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5/12-15/2011: First Weekend with Team 949Racing

For a more interesting account of this story, see William’s press release on TrackHQ.com.

Interesting weekend (May 14-16) to say the least.  Started with a Thursday (May 12) mad dash to finish a new car to represent the team at Thunderhill, the track which Team 949Racing will be competing in for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill in December.  We finished late Thursday night and made our way to Buttonwillow for a quick shakedown test to see if there are any issues with the car on Friday morning before committing to the big trip.

Funny enough, we had an issue before the car set a wheel off the trailer.  The trailer blew a tire as we were halfway to Buttonwillow.  Fortunately, we had a spare and continued on our way.

We arrived at Buttonwillow too late to park the RV in the paddock, but that didn’t stop us from parking and sleeping at the front gates to be the first in line at 7am.

Friday’s testing went well, but in a sense that we knew that we had identified some problems with the car.  We were able to deal with some on and off the track before arriving at Thunderhill.  One minor one was what we jokingly called “active camber/caster control,” easily fixed with a quick realignment and old-fashioned elbow grease.  One major one was that the engine, fresh from putting a “new” head on it, was eating oil, but at that there was nothing we could do about it until we returned to Socal.

Despite the setbacks we were able to figure that the new car is fast out of the box and easy to drive.  Though I did not drive at Thunderhill, I did end up testing the car alongside Emilio, as William nervously looks after two of his teammates tests his car for him.  This was also a rare opportunity to see how I compare to him directly to Emilio.  It just goes to show how good he is, as his best test lap was a second faster than my best, and that is with the “active camber/ caster control.”  With testing complete, we headed to Thunderhill from Buttonwillow mid-afternoon and didn’t get into the paddock until around midnight.

The morning of the first day’s racing was hectic.  We had to go to tech, pass tech, get to driver/team meetings for the races, practice and then prep for the race itself and do the race, all in a span of 6-8 hours straight.  It was even busier considering the plan was to get William to do a PTD class race, the endurance race and practice for each of them, all in an effort to get him to learn the track since he has never been there.

Unfortunately, we had a snag in the plan.  Apparently our cage didn’t pass tech as the cage had 4 incomplete welds.  Luckily, there was a race shop on the track premises that was able to help us out, but it took some time and William ended up not racing in the PTD race.

After passing tech, William was a happy camper just to race the 1.5 hour endurance race.

Our pit was sparse, but it got the job done.

Now, the races.  It was a new experience for me, as I never worked as a pit crew member or a crew chief, so I had to learn to communicate by radio to drivers (at the right time of course, I figured out later that I shouldn’t talk while a driver is distracted in traffic or midcorner…) and learn to fuel a car quickly in the pits using a 5 gallon fuel jug.  There was a fair bit of a responsibility as a fuel spill in the pits is a 5-minute penalty for the team, so it was definitely something I didn’t want to mess up.  Fortunately, I filled up the car quickly and cleanly on both days.  I was also in charge of communicating to the driver of the car by radio.

Here’s a clip of William driving.  Not bad for his first-ever time at Thunderhill.

949racing enduro E2 Miata at NASA Thunderhill 5/14/11 from william chen on Vimeo.

William and Emilio were driving and decided on a one-man driver strategy for each race day.  The results In a nutshell, we got second in our class both days (William on Saturday’s 1.5-hour race, Emilio on Sunday’s 2-hour race).  The first day, we were simply outran by our main rival, an E30 M3.  The second day, that M3 broke part of its subframe and retired halfway through the race, and from there, according to live timing, we had the race won as we were 4 laps ahead from our nearest competitor.

Unfortunately, through glitches in the way the live timing broadcast program works, there was another competitor in our class that was not listed (phantom car) and stole a win from us by 20 seconds.  We did not know this until the award ceremony.  The glitch that cost us the win involved two cars in different classes with the same number.  Though both cars are recorded in official results, only the first one that gets programmed into the timing software will show up on live timing.  It’s sad that the second one was a car in our class…  Hard lesson learned as we could have easily gotten the win as we decided to take a pit stop that would normally end 30 seconds sooner if we didn’t decide to be cautious on our fuel stop.  The extra 30 seconds was to top off the engine oil, a short-term solution to the problem found during Friday’s testing at Buttonwillow (engine eating oil).

