Mid-Ohio NASA National ST2 Championships
Text by: Paul Costas
Photos by: Downforce Media, Paul and Anna Costas, Jeff Hester and Louis Gigliotti
We (GSpeed, SLJHMR and me) were fortunate enough to do really well at COTA in May.http://www.witchdoctormotorsports.com/ch275.htm We won TT2 both days, demolishing (by 3.9 seconds!) the existing TT2 track record and then also winning ST2 both days. Louis and I talked about Nationals a good bit and while it was a heck of a haul up there, we felt we could do well. Last year Nationals was at COTA and the winning ST2 car was a factory-ish backed privateer NSX that looked pretty strong. Apparently, the driver works at Honda Performance Development there in Ohio and, of course, Mid-Ohio is their home track. The NSX won ST2 at COTA Nats in 2018 with a fastest lap of 2:23.6. We had consistently beat that at this recent event (May 2019) and with some improvements coming, it all seemed pretty solid. Heck, we beat that time in TT3 trim for one all-or-nothing flyer that netted us a 2:22.9! I signed up Team GSpeed and Louis promptly ripped the car apart. And not a little apart. All. The. Freaking. Way. Apart.
Above = Yeah....that exhaust system is worth mid-range get-off-the-corner torque. #YoureJealousAndYourKnowIt
Did he pull the engine? Yes...it was needed for the yellow #91 car and SLJHMR was getting a fresh build anyway. Did he pull the transmission? Yes, he was putting together a Holinger sequential that he scrounged. Did he pull the steering column? The brake booster? The pedals? The complete wiring harness? The ECU? The entire (what was left of it) dash? The seat and mount? Every single brake line? The front uprights? The bottom back half of the front fenders?
Yes....yes indeed. All of that. And. So. Much. More. 3 weeks prior to Nationals, SLJHMR was a shell. I know this because I was sitting in it. No roof, no fenders, no windshield. Sitting in a newer and lighter seat angled semi-correctly with little wood blocks shoved under it. Holding a steering wheel in mid air, putting my feet on a floor-mount pedal assembly that was just lying on the floor. My right hand holding a shifter in mid-air. Pro-tip: Striving to find a good seating position when NONE of the key items are solidly anchored is a chore, let me tell you.
Most folks were pretty stunned to hear how much SLJHMR changed in 4 weeks!!
Only could have happened with a top notch crew of dedicated folks!!
But it got done, mostly at least. The Sunday before Nats was supposed to be a test day at GSpeed but it was a thrash day instead. SLJHMR still had a long “to-do” list. That whole weekend the GSpeed regulars plus added folks came together to work on completing the car. The car fired up and seemed fine, but would not turn a wheel that day. Finally, Tuesday late afternoon we scooted over to the short 1.3 test track and I did a series of installation laps for Corey to dial in the shifter. It went like this:
Paul goes out, shifts from 1-2 and then it won’t shift 2-3 unless I lift way off the gas, then come right back in. “I really hate this shifter”. Corey plugs into the MoTeC port, tap-tap-tap on the keys and send me back out. Come right back in, “I don’t like this shifter”. Tap-tap-tap, go right back out. “Better, but we don’t get along too well”. Tap-tap-tap again, go right back out. Finally, on the 4th installation lap, I can go up and down through the gears both off and on the throttle and we seem to have a handle on the strain gage in the shifter. “This is better, but I’m not exactly comfortable”. Corey finds the strain gauge to have some variance based on temperature and he’s working to compensate and program around it. He uses those engineer terms like “temperature drift” and “math channel manipulation”. Blah blah blah. Meanwhile I'm just Ricky-Bobby'ing it with the whole "I just wanna go fast!".
Above: Corey on the dyno and massive tire/wheel prep prior to loading.
Below left: That whole crate full plus the column/wheel next to it stayed home (130lbs!!) - Time to load!!
Biggest issue for me: the pedals feel vague. The first part of the throttle is mushy then everything happens in an instant (rising rate). Brakes stop the car okay but the pedal does not feel right. Yes it seems linear, yes it stops the car....they just feel odd. Like pedal-mounted-in-sand-vague. Scratcher has manual brakes too, but something is odd. Clutch needs to be bled and I stalled the engine several times due to vagueness, but we did perhaps 10 laps (longest stint? 3 laps) and with darkness arriving, SLJHMR goes back to the dyno to setup our "2" tune (for TT2 and ST2) and before we can load up, we need to fix the car. Yep, we had a power steering leak (bad end? Not sure, Louis built a new line and installed it) and an oil leak that was rectified (new o-ring needed) and a setup was put on the car and then the loading began. We finally roll out Tuesday at midnight with load-in starting Wednesday at 5pm some 1160 miles away. With a car that has 10 laps on it. Not consecutive laps either! On a tiny 1.3mi course. Crazy much?
