Dateline: August 12/13, 2017

Ferrari Challenge Road America, Reader’s Digest Version

In just our third weekend competing in the 2017 North American Ferrari Challenge, we reached the top step of the podium!  But it wasn’t all glory.  Unlike at Montreal, we didn’t start from the pole and we didn’t post the fastest race lap.  Heck, we didn’t even finish Saturday’s race due to an electrical problem and we spun during qualifying on Sunday, unceremoniously backing the car into the Turn 6 wall in the process.  For icing on the cake, my brother Patrick and I were kicked out of our hotel room on Saturday night due to a clerical error at the front desk and had to sleep on the floor in Tom’s room.  Ergo, the theme of this newsletter is the enduring 20-year  love/hate relationship that scR motorsports has with these wonderful four miles of black lightning cutting through the rolling countryside in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

Turns out you get TWO trophies for winning on Sunday!

The Damage Report

One left-rear fender (probably my fault)

One left-rear tail light (probably my fault)

One rear fascia (probably my fault)

One electrical junction box and wiring harness (definitely not my fault)

First Love / June Sprints / 1998

We first traveled to Road America in 1998.  It was the SCCA June Sprints – the second most important Club Racing event of the calendar year.  It was the our team’s first season competing at the National level, and our first time ever to Elkhart Lake.  In spite of our inexperience and naïveté, we somehow qualified on the front row and battled for the lead the entire race.  While we broke the track record, so did the guy that finished in front of us, but it was an incredible race weekend that exceeded all expectations and ultimately led to a RunOffs invitation in our rookie season.  And so the love began.

Podium for scR motorsports, circa 1998, at Road America.

Here Comes The Hate / ITA Debut / 1999

Following a successful 1998 season in Showroom Stock C, we transitioned to a new car and a new class in 1999.  Built from the ground up, our new Improved Touring A racecar was a Saturn pushed to its (very modest) limits.  The crown jewel of the build, however, was the incredibly well built and massively powerful four-cylinder mill that pumped out a whopping 148 horsepower.  Until, that is, on the middle of the front straight at Road America all of the valves in the engine decided to swap the cylinders they were previously responsible for (for you non-racing folks, that’s really, really bad).  And so the hate began.

Tom (on left) with his fashionable scR polo shirt, a dead racecar, and no good humor.

Time For Some More Hate / ChumpCar / 2012

From the scR newsletter archive:

“With 20 minutes remaining in the seven-hour-long race, and with James reeling the Honda back in, the left front wheel decided that enough was enough and separated from the car without so much as a second’s worth of warning.  At the braking point for Turn 3 the Art Car was a hotrod blazing a path toward the podium, but by the apex it had transformed itself into a tricycle.  It probably wasn’t the wheel’s fault so much as it was the fact that all four lug studs sheared off simultaneously.  The wheel went bouncing off to the left (taking a nice big piece of the fender with it), the car dropped to the ground and slid, quite embarrassingly, in a perfectly straight line from the apex of Turn 3 to a point somewhere in the middle of Iowa.”

Are you starting to get the picture yet?  It got even better the next day:

“On Lap 4 Tom became aware of a LARGE amount of smoke coming from, well, everywhere.  The car still drove fine, so he made his way around to the pits as quickly as he could.  Without functioning radios (still AWOL from Saturday’s race) the crew was first alerted to Tom’s early exit from the racing circuit by the incredibly large plume of smoke following behind the Art Car as he hustled it down pit road.  Forgetting completely about the fire extinguisher (note to self: in the future always approach a smoking car with a fire extinguisher), Mark and James threw open the hood and began to look for the source of the bad news.  Nothing was found until Mark dove under the car and realized that he could see the transmission ring gear was completely intact.  Problem is, for those of you who don’t know much about transmissions, you can’t actually SEE the transmission ring gear from under the car unless the transmission case is shattered.  Which then also lets out all the fluid.  Which then can spray on the hot exhaust manifold.  Which then can make an incredibly large plume of smoke.  Which then makes you wish you had your fire extinguisher.”

