Race Report: Watkins Glen

TL;DR check and replace hoses often.

Watkins Glen is a kind of mecca for many racing enthusiasts. Whether you’re a spectator, driver, or sim racer, it seems that the Glen is really popular. I’m not really sure why that is. I’ve driven 10 tracks in the real world and about 50 in simulation, and it’s not in the top half of either list. I won’t make you endure the simulation list, but here’s the real track list.

  1. Thunderhill West
  2. Sonoma Raceway
  3. Buttonwillow Raceway Park
  4. Laguna Seca
  5. Thunderhill East
  6. Thompson Motor Speedway
  7. Watkins Glen
  8. New Hampshire Motor Speedway
  9. Carolina Motorsports Park
  10. Willow Springs

So what do I have against WGI? Two things: (1) it’s dangerous (2) it’s not very interesting. I like technical tracks that have compromises, off-camber corners, blind apexes, and decreasing radii. I don’t like long straights. In fairness, WGI does have some interesting sections. The inner and outer loops are pretty great, but in general, the corners are just too far apart. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fun track. And I’ll still add a couple of days to a work trip to go racing at The Glen. Which is how I ended up racing there this weekend.

My brother had just done a bunch of work on his Miata. He upgraded the brake, clutch, header, wheels, and had a fresh motor build controlled with a Megasquirt. He also made some trick custom bodywork with a fastback, splitter, wing, and side skirts.


Sadly, the report from the practice day, which I missed, was that there was something wrong with the motor. It just wasn’t making any power. This despite paying for several hours of dyno tuning. We decided it would still be fun to race. For about 5 laps. The motor died on track. A radiator hose sprung a leak, causing the engine to overheat. After patching the hose, we got it started again, but the head was warped and mixing oil and water.

My brother came prepared with a spare head and gasket. So we set about the task of swapping heads. I say ‘we’ but it was really the other guys on the team. I would periodically fetch parts or food. Along the way, there were several unexpected adventures, like breaking the EGR pipe on the header and having to weld it back up. After some 8 hours, the car was all put back together and ready to race for day two.

The weather forecast was for rain, and it rained plenty. I went out first because I didn’t drive at all in practice. I spent most of the time watching the gauges and sniffing for trouble. Although you don’t use your nose much in racing, it’s a surprisingly useful diagnostic tool. I didn’t smell steam or oil, but there was a lot of unburned gas in the air. I didn’t have much confidence in the 15×9 225/45/15 RS4s in the rain. I tested the limits of the tire early and found they broke away very quickly. My job as first driver was to check the car out, not race for position, so I lapped at six tenths.

In my ~50 minutes on track, I saw a quite a few cars off track. Some of the slower drivers were really slow. But there were some really fast ones too. There were caution flags in some corner or other almost every lap. When I saw the course go to a full course caution, I brought it in as planned. In the pit stop we added 1 can of gas and a lot of oil. Apparently the mild oil leak was getting worse. Great, just great.

Our next driver spun the car on the first time through the inner loop. He decided the conditions were a bit too treacherous for him and brought it in a few laps later. The next driver’s stint was cut short by running out of gas. No, the fuel gauge doesn’t work, and our estimation of fuel usage was off (probably because it’s running very rich). He went back out again and was running good laps until he saw our friends’ car in the T6 graveyard.

And that’s where we decided to end the day. I suppose we could have raced more for the love of racing. But the car wasn’t competitive and had a decent chance of getting wrecked. The oil leak was also a concern. It’s much easier to drive a car up on a trailer than push it up if the motor croaked. I’m sure our competitors thanked us for the oil we weren’t leaving out there.

It was a pretty frustrating weekend for the whole team, but especially for my brother, who had nothing to show for all his time and money. After event fees, consumables, and travel expenses, it turns out I paid about $1000 for 50 minutes of yellow-flag-riddled track time. Sadly, this shit happens all the time in racing. Let’s be more specific about that last statement and take a look back at some racing history.

  • MR2: DNF, DNF, PX, PX, DNF, DNF = 2/6 finished
  • Miata 1: PX, PX, DNF, PX, PX, PX, P3, P2, PX, DNF = 8/10 finished, 2 podiums
  • Arrive-n-drive: P3, PX, DNF, PX, PX = 4/5 finished, 1 podium
  • Miata 2: PX, PX, DNF = 2/3 finished
  • Yaris: PX, PX, P3, PX = 4/4 finished, 1 podium

The actual cause of each DNF is listed below.