Some folks say to never bite off more than you can chew. The alternative theory is to choke on greatness instead of nibbling on mediocrity. Clearly it's a dichotomy, but good food for thought. (as we take a YUUUGE bite)
A bit of a backstory here real quick: Part of Louis’ network includes Jeff Hester who is a rockstar at data (helped us at Cresson a ton earlier this year and has done some remote work with us as well) and (shazam!) lives an hour from Mid-Ohio. He happens to have a really nice Louis-built C6z street/track car and he was gracious enough to allow me to come drive his car at a private test day he got me into at Mid-Ohio about a month before Nats. While the weather was non-cooperative, the event was fantastic. Only a small number of cars, mostly really heads-up drivers (some practicing for Nats as well!) and really nice organizers. The first session was no-helmets with passengers so Hester rode with me giving me pointers since he’s run here many times. With well over 450hp at the wheels, good suspension and brake mods, and on good NT01s, the car was capable of running with just about everything there. I’d watched some vid and having Hester’s live commentary helped me pick up the track quick. The first ‘real’ session started just after it poured and I went out for the full session, learning where the wet line is. I was told that Mid-Ohio was diabolical in the wet and oh yes, it is. On a slow part of the track I was sliding out from the apex and going 26mph. Jeez. For my TWS buddies, a huge chunk of the track was like T4 when it is wet. Absolutely no way to go quick, and lots of tip-toe involved. Thankfully the track began drying for the next two sessions and my last session was mostly dry and while I wasn’t concerned about lap times, they were falling fast. While I never got laps “in anger”, this day was incredibly helpful. Should it rain, I’ll be well prepared and even if it does not, at least I’ve seen the track for a day and it made the videos I’d been watching (and would continue to study) much more valuable. #Network
Above: At almost-speed learning Mid-Ohio. Below: YES all that gear on the table was in the C6z with Hester and I !!!
Back to Nats: While we didn't make the 5pm load-in, we did get to meet Danny Popp in the middle of the night at a Walmart near Cincinnati! SLJHMRs glass windshield had some small cracking that quickly got worse in our Tuesday test and with zero time to get one local, Danny snagged one and met us to hand it over. HUGE THANK YOU to Danny and the #C5Mafia! Danny (five time NASA National Champion himself) has run Mid-O a good bit and had some valuable tips for setup and driving and while we could have chatted all night, we had to mount back up and keep heading north. We rolled into the track early Thursday morning (test day) and promptly signed in and scooted down to our paddock spot and began to unload.
#RiffRaff... I just love the way those northern folks speak....
The NASA tech folks showed up quickly since we transported a lot of their equipment from Texas. Their original plan fell through and the WDMS rig became the backup plan. We had scales, weight bridges, radios, spare wheels and tires for Chase, and some random boxes of stuff and they quickly helped us unload and took their stuff to tech. We skipped the first few sessions as we double checked the car, but then ran the final three sessions after slapping a pair of numbers on the completely-sticker-free car. The car was sticker-free since it was going to get a fresh coat of paint, but the painter was backed up and we had to put the car back together soooo….old paint it is. The first session was just a shakedown on scrubs and all went well. The shifter (not my best friend) was a bit balky, but seemed to be working okay and I still helped it along with a minor lift. The second session we bolted on our ‘race stickers’ and I did an easy 15-minute session to burn off the mold release and push them about 90% for two laps and then cooled them and brought them in. The were unbolted quickly and put up in the top of the rig laying down and they’d sit there till Sunday’s Championship race.
Unloading: SLJHMR: READY!!! Graphics? Not so much...
Crew: Besides Louis and I, I’d met Jim McKamey online earlier this year in a corvette forum discussion on driving style. For you cone-dodgers out there, the “Jim McKamey School” became the “Evolution School” (“EVO” for the cool kids with fat tires) that is so popular and it all started with Jim. Jim and I both are ultra-late downshifters and we compared how many folks laugh at us and call us wrong for the style we use by focusing on braking and turn-in point and only downshifting when you’re within a few moments of needing power. I find it reduces a lot of distractions and it is much easier on equipment. Jim and I started talking about all kinds of driving and geometry changes and he's been doing this successfully for a long time. Jim lives close and brought his RV along with his buddy Les and they were invaluable. From getting fuel, swapping wheels, helping with all the little things that need to get done, Jim and Les were absolutely awesome to have with us. They are both accomplished racers in their own right, and it was so helpful to have them. Also, Wendy and her husband Jerry (both racers) would be hanging out with us for part of Saturday and Sunday as well and introducing their two boys to the amateur racing world. I'd not seen them in a while and it was so great to catch up and have more qualified hands close by.
Above: That's how close Penske is (~80' !!!), and our crew Les on the left, me, Louis, Jim behind Louis and Hester.
TIRES: We brought our “Set A” tires which are stickers on the brand new (1 week old) red EVO Finspeed wheels that measure 12 and 13 inches wide. We brought our “Set B” tires which are stickers on the existing red F14 Finspeed wheels that measure 11 and 13 inches wide. The extra inch on the front is HUGE and really helps with front grip and eliminating a vague-ness that the wide 335 fronts feel like when pinched down on an 11” wheel. “Set C” was a set of scrubs on CCW wheels and “Set D” was sticker rains on CCW wheels. We also had an unmounted set of stickers if needed. It seemed like a lot of tires and while Mid-Ohio is easy on tires, I still wondered if we had enough. The rain was a real threat, but diminishing and (spoiler alert), we never bolted up the rains.
