Dateline: August 19/20, 2000

Firing on all four cylinders at last!

After clearing our initial learning curve hurdles, it seems that the #34 Saturn is finally hitting its stride.  If our performance this past weekend at Waterford is any indication, there are big things in store for the little plastic Ferrari!

Is it possible to over-prepare?

Coming off of a disappointing outing at Watkins Glen in July, the scR crew was more determined than ever to make sure that everything was perfect for Waterford Hills.  The suspect alternator was actually diagnosed as a wiring short which was quickly remedied with a $2.16 replacement harness.  Of course, we found this AFTER buying a new alternator, but now we have a spare.  The wheel bearings were again freshened, the alignment tweaked, and the fluids flushed and filled.  Since we had only run eight laps at The Glen, there wasn’t much else left to do.

We also confirmed that the motor was happy running on four cylinders by entering a test-and-tune session at Milan Dragway the Wednesday night before the race.  After ripping off consistent 15.6’s at 90mph, we had some confidence that our lost cylinder had returned.  With 25% more horsepower in our back pocket, we were ready for some racing!

Waterford Practice

Prior to our weekend at Waterford, we had installed new front brake pads – and we thought we had burnished them by making a few high-speed stops at the dragstrip on Wednesday night.  However, by lap three of the twelve-minute qualifying session the brake pedal had fallen to the floor and the smell of friction material filled the cockpit.  As most anyone will attest, driving with a semi-operative braking system does not instill driver confidence, yet even with the handicap we managed to out-perform our previous best lap time at Waterford.  Smoking pads and all we managed a 1:20.0, 0.3 seconds better than our previous best.  Seems that the motor was doing something right!

When the grid was posted, we were not surprised to see that we were 7th in class and 9th overall in a field of 22 ITA and ITR competitors (ITR = ITA cars with rotary engines).  This was certainly not where we had hoped to be, but knowing that the brake issue was behind us, we expected to significantly improve on our qualifying times during the race.

Waterford Race #1

With fresh brakes on the front axle we made our way around the pace lap. Two ITR RX-7’s were directly in front of us, buffering the #19 ITA CRX in 6th overall from the charge of our SC.  Closing into formation prior to the starter’s stand, the motor was singing sweetly at 6000rpm, just waiting to be unleashed.  A few taps against the rear bumper of the RX-7 in front of us served as a gentle reminder to him that we were ready to come through.  Let the green flag fly!

What a difference 38 horsepower makes!  Timing the flag perfectly, the SC made a great charge into turn 1, running up and into (oops!) the RX-7 directly in front of us as we motored by the field on the inside.  By turn 2 we had improved our position to 6th in class and 8th overall, but only a bumper’s distance from the three cars in front of us.  Single file up and over Hilltop and running down the back straight in 4th gear, we were careful to watch the ITR cars – we needed to find a weakness to expose!

By lap 3 it had become apparent that we could outbrake the RX-7’s running down the back straight, so on lap 4 the SC stuck its nose down deep going into turn 6.  The Mazda realized that the line was taken and shortly thereafter we were putting distance between us.  One lap later we repeated the exercise on the ITR race leader, again making the charge deep in the braking zone.  By lap 6 we were free and clear of the out-of-class ITR cars – it was time to hunt down the Hondas!

With a handful of laps to go, the 5th place #9 CRX drove into the turn 1 gravel trap, opening up a top-five finish (5th in class AND 5th overall) for team scR.  All of our racing with the Mazdas had effectively taken us out of contention for a better position, but in the process, we had run a best lap of a 1:19.3 – the time was peeling away, and we knew there was more to improve.  Sunday morning’s race couldn’t arrive soon enough!

Waterford Race #2

Prior to the Race #2 we added more rear stiffness with the anti-sway bar and dialed down the front shocks in an attempt to make the car turn-in faster.  We were going to need every last bit of speed we could find – of the four cars directly in front of us, two were top-five at the ARRC in 1999, including the current track record holder.  Race #2 was going to prove to be a good benchmark for the team.  Running with this crowd would be something to be proud of!

