WDMS - Chapter 297 - February 2022

SLJHMR IS BACK!!! GRIDLIFE at COTA!!

 

I know you’re shocked but this was a bit of a last minute deal. Louis and I had been talking about this, but GSpeed work has been very busy and we had a lot of client cars to finish, so we played it a bit by ear. Sure enough, Sledgehammer was finished late in the week (paying customers get fixed first!) while the team was waiting on parts for another car, and we missed the practice on Friday. Louis did run it around Cresson a few laps (first time he’d driven it since 2017!!) and they loaded it up. We’ve never run Sledge on a square setup, never run her on 200tw tires, never run these tires, never without a wing, never without a fat lip or tunnels in the front. So yeah…we got this! (Right??!!??) (Announcer voice: It would seem that they did not, in fact, got this)

On Corey's sim practicing...and....oh Austin...messed up on so many levels


I scoot over Friday after work to make the ‘new driver meeting’ and learned that GL rules are similar to early WRL rules in that they don’t tolerate blocks or track limit violations and REALLY don’t like contact. This was sounding great. The officials did not speak down to anyone, there was no “air of officialness” that we have all seen at other ‘big group’ names. Color me impressed. After that, I hooked up with Corey (last seen flying me home from the big wreck) and Ian (like Corey, a local fast guy) to run about 2 hours worth of laps on Corey’s sim. He has a 3 screen thing with iRacing and it was good to see the track again and run a few different cars/power/grip levels. As I’ve spoken about so many times, it is the #Network we all connect with. This #Network got me sim time and COTA advice from two fast locals. We talked about non-typical places to pass and quite a few nuances of the track that a lot of folks miss. Sure, I had a lot of laps here and a few track records, but if you’re open to learning (and…you…must….be…if….you…want…to…get…better!) and you’re plugged into a #Network that cultivates improvement then it just flows naturally. In Ian’s garage with me on the sim and them fiddling with cars….it was flowing. (foreshadow: it would be needed!)

Frost. On the car. 30 degrees in the hill country....hope the track is warmer!! (this is at 620a on Sat)


After a peaceful sleep running laps in my head, I scooted to the track early to start the weekend. We were in the “Team LS” paddock with 5 LS powered cars (3 x C5, 1 x C6, 1x LS-FRS) all associated with GSpeed and we had a great paddock spot. Sledgehammer rolled out of the trailer with the absolutely gorgeous fresh paint and no stickers. The color is an orange that looks brilliant in the direct sun, then looks a bit more red in the shade or dark. Huge improvement! Hopefully it photographs well (foreshadow: it does!!). Chase got the the car stickered up and we even put on the new SLJHMR plate that is black/white since the old one was red. Red on orange me no likey, but the white/black looks fabulous on the new orange!


The event is technically SuperLapBattle (SLB) but they partner with GridLife (www.Grid.Life) for this one and so there was a mix of Time Trial folks in SLB, sprint racing with GL, and then the upper paddock had a drift show going on most of the day so spectators got to see a good variety of cars and styles of things people categorize as ‘racing’. Speaking of, there was a steady stream of fans (if that’s the correct word) wandering about and it was neat to chat with folks and a lot of GSpeed customers already knew of us and SLJHMR. A few even follow the WDMS page and it was fun to chat with folks about past chapters. On the flipside we got to chat with a lot of folks who didn’t know who we are and that was great as well.

  

Left: OH HAI!    Right: The kiddos watching the final race


First up was warmup and I slid into the car with a bit of a grin. It felt good to be ‘home’ in this car. I enjoyed driving Scraps (the silver C6) but it was sold to Jackson Jenson who is new to the series as well and he was pitting with us. His father Eric has the LS swap FRS and ran GL last year and raves about the series…which was part of why we wanted to dip a toe here and see what this is all about. Also pitting with us was a blue C5 with Paul Curley driving who was also a GL noob (but has been racing quite a while) and the purple C5 of Jeremy Swenson who was last years GL champ! I headed to grid and in short order I was climbing the big hill to T1 to start a lap.