PEASANT LIGHTS: So GSpeed Corey is the driving force behind the MoTeC wiring, programming and making that happen. From the ECU, to the Dash, to the PDM just next to the shifter, this is all his domain and he is pretty fluent in all that stuff. One thing a MoTeC can do is give you a single button push that will rapid-fire the forward facing LED driving lights. In the industry it is known as 'peasant lights' with the quaint understanding that you're trying to let a car you want to pass know you are there so they kindly work with you to make that happen.
VIDEO EXPLAINING AND DEMONSTRATING THE PEASANT LIGHTS: https://vimeo.com/363055600
The third session Thursday….well, my not-so-best-friend and I had a clear cut case of misunderstanding and while we were wailing on up to the keyhole (T2) I moved my hand quickly over to the shifter after last minute passing a car and the shifter baaaarely rocked forward and commanded a downshif. From 3rd to 2nd. At WOT. At the top of 3rd. <sigh> Things got busy really REALLY fast. First off my brain registered the shifter rocked forward and thought “this is bad” and “why did this happen?”. And expletives. Lots of expetives. Just then the motor got the bad news and, in that same moment, the MoTeC display went crazy and the color most used was red. And it was a flashy-real-fast red, not just the usual ‘oh crap’ solid red. As if I needed a visual reminder to what my ears were screaming to my brain. I was already pulling like an idiot on the damn shifter (clearly not my friend anymore and promptly removed from my Christmas card list) and it would NOT come backward to upshift. I'm using all my arm/body strength and the shifter is set in concrete. I quickly clutched and the shifter moved and although the motor was still running, I figured we were done. CRAP. Load it up and head home. I gingerly hit the gas and the car picked right back up and off we went. First time I rolled a bit into the gas I figured it would scatter but it didn’t. I eased the car around the track and straight to the paddock and told Louis. I was pretty sure our weekend was done and the event had not even started. It was still Thursday and the promoter test day. Nats didn’t start until tomorrow and by then we’d be halfway home. Ug. All this massive effort to end like this. Not Bueno. Freaking shifter. Hate that thing. #ShifterHaterClub #Member001 #ShifterMeNoLikey
MoTeC gets connected. Eight thousand nine hundred and thirteen rpm. FRAK. Louis is thinking solutions and how quick can we get spare heads from the Summit hub an hour away to swipe the valves and swap them into our heads. We make calls for parts and eventually Billy at Comp and Louis have a long call while Louis pulls the valve covers and inspect everything while talking to Billy. He talks to Anthony and Erik at HPR. We’ve got parts being overnighted tomorrow for Saturday delivery just in case. As Louis gets more opinions, he changes from “it’s gonna blow up, hope we make it through the weekend”, to “it’ll likely be okay for the weekend”, to “dude, send it, we’ll be fine for the weekend”. As Louis talks and checks, I’m beginning to sticker up the car from the “Ronald McDonald look” of just yellow numbers on a bare red car, to our normal look. We had big GSpeed decals but the "G" was red. DOH! Thankfully in my sticker box I had some plain black and also white vinyl to box in the "G" and make them stand out. #CreativeStickering. Louis’ confidence in the motor is catchy and while I go to sleep reliving that damn zing moment in horror, I wake up rested and at peace. (still hating that shifter, FYI) #NotFakeNews #NotMyFriend
Friday. ST2: We have two qualifying sessions and our best time sets the grid for Saturday’s “qualifying race” and then our finishing position in the qual race sets the grid for the Championship race. For TT, we have one ‘warm-up’ session late in the day Friday that sets the grid for the 5 official timed sessions, three on Saturday and two on Sunday. Sadly, we got bumped to TT1 since we were the only car in TT2 (5 weeks earlier there were 5 cars in TT2!!). I wanted to run TT2 solo just to get a shot at the track record, but the officials deemed that as “nope, not gonna happen”. <sigh>
POWER: We had originally thought we’d have the tech officials come by if we made an ECU map change for more power for TT1, but in the end we (Louis) decided to not mess with it and just run the same power the entire weekend and work on me and the car without having to alter brake points or approach speed deltas. This was Louis’ call and a smart one.
TIMES: The ST2 record is a high 1:28 and it is held by the Acura NSX.
Before the first session on Friday Geoff from Penske stops in and the three of us talk about what SLJHMR is doing on what part of the track and where I feel I’m losing the most time. Conclusions are made, verified, and knobs are clicked.
For the first qualy session, it is nice and cool and the 5.2-Motorsports Mustang is stupid quick with a 1:28.4. I’m curious if he was an A7 or R7 but never find the answer. The NSX is the second car in ST2 with a 1:29.6. We’re on old scrubs and throw down a :30.9 while in light traffic. Hmmm. Second qualy session the fast guys stay in the paddock and SLJHMR ends up the fastest ST2 car with a :30.4 on the same scrubs to slot us into 4th overall in ST2. We know we aren’t showing our true speed yet (on 12th heat cycle tires? I think not) and that’s the way Louis has it planned. Heck, we had our transponder turned off for all of Thursday and for warmup sessions. LOL
Above: Really slick DownForceMedia shot of the 5.2 Motorsports Mustang. They've been testing like mad and are awfully quick.