Run we did for the first two laps of the race.  Hard.  Again, the Saturn ran deep into turn 1, running nose-to-tail with the #63 CRX for as long as the car would hold on…but we couldn’t quite keep their pace.  Slowly we lost ground to the Hondas, never having them out of sight, but never again close enough to mount a significant challenge.  As one of the Mazda drivers behind us noted, “You seem like can run with them, but you look as if you have a 200-pound ball and chain around the car – it just seems so BIG.”  Somehow, he captured our thoughts exactly.

We finished Race #2 as we started – 5th in class, 5th overall, but again we lowered our best lap time.  With a 1:19.0 under our belts, and an exciting two lap battle with some of the best drivers in the country, we were eyeing the feature race with great anticipation.  More rear bar, more rear shock – this car needs to turn!

Waterford Race #3

Due to the unique way in which Waterford grids cars for the feature race, we were starting on the outside of row three – 5th in class, but 6th overall.  A lone RX-7 sat on our right as we crept toward the starter’s stand in first gear.  The slow pace caused a few cars behind to start a chain-reaction bump-bump-bump as we in turn tapped the #55 CRX directly in front of us.  Unfortunately, our love tap was ill-timed, as the green flew just as we were ‘on the rebound’ and the field pulled off a small gap before the first turn.  While we quickly caught back up, the RX-7 managed to squeeze in front by turn 2 and effectively held us up through turn 3 and over Hilltop.  Watch the Hondas run away…

Remembering our effective passing techniques from Race #1, we wasted no time in getting by the rotary car on the first lap, but a ten-car-length gap had opened between our SC and the pack of four Hondas.  Time to step it up!

For the next nine laps the Hondas never pulled away, but catching them didn’t appear to be realistic either.  Lap after lap the #9 CRX and the #55 CRX bounced off each other in a great race for 3rd place, but we were resigned to sit back and watch.  The gap which opened up on the first lap was simply too big to overcome – at least without a little outside intervention.

With one lap to go, BOTH the #9 CRX and the #55 CRX were shown the black flag and were hauled into the pits for stop-and-go penalties, presumably for one too many off-road excursions.  Suddenly, our 5th place effort had become 3rd.  All that was left to do was bring the car around for one more lap and pick up the trophy.  With the next closest car over ten seconds behind us, there was little to risk.  Easy, right?

What would an scR weekend be without a mechanical failure?  That’s right – boring!  With two turns to go in the feature, the shift selector cable retainer clip decided “OK, I’m done” and promptly disconnected itself from the transmission.  This made for an interesting exit from the Paddock turn and through the Esses, but as the transmission was stuck in 3rd gear (there are MANY worse gears to be stuck in) we easily brought the car across the finish line in 3rd.  The 4th place #89 CRX sure got an awful lot closer than we would have liked, but not close enough to matter…and our new best lap time of a 1:18.5 quickly overshadowed the shifter issue.  This car is really starting to move.

Thanks again to everyone on the team for helping to bring home our biggest finish of the year…

Next up, Mid-Ohio

Before our next outing September 9th at Mid-Ohio, we have a relatively short, but involved, to-do list:

1) prep the car

2) move

That’s right – scR central is relocating north to scenic New Hudson, Michigan (read here: land for a pole barn).  Why we chose to move right in the middle of race season escapes me, but I guess it beats moving with snow on the ground.  By the time we distribute our next update we should be firmly planted in our new place – Dana in the house and me in the garage.

As everything will be changing except our e-mail address, please bear with us as we may be either a) hard to contact or b) slow to reply over the next couple weeks.  If all goes as planned, the September races at Mid-Ohio should go off as originally scheduled.  Any deviations will be posted on the website, so check back if you plan on coming out to spectate.

And in other news…

Mark Rushbrook has a racecar in his garage (at least it has numbers and a roll cage)!  The suspension, wheels, tires, brakes, seat, harness, and limited powertrain modifications are all in place and looking great!  With a little luck and a lot of elbow grease he is still planning for a mid-September rollout of his black-gold 95 SC2.   At the very least, look for Mark to be paddocked alongside team scR at the ARRC this November at Road Atlanta.  See you at the track!