  • MR2 spun bearing – unknown cause
  • MR2 broken axle – inspection showed it was cracked
  • MR2 blown head gasket
  • MR2 spun bearing – clogged oil pump
  • Miata – broken suspension from off course
  • Miata – overheat from radiator hose leak
  • 240SX – blown head gasket
  • Miata – overheat from radiator hose leak

That’s only considering races. I’ve also had to go home early on HPDE days. Here’s the tally on that

  • MR2 spun bearing – unknown cause
  • 325E overheat – broken motor mount led to radiator leak
  • 325E overheat – leaky radiator hose
  • 325E blown head gasket

Certainly each platform has its specific weaknesses, but it’s surprising how often radiator hoses fail. Although we did get back out and finish, one of my arrive-n-drives involved a lot of down time from a leaky automatic transmission line.

There’s probably a bunch of mechanics out there shaking their collective heads at me. Duh, of course you need to inspect and replace hoses all the time. Sadly, I suck at car maintenance. The real problem here is that I have very little desire to become good at it. That’s written all over my racing history.

Race Report: Thunderhill West

One way to get a trophy is to be the fastest car on track. Another way is to be the slowest car. Haha no, ChampCar Endurance Series doesn’t actually give out trophies to the slowest car on track. We got the Sportsmanship trophy! I’m really proud of that because the team was full of first-time racers, and I didn’t want our inexperience to cause problems with the other racers. During the pre-race meeting I made a quick announcement along the lines of “We’ve got a bunch of first time racers here. Please don’t try to race us, we aren’t in your race. And please don’t try to scare us, we’re already scared”. We received nothing but encouragement all race long.

ChampCar uses a point system where each car has a base value and modifications with additional points. The Yaris was valued at 100 points plus 10 points per corner for lowering springs, so 140 total. Most of the field is near the target 500 points. The Yaris is really under powered for ChampCar. It was kind of depressing being the slowest car on track. But it’s a good car for a first race as it doesn’t have bad manners and is cheap as dirt to race.

Passing Thoughts: Part 2 (Rules)

Every racing organization has its own set of rules about passing. Let’s take a look at some of them in order from brief to verbose. Next week we’ll talk about how the rules are actually used and some best practices as a result.

Lucky Dog

Lucky Dog prides itself on its brief rulebook and the passing rules are no exception.

  • 12. h. Passing. The passing vehicle is 100% responsible for the careful and safe preparation, planning and execution of the pass…period. If you are about to be passed, it’s most helpful to give the passing car hand signals as to which side you will allow them to pass on. But most importantly, you need to hold your line and remember that the other car is responsible for safely getting around you.


Lemons is tongue-in-cheek as usual. They don’t specifically define passing rules. The arbitrary nature of the rules and penalties turns off some drivers.

  • 6.0: Penalties: Black-flag penalties are assessed for dangerous behaviors and/or being a douche. These behaviors include, but are not limited to, contact for any reason; wheel(s) leaving the pavement; speeding in the pits; missing/ignoring a safety flag; racing to the yellow or red flag; overly aggressive driving; hitting a wall, cone, tree, safety vehicle, the track restaurant, etc; lack of car control; thinking the line has a deed and you own it; unsportsmanlike conduct; annoying the hell out of us; annoying the hell out of everyone else; etc.
  • 6.1: It’s Always Your Fault: Lemons is an all-fault environment. You are 100% responsible for what happens while you’re at the wheel. Think you’re the hittee, not the hitter? We don’t care. Think you’ve been wrongly accused? See the part where it says “we don’t care.” Your job is to stay out of trouble. If trouble finds you, take responsibility like a grownup and figure out how to avoid it the next time. This ain’t the damn SCCA.


Despite being a rather large and complex entity, the SCCA rules are quite brief.

  • 6.11.1 On Course Driver Conduct
  • A. Drivers are responsible to avoid physical contact between cars on the race track.
  • B. Each competitor has a right to racing room, which is generally defined as sufficient space on the marked racing surface that under racing conditions, a driver can maintain control of his car in close quarters.
  • C. Drivers must respect the right of other competitors to racing room. Abrupt changes in direction that impede or affect the path of another car attempting to overtake or pass may be interpreted as an effort to deprive a fellow competitor of the right to racing room.
  • D. The overtaking driver is responsible for the decision to pass another car and to accomplish it safely. The overtaken driver is responsible to be aware that he is being passed and not to impede or block the overtaking car. A driver who does not use his rear view mirror or who appears to be blocking another car attempting to pass may be black flagged and/or penalized, as specified in Section 7.