For the final TT session, we bolt on Set B and put a quick-but-smooth heat cycle on them and wrap up our day. Johnny Miller throws down a :28.8 to our 2nd place :29.5 (with the rest in the :30s an higher) meaning we’ll start the TT session right behind the leader. I was on stickers trying not to overpush them and dropped two off coming onto the front straight. Grass EVERYWHERE, LOL. Thankfully it was a short session (we didn't want to set fastest lap, just be 'in the mix') and we cleaned out the grass back in the paddock.
That night Louis checks with the motor guys (and looks at MoTeC data) again and all seems well. The biggest performance issue we are facing is the brakes. Very vague and while we are seeing ‘normal’ lateral G figures in the data, the longitudinal braking Gs are well off what they should be. Finally, we got SLJHMR buttoned up and ready for the morning after a late-night phone call with Tilton, Essex and Cobalt. I can brake “ok” and with most other cars, but usually we just crush on the brakes. Lastly, the Thursday overrev cracked the side cover on the diff case (“tried to puke the pinion out” ~ Louis) and Louis swaps that out (it was dripping slowly) with a cover off the spare diff assembly we brought. The spare torque tube, driveshaft, transmission, etc all remain untouched thankfully. I did get to fabricate a power steering cooler brace. Took about 6 minutes, I got to use the sawzall and the drill and it turned out awesome. <LOL>
Again, Geoff and Louis and I wrap our heads around the chassis and while we’ve moved the setup forward, I share what I want the car to do more of and Geoff and Louis decide what clicks to make. Clicks are made and we wrap up the day as I put more stickers on the car.
A lot of the good snaps are Hesters', thankfully Athena was there to point out SLJHMR!!
I fall asleep after watching more video and thinking back to our network. Right after this event was over I posted that ‘it takes a network’ and tried to list all those that contribute to our effort. The list was lengthy. We are really blessed to have a solid group and while we hadn’t shown our hand yet, when the time was right, we would. Watching the vids from Thursday and Friday brought back the words from that network. MFW (NASA Nats Podium) and I had a few lunches going over Mid-O and he shared race vids showing some places for unorthodox passes that might be needed. Corey Rueth (NASA Champ) and I talked a few times with him planting some solid seeds in my head. Patterson (NASA Nats Podium) took my phone call a few weeks prior to nats and shared a few key points he had gleaned from his successful racing there. Sherrin (NASA TX Champ) and I talked at COTA while I was there with buddies doing a karting/pizza/bowling day and he shared some nuggets as well. Finally, Danny (5x NASA Champ) Popp’s words from a few days ago still echoed with me as well. All of these guys know that I can at least partially wheel a car so they didn’t talk basics, but they each shared one or two key “remember this” items that kept resonating with me as I watched my driving the past few days. All those guys had driven Mid-Ohio in anger and the gracious act of them sharing their experience shortened my learning curve considerably and it was very appreciated. We were clearly getting faster and it was due to Louis and Geoff constantly improving the car and my knowledge of the track getting better. We were completely on the right path and it felt wonderful and peaceful. For all the thrash to get here, we were remarkably calm. We had a lot more speed than we'd shown and that's a quiet kinda confidence.
GROUP A: Was our race group and it was full. We had 7 SU (unlimited) cars, 5 ST1 cars (theoretically a bit faster than our ST2), 11 ST2 cars (our class) and then 15 ST3 cars and a trio of NP01s. This resulted in over 40 cars in our group on a pretty short track. Traffic would for sure be a factor in the middle and late stages of the race.
For Saturday and Sunday, Hester will be with us and I look forward to not just his help in the paddock, but for his data analytics and another qualified person to bounce ideas off of. He's got that engineer mindset, PLUS he's a damn competent driver (as is Louis) so they speak my language. Between the three of us, plus McKamey and Les and then throw Penske's Geoff in the mix and we've got decades upon decades of making cars go fast. #Network
Saturday rolls around and we’re back at it. I slept well and we have an early TT session. Popp says that first session usually isn’t the fastest but the warmup group in front of us is setting decent times so we rumble on down to grid and get ready. As the “1” is called the overcast starts to mist and then drizzle as we launch and before we can get to T3, cars are leaving little rooster tails off their tires and the drops on the windshield are substantial and rolling off the A-pillars. All but a few cars make it around and come RIGHT back in to the paddock. Those few that stay out make a few easy laps on tires that are clearly not A7s.
Next up for us is the Qual race and we head down to grid early on Set B tires (this will be their 3rd cycle) and I slot into my spot, 4th in St2. The Mustang and Acura both are 1 and 2 with a BMW in 3rd and another one in 5th.