On the upside, the Wal-Mart located in Plymouth, Wisconsin was the birthplace of the scR motorsports Hello Kitty duct tape shtick (we needed SOMETHING to fix that fender), so there’s always a silver lining.  And a little bit of love, I suppose, as a result.

Enough With The Saturn History Lessons, Already

For those of you paying close (enough) attention, this weekend was Round 4 of the 2017 Ferrari Challenge, North America.  Unfortunately, we had to sit out Round 3 at Mosport, as my oldest son and I were committed to a mission trip we had scheduled much earlier in the year.  As such, there were some cobwebs to blow off during practice on Thursday and Friday.  Not to anybody’s surprise, my previous personal best lap time of 2:47 (that’s blazing fast for a Saturn, BTW) was absolutely CRUSHED when, after two days of testing, the #234 was putting down consistent 2:16’s.  And we knew there was more to be had on Saturday (Rick made sure I knew this).  And then…the love/hate roller coaster began its wild ride.

Finally, a glamour shot of #234 at speed!

Love / Saturday Qualifying

By the time qualifying was over on Saturday morning, we had worked our lap times down to a 2:13.6.  While not quite on the front row, our fourth-place starting position in the field of 22 competitors was less than one second off of the pole sitter’s best lap and gave us great hope that the race win was within our reach.

Hate / Saturday Race Warm-Up

With ten minutes to go before the start of the race later that afternoon, the car would not start.  Heck, it would not even crank over.  Just dead.  Seriously?

Love / Magic Fixes!

Forced to push the car behind pit wall while the grid was forming on pit row, Billy, Javier, and Keoni flailed until, somehow, the problem *magically* cured itself and we were graciously permitted by IMSA to re-enter the grid in our original fourth-place starting position.  Good fortune AND a benevolent sanctioning body.  Time to go put this car in front.

More Love / Saturday Race Start

Approaching the starter stand, everything went our way.  As the green flag flew, the two competitors in the first-place and third-place starting positions were asleep at the wheel, and we just motored out in front of them.  And then, when the car directly in front of us bobbled in Turn 3, we opportunistically passed around the outside and found ourselves alone in the lead.  With a small amount of mayhem taking place behind us, we built up a small cushion to the next closest competitor as we entered the extremely fast and exciting Carousel turn.

Risi Competizione #234 takes the lead!

Hate / Magic Fixes!

When running the car down to the apex of the Carousel, the right-hand tires will lightly touch the inside curbing before allowing the car to track back out to the left.  Normally, this is not a problem, but it is a very, very large problem if you have a loose power wire in your main power distribution block.  Very, very large in this context means specifically that your digital dash will shut off, the transmission controller will go to sleep, and you will hear the engine screaming along at 9,000 RPM…in neutral.

If this ever happens to you, prepare accordingly.  In the moments that follow, the entire field will pass you and relegate you to pounding on the steering wheel and saying things that you would never say in front of your kids.  At least, not if their mom is around.  You will wonder why you spent all this time and money on a hobby that can be so utterly cruel at times.  You might even have vivid flashbacks of Saturn engines exploding and wheels flying off.

None of this, of course, does you any good in trying to win a race.  After spending a few frustrating laps battling with a car that just wasn’t happy at all, we pulled in early and accepted our last-place finish with a sense of peace and dignity.  Ok, so that “peace and dignity” bit is a lie.  But at least the guys found the problem and put the car back together for Sunday morning qualifying in time to join the group dinner Al put together for us.

Thanks, Al, and enjoy your large pork chop!

Love / It Lives Again!

Sunday morning the car started up and ran flawlessly.  Practice was used just to bed in a new set of brakes and make sure that the electrical repairs were up to task.  Not much to write home about here as the real test would come in qualifying.

Looking for every last tenth of a second, we elected to make a change to the car’s rear ride height for the qualifying session.  In practice the car was not turning in as well as it had been previously, but in hindsight it may have actually been the old tires and not the setup.  But that’s what hindsight is all about, right?

Hate / Where’s The Hello Kitty?

