Lucky Me.

Not unlike ChumpCar racing, Lucky dog is a similar format. Low cost cars, high entry counts and a varying degree of driver experience. This rapidly growing series has seen car counts increasing race after race and this weekend at Portland International Raceway was their highest tally yet; 80 cars on a 2 mile long track. Things were going to be busy! 

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Traffic on my fast lap!

This meant that traffic would affect every single lap. I can't recall a single 'clear lap' at Watkins Glen and as a result those adept at looking at their predictive timers would finish their session saying "I never had a clear lap" or "there was traffic on my fastest lap" or "I was looking at 19s but would always get held up at the wrong spot". I was a terrible offender of this.

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PRO3

Reading a friend's Facebook updates about a PRO3 driver who he was coaching and finding oodles of time brought back memories of just how positive PRO3 racing was for me. Add to that the number (license) plate I saw on this UK car this weekend and I thought it was right to talk a little about what this great racing class means to me. 

PRO3's platform is the BMW E30. A fantastic car for any racing series and in PRO3 spec, a formula that allows for some upgrades that address both driver skill and car setup but maintain a core emphasis on driver development. Having been part of that series for many years, a 40 car grid isn't an unusual occurrence and PRO3 is often the largest grid in any ICSCC weekend. With great car counts and fantastic drivers, the racing has always been superb. 

PRO3 taught me so much about racing. Not necessarily about driving a car, that came as a result of the competitiveness of the class, but about racing itself. How to drive door to door, nose to tail, to learn about your competition and to battle it out with some really skilled racers. Whether battling for the lead or racing for 15th position, PRO3 was - and still is - superb fun. I learnt from some of the big mistakes I made on track and it formed the basis of the other key aspects of racing, such as sharing the track with faster and slower cars as well as respecting your fellow racer.

PRO3 wasn't without it's controversy but I have to say that despite any angst that may have existed, PRO3 was and remains a superb group of people. I met and made some of my best racing friends in PRO3 that have translated into opportunities to have fun together elsewhere. The camaraderie still seems as strong as ever and I hope that it continues long into the future. 

Some might ask "why aren't you still running PRO3 after writing these words" and the answer remains the same; I wanted to be part of something brand new in SPEC E46 and grow it from the ground up. That doesn't mean to say that I don't miss PRO3 from time to time and will always relish the chance at the chance to race in the class as some point in the future.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite videos of a PRO3 race I was in. This was taken from Chuck Hurley's car (2014 PRO3 Champion) of the first 15 minutes of a race at Oregon Raceway Park. 

   

The 'thinking' side of racing.

You know what I don't like about racing ChumpCar? You have a fixed pit stop time. Said another way, in Chump, an opportunity for competitive advantage has been taken away. This annoys me. 

The competitive side of racing isn't just behind the wheel. In a 30 minute sprint race, perhaps it is but that still requires a lot of thinking about your equipment and tires (especially when running race tires like Hoosiers). In endurance racing, however, the race is nearly always won and lost based upon the decision(s) made by the team (driver and pit wall) and most notably the race engineer (the person on the radio with the driver).

This last race at The Ridge was a great example of 'off track' decisions and strategy dictating the race. Car #77 (my car) and Car #82 (Dan Roger's car) had the same driver line up. 4 drivers would race two cars over 6 hours using a 'driver pool'. We opted for our fastest driver (Seth Thomas) to start my car, a calculated gamble because with only 18 cars entering the race the chance of Full Course Yellow (FCY) was low. For the first hour or so the strategy was working. Seth had amassed about a 1 minute lead and was looking strong to even put a lap on our nearest competition (the other SE46s) in the first stint of #77. That was the gamble; gain a lap from the fastest driver in the first stint allowing the other drivers (who are by no means slow) to have the pressure lifted from their race and reduce the risk of driver error. 

The gambled didn't work as a FCY at the 90 minute mark reduced Seth's advantage to just a few car lengths. We still had track position after the first set of pit stops but car #82 would now have Seth finishing the race. Anyone who has seen competitive racing on TV will know the 'closer' is always the faster driver. This 'closer' advantage would have been muted with a 1 lap advantage from the first stint but alas it wasn't the case. 

This is just one example of many that go through my mind and the team's mind during the race. When to pit, how fast you can fuel, how much fuel to put in (or are allowed put in) which driver to use, how fast can they get in and out of the car, what gears to use for fuel saving, how to roll speed to gain an extra lap or two, what tires to use, when to change tires are just a handful of factors. 