ChampCar (formerly ChumpCar)

The ChampCar rules are very similar in wording and spirit to the SCCA rules. But they add a few specifics about driving on the racing line and blocking. They also further define what a complete pass is.

  • 7.2.1. It is the responsibility of all drivers to avoid physical contact between cars on the race track. All competitors have a right to “racing room” on the marked racing surface. “Racing room” shall be generally defined as sufficient space on the marked racing surface to allow a competitor to maintain control of his/her car.
  •  7.2.2. The responsibility for passing another car and accomplishing that pass safely rests with the overtaking driver. The driver that is about to be overtaken has the responsibility to be aware that he or she is about to be passed, give hand-signals and shall not impede the overtaking car.
    • The driver being overtaken should, at all times, remain on their racing line unless the car is impaired and is unable to maintain an adequate racing speed.
    • The driver being overtaken shall not block. Any driver who fails to make use of their rear view mirror, or who appears to be blocking another car seeking a pass, will be black flagged and/or penalized.
    • It is the responsibility of the overtaking car to prepare for, plan and execute a FULL and COMPLETE safe pass. The definition of a full and complete pass is when the overtaking car has extended a lead of approximately one car length ahead of the vehicle being passed.

World Racing League

WRL is similar to those above, but adds specific language about the order of precedence when defining fault. They also further define racing room.

  • 2. Racing Rules:
  • a. Contact: World Racing League is a non-contact racing club. To avoid contact, all drivers should maintain racing room at all times and in all situations. “Racing room” is defined as allowing all competitors room to maneuver their car on the racing surface, or more simply put, giving your competitor a lane to race in.
  • b. Passing: Safe and drama-free passing requires that everyone adhere to the following rules. For the purpose of defining at-fault contact while passing, the passing rules are weighted in the following order:
    • Making a pass: It is your responsibility to plan and execute a safe pass, maintain racing room at all times
    • Being passed: It is your responsibility to check your mirrors, hold a consistent line, be predictable, use hand signals and to maintain racing room at all times
    • Position: For the purpose of determining position, a car attempting a pass is considered to have established position once it’s front axle has pulled even with the rear axle of the car being passed.
  • c. Safe pass: A safe pass is defined as a pass where no contact takes place and no car involved in the pass spins or leaves the racing surface, because all parties maintained racing room at all times. If a car is next to you and you deprive him of racing room by causing contact or “squeezing” him off the track, you have violated safe passing etiquette and will be Black Flagged

American Endurance Racing

AER rules are pretty similar to those above, but add that the slower car should indicate which side they want to be passed on that cars in different classes should not interfere with each other.

  • 9. Passing
  • 9.1. Every competitor has the right to racing room, which is defined as sufficient space on the paved racing surface that under race conditions a driver can maintain control of his car in close quarters.
  • 9.2. The car entirely in front has the right to choose any position on track, so long as it is not considered to be blocking. Blocking is defined when a driver makes two or more line changes in an attempt to prevent the trailing car from passing.
  • 9.3. A driver who does not use his mirrors or appears to be blocking another car attempting to pass may be black flagged, and may be penalized.
  • 9.4. Ultimately, the decision to make a pass and do so safely solely rests with the overtaking car. The car being overtaken should be situationally aware of the fact that they are being overtaken, and not make any sudden or unpredictable moves or blocks to impede the ability of the overtaking driver to pass.
  • 9.5. When possible and when it becomes apparent that a pass is going to occur, it is a courtesy and strongly suggested that the car being passed to indicate to the passing car on which side they would like to be passed on.
  • 9.6. Cars who are not racing in the same class are strongly encouraged to work with each other to effectuate a prompt and safe pass. Drivers should be aware that they may come upon a situation where two other cars are in a heated battle in their respective class and should try to accommodate any passing required without holding up that battle. It should be noted that this applies to classes faster and slower than you.


NASA has the most detailed rules on passing as they have several examples and rulings in the appendix. It’s very useful to read this section even if you have no interest in racing with NASA.