For starting order, the fastest ST2 car had posted a faster time than the fastest ST1 car so our ST2 pack starts ahead of the ST1 pack. So, the first pack is SU, then our pack, then the ST1/ST3 pack and then the NP01 guys. We are all gapped a bit to keep it clean and we roll off. We catch the green on the straight from T2-T3 and off we go. I take it easy, feeling the car out as well as trying to get a handle on these unfamiliar drivers. Who can I run beside and who is dangerous? We’ve got a much faster car than the P3 car in front of us and surprisingly the Mustang pits right away after reportedly throwing a belt. I play with the BMW a good bit and it is glaringly apparent that our huge rear tires and vast torque expanse allow us to get off the corners better than anyone. Our T1 speeds are incredibly fast as well. We are running mid :30s and I ask Louis if he wants me to jump up a spot and he says we’re in a good spot to start the race so I simply bide my time, saving the car, short shifting and taking it easy. For data sake, I try and take each sector of the track really quick at least once or twice so Hester can string it together later. Following the BMW, I learn where he is strong (brakes!) and where SLJHMR can dominate (transitions, corner exit, going up the hills). The checker flies with SLJHMR in P4 and we roll across the scales with weight to spare and we are released to our paddock to get ready for the second TT session which will clearly be dry.
For the second TT session (about 2 hours after our qualy race) it is nice and sunny and after a decent first lap in the 29s, I throw down a 28.1 to take the lead in TT1 while running under both the TT1 and TT2 track records. Mind you, we’re running in “2” power-to-weight trim, so this is really awesome. We’re also on the tires that I did the earlier qualy race on so they were on their 4th heat cycle with the third cycle being loooong!! Interestingly the front tires come in much quicker than the rears on SLJHMR. After the session we get weighed (no problems) and dyno’d (plenty legal). Wahoo. I find a brake trick that helps and Louis and I discuss it at length. Louis calls brake people too. We have some ideas but don’t want to change anything right before the race. Clearly, we have a fast car and that always feels good.
The GSpeed SLJHMR next to Johnny Miller's C6Z after the first timed TT session. We both won free dyno sessions!!!! heh
Below: Carver letting us know we're a big winner!!!! (the D is for DYNO!) #BestTechGuy
Had anyone paid attention to the recent TT times, SLJHMR might have been catching a little more attention, but we’re humble and meek like mice and nobody gives us a second glance. That’s the way (uh-huh uh-huh) we like it (uh-huh uh-huh!). #StillDontTrustTheShifter
For the final TT session on Saturday we sit in the paddock watching the live timing and thankfully we still end up in the top spot but not by much. A tenth. Yikes. What would the two TT sessions tomorrow hold?
Louis, Hester, and I talk a lot as we wrap up the day. The motor seems to be holding fine (yay HPR!) and the rest of the changes we’ve made have done nothing but make the car better. We’ve got Geoff and the Penske gang close by and they’ve been part of our debriefs and Geoff and Louis have been evaluating changes and proposed changes and they’ve been right: Every. Single. Time. SLJHMR is just completely composed over the bumps, I've got class-leading forward bite and excellent control loaded up getting into the corners. For the race tomorrow we are making one more calculated change for a 4-day total of TWENTY-EIGHT clicks of adjustment on the dampers this weekend (plus one sway-bar change and two ride height changes). Each change inspired more confidence and gave us more speed. Life is good. On the data side, I’ve been talking to Hester about different lines in different spots as well as the driving mod to maximize the brakes and with a 28.1 on non-stickers we’re all pretty damn happy. Hester digs into the data and says “expect an email when you wake up with some nuggets”.
As I lay down that night I visualize where SLJHMR has the goods. I need to exploit that tomorrow. I watch video and plan some attack spots. I re-read MFW’s epic pep-text (easily the most epic pep-text in the history of pep-texts) from Friday night and run a bunch of fast laps in my head as I drift off to sleep. I’ve got a good feeling about this. No anxiety, not nervous at all…simply at peace. The family is here and we’re playing around and it is very casual. Car is good, I’m good, family is good, and the network is humming along. #AllHailTheNetwork #NetworkAtTheSpeedOfSLJHMR
Sunday dawns with no chance of rain and I check my email while the fam still sleeps. Hester has sent a FOURTEEN PAGE report showing data highlights and timing splits and goes into incredible detail on specific laps we’ve discussed and what certain changes are worth on the stopwatch. Lines, brake technique, throttle application….it is all shown in vibrant color. These are not nuggets, these are huge bars of solid gold. I reread it. A dozen times. Then I go outside and read it some more.
Again, and we’ve decided to sit out the final two TT sessions and let the cards fall where they may. We have our backup stickers mounted on backup wheels now and it would be easy to go out and run faster than our 28.1, but the key focus is on ST2, so we watch the first session and the podium does not change. SLJHMR still winning, Johnny Miller’s C6z in 2nd (a pro driver I’ve followed forever…TA champion, etc), and Dez White’s 996 Turbo in 3rd. We are all within three tenths of a second! Yikes! I’m praying the track gets a lot slower as the sun comes up.