Back to my original GSpeed ride, chased by my old ride!!! (Snap by Rob Wilkinson)


Caveat: As most of you know, I was involved in a pretty violent crash at the end of November (on the highway and then rolling down an embankment) and while I’d driven plenty since then, this would be my first complete fangs-out-get-it-done track weekend since that fun trip to the ER. My right wrist was out of the cast now, but it and some other parts of me were still a bit sore. I was 99.9% sure I’d be fine, but I’d be lying if I said that .1% didn’t exist. Being able to go really fast at a big track, to do it cleanly and to stay safe while doing it isn’t as simple as it sounds (heh). Interestingly this thought hit me on grid (Anna and I had talked about it earlier in the week) and as soon as SLJHMR thundered up the hill it honestly never crossed my mind again till I was driving home. At that point I simply thought “yeah, nothing to worry about”. LOL.

We got SO MANY compliments on the Finspeed Spyders that were literally hot off the CNC machine!


Back to the story…as I mentioned, we’d never run these tires. Louis tried to get Falkens and Hankooks (and a few others) and nobody had them in stock. Doh! A WRL team we know (Thanks Mark @ Will To Win!!) had used the Cooper RS3R tires and said they were solid so we ordered two sets. We put one set on our old standby wheels, and the other set on the ‘literally-just-came-out-of-the-Finspeed-CNC-machine-on-Thursday’ gorgeous raw Finspeed Spyders. So. Freaking. Gorgeous. Very light, very strong and very perfectly amazing looking.

 


So anyway, we launch and I put some heat into these tires and start pushing. I didn’t get to finish pushing because when I was pushing some (let’s just call it ‘medium-pushing’) the back end of the car wanted to lead. This is not the fast way around COTA and our lap times showed it. We were 14th overall and honestly; I have no idea how we were faster than half the field…car was SKETCH. For example, for those of you that know COTA, I could not go WOT down the hill from 1 through 2. Nope…had to feather the throttle less the back end head on over to Bergstrom dragging me backwards off the track. The bad: We had work to do. The good: We had the GSpeed crew to do it.So…LOTS of changes. Fast guys in the 27s, us in the 35s. Ug. The awesome crew made a laundry list of changes (and did it quickly) in the back of the car and we got ready to go to qualifying. Qualifying, on one hand, was much better and we clawed about 5 seconds forward, logging a 2:30.3 to qualify 11th. On the other hand, we still had an evil oversteer condition, but it was reduced. On the 1-10 scale it went from a seriously-this-is-gonna-kill-me-8 to a I-can-hanlde-this-but-it-really-aint-good-4. We were still several seconds from the fast guys (running :27.x), but we easily had several seconds we could make up if we could fix the problem. To put this in perspective for those of you who have driven COTA, I was having to lift a bit in T2 to keep the rear end from taking me off track at the bottom of the hill. DOH! Sledgehammer was running a smallish lip spoiler in the back instead of the usual wing, and we thought about taking the power penalty and putting it back on, but in the end, we kept the aero configuration the same.


GridLife is a power to weight series so all cars on track are in the same class (which is flipping awesome) but you can add power and weight and get a bigger tire. Or, you can reduce weight, reduce power and run a smaller tire. They’ve been doing this for quite a few years now and with growing fields it is clearly a great concept. That foundation, with the strict ‘no contact’ rules, is great. When you add in the incredibly personal touches, heads up officials who overcommunicate (not under!) and an overall common-sense ruleset, it is no wonder why this is growing and every driver I talked to (and I talked to most of them) really love playing in this sandbox. As a driver who has done a lot of racing, if you’re even mildly interested and there is one you can attend, come race with GridLife. Two huge thumbs up.We come off the track and everyone goes across the scales and their tech was incredibly impressive. It was like a normal tech shed that had gone to post-graduate school at Chick-Fila. Speed plus customer service was both rated A+. Two cars back from the scales, a few things were checked by folks who were polite, introduced themselves and said what they were doing. One car back from the scales another person (polite and introduced again) checks a few other things and then we’re on the scales for all of 30 seconds and we’re headed back to our grid. “We’ll come see you if we need anything else”.

Just unloaded.....need to #StickerUp!!!


