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March 20-22, 2015 – Road Atlanta Majors Weekend

Executive Summary:

After surviving my best impression of a Fast & Furious car leap we finished tenth of sixteen in our class on Saturday (24th of 36 overall), then soldiered through miserable conditions on Sunday to finish seventh in class, eleventh overall. We now have enough points and finishes to qualify for a 2015 Runoffs invitation, so all we have to do is “turn a wheel” at VIR over the April 17-19 weekend in order to start making plans for Daytona in September.

Longer version:

After earning 31 points towards the 50 needed to earn a Runoffs invitation in GT2, the goal at Road Atlanta was to finish both races and earn (at least) the remaining 19 points we needed. That meant we’d have to average an 11th place finish each day, and with 16 cars entered in the class we’d obviously have to do better than DFL. Given that Road Atlanta is our home track I felt pretty confident about that, so we skipped the Thursday test day (which ended up being a good idea since the prediction for rain all day was accurate). The same forecasters called for rain until early Friday morning, Saturday was supposed to be clear and warm, then the rain would return for Sunday.

There were two qualifying sessions scheduled for Friday – a 25-minute session around 11:00 AM then a 15-minute session around 3:00 PM (the Majors-mandated “time suggested” schedules make planning things MUCH easier). The rain had stopped before the track went green at 8 AM and a dry line quickly developed for the early groups, but the 95% humidity and overcast skies meant things off-line (and off-track) were still damp as our first session rolled around. 36 cars spread over five classes of varying speeds meant getting a clean lap would be critical, and yet if/when that lap materialized I needed to be careful not to blow it because another one may not come along. A 25-minute session is pretty long and many of the “more experienced” drivers will come in after setting a decent lap, so Jay (Gomer) and I decided that if I DID get a decent lap early I’d come down pit road and wait to see if traffic would thin out later in the session. As the following in-car video shows, that’s pretty much how it played out. The first part of the session was spent warming up and trying to create a gap, then around 7:15 I tucked in behind Juan Vento (lime green Corvette) and Zach Monette (black Jaguar) and turned a “decent” 1:34.6 lap. Per the plan I came down pit road to sit and radioed Jay to let me know when there were 10 minutes left in the session. It looked like everyone was going to stay out, but just as I re-cranked to proceed back to the paddock a bunch or cars came in so I figured I’d give it one more shot. That worked out pretty well and we ended up with a 1:33.926, which put us 18th overall, eighth in GT2.

Qualifying video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGlTGJcZm-g

In watching the video you may notice that even on my aggressive laps I was still pretty conservative under braking and very careful to stay off the (still wet and slick) rumble strips, which makes for a longer lap than during completely dry conditions. I felt I definitely left some time on the table, but even if I went two seconds faster I’d only move up five spots on the grid (three places in class). The long-term goal was to finish and earn at least ten points, so we opted to skip both the afternoon session and the 10-minute “last chance” session on Saturday morning.

Sure enough, nobody behind me after session #1 went faster than we did, so we lined up 18th overall for the race. That put me on the outside next to the 05 car (flat black Mustang with yellow numbers) of Steven Lustig and within sight of the other two guys (Jerry Onyx’s #96 Corvette and Jorge Nazario’s #65 Corvette) I was racing with for fifth in class as we came up to take the green. I’m hesitant to say too much about the video before showing it, but as I was halfway down the hill Jay was already on the radio saying “Wave off, wave off, wave off”. I’m not sure what the crew chief for the #18 car (blue/yellow RX-7 starting behind Steven) was telling his driver, but maybe “No, no, no!” or even “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” sounds too much like “Go, go, go!”?