The second TT session rolls around and I’d spoken to Johnny (we're buds now, talking crap in the TT meetings, wives chatting, discussing tires, etc) and he said he made a big shock change to try and make the car faster and it would do it or it wouldn’t. Dez was doing the same thing and again we sat in the paddock with sticker tires sitting next to SLJHMR. UG.
I read Hester’s email another half dozen times and chatted with him about it. Louis finally puts in the fresh windshield (we’d been driving with the cracked one) and Hester slaps on new rear pads since we’ve gotten all the good stuff off them. I fit the camelback so I’ll have some water for the long race.
We did take “Set A” (with one cycle on them, moderate pushing, no sliding) over to the Hoosier Tent and have them flipped so the fresh side was out for the upcoming long heat cycle. While at the Hoosier Tent the gorgeous Finspeed wheels drew a bit of a crowd since folks had heard of them but none had ever seen the quality up close and when you see a Finspeed next to whatever else, it is apparent the quality is head and shoulders above anything else. Sitting side by side with other major name brands, the Finspeed quality is glaring and obvious. I was proud to call them ‘ours’ and explain that they are made in Texas. Everyone who saw them really was impressed. I said “Finspeed dot com” many times. #Network
The “Hoosier guy” here is none other than Aaron Quine, a really fast pro guy who also does driver coaching and Mid-Ohio is his home track. It was good to meet him and I told him I’d watched some of his TA2 video and that this was my first time here to race. We chatted for a bit and he shared with me the "gotchas" that a lot of first timers make and also shared what he watches for. #GoodStuff #ExtendedNetwork
Finally, the last TT session is on track. Watching live timing reminded me of doing National Tours for autocross. I’d always run early (#13, Solo runs in car number order) and then sit and watch as competitors made runs to see if they beat my time. I got lucky and won a few, but today’s TT was not in the cards. While Dez’s change was too much and he slowed down to keep 3rd, Johnny’s change was worth another half second and he nipped us to win the class. On one hand we are a “2” car so we should be proud (and I am), but on the other hand, I’m not a fan of “not winning” and it frustrated me a bit as well. We all met at the podium and did the ceremony and got our first big trophy of the weekend, a big 2nd place for TT1. Quick interview and some questions about the ST2 race coming up and then we mosey’d back to the paddock where SLJHMR waited.
Quick post-TT-podium interview with Will @NasaTX, then hangin with my buddy 'Crash'!! So good to see her and her clan!!!
Louis knew I was a bit bummed and we had a good chat before the race. I know he's sympathetic to my frustration, but I also know he's right. GSpeed is here to win ST2 and that's critical so that's the focus. We discuss the game plan: to jump the BMW right away and get close to the NSX. Stay there for the first half and then when Louis gave me the “go”, to turn it loose. We were on A7 tires while most of the field was on R7s. They could push the whole time, but I’d have to be careful not to burn ours up. The original forecast was in the mid 70s, but it had crept into the low 80s with bright sunshine and no shade. My style is pretty tidy but I’d have to stay on top of it for sure. The Mustang would be at the back of the little ST2 group, so he’d be working hard to move up front.
We roll to grid a bit early and when the race before us finally ends we’re told there is a ‘big cleanup’ going on. I’m strapped in tight and incredibly relaxed. We’ve temporarily mounted a camelback with ice and water so I’ve got something to drink so I take a sip and then simply close my eyes and run a few laps. I reach that peaceful floaty state and promptly fall asleep. There is finally a faint whistle as the grid folks call the “3” and I wake up gently to being completely alert and aware. Louis starts the cameras and the SU cars start to roll. In the qual race the fastest ST1 car sets a faster lap than the fastest ST2 car so the ST1 cars start behind the SU cars and THEN there is the ST2 cars. As we begin to slot off grid the NSX won’t start and he is bypassed. Louis calls on our outlap and says the NSX got it going and he and the Mustang will start at the back of the ST2 group. I calculate it won’t take long for them to slice through the back half of ST2 and be close to SLJHMR. Hmmm…
I’m beyond calm as we pair up and go through the keyhole and down the back straight. The green flies and we all hit the loud pedal and scoot down to T4, nobody doing anything crazy. Yet. I’m in P2 for T4 and T5 and as the P3 and P4 cars crest the hill to T6 they touch, spinning one of the cars sideways where folks jam into each other. The NSX was in the train and got hit from the back and another pair of ST2 cars were taken out as well. Oblivious to this (but the rear view cam totally caught it!) I chased the P1 car through the rest of the track and passed him between T2 and T3 and then he passed me into T4 under waiving yellow!!! For some reason the track officials did not see it (it is painfully clear on the vid) and then we came over the T5 hill to see a darn yard sale of cars and parts on the left side of the track. Double yellow track now for the next 7 laps as they cleaned up the mess. With only a lap or so left under yellow, Louis reminds me to drink and with a bulky valve it is something I can’t do easily under green, so the reminder is appreciated!
