It's been a few years that Larry Moore took his Spec e46 race car beyond the spec class rules to maximize it for endurance racing. I'd been aware of the car and his dastardly plans for some time, but it wasn't until earlier in 2020 that I happened to stop by the shop where the magic was happening, so to speak, and see what incredible lengths he'd gone to, and how far his madness dedication to that idea had progressed. Even further, he'd managed to seduce Tony Dominici to join in with his similar e46 race car to make it a two car endurance team - one wrapped black, one white.
While I had a full ticket of racing in 2020 planned myself, it so happened a number of different events came together that led me to find a place on the team for the National Auto Sport's halo Western States Endurance Championship event: The 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
Day Before...A Beautiful Morning
December 3rd: Qualifying
After some discussion and review of our testing results from a few weeks prior, I was selected to drive 4th of the 5 drivers, and our leadoff driver Ian Barberi would be qualifying. The rest of the E2 class was composed of e46s in NASA Spec e45 form or something close, ND and NC Mazda MX5s and a few other cars. From our testing, we knew the entire team should be able to comfortably put down laps close to record spec e46 pace, but it was a surprise when Frasun Racing's e46 set down a speedy 2:00.6 lap to take 2nd behind the #72 Moorewood Creative White Car's smoking fast 1.58.0. Ian's 2:01.5 was still 2 seconds free of the rest of the field, but given 25 hours of racing to come, nearly anything could happen.
36 cars, 7 classes and 983 bajillion crew
December 4th: Race Start
Right at 11am 36 cars rolled out for sighting and pace laps, and after a 1st lap spin for one of the leading prototypes and a light oiling of T15 by another car on the second lap both Moorewood cars made it through unscathed and began moving up. In the white car, Sean Webster settled into 5th overall and first in class, while Ian had more work to do starting further back in traffic. In spite of that, he managed to move up steadily, pass cars in faster classes that had qualified faster, and overtake the Frasun Racing e46 handily, and move into second place in class. As his stint came to a close, he'd put a lot of time on 3rd place, and our next two drivers Tony Dominici and Ed Fardos slowly pulled away from the rest of the pack.
The Moorewood White car looked to be nearly unstoppable, except for a malfunctioning fuel rig which resulted in a spill while fueling early in the race. This netted the car a 5 minute penalty which put the Black Car up several laps. Even though the White car was making better time after 6 hours of racing things looked exceedingly positive for the Black Car.
Team leader Larry Moore and Engineering Wizard / Master Tactician behind the scenes Justin Ross had very explicit instructions about driving style during this time - 80% effort, don't take any risks. The true genius behind these cars was that even taking into account a healthy margin of error, they were still very fast and very easy to drive. Rules in E2 permit one tire change per pit stop and the longer we could get them to last, the more pit stop time we could save, and the better we could protect our lead.
Black Car Crew Chief Craig
Up to this point, everything was looking great for the Black Car...
The Fog Is Getting Thicker!
Given my position in the lineup, I'd figured that I would be getting in the car around 8pm or so, but I'd plan to be around and ready by the end of Ed's first stint just in case anything odd happened. I had an early dinner around 3pm, took a nap for about an hour in anticipation of an exciting evening, and hung out in the ready area for a while. As 6pm approached, the Black Car was coming due for fuel and a tire, but as darkness fell, a significant amount of fog came rolling in as well. In the past, the 25 hour has proceeded at full tilt under the most egregious of conditions - torrential downpour, rivers of mud, and even snow in the past had challenged the teams, but if flagging stations could not see each other, then safety was an issue and the race would have to be suspended.
Just a wee bit of fog...
The Black Car, parked out there somewhere
As it happened, the team ended up missing the window between just foggy enough to race and getting the pit stop done, missed coming in before a fog-induced full course yellow by just a few seconds. Certainly, the car would go a lot further circulating at pace car speed, but the officials took their time to assess the fog situation, so the car was forced to pit under yellow a few minutes before the race was red flagged. NASA endurance rules prohibit getting an advantage by pitting under yellow, so Ed pulled when the car in, the team wasn't allowed to even touch the car to prepare it to go out again. Once the race was finally stopped the other cars were lined up on the main straight, and the forlorn former E2 class leader was parked in the pits.
A restful night's repose...mostly.
An emergency driver's meeting was called, and teams were informed that as soon as the fog cleared there would be a 30 minute warning, then racing would continue. In addition, the finish time would be pushed out as late as 3pm to account for the time lost while the race was suspended. But how long would that be? A day or two previous it was also uncharacteristically foggy in the evening, and it hadn't burned off until 9am. Amidst some pro-level amateur weather sleuthing which turned out to be largely incorrect, drivers and teams scurried around and found relatively warm nooks for the evening and tried to get some rest.