On the second or third lap of qualifying with our new, hot setup, the car came around in Turn 6 like it had been doing all weekend, but this time it just kept on turning.  And turning.  And turning.  Being a driver, I will blame everything EXCEPT myself for this, but the slow, lazy spin terminated in an elegant off-course excursion to the inside of the turn.  The elegant, off-course excursion was then truncated by an inelegant whack into a concrete barrier wall with a bright yellow Sargento Cheese logo on it.  And I really hate cheese.

If this ever happens to you, prepare accordingly.  In the moments that follow, the entire field will pass you and relegate you to pounding on the steering wheel and saying things that you would never say in front of your kids.  At least, not if their mom is around.  You will wonder why you spent all this time and money on a hobby that can be so utterly cruel at times.  You might even have vivid flashbacks of Saturn engines exploding and wheels flying off.

And no, you don’t want to think about how much this will now cost to fix.

None of this, of course, does you any good in trying to set a good qualifying time.  Fortunately, the damage was strictly cosmetic and the car fired right back up without missing a beat.  In full disclosure I can tell you that I wasn’t driving my A-game for the rest of the session, and our seventh-place qualifying performance – a 2:14.6 – reflected that fact.

Before and after.  All better (more or less) thanks to Billy’s Body Shop!

Back in the paddock, the crew worked a small miracle and, with the help of a fresh roll of Hello Kitty duct tape, brought the car back to near-cosmetic perfection.  Ok, so that “near-cosmetic perfection” is a lie, but one more bump and bruise wasn’t going to make me think any less of the car.  She was square and the corner weights were perfect, so who’s to complain about a little sheet metal imperfection here and there?

Love / The Taste of Champagne

And finally, for the *first* time this season, we completed an entire race without 1) a caution period, 2) being wrecked, or 3) a mechanical or electrical malady.  Thirty-five minutes of racing from green to checker without a minute to breathe in-between.  With a little bit of luck and little bit of skill, we slowly made our way up through the pack, making the final two passes for position in the final three turns of the race!  It sure helped that one of the race leaders broke and that another race leader got spun, but a win is a win is a win and I ain’t making no excuses.  The champagne tasted just as good on the top step of the podium.  In order to finish first you first must finish, and riding on the back of the flawless work of the entire Risi crew, we brought home the wood (actually, I think it’s mostly plastic)

Note that Tom (far right) has not changed his fashionable scR polo shirt since 1999.

Based on our season performances to date, we are currently sitting in third place overall.   There are four more races to go, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how it will all play out.  But it sure seems like we are on to something here, and with the next race being in our backyard at the Circuit of the Americas, the expectations are running high.

Planning For Austin

Note that for anybody planning to come join us at the track in Austin, the race schedule is a little bit different.  We are a support race for the World Endurance Championship cars for this weekend, and as a result we will be *done* with our race weekend by about 10:00 AM Saturday morning.   The specific schedule for the Ferrari Challenge sessions follows below:

  • Thursday, September 14
    Practice 1 : 11:00-11:45 AM
    Practice 2 : 3:30-4:15 PM
  • Friday, September 15Qualifying 1 : 8:30-9:00 AM
    Qualifying 2 : 1:25-1:55 PM
    Race 1 : 5:35-6:05 PM
  • Saturday, September 16
    Race 2 : 9:05-9:35 AM

If you want to come out and join in the action and excitement, you will need to buy a “regular” ticket for the main WEC event (kids 12 and under get in free).  We’re just the opening act.  If you follow this link, you will find everything you need to know about general admission passes, but rest assured that all levels of tickets will get you access to us and the team trailer in paddock area.  At least, that’s what they tell me.  And don’t forget, for the price of your ticket(s) you can stay to watch the big boys duke it out later on Saturday afternoon as well.

Alternatively, since our race is over so soon on Saturday morning, there is a plan being formulated to head back to the Houston area shortly thereafter and gather together Saturday late afternoon/early evening for a post-race cookout.  If this sort of thing interests you, please reply and let me know so that we can estimate how many mouths there will be to feed.  Most details TBD, but we do know that this event will be 1) in The Woodlands, 2) BYOB, and 3) family friendly.

See you at the track, hopefully in person, in August!