Axis CG migrated down south for some winter racing action with the Axis-Palmfund Management Cayman S. In Sebring last week, there was plenty of action and adventure : take it away CG....
After a great first year in 2009 (16 Races – PCA and NASA -, 13 Class Wins and 2 DNFs; “Do or Die!” :^) and 4 Class Records) and almost dialing the car to perfection with the help of Spencer Cox, the goals for 2010 are to keep going racing at new (to me) tracks in the US. Plan is to race mostly with PCA and if time allows some NASA GTS3 races (IMO, better bang for your weekend time with PCA given that the rules are tighter so cars are more equal).
Sebring is one of those famous historic tracks I have never been to. Heard a lot about it, specially how brutal it is with machinery (broken bumpy old airport concrete). Being the first race of the season and in the middle of the winter in warm and sunny Florida, seems that everyone wants to be there. The Race was packed: 3 Racegroups of 50+ cars each, and most classes with 8+ cars, including 5 more Caymans (other than mine) on grid, which I never saw in 2009. One of the things I was looking the most forward to, was the night race. The car was ready for it, as SpeedSport installed two big old school Montecarlo Rally PIAA lights on the hood.....
We had an eventful start. The car felt very funny on right hand corners (pulling left but very oversteery on left rear). Had a flat tire and a jammed spring perch in the first session, so the track time was useless for any setup improvements (or driver tuning!). I just used it to corroborate I knew which way the track went, after having practiced for 2 weeks in XBOX’s Forza game. IMO, the game is extremely accurate and the cars produce performances (Cayman gearing and gearchanges happen almost exactly in the correct place) very similar to those in real life: My Xbox time ended being 0.3secs slower than my real life’s best.
In the 2nd session went much faster, down to 2:27 but after 4 laps braking into the hairpin, a caliper bolt seized with the upright. We were toast, but VERY lucky I lost my brakes when I was down to a speed I could make the turn. The bad news is that we needed a new upright or find a good aluminum welder. Had no luck trying to find the part on grid as it wasn’t the same part as the GT3s or Cups but just a one-off size used in Caymans and 997s with the Ceramic brakes. Spencer went to the local welder that ended up being great outcome, and by mid afternoon we had a repaired upright. Lost the 3rd session that defines qualifying grid spots (Not as critical in a long track like Sebring , where you can just wait in the pitlane for clear track).
Finally was eager to do the fun races and try to start dialing in the setup, but the Sebring Monster kept us at bay as I broke the rear swaybar!!! (Has anyone ever seen that?!!!). Everyone in the team was shocked, it just broke in the center section where there was a reinforcement weld for the point where it is held by one of the rubber bushings. I was lucky that the Night race was postponed until Saturday due to the bad weather (Tornado warning winds and rain). Spencer found a swaybar in Daytona and we sent a taxi driver overnight to pick it up.
Went to chill to the Chateau Elan where I was staying (nothing more convenient than the hotel INSIDE the track; big reasons to love VIR and Sebring). We had a large group dinner and few drinks with the team and other racers.
Hectic start to Saturday as the swaybar was not the correct one; then lucky for us Mike Levitas who coincidentally was the one who designed and built the broken swaybar that Joel (the prior owner of my car) had bought, swore he could weld it; and with 5mins to go in the 1st session we were just in time ready to go. Big Kudos and thanks to Mike L., the bar held in one piece all the way through the Sunday Enduro.
Finally had 2 trouble free sessions in a row with valuable track time to setup the driver and the car. Ended with a Qualifying time of 2:26.4, still 8/10ths off the track record that was repeated again this year by Greg Barrows in his 3.4 996. Therefore I was starting P2 in class, but good thing there was no other car (from a different class) in between P1 and me.
Sprint1 Race: Had an OK start and tried overtaking P1 into T2 but he shut the door effectively. Decided to follow closely and wait patiently and maybe learn a thing or two about his line (since he qualified faster than me). Then the chance came and made the pass coming out faster of T17 (when he was to early on the gas and got squirrely drifting into the wall) and took P1 braking into T1. Held the inside line into T1-T4 and success: Class win! Had some good racing action later with GT cars including the well driven “Old Yellow Hippie” of Juan Lopez-Santini. What a nice little car. Good HP/weight and kills me going into the slower turns and accelerating out due to better gearing and I presume higher rpms. I just had to be patient, follow closely and take the aero advantage and pass him at the end of straights (I also had more to learn about going faster in some sections, which I eventually did thanks to the night race). The race had 2-3 laps under yellow, so didn’t use all the fuel I had planned and only added 4 gallons for the next race (big mistake!)
Sprint 2: Good start and picked up the pace in first few laps while the tires were at their best. Was comfortably ahead P1 in class, controlling the class race, but again with some good racing with the GT cars. Lost 2 places to faster GT cars when I overdid the tires and was half a lap from the checker and the car started to stall in all corners!! 1/2 lap from checker RUN OUT FUEL!!! Duh:! My fault: overstretched my numbers of fuel left from last race by 1/2 gallon... Bummer, and lesson learnt: Always carry at least 2gallons extra. It really doesn’t make a difference!
Night Race!: One of the recent initially scariest things I've done. In practice/qualifying I sincerely doubted my ability to competitively race. I have never driven by short range markers and always guided myself instinctively by finding the best flowing line looking far, far ahead (with some data telemetry fine tuning). You can’t see far at ALL in Sebring at night, and all those right-left-right left (or inverse) sections were very hard and scary to carry the same speed as in daylight. Qualified P2 behind Greg Pickeral’s I Stock 3.6 996. During the race, the race demons possessed me and all of a sudden (thanks to being able to follow Greg’s nice clean efficient lines) everything clicked and my level of concentration went to where it had never been. I ended up going just 6/10ths off my best daylight time. Awesome! Finished the race P2 overall, P1 in class, and probably the best learning experience of the last 12 months of PCA racing.
Proceeded to chill out at the Elan with fellow Racers. Then come Sunday, with the car in one piece and a good consistent setup, was able to put to work all that was learnt in the Dark (and some overnight data mining!) and it clicked: 2:24.4 New H Stock class record at Sebring! Very happy with that lap.
For the Enduro, I was set on going for the overall win (carved-in stone mental note about NOT speeding in the pitlane!), but there was a major screwup from timing and scoring and I (and other fellow H class racers) had no grid spot for the Enduro!!! Most likely I was P1 (or close to) overall. "I was seventh" came back to mind while arguing with the Grid marshals. We were forced to start from the back.
Started around P65 (plus slightly mad) = extremely interesting race action laps. A man on a mission! I think the video tells it all. I was up to P3 by lap 16, had a few laps at 2:25.0, but then in lap 18 I just got remembered that the AxisCayman just doesn't like Enduros.: Shifter cable popped out (we had troubles all weekend with 2nd gear, and with heavy slower traffic I had to downshift a lot more) and I was left cruising in neutral around T8. DNF. Well, at least some good video and race action. I had some hopes, as per my crew, I was catching up the lead (2-3.5secs/lap faster).
All in, it was an awesome start for the racing year. Another great historic track worth coming back. Thanks to Spencer and Speedsport team for all the major rush wrenching to fix everything I keep breaking! And having the car in tin-top shape when it matters. Next Stop: Road Atlanta!