There is a reason why Hank, Sam and their Advanced Auto Fab (AAF) team are nearly always on the podium or winning endurance races. It's because they think through everything and are fantastic strategists during a race. Some might say "well, you brought pro racers to a club race, of course you won" but at this last race, our driver speeds were 'on par' with other teams but yet we finished 1-2 laps ahead. Luck always plays a part in the race (#82 lost due to an electrical fire) but I firmly believe that if the pit work and strategy is planned out and executed well, it will make all the difference in an endurance race.

That's why I don't like the pit requirements in Chump. Everyone has to stop in the same allotted time which gives enough time for everyone to fuel, change drivers, have a cup of tea, partake in a little small talk and then go again. Sure, it's then only a driver competition but I want it all, I want on track and off track to dictate the result. 

P.S. still do love ChumpCar racing though!

 

 

I did get wet feet AND I couldn't see.

As predicted, last weekend was wet. When I say wet, I mean soaking wet with the rain starting on Saturday morning for practice and not stopping until my flight took off on Sunday night back to New York. Everything got drenched. 

Despite the conditions, however, we won the E1 class and narrowly missed the overall race win by 1 lap (which would have seen us punching above our weight beating faster cars). My SE46 ran flawlessly and our team strategy and amazing pit work from Hank and team at AAF had us in P1 and P2 by the latter parts of the race. We were actually in P2 to Dan Roger's car (the sister team car) but an electrical fire 5 minutes before the end put and end to their run and we inherited P1. 

We had 4 drivers and 2 cars for the race. Besides Dan and myself, Seth Thomas (BimmerWorld pro driver) and Tyler Clary (Olympic Gold Medalist) were our teammates. No.77 started off well with Seth driving the car and we gained almost a minute of track advantage through his stellar driving. Then a Full Course Yellow came out and that advantage was muted and we were all nose to tail again.

I got in around the 1 hour 45 min mark as Seth pitted after the FCY. I have to say that conditions were ridiculous. Another E46 (an M3, not SE46) had hit the wall in qualifying and despite their best efforts to put the car back together it started to come apart on track during the race and oiled half the circuit. I've never driven in such tricky conditions. A totally fogged screen around the 90 minute mark in my race cost us a 90 second stop (and dropping us from P1 to P2 at the time) but after that I stayed the course, kept the car on the track and Tyler closed us out with a superb and clean stint inheriting the lead with only 5 minutes to go! 

I asked whether I was any good in the rain last week. I think the answer is... I was OK. I can only really compare in the rainy conditions to those who were out with me at the time. As I'm a data nerd, I tracked my performance against the other SE46s for the 15 laps after I had to stop unexpectedly. The results were as follows (all green flag laps, no pitstops). Chuck Hurley in #75 and I were setting almost identical times. I gained 1 min on car #82, 4 mins 30s on car #23, 3 min 20s on Car #68. Looks good at this point but I lost 1min to car #14 (John Parker's car) driven by Parker McKean. That's 4s a lap! An astonishingly good drive from them and I'd love to know more in time. 

In the end I got wet feet but that being said I took 2 pairs of shoes which helped. We did have fogging issues and we did get a rag on a stick to use. All this being said, we didn't need it and despite the front straight being the sketchiest part of the track in heavy rain, this race was an absolute blast and big thanks to those who made it happen for me and for us all. 

On to PIR in May for SCCA Majors #2 for me. 

Here is some video footage of my laps just after I'd come in to have the screen defogged. 

It's going to be a wet weekend!

I started my racing journey in the Pacific Northwest region of America about 8 years ago. Despite what locals will tell you, the stereotypes exist for a reason, it does rain there and often! At first, the hint of rain sent disappointment running through my body as the fear of driving in the wet took over from the enjoyment of racing. Fast forward to today and the only two things that I dread about racing in the rain are not being able to see through the windscreen and above all, wet feet and damp conditions in the paddock. 

Early on, when the heavens would open, I would say "oh I love racing in the rain". I didn't really! I just didn't want to look weaker in front of my fellow racers. As I got smarter and more honest with myself and my friends I started to really look at racing in the rain as a new and exciting, but daunting, challenge. Interesting, that moment when you start to 'drive the car' vs. 'the car driving you around' racing in the rain got easier (as it did in the dry). Now I relish the chance of racing in the rain - if I can see that is - and this weekend at The Ridge Motorsports Park will be wet for the 6 hour enduro. 

Do I still get anxious driving in the wet? Of course! We run on street rain tires in Spec E46. The Toyo RA1 is, at best, an adequate rain tire (comparing it to a proper race tire like a Hoosier). You aquaplane quite easily and the grip isn't that consistent, but you know what... everyone else is on the same tire! 