Uh…did that just happen? Did they just check several compliance things, weigh the car and get us out of there in absolute record time?? Was every freaking person polite and nice and hospitable to a tee? Most of you know I run tech at TX2K and we hustle and my team is polite and all….but dang. Had I not been a bit grumpy from the handling struggles I might have smiled back more. Sorry tech-team!  So after qualy, more things are changed on the back end of the car and we double check weight and add plenty of fuel so when we get weighed post-race, we’ll have a little bit to spare. Our first race was Saturday afternoon and then for Sunday we’d have three more races. If you like racing, GridLife is for you! (LOL). GL features shorter sprint races on the almost-always-true axiom that most sprints have the finishing order set in 5-7 laps so why race longer? Why not have more 5-7 lap races and enjoy that portion? Being a driver whose played in sprint racing, autocross, endurance racing, time trial, rally, endurance karts, blah (even airplanes) blah…this sounded appealing for sure. (Foreshadowing: It was, indeed, appealing! Love this format!) And if I’m going to brag on the GL team, I’m certainly going to brag on the GSpeed team but you all are used to that. Louis’ gang of mech guys (Chase, Ian, and Jason) and tuners (Corey, Lee and Jon) are absolutely top notch and they worked on a plethora of cars this weekend. I’m always amazed at how much they can get done in a short amount of time. I’m also happy I don’t have to spin wrenches (I’m not horrible #Scratcher40winsinarow, but I’m a long ways from these guys).

  

Left: PS pump died before R1...crew swapped it quickly! Right: Hanging out at the track...

So we scoot down to grid early and arrive in our slot. We’ve made another host of changes so again (heh) I get to head into T1 with a car I’m not quite sure of handling-wise. In the front third of a crowded field.  “This is where the fun begins”. LOLWe launch and do the long out lap of COTA and I’m working the front and rear tires hard. It feels great to be back in Sledgehammer and running COTA. This car, like Scratcher is just….comfortable. If you are a racer and you’ve raced a few cars you likely share the feeling. Even when this car is nervous (the rear of the car is certainly nervous) I still love it and I’m still comfortable-ish. Louis and crew damn sure build them right..but you knew that already.


We leave T19 and the pace car peels off and we turn onto the front straight. I close up tight and apply more throttle, offsetting the added air and fuel with more brake and just when I think this is going to be a waive-off (we are WAY down the straight, almost to the start stand), the green flies and I pin the gas and come off the brake at the same time. I’m on the right hand side of the track, so I’ll have to go the long way around the corner, but, as usual, the inside stacks up and the outer line flows better and I make up some spots working the Coopers hard.

Best crew....


That is one thing autocrossing is really excellent at. Teaching you to overdrive the car at first to get heat in the tires, purposefully driving beyond the optimal grip angle to gain a bit more speed while heating up the rubber. After a few corners I back off to a normal slip angle and off we go, but there is frequently time to be made up by overdriving the tires the first bit. It certainly worked this time. Many drivers stay on the front side of the grip curve and wait for the tires to get heat in them and act ‘normal’, but that can cost you time. Autocross and time trials teach you to walk that line of aggression and safety margin.


We come flying down the hill and we slot into a line for the esses and we have a great race. The car was not great, but the racing was. I worked hard and when the checker flew 7 laps later, we were in 8th! At the time, I was fairly unhappy with the result, but as time went by, I realized how big a mountain we had to climb and we were actually climbing quickly. We finished some 20 seconds behind the leader with our best time being a 1:31.1 while the fastest lap of the race was a 2:28.0. We are 3 seconds off the leaders with a nowhere-near-sorted car. Not bad. We’d already come a long way, but we were not on the podium. (yet??)

Good vid of R1 (which starts at the 1:37 mark): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwmj3_bw-4A

Onboard vid of R1: Coming soon


After R1 we are done for the day so the crew helps get the cars turned around for the next day and we discover a leaking master on Sledgehammer. Ian is coming down the next morning and so he’ll bring one with him. Whew. We hit Lockhart for BBQ (if you know….you know) and the team has some wonderful Q. So. Damn. Good. I meet up with the fam and head to the hotel for some needed sleep. I sleep fast because I’m back at the track (with a big bag o’breakfast tacos) before 7a but the team has been there since 6 and Sledgehammer is almost ready.

