It’s been too long...
My last turn behind the wheel at a race track was WAY back in October 2017 - just after moving from the US to the UK. After a very busy six months of work, I found an opportunity to get back to visit my NASA Texas friends during Round 3 of their 2018 season at Circuit of the Americas.
Mimi’s Little Sister had been borrowed last fall for the NASA Eastern Championships at Sebring. That didn’t go so well - a melee at the start meant that Mimi’s Little Sister made contact with Karen, the car belonging to another friend from Texas.
The repair work was very well done. The front clip was completely replaced, including hood, fenders and headlights, while a new radiator was fitted inside. As a pleasant surprise, the repaired car was brought to COTA sporting a new livery.
Practice sessions on Friday morning were cancelled due to lightning storms in the area. We hunkered down in the trailer to wait out the weather, while the car was tucked under the canopy initially, and later moved into the trailer when the wind really picked up.
We were able to salvage two sessions in the afternoon. With standing water in Turn 14 and continuing rain, the wet weather tires came off the rack for the first time in two years. While not particularly meaningful given the dry conditions forecast for the rest of the weekend, it was good to experience and, likely, more relevant for future racing in the UK.
Blue sky and sun greeted us at the track on Saturday morning. With the first NASA National Championships being held at COTA in September, drivers from across the country (fast ones) made up the nearly 60 car Spec Miata field. At the morning driver’s meeting, in addition to the standard welcome message, track limits were discussed. With no sausage curbs installed, the rule for the weekend was “if it’s paved, you can race on it!”
The first practice session was an opportunity to try a racing line that didn’t fuss things like white lines or curbing. While I could wrap my head around running wide on turn exits to maintain momentum, I struggled to fully cut corners with all four wheels inside the track surface.
I definitely left some time on the table when it came to qualifying. I found myself caught behind a slower car, but didn’t managed to get past quickly. After wasting a few laps trying to get by, I backed off to create some space, but it was too late. The checkered flag came out and my best time was 2:48.8 (not quite as quick as my 2:47.7 from 2017), leaving me 45th of 53 on the grid for Race 1.
The huge field made for an interesting start. By the time the back of the pack turned onto the front straight, the leaders had been given the green flag, stringing out the second half of the field. A few faster cars from the back moved quickly past us during lap 1 and a mistake in the braking zone on the back straight during lap 2 cost me another couple of spots. By the end of lap 3, I was stuck in a gap between two groups. I was able to use the esses on lap 4 to move up to the back of the group ahead, nearly grabbing one place in the last turn. I got that spot and one more through the esses on lap 5, but lost one again after the running too deep in the braking zone in Turn 12. After holding position through lap 6, I ended up side-by-side with another car going into the esses at lap 7, but being on the outside, I fell back and accidentally left a whole for another car through as well. I got lapped by one of the Spec MX-5 cars going into the last turn of lap 7. At the time, I didn't appreciate that the checkered flag shown to the Spec MX-5 winner also applied to me, so I raced lap 8 with the two cars just ahead. Catching and passing them was all for not on the timing and scoring sheet. I finished in 39th with a best lap time of 2:49.2 - here’s the video from Race 1.
Qualifying on Sunday went a little better. Grid was based on the fastest lap times from Race 1, so speed differentials wasn’t an issue. And I made the space I needed to get some clean laps. The best time I could post was 2:47.4, setting a new personal best by 0.3 seconds. That got my up to 42nd of 53 cars for the long race in the afternoon.
However, as I rolled to grid for Race 2, I could smell, then see, smoke in the cabin. My main electrical disconnect switch failed internally. I was able to turn it off and stop the smoke, but it wasn’t looking good for the race. Thankfully, friends at the track were able to purchase and install a new switch, getting me out on track as the main pack came through for their second flying lap.
I was able to enjoy 30 minutes of track time, even if I wasn’t racing for position. By lap 7, I caught the back of a small pack, picking off 1 car on the inside of turn 11, then another in turn 14. After that, I just made space as Spec MX-5s lapped me, and drove to the finish 3 laps down in 41st place - not the result I wanted, but better than a DNS (Did Not Start).
It was great to get back in the driver’s seat and race wheel-to-wheel again. The car is tucked back in the trailer until the next event - whenever that may be!
Bryan Bursey, driver, founded Underbite Racing in 2015.