I woke up on Thursday morning at 3am in Atyrau, Kazakhstan, to catch my flight. 30 hours later, my Uber driver dropped me at a hotel west of Tulsa, Oklahoma. I definitely traveled the furthest to attend the NASA Texas Summer Shootout at the Hallett Motor Racing Circuit.
After a long day of travel, I elected to sleep a little extra on Friday morning. When I eventually made it to the track, we changed the oil and installed a new radiator to address the overheating issues that we experienced at the last event in Austin, Texas. It was an easy job and immediately after lunch, I hit the track for a few warm up sessions.
I was quickly able to better my fastest times from 2016 with a 1:32.9 - likely helped by cooler temperatures, but hopefully thanks to some experience gained over the last year. By the end of the afternoon, it was definitely time for a nap in the handy trailer hammock.
The warm-up on Saturday morning went well. With slightly fresher tires and even cooler weather, I found another second to drop my lap time into the 1:31s.
I was continuing to find tenths during qualifying. On the 6th lap of that session, I had a small oversteer moment on the exit of Turn 2 (at 8:00 in the video below) and dropped my right-front wheel inside the curbing of Turn 3. It made a horrible noise, but surprisingly, the car felt fine.
Until lap 8...
As I got on the curbing on the inside of the left-hand Turn 6 (at 11:30 in the video above), the right-front suspension collapsed and I scraped my way off the track and onto the grass. I didn't realize that the suspension had fully collapsed, so with corner workers waving me on, I drove to the infield to await a flatbed back to the paddock.
The lower ball joint bolt had sheared and I had only managed the 20th fastest time in a field of 27 cars.
We were able to source a replacement ball joint from another Spec Miata paddock at the track, so set about replacing the part. While we were in there, we also replaced the brake pads and rotors (that, incidentally, had been installed at Hallett a year earlier).
A mere two hours later, the front wheels were pointed in the same general direction and we were ready for Race 1.
Given the rushed repair and rough alignment, I was tentative at the start of Race 1 and got swallowed up by a number of cars in Turn 1. As the race continued, I slowly gained confidence that the mechanical bits were going to hold together. I set my fastest time of the race on lap 6 with a 1:31.6.
By the end of lap 7, I had closed the gap to a group of 4 cars. I got a run on car #194 on the front straight and passed him into Turn 1 only to run off the track on the exit and give the place back. I got by him again on lap 9 when he gave me a little too much space through Turn 6.
On lap 11, I managed to carry a little more speed through Turn 1 than car #007 and got just far enough along side to take the inside line through Turn 2 and make the pass stick.
With just one lap to go, I was able to catch, but not pass, the remaining two cars within my sights. That landed me 19th - just one spot higher than I started.
I started Race 2 on Saturday afternoon sitting 19th on the grid. I managed to hold my position through Turn 1, but because of the slower inside line, I got passed by car #36 into Turn 2. On lap 2, I managed to get by car #30 on the inside of Turn 7, only to give the place right back on lap 3 as I ran wide on the exit of Turn 5.
I dropped another place as I struggled through Turn 1 on lap 4, but recovered it again in the same spot a lap later.
I spent the next few laps catching a group of 7 cars that I could see further up the track. By the end of lap 7, I was in a position to take advantage as two cars slid off the track at the exit of Turn 10. And I picked up two more spots at the end of lap 8 with a another couple of cars spinning out. While the gentleman racer in me didn't overtake car #31 going to the finish line, I still picked up the "Hard Charger" award for most positions gained on my way to 15th place.
Race 3 was a real test of my patience.
My starting position of 17th was based on the average of Race 1 and Race 2 results. I had a good start, but made a couple mistakes on lap 2 (missed shift after Turn 3) and lap 3 (poor exit on Turn 9) that cost me a couple of spots.
I had a lot of fun racing with car #15 starting on lap 4 (at 5:00 in the video below) as he's catching me. He dived down the inside of Turn 2 on lap 5. We ended up going through Turns 2, 3, 4 and 5 side-by-side, with me staying out front in Turn 6. The next lap, I'm slow through Turn 1 and get passed in Turn 2, but car #15 couldn't find 3rd gear exiting Turn 3. We bumped before I realized what was happening and then I went by and pulled a bit of a gap.
Car #15 spent lap 7 chasing me down. As we crossed the line to start lap 8, he was on my bumper and I waited a little too late to brake for Turn 1. I ran wide onto the bumpy grass and got passed by car #15 and car #70.
I spent a number of laps trying to catch the group ahead, but by lap 16, I was getting tired - maybe finally feeling the effects of jet-lag. With car #30 catching me, I ran very wide in Turn 2 and let him through on the inside.
On lap 25 (at 37:30 in the video below), I started catching a few cars. From a little too far back, I attempted a pass down the inside of Turn 2 and didn't quite make the apex. Thankfully, car #151 knows I'm there and helped us avoid any contact.
I got close to car #133 on the 27th and final lap. On the exit of Turn 9, he shifted from 2nd to 5th and slowed considerably. I proceeded to do exactly the same, so missed the chance to take advantage of the situation. We raced to the line and I finished Sunday's endurance race in 14th spot.
It's time for NASA Texas to take a summer break, so the next event on our calendar is Targa Newfoundland 2017!
Bryan Bursey, driver, founded Underbite Racing in 2015.