Great snap by Dustin Nixon of Scraps!


Sunday is 3 races (!!!), so we are the first folks on grid…and get this….we get to do a freaking F1 start with the F1 lights. On one hand, I’m no drag racer (married to one….but I’m a hack) but on the other hand, I don’t think many of the others are either and while the GSpeed ToonerBois worked some tap-tap-tap magic to make sure launchey-thingies were ready to go, I felt fine as-is. I can rev a motor, set the clutch and go fairly well. Scratcher also has a 7.25” clutch and I’m decent at this. We all get to grid extra early and take our spots. For some odd reason, the sports are not numbered and since we don’t have gridgirls with umbrellas (would have been nice…) we have to look around and figure our spot in relation to something. I’m in P9 with the leader the forwardmost spot on the right side, so I’m also on the right (outside of T1). I look around and see I’m close inline to the red SLB EZup in the hot pits and TunerLee is standing directly across and has a radio. We do a warm up lap and as we come back, we all slot into our proper spots. I’ve worked the tires pretty hard and I’m feeling pretty good. I’m directly behind fellow GSpeeder Eric J (LSxBRZ) and his son Jackson J (in Scraps) is right behind me. Nice.


I’m intently staring at the lights and finally the first pair comes on. In F1, when they are all on, there is a random interval (a half second to a second and a half…or so) before they go out. The GL folks have said they will go out in the same interval they come on at, and I’m hoping they are right. I bring up the revs and bring the clutch up juuust a kiss. As the last lights come on, the clutch comes up (floor mounted pedals FTW!) juuust a bit more and sure enough the pattern gap is the same and they go out as I’m adding a lot more fuel and a lot more clutch. SLJHMR starts to claw forward and I realize the gap to EJ is getting really small, really quick. As usual, the intense focus blocks out everything and time seems to slow as I focus on rate of closure. I feed in some steering to go right, judging the distance, my increasing speed and the growing rate of closure. I burn a whisker of a moment to check my mirror (and my eyes report that Jackson has not gotten a pro-stock launch and I have a gap) and keep fading right, just enough to clear Eric but not so much as to slow down my forward (growing) momentum. Clutch is all the way out now, and I’m damn near out of revs and the MoTec blinky lights are doing their these-are-ALL-the-colors-blinky thing. A quick shift to second as I bobble the throttle and then back to full throttle and then update my scanning to see a cluster of cars on the inside and mostly open on the outside and when my eyes report that to my brain, it instantly responds with: “so you’re telling me there’s a chance?”. Lol, my brain rarely gives up….

A great father/son shot by Wilkinson


The outside line in T1 is again faster than the inside and I pick up a bit more and then the work begins. The laps are fast and fun, with everyone around me racing clean. I finish the race in 5th with a best time of 2:29.2 while the leaders’ (GSpeed Swenson!) best was a 2:27.5 this chilly morning. We have certainly come a long way in 4 sessions (prac, qualy, R1, and now R2) closing the huge gap down to 2 seconds. Finishing 5th was still not a podium (the weekend goal) but there were some smiles now and I think more folks started taking us seriously. GSpeed Paul Curley (blue vette in our group) finished right behind me in 6th and Eric J was in 7th so 4 GSpeed cars in the top 7. Sadly Jackson had a (looks like a wheel weight) impact on his radiator, ending his weekend. He had a great 12th place in the first race (his first w2w race!!!) and he ran clean and fast. He’ll get it fixed and be a contender for sure!Again, tech is freaking awesome and we’re quickly weighed and a few things checked, all smiles and go. #TechDoneRight #ChickFilaTechService #NeedToAddWaffleFryOption #MaybeChocolateShakesToo

R2 on youtube with the cool coverage starting at the 9 minute mark (first): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zev1_0Qq-4

Incar video with front and rear cam here: https://vimeo.com/681717161


Back in the paddock Louis and I do our usual deep debrief and talk about the handling. We’ve made a ton of changes and the car is better, but rear grip is still the long pole in the tent that is holding us up the most. But, longtime make-the-vette-go-fast guy that he is, more changes are ordered and more changes are made. Car is fueled and we are ready for R3 where we get to start in 5th just before lunch.Grid for GL is unique. For R1, it was your fastest time in Qual. For R2, it was your fastest time in R1. For R3, it was your finishing position for R2 and for R4, it is a random top-x invert from the results of R3. They roll dice to decide the invert and this weekend right after R3, they rolled the dice and it came up 8. So the top 8 from R3 would invert for R4. If you won R3, you’d start 8th. If you got second, you’d start 7th, etc. (Foreshadowing??? Maaaayyyybe….)


