End of Season 2:  The Doomsday Double 7 at TWS

By Tobey

It was back to Texas World Speedway for the Doomsday Double 7 on December 8-9. The weather forecast was a bit worrisome, with a chance of rain and thunderstorms both days. The rain held off, but it was still warm and muggy, with 80° temps and high humidity.

The Nismorons had a mostly drama-free weekend. In the Texas area, the Miatas are tough to beat. And to make it worse, a team from Michigan made the haul down to Texas with a pair of really fast Saturns. Yes, that kind of Saturn. Yes, they really were fast. No, I’m not making it up, they were F A S T.

Saturday, the luck of the random green flag meant we started in 24th place. Clark did a good job of keeping it clean and running down the slower cars, and got solidly in the top-10. We all kept the car in the top-10 all day. As pit stops cycled we got as high as 1st place, and never lower than 9th. We ended up 6th overall, 5th in class. An EC-class BMW was ahead of us in 4th. The final standings were:

  1. #11 Team Drivers Education, Miata 185 laps
  2. #60 Namco Racing, Miata 185 laps
  3. #21 Saturn Art Car, Saturn 183 laps
  4. #83 City Garage, BMW 182 laps (EC Class)
  5. #43 Don’t Tread on Me, Miata, 182 laps
  6. #82 Nismorons, 240sx, 182 Laps

The only drama we experienced was that the handling started going away during my stint. I was the second driver, and there was just no front-end grip. The front would slide instead of turning, especially in slower corners. When I turned the car over to Thomas, we made some air pressure adjustments to try and help. But it didn’t help. Thomas soon reported that he had no front or rear grip, and was skating all over the track. It is worth noting that we started the race on used tires, but we really thought they would last the full 7 hours on Saturday.

John was our 4th and final driver, and made the call the do a 4-tire change before he went out. 4-tire stops are exceedingly rare in ChumpCar. So there were a lot of eyes up and down pit road watching us do the swap. We’re not a NASCAR pit crew, and we were not at all equipped for a stop such as this. But we did our best, and got the 4 new tires on in less than 3 minutes. Honestly, that’s not bad at all. But we know where we can improve next time, and knock 30-45 seconds off that time.

With the new tires, the handling still wasn’t very good. Like Thomas, John reported that the car was skating around on the track. So after the race, our crew chief Art and I pulled out our notes from previous races and testing sessions and from the pit stops that day. It turns out that as the day went on and the track got hotter, we were building too much pressure in the tires.

As you race, the tires heat up enough to increase the air pressure in the tire. Ours will build 4-6 psi of pressure depending on the track and the conditions. Tires give the best traction at a certain pressure and temperature, and from previous testing we know what that sweet spot is for our combination, but we weren’t hitting it. We were underestimating the buildup in pressure and starting with the pressures higher than necessary, so that when the tires got hot and gained even more pressure, they were above the sweet spot and started losing traction.

So Art and I developed a pressure strategy. TWS is predominately left-hand turns, so the right side tires get more abuse and get hotter than the left. And John drives the car harder, which builds more heat. Art and I took all that into consideration and came up with starting pressures for the next day; each tire at a different starting pressure based on the data collected on Saturday. At each pit stop, we adjusted the pressures to different settings for each driver, based on track temperature and how hard we expected the driver to push the car.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds when you have all the notes in front of you.

The end result was a huge success. The car handled better and was much easier to drive. Our best lap on Saturday was 2:08.6. With no other changes to the car, our best lap on Sunday was 2:07.3. A 1.3 second improvement just by optimizing air pressure. Incredible.

For Sunday’s race, Thomas started in 4th. We fell as low as 14th during pit stop cycling. A nice strategy call during a pace car period (four dead cars were being towed off track) got Tobey out and John in the car a few minutes earlier than planned. But doing the stop with the pace car slowing the field saved us about 2 laps that would have been lost if we pitted under green. John and Clark finished strong, and we ended up in 6th place overall, 5th in class just like Saturday. The final standings were:

  1. #43 Don’t Tread on Me, Miata 183 laps
  2. #11 Team Drivers Education, Miata 183 laps (EC Class on this day)
  3. #34 Saturn Gold Car, Saturn, 179 laps
  4. #60 Namco Racing, Miata, 179 laps
  5. #21 Saturn Art Car, Saturn, 178 laps
  6. #82 Nismorons, 240sx, 178 laps
In conclusion to our second season of ChumpCar racing, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned over the last 8 race weekends of endurance racing:

1. Teamwork:
The team concept makes racing a lot more fun. Going to a race weekend by myself, or maybe with my dad or a buddy helping was fine. But racing all weekend with a group of 6-8 friends has been great. We have 4 drivers, Art is our dedicated crew chief, Patrick helps work on the car and helps at the races, Mark S. helps out at almost every race and with car prep, Mark P. also helps at some of the races and with car prep (he built the light bar), and we have other friends that lend a hand when needed. By racing as a team over the last 2 years, I’ve made new friends and turned good friends into great friends.

2. Driver development:
In a typical ChumpCar weekend, we each get about 3.5 - 4 hours of track time. After 7 race weekends, I've improved more as a driver than I did over the previous 15 HDPE weekends, or the handful of SCCA races I did a while back. There's no replacement for seat time, and getting the seat time 1.5-2 hours at a time is tremendous. We also log all the races with a gps data logger. Being able to compare my data against John, Thomas, and Clark in the same car on the same day really helps. It allows me zero in on my weak points, and focus my improvements on the areas where I stand to gain the most time.

3. Car development:
Everything I've read and seen and digested about cars is finally paying off. Patrick, John, and I did almost all the work building the car. With the help and input of the entire team, I’ve led the effort to develop the suspension within the ChumpCar rules and make the car faster. The work has really paid off, as every time we have gone back to a track for another race, we were faster than the previous race. At TWS, our best times went from 2:16.4 to 2:08.6 to 2:07.3. At Harris Hill, they went from 1:37.2 to 1:36.3 to 1:35.8 to 1:33.9.

In summary, endurance racing has been the most fun I've ever had at a track.

Next up is Hallett in 3 months, then 2 months to Daytona, and 4 months to Texas Motor Speedway. Not sure yet what the end of 2013 will look like, but I know it will be fun.