Texas World Speedway hosted Round 3 of the 2017 NASA Texas season on April 21-23. This is the track where I completed my Competition School and first wheel-to-wheel races last fall.
My main goal for Friday's practice sessions was to get comfortable with Turn 8 and 9 where I've fallen off the track before - not once, but twice. I also wanted to push myself harder to post improved lap times relative to prior visits, not just driving to remember the track. To make things interesting, I brought a set of well used tires (with 20 heat cycles) that would limit the grip and make me work a little harder.
By the end of the day, I had bettered my prior fastest lap at TWS by 0.5 seconds and gotten a reasonable upper body workout from sawing at the steering wheel. Unfortunately, I'd also over-revved the engine with a missed 5th to 4th downshift in Turn 1 that briefly touched 2nd gear (and 7800 rpm).
The beautiful weather from Friday gave way to a very cool mist on Saturday morning. Despite the damp conditions, there was still a lot of grip. I was able to improve my personal best lap at TWS to a 2:03.3, which was good enough to qualify 14th of 26 entries.
In Race 1, I lost a few places during the opening lap, offset by some off-track excursions by front-running cars. During lap 3, I was trying to defend my position by covering the inside in Turn 4 - unfortunately, I didn't downshift from 4th to 3rd to account for the tighter line and two cars zipped by while my engine struggled. I was able to hang onto the second of the two cars that passed, but left the door open twice in Turn 10 as the front-runners that had since rejoined the track made their way back to the front. I finished down two spots to 16th with a best lap time of 2:03.6.
In Race 2, I started from my Race 1 finish position, but had a much better start and passed several cars during lap 1. With a few more passes and some attrition, I found myself all the way up to 8th place on the last lap and chasing the car in 7th. In turn 3, the car ahead made a mistake and opened the door on the inside. I was able to get ahead in Turn 4, but AGAIN, I didn't downshift from 4th to 3rd. The 9th place car pulled next to me on the inside of Turn 5. He was still there on the inside of Turn 6 and I should have let him have the spot. Instead, I kept my foot in it and drifted off track at the exit of Turn 6. Two cars passed on the back straight and another had caught me by Turn 8. In trying to gain a spot on the last lap, I ended up losing three and finished 11th. I did post my fastest lap of the weekend early in Race 2 with a 2:03.0,
As is traditional with NASA Texas events, Saturday night consisted of some barbecue and adult refreshments. It's also an opportunity to walk the track. We got a little distracted during the track walk and went to check out the steep banking of the old NASCAR oval.
During qualifying on Sunday, I was nearly able to match my personal best from Saturday - missing it by less than a tenth of a second - to run a 2:03.1. That was only good enough for 14th spot on the 26 car grid.
Race 3 was scheduled for 45 minutes. Starting with the inside line for the first time that weekend, I was less aggressive than I could have been. That said, I held my position over the opening four laps until little groups had formed and I was able to join the back of one of them. Our four-car caravan raced closely until about half-way through the race when the lead car spun on the exit of Turn 6.
Through some combination of luck and reflexes, I managed to avoid the car that was rolling slightly backwards and reducing the already small amount of track available to me. In that maneuver, I lost a lot of momentum and the car behind was able to overtake me.
About four laps later, I was able to catch the small group again, but unable to make up any positions. My car was stumbling at higher rpm under load - similar to an issue that I had during Targa Newfoundland in 2016. Without realizing it, I had finished this race in 10th place, due mostly to attrition at the front. It was still my first Spec Miata top 10 finish!
Full race videos are linked above. I've also assembled highlights from all three races in a 15 minute video that's included below.
Hopefully my high rpm issue will be as easy to fix as it was on the Targa car - a quick tightening of a loose ground lug. It needs to be sorted before our next event, which is at the Circuit of the Americas. I'm excited to be able to drive on the same track that will host Formula 1 in November.
Until next time!
Bryan Bursey, driver, founded Underbite Racing in 2015.