Friday, June 23, 2017

The Racing Game – Not just On Track

The racing game is played 50% off the track and not even in the paddock. It’s played in the shop on your computer and lots of times on eBay! It’s the preparation, time management, vendor management, money management, product purchases – the list goes on. That’s one of the reasons I love racing, you can play as much or as little as you want and that usually shows during the on track part of the game.

During the off season this year the BigSpeed Racing ITR Porsche 968 needed some development. The car handled well but is heavy for the class at 3,055 lbs. I was looking to improve the torque and horsepower across the power band. Folks usually ask, “What’s your top speed, what’s your top horsepower?” I really don’t care about either of those things. I care about time and I care about how the car performs under the peak horsepower or torque numbers. Or better said, I want the car to perform as its best across the entire power band – that’s what gets me to the next corner faster than a top horsepower rating.

Fortunately the race shop that built my car specializes only in 968 race cars. And these guys are great at saving $$ - an excellent reason why I keep going back! RS Barn could have sold me a very expensive stand alone ECU programming unit but instead use an e-prom burner. This method allows them to dyno tune the car, pull the chip, reflash it and then dyno again, slowly tuning for the best results. Recognizing that I have no skill to fiddle with the tune, this was a great way to get the car tuned for best performance across the power band.

Another area of improvement was the exhaust. I kid you not – many folks teased me that I was running an electric car because when I went by on the track, you could hardly hear it! Watching in-car video, you always knew when somebody was nearby because you could hear their car better than mine! So when RS Barn said they wanted to develop a new race exhaust using my car as a platform I got into that program immediately.

The end result was a three inch exhaust with a muffler very close to the collector, essentially in the same spot as the catalytic converter used to fit. The system is a sound cancelling unit that is still fairly quiet but the 968 now sounds like a race car. But more importantly RS Barn added about 7 horsepower and 5 lbs of torque. That and the improved tune really helped get my car close to its peak performance in Improved Touring R trim.

Weight as I mentioned is another problem. The car is heavy and when you add my paranoia about being disqualified for being under weight – things only got….heavier. Last season I ran across the scales at the last race blubbering along at a whopping 3,162 pounds – that’s 107 pounds over the minimum! Not good, not right, not the way to be fast.

When I took the car down to Summit Point for the MARRS I event I focused a bunch of time on getting the weight out of the car and learning exactly how much fuel I needed to carry for the duration of the session, be it qualifying or racing. The result was seen at the first Pro IT event at Pocono where I went across the scales within 3 pounds of where I needed to be after qualifying. Now I will assure you that’s a little too close for comfort for the race so I did throw and extra few gallons in the tank, but the point here is how much faster would I be without an extra 100 pounds in the car? Not being a genius I don’t know, but I will assure you that any driver will be a little faster 100 pounds lighter.

Now here’s always a fun way to get faster and that’s putting a kick ass color scheme on your car. It’s gotta be worth a couple of tenths, right? I was budgeting some good coin to put a pro paint job on the car over the off season but the dyno tuning work was VERY expensive and ate up the paint job budget. So being and enterprising beer drinker I got myself a case of Sam Adams Winter Ale and then went down to the local auto paint store. The guys set me up with about 10 cans of good quality enamel auto paint. (Enamel, epoxy – something like that…Sam can’t remember.) So having very limited skill or patience for paint work I set about doing the rims, the wing, removing the side cladding, bondoing up the cracks and then adding a new spoiler. Some of it actually came out really good – but I did have to redo one side cladding section – removing all the paint and doing the whole thing over. I learned that once it dries – don’t paint again! It will come out looking like parchment paper. That alone required another full case of Sam Adams! At the end of that part of the project the car looked better and I had taught myself a lot about how to get a very good result with just a spray can.

As the weather started to warm up a little it was time to work on the driver. I got back into a workout routine to tone up after sitting indoors for months and I pulled out my secret weapon. We’re lucky to have a little property and years ago I bought a big assed 150cc go-kart. I told my wife it was for our son Christian but that was really total BS. That go-kart was fully intended to become my practice racer. So for the last 4 years I’ve put a 3/8 mile track including elevation changes, hairpin turns, sweepers and some downhill power straights. The kart has very little power but does get up to about 35 miles an hour and on a tight little course, it’s a great workout. Now many of you will say, “How can that be of help? Running asphalt is totally different than dirt.” Well, that’s true. But I’d rather run 10/10ths on my little track all day long than take my Boxster out on the street and try doing the same thing without getting arrested or wrecked. Not to say I haven’t wrecked the go-kart a few times which has gotten my son rather pissed at me – but what the heck, I’m buying!
Having the chance to push myself hard with the go-kart is just good warm-up for doing the real thing with the ITR Porsche. Its different driving but close enough that it knocks off the rust, gets the blood pumping and gets the eye, hand, coordination working and gets that internal gyroscope warmed up so you know when the level of grip has been exceeded. Another fun part of the go-kart is getting friends out there running for time and then watching my son completely shame them and put a blistering time down that no adults can match! (Except me, for now…)

So there you have it. Playing the racing game off the track can be almost as fun as spending a weekend at the track…..well, not quite almost but you get the point. Make sure you are working your program in a variety of ways and likely your on track performance will measurably improve.

Here’s to a great 2011 Pro IT Season!

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