Below I've placed a video of a wet and dry lap at The Ridge. There will be times when watching that a viewer might say "why coming out of the throttle there?". The answer is simple, if you understand the anatomy of the track and what the car will do 'over the limit' the next time around you'll bring it down a notch to keep it together. The RA1 aquaplaning I talked about is a great example in the video of 'partial/off throttle' close to the end of the straight. The Ridge has a road surface that doesn't absorb rain, it just sits on the top (to allow the track to dry faster), that area also has a mild crest in the road from mid track to the right hand lane (getting on the racing line), the puddling close to braking means if you aren't exactly in the right spot, you'll aquaplane just as you think about brakes!  

Anyhow, Hank at AAF has gotten the visibility challenge sorted which leaves just the wet feet problem. From plastic bags over your race shoes to tip toeing to the car on grid to avoid puddles, I've done everything possible to avoid damp toes but, alas, it rarely works. Oh well, wet feet it is! 

Race report to follow next week where we'll determine, after all of this talking, if I'm any good at racing in the rain whether I love it or not! 

Patience is a virtue.

It's a strange dynamic in racing; sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. While we are all trained at a very early stages in our racing journeys that 'fast in slow out' means 'don't carry too much speed into a corner otherwise you'll never get out' is ever present, there was way more needed for me this past race weekend.

In SCCA T3 spec we bolted (literally) more weight into the car. To meet SCCA standards, improvements had actually lightened my car over the winter so placing 100lbs extra in the footwell (think cool suit and ballast) wasn't ideal. Sure, we were on stickier tires, but that extra weight in a anti-clockwise track (with lots of left hand turns) encouraged the car to understeer (push). 

Then we look at Thunderhill and the corner I struggled with the most was T3. I couldn't find a rhythm through there nearly all weekend. It's a medium to slow speed right hander that is off camber. If you hit the gas too soon in a progressive fashion, you'd induce understeer (especially with all of that extra weight) and, of course, for fun if you stood on the gas pedal aggressively you'd induce oversteer. 

I wish I'd figured out my line sooner but going back to the schooling of my trusted mentors (like Seth Thomas and James Clay) I put into practice their training and sure enough, patience, even in a race, even chasing down a great friend who I desperately wanted to race with, rang true. Never go to throttle until you can go 100%. This, however, doesn't mean it has to happen immediately after you've released the brake pedal. The details (vehicle attitude, placement, dynamics etc) of this technique is their's to train and yours to ask them for, however, what I can show you is it in practice. 

I'm not ashamed to say that AiM Sports have given me great partnership over the past few years and so this might come from a position of bias, however, the best tool for seeing patience in action is a SmartyCam HD. Just check out the video below.

Notice my throttle application in T2 and T3 (skip to 4:14 to see this in action more). Ahead of me is Cameron Evans. Every part of me wants to catch, pass and then annoy him later in the paddock for catching and passing him! This video is of my fastest laps of the race (and of the weekend) and there are times when watching it on screen, even now, I want me to stand on the accelerator early in an attempt to go faster. Believe me, this was faster! 

I wasn't the fastest driver this weekend. I was 0.5s to 1s off the pace of Chuck and Andrew. I still have much to learn on Hoosiers (1st weekend running them myself). What I did take great encouragement from was that as the tires got older, I got faster and in the last race, I was only half a second off the pace of the two leaders. Data shows that's confidence in the tires in fast corners is the development area. Data also showed that the patience technique was also a touch faster than the laps of the faster guys! 

Don't mess with our decals!

Some folks have asked me since last weekend, "what was SCCA like?" Well, while Thunderhill wasn't my first SCCA weekend ever - I'd done an enduro at VIR and the Rose Cup races in Portland - it was my first race with my own car needing the full SCCA treatment (tech, decals, scrutineering etc.). As a result, here are my observations.

My lasting observation was that SCCA personnel are really kind, friendly and lovely people. I honestly didn't expect this as SCCA is a little more commercial than the Conference racing in the PNW (whose kindness has kept me flying 5,000 miles a weekend to race for 4 years now).

This being said, I would also say that the procedures and practices from a commercial organization were clear to see. This came in a few areas, from tech of the car (which was an hour long vigil) through to the GCR Rule Book (which requires a law degree to understand) and the post race scrutineering that holds you in impound for a mandatory 30mins after the race has ended. From a complete opposite aspect, however, no drivers meetings all weekend. Wow! 