So, I take a few big gulps of the cool water and get ready to go. Louis calls the green but it seems everybody got called and we all just start hauling the mail toward the start line. I’m still in P2 with P3 being the Mustang pretty close behind me. I close up on the P1 BMW on the way to T4 again and sadly we catch a slower car and I’m blocked (I chose poorly) and the Mustang scoots by going into T4. Now I’m P3. Crap. I chase the BMW and Mustang trying to be tidy with the tires, and reel them back in pretty good as we hit the front straight.
Above: Headed to T5, I've just slipped from P2 to p3 (the grey BMW is being lapped, he's ST3). Time to get to work...
Now, I’ve done a good bit of endurance racing and being fast in an endurance car is all about traffic management and seizing opportunities when they appear. You’ve got to have a good idea on traffic flow and rates of closures and where gaps will open up. As we rocketed down the front straight the Mustang is reeling in the BMW but the BMW steps left to block the inside line. The Mustang pulls alongside the BMW on the right for the ultra-fast left-hand T1. My eyes are wide, my senses on full gain and there are also two cars right ahead of the ST2 leaders. One is an ST1 corvette, the other is the SU car of fellow Texan Rene. I know the BMW and the Mustang will be compromised by exit speed but will still catch the ST1 car and maybe Rene before the T2 keyhole. I also know I'm absolutely completely positioned to get them both. Right now.
Ever watch that show “man, moment, machine”? It goes over something historic that happened and explores the man, the moment, and the machine that aligned together for some epic moment. For a fleeing moment as I carry as much speed as I dared into T1, I thought of that show. Time slowed. My breathing was smooth. My heart rate nice and steady. I was the man, I was in the machine, and this was our moment.
I run a very fast line through T1, drop the hammer and absolutely nail the exit and I’m reeling in the BMW and Mustang even before I’m at the apex of T1. I know the BMW drives his mirrors a bit from being behind him for the qual race so I stay behind the Mustang for a moment on the right and then quickly move all the way to driver’s left and pass both the BMW and the Mustang at the same moment as the Mustang gets trapped behind the ST1 car and I slip under Rene who graciously leaves the door open to the early-apex entrance of T2 and SLJHMR is now P1 in ST2!
For the next lap I battle an SU prototype car that holds me up a bit. This is problematic because I need to get away from the Mustang and the BMW. Finally, a lap later I get him going into T4 and start to build a gap and on that lap Louis says “go”. Now safely in P1, my brain clicks smoothly to the next setting and we go from running 96% laps to 98% laps. I'm leaving 2 for safety, but it’s time to take the Mustang and the BMW to Gapplebee's for some Gappetizers!!
Above: Just passed the prototype in T4, now going through T5 as P1 in ST2. Hope Gapplebee's is still open!!!
The Mustang got by the BMW the same time I got past the SU car and we slowly work through lapped traffic as I eek out a little more lead each lap. A few laps later me and my not-best-friend have another issue on the way to T4. As I’m going from 4th to 5th, I do my quick lift of the gas pedal and the shifter drops back and I got back to the gas and ZING the dash again hollers that red flashy crap at me as I quickly re-pull harder and we’re back underway. I get more deliberate in my shifting but again on that same lap as I head out of T9 through thunder valley as I go from 2nd to 3rd gear my not-my-friend balks again and the dash again goes all red-blinky in a pissed off fashion. I quickly pull again and it feels a bit weird, but it drops in and away we go. I’m now doing a good lift/jam/back to gas and hopefully this does not get worse. We’ve worked our butts off to be P1, shifter don’t hose us now! FYI if you watch the race vid, the zings are at 16:05 and 16:39. Thankfully the sound is coming from the rear camera so you don't even hear me yelling. At my not-friend.
Above: Great shot by DownForceMedia as I work to extend the lead over P2 (Mustang) and P3 (BMW) who are next in line.
After 11 green flag laps, I quickly have a “where is everybody??” moment since I’ve not heard from Louis in many laps. Then, before I get a chance to key the mic, I remember that ‘no news is good news’ and if anything was happening, he’d let me know. I keep up the quick pace running 29s and 30s and leaving a bit in reserve everywhere. My not-best-friend seems to be behaving for the moment. I'm skeptical but busy enough it stays away from the critical processing.
On the next lap, Louis calls to say we should only have a lap or two left according to his watch and I’m doing a great job. As I’m in the back section I glance over at the SOLO and see our best lap is a 29.4 and I know the record is a high 28. Well, I didn’t come all this way to not at least take a stab at a lap record so I intentionally slow down just a bit to be ultra tidy the rest of this lap. I ponder telling Louis “I’m gonna blitz a lap”, but then what if he says “no”?? Dad always said it’s easier to beg forgiveness…..so I check up extra in the carousel and really nail the exit to the front straight carrying really good speed. In a Jimmy Neutron moment, Hester’s words and squiggly line images pop into my head bringing 5 key areas on the track that must be exploited for a fast lap. Turn 1: Gotta be a later apex than usual (conservative) and must commit to throttle early and hard. I fly through T1 with zero traffic in sight and not much left on the table. I keep hitting my marks well and halfway through the lap the predictive is showing a high :28. I keep pushing but keep just a bit in reserve since it would be horrifically stupid to throw away a potential win (at the National Championships!!) for a fast lap. But still…I’m pushing pretty hard being guided by Hester’s voice and the magnified and circled data traces.