  • 25.4 Rules for Overtaking 25.4.1 Passing General
    The responsibility for the decision to pass another car, and to do it safely, rests with the overtaking driver. The overtaken driver should be aware that he/she is being passed and must not impede the pass by blocking. A driver who does not watch his/her mirrors or who appears to be blocking another car seeking a pass may be black-flagged and/or penalized. The act of passing is initiated when the trailing car’s (Car A) front bumper overlaps with the lead car’s (Car B) rear bumper. The act of passing is complete when Car A’s rear bumper is ahead of Car B’s front bumper. “NO PASSING” means a pass cannot even be initiated. Any overlap in a NO PASSING area is considered illegal.
  • 25.4.2 Punting / Passing in Corners
    The term “punting” is defined as nose to tail (or side-of-the-nose to side-of-the-tail) contact, where the leading car is significantly knocked off of the racing line. Once the trailing car has its front wheel next to the driver of the other vehicle, it is considered that the trailing car has a right to be there. And, that the leading driver must leave the trailing driver enough “racing room.” In most cases, “racing room” is defined as “at least three quarters of one car width.” If adequate racing room is left for the trailing car, and there is incidental contact made between the cars, the contact will be considered “side-to-side.” In most cases, incidental side-to-side contact is considered to be “just a racing incident.” If, in the case of side-to-side contact, one of the two cars leaves the racing surface (involuntarily) then it may still be considered “a racing incident.”
  • 25.4.3 Right to the Line
    The driver in front has the right to choose any line, as long as they are not considered to be blocking. The driver in front loses the right to choose his or her line when the overtaking driver has their front wheel next to the driver. Note: This rule may be superseded by class specific rules. As an example, once the lead car loses the right to choose the line that driver cannot “squeeze” another vehicle off of a straight away claiming the “three- quarters of a car width.”
  • 25.4.4 Blocking
    A driver may choose to protect his or her line so long as it is not considered blocking. Blocking is defined as two (2) consecutive line changes to “protect his/her line,” and in doing so, impedes the vehicle that is trying to pass with each of the two (2) consecutive movements. Drivers are encouraged to check with the Race Director for a full explanation before the start of the race.

Data Analysis: Thompson

Last week I wrote about the ChumpCar race at Thompson. This week I want to take a look at the telemetry we recorded with an Aim Solo. As a reminder, this is what the track looks like.

The first thing I want to explore was the difference between my practice and the race. My fastest race lap was more than 2 seconds faster than my practice. Why was that?

The top panel is speed. The next two are G-forces. The bottom is time difference. I don’t tend to find the G-force graphs very useful.The black line is the “reference” or fast lap. The red line is the practice lap.

If you look at the speed graph, you can see that I’m pretty much faster everywhere. I’m braking deeper into the corners, and I sometimes have lower speeds in the middle of the corner (actually slightly before the apex). I knew when I was driving my fast lap that I had pushed too hard at point A and was understeering badly. This turned out to cost me about a tenth, so it wasn’t that bad. In order to get into the 1:26s, I’ll have to find more speed. So let’s look at the other drivers to see what I can learn from them.

I brake later and carry that speed much farther into the corner. By the time I’m on the gas, I’ve gained over a second on the green and red drivers. But I’m much later getting on the gas, and that advantage starts to decay. If there was a long straight following T1/T2, they would catch and pass me. However, on this track, my strategy would allow me to pass them going into T1 and block them on the way to T3. I brake later and keep more speed through T3.

Despite my more aggressive driving style, I’m no faster than the blue driver, and the red driver has mostly caught me by the time we fully exit T4. At some point I’m going to gap them by 2 seconds, but it isn’t through these slow corners. T5 has a funny data error; ignore that. I brake much, much later in T5 and carry the same exit speed. So I put some distance between myself and the red/green drivers. But the blue driver has a similar line to mine and we’re still neck-n-neck as we head toward the bowl.

In T6, you can see that I have the lowest mid-corner speed. I took a lot of different lines through here and this one wasn’t that good! By the time we are running down the straight between T6 and T7, I’m not much ahead of the red or blue drivers. What happens next is critical.