So again we go to grid early, again we launch and I warm the h3ll out of the tires and again, we are close to the starter stand the green flies and it is “game on!”. Starting 5th is nice. It is even nicer when folks in front of you make mistakes and you find yourself P2 behind fellow vette driver Swenson. This race had a long full course caution and when we went back green, SLJHMR and I were fully ready. I’d been warming the tires pretty hard and sucked right up behind that purple GSpeed corvette and actually had a small rate of closure as we hit the front straight. The starters elbow moved and I matted that freaking pedal. I got it down a fraction before Swenson did and had a tiny rate of closure and I quickly moved to the inside. He balked his next shift momentarily and that gave me all I needed to put SLJHMR next to him as we rolled up into T1. I overslowed a kiss, then turned sharp and buried that gas pedal and rocketed (well…as much as 220hp can rocket a 2900lb car……but I mean it WAS downhill…) down to T2. Earlier in the weekend I had to lift here to keep the car on track (and to keep the rear of the car behind the front of the car), but with the tuning I could stay WOT, but I was still pushing out further than other cars and losing a touch of speed.The next lap was kindof a blur, Swenson would close up where turning mattered and I’d work to (cleanly, with no blocking) thwart a pass (make him go the long way around) and get on the gas as hard and as early as the rears would allow. We were wounded, but we were wounded and in the lead, which is a tough place to be. I know he is going to race me fair and I’m not going to close the door or run wide into him…but I’m not giving away a potential win either.

Last pace lap before going green....


If only this had been the last lap. If only we’d have gotten the “1” on the restart. But no. I worked my tail off to stay in front of Swenson that lap and was rewarded with a tiny gap going onto the front straight and the starter was NOW enthusiastically waiving that white flag. Dammit.


I run damn near a perfect T1 (for a wounded car…LOL) (thank you Essex/AP!!) and no-lift two and quick esses and down to T11 and then again got a great launch down the backstretch, building a tiny gap from a miniscule one. Again the EssexAP kit puts me safely deeeep into the brake zone and then I stay ahead in the stadium section but lose a kiss of ground coming out of the tightest corner heading to the big carousel and that is all Swenson needed. He was alongside me (but on the outside) of the big carousel and for a fleeting moment I thought “he either really trusts me to not wreck us both, or he’s incredibly brave” (or both). He made it stick and with our wounded car, I had to baby the throttle to keep on line and he could release all the LSbaldEagles and he simply walked me to T19. He ran a perfect T19 and I ran a damn good one, but there was no catching him now and I was not going to dive-bomb him in T20.

 

Above: Last lap, carousel, Swenson (purple) drives the long way as I struggle for grip... #Strife

Another great snap by Rob Wilkinson


Second place. In our third race. Earned…and not given. In fact, we lost the darn thing. But the GSpeed camp had a lot of smiles now. Tech was the usual speedy self (I got Chick-Fila sauce instead of ketchup this time….sooo good) and we had several items checked and were weighed and kicked out the door again in record time. Seriously damn near every organization can learn something here.

