AER race at VIR

posted Aug 19, 2015, 6:04 PM by Scoob Edoo   [ updated Aug 19, 2015, 6:47 PM ]
John Robertson from South Jersey and the "other side" of the Schumacher Taxi Service team contacted me a while ago to ask about a race at VIR.  Absolutely was my response.  AER is one of the new series created out of the LeMons and ChumpCar arena as a simple racing series, as opposed to the complicated ruleset that Chump has grown into and the circus that LeMons is. Justin Stone from Philly Region is one of the principals of AER and this was their third race or so.  The field was pretty small, but there were some pretty serious teams there including 4 teams with pros, so it was going to be a good weekend.

I drove the big trailer over to the track on Thursday night, missing TKD graduation that evening.  But I made it in just over four hours going the long, all highway, way.  Got all set up and waited for the rest of the team and car about an hour later.  It was a beautifully clear night and I sat and watched for the Perseid meteors until they arrived.

The schedule for the race included an open HPDE on Friday morning, followed by open qualifying for Saturday's race.  We each drove about 30 min in each session.  I got used to the car in the morning and then felt pretty good during qualifying.  I think I ended up with the fastest qualifying time, but we were all within 5 seconds I think - and we all knew we had more time to find.  We got classed in the middle group (Sebring class) for the morning.

Learic Cramer was driving through the area after picking up a new trailer so she came by and stayed in the pit lane villas.  She brought us some more beer and we sat around and BS'd for a few hours before we hit the showers.

The morning came much before its time, and we got the car ready before the drivers' meeting.  Somewhere along the line it was decided that I'd drive first which makes me happy.  Learic appeared from her slumber as the cars were gridding and she got some great pictures that she posted for us and AER.

First stint went well, but we found that some people just weren't paying attention to the flag stations since we had a waving double-yellow going into Oak Tree that very few of us heeded.  I was passed by four people under the yellow and subsequent "Code 35" virtual safety car!  But after that I settled into a groove, passing all but a few faster cars.  But it became obvious that while I was fast on most of the course, I still was slow in the corners.  I tried many different lines and speeds, but rarely felt like I got everything right.  Even so I had a good, uneventful stint and turned it over to Kevin in good shape.

My second stint came later in the afternoon and it was more of the same, but without any yellows, just flat-out racing.  I felt OK about the performance, but was ultimately a little slower in that session, likely due to the much hotter temps and lower overall power from the engine.  But again, but the end of the day we were all within about 3 seconds of each other.  We looked at the data from the TraqMate and saw some different lines and braking points so each of us felt like we could improve times on Sunday.  As it stood, we finished the Saturday race in 2nd place in class and 6th overall and the car had no major issues.  The tires looked as good at the end of the day as they had when we put them on which amazed us considering how we were pushing for 9 straight hours.  Even so we decided to swap most of the tires to another set that looked better.  That will be important on Sunday.  We also swapped rear brake pads to some used Hawk HP+ since the PFCs looked pretty thin.  While working on the brakes, Dave crawled around underneath the car and found that the left axle had a rough spot and some clicking.  We decided to swap it out for a new one and that worked well: the old one had very dry bearings, so it could have failed any time.

Sunday morning again came pretty early and with some thick fog, but the forecast was again for another perfectly clear and warm day.  A few cars had been reclassed from Saturday, so the lineups were different and the number of cars racing was lower than it had been at the start of Saturday, but otherwise it was pretty similar.  Dave went out for the first stint and immediately felt like the tires were slicker than on Saturday.  Eventually each of us felt the same way - we just couldn't get back on the power as early as we had the first two days.  Near as we can tell those tires had one more heat-cycle in them, so despite looking like they were better than Saturday's tires, they simply didn't have the grip that we'd hoped for.  A good lesson.  Toward the end of Dave's stint, he also expressed a concern about the clutch slipping.  You could hear the shift to 5th slipping on the front straight, so another thing to think about and nurse along.

As the day wore on, it was clear that the #68 Porsche was the class leader by a few seconds per lap and that the #42 E30 was doing much better than it had on Saturday.  Much of the day we were in 3rd or 4th place in class instead of the expected 1st or 2nd.  But we all realized it was a 9-hr race, not a sprint so we kept on doing our thing without interruption.  My third stint was again uneventful, though the slicker tires made for a few interesting moments when I just knew I didn't have the grip to make a few corners and I had to give it up and take the grassy or less-than-ideal route to keep it in one straight piece.  No damage and no contact so it was all OK, just scarier than Saturday.  I was able to take some of Saturday night's learning and apply it in a few corners that I felt I did better on Sunday, but I couldn't quite match Saturday's times with the slipping clutch.  The clutch never seemed to get worse for me, so it was almost a non-issue for us as the day went on.  Overall I think my fast Sunday time was about 0.9 sec slower than Saturday's fast time.  When I handed it over to Kevin I think we were still around 3rd or 4th on class - and the AER folks had reclassed our pit neighbors into our class and we were suddenly battling it out!

Early in Kevin's stint, the 68 Porsche blew up, leaving the 42 E30 in the lead.  A few laps later the 42 had a brake problem in turn 1, leaving him WAY off the track.  He brought it into the paddock and they jacked up the front to find a solution.  As the laps went by, the race came down to us and the #300 Mercedes.  The 42 got back in on the same lap but just.  And with only about an hour to go it was a race between Jogn in our car and Rob in the Mercedes.  It was the most excited I've been at a race, including a few LeMons races where we were close, because we were pitted next to each other and we all were getting along so well.  Rob was pushing very hard and taking 2-4 seconds out of John's lead almost every lap.  Quick calculations led us to believe Rob would catch John with one or two laps remaining and we could have a serious battle at the end, possibly at the line.  Which was really incredible for all of us to think that after nine hours of hard racing that three cars would be on the same lap, battling for the win.  Alas it wasn't to be as exciting as we'd thought because the Mercedes started fuel-starving on the penultimate lap and John ended up winning by 30+ seconds.  The Mercedes did beat the 42 car for 2nd, but the #300 team owner was heart-broken.

So with the win, we had a 1st and 2nd in class which gave us the points to win the class for the weekend.  That brought with it some money from - who ironically were the guys in the #300 Mercedes!  Josh, one of their drivers, came up after the podium celebration and pictures to offer to sponsor the Schumacher Taxi Service because of how much fun they had on Sunday.  It was a very cool gesture and I hope I can race with these guys again sometime.