Race Report: 2015 Hallett Summer Shootout

Well that was an up and down weekend.

I’ll leave out the fiasco associated with the new RV except to say: it started with the trailer lights not working in the driveway, and continued right through the full-on Oklohoma thunderstorm raining into the open hole in the bathroom roof on the drive home.  <sigh>  Sometimes there are signs, but you have to listen very carefully..even when they are screaming in your freakin’ ear.

Also, a big thanks goes out to all the family members that came out to watch the race on Saturday.  It was fun to have such a big cheering section.  I could see y’all standing by the fence as I drove by approaching turn 1.

Friday Practice

 

This was my first trip ever to Hallet.  I’ve been really busy at work lately, so I didn’t get much time on a simulator, just about 2-3 hours.  I managed to watch a few videos, so I had some idea of the line…but, when we got there Chris offered to try a little lead follow with me.  I said I wanted to follow him for a couple laps, and then be left on my own to kinda of make sense of the scenery and develop the mental movie.  Then later in the day I wanted to do another lead/follow where I would be able to make better sense of some of the finer details….ah, best laid plans.

The first session went as planned, and I was really enjoying the track.  Its very techinal and the elevation changes make for an interesting ride.  Right before the second session we got a downpour.  Chris decided to sit it out, but I wanted as much practice on the track as possible, so I put on the rains and went out.  Laps at a new track are pretty valuable, besides we had a 50/50 chance for rain all weekend.  So, I wanted to be somewhat familiar with the track in the wet.  Um….there were two conditions on the track, slick and stupid-slick.  Granted I don’t have a lot of rain driving experience, but everyone seemed to agree.  The crest going over 7/8 just didn’t really seem to matter what you did with the wheel.  I think you could do a piorette over the crest and never change directions.  anyway it was fun, and educational sliding around like I had 800 hp.

The rain stopped before session 2 started, so the track dried as we drove.  By the time of the third session, the track was back to dryish.  Chris and I both went out, but didn’t plan on any lead follow.  The session went pretty well, and I was starting to get a feel for where I was decent and where I wasn’t sure what to do.  In most places I knew what I needed to do, and it was just a matter of continuing to push and find where the limits were.  But, a couple of spots I wasn’t sure, at all, what the right approach was.  In particular, turns 6, 10, and 1.  I was turning 1:35s, where the fast laps were in the 30-31s.  Unfortunately, Chris blew his motor during this session.  He hung around for a while (long enough to loan me a transmission…more later), but ultimately bailed back home.

As I was on my way down the hot pits exiting from the session, I tried to shift into third and the gear just wouldn’t go.  I tried shifting into 4th, then blipping down into 3rd—no go.  I tried double clutching—no go.  I’d had zero issues at speed on track.  I talked to Chris and his initial thought was that the synchros were clearly going, but that I must be getting enough hydraulic coupling at speed on the track to allow the gears to mesh.  We decided to try one more session before deciding what to do.  I went out for the next session, and I was able to get 3 shifts into 3rd gear.  But, I never could figure out a reliable way to get it to go into gear (rev matching, downshift, upshift, etc).  With only 3 successful shifts there just wasn’t a pattern to discern.  Chris had brought a spare trans with him and let me use it for the weekend.

Unfortunately, the shifter was pretty worn on the new trans and I had a very difficult time finding 3rd gear for the rest of the weekend.    In the 4 years I’ve been driving the miata on the track, I’ve never had shifting issues.  When I first bought it, I grabbed 5th gear a couple times instead of 3rd.  But, I replaced the usual shifter bushing and never had an issue after that.  I don’t know exactly which part was worn on this one, but it was different than the bushing because the guy who installed it said he didn’t have the needed part.  So, I’d just have to baby it and be careful—apparently not my strong suit.

After the trans was swapped, Chris headed home.  I went out of the next session, and ripped of some really nice laps for a noob.  I managed 5 laps in a row all 33.0 or better, with a best lap of 32.1.  the fast laps were still in the 30-31s bracket, so i was really happy to be able to get within 2s of these guys, and to manage it for several laps in a row…after only my 3rd dry session.

I sat out the next to last session, because I was personally overheating.  In the last session it was getting pretty hot and greasy, and my times fell off by about a second, but so did everyone else.  At the end of the practice day, I felt pretty good, and felt like I had a decent chance of managing a mid-pack (P12-P15 finish sometime duing the weekend).

 

Saturday

 

We had torrential rains overnight which stopped about 5 or 6 am.  The track was dry, but now the off-track surface was wet and very muddy.  the price for an off just went up.

Yesterday, I ran someone else’s takeoffs from TWS in October with unknown number of heat cycles.  I personally had put 18 HC on these tires, and I don’t know how many the previous owner had put on them before giving them to me.   For today I decided to start on 6 HC tires.

