(How is a race in mid-July my first of the season?!)
This week-end was commemorating the 20th anniversary of the PRO3 class, with a special PRO3-only race and other activities surrounding the anniversary. Because there wasn’t enough time in the schedule for both the special race and a mini-enduro, I was limited to only the “usual” sprint races. That said, I didn’t feel like running SPO in the same group as nearly 50 PRO3 drivers, many of whom hadn’t raced in a while, and so I was only going to be on track for about 1.5 hours total to do the qualifying and races for ST on Saturday and Sunday.
Since the Mustang, being a Mustang, is both big and heavy, a while back I estimated the total weight I was carrying in the trailer. As it turns out, with all the stuff I usually carry, the car itself tips the scales past the maximum weight for the trailer axles. I’ve been running up-rated tires and carrying fewer things as a result, but for this trip I decided to remove the cargo rails and spare wheels/tires I usually carry, putting the wheels in the bed of the truck instead.
Even so, the big change for this season was that I bought a weight-distributing hitch (which is a story all on its own…), so the short trip to the track was going to be its first real test. Well, as it turns out, I can’t correctly attach everything unless the truck is straight in relation to the trailer AND they’re both level, but at least I know that now. 😉
The tow down south on a Friday evening was typically slow, but at least it’s only about 50 miles from home versus the 180+ to Portland, so there’s that. I arrived in a pretty reasonable time and quickly found the paddock space that Eric had saved for me. Knowing that the new hitch keeps the trailer more level instead of somewhat nose-down, I didn’t jack up the front like I usually do. That probably would’ve been okay if the truck’s rear axle hadn’t been in somewhat of a shallow depression in the pavement, but I didn’t notice and so, not for the first (or even second) time, the car’s exhaust ripped off the metal trim piece that protects the back edge of the plywood floor. Ugh.
Thankfully, everything after that was super-easy, including finding Duane Martinson to get an annual tech on the car and my gear. Some more chit-chat with Eric while finalizing my paddock setup and then a pleasant drive home for the night.
With pretty much everything done the night before, all I had to do in the morning was guess-timate a starting tire pressure for qualifying and install the GoPro. My class competition was a 2020 BMW M2 CS factory racecar, an E46 M3 (the same engine as my old E36-based “M3-R”), and a well-sorted Subaru WRX STi, so I knew I was going to be the slowest car in class. That said, far and away my biggest priority was testing to see if the various issues I’d had with the car were resolved, as well as determining whether the wider tires (315s vs the 285s I’d run before) were going to experience any interference with the car’s bodywork.
My first two flying laps were roughly as fast as I’ve ever gone in the Mustang at Pacific, so I was feeling pretty confident the ABS issues were resolved. I also didn’t hear or feel any of the tell-tale signs of tire rub, so overall things were looking positive. That said, the 1’35.276″ qualifying time I set is the car’s best time at the track to date… and still almost 8 seconds off the pace of the M2 on pole for ST and 19th out of 21 qualifiers. Okay then.
One aspect to my lack of pace is the fact my big-and-heavy Mustang is seriously overweight. Even after pulling a lot of weight out of the car, I still roll across the scales 250-some pounds over my class minimum, a fact I heard someone freak out over EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Like, guys, really? I know! But every trip across the scales, at least one person would freak out once they clocked the difference between my minimum weight sticker and the actual weight that was called out. Rub it in, why don’t ya.
The first thing I did after I got back to the paddock was check my trunk. No gear oil everywhere? Yea, my diff problem is fixed, leaving the car officially All Better Now after some challenges. At this point, fingers crossed, we’re back to a stable, predictable platform that I can use to start making new changes (weight-savings, anyone?).
The race itself was a bit frustrating even though it went pretty much how I expected. I was starting one row behind “Gator” in his WRX, but my current pace is such that all I could hope for was to remain in striking distance and hope he made a mistake or had some kind of issue so I could get close enough to even think about a pass. At the start, though, some of the SE46s we were in the middle of got between us and I watched him slowly pull away from me while I tried to get past the two dueling BMWs in front of me.
I did eventually get past them, but it was far too late by then and so I just drove around by myself until the checkers flew. I got lapped by the M2, too, so that was a nice cherry on top, although somewhat ameliorated by seeing Ivan in his E46 M3 pulled off driver’s right approaching Turn 2, meaning at least I technically improved from my starting position.
Something I’d noticed while waiting for the scales after qualifying became really obvious after the much longer race, which was that moving the shifter around in neutral was really stiff. The gear changes themselves were normal and everything returned to normal after the transmission had cooled down a bit, so that’s at least a change in transmission fluid type and possibly also a trans cooler. Racecars, man.
Because of where Group 4 was in the day’s schedule, I had plenty of time to arrive and get ready for the day, so I took advantage of the slack time to hook up the truck to the trailer, get all non-essential items in the trailer organized, and just generally preload tasks so I wouldn’t have to do them after the race.
Although the M2 wasn’t racing today, Ivan and Gator were, so my plans for qualifying and the race were basically the same as Saturday, although now with two new goals: cross my fingers and hope the transmission situation didn’t get worse and improve on some things I’d seen when watching my in-car video. (Better entries into some of the corners, better overall lines through a few others, and getting on the power earlier almost everywhere.)
Qualifying started off somewhat frustrating, as I was stuck behind a Novice in a GT2 Mustang who, in an “amusing” contrast to what I’d experienced behind a couple slower SE46s during yesterday’s qualifying, was slower than me in the corners but faster on the straights. His overall lap times were slower than mine, so I needed to either drop back to create a gap or just get past him to run my own pace. Passing it is, then!
I got right on his bumper through the uphill Turn 6 and through the left-hand Turn 7 at the top of the hill, then forced my way by on the inside of Turn 8 before taking a blocking position going through Turn 9, onto the front straight, so that I could keep him behind me until we got to Turn 2, where we’d be back at the part of the course where his horsepower didn’t matter anymore. This let me pull away from him and start running my own pace, but I was still only managing laps in the 1’37”-range until I finally got down to a 1’36.020″. At that point, all things being equal, I decided that was probably going to be the best I was going to get, so I left it at that.
Surprise, surprise, I was once again last in class, with pretty much three-second gaps from Ivan to Gator to me. Since that also put me 17th out of 21 runners in the class, I was going to start the second day’s race right where I finished the first’s.