The red and green drivers brake much earlier. They have a somewhat constant rate of deceleration all the way to T8 and then pick up throttle from there. Without a throttle or brake trace it’s hard to say if they are coasting, but my bet is that after some initial braking, they are scrubbing speed by coasting. Coasting is generally not the fast way around the track, but it does have its uses. In contrast, the blue and black drivers have a roller-coaster speed trace. They brake much later on the way to T7 and speed up between T7 and T8.

The blue driver is losing nearly 2 seconds by overspeeding between T7 and T8. He ends up turning T8 into a braking zone. His speed never recovers and he ends up with the slowest speed down the main straight. This is a Miata, not an M3. The throttle is a suggestion to go faster. You have to keep as much speed as possible, especially in the fast corners.

Thinking back to last week, I was really excited about this series of corners. It’s a Type II followed shortly after by a Type I. That is, you brake way late for T7 to keep as much speed as possible. Then you throw away the exit to set up for T8 with just enough speed that you’re full throttle from just before the apex until the end of the main straight. That’s what I did, and it’s 2 seconds faster than the other drivers. That said, even if the others had taken my same line, they are unnecessarily lifting or braking to set up T9. That section is really about confidence more than technique. They’ll get faster as they get more laps.

3rd Gear Experiment

Late in the day we started losing the clutch. So Mario decided to do an entire stint without using 2nd gear. The results are pretty surprising.

The black line is his reference lap (fastest 2nd gear lap). There are two 2nd gear corners: T1 and T4. Once you hit T5, it’s 3rd and 4th all the way. So let’s look at the time and speed through T4. Amazingly, the loss is only 0.2-0.3 sec. In T1, he consciously holds more speed in 3rd gear. While he doesn’t get as much drive leaving the corner, he loses no time to shifting. The net effect is that he has lost no time by the time he hits T3. He does lose a couple tenths in T4 though. It’s a really tight corner, and 2nd gear puts the power down much better than 3rd. But it’s just a couple tenths. OK, so I’m driving in 3rd next year, at least in T1.

GPS Alignment Issues?

One of the YSAR readers, Sten, who happens to be a data analysis professional, claims that “some of the data is definitely misaligned”. I admit that I suck at telemetry  analysis, so I followed up with him. Over email he further specified that it was impossible for the black and green lines to be accurate in T1 and T3, for example. Here’s an overlay showing the 5 fastest laps from the black and green drivers. They are fairly consistent.

Race Report: Thompson

This weekend, I raced in a 12 hour ChumpCar race at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park with my twin brother’s car on team “Occam’s Racer”.

With the exception of Thunderhill, every time I’ve driven a track, I’ve practiced it first in simulation. The Thompson Speedway road course isn’t in any simulation. So that changed how I approached the learning process. In simulation, my first sessions are driven very hard. My primary goal is to catalog the dangerous parts of the course. A violent wreck tends to stick in my mind. Obviously, that isn’t my plan in real life! What follows below is sort of a journal of how I prepared, practiced, and drove in the race.

Part 1: Pre-race Preparation

I’m watching about 7 videos. Some are races and others HPDE sessions. A few are really good and worth watching multiple times. I’ve got a track map that I’m marking up. The first priority is always to find the flag stations. For the most part, these are line-of-sight, low, and near the middle  of corners. The exceptions are T3, which is elevated, T5, which is on the backside of the turn after the bridge, and T10, which becomes visible on the inside as you approach the exit. Making a mental note of the flag stations will be the first thing I do when I go live. Here are my initial thoughts on the turns.

T1/T2 – Reminds me a bit of Summit Point. Starts very slow and then increases in radius as a single corner. 2nd gear shifts to 3rd in T2. Get the braking and turning done early and turn this into one long opening corner.

T3 – Still Summit-like with a slightly early apex 90° that goes a little off camber and blind at the exit. Reminds me a little of Willow Springs T1.

T4 – Tightest corner on track. 2nd gear 180° hairpin. HPDE line is late apex, but I think going around the inside will work better in a race (more defensive, keep speed longer, following straight isn’t very long).

T5 – Another 180° but slightly faster. Seems that one could go late apex, double apex, or tight. I feel like double apex is the default. There is some straight following, but not enough to prioritize exit speed over position.

T6 – An even larger 180°. A single late apex is expected as there is some straight afterward, but I suspect going around the inside is going to happen more often than not in a race. The track out gets close to the wall only at the very end.