A few minutes before 04:30 I awoke in the Moorewood Creative Driver's Lounge which consisted of a few folding chairs, a drying rack and a space heater in a one-car enclosed trailer. Had I just heard an announcement over the PA? I was thinking about moving from my warm spot to investigate when NASA Safety let loose with every siren, horn, and noise-based warning device at their command. I foggily recalled from the driver's meeting that the NASA officials had promised to do their best to alert us, and NASA Safety was performing their duties with unbridled enthusiasm and dedication.
I stumbled out of the trailer, helmet in hand just in time to run into Justin marching by on a mission.
"Andy! Car! Now!" he said, leaving no doubt as to what was happening next.
A few minutes later I found myself in a very cold and dark race car, peering through a completely fogged windscreen, rubbing my gloved hands and stomping my feet against the floorboards to get warmed up. The car was still technically in parc fermé, but the entire team stood by on their toes ready to service it the second the track went green. As the rest of the field slowly took off and began circulating, I knew they were out there getting their tires warm and toasty, sighting out cold and slippery spots, and putting us even more laps down. In all, we lost 8 laps off our lead from the fog's inopportune appearance, but the moment the track went green, the skilled Black Car crew jumped all over the car. I got a new tire, 10 gallons of gas, a fresh clean windshield, and sent all in record time, and I chugged down the pit lane on the speed limiter ready for my first laps in the race.
And what excitement! Overall the car was in pretty good shape, but T2 was still pretty foggy, the tires were stone cold, and while I'd raced there plenty of times in the past, let's just say the lighting was something new considering the typical sunny day in the summer when I typically raced there. As I was starting to get the feel of things after a few turns, a few cars bombed past me, and I found the AOA Racing Mazda MX5 Cup car hotly followed by the Frazen Racing e46. This was it - I needed to stay with these guys or forget making up the time we'd lost.
The e46 was working on the MX5 pretty hard, and after a few laps, he pedaled by using his straight line advantage. The MX5 stuck to his bumper especially in the 1st half of the track, but shortly I was able to get by as well, then follow the e46 for a few laps to get my bearings further. Once I'd figured out where grip was and wasn't in these conditions thanks to my helpful competitors, I slipped by the Frasun e46 and set off down the road. Given the field was still a little clumped up from the earlier red flag, I was able to really set some good uninterrupted times down and make up some time on the field.
Moorewood Black Car, Frazen e46, & AOA Motorsports MX5...prior to the early morning fun...
Of course in the midst of this, the fog began rolling back in between T2 and T4, and I wondered if we'd be parking it again before the night was up, but after several laps the fog fairies headed for bed for good, and left us to race under a relatively clear night sky.
Even in the darkest hours, between our crew chief Craig Evans and our spotter Milas Mills we got a great rhythm down calling out hazards, slow cars, fast cars and everything in between. By this time things were warm and I was really enjoying myself - I have to really hand it to Milas who was sitting out on a hillside somewhere probably freezing his butt off.
The pace continued after a fuel stop and as the I motored toward the end of my second stint, I realized the sky had turned from black to grey, and finally a gorgeous orange sunrise and a beautiful clear morning giving no sign weather would be any hindrance to racing for the rest of the day.
I swapped out to the next driver and hopped back over the pit wall elated - partly excitement partly working on moving my brain back from driving to walking on solid earth.
Next off in the car was Paul Whiting - final driver in our lineup, who was a deeply experienced racer with several pro races to his credit. While I availed myself of a stack of pancakes from the Thunderhill grill, he set off at a blistering pace in the early morning and set blazing fast times for three full consecutive stints, close to 3 and a half hours. I'd kicked us back into a place where we could end up anywhere between 3rd to fifth in our class, but Paul put us right back into the thick of the competition.
Sometime during his stint as well, our main competition the Frasun Racing e46 suffered brake failure heading into T10, and took some time to get towed off, replace the brakes, repair some body damage from nerfing the wall, and rejoin the fray. That left yet another e46 run by Legacy Motorwerks in our way for 2nd place. As it turned out, they were running a strategy on harder than typical R compound tires with the intention of skipping tire changes to shorten their pit stops, but such was the speed of the Black Car combined with the pro level pit stops and Paul's triple stinting that by early afternoon Sunday, we'd pulled ahead into 2nd place.
