Gingerman Majors

Mid-July found us trekking to Gingerman Raceway, on the west side of Michigan. This was the 2nd leg of our path to qualify for the Runoffs. It was another beautiful weekend, and this time found 5 other competitors besides myself.

An “on-time” entry got us one practice session on Friday night. We made a last minute decision to not scramble and scrub the new rubber, so as to just get a feel for the tracks and plenty of laps. Overall the car felt decent, albeit a tad hot. We felt we were needed to be to qualify, but couldn’t tell because timing and scoring was down.

This race weekend was a little different, as there was only one qualifying session. We went out and put a few decent laps down, but noticed that the temperature was creeping even higher. With preservation in mind we only did a handful of laps.

Inspection after led us to believe that the refilling of the cooling system hadn’t gotten to both radiators. Inspection of the time sheet was pleasing, with 4th in class, easily qualified, and 2/3 of the way down the grid.

Lined up for the race and went out. There was some confusion as the organisers decided to group us by class. Regardless, the pack got away. I did my best to hang. I felt I was being inconsistent, but it was tough given there was a number of local yellows and cars stranded in precarious positions. The first FE’s got by and I was able to latch on pretty well there. I did that for a few laps and dropped a rear tire in the dirt which induced a lazy spin. I kept going but a few laps later the nose panel flew off. Having lost sight of the leaders, I parked it with a few laps to go. Lap times though were pleasing in relation to the “rabbits” I had focused on.

Sunday qualifying was slow. Not really sure why, but it drew some arched eyebrows from the driver. We did note that the engine sounded a bit flat and thought it was maybe due to some spark plug issues. The race started similar to the previous day, where other FC got by. However, getting into T1, dirt and dust was everywhere with cars next to stopped. A prototype had gone off the track and was attempting to rejoin. This broke up our class. I latched onto a faster car and we went to hunt the others back down. We caught up for the most part, and I ran a number of good laps. The consistency issue reared itself again and I gradually dropped back into the FE’s. I once again held on with them, learning a lot about the track and where passing should and shouldn’t take place. After 3 laps or so of this I came upon a laboring P2 car. This forced me off-line, I got in the rubber, and around I went again. I kept it running, spun it back around and off I went. Having lost sight of the good battle I had going, and the engine getting flatter, I once again parked it.

The mission for the weekend had been accomplished. We reached the requirement of starts to qualify for the Runoffs. We need one more Majors weekend, which will occur in August at Grattan.

A schedule update will be published prior to then as the team evaluates testing options. Until then,

-Michael

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Mid-Ohio – Race #1

In early June (yes, I am embarrassingly behind on my blog updates) the Wrenchaholics team ventured south, all the way to Ohio. Yes, I know that is not far – but Mid-Ohio is way in the middle of the state and it’s pretty boring driving to get there. That is especially so when the anticipation of a new foray grows with each mile.

We arrived last Thursday night but did not go to the track Friday morning. All of the asphalt spots were taken, and trying to pit a car with zero ground clearance on a grass area is not fun. We spent more time trying to find a way to lift it then we did actually re-attaching the diffuser.

We just got through tech, got tires on, got the diffuser on, and got the driver in to get in line for the first practice. It somewhat sunk in while I was sitting there waiting to go out. Here I was, in my very first official road race – going out to practice in the fastest group there that weekend. Not only that it was one of the SCCA’s premier events, part of their Super Tour. It was the first time I drove the car in dry conditions. I noticed that my pulse and breathing rate were increasing. I settled by adjusting the mirrors, and reminded myself of goals for the session.

The session went well. I was surprised how much 20 laps on iRacing helped me “know” the course and sped up my comfort level. I didn’t think about where the track went, just what I needed to work on myself or the car. 3rd gear was not working, which was providing the main challenge. Qualifying was later that day, and was the 1st of two sessions. It went better, despite no 3rd gear still, and we gained 4 or so seconds. Unfortunately we still fell outside the 115% bogey to be able to start the races.

Went out Saturday morning, and still no 3rd gear. After much muttering into the thing surrounding my head I decided to wring out as much as I good to try and get a fast lap. I knew in particular there were 2 areas I was braking comfortably. I went deeper into each of those on the last lap of the session, and managed to get 2s off my best lap. This put us into the show without having to beg with the event stewards.

The first race – Saturday afternoon – what can I say. I ran a solid race, didn’t put a wheel off. I got to dice with some other drivers in the class, and I didn’t impede those coming through. I got lots of track time, and finished all the laps.

Given that I was the only one in class, finished the laps, I still got the hardware – and a video! What fun and professionalism from the series.

https://www.scca.com/videos/2032374

Sunday was a disappointment. We were definitely quicker (hi there 3rd gear) and more competitive. On the 5th lap we lost the coil and coasted to a stop. Then, upon loading the car it poured and we got soaked. At least it was then and not on the track!

Until next race update,

-Michael

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WaterFull Hills

The true foray into road racing was to start with a practice session. Cade, proprietor of Wrenchaholics, and I ventured out to Waterford Hills for one of their Friday practice sessions.

Waterford has a nice system where you can get up to 4 sessions. They alternate between closed wheel and open wheel. We spent almost as much time checking the forecast as we did looking over the car, sadly.

Nothing like going out for a first session…in a new car, completely different from anything ever driven…in the wet. I managed through the first session, a gentle spin all that occurred. Based on other advice I tried to stay off the concrete. Overall though the first session was a good one.

The weather looked like it would clear, and instead it rained. And then it rained. We sat, waiting.