Qualifying

My qualifying routine is still “in work” and I ended up at the back of a long train of slower cars.  My lap times tend to start slow and build towards the end of the sessions.  So, trying to line up near the front generally just puts me in traffic as people get around me early.  That’s, obviously something I need to work on, but for now I tried to line up near the back so I could get some space and just do my own thing.  Unfortunately, after the first two laps I caught the back of a long train, and realized that I was not going to get around it. So, I just dropped back to try and create enough space for a decent lap.  My plan was to get a decent conservative lap before going for a 10/10ths flyer.

I dropped back, but should have been more aggresive to create more space.  As it was, I only ended up with about a 3 second gap to the train by the time we got back to turn 10.  I got on it going into turn 10, and got a good run coming out.  By the S/F I was already 3 tenths quicker than session best lap.  Again, I managed a really good line into 1 and carried good speed up the hill and down into 2, now up 1/2 second.   Judging by the rate of improvement it looked like I had a 33.0 or better lap going.  I gained another 2 tenths through turn 5.

In previous laps a couple of cars had gone off track in the short shoot between 5 and 6.  One person had j-jooked after dropping 2 on the outside, and another somehow lost it to the inside and then hooked back onto track.  Both cars had littered the braking zone for 6 with mud.  This had been a couple laps prior and the groove no longer appeared to have any debris.  I turned in for 6 as per the previous lap, and clearly was on line with my left side just on the curbing. However, for some reason the car did not stick, and began to wash out in a 4 wheel drift.  I tried to hold it on the track, but as I got within a car width of the rumblestrip it was clear that wasn’t in the cards.  So, I opened the wheel and tried to go off straight and unloaded.  Knowing that it was wet, muddy, and slick, I hoped to keep the car moving, and be able to gently work the car back on track.  Apparently, there was a hole in my way, however.  The car dug in, and then bounced.  After the bounce the car began to rotate left, and I lost most of my ability to control the car.  I turned into it, but with no friction in the wet grass, the input had little effect.  So, I came to rest sideways to the track.  I tried to rock it and move it until the tow vehicle arrived, but never could get CLOSER to the track surface.

Qualifying time: 1:36, starting 21/25.

 

Race 1

 

 

Being a rookie, and having never been to this track before, I was somewhat unsure of the exact starting procedure…or really the lineup for green and where that would occur.  As it turns out, lineup was very late on the track (to me), and basically two cars lined up inside of me that should have been outside.  So, I started to just move up into the “wrong” position…but, just as I did these guys realized they were wrong and moved over.  This caused me to have to checkup and put me in the wrong gear.  I downshifted to 2nd get back up to speed and into position, but then on the upshift I grabbed 5th.  Not the last time I would grab the wrong gear on the 2-3 upshift for the weekend.  Anyway I lost tons of time getting out of 5th and back into 3rd as the green flag dropped.  Which put me back to DFL entering turn 1.

I spent the rest of the race trying to makeup ground.  I got around the 78 car fairly quickly,  then the 51x took himself out on the exit of 6. I continued to fight the transmission, either being unable to find 3rd gear, or grabbing 5th instead.  either way, every instance cost  1/2 second each time.  It was pretty frustrating to make up ground only to lose it again.  Then the 135 lost it on the exit of 10.  That left the 0 and 77 within view as the laps were winding down.  They also appeared to be catching another group of cars and might catch them before the checker.  However, that was not to be the case, and I finished behind the group in 21st.

My best lap during the race was a 1:33.2 or so…but, during the last closing laps whiel running by myself I was hitting 1:34.4 consistently.  Notwithstanding the shifting issues I appeared to be 1.5- 2 seconds slower than Friday.  I wasn’t sure why.

 

Race 2

 

 

Lineup for the start was more orderly in race 2.  Everyone got their correct spot without any confusion.  I was slow to react to the green as I didn’t catch the flag stand in my vision until a moment to late.  I need to pay less attention to the cars around me and more to the flagman.  Anyway, I still lost two positions (#135 and #78) due to my slow raction.  We entered turn 2 2×2, and I got the 78 back on the inside, because I had a clear space in front of me and he was stuck in the slower outside lane. Babot got past the 78 between T3 and T4, and then got inside of me midway through 4.  The 78 followed Babot through and got to my outside entering T5.  I was able to hold the inside position side by side entering 6 and got back on the throttle quicker clearing him on the exit of 6.

Climbing out of T9, I again struggled with 3rd gear and lost a spot to the #47.  I continued with this struggle on the exit of T9 for the rest of the race.  I tried to be  super slow and careful to ensure I grabbed 3rd, not 4th or 1st (!!).  But, I lost several tenths every time as a result.  On lap 5, I did the dreaded 2-1 upshift climbing to T4.  Nothing broke, but I lost a position to the #47…and quite frankly it freaked me out.

On lap 7, I missed the blip on the downshift to 2nd, and the rear came around and I stepped off the pavement.  I lost 8 seconds getting out of the grass and back up to speed.  This let the 51, and the 0 car back by me with not many laps left to go.  I knew I was faster than the 0, but I was now 4 seconds back.  I was making up a lot of time in the hard braking zones (2 and 9), and the climb over 7/8.