Lots of waiting between those busy 90 seconds
At that point, with our sister car ahead about 3 laps, the competition unable to match our pace, and with Paul and later Ed pulling through the field, we got the word to take things as easy as possible and take absolutely zero chances. In fact as it worked out, as Ed finished up his last stint, and I was prepping to do one final stint to take us to the finish line, Chief Craig took me aside.
"Okay - you're not to use third gear. Sounds like some transmission problems." He said.
Another interesting challenge - Gearing on the Moorewood cars didn't seem to be too different from a typical e46, which made much of the lap in 4th and 5th gear - I'd even done 4th on purpose a few times rolling through T14 and 15, but pulling from T11, the slowest turn on the track, taken about 45mph felt painfully slow. Nonetheless, I took over and cruised the final stint turning similar times to our competition in spite of the handicap.
Tony Dominici, Black Car Owner
Running through the final pit stop would leave us with about 30 minutes of leftover time so given the team didn't want to leave anything to chance, I was to remain in the car and bring it across the line for the end.
Really, as well, having done primarily sprint racing for the past 20 years or so, there was never a moment while racing with Moorewood that the whole aspect and importance of a racing team was in doubt. Justin, Tony, Larry and many others had spent untold hours pouring over the rules to maximize every possible way an E2 / NASA ST5 car could be enhanced for speed, reliability, and drivability. Even longer, I suppose actually wrenching on the cars to make those changes work. The crew having spent entire weekends practicing, pit stops on the Black car were flawless, and aside from some inopportune fog, we'd have been in a perfect position to win our class. Same could be said of the White car, as a minor fueling rig malfunction put them back...just not quite as far. No less than 25 team members contributed to the success from fresh clean windshields to race strategy to truly delicious freshly baked cookies.
It was a challenge driving a cold car in the middle of the night, sure...but it was easy considering all the hard work the team put in to get us drivers in a place to do it.
Andy, Milas & Justin, hamming it up.
As we came to the end of the last few laps, we synchronized where the cars were on the track and did a lo-speed cruise by the Thunderhill main straight in a picture perfect 1-2 finish. As is NASA tradition, the crews gather on the hot pit wall and cheer on every car that's able to make it to the end of the journey. It was epic driving the car across the line cheering too - Team Moorewood Creative - this one's for you!
After a successful season in 2019, we were looking for new challenges, and settled on the relatively new up and coming Spec MX5 class of cars being built from the 3rd generation Mazda MX5s...not technically called a 'Miata' anymore in the US.
- Relatively affordable prebuilt cars available, rules allow build your own if you are either skilled or nuts. (Turned out about 28/72 for us)
- Nationwide racing in Spec MX5, but compatible with ST5 for NASA or STL for SCCA, and legal to jump into SP for USTCC. Mazda offers varying contingencies on these classes from good to amazing.
- Parts readily available directly from Mazda or other reasonable sources.
A few months of stalking the local Copart in Morgan Hill, CA, and I came up with a 2007 MX5 with no body damage, a stick shift, and a blown motor. I ended up with that fabulous car in my garage for about $1750 after some negotiation.
The winter spent wrestling suspension bits gave way to a pandemic spring swapping and stripping, then renovating and reinstalling around the new TC Designs cage and other safety equipment. Finally a new Spec MX5 motor by Haag Performance, drivetrain installed by BTM Motorwerks, and we had a car ready to hit the track.
In the midst of the new project the old #100 Spec e30 went to a new home...of course it's only after selling a perfectly dialed in reliable race car and start really taking things apart, when you start to question your sanity for starting over again.
But first few turns at Sonoma Raceway on our first test day, the MX5 chassis whispered of its amazing potential. That and leaked oil from a nicked hose, went over sound with the spec exhaust and had a weird hesitation at part throttle...but this is going to be good.
The NASA Norcal Spec e30 Championship blasted into Sonoma Raceway October 26th and 27th for a no hold barred double points smackdown of a weekend, consisting of qualifying and three races with the usual suspects, as well as a few ringers that showed up to try to take a win away from the usual suspects.
In the morning meeting, series organizer Nick Theimann pointed out that Andy Chittum was the points leader for the season, leading by a formidable 117 points, but with 600 on tap for the double points weekend, one misstep could shake up the order significantly. Just to prove his point, Thiemann, in second position for the season then went out for qualifying and set a fast 1:56.8 lap on the twisty technical 2.52 mile course a good 8 tenths faster than previous round winner Chittum.
But it was veteran Spec e30 racer Scott Clough that did Nick one better with a 1.56.3 that initially set the pace until local race hero Tim Barber stepped in with a legitimately fast 1.56.0 to take pole position. Brian Shiflett, and Forrest Cook filled out the top 6, and the rest of the field fell within the 1.58s, just behind the leaders.