It got near the 4th session, and since this was the only track time before our first race, and it wasn’t pouring, we decided I should go back out. Ran some consistent lines, and was getting more comfortable when I made a discovery. I was not getting the car into 1st and 2nd gear – only 3rd and 4th. This newfound bump in power was absolutely NOT what I needed to match my newfound confidence. It did not take me long to goose it, and spin into the grass. The saturated ground proceeded to cause the car to dig in and rip a portion of the diffuser off.

There was no significant damage other than requiring a thorough clean and a trip to the diffuser repairman. Annoyingly we got soaked trying to get it off in a hurry so that it could be ferried to the vendor.

Oh well, it is something we can laugh about now.

-Michael

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Lament

I admit, it is a melancholy night in the Occhipinti household.

I should be packing for our trip to Bristol, but regretfully we are note headed there.

We were using a leased engine for the trip, and during its dyno preparation some internal damage was discovered. It was admittedly repairable, however it would have created much strife. We would have had no prove-out, missed the test session, and would have had to install the engine on the way to Bristol.

For a more local race, with less expenses, I suspect we would have proceeded. There were just too many variables, too high a speed to be messing around.

We desperately wanted to go and were planning our season around this race. We will be thinking of the teams that are there, the officials, and the fans.

Thank you to NSTA, and Bristol, for allowing us to go. I hope that we put on a good show and can go back next year.

Until next update, where I will be turning right,

-Michael

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But 2017 is Near

I alluded in the previous entry that 2017 would be different. The tour has become the NSTA tour, and it has become unified geographically. It has expanded to cover a whole lot more geography (more than triple, as a matter of fact).

That was the final arbiter in a team decision. After 4 years of points racing, and the pressures associated with it, the team is going to pick and choose a schedule.

One such decision was an easy one. For the first time in many years, certainly more than the existence of our team, our style Modifieds are venturing to the Colosseum known as Bristol. This is an opportunity that neither team owner nor driver wanted to miss (not to mention crew members).

80 cars are expected to try and make the show. Apparently many others had the same feeling and want to turn laps at a place that NASCAR cars head to twice per year. The entry list was released today, with 88 to eventually be pared down to 80. http://speed51.com/short-track-u-s-nationals-central-entry-lists/#TopSpeedModified

That is the primary focus. Beyond that we will look at minimum to run the Tour races at Toledo and Kalamazoo. It would not be surprising to find us at some season ending big races at local tracks either. This reduction in schedule will allow for a proper regroup for future efforts.

But, I am not content with one historic venue. I will be embarking on a separate quest, also in an open wheel car. I am working with Wrenchaholics Racing and their fleet of Formula Continental race cars. https://www.wrenchaholics.com/171-team/ . Yes, I will be running a small schedule in said open wheel ride, being confused every time I turn right (okay not really – but it has been a long time), with the hope of ending up at Indianapolis. The SCCA Runoffs will be contested there. And if I can make it through 5 or so races unscathed, I should receive an invitation to rumble across the yard of bricks in September of this year.

So, it’s different, but all of it is exciting. Continue to stay tuned for announcements and more concrete schedules being announced. For now, plan on looking for our name in the results the weekend of May 20th in Tennessee.

Happy near racing season!

-Michael

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2016 – far from forgetting

2016 was a memorable season for our race team. It signaled the end of a quest.

In 2013 we started our Modified expedition, grabbed a win, good finish in points, and Rookie of Year at a local track.

In 2014 we chased the local track again, winning a race, winning points, and faring well against Touring competition.

In 2015 we started touring, managing a top 10 in points and visiting a whole lot of tracks we never saw before.

In 2016 we toured again – and we ended up trekking to Fort Wayne, Indiana in a snowstorm to collect our laurels as the Top Speed Modified Tour northern champions.

The best part is that for much of that journey we had the same supporters on board to take it with us. Murawski’s Tax Service, Techman Sales Inc., Engine Machine Service, and RAM Engineering Midwest. We would not have had the opportunity to keep chasing larger goals if it were not for them.

We are indebted to each of them. Thanks to you, and to the families that we ignored chasing it.

2017 will look different – but with some new wrinkles.

Humbly yours,

-Michael

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Turkey Derby

The best part of my year is always Turkey Derby. Blu Metz always makes sure I am hooked up with a seat for SOMETHING. This year was no exception.

He informed me that he had one from his fleet ready. He then said, with a wry grin, that based on how it practiced leading up to Turkey Derby I would be pleased. Hmm.

After the first practice session, he was more than correct.

I parked it after the session and had a phone shoved in my face. It showed me in the top 6. I was confused, and the look on my face as I de-helmeted must have shown that. With a proper use of a swear word I was informed that is how I ran…first time in the car with this set-up.

I was pleased because this meant I would get to go out in the fast group for time trials (based on practice times). This is the opposite of 2015 where I was trying to get out of the slowest group. I hate group time trials but felt with even a decent lap I would make the invert.

After my laps, which felt solid despite some twitches, I ran across the scales. This time I was intercepted with some fingers and another phone. . I ended up P2. I was told also that I had the pole until the last lap of the session when points champion Matt Janisch ran off the quickest lap.

I drew 2nd for the feature. We took the green and I got “hustled” with a nerf bar right at that instant. Slid into line in 5th place and we were gone. We ran in formation for about 10 laps. I was being held up but there was no point to push the matter. I then saw the 3rd place car get loose, and 4th go under him. I had a good run off the corner so turned down even further. This unweighted the rear and around I went.

Started in the back and was picking off cars patiently despite my self-induced ire. About 10 laps more and an accident occurred mid-pack. Stopped car and had nowhere to go. I piled in and then got hit from the rear. Started all over and that was about all she wrote as I must have knocked the toe out.

Overall it was a fantastic time since showed that could run in the front. I just wasn’t used to being there in a TQ! It made me really want to go to the indoor races.

Thankfully yours,

-Michael

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