At any rate, here’s the video for Saturday’s race so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions:  http://youtu.be/vLSuP46a8wk

A few thoughts:

  1. I remember I saw it all unfolding and was on the brakes to miss Steven, but then got tagged on my LR and was driven into him. Definitely not blaming anyone (other than the #18 driver) because I know things can happen in a hurry in the pack of cars during any start, particularly a wave-off.
  2. Jay said he could see my right-side tires above the wall separating the track from pit road while others said they thought I might roll over. Until I saw the video I didn’t realize how high I’d gone nor how long I was up there, but if I was REALLY cool I would have done a Joey Chitwood number and driven on two wheels all the way to Turn 1! <g>
  3. After sticking the landing I was surprised everything still seemed to be attached and going in approximately the correct direction. At the time I was only interested in getting back to the pits (they had black-flagged the race) so I didn’t realize the steering wheel was off-center to the left when I was going straight. It ends up we had about 1.5” of toe-out when we checked it after the race (which made braking from 150+ into 10-A an adventure every lap!).
  4. As I come to a stop beside Jay at the 3:40 mark, Jim DerHaag is already walking towards the car and telling his crew what to bring from their war wagon. They run Simon Gregg’s red/white/blue #59 C-7 Corvette in GT1 and TransAm, so they are fully prepared for just about any situation. Within ten seconds they’re bringing rolls of duct tape and shears to patch the damage on the RF, and before the 8:40 mark they’ve got things well enough in hand that Jim gives me the thumbs-up. I’ve known Jim a long time (I first became aware of him at the ’83 Trans-Am race at Road America when he ran sixth as a privateer against the factory teams) and while he can be polarizing he’s definitely a racer first. When I stopped by afterward to thank him and his team he replied, “Hell, we’re all family.” Thanks, guys!

Even though they were re-gridding based on original positions I elected to start from the back because I wasn’t sure how Cuervo would handle or what might fly off at speed. Lustig was out with a bent LR control arm from where Cuervo had tried to mate with his Mustang, so that meant I was now in 15th place in class. At the green I passed the yellow Mustang to move to 14th, then followed the two Porsches into Turn One and down into the Esses. I saw the plume of smoke ahead and radioed, “Somebody just blew up” but in the future I need to have more clarity in my communications – Harriett and Erin thought I said *I* had blown up! I moved past the silver Porsche for 13th, then the white one on the back straight for 12th (I hate to generalize, but does it seem to others that many Porsche drivers race a different track than we do?) before getting past the blue Camaro (the one that I thought had blown up – not sure WHAT all the smoke was from) into Turn 1 for 11th. The next blue Mustang was a T1 car while the red/white Camaro was in AS, then I came up on Hal Musler’s ailing #7 Camaro to move up another place in class. I was hesitant when I got to Tim Myer’s red Viper (also in T1) because he’s normally faster than that, but it ends up he was having wheel bearing problems and moved over entering the Esses. The overall leaders lapped me between Five & Six and since I expected Zach Monette’s stealth Jaguar (the one I didn’t see at NOLA) to be right behind them I was waving for all I was worth into 10-A until Harriett told me I was imagining things! As we took the white flag I could see a gaggle of cars lead by the next GT2 car (white Camaro) and may have been able to give him a run if we’d had a couple more laps, but given the drama I was satisfied with our tenth place finish.

After getting back to our paddock spot and assessing the damage I’d pretty much decided to skip Sunday’s race, but our buddy Dainton Brooks “reminded me” I’d already paid the money and was at the track, so why not straighten things out as much as possible and tool around at the back just to earn points if necessary. We set the toe-in back closer to normal, repaired braces, and re-connected body panels, then bolted on the (new in 2006) rain tires because it just NEVER stopped raining all day. A lot of folks had gone home and on the first lap of the race Jorge Nazario lost it coming out of 10-B (reportedly totaled his Corvette), and even though a couple of other GT2’s got by me in the rain we still ended up seventh in class, 11th overall.

In spite of the drama on Saturday (or maybe because of it) we look at it as a successful weekend. We get to count another weekend, and adding the 25 points from the two finishes to the 31 from NOLA means we’ve exceeded the 50 points needed by GT2 cars for a Runoffs invitation. Now all we need to do is turn at least one lap at VIR to satisfy the participation requirement, then I can turn the car over to Jay and be HIS crew chief until September. 

Current BK Racing plans for the rest of 2015:

  • 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…