Dateline: Thursday, October 17, 2019
Q: This was Las Vegas, right? The 2019 TCR season Grand Finale?
Q: Did you finally get a little bit of racing luck? You were in Vegas, after all.
A: Nope. Not even close. We got the same kind of luck that most people get when they visit Las Vegas. Maybe worse.
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Q: Holy shit! That looks hideous!
A: Please watch your language. My kids read these. But yes, it is. Or was. Or both.
Q: You’re ok, right?
A: Absolutely. A little stunt driving never hurt anybody. But the little Giulietta didn’t fare so well. She’s wounded pretty badly up underneath.
Keoni, seen staring into the void that used to contain lots of important parts.
Q: So the weekend ended badly. Did you at least have some momentum building up to this?
A: No. It was a complete dumpster fire.
Q: Was the car at least fast in qualifying?
A: We didn’t get to qualify. That was part of the dumpster fire.
Q: Was the car at least fast in practice?
A: We didn’t get to practice. That was part of the dumpster fire.
You don’t need to be an automotive engineer to realize that this really important part is broken, right?
Q: What the hell happened?
A: In summary, we did not complete a single timed lap all weekend. But we broke a lot of really expensive parts and ate far too much late-night pizza trying to recover.
More important (and significantly more expensive) parts.
Q: Please, make it stop!
A: Sorry, I have a lot of these pictures. And since I don’t have a race report to write, I need them to fill space.
Unceremoniously dumped in the trash can. There is no glory for dead racecar parts, unfortunately.
Q: My head is going to explode!
A: Like my wallet.
Q: Glad to see you still at least have your sense of humor.
A: I don’t. I am just stating the facts.
Q: I can’t turn away from watching this train wreck taking place. Can you please piece this all together?
A: May I narrate for a bit?
Q: Sure. It’s your newsletter.
[Narrative Mode On]
United upgraded me to first class. At this point, our good luck for the entire weekend was completely exhausted.
The sanctioning body, SRO, stopped by and asked if we would be willing to install a small electronic transmitting device that would allow them to receive performance data from our car as it circled the race track. It seemed like a simple enough thing, so we agreed and plugged the telemetry device into the little Giulietta’s wiring harness.
This is likely what ignited the dumpster fire.
I completed about 30 laps of Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a golf cart. It was a little loose in Turn 12 initially, but Rick settled it down with some increased front rebound damping.
Big banking and bright lights. Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
As I fired up the car to drive to the grid for the first practice session, I immediately noticed that the power steering was intermittently shutting off. It was pretty alarming, and not the sort of thing that you would want to experience at high speed, so without completing a single lap I took the car back the garage so Miles and Keoni could get it sorted out.
They couldn’t get is sorted out, so they enlisted Don’s help to get it sorted out. When he couldn’t sort it out either, we began to make phone calls. Lots of phone calls.
It seemed like the root cause of the power steering issue was related to something electronic in nature, but there simply wasn’t enough time to figure it out before the second practice session. So I made the decision to simply unplug it to see if I could muscle the car around the track the good-old-fashioned way. After all, with conventional, hydraulically-assisted power steering, once the car is moving the power assist tapers and you really don’t need it to help you steer the car.
Note that an Alfa Romeo Giulietta does not have conventional, hydraulically-assisted power steering. It uses electrically-assisted power steering. And driving a racecar with it unplugged is a horrible idea. Don’t ever try this at home.
It only took about 15 seconds to realize that while I could indeed muscle the car around the track, there was no way I was going to be able to sustain that level of effort for a 40-minute race. Or even a 15-minute qualifying session. Without completing the lap, I exited the track and I drove it back to the garage.
At about 6:00 that evening, a new power steering rack arrived. With the help of a garage and a lift borrowed from Scuderia Corsa (huge thanks!), Miles and Keoni quickly pulled out the old power steering rack assembly and swapped in the new piece.
[Narrative Mode Pause]
Q: I know we are in narrative mode, but where did the new power steering rack magically come from?
A: Tony hand carried it from Houston to Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon. He checked it at the Delta ticket counter as personal luggage. Yes, that is nuts. TSA had a field day with the packaging.
[Narrative Mode Resume]
Much to nobody’s satisfaction, the new power steering rack assembly behaved just as badly as the first. And we missed the third practice session. But at least the guys got to spend several hours banging their knuckles in the process.
Miles, seen preparing for surgery on Thursday evening.
Don furiously fiddled, poked, and prodded all day in an attempt to determine what the hell was going on. While he was busy doing that, a few of us visited the Las Vegas Alfa Romeo dealer to solicit their advice. They were friendly enough, but basically looked at us like we were from outer space. I reached out to several of you on this newsletter distribution for your insight and guidance. SAE instructors were e-mailing me their classroom materials. I had to charge my cell phone twice in a 12-hour period because of all of the text traffic and speakerphone conferences. By the end of it all, help was coming from Italy, Germany, and about half of the engineers in Detroit. I even called that one guy who now plays Mr. Mom in Tennessee (yes, Jan, I gave you a shout out). But even with of all of the incredible support and advice, we were no closer to finding the solution.
We missed the fourth practice session as the dumpster fire burned brightly.
Don, seen furiously fiddling, poking, and prodding just moments before he created a large gash in the top of his scalp.
Along the way, we also contacted KMW/TMR in Boca Raton, Florida. They campaign a TCR Alfa Romeo Giulietta in the IMSA series, and we hoped they could offer some creative input. While we didn’t get a silver bullet from them, they offered to send us another brand-new power steering rack they had in the shop just in case it would be needed.