I cross the SF line as the white flag waives and the starter is holding the “1” finger in the air as the SOLO updates to show a 28.4. I’m looking forward to going over the data with Hester when Louis’ voice cracks in my ear with just one word: “Nice”, and I can literally hear the grin on his face. I take it easy that last lap, dialed it back to 96%, nailing down a low 30 to finish some 5 seconds ahead of the Mustang who finished some 4 seconds in front of the BMW. We ended up with the fastest ST2 lap by more than a full second!
Above: CHECKER!!!! The Mustang would be coming into view in a moment...
Not gonna lie, I’ve won two National Championships in that little red car and I cried both times. So many ups and downs each trip. Pouring water on your head kinda hides it and mixes it in with all the sweat. #MyNetworkTipToAspringChamps #SomeDustInThisCar #ImNotCryingYoureCrying
RACE VID HERE: https://vimeo.com/362723387
Interestingly, SLJHMR passed ALL the ST1 cars and a majority of the SU cars to finish FOURTH OVERALL! I’m incredibly proud of our overall finish…maybe as much as I am for the win in ST2!! We got in line to weigh and had the podium ceremony, spraying champagne, another interview, getting a big 1st place trophy AND a big championship flag as well! Wahoo! We were over on weight and under on dyno and shazam, with a shake from Greenbaum, our National Championship became official!
After the race…well, now a lot of folks were interested in the car. We had finally shown almost as fast as we could go and it was right at the front. I really wish the NSX would have been able to start at the front and/or not been involved in the wreck, because I really would have loved to see who would have come out on top that day. We were on A tires, and really wide ones. We had exceptional torque, fantastic forward bite (the best we’ve ever had!) and after some good laps I felt I was driving the track pretty well.
Top 5 laps:
SLJHMR Mustang BMW
1:28.4 1:29.8 1:30.1
1:29.4 1:30.1 1:30.2
1:29.6 1:30.1 1:30.4
1:29.9 1:30.1 1:30.6
1:29.9 1:30.2 1:31.0
Regardless, we came and did what we planned to do. It still stung just a bit to finish second in TT1, but the sweetness of victory and track record in ST2 really felt wonderful. It also felt most wonderful for the network…all the people who devoted small and large amounts of time to get SLJHMR in the rig and on the way to Ohio. All the people who took time to share their own personal knowledge of Mid-Ohio and racecraft, all so GSpeed and I could execute. The trophy and win are as much all theirs, Louis’ and GSpeed’s as it is mine.
But it sure was nice to stand on that top step again like last year. Heh.
Above: Another great snap from Hester and the lap chart, showing a P12 start, a P4 finish (overall) on the way to P1 in ST2!!
Below: Flag snap plus MoTeC data...blue is speed trace the last 13 laps and red is 'peasant light' usage. LOL!!!
SLJHMR was never spun. never touched another car, never went 4 off (I dropped 2 off once, got some grass in the nose....didn't do that again!). The only body damage was some scuffage on the splitter getting it on the dyno and then back on the liftgate. It started every time I hit the button. It never stalled on track, the brake pedal was solid, the temps were fine and other than the diff case crack, we had zero leaks. Louis will have HPR check the motor (#damnshifter) but I bet it will be fine or at worst slap in some valves.
The Network that I owe so much to:
Anna Costas – my biggest supporter
GSpeed – Louis Gigliotti Corey, Kris, Chris, Melinda, Ian, Joe, John, Damon
Fab – Erik L, Rudy V, Chase B, Fertitta
HorsePower Research – Erik Koenig, Anthony Forney and Cole Buckner
Comp Cams – Billy Godbold
Penske – Geoff
Finspeed – Mark N and Daniel F
Essex for the incredible AP brake setup and Cobalt for pads
Doug Wardell – MK60 ABS
Jason Wahl, President of Tilton
MFW, Rueth, Patterson, Sherrin, Danny Popp and Quine for the best advice I could ask for
(and before you ask, no I won't tell you what they said....it's OUR network, get your own....but I will share one thing I heard repeatedly: "let the race come to you". We did, and SLJHMR grabbed it and ran!)
Gargantuan thanks to Louis for trusting me with this incredible machine…. this veritable sledgehammer that just smashes our way to solid results. I am truly honored and humbled every time I get to drop into the seat.
AND GSPEED for building just incredible machines. To go from shell to National Champ in under 5 weeks....amazing. #Network #WinningIsntNormal
Speaking of solid results, let me update the board:
SLJHMR (Costas & Team GSpeed)
15 NASA starts
12 NASA wins (including a TT3 and an ST2 National Championship)
2 x 2nd place finishes (including TT1 at Nationals in a “2” power-to-weight setup)
1 x 3rd place finish
MSRH CW TT2
COTA ST2 (I think)