At the drop of the green the roared off the line without a single bauble on the standing start, but the right hand side of the track seemed to be slightly faster, with Clough getting the jump on Barber and Chittum just edging ahead of Theimann. By the time the field poured into T4, the side by side had worked its way out and they filed into T6 in that order.
But Chittum missed a shift coming out of T6, allowing Theimann to come motoring by, and the rest of the field right on his bumper into T7. Chittum got his act back together narrowly got out of the reach of the field, and chased down Theimann, while Barber took advantage of his speed advantage to sneak back by Clough with an over-under into T7 and making it stick in 8. By the end of the first lap, the field had mostly settled down, except for sometime Spec e30 hotshoe Aristotle Balogh who had missed qualifying and making up nearly half the field on the first two laps.
While Barber slowly pulled away from Clough, Chittum caught up to Theimann and began pondering how he could make it by the fast #21 car. Initially, Theimann proved difficult to figure out, but with Balogh free of the rest of the field, and starting to bridge a 6 second gap up to 4th place, Chittum began to push harder.
With a fast run through 10, Chittum made it through 11 just inches from Theimann's bumper drafted down the front straight, then cut inside, overlapping in T1 and up into T2. But Theimann still held an advantage, and was able to stay ahead in T3. Next lap Chittum did the same thing, but this time doubling up in T2, and was able to get up the inside of the exit of T3, making the pass stick. Slowly, Chittum was able to pull ahead, just as Balogh reached the battle.
With Barber and Clough checked out, Chittum got a good gap, and was able to hold it as Balogh made his way around Theimann. The two held even for a few laps, but with lapped traffic, Balogh was able to catch Chittum and make it past just before the end of the race.
With a hard fought race on a oddly greasy and difficult track the day before, cooler temperatures were forecast, but higher winds, which were sure to produce the battle of the year. Unfortunately, due to nearby forest fires, NASA was unable to secure Emergency Ambulances for the Sunday event, so they were forced to cancel the event.
With a 117 point lead going into the final weekend, Chittum then retained the lead at the end, and pending official results becomes the 2019 NASA Norcal Champion. This is Chittum's 3rd Championship, but 1st as a solo driver, previously teaming up as Team BTM Motorwerks and winning in 2011 and 2012. Nick Theimann, while leading for much of the year held on to second place overall, and Forest Cook was able to make up enough points on JP Cadoux in the final race to hold on to third.
NASA Norcal Spec e30 will return March 14-15 2020 back at beautiful Sonoma Raceway for a whole new season, stay tuned for more!
"Andy, I need your help. I bought a car yesterday, super cheap - it hasn't be run in a over a decade, and I want it to race this weekend."
On the one hand, something every race driver wants to hear - someone needs them to drive their car. On the other, so many questions. Are there tires? Condition of the shocks? The engine works? Setup? Testing? By the way, what kind of car is it anyway?
The car was a 5th gen Honda Civic equipped with a B18C of uncertain build. Shocks had been rebuilt by the prior owner recently, the engine had started when they tried it, they had some old Hankook F200s laying around and all the rest would be taken care of at the track Saturday before the race Sunday.
Sure thing, I'm in.
This car turned out to be the newest to race for USTCC Team Gogogear.com's stable, which includes other cars spread from the Sportsman class, where the Civic fit in, to the Super Touring class featuring a gorgeous S54 equipped BMW e90 driven by Lary Bani. In fact, the team had another similar Civic painted in the distinctive team yellow-orange to be driven by Reza Arsham, which became my template for working things up, and figuring out what the car liked.
Saturday, with a reduced testing schedule, there was just time enough for the car's new owner Ali Arsham to jump into the car and give it a quick once over, as well as have to team update a few safety items before Sunday.
Warmup - Really Warm
Sunday dawned with perfect spring Sonoma Raceway Weather, sunny, 80 degrees and a light breeze. I slid into the Honda, and headed out for a warmup. The one minor issue noted in the shakedown Saturday was a slight tendency for the car to overheat, so with one eye on the temp gauge, I worked on figuring out the car.
After two laps, I'd started to drop my times pretty quickly - the little car had tons of stick, and could do more each lap. The newly rebuilt shocks handled the uneven pavement well in T1. T3 was a light dance. T6 pulled my cheeks sideways and the chicane for T8 was well balanced all the way through. Even the (not my favorite) FIA configuration chicane in T9 worked better than I'd have thought for a smaller car.
On my 3rd time across the line I got a signal to pit, so I came in, the GogoGear Guys did the tires, and we pulled in to look at the data from the run.