Overall, a tiring weekend, but fun and a new experience for me.  Yes, it was a tiring 1100-mile round trip, but it was great to see how a team can operate together.  And the RV was a nice touch, as Emilio gets to watch himself drive as the RV is driving back to SoCal.

The next NASA endurance race is at Buttonwillow on June 25th, and by then I’ll have my race license, so I might get the opportunity to race alongside Emilio and William as it’ll be a longer 3 hour race. It could sooner too, as there is a 14-hour Chumpcar race on June 18th that the team is considering practicing in preparation for the June 25th event.

We will see…

Licensed to Race and Barely Ready

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So, I’m currently sitting in an RV, slowly making my way up with Team 949Racing to Buttonwillow Raceway and then Thunderhill Raceway .  Aside from finding out that I was leaving Thursday night (I thought we were leaving Friday morning), there were more surprises that happened yesterday.  I took my written license test for my NASA provisional license, got the license an hour later, then have one of my new safety equipment delivered by a friend from San Diego to 949Racing.  All this means that I can now race in my first NASA sanctioned race without really planning much for it since I didn’t think I was going to get everything done in time.  I was actually planning to go up to help with pit work.

Well, it is now happening and I’m definitely going to keep focused and do my best and not let the team down.

Update #1 to 5/5/2011 Post

New video of the Camry mentioned in the 5/5/2011 post:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpiIzCyJOv8

5/5/2011: Keeping Sharp and Having Fun

(UPDATED 5/8/2010: Videos of the Camry and my NA6 Miata are up)

(More obligatory video to come, stay tuned)

As I still wait for my NASA provisional license application to process, I decided to keep my driving sharp by attending a Speed Ventures open track day at The Streets of Willow Springs (SoW).  A bit of a last-minute thing for me, deciding to go during the day before, so I ended up taking my 1.6L Miata to the track, first time since blowing up my stock VLSD back in January during a Miata Challenge event.  The “new” VLSD I got from 2nd Chance Roadster a few months ago did hold up nicely.

(video of trackday to be uploaded soon)

But seriously, I need a Torsen or better differential soon since my 1.6L Miata could be a bit more enjoyable (not to mention faster) on corner exits if I had it. Also, I don’t want to break it while I’m miles away from home.  Maybe sometime soon, as I get more money in excess of my racing season budget this year, something I’m already tight on as it is.

Another reason I went to SoW was because a friend of mine, Andy, was asking if I could go with him to help him test his new track toy, a 1996 Toyota Camry.  Yes…   I did say your Mom’s grocery getter.  The interestingly named “Slow White,” it was a pet dream project that Andy had since I met him several years ago.  The idea is simple: stock V6 1MZ engine, OEM TRD supercharger, TEIN Super Street coilovers, new wheels and tires, remove backseats.

A seemingly discrete grocery-getter of a Mom-mobile is something most track day weekend warriors don’t expect passing them up on a flying lap.  Throughout the day, it managed to get a few confused looks from the drivers of the usual track day marques (Hondas, Lotuses, BMWs, etc.) as the Camry gets pointed-by at designated passing straightaways after keeping up with them through most of the twisty bits of the track.

Overall, I did enjoy myself and was a very relaxing day, though I did have to cut it short since I had to go to work that very same night. Yes that kind of sucks but I have to pay the bills, as well as my passions, somehow. My only consolation is that it was a very warm night and I got to drive top down while doing deliveries. At one point of the night I had to deliver tofu (no joke, I work at a Thai restaurant on the weekends). The only thing missing was a mountain resort to deliver to and that would be a fantasy come true. If you don’t get the joke, don’t worry about it. It’s probably best you don’t know how much of a geek I am.

Anyways, hopefully my license will arrive soon because I’m getting anxious from waiting for my first race. If it comes soon enough I can start in May, when Team 949Racing will compete at Thunderhill for the next round of the endurance racing series for NASA. Hopefully I can make it. We will see soon enough.