WDMS - Chapter 294 - September 2021
PONTINI with CHAMPCAR at HARRIS HILL
"Striving for the top step...can we get there?"
On the left is the Pontini Casa del Auto and on the right is grid...not a bad commute!
Less than a week after NASA NATS and I'm again packing a freshly washed race suit (still had that vague champagne smell tho...) and scooting out well before dawn to catch up with the Pontini boys who had invited me to come play with them at a ChampCar event. Yay! Pontini uses some vague astral-star-motion sprinkled with rock-paper-scissors and topped with a lighting round of "not it!" to decide the driving order and it was already decided that I'd go last on day one and start the race on day 2. Cool with me!
Lots of folks mowed the lawn and had to come clean or face overheating!
When I arrived, Magyar, McCall, Faust and Courson already had a great RV spot overlooking the track and a good front-row pit space. I brought a few jugs and filled them on the way in, along with bringing some snacks and such for the team. It was great to see everyone and we had time to practice pit stops and such before the call to grid. I even slid into the car to make sure I fit in the new seat and the location worked for me. An interesting note here is the paddock at H2R is far from level and if you're on the 'front row' then it REALLY angles down. If you're test fitting a seat/car you might want to drive it around a bit to make sure the extreme angle isn't deceptive. I failed to do this. I'd pay the price.
231 cubic inches of fury!!
Green flag flies and Magyar starts us off and due to the pit arrangement (clockwise Satuday, counter on Sunday) we start last. No biggie, he puts his head down and starts to work traffic. A few folks we've run with, but most are a mystery and Magyar is being cautious and keeping the nose clean. As soon as he gets a dozen or so spots up, the blitzkreig leaders are catching him. These are the folks that don't really realize this is an endurance race and they are driving absolutely flat out, redline every shift, to the dirt on every track-out and leaving zero margin for error. As usual, those are the folks to watch and Magyar does his best to give them a wide berth.
Halfway through his stint we are just praying for a podium. There are two REALLY fast cars (Merc 190 & a Boxster) in our group who are consistently putting 4-5 seconds on us *per lap*. OOOOooof. On the "so you're telling me there's a chance" side of the coin, both those cars are really pushing it. And about an hour in, the Merc started smoking. So....maybe?
Magyar come in, we pull him out and put in McCall, fuel and send it. During McCall's stint the Merc comes in a few times but goes back out and finally comes in for good, both smoking and with a banged up nose. One down! McCall is doing great too, clean in traffic and cutting good laps. We're on pace to podium if we just keep this up. Faust and I debrief Magyar and he's not happy with his pace, saying it took him too long to get up to speed and he wasn't pushing hard enough. We tell him 'no biggie' he brought back a clean car and one in good position. He'd been off track quite a while and although he'd miss tomorrow (vacation interference) I'm sure he'll be back on track soon to keep those skills sharp.
McCall keeps plugging away and the Boxster has more problems and by the end of McCall's stint we're oddly-and-interestingly in the lead. We lose it for a bit as we put Faust and a full load of fuel in the car, but then the other car pits and Faust starts his drive to run away....and run away he did, putting a full lap on the second place car before he finished his stint and brought it back to the paddock for me to jump in and bring it home.
And this....this is where things get interesting. ChampCar has a minimum pit-stop time when you get fuel and so we don't have to rush, but I drop in the seat and get belts and radio hooked up and when I back up out of our pit stall and go to the track I have a horrible realization: I can't see for crap. I'm sitting entirely too low and while I could see in our severely-nose-down paddock spot, I'm hosed. I'm struggling to get up to speed, but a quick car passes me on my second lap and I stick to him, just trusting the track is where it is supposed to be. I squirm and strain my neck to see and slowly get up to speed. Finally after some laps I've got decent confidence and actually cut our fastest lap and end up taking the checker a few laps up on the next car. Technically we maybe could have pitted for a seatpad, but I didn't want to risk it. I'm upset I didn't realize the limited visibility in my test-fit in the morning, but having the car so nose-down didn't trigger enough of a warning to me. Take this as a lesson kiddos: try the seating position on level ground!!
Day 1 Class C Winners....apparently I didn't get the gray shirt memo...