To combat the unusual water temperature, the GogoGear team put together a makeshift shroud to force more cool air through the radiator. I discussed tire pressures and setup with Reza again, and we settled on the final plans for qualifying and the race.
Qualifying - If Ida Had One More Lap
For qualifying late morning the Gogogear team put me on scrubbed slicks, and I found it a challenge to get the big Hankook F200 race slicks warmed up on the 2300lb car. After some major scrubbing, I got a decent lap in for the bank, and looked to really give it the beans, hoping I had enough thermal runway to make it a good one. I had put everything I'd learned in the morning together and put a good lap together, but I got the signal to pit again, and had to abort the lap.
The setup on the car looked good, but there was still some tinkering to be done so we came in and started prepping for the race. Edgar Lau's #9 BMW 330i had some legs on the field with a roughly 3 second advantage, but the next 4 of us were separated by a half second, putting me inside second row to start.
Go Go Go
At 1:10 PM the entire USTCC field took a green flag, and 22 cars left stripes of sweet Hankook rubber en route to a chaotic blast through Sears Point's T1. While Lau quickly checked out, the rest of the SP field upended on the first lap. I figured out a pretty good standing launch procedure and moved up, while both Bovenberg and Gardner had trouble getting away. Reza Arsham made a great start up through T2 and made another pass into T5, but I managed to get around him on the mid-exit of T6, and come across the line in 2nd place on the first lap.
The battle for 2nd settled in Chittum - Arsham - Bovenberg - Milbourn - Gardner for the first 5 laps or so, and I was able to manage the pace, pushing harder for a lap, gaining a gap on the field, then taking it a little easier for a bit. Coming out of T9 on lap 5 I was a little overly easy just to get the engine temperature down, and Reza managed to overlap me into 11. I didn't protest too hard with my teammate, and we charged up into T2 together.
As I unwound the steering wheel for T2, suddenly, there was an impact on the back of the car, the car was pitched to the left, and I got a lovely view of the pedestrian bridge out the windshield as I slid sideways up the hill at about 80 mph. It's always interesting to see what comes to mind in such a situation like this, and I recall simply - 'dontrollover, dontrollover, dontrollover' until a deluge of dirt and grass blasted through the passenger side windows and the car headed for the tire barrier. The tires didn't catch in the dirt, and I came to an easy rest not too far from the tire barrier. Barely missing a beat, I got the car back in gear and took off up T3, but there was a lot of dirt and grass built up, and it took a few slow turns to get the car to work normally again.
By that time, the water temperature was right at the upper end of workable, so my best choice was to pull it in, and save the car rather than trying to chase down the field and risk blowing the engine.
Later, Ali expressed his appreciation that the car showed good speed in the class, and ran as high as second place. It seemed like he was just about an upgraded radiator away from a very competitive car. Maybe even at the next USTCC event, October 26 and 27th with NASA. Maybe I'll even get another phone call.
The NASA Norcal Spec e30 racers slid into a seasonably warm and toasty Willows, California to contest Round 5 of the Championship August 3rd and 4th. With temperatures forecast well over 100F and Spec e30 running the legendary track in the reverse direction for the first time in years, the event promised for thrills, chills, and some unexpected results.
In practice Friday a number of cars already suffering from the heat with Nick Theimann's car breaking a rocker, Round 4 winner Scott Clough's car's transmission mysteriously seizing up, and other various brake issues. Teams worked through the evening, and the entire field of 15 cars made qualifying Saturday morning.
Bennett McMicking set the early time to beat with a speedy 2:08.8 on his first timed lap, and Nick Theimann came back next lap dropping a 2:08.5, but perennial pole sitter JP Cadoux dropped a 2:08.1 on his third lap which looked to be the fastest any e30 would set the entire weekend. Behind the fast 3, Andy Chittum, Forest Cook, and Scott Clough, and Rina Balogh took up postion, with just around 2 seconds covering the top 8.
Race 1 took off with an incredibly long hold on the green flag, but the field tore away toward turn 15 after it finally fell. The front of the field funneled in to the T15-14 complex in order with Cadoux, McMicking and Theimann. Chittum, and Forrest Cook came out side by side on the exit of 15, with Chittum edging ahead by T12. The front then consolidated into a train of 4 cars with Cadoux unable to drop the group, but nobody able to pass.
Crazy. But that's how it goes.
At the back, the excitement started early with Team Unibrow CEO and driver James Gouvia getting a great standing start, while ahead of him Rina Balogh missed a shift. With the slightest of scrapes, he made it by on the inside between the wall, and joined teammate John Lothrop's car side by side into the 15-14 complex. Balogh quickly caught up, and the three battled the next lap.
