The prep and testing is done. Practice and qualifying sorted. Car and team are as ready as we’re going to get. Just one final detail is our driver order.
AER requires five pit stops over the course of the day, and in a typical 9-hour day, this means each driver gets about 90 minutes of racing. The race was shortened to 8.5 hours, presumably because it’s late in the season, so that was a bit less track time for everyone. But we still needed to do six stints with four drivers, so we split it up so that Pat and I would drive twice on Saturday, and Alyssa and Sonny would drive twice on Sunday.
I decided that Sonny should start the race because he’s got the most experience, and track conditions were treacherously damp and cold. As we watched the race cars pull on track for the first time, I noticed frost on the stairs up to the viewing area, it was that cold. Sonny going first also meant he could be coach and crew chief for the team for the rest of the day.
Start your engines (and go backwards)
We began the race in 30th position, with all but one of the Class 3 cars ahead of us, and we slipped backwards immediately. Our momentum machine does not do well when blocked by traffic, and by the 5th lap, all the Class 3 cars were long gone in the distance, and there were nine Class 2 cars in front of us as well.
Think about that for a minute. We qualified in Class 3, and a handful of laps later there were nine “slower” cars in front of us. That is not Sonny driving badly, that’s a lot of Class 2 teams not qualifying at their race pace. When the flag dropped, seemingly everyone could get another second out of their car. What a curious situation that is <cough>sandbag</cough>. Kidding aside, this is the problem of a momentum car, if you get blocked in one corner, it ruins the entire lap.
We wanted Sonny to stay out until the tank was dry, which would be about an hour and forty minutes, but he pitted around the 85-minute mark and found us a bit unprepared. Apparently he came together with a BMW in T6 (the right turn after Madness) and was afraid the contact might have damaged something.
So he rightly brought the car in right away. In fact there was damage, but we wouldn’t know the extent of it until later.
Nevertheless, Sonny did 48 fast laps in difficult conditions, and that brought us up to 29th position. But the long pit stop meant I started the race in 39th position. I lost another spot early on, but then settled into a rhythm and took some positions back. I set my fastest time of the weekend in that first stint, a 1:47.53, which matched my race-pace expectations from Friday. I pitted after 48 laps with us in P31.
Pat was next, and the driver change meant he started in P35. But he quickly went to work, and 46 laps later we were in 23rd position overall. He set his fastest time of the weekend about half way through his stint, a 1:45.373, and did some proper w2w racing. Somewhere around this time we also got reclassed to Class 2, which was appropriate. We then made the least of that opportunity by taking an unplanned stop….
Pat ran out of brakes. In fact, he could hardly get the car stopped going through the RFID gate! We fueled the car in the pits, but then immediately took the car to the garage to change brake pads.
If you back up that video 20 minutes, there’s some good w2w race action, including some oversteer saves probably due to the broken sway bar mount (but more on that later).
A short break for brakes
The fact that we wore out the brakes is totally my fault, because I should have put new pads on before the race. I’ve been using Porterfield R4E pads in front (Mu .46), and they have lasted for so long I thought they would last forever! I guess not. In all, I think I got 30-36 hours out of those R4Es, and I would consider buying them again, but being a lot more cognizant of pad life toward the end. On the plus side, they modulated well, and wore evenly. I certainly got my money’s worth.
I brought backup pads, StopTech Sports (Mu .40), which I’ve used many times in endurance racing. They have four redeeming qualities: cheap, last exactly one weekend, aren’t grabby (I’ve had problems with people flat-spotting my tires), and can handle a lot of heat. But StopTech Sports aren’t “race pads” in the sense that nobody takes them seriously, except for my brother and I.
My reservation with StopTechs were that I had never used them with such a fast team, and brake wear was obviously an issue. I also didn’t know where to set the brake balance vs the Porterfields, so I gambled and turned the prop valve two full turns to the front (it was full rear before this). We sent Alyssa back on track with the new brakes, and I went over to the Summit Racing truck to order new pads, which we’d swap out in the morning.
Summit didn’t have a lot of options for brake pads in stock: PowerStop (no), Centric (fuck no) and Hawk. Of the Hawk pads they could get me tomorrow, it was HP+, Blue, and DTC60. I ordered the DTC60. So as to not confuse them, I told them the car was a 2004 Miata, because the 2003-2005 all used the larger Sport sized calipers, which is what’s on the race car.
Back to racing
We lost 20 minutes changing brake pads and rotors, so Alyssa started the race back in 35th place. But Alyssa is our fastest driver, and she put in 56 laps that got us back to 23rd place. Her 1:44.501 lap was the fastest of the weekend.
Then I got back in the car for 27 laps and didn’t find my groove for a while. But I finally got settled and moved us from P25 to P23, and eventually set a time only 2/10ths off my previous stint.
Pat was our final driver, and started in P24. In the video below, his pass on a Porsche GT4 Clubsport ($165,000, 385 hp) is a good example of how to drive a momentum car, and pass cars that have three times the power.
At the end of his stint we were P19 overall, and 5th in class. That’s pretty good considering a couple slow pit stops and a longer pause to change brakes. If we didn’t stop for brake pads we would have placed 15th overall and 2nd in class.
We got the car on stands, and the first thing we noticed was that the front left wheel was bent. This happened in the very first stint, when Sonny came together with a BMW. We got lucky that the tire held air the whole day, because it went flat later when on the trailer. The left rear was also pretty hashed from contact, and I’ll throw it out with the front.
The wheels are 15×9 Konig Helix, which have spokes that are proud of the wheel. Nobody should wheel-to-wheel race a car with spokes like this, and that’s on me for making a purchasing mistake. I’d bought these from Goodwin Racing on sale for $109 shipped, and I think the price outweighed my good sense. I will replace all of my wheels at this point, and move these to a HPDE car.
Another problem we found was a broken sway bar bracket. This is a weak point on a Miata, and there’s a simple cure – a piece of aluminum that braces the bar. Well, I didn’t have that and we had to go looking for another part in the pits. A generous team let us pull one off their car, and we got it fixed late that evening.
In the morning we’d get new brakes pads from Summit, put on wheels with four brand new RS4 tires, and win this thing. Or so we thought.