T7/T8/T9 – The most interesting sequence of the track. T9 is critical because it sets up the main straight. If the car isn’t at the limit in T9, it means that T8 or T7 were messed up. The approach to T7 is to let the car create space as it passes the wall on the left. Trail-brake around and completely sacrifice the exit. The key is to get the car parallel with the curbing for the T8 entry. Straighten out T8 as much as possible and get on gas as early as possible. Start building speed before the T8 apex and keep building it. Track all the way out and stay out to set up T9. Diving too early into T9 will require lifting at the exit, which will kill the top speed. This whole section requires some discipline to get right. I’m really looking forward to this sequence.

T10 – Not really a turn, but the start of the main straight.

Part 2: Friday Practice

I just did 12 practice laps. I feel like that was enough to get a good idea of how to race it. In person, the track feels really different from what I saw on video. There’s more elevation than it would appear and there are several changes in camber. Also, the surface doesn’t have as much grip as I expected. My first 4 lap times were: 2:10 (out lap), 1:35, 1:32, 1:30, 1:29. It turned out that 1:30.09 was my median race lap, so it only took me 3-4 laps to get up to race speed.

Here’s my post-practice download.

T1-T2 – Brake between the 4 and 3 marker. There’s positive camber here, so grip is good. It turns downhill halfway through, so you really can’t hold trail-braking around or the car will over-rotate. Better to get shit done (braking, turning) early and then add throttle to stabilize the rear.

T3 – I didn’t do this corner correctly even once. It’s just a 90° left. Oddly, I sometimes thought it was T5, and went in thinking I was going to double apex it. I’m mad at myself for not finding the right reference points for this. On race day, I’ll have to make sure I focus on this corner.

T4 – It’s as tight as expected. It drops in elevation toward the end similar to T1, and it’s also important to get shit done early. There’s some throttle modulation required to maximize traction.

T5 – Indeed, this is a double apex. I saw a lot of cars throwing away time trying to enter too wide. The angle at the 2nd apex is critical to get right as the wrong angle could send you off track. I may try to go a little deeper tomorrow to get a better run into the 2nd apex.

T6 – A bit of a puzzle. It definitely felt faster going wide at the entry. But I also found I could put some distance on other cars going in tight. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

T7 – This is one of the best examples of a Type II corner I’ve ever experienced. I brake very late and totally sacrifice the exit. It’s a good passing zone as timid drivers will dawdle on the right side. Brake AFTER the ripples in the track.

T8 – I’m on the gas before the apex, and I feel that I should be able to commit to 100% throttle even sooner. Something to work on.

T9 – Message to self: 100% throttle the whole damn time. Commit to it.

Part 3: Mental Imagery

Mental Imagery (MI) is Ross Bentley’s thing. I generally don’t do that much (sorry Ross) because I find that simulation fits me better. But of course I don’t have Thompson Speedway in any sim. So time to do some MI. To get myself in the mood, I’m going to queue up some helmet cam footage I took during the practice session (helmet cameras are not allowed during the race but I didn’t hear anything about no cameras in the practice session…).

Part 4: Endurance Race

The race did not start well. On the opening lap, my brother Mario said “just let that guy by” as we watched an overzealous BMW e30 bullying his way through the first couple corners. About a minute later, our car comes into the pit dragging part of its diffuser. The driver, Patrick, had to dodge the BMW when it spun in front of him, and the subsequent trip into the grass yanked on the leading edge of the diffuser. Then the pit marshal came over and told us our transponder wasn’t working. So we had to make 2 minor fixes before completing even a single lap. On the plus side, the demeanor of the team became more relaxed as we had already lost the race. Now we could drive unencumbered with the thought of winning our class.

Patrick put down a lot of solid laps with a few times in the 1:29s. I got in next and started a string of 1:30s and a few 1:29s. I thought to myself “I think I’ve got a high 1:28 in me”, but it wasn’t until the end of the session that I did any. For most of the race, I was content to hook up with a car making a decent pace. At one point this was the Ztech Racing Honda Accord. Later it was an RX-7 that had the misfortune of smashing through a tire wall during the first hour. The corners where I made up the most time were the double apex T5 and the T7-8-9 combo. I often got enough speed out of the last section that I could stay in the draft of the higher HP cars down the main straight.