Lothrop and Gouvia continued the battle with multiple passes and re-passes until finally Gouvia pulled ahead just at the checkered flag.
Back at the front, the train continued. McMicking had managed to put his nose around Cadoux early on in the race, but had settled into second. After the halfway point, Chittum started attacking Theimann as well, overlapping in several places. But the turning point of the race came about 8 laps in when coming down super fast 9 - 8 - 7 back straight Theimann made a move up the inside of McMicking. In video review Theimann called the move 'somewhat overly optimistic' - braking from over 110 mph into the tight T6, he put two wheels on the dirt, then caught air off the edge of the inside berm, then nosed into McMicking's rear quarter panel.
This resulted in McMicking spun on the inside of T6, Thiemann crossed up sliding to the outside and Chittum neatly driving through the hole to take over 2nd place. McMicking and Thiemann were both able to continue, but mixed into the rest of the field.
Post-race, two cars were found to be over power on the dyno including Cadoux, which handed the win to Chittum, 2nd to Forest Cook, and 3rd to Uwe Druckenmuller.
Race 2 of the weekend started with Chittum and Cook on the front row, followed by Rina Balough and Uwe Druckenmuller. The start proved to be exciting with Cadoux, McMicking, Thiemann, Scott Clough and Ari Balogh all at the back determined to charge though the field and make Chittum earn his pole position start. This time the standing start went relatively uneventfully, aside from Lothrop taking a high-speed weed-whacking tour on the outside of T14.
Chittum, Cook and Rina Balogh ended up 1 - 2 - 3 for the first few laps while the back and midfield sorted itself out. Slowly, Chittum pulled ahead while Cook fell back with braking issues. JP Cadoux moved up quickly, but touched Rina Balogh on the outside of T9 - both ended up spinning off the outside of the turn and falling back down the field.
Bennett McMicking and Ari Balogh proved to be the most deft at making their way through the field cleanly, and made it up to 2nd and 3rd with Theimann, Clough and Druckenmuller close behind. Chittum managed to keep ahead of the fray and pull in his second win of the weekend.
Race 3 saw the highest temperatures of the weekend, with ambient just over 101, and the track temperature suitable for most forms of cooking.
The group blasted off for the final time of the weekend, and while Ari Balogh was able to get by Bennett McMicking, most of the rest of the field ended up about where they'd started. The one real challenge was JP Cadoux starting from mid-field again, still with the fastest lap times at his command - could he get around the cars around him and chase Chittum down for the win?
Chittum's challenge was steady and fast, while keeping tires alive.
The lap chart shows the top 10 positions covered by just 1.3 seconds of lap time, with JP putting down a few laps a half-second faster than Chittum. With about 4 laps to go, JP cleared the rest of the field, and started to bridge the 4 second gap Chittum had built. On the fast west side of the track, JP had a few ounces of secret sauce to spend and made up time, but across the technical eastern section, Chittum seemed to have saved some tires to hold off the charge.
At the flag, Chittum held on by 2.240 seconds to take his 3rd victory of the weekend.
The exciting 2019 season will conclude October 26-27 at the legendary Sonoma Raceway, where we'll be once again hoping for a little rain to cool down the warm summer.
A healthy field of 14 teams returned to the delightful Sonoma Raceway May 18th and 19th for round 3 of the NASA Norcal Spec e30 championship. While the May event at Sonoma typically offers some of the most beautiful blue skies of the year, the forecast looked darker and more gloomy the closer the weekend came. Teams readied their full treaded Toyo RA-1s instead of the speedy slick RRs in use since 2013.
Saturday Warmup and Qualifying
Usually things don't start really getting exciting until qualifying, but breaking all the rules, Nick Theimann broke a brake line in warmup entering T11, and gave the barrels at the apex of the turn a severe workout with the front of his car. Undaunted, Nick began repairs immediately with a goal of making the race later that afternoon.
Nick gave himself a slight handicap Saturday Morning
Q1 quickly became wet for slicks
While the morning had been dry, as the cars sat on the grid to go out for qualifying, a light rain began, not causing major puddles yet, but significantly reducing grip around the 12 turn track. Most of the field settled in with lap times a good 30 seconds slower than morning warmup, but two frontrunners emerged - Chris Belieu and Andy Chittum. Working in and out of slower traffic, the two e30s started dropping 2 seconds a lap each lap, with Chittum ahead on the track, and Belieu catching up. Chittum turned a 2:35, Blieu a 2:34. Chittum got ahead with a 2:32 to Belieu's repeat 2:34, then Chittum finally dropping to a 2:31.028, and Belieu answering with a 2:31.00 as both cars hit the checkered flag on slicks in the rain.
