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!
It’s been a hectic couple of months since we raced at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) - the home of Formula 1 in the US. I’ve posted a few updates to our Facebook page, but only now am I getting around to collecting my thoughts and writing this weekend recap. Better late than never!
I arrived at the track on Thursday evening. Despite the limit space in the paddock area, we were able to set up the trailers and parking right outside our garage. And the garage… well, it was pretty cool to be using the same space that will house a Formula 1 team in just a few months. Here’s a view from the pit lane just outside the garage looking towards Turn 1.
The track is 3.4 miles long with 20 turns, That's a lot to remember, so I had watched a lot of video from other racing at COTA to get a head start.
It's a good thing that I did, because I found myself distracted on Friday with issues related to the data acquisition system and digital dash. At one point, the dash decided not to work at all as I rolled onto the track. I had only the external shift light functioning until I could reboot the tablet while rolling along the back straight. The best time I could manage was a 2:50.8, which was more than 5 seconds off the pace!
Unfortunately, with the heat and humidity, I’d spent too much time hovering over the race car with my laptop, and not enough time eating, hydrating and staying cool. I ended up overheated and back at the hotel early for a cool shower and a long nap that night.
My challenges continued on Saturday.
After warm-up, the Race Director advised that my transponder wasn’t working, so no official lap times were being recorded. We checked all the wiring but couldn't find the problem, so we ran the car over the timing loop again and, somehow, it seemed to work.
Later, a lap or two into the qualifying session, my cool shirt cooler came loose inside the car. It tipped over into the passenger foot well and banged around while spilling water everywhere. To avoid being under the minimum weight due to losing all that water, I pulled into the pits early, only managing a 2:49.9 and putting me 20th of 26 on the grid.
Finally, it was time to race. Race 1 was exciting from the beginning, with cars running 5-wide through Turn 1.
As the field spread out, I found myself running at the back of a group of 5 cars. I was struggling with braking in the downhill entry into Turn 11 and at the end of the back straight into Turn 12.
On lap 5, there were 4 cars running two-by-two coming onto the back straight. With a yellow flag showing on the left, I backed off the throttle, but forgot to wave off the bump draft from behind. It ended up being a fairly hard bump and I got passed at the end of the straight, only to recover the spot as that car went off on Turn 20.
By the start of the last lap, I’d moved up from 20th to 17th. I then picked up two more spots to 15th place by passing car #06 into Turn 1 and car #44 into Turn 11. Car #06 also got around car #44 in Turn 11 and was bump drafting me down the back straight. With an extra bump just before the braking zone for Turn 12, I wasn’t able to slow enough to make the turn. As I spun, I watch four cars stream by, dropping me right back to 19th spot.
Here is the video from the onboard camera for Race 1.
With no warm-up scheduled, our first session on Sunday was qualifying. With the cool shirt cooler full secured, I managed my fastest lap of the weekend – a 2:47.7. It was good enough for 16th spot on the grid, but still 4 seconds off the fastest Spec Miata times. I've included a video from my fastest lap below.
Unfortunately, I don't have video from Race 2. I found myself getting picked off one by one until I had dropped back to 22nd place on lap 8 with laptimes creeping up to the high 1:53s. Then I found some pace and pulled together 8 consecutive laps in the low 1:50s and nearly climbed back to my starting position - finishing 17th.
It was an incredible experience, either with the trials and tribulations throughout the weekend. I was also fortunately to have Jill visiting for the weekend and managed to enjoy some sight-seeing in Austin on Memorial Day.
Next up - the NASA Texas Summer Shootout at the Hallett Motor Racing Circuit!
Bryan Bursey, driver, founded Underbite Racing in 2015.