Post race impound found a miscalculation by Magyar on our points. No big deal, they said to correct it for next time and we kept the win. This happening a week after NASA Nats (same infraction, a non-performance paperwork error) where the podium was stripped and this was a huge welcome and a simple friendly environment versus the very hostile one from Florida. Perhaps this is why ChampCar was sold out for the weekend and there were a ton of empty garages at Daytona?
After impound, Magyar headed home and we got the car turned around and ready for the next day, and then crashed in McCall's RV after the team grilled up a fantastic dinner. The commute to the rig was all of a 40 second walk and the sun setting on the track was really nice. We got to figure strategy tomorrow and get ready and get some solid rest. Personally, I was looking forward to driving and seeing at the same time! I did a TON of neck stretches to relax my neck after the Saturday workout...and was pretty sure I was ready to start strong!
Final results from day 1 and my seat mod for day 2!!!
Now that we had time to check the timing a bit more thoroughly, our fastest time was my late-race 1:31.9 while the Merc had cut a 1:30.5 and the Boxster had put down a 1:30.6!! The Merc was loaded and left late that day but the Boxter was being worked on and would surely bring their "A" game tomorrow and there were three other cars who put down 1:33s, so this should be interesting! Over dinner I had shared that I felt a low 30 was on the table provided I could see better, but likely not much more than that without risking the car. The nice thing about H2R is that -most- of the places you risk a car for top time give you plenty of room to correct if you miss your marks, but two of the critical places simply do not....so if you're going to really haul the mail there, no screw-ups are allowed.
We all woke up well-rested and ready for the day, hoping we could get lightning to strike again and give us another win. Saturday was Pontini's first win...EVER! Lots of podiums and a few heart-breaks, but that top step yesterday was our first visit there and I know I slept with crossed fingers that we could do it again. Magyar had to leave for vacation, but Fertitta came up for the day to help with the pit-stop duties and anything else that might come up. Like Courson, he's handy to have and can fuel/fix/etc pretty much whatever is needed.
Another weekend, another car I'm blessed to slide into...
With the call to grid, I slid down into the seat on top of the blankets both bringing my butt up about 3" and forward a bit. Visibility was immensely better and I looked forward to racing a track where I could see it all...and I'd be starting on pole! We circulated for a few laps and then took the green and I quickly tried to get out of the kamikazes who were in faster class cars who didn't seem to care about track limits. I settled into a good pace and found I could cut low 1:31s with little drama and I let the traffic work itself out. The field was a bit smaller (attrition) but it was still an eventful stint that was winding down when a flag mistake made me throw some SRSBZNS laps down. I got a black flag in a group of two other cars (no way that's for me, I'm racing clean!!) and then got it again on the next lap when I was by myself. Dangit. I radio'd the team and came in (from the lead-in-class) and the officials quickly figured out it was a mistake and sent me right back out. I had lost about a minute but still had the lead, but now I had a light car (only 15min left in stint) and I just went fangs out. I kept it on track of course, but ratcheted the pace from a comfy 96% to 99.5% and the lap time showed it. I ended up with a string of 1:30.x laps with a 1:29.9 in the middle. I cooled the car off a bit and then heeded the call to the pits and turned over the car to Faust. Overall, a good stint despite the incorrect black. No contact, no offs...and fast laps.
Faust kept up the speed and extended our lead then handed the car to McCall who kept it going. Finally, with a short stint left, Faust slid back in the car and brought it home to ANOTHER first place win for Pontini! Again, impound was a breeze and we never even needed that black-flag-minute credit we had sitting in our pocket! Wh00p! We ended up 6th overall on Saturday and 4th overall on Sunday and I don't think we've finished that high overall either.
This was the last race for Pontini this year, and I'm looking forward to what happens next year. McCall has a CTS-V that was a Powell-built sprint race car that he's converting to endurance, but keeping Pontini as well....maybe my phone will ring again <grin>.
Small hardware, but 2x 1st place hardware nonetheless!!!
Super fun weekend, especially after the previous weekend in Florida and I'm happy I got to be a part of it!!
As an aside, Courson put together a cool video I just found from back in the TWS days....If you've not seen it, take a look! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUmS9YyriQM