Saturday - Race 1
With Belieu unable to make the start for Race 1, Chittum started on pole position, with Sylas Mongomery taking over Joe Nagy's car, and JP Cadoux, a functional but not pretty Nick Theimann, Ben Winter, and James Gouveia filling out the top 5. With the race starting in very wet conditions, everyone opted for wet tires this time, and they would need them.
On the start, Chittum and Montgomery launched well, but JP Cadoux jumped from P3 up the inside of T1, and took the grippy wet outside line entering T2. Unfortunately, a sizable pond had appeared on the outside exit of T2 which sent Cadoux spinning slowly yet inexorably off to the inside of T2's exit giving Chittum the lead and slowing Montgomery who was poised to take advantage of any slip ups at the front.
On lap 2, Mongomery was able to take advantage coming out of the Carousel T6, and make an outside pass on Chittum through T7. At the same lap, the race went full course yellow to rescue a group of Miatas that had exited the track in turn 10.
A lap or two later, with the accident cleaned up, a column of Miatas and e30s slowly made their way out of T8, and both Chittum and Montgomery began looking for the green flag through the downpour across the track, but James Gouveia had the advantage with a proper spotter, and roared past the two to the front before they had a chance to react.
As the three charged into a T11 barely visible through the rain and spray, Theimann's newly resurrected car charged into view, and for the next two laps all 4 cars raced side by side, maximum attack, maximum downpour. Gouveia was able to hold off the group for quite some time, but finally, Mongomery was able to make a pass stick by getting inside entering T6, holding station side by side all the way up to T7, and taking the long way around, and finally making the pass stick going into T8. This gave Theimann room to attack Gouveia a few turns later, but he slightly overcooked a wet T1, sliding slowly off into the mud. Chittum took advantage of the mayhem to overlap Gouveia in T2 and T3, and finally asserted position going into T4.
Nick's comeback - yes, the same mangled car as above.
Free to chase after the departed Montgomery, now several seconds ahead Chittum charged on, only to suffer from a broken windshield wiper, which somewhat tempered his ability to attack...and to see. A series of on and off yellow flags between the other cars on the track effectively froze the action until the end of the race with Montgomery in 1st, Chittum second, Gouveia 3rd, Ben Winter 4th, and Daniel Hayward moving up to 5th.
Rain continued steadily through Sunday, and while Saturday morning there was some question about the correct tire, nearly everyone was convinced the 10:10am start for Race 2 that wet tires were the way to go, even though it had stopped raining some hours before the race.
The standing start lined up with Nagy on pole having taken over for his teammate Sylas Montgomery, Chittum on the front row, then Dave Brown in for his teammate James Gouveia, Ben Winter and Daniel Hayward. At the drop of the flag, Chittum managed to get a very good start, gapping Nagy and the rest of the field. Nick Theimann also got a good launch, and after just a few laps of battling, Chittum led the way with Brown and Theimann hot on his heels.
Nature threw strategy for a loop again, as the drivers rolled out, it seemed the track had dried out more than most had thought, and Dave Brown's decision to go with slick tires seemed to be a master move in the first few laps of the race, slowly catching Chittum as the track continued to dry.
However, 3 laps into the race, a light rain began, and by 5 laps in had started to puddle up the previously-drying track. Brown hammered on, and in fact had run faster than Chittum for every lap except the first one, but succumbed first to the attack from a charging Theimann, 5 laps in and by 8 laps in, Chittum managed to pull his lap times down 2 seconds beyond the rest of the field in the pouring rain through to the end of the race.
Sunday - Race 3
Last race of the weekend also started on a well-puddled track, a very muddy T6, lakes entering T8, exiting T10, and in the middle of T12. Chittum lined up on pole, with Thiemann on the front row, Brown and a resurging Chris Belieu row 2, and Forest Cook / Bryan Shiflett on row 3.
A lakeside view...entering T10
The final flag of the weekend dropped, and Chittum again got a great start and out of T2 without contention. Theimann and Brown charged ahead, but a few laps in Brown's e30 was pushed out wide off T6 by out of class contact, and Theimann got ahead. Coming from further back and also showing his rain racing prowess, Chris Belieu made his way around and was in P2 by the time another full course yellow was called. The pack was bunched up costing Chittum an 11 second lead, but as the green fell again, Chittum pulled away again with Belieu, Theimann, Winter, and Brown making up the top 5 at the end.
NASA Norcal Spec e30 will return June 15th and 16th, back at Sonoma Raceway at Sears Point. Certainly many of the drivers will be hoping for drier conditions, while a very few will not.