Then there was the decals or stickers! Don't mess with their stickers otherwise you'll be a troublemaker for sure that, I might stress, could cost you your race results. All I simply asked was "what if I don't want to stick those on my car?" Oops! Don't ever ask that. Same goes for the SCCA patch on your suit. 

Overall, the weekend was a huge hit for me. SE46 made the T3 group something the officials and stewards talked about (mostly for good close racing reasons... mostly) which was great. Learning Hoosiers was a fun experience and I think I got 80% of the way there (I need more time on them) and the live stream was a hit (once I'd figured out YouTube Live). Racing with old friends in new surroundings was a blast and I can't wait for the next SCCA race later this year. 

1 of 3 Majors races complete. PIR will be the next in May. 

SE46 is now SE46 #77 in T3. 

SE46 is now SE46 #77 in T3. 

It's race week and showtime!

It's RACE WEEK and despite suffering from a cold/flu at the time of writing this blog, I can't wait to be back behind the wheel. It's been almost 4 months since I've raced and I'm eager to get going. I'm sure this sickness will be gone by Friday and it'll be full speed ahead for the season. 

This year starts off familiar and completely different all at the same time. On Thursday night I make my way to Willows, California for the SCCA Majors race at Thunderhill. Every December, for the past 7 years, I've race almost a season's worth of seat time at one race (the 25 hour) but this will be a sprint format and my first at this track. It'll be on much stickier tires (Hoosiers) and and new sanctioning body with new rules.

SE46 #7 is now #77 in T3 and only required a few minor upgrades from Advanced Auto Fabrication, the most obvious being a firewall installation in the rear (picture below) and the addition of weight to hit the 2950lbs rule. Long term partners BimmerWorld, Red Line Oil and AiM Sports were amazing enough to work with me for another year, leaving only a few new series contingency partners in Hoosier and Summit Racing Equipment to be embossed on the car for this season. This means #77 will look - all be it cleaned up expertly by Bryce Scott - more or less the same as last year. 

But wait, what's this 'showtime!' all about? This year, I'll be live streaming my races from inside the car. Pretty cool, I'm sure you'll agree. A few years ago I tried this using a DropCam mounted in the car connected to a MiFi. It didn't work so I scrapped the idea. In recent times, however, digital encoders have become much more affordable and connected to a GoPro and MiFi with LTE allows anyone to broadcast relatively cheaply. I took a great deal of advice from my friend Cameron Evans (who has done this for a while now) and the following is the setup I'll be using.

The camera is a GoPro Hero 3+ that I already own. That plugs into a Cerevo LiveShell 2 digital broadcaster (I got mine 'like new' but not new on Amazon for around $250) via HDMI which connects wirelessly via WiFi to a Verizon LTE MiFi I already own. At time of build, AAF installed 2 USB power plugs close to my roll cage and with the 24hr battery on the MiFi and power to the camera and LiveShell, I should be good for the sprint races at minimum. 

Thanks to my AiM videos, I have enough subscribers on YouTube to live stream and so I connected the LiveShell 2 (via the LiveShell Dashboard) to YouTube and scheduled this weekend's broadcast. It must be said that you don't have to use YouTube and I'm also investigating streaming to the new service called racecast.me designed specifically for racers. 

So, that's it for this week. A little longer than 300 words (but I did skip last week) and I'll post again with more on the race weekend, next week. 

Pole position, speedy gear changes... but at what cost?

2016 was a great year for me in my SE46. I started to see consistency in the speed I'd gained and was feeling really confident. This was epitomized by me getting pole position in a third of all sprint races I entered. But at what cost?

At the Rose Cup races I managed pole position (one of two I earned at PIR this year). The lap is as follows and was one of the achievements I was most proud about as we had a stacked field of drivers for this race. 

One of the areas I was doing well - or so I thought - was gear changes. By minimizing the time during changes I was finding more time on track. A common critique you often hear drivers get is that their changes are too slow. My problem, however, is that I made my gear changes too fast! 

Here is that same pole lap now but looking at the RPMs and Throttle Position Sensor in the car. Pay close attention to the red boxes. Notice that during any gear change I'm never at 0% throttle during the change. With the fly by wire system in these newer race cars the revs spike a little during the change. While that little rev increase isn't spiking an over-rev it is happened EVERY gear change and is putting untold pressure on the clutch, through to the engine. 

For 2017 this has to stop. Test days are coming and I have to get my timing back together. This only happens on my car because, well, it's my car and I push it a little more. The challenge is I'd rather get my timing back together for all cars I drive vs. over-slowing the shift on team cars or friends cars and being extra slow on track.

