In 2008 I won the NEDIV SCCA FE Championship for the second year in a row and the FormulaCar Magazine NEDIV FE Championship for the third year in a row! Thanks to my wife Michelle, Hoosier Tire, FormulaCar Magazine, SCCA Enterprises, and Hagerman RacEngineering for their support. Over just 7 races I won 5, finished 2nd once, and 3rd once. I also set a new track record at Lime Rock.
Keith and I made the long tow out to Topeka for the Runoffs. Coming in to the event I didn't think the track was going to be much fun, but I was pleasantly suprised. It's a lot different than most east coast tracks: not much in the way of elevation changes, turns close together with no long straights, crappy pavement that looks almost like tiny cobblestones. It had decent grip but chewed up tires making them much slower after a single session. Unfortunatley I didn't believe that last part until the race. Keith won Worker of the Year - but we were at the Mazda dinner when it was presented- and it was a very good BBQ dinner.
We arrived Sunday with no more drama than replacing one trailer tire. Our first qualifying session was not scheduled until Wednesday, so we had plenty of time to setup, do a little maintenance on the cars, and clean them. I took some time to finally finish the install of my bead seat, poured back in July at Watkins Glen. Tuesday I try to get some new tires and they're all spoken for. Good thing I brought 6 new ones with me. We watched practice and Keith worked grid. I didn't pay for the very expensive practice days since we had 3 qualifiers to learn the track.
So of course, Q1 it rains. A little over half the cars went out. Three or four of them didn't qualify- over 120% of the pole time. Keith was the last of the qualifiers, and I was just one spot in front of him but about 10 seconds faster.
For Q2 it's dry, and I put on my Pocono tires. The course is reasonably easy to learn the basics, and I turn a slow time of 1:36.6 which puts me 15th of 18 and behind some people I usually beat but they've been here before. I know there's a lot more speed to be had, and even have a pretty good idea where it is. The car balance was pretty good so I leave it alone and put new tires on for Q3.
It's dry for Q3 but the car is wicked loose on the new tires. I almost spun in turn 2 and turn 8. Then I spun before the apex coming on to the front straight. Turning in very carefully I get it down to 1:35.0 which moves me up to 11th.
The race was televised be on Speed TV January 28, 2009 at 1pm Eastern. In the meantime, pictures are here.
Pocono was less eventful than last year. The first session was a clown fest. Some yahoo and his son wiped out less than 2 turns after leaving the pits on the warmup lap for the first qualifying session. Black flag all. We went out again, got one lap at speed, and another black flag all for more crashes. I had the pole by like 4 seconds, but I was about 5 seconds off my best time from last year.
Second session was better behaved, which is good because it counted for both races. I had the pole by a bit over 2 seconds, with John Hagerman in second just in front of Steve and Keith. In front of were the lead two DSRs, one CSR, and a bunch of FAs.
In the first race the first few laps had quite a bit of traffic, but then things spread out and I was able to click off quick laps. Just before half way Steve's throttle cable broke and he coasted to a stop inside NASCAR turn 2. I won the race, John was second, and Keith was third.
Sunday morning I decided to try some radical wing settings. They proved no faster in a straight line and the car was diabolical on the brakes. Setting the top of the top wing flat is a bad idea. Steve managed to go a little faster and move up a bit closer to me on the overall grid.
The second race the first few laps again had quite a bit of traffic, but then things spread out and I was able to click off quick laps again. I could see Steve coming onto the back straight as I was pulling third gear for several laps. Then all of a sudden I couldn't see him anymore. Just before half way there was a debris flag out leaving the chicane. I figured it would be for cones, but no, it was Keith's shock cover right on line in the banking, where you're already going triple digits. It looked to have a corner broken off. For several laps it sat there, then suddenly it was gone- no sign of it at all. I won the race, Steve was second, and John was third. I didn't see Keith, but he had heard a scraping noise and stopped- after filing the bottom off his front wing. The screws holding the nosebox on had backed out, and the nose dropped allowing the shock cover to fly off rapidly. We looked all over for the shock cover after the racing was done but couldn't find any trace of it.
Lime Rock was repaved this year, and was smoother with a little better runoff in a couple turns. It was just me and Keith, and first session I had 5 seconds on him so second session we played lead-follow to work on his speed. He picked up a couple seconds, but it still wasn't close. In the race I had a fun time racing with Bill Gendron in his DSR, managing to stay just ahead of him, but just behind Rocco in his FC. I lapped Keith twice, and set a new track record.
We went up early so Keith could run the practice day, which turned out to be a waste. He got maybe 10 clean laps all day due to the many black flag alls. Checking times on the other FE guys running that day Steve Zamborsky was about 2 seconds quicker than the others, but still over 2 minutes on the laps I timed. Seemed like it would be a repeat of last year where I had the pole by a mile, so I went out for the first session on old tires again. Felt pretty good about turning a 1:57.9 on the old tires, until time sheets came out and Matt had turned a 1:58.0 on fresh tires, and Zambo turned a 1:57.0!
Second session I put on some fresh tires and tried some wing changes. Only got a few laps before Steve went in the gravel trap and caused a black flag all. Some people will do anything to keep the pole. <grin> I was just getting a feel for the car but already knew I did not like the front wing change- the car was noticeably slower in the toe of the boot.
Race day it rained early, looked like it might dry out, I planned on running slicks and just as I was about to put on my suit the rain poured down. On went the rains and I made my way up to grid. The track was so wet for the first several laps you couldn't see a thing due to the spray. I passed several cars and caught up to Steve, then he made it easy for me by going straight off at turn 1. The outside is paved and he didn't give up coming back on right with me but I had more speed and got by. I passed a few more cars and lost sight of Steve. Ended up running very close to the overall lead for most of the race, straight lined the chicane when an FA spun in front of me and the lead FC, which let Jeremy get by in the lead FM car. The track was getting dryer as we went, and speeds went up. A few laps later I let the second place FM car go by to battle with Jeremy for the FM win. Had a great view of the battle and it was close, but Jeremy pulled off the win. I won the FE race, with Steve quite a ways back in second, and Keith passed a very suprised Matt for third!
I expected to get away with running last years tires again, but Steven Coates showed up and he was flying. Matt Schneider has improved a ton since last year and he managed to clip me by a hair for second qualifying position for the first race. I had some real excitement when a baby fox decided to mosey across the track at the exit of turn 2 right as I was coming through at over 110 MPH! I dropped a wheel off the outside to miss him, and succeeded by maybe 6 inches. Here is the video.
During the race I was faster in turns 1-4, but Matt was a little quicker in the carousel so I could not get a run on him down the back straight. I couldn't time a clean, safe pass, so we ended up how we qualified- Steven ran away with it, with Matt second and me right behind in third. For the second race I was qualified ahead of Matt, and determined to keep him behind me. In the opening laps I was able to pull away, and by the end I was 20 seconds ahead of Matt, but almost that far behind Coates. Steve Zamborsky finished right behind Matt, and showed good speed.
On tires from last November, I qualified about 2 seconds under the track record with a 1:13.6, good for the pole ahead of Eric Cruz from SEDIV. Keith McDonald, my teammate and the current track record holder, had his prayers answered when it started raining one session before we were to go out. We changed tires back and forth and just before we went out I decided on drys, so Keith followed my lead. I was able to stay out front on slicks and take the win, but Eric was on rains Keith was working hard to catch him. As the track dried Keith caught back up and made the pass for second with about 5 laps to go. With the poor conditions I only managed a 1:20.9 in the race, still the fastest lap, but Keith's record was safe.