Youtube coverage of R3 here starts at 2:20: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zev1_0Qq-4

Onboard coverage from SLJHMR: https://vimeo.com/680742714


FOUR GSPEED CARS IN THE TOP 5!!!! Are you freaking kidding me? Although a 370Z finished 3rd, he had two GSpeed cars in front and two right behind him. So flipping sweet. #TeamGSpeed #C5Mafia #GLTC5 #WhereAreWeOnThoseWaffleFries


However…the double whammy for R4 meant that we’d invert (the dice said 8, so Swenson starts 8th and I’d start 7th) plus we got to bolt more weight into our car. Rewards weight. Yes folks, when you podium at GLTC you get fat!!! If you win, you add 3%, if you get second you add 2% and if you get third you add 1%. Our listed weight is 29xx so we got to (had to, LOL) add almost 60 pounds. Oooof.I ran and grabbed lunch for the crew as they got everyone turned around for the final race this afternoon. With the invert we still had four GSpeed cars in the top 8 and maybe we could get lightning to strike again. Swenson had won R2 and R3 so he was on a roll. Could he fight to the front from 8th in a handful of laps? Paul Curley was looking the best, he would start R4 in 4th place with Eric J in 5th! Eric won a race last year and maybe if he guessed T1 correctly he could sneak up into the lead? I was hoping to simply move up a few spots…we were still making changes, but we needed to do more dedicated testing, so we made a few conservative changes and buttoned it up.Finally all four of us rumbled down to grid and took our slots. A fairly quick outlap put heat in the tires and again the green flag flies and all my attention is captured. Sadly this time the outside line was NOT the quickest through T1 and I didn’t create any good luck. Everyone was clean, but I had to work a few laps to get by a pair of cars and it took a while. They played patty-cake on the slowest corner of the track leading to the longest straight (reminiscent of Mid-O championships in ’19 where I bagged two cars at once) and I held back and got a really good run and ran both of them down going into T12 and held them off to inch away but we ran out of laps as I was catching the car in front of me. I finished 6th, but realistically 5th was about as good a car as we had this afternoon, so that’s okay.The cool factor was completely owned by Paul Curley in the blue C5, he took the lead on lap 1 and held it till the end with a 2 second gap over Swenson (who picked correctly for T1 the first lap!) with Eric J in third!!! A GSpeed podium sweep! This was Curley’s first event with GridLife as well and I know he was smiling the whole way home!

YouTube coverage of R4 starts at 1:53: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsoWrLzessM

Onboard coverage: Soon 


All smiles in the GSpeed paddock and I was super happy for the team and drivers. What a heck of a start to the season and we are certainly looking forward to doing this again. The atmosphere, tons of spectators to chat with, great video coverage (my phone was getting a lot of texts “hey, I just saw you…congrats on the 2nd place!!!”, great officials and really great competitors.The competitive side of me was bummed, but the realistic side is darn happy. We started this weekend with the first practice and we were 8 seconds off the fastest time. For qual, we had cut that in half to only 4 seconds back. We were 2.5 seconds back in R1 and cut that to 1.7 seconds back for R2. The final races we still ran within 2 seconds a lap of the fastest cars with essentially a brand new build on tires we’ve never seen, much less tested on. We made huge HUGE progress during the event and it is a big credit to the team Louis has built that we accomplished so much in so little time. I cannot thank each of them enough and as I’ve said a few hundred times: I am blessed to get to slide into a GSpeed seat and do battle. We measured ourselves against the fastest folks in GLTC and while we didn’t stand on the top step, we did lead a race for a while and took home a 2nd place finish. We’ll call that a certain success and keep working hard to maybe one day stand on that top step at a GLTC event.Another item of note for all the drivers out there, if you watch the R3 vid take a GOOD look at the braking for T1 and T12 on the last two laps. The confidence the EssexParts AP kit with Cobalt pads gives me is worth a huge THANK YOU to those folks for providing the best in the business. Seriously, go watch my T12 braking for the final lap. Yeah….It simply does not get better than that. Nobody every had a chance to get me under braking. When I get R4 rendered you’ll see that again where I take the inside to T12 from two cars at once (“oh you guys brake at the 150, that’s cute”) and come out in front of them. #AmazingBrakes #AllTheConfidence

Almost lastly, but HUGE THANKS to all the GridLife folks...so freaking nice and helpful. From registration to the drivers meeting, to tech, to the roving team that stopped in several times to chat and were always available for help...I HUGELY thank you all. Again, I not only participate in racing, but run a big event as well and I completely "get it". Thanks for making it go smooth!


Thanks to my wife Anna for wrangling birthday-week kids (our kids bdays are a week apart) and having them at the track. Always great to be at the track with loved ones and it makes it just that much better.