On lap 10, entering T6 the 33 was nearly stopped it looked like he and the 339 car had gotten together and he got the short end of the deal.  Anyway the 0 came up on his really quick and had to lock up the tires to keep from getting into him.  I had enough room to adjust my line and get inside them both.  As the 33, 0, and me came out of 9 the 339 looked to have lost control on exit and was slow on the outside down the short shoot to 10.  As we entered T10, the 33 got back inside me and took the position.  This left me slow off of 10, and the 0 got inside me exiting T1 on the next to last lap, and then he took the position as we exited T2 side by side.  I stayed close on the 0 through the rest of the lap, and got a good run exiting T10.  We were side-by-side as we crossed the S/F and as we entered T1.  He didn’t pedal it enough into 1, and couldn’t hold it on track even though I left him room on the outside.  I talked to him later and he said he knew he couldn’t hold it so he let it run straight into the grass.  As a result of leaving room outside, I was slow down the straight, and the 339 got by me into T2 on the last lap.

Finish 19th.

This was an exiting race for me.  It was the first time that I spent the majority of the race jockeying back and forth with several other cars for lap after lap battling for position.  I had a blast and learned a lot about 360 degree situational awareness, and making move and seeing where I’m gaining / losing time, etc.  What a blast!

Sunday

To wrap this up…my times all day on Saturday were considerably slower than my times at the end of Friday.  I’d switched to newer tires for Saturday.  But, obviously I could just have been slower do to variation in my driving, too.  However, after some discussion we agreed to try going back to the set from Friday.  In the morning practice my times were right back where they had been at the end of Friday.  In fact, at the end of the session I waved Toby and Brett by and tried to follow them and was able to keep up reasonably well for a complete lap.  So, either the tires were “the hot tip”, or mentally I just believed in them more.  Don’t know which.

As documented above, I’d had tons of shifting issues particularly with 3rd gear.  In speaking with some veterans, it was suggested that my issues might be related to the loading direction while trying to perform the 2-3 upshift.  I’d never had issues before, but all those previous situations were left-hand turns and the 2-3 shifts at Hallett occur in right-handers.  One guy suggested finding a way to unload the car long enough to complete the shift.  During practice this seemed to work, ok.

Race 3

 

 

The grid was set based on combined points from race1 and race2.  With a 19th place and 21st place the day before I was gridded in 23/25.  I got a little better start than either race on Saturday, but I still lost a 2 spots and ended up DFL.  I didn’t lose too much ground, and was able to stay on the bumper of the #78.  I was faster than the 78, but it took a few laps to figure a way around him.  He kept locking up the inside front in T2 and T9, but I couldn’t figure out how to take advantage of that.   I finally managed to get a really good run out of T6 and closed up tight as we crested over T8 and got inside of him entering T9.  Again he locked up the inside front and slid wide, so I was able to get a good line into T9 and beat him back to the gas.

I could see the 0 and the 51 in the distance again, and began to work on running them down.  I was having to be a bit patient on the tires, as I didn’t quite have full pressure/grip yet.  I could feel it coming in as the laps went by.  By lap 7, things were feeling really good.  Lap time was back down into the 32s, and I was feeling really “in the zone”.

On lap 8, I exited T3 as normal and unloaded the steering and shifted to 3rd.  Unfortunately, the unloading strategy didn’t work.  I still grabbed 1st.  Not realizing that I accidentally grabbed 1st, I let out the clutch.  Of course, the RMS went through the roof….then BANG, followed by a bunch of mechanical, rythmic, banging of metal on metal and a grey haze in my mirrors.  I jumped off line as soon as I realized what had happened, and went right to the outside edge of T4.

I coasted around T4 until I got close to the corner worker station on the inside of T5 and then drove into the grass and over behind the station.  There is also an access road there, but by the time I saw it I didn’t have enough momentum to make it to it.  The corner worker asked if I was ok.  I said yes.  At that point I thought I’d grenaded the engine, which is what I told her.  She called it in, and they sent the truck to come get me.  when I got back to the paddock, I started the engine, and realized that it had NOT grenaded.  It ran just fine.  So, I got in and tried to back up.  the car rolled about 1/2 tire revolution, and then something skipped with a mechanical clunk.  So, I tried 1st—same thing.  2nd—same.  All gears same.

So, I seem to have shelled the diff.  The car is still on the trailer, but given the grey smoke behind the car, I’m assuming I cracked the diff case, and probably sheered teeth off the ring, pinion or both.

I still don’t know what I should have done differently.  After I knew I had a shady shifter, I gave shifting every ounce of attention I could muster, and I tried to shift into 3rd only in a straight line.  I tried shifting in the paddock to see if I could tell anything.  But, everything seemed “normal” sitting still.  I’m glad I didn’t grenade the engine or bust a gear in the trans, but still, it killed my MC diff, and ruined my Sunday race….which I felt REALLY good about moments before it all went to hell.

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