Race Report: Lemons Thunderhill

I’ll be updating this post each day.

Thursday – arrival

In the picture below you can see how simple my race operation is. I flat tow my Yaris behind a 3.0L Ranger. It’s a very flat route so the 145 hp Ranger has no problems towing the car and gear. I arrived at the track at 4:30 the day before the test and tech day to try to get a good pit spot. I wanted something under the awning so I could shelter the pit from sun/rain. Mission accomplished.

Friday – test and tech

Tech was a breeze. The car has raced in several other series and all the safety issues are well sorted. We got into the B class with zero penalty laps. That was what we expected.

We had decided that the full test day was too expensive. $349 for 1 driver and $149 for each additional. We considered doing the half day at $249 + $100 but then decided to play a joke instead. People walked by and  puzzled: “why is the wing on the front”. We dead-panned “it’s front-wheel drive”. The look of disbelief on Daniel and Mario’s faces was worth the effort.

The weather forecast changes hourly. The latest news is that Saturday should be dry all day with a high of 78. Sunday may be wet in the morning. I told the team I get to drive the wettest stint. That may screw up driver order, but as team owner, I’m putting my foot down on that. There’s no way I can keep up with the fastest cars on a dry track, but give me puddles and let’s see who comes out on top.

Saturday – race day

The race day didn’t start the way we wanted. Our first driver got 2 black flags. One of them was for going off track to avoid a collision. I’ll take a black flag over dents any day. But 2 black flags pretty much put us out of contention. Also, there was some blisteringly fast B cars we could never catch. Our second driver didn’t like the way the car was driving. Actually, neither did the first driver. When I asked if the rear had no traction, he said neither end had traction. Puzzling. So we decided to turn the rest of the race day into a tuning day.

Mario went out and came back in after a few laps complaining that the car was oversteering badly. We were running Federal 595 RS-RR 225/45/15 15×9 on the front and Falken RT615K+ 205/50/15 15×7 rear. So we decided to switch the rears out for a stickier compound: Brigestone RE-71R 205/50/15 15×7. This time he stayed out a while and had a great race with a pickup. When he came back in, he said the car was much more neutral now and that I should get in to see what I thought.

The first thing I thought was the brakes are still mushy. The pedal starts hard but just mushes out and goes to the floor. That’s really disconcerting because it gives you very little brake feel. And without a firm pedal, it’s pretty hard to heel-toe shift. Oh well, I just did more straight-line braking and eased in the clutch. Not ideal, but I’m okay working around problems. It’s likely an aging master cylinder.

The next thing I thought was that the 225 RS-RRs 15×9 aren’t that much different from the 205 15×7 I had run in earlier races. The tires don’t actually feel very fast. Part of that is because they are miserable under braking. They slide way too easily. They aren’t a particularly loud tire, like say the NT-05, and in 225 they are definitely on the quiet side. I started to understand why driver 2 thought the car had no grip on either end. The RS-RR doesn’t feel like it stops very well, so it appears to have no front grip. But once you get into a corner, it’s side grip is really good and overwhelms the thinner and harder rear tire, leading to oversteer. Mario said it was a lot of work just keeping it on track. I didn’t get to try the 615K+ rear setup, but the RE-71R rears felt pretty well planted.

While the car felt like it had better acceleration at low speeds, surely due to the weight loss, the drag was noticeably higher. This may be because the cut down doors don’t have mirrors or the wind deflectors I added. So the inside of the car turned into a parachute. It meant that top speed on the main straight was just 90-91 mph, or about 5 mph lower than usual. That didn’t stop me from having fun though. I managed a 3:43 in my few laps on track. You can see the entire stint in the video below (quality is not good because Windows 10 Movie Maker sucks. I may re-encode this on my Mac later in the week).

Sunday – race day

The forecast was wrong. We arrived at the track to find it drying. I was expecting a lot of rain early so I could one-up some fast cars but it just wasn’t very wet. Discouraged, I decided not to drive first. Danny drove first and while he was out we got our pit crew member, Tiernan, a driving wristband. He got in the car next and despite all the warnings about the blind turn 9C that connects the East and West tracks, he did what a lot of people do, and drove straight though. When he got to the penalty box, they decided to throw the book at him. My book. I had dropped off about 15 copies of the book to be sold for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand charity. Tiernan’s penalty was to read a passage from the book while being filmed. If it doesn’t make the Lemons wrap-up video, I’ll post it here.

The rain started picking up and it seemed there was enough rain to have a bit of fun. And fun was had. I got my wish and was able to dice with the fastest cars on track… and beat them.

Mario drove next and also had a blast splashing around (in the muck and the mire). But then the track started drying and he decided it just wasn’t as much fun. We wanted to get Daniel and Tiernan back in the car one more time, so they split the time on a mostly dry track. In the end, we were 56th out of 110 entries, or something like that. After we realized we weren’t in contention, we relaxed and had a lot of fun. This weekend reminds me how much fun Lemons is. That said, Lemons is changing, and not necessarily for the better. I’ll comment on that later.

