Well, the last of my Koni Challenge races for 2008 is over, so it's time to recap it and the season. This race was at VIR, a track I know well and have done fairly well at in the past, so I had fairly high expectations...at least of myself. This weekend was somewhat interesting as my co-driver and team owner wasn't around for any of the testing. That meant no data to look at, no coaching, and no setup help. For the setup help we enlisted the services of Brian Smith, who is a co-manager for Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC. Brian is a good friend of mine and a great professional driver.
The first test day had two sessions available, and I drove the first one on the same tires we used for the entire race at Miller Motorsports Park. That proved very interesting as our times were fairly mediocre compared to everyone else and it felt like there was a complete lack of grip all the way around. I thought it had to be tires, so we got some new ones put on for the second session and sent Brian out on them. He made a few minor shock tweaks and got some decent times out of the car...going five seconds faster than I had in the morning! I went out for the last session and immediately dropped 3.5 seconds off my time, which was pretty good. I'd still like to be much closer to Brian than that, but he's pretty good. I also wasn't feeling entirely well, which contributed some.
On Friday we had three more sessions. I jumped in for the first of those and in the out-lap the car decided to go into ABS failure, which caused me to make a minor detour into some strategically placed tires stacked against a wall. Cracked up the bumper cover some, but no damage. The ABS module continued to do that early in each session, but you could reset it and it stayed fine from then on. Very odd. Made a few pit stops in that session to check temps and things, but didn't really drop much time over the evening prior. The guys adjusted on the car some before the next session. I think it was better, but track temps were going up and grip was going down, so it didn't show on the clock. But the most annoying thing was the last twenty minutes of that hour session were pretty brutal on my body as sickness was setting in harder. I got fairly nauseous when I got out, in fact.
Our last session would have been in mostly dark conditions since that's how the race would finish the next day, which meant we couldn't really do much of that session as we didn't yet have working headlights (though the crew did get them working before the actual race). But since that was the case and I was feeling ill, I decided to go home and get some rest. The race was to be six hours which would mean I would need to do at least two stints of over an hour each, and each time I had gotten out of the car already I was completely soaked in sweat.
Our last practice session was first thing Saturday morning, followed an hour later by qualifying. There was an 11:30 drivers meeting and the race started at 2pm. Jason needed that practice since he hadn't been on VIR in the RX-8 yet and then he would qualify it. So I just slept in and got to the track in time for the meeting. Interestingly, we were told in that meeting there would be TWO pace laps before the race start. More on that in a bit.
I wasn't feeling at all well, but I did get some sleep and did hydrate okay, so I figured I had at least one stint in me, which was pretty important to me. We had a couple backups lined up in case I couldn't do the second one (as Jason would have gotten fried trying to do the rest of it himself). Jason started the race in 33rd out of 38 starters. Not good, but that was the best time we'd seen in the car all weekend so far, so it wasn't too far off what the car could do. We worked some good pit strategy early and worked our way into the top 2o about an hour into the six hour race. We hovered around 15th for the next hour and then I got in. I had done about 45 minutes and we were still easily in the top 20 when the motor decided it had enough of this abuse and gave up on us.
That's the first time I've ever had a motor just decide to expire for no external reason (missing a shift, etc). I wasn't able to make it around to the pits, so they had to throw a full course caution and pull me back in. Day over at the 2:40 mark.
Our car was never fully developed for this series as far as what we would have been allowed to do to the engine, so we were down on horsepower in a significant way to most of the field. We did get the car to handle better than most cars, though, and used that to stay somewhat competitive. It was a good learning experience, as we did see a lot of different conditions both with the car and the tracks we raced on. Fun stuff. Big thanks to the Team MER crew...Jason, Juliann, Darrin, and Wally in particular. Thanks for all the hard work, guys!
What's up for next year? Who knows. I do still have an MX-5 Cup race left at Laguna-Seca, a set of Spec Miata races at VIR, and then the 13 Hour enduro at VIR.