Round 2 of the 2019 NASA Norcal Spec e30 Championship saw 11 teams make the trip to a lovely springtime version of the legendary Thunderhill Raceway Park. Cool temperatures made for hot racing, and plenty of power to set some speedy lap times around the 3 mile track.
Bright and early the racers headed out and immediately set some very fast lap times with JP and Bennett dipping into the 2:06s, and five more cars within the next second and a half.
A green flag saw the entire field cleanly launch with Bennett jumping JP from the outside front row, and Bill Shawhan moving up two rows by turn 2. Zanotto's stylish ultimate tanning machine jumped from 9th to 5th by the exit of turn 6, also taking advantage of 1st lap mayhem in Thunderhill's twisty eastern loop. Both Ben Winter and Andy Chittum fell back, but ended up in an epic battle side by side with Chittum on the outside of T8, 9, 10, and 11, finally making the pass stick going into T14.
Meanwhile, ahead in the mid-pack, Zanotto kept up the attack on Shawhan Senior, moving ahead to 4th while JP moved ahead of Bennett, with Nick Thiemann just behind in 3rd, ready to pick up the pieces of any mistakes.
Unfortunately, pushing to take advantage, Thiemann spun in 6T, doing a full snap 180 in the lovely soft springtime greenery. A verdant green burnout put Nick back in 7th, looking to make up lost time.
While JP slowly pulled away from Bennett, Chittum managed to catch back up to the Senior Shawhan-Zanotto battle, and
zipped by both cars up the inside of T1. Fresh from the fields, Thiemann made it back up to 4th by the end of the race, setting the 2nd fastest lap of the race.
Unfortunately Thiemann and Chittum's cars both went over post-race dyno limits, each by less than a single horsepower, and were sent to the back of the field for Sunday.
Sunday Race 1 (Qualifying)
Exercising their right to creative control, NASA officials inverted the top 8 grid positions for the Sunday race, which put Tony Domenici on pole, with Ben Winter outside front, Team Shawhan and Zanotto row 2, and JP and Bennett row 3. After running to and fro most of the morning with a dodgy axle that was replaced with the group's help, Team Shawhan substituted in Micheal Shawhan, former series champion to add spice to the lineup.
At the drop of the green flag, Shawhan Junior did indeed get an amazing start, and took the lead from the 2nd row by the time the field rounded T1. Winter slid in behind, getting ahead of Dominici, while JP slotted into 4th. Flying high and barely lifting for the bypass, JP slid inside of Dominici at T6, and set off after Shawhan and Winter.
Meanwhile, from the back of the grid, Thiemann motored through the field, reaching P6 by the end of the 1st lap, with the midfield just out of reach. JP also made it around Winter, and his battle with Shawhan was on.
With the #52 Shawhan car still equipped with the legacy suspension rather than the newer Ground Control suspension, both drivers had advantages in different parts of the track, overlapping in some areas, and pulling away in others.
Finally, late in the race, Shawhan got a slight advantage in lapped traffic, and was able to make a gap stick ahead of JP to the end of the race.
Mid-field, Thiemann arrived just as Bennett was making a neat outside pass on Winter, and was able to take advantage of his lost momentum to get into 5th. Catching Bennett through the east course, he just about threw it away in T6 again, but this time hung on and set after the Zanotto - Bennett train. Also aggressively not giving up, Winter joined in, and a cavalcade of mayhem ensued while all 4 cars traded position nearly every lap in and out of lapped traffic, until Chittum finally caught up on the last lap and made it 5 cars passing over the line all within a few tenths of each other.
Sunday Race 2
For the final race of the weekend, Team Shawhan bowed out with mechanical issues, and JP started from the back, putting Bennett and Thiemann on the front row, with Zanotto and Winter on the second. Chittum and Dominici made up the third row.
At the drop of the flag, Bennett got away fastest, and a solid train, Thiemann, Zanotto, Winter, and Chittum formed up behind him. Shortly, JP caught up behind Chittum, and joined in the fun. Several laps later, making a late move up the inside of 10, JP passed Chittum, making his move on Winter in the same place a lap later, then attacking Zanotto's ultimate tanning machine a few laps after that into T1. At the same time, Chittum got inside Winter in T1, and the entire train started to re-shuffle.
JP and Thieman took off into the sunset, separated by a gap, while Chittum made his way by Zanotto, then finally catching Bennett and taking advantage of lapped traffic to move into 3rd with just a few laps to go.
The Norcal Spec e30 Circus will return May 18th and 19th at Sonoma Raceway. Follow us here for all the latest news and excitement!