 before hitting more traffic. I also found out the backside of the course (the Esses) was MUCH faster than it first appeared. It was comfortable carrying fourth gear through the entire section with a top speed over 120 mph, which definitely meant you didn’t want to blink in case you missed something. Any doubts about it being a challenging course were quickly erased! We then prepped the car for Sunday (changed to a slightly better set of tires and bled the brakes), then went back to watch the fourth session for the big cars. The GT2 leaders were running consistent sub-1:50 lap times, so that confirmed our plan to run for points rather than glory the rest of the weekend. <g>

We were the first group on track for Saturday’s single qualifying session and we again lined up near the back. On the out lap I avoided an oil drain pan right at the braking point (and in the line) for Turn 1, then two turns later there was a car off on driver’s left. I warmed the car up and tried to find a gap as we came up to take the green, then was greeted by a waving yellow and ANOTHER car off hard between 2 & 3. Two turns later they black-flagged the session and we all went to pit road while they cleaned up the oil and carnage. When I saw Don McMillon’s GT2 Corvette come in on the roll back I told Jay, “I don’t think they’ll get that one back together in time to race.” When they finally let us back out we had time for maybe two laps, so I ended up 11th overall, fifth of the seven remaining GT2 cars, with a 1:53.215. Certainly not the fastest car on the track, but not the slowest either.

The SCCA officials worked to make up the time lost to the clean-up, so we rolled off the grid for our Saturday race no more than 10 minutes behind schedule. I got a good start and moved ahead of some cars that qualified ahead of me, but I knew as soon as they got their tires warmed up they’d be past me and gone. Multi-time National champion Mike Lewis was also starting from the back in his fire-breathing GT1 Jaguar, so I kept one eye on the mirror as things settled down. About halfway through the 30-minute race I was running fifth in class with no real chance of catching the fourth place car and had enough of a lead on sixth place that I waved GT3 leader Bill McGavic by – no sense in burning Cuervo down with nothing to be gained. Shortly after that overall race leader Simon Gregg came by, then a lap later I saw (now second place) Mike Lewis coming behind me on the front straight. I let Mike by as we entered the left-handed Turn 3 but never saw Zach Monette right behind him.  We touched (his RF to my LR) and I went around, stalled the car, and couldn’t get it restarted! I was pissed at Zach for about two seconds, but realized I didn’t look in my mirrors before turning in so it was my fault as much as his. I got out and tried pushing Cuervo back out of harm’s way, but they ended up going to a full-course yellow anyway. We had fifth in class locked up, but finished seventh (and 19th of 20 starters) because I didn’t look in my mirrors. After the race I apologized to Zach and he apologized to me, so all is good there.

We skipped the Sunday morning warm-up, swapped the tires left to right (the track is pretty rough on left-side tires) and added a little rebound to the shocks. We still didn’t expect to have anything for the GT2 leaders, so I figured we could ride around in fifth place, not burn the car down, and see the checkered flag for a change. After a fairly conservative start I indeed slotted into fifth and let a couple of GT3 Mazda’s by. I did turn my best race lap of the weekend (a 1:53.554) in the early laps, but the sixth place GT2 car (Tim Gray) was catching me so I didn’t put up too much of a fight to keep him behind me. Shortly after that Jay came on the radio to let me know the third place GT2 car was in the pits, then one lap later I saw the GT2 leader (Randy Kinsland) off track at Turn 13, so now Tim & I were contending for the final podium spot. Had I known that I might have tried a little harder to keep him behind me!!! <g> Bottom line is we finished fourth in class, 13th overall, and earned another 17 points towards the 50 we need.

All in all it was a successful weekend. Not only do we get to count a weekend, two finishes, and 31 points toward the Runoffs invitation but we also had a great time at a beautiful & challenging facility. Despite looking benign on paper, NOLA races quite well, so along with the supporting infrastructure (including being 20 minutes from Bourbon Street) I definitely see it as a potential Runoffs location a few years down the road. I also saw a bunch of folks I haven’t seen since last September (Jay asked me if there was anyone I DIDN’T know), renewed old friendships, and got to see my family again. After we loaded up and went to lunch (at Nacho Mama’s) on the way out of town Pete also remarked that he’s “getting the itch again”, so it was a successful trip from a recruiting standpoint as well. 

And for those that participate on the book of faces, Heather posted some pictures and comments here (and yes, after seeing these Grandpa decided he needs to get serious about losing some ballast!):

And one non-racing aside:  After eating at Copeland’s on Thursday night, Jay & I joined Brother Centanni and a cast to tens at another local eatery, Mosca’s, then the seven of us (Pete, Heather and three granddaughters) went over to John’s for crawfish & the fixin’s on Saturday night. Quite simply, there’s some good eatin’ in Nawlins! <g>  And John, thanks so much for both the hospitality and help.

Current BK Racing plans for the rest of 2015:

  • March 21-23 – Road Atlanta Majors (Butch)
  • April 17-19 – VIR Majors (Butch)
  • May 9-10 – VIR Double SARRC (Jay)
  • July 4-5 – Roebling Road Double SARRC (Jay)
  • July 25-26 – Road Atlanta Double SARRC (Jay)
  • August 15-16 – Charlotte Double SARRC (Jay)
  • September 21-27 – SCCA Runoffs ® at Daytona (tentative)
  • October 10-11 – SARRC Invitational Challenge at Roebling Road (Jay)
  • November 6-8 – ARRC at Road Atlanta (TBD)

As always, let me know if you want further information about any of these weekends 

See y’all at the track…