It took me a while to figure out how to optimize the 2nd gear corners and also the bowl (T6). But once I did, my lap times were dropping even though I was still driving conservatively. I got a couple 1:28s hit traffic, and then did more. After one really good T1 I decided to go for a flyer and see what I could do. Although I scrubbed too much speed understeering through the last corner and had no cars to draft, I produced a 1:27.29. I’m sure I could do a high 1:26 given another session, but I was running low on fuel and wanted to do some short-shifting laps to see what I could do without ever using 2nd gear. 1:29.59. I should have done that experiment earlier in the day because I probably would have driven it that way instead. Yes, it’s a little slower, but it’s easier on me and the car not to shift so much.

When we refueled the car, it only took 10 gallons. So despite the fuel gauge reading empty, there was still a few gallons left. In a 12 hour race, ideally we would run 6 two-hour stints. So only 5 pit stops. But due to the fuel gauge and cockpit heat (no cool suit), we ended up doing 8 pit stops. With the 5 minute pit stop rule, we lost 15 minutes or 10 laps. And the problems at the start of the race cost us another 4 laps. Ah, to have those 14 laps… Alas, we ended up in 11th place (9th if you discount the EC class cars that aren’t playing by the same rules).

Part 5: Post-race Thoughts

Car: The car was great. There was 1 Miata that was faster and 4 that were slower. The Occam’s Racer Miata was a Spec Miata in a former life and is still carrying at least 100 lbs of extra weight. So there’s some free performance improvements expected down the line. We ran Dunlop ZIIs in 205/50/15 at 40 psi hot. That’s maybe too high for such a twisty track. ZIIs are also not the fastest of the 200 treadwear tires. Not sure if we could get RE-71Rs to last 12 hours though. If we wanted to spend money, we could definitely get more power out of the motor, which is currently just a junkyard replacement. With Occam’s Racer not due on track again until Spring 2018, there’s some time to sort things out.

Track: Thompson Speedway is a really great track. With the exception of the main straight, there is very little breathing room between corners. That makes passing more difficult and more fun. The various small changes in elevation and camber are a challenge to optimize. I can’t wait to return. My small complaint about the track is that it’s a little bit one-note. Long corner, short straight, repeat. There aren’t many puzzles to solve. So the thinker in me was happy when there was traffic to work around. The event drew 38 cars, which is enough to make things interesting, but I would have preferred 50-60.

Racecast: We need to sort out the Racecast camera. We were supposed to be streaming live the whole day but I don’t think it worked at all. Unfortunately, no race footage from our car.

Event: The ChumpCar staff did a great job organizing the event. I wish they had run a few more warmup laps. They didn’t notice our transponder wasn’t pinging until after the race was underway. The Friday practice was not well organized. From the long line-up outside the gate to the practice session that started over 90 minutes late, it was a shit-show most of the day. Fortunately, they have good onsite food.

My Driving: For the most part, I was happy with my driving. I was particularly pleased that I was up to race pace on my 4th practice lap. I did my homework preparing ahead of time and it showed. In the race, I didn’t make contact with any cars, go 2 wheels (or more) off, or lose control of the vehicle. I raced within my abilities and managed to set fast time on the team by 2 seconds. Time to put another track decal on my windshield.

Bucket List: WGI

I just came back from an endurance race at Watkins Glen International, which represents one of my bucket list tracks. Why is WGI a bucket-lister? Partly because of its historical significance, partly because I grew up about 25 miles away, and partly because I’ve spent quite a bit of time there in the virtual world in iRacing. So what else is on my bucket list? Hmm, let’s rephrase that as “what are my 10 favorite tracks?” and we’ll see how many remain on the bucket list.

