Indiana on My Mind

It’s really happening!

Our last qualifying race occurred this past weekend at Grattan, and we successfully completed our requirements. The list was updated, and we have indeed qualified for Indianapolis! We will be crossing the yard of bricks, hopefully 19 times on Saturday September 30th.

We will be down in Indy for quite a bit of time. We will be practicing on Saturday the 23rd, with one qualifying session each day from the 25th through the 28th. Team Wrenchaholics will be well represented with two cars (team owner Cade Wilson also qualified). Luckily we also secured a GP garage for the week. Rolling out the front of the garage we will be looking at the scoring pylon.

It is hard to believe that all the plans have come together to facilitate this, as it seemed like a pipe dream at the start of the year. Now we will piloting an open wheel car at the open wheel mecca. Our class is large, 18 cars (almost triple last year’s count). We will also be racing with Formula Mazda (20 cars), so our grid will be substantial. It won’t be as large as in qualifying, when 30+ FE’s also join us!

Keep an eye on http://www.wrenchaholics.com and http://www.twitter.com/hbsracing for updates as we get closer.

Nervously yours,

-Michael

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Grattan Raceway – August 2017

Man, last weekend’s race at Grattan was a challenging one.

Despite never having been there before, our original plan was to bypass Friday practice in order to preserve the cars to get our “needed starts” on Saturday. That decision was validated when trailer modifications took longer than anticipated and the cars couldn’t arrive in time anyway. I arrived early, when through the amazingly easy check-in process (thanks WMR SCCA volunteers!) and watched 5 minutes of practice.

After that I got in a course walk. This was the first time I had walked a road course track, and brought back many memories from the days of autocrossing. I preferred to walk an autocross course 3+ times minimum; that wasn’t going to happen with a 2+ mile road course!

After that I headed back to my restel, or “restaurant/hotel.” The rooms were above the restaurant, which was very cool, especially in a quaint little downtown. After gorging self I headed out to a local dirt track, to make sure that I was still connected with my inner oval racer being.

Saturday morning we shoehorned ourselves into a spot, got both cars out and through tech, hustling to get on the grid for the first session (which doubled as qualifying). I struggled to learn that track, mainly because I was unable to get the car to stay in 3rd gear (again). After 5 laps and being a general roadblock I decided to park it for the session.

After discussion we decided we would pull the gearbox after the race. We discussed methods to “drive around the issue” and we headed to the grid just after lunch. Our race took off, and the issue remained. I was able to work around it a tad, but mainly just practiced going faster in the sections that 3rd gear wasn’t needed – to get confidence up through the twisty stuff.

On the 8th lap I came off the last corner heading up to the main straight and I noticed a large amount of smoke in the cockpit. Looking in the mirrors I saw a much larger plume of smoke. I got halfway up the hill and killed the engine to coast in to the pits.

The culprit, thankfully, was only a rear main seal. It is easily fixable, just not at the track. Given we accomplished our goal, the car was parked for the weekend and I became the de facto car chief for my teammate. This was good practice to learn the cars more, and to support his solid race – when he wasn’t spinning!

Enough for now, until the next update with big news. (And the big news isn’t that I won my first iRacing race in a street stock at USA International Speedway)

-Michael

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The Entry Is In

It is hard to believe, but the journey remains on track.

Registration for the SCCA Runoffs opened 2 Wednesdays ago. The numbers since then have been staggering. It is already over 950 entrants, which is more than 200 larger than the previous largest Runoffs.

We registered on Wednesday the 26th, one week after it had opened. Our intent was to wait a little longer, however that was the date that registrations needed to be in to be able to get first dibs on a garage (going to be interesting to paddock that many cars) as well as practice days (a real issue when the groups are limited). One “fun” anecdote is that due to the delay in registration, somebody took our number 71. We thus “settled” for 41, which was the ole autocross number used when this site launched.

Formula Continental has 13 entrants so far, with a handful more that should be entering soon. Formula Mazda has 18 (to date), which means our combined race will have at least 30 cars on track. More interesting will be qualifying, when we are paired with Formula Enterprises and their 33 entries. 64 cars is approaching the 72 max (which incidentally has been exceeded by some other single classes).

The Wrenchaholics http://www.wrenchaholics.com team is very excited. Both cars are registered, and each need a session at Grattan 2 weekends from now to have met all the criteria to officially stamp our entry. Updates forthcoming once that last tick mark is hopefully met.

Until then, smirkingly yours,

-Michael

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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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