Without much to back it up (speculation is so much fun), we began to think again that maybe something had gone awry with the installation of the SRO telemetry device. Frankly we were out of ideas, but since the car was perfectly fine in the minutes before the installation, it sure seemed plausible. We ripped it from the car in its entirety, but alas, nothing changed. As such, qualifying came and went that afternoon without the blue and white Hella Pagid Special turning in a single lap.
At one point, we broke this open too. Don’t ask me what it is. But it looks complicated and does something with the power steering.
For dinner, Anna found us a great little Thai place on the outskirts of town. A small highlight in an otherwise torturous day.
Our care package arrived from Florida a little after sunrise. Miles, Keoni, and Don prepared a makeshift altar, performed several small ritualistic sacrifices, and swapped in the new power steering rack. Which worked just perfectly in spite of us not expecting it to do so.
It wasn’t as fancy as a Hallmark card, but the well-wishes were appreciated all the same.
[Narrative Mode Pause]
Q: I know we are in narrative mode, but why did this power steering rack suddenly work?
A: We have no ****ing clue.
[Narrative Mode Resume]
For the moment it appeared that the dumpster fire had been extinguished. We were wrong, of course, but ignorance certainly can be bliss.
With a racecar that was finally able to be steered around the track, we prepared for Race 1. Because of the Risi crew’s incredible effort, we somehow made it to the grid with ten minutes to spare. As a result of our glaring absence during the qualifying session, we had to start at the back of the field in ninth place. Which probably wasn’t a bad thing since to this point I had not driven a single lap around the track (golf cart laps excepted). And we had no data to tell us what our starting tire pressures should be. And our chassis setup was a complete shot in the dark. And we were hoping that the new power steering rack assembly would not suddenly fail once the race was underway.
The formation laps were unremarkable. But I need to be honest here: I was completely uncertain about what my racing strategy was going to be. Knowing that I had zero experience at the track, my initial thought was to hang back and let the eight TCR cars in front of me bump and rub while I figured things out on my own. If I could just spend a few quality laps learning the track by myself, there could be a chance to make up ground and positions as the race played out.
At the same time, I knew that I needed to finish better than fourth in order to maintain my third-place standing in the Championship. This was a not a weekend to slack off and coast around the track. Points were everything, and every position moved me one point closer to that final step on the year-end podium.
My decision was made easier when I didn’t get a particularly good jump at the green flag. I fell a little bit behind as the field accelerated away which took away any temptation to make a banzai pass into Turn 1. I tucked in behind the car in front of me and drove through the corner ready to play follow-the-leader.
And then, two cars in front of me, Gonzalez spun. His graceful arc threw his car across the track from right to left. As he rotated counterclockwise, I steered to the left in a desperate attempt to avoid him closing in on my path of travel. All this probably would have been a non-event had it not been for the inconvenient concrete wall to my left which greatly reduced any chance of making an escape.
You just know this isn’t going to end well.
The yard sale followed. The right-front corner of the Alfa sheared off most of the nose of the Honda. In the process, the right side of the Alfa climbed up and over the Honda’s hood, launching the right side of the car up in the air about four feet.
This is something else that you should not try at home, kids.
Now, being launched up in the air four feet is one thing, but coming back down to planet Earth is something else altogether. It’s hard to tell just what broke when, but let it suffice to say that we bent so much stuff up underneath the car that the team was forced to throw in the towel for Sunday’s race. We simply didn’t have enough parts to confidently put the car back out on track. And thus ended our weekend. And our inauspicious 2019 TCR campaign.
[Narrative Mode Off]
Q: I suppose you lost your third-place Championship position, right?
A: Poof! Gone. Filippi cleaned house in both races and gathered enough points to leapfrog us into third place. Congrats to him and his team for putting together a dominating performance. We ended 2019 in fourth place, and that’s not going to make anybody happy.
Q: Can you please find a silver lining here?
A: Fair enough, because there are a few. Specifically, I need to thank all of my fellow TCR competitors and their teams that continued to rally around us as we tried to make the show. The VW BrosTM shared in-car video, McCann shared all of this braking points, and Filippi let me watch his qualifying line. But what floored me was that after hearing that we were out for Sunday’s race, Victor offered me his car to race since he felt responsible for Saturday’s incident. I humbly declined, but that’s about the most sportsmanlike thing imaginable.
Q: So you never got to see the track?
A: Well, not exactly. After we had experienced all of our trials and tribulations, I was offered the opportunity to drive some sponsors around the track for VIP hot laps in a 458 Ferrari Challenge Car. At night. On a track that I had never seen before.
This brought back so many memories. Thanks to Hella Pagid Brake Systems for making it happen!
Q: And…how was it?
A: Simply sublime. It rekindled my desire to be in a rear-wheel-drive car with just the right amount of horsepower. The sounds and the sensations almost made up for not being able to see a damn thing (which really didn’t matter since I didn’t know where the track went in the first place). It didn’t make up for the debacle earlier in the day, but sure made it easier to swallow. An hour of unhinged Ferrari V8 makes up for a LOT of other crap.
Q: So that brings us to the big question: what’s next for scR motorsports?
A: Stay tuned. Because I don’t even know myself. On so many levels this was a brutally challenging season, but in spite of that I have not lost the desire to compete. Looking forward to 2020, all we need is a little bit of racing luck. Not a lot. But just enough to get the job done.
See you at the track!