Not only are the consequences going through clutches more frequently - incurring labor and parts cost - but if the stresses on the engine get too much then this might happen...

New AiM upload on video AND data

Last week's response to my Podcast on Speed Secrets was fantastic. I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who commented and said kind words, it means a great deal to me! 

It is true that I originally uploaded the videos to help my fellow racers with questions I was answering repeatedly at the track. It started to work and with WiFi hotspots and track internet it was always very gratifying to see people using them in their trailers and on laptops.

Truth be told, I'm still always there to help but what I never expected was how these videos would scale! In 2016, these videos were viewed 20,000 times. 52,500 minutes consumed (875 hours) and watched in over 100 countries. That is bonkers but fantastic! 

I am now on a mission to keep the momentum going. So far we've covered the basics, working with GPS, working with configuring your Solo or your Race Studio Analysis views but it's time to take it further. As a result, this year's first video uses AiM's SmartyCam HD hardware in partnership with the data gathered from my MXS dash. 

I've uploaded it to YouTube, updated my page on this website but for those interested in a quick look now, here it is below.

Enjoy!

Speed Secrets Podcast!

A few weeks ago, Ross Bentley asked me (well, to be honest I asked him first) to be on his new Speed Secrets Podcast. It was great fun doing it and once you get past many of the excessive "umms, and errs" hopefully there is some good stuff in here for the listeners.

Links to Speed Secrets Podcast | website | Google PlayiTunes | Android | Stitcher | RSS

I mention something at the end of the Podcast which I think, for me personally, is a very special part of why I race. Racing is a community of friends who might be competitive but also great fun to be around. I've made some of the best friends, life long friends, and great acquaintances at the track. This podcast is a great example.

I reference in the broadcast a piece I wrote for SpeedSecretsWeekly about being an HPDE driver moving to racing, you can find that in the links below, as well as links to my AiM videos both on this website and on YouTube. 

Where to race in 2017?

What a lovely challenge to have. Where to race in 2017? Originally, the plan was to race the national races in SCCA to qualify for the run-offs at Indianapolis. While this is still an option, the fact that an entry is now 'not guaranteed' and the cost of haulage to places like Road America and, of course, Indiana, are potentially cost prohibitive, this might not be an option.

With ICSCC (Conference) in the Pacific Northwest moving to multiple race weekends, it might be a case of going back to running SE46 in Seattle, Portland areas and complimenting this with some Chump races and maybe a couple of notable others (like Thunderhill). 

So, it's on the hunt now for race weekends that have great car depth, aren't too cost prohibitive, will be with other race friends and colleagues and I can push myself by competing with the best drivers around. At times this seems like an impossible challenge! 

Preparation And Hunger!

The start of February marks the end of 'dry january' - thankfully - and with perpetual hunger urge to eat pages out of the cookbooks I masochistically read subsiding, I'm feeling great. I lost 9lbs in the month and am well below my race weight target. While the misery of January's lack of anything really tasty (be it food or drink) the weight saving would have cost a fortune if translated into car improvements so I'm happy now it's over. As long as I don't binge drink and eat this week, all is good!

Talking of the car, this week Bryce Scott (Scott Motorsports) has sent me photographs of SE46 #7 as it gets put back together and polished up for the 2017 season. After an incident at The Ridge dented the rear left hand side and an earlier bumper incident with a renter, it was time to get the car all cleaned up. Same sponsors as last year (BimmerWorld, AiM, Red Line Oil) with a deeper focus on Magna Flow for James Clay.

 

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Diary Of A Gentleman Driver

This is a weekly diary, no more than 300 words, with a literary description of my week in relation to racing, preparing for racing, my activities over a race weekend and my personal feelings and points of view.

I'm not a professional driver. I'm not a coach, mentor, engineer or mechanic. I'm a racer, a gentleman racer, who has a day job, who loves racing and enjoys every opportunity to get behind the wheel of a race car and enjoy myself.

For friends and family who don't know what a 'gentleman driver' is, let me tell you. It's not that you have exceptional manners, you hold the door open for people or help someone with their bags on the subway. You don't have to wear suits, carry a cane or have a monocle. A gentleman driver is the term used in the industry for someone who pays for their racing. You don't make a living from racing cars (like a pro) you don't get free rides and you don't get called up to be a factory team driver. You just love racing and you pay your way. This being said, I do wear suits, I try to help people on the subway, I do hold doors open and despite not having a monocle, I do own a pocket watch!