  1. Thunderhill. I feel blessed that this gem is just 80 miles away. Thunderhill is really two completely different tracks that can be glued together to make a 5 mile track. The original East side has great flow, especially from T1-T6. The West side is highly technical with lots of compromises and off-camber turns. I think of the West track as my home track, and I would drive it above any other track.
  2. Brands Hatch. Whenever I try out a new car or track on a simulator, I always load up Brands Hatch Indy first. It has a a great mixture of challenging corners in a compact layout. This is #1 on the bucket list.
  3. Mid-Ohio. The rollercoaster ride from 4 to start-finish is the perfect mixture of corners and elevation changes. Recently, a couple endurance racing organizations have started to race there, so I hope I’ll be able to check off #2 on the bucket list soon.
  4. Sonoma Raceway. I’m new enough to car racing that I don’t feel allegiance to the Sears Point name, but I know many people who feel otherwise. This track is only 50 miles from my house and I get goosebumps every time I approach it on Route 37. The climb from T1 to T3a is my favorite stretch of 4 corners anywhere.
  5. Mosport. What an amazing mixture of technical and gut-wrenching corners. It just flows through the hills like chocolate on ice cream (ok, so I don’t like either one of those things, but most people do, so I make that analogy for your benefit). It’s close enough to my brother’s home that I hope to get there soon. That’s #3 on the bucket list.
  6. Barber Motorsports Park. There is no part of this track that isn’t fun. You get just enough time to catch your breath before another combination of corners has you grinning and sweating again. Bucket list #4.
  7. Road Atlanta. This place has a lot of history and some amazing corners. I love everything before the back straight and everything after it. Bucket list #5.
  8. Virginia International Raceway. I can’t decide what configuration I would want to run first. The North side has Hog Pen but the South side has a great run through the interior. I’m not a fan of long straights, so the main track has less appeal, but of course I want to drive that too! Bucket list #6.
  9. Laguna Seca. Even though it’s just 2.5 hours from my house, I rarely drive this track because Sonoma and Thunderhill are closer and more fun. Although the Corkscrew is the most famous part of this track, it’s not as challenging as what comes after. The weather in Monterey is beautiful most of the time, and a great place to visit even if you’re not racing.
  10. Watkins Glen International. Located in a quaint and hilly part of upstate NY, Watkins Glen is steeped in history from the original races through the village streets to the annual NASCAR race. In a slow car, like a Miata, the corners are unfortunately isolated from each other. Driving fast requires optimizing each corner, of course, but messing up one corner doesn’t really impact how you drive the next one. My favorite part is the run through the Inner and Outer Loops. I also like the exits of T8 and T10 because it’s exciting sliding up to the walls.

So let me tell you about my WGI experience! My twin brother Mario had recently purchased a showroom stock Spec Miata. These aren’t as fast as a typical SM, and this particular one did not have a race motor (or a motor in tune as we found out). Its first race was about 1 month prior and it suffered an accident that required the frame to be straightened. He got it back from the shop just days before our race. So when we got to the track, there were several things that needed fixing (e.g. water leak at the heater core) in addition to the usual maintenance. We had a busy day getting the car ready, and each driver got only a couple laps on the practice day.

On race day 1, we were still running behind schedule and arrived to the grid stylishly late (after the pack had taken off). Mario drove first followed by Jim, then Derek, then me. Mario noted that the car was running a lot slower than it had last race. He used to pick up 5th gear right out of the esses, but it didn’t go fast enough to get into 5th now. My guess is the timing got knocked out of whack in the accident. We decided the car was running well enough so we left the investigation and fix for later.

During my stint, I was concerned about fuel usage, so I found another car driving a similar pace and drafted it whenever I could. Even so, as the race was getting closer to the checkered flag, I was worried about running out of fuel because the needle was hovering around E and would go below sometimes. I decided I had better pit because I didn’t want to get towed in. Each time the trucks go out, it costs the renters a lot of money. I wasn’t going to do that to ChumpCar, so I pitted with about 5 minutes to go. Given the 5 min refueling rule, there was no point going back on track. It was a good day and everyone got to drive. We ended up 51 out of 102 cars (6 cars never made it to grid). Seeing as two of our drivers haven’t been on track in about 2 years and we had a car out of tune, that’s quite good.

On race day 2, we inverted the driving order. I decided I wanted to get some entertaining video with my new TomTom Bandit camera, and purposefully started at the back so I could record some passes. Towards the end of my session, I ran some pretty consistent laps.


My stint ended when I got punted by one of the very fast cars in the Exhibition Class. Why someone who can pass me on any straight decided to try to go inside of me when I was going inside of another car is beyond me. I pitted at the end of the lap to check for damage. Thankfully the damage was minimal. And while I was a little miffed at both the other driver for driving beyond his ability and at the organization for not throwing a black flag, they were small annoyances in what was otherwise one of the best weekends ever. It’s hard to get too upset when you’re sharing an amazing track with lifelong friends. We ended the day 42 out of 92 (16 registered cars did not grid).

Video or it didn’t happen…