15 thoughts on “Race Report: Lemons Thunderhill

  1. Hi Ian,
    Thanks so much for the updates. I’m working today so reading your post improved my day. Couple of questions:
    1) Did you run with that front wing or was that a pre-race joke?
    2) how does the car handle with 4 tires of the same model (like an NT01)? I totally understand why using different grip tires could help, especially a FRW car, but when you describe the Federal as worse in longitudinal than lateral grip, and it’s only on 1 end, then odd handling isn’t surprising.


    1. We seriously considered running the wing, but ultimately it was just a sight gag. We were concerned that with even more grip imbalance it wouldn’t add safety. The car actually handles great with a square setup. NT01s are fantastic on it and work great on a wet track. The reason we wanted to go with a wider front tire was partly to mitigate all the extra heat. I’m considering going to 15×8 square with a 205 tire from now on.


      1. Our VW Fox is probably pretty similar, except we have way worse front/rear weight distribution.
        We started running 245 width tires on 15×8 wheels last year on all four corners and we’re liking it a lot, but from what I understand they’re not great in the rain.

        We’ll be in Seattle this weekend with Lucky Dog Racing League, when are you coming up the PNW for a race?


      2. I actually signed up for the Pacific Raceways event but the team decided they wanted to do Thunderhill instead. Considering logistics, I may decide to arrive-n-drive rather than bring my own car. Do you ever have open seats?


      3. We rarely have seats available.
        We actually had a seat open for the Seattle race but filled it two weeks ago.


  2. Wow. Great driving in the rain. You were on it from the first lap in the Saturday video as well. Driver mod definitely working well, particularly the west side which I guess is relatively new to most people and a little less power sensitive.

    What are your thoughts on tires & wheels after this race? We really like RE71 on our little car. They seem to behave more like an R-compound than some of the other 200TW tires, but they don’t last long and so I’m tempted to try RS-4 next.

    There did seem to be a lot of BMW’s, and a lot of wings out there. The speed of the cars is definitely increasing over time.


    1. I love RE71. Possibly my favorite tire. Yes, they wear out faster than some, but they don’t chunk when hot. RS-4 is the go-to endurance tire these days but there are a lot of good choices now. Aero is now more prevalent than theme. I miss the old days.


  3. Hi,
    Wanted to add that using a staggered setup likely improves a car with engine on same end as driven wheels (Yaris, 911) so I would explore that more with same tire but different sizes. I have also heard varying brake compounds front to back can act like a (fixed) brake bias knob but my 86 seems ok so I haven’t messed with that.


    1. The Yaris has drums in the rear and they don’t make a lot of different compounds for those. However, the rear brakes don’t do much on the car anyway so they may as well be drums. For the fronts, I’ve experimented with a bunch of different compounds: EBC Green, EBC Red, Hawk HPS, G-loc R8. I didn’t love any of them and there just isn’t much available for a Yaris caliper. So I put a Corolla/xD caliper on the front, which allows a lot more pad choices. I tend to use StopTech 309 on all my cars. They last a whole weekend and cost $40-70 per set. I even have them on my Ranger.


      1. We’ve been struggling for years to find a great combo for pads.
        The Fox has drums at the rear from the factory and small non-vented discs up front. It also has extremely poor weight balance with the engine entirely in front of the front axles.

        Audi style FWD FTW!

        We’ve swapped in later Jetta brakes all around and had absolutely fantastic brakes with crap pads, but they only lasted (at most!) a single race. We then switched to some unknown track compounds that lasted a full season but pushed the brake bias too far to the front for the bias adjuster to fix.

        Our team leader (who passed away earlier this year) was the keeper of knowledge on which pads we were running so we needed to start over.

        The first combo we tried this year were Hawk Blues up front and Wagner severe service duty at the rear. The brakes were fantastic with feel and modulation and zero fade, but we burned through about 2/3 of the Blues during a single race. The Wagner’s were probably at 75% left.

        We’re trying Hawk HT-10’s up front and Blues at the rear at this weekend’s race. I’ll post up how they did next week.


      2. OK, Back from the race.
        Other than the engine dying on Sunday afternoon it went pretty well.

        The brakes were pretty good but a slightly lower friction rear would be better with the HT-10’s.
        The only really big braking zone at Pacific is on a very steep downhill, we were locking the rears first there. I don’t think the pedal feel was as good with the HT-10’s up front vs the Blues but I was still getting to know the fresh track surface when the engine let loose.

        On a related note, the repave of the back half of Pacific is pretty awesome. The “avoid at all costs” curbs are gone and the track has been widened there. The stunning lack of grip in turns 3A and 3B is gone as well. All in all, a huge improvement on the back half. There’s still a lot of bumps on the areas that weren’t repaved. The exit at turn 9 is pretty rough as well as turn 7, they could use some TLC.


  4. Let me know how those brake pads go. Once you find that magic balance, you never want to change it. For me, on the Miata, that was StopTech all around. I don’t know if that’s ideal for the Yaris but it’s my starting point.


  5. Eric,
    Sorry for your loss.
    You likely already adopted this, but we use a daily log of configuration of car, weather, tire data, etc. It sometimes feels like overkill but you never know what data you will need in advance.


    1. We are now keeping a log book that lives in the car, The previous leader never wrote anything down.


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