Race Report #6 for Viking Racing, Kart #64. Second podium finish in the season
Saturday August 29th was the day for the fifth race in the Jim Russell Northern California Rotax Challenge hosted at Infineon Raceway this time with the Reverse Sprint Track Configuration. This track configuration was new to us. It is probably the most technical as well as physical challenging track in the season and as the Sprint track (same track opposite direction) there are no straights and as a driver you are either braking, accelerating or turning. No time to relax what so ever. The weather in the Wine Country once again showed itself from its best side with clear skies and sun. However it was almost too much of a good thing as the temperature during the day got up to 104’F/40’C, which was almost too much for both driver and motors…!
Because of vacation and travel we had only had 1½ test day prior to the race where most competitors have driven it for years as well as being up there 8-10 times during the last weeks. We felt prepared although not as good as we would have wanted. In order to optimize our learning we had used our data acquisition heavily where we monitor GPS slope (racing line), throttle position sensor, brake pressure sensor as well as GPS speed and engine RPM. By swapping between driver and coach we can then compare data and make corrective actions where needed. By the end of last practice day we felt that we had the optimal lines laid down. Like last time our objective for the day was to break in to a certain time envelope – this time we wanted to break in to the 51 second lap times, improve our times throughout the day and if everything went well fight for podium finishes. Last practice day we put down a 52.78 lap time on old tires.
We started the first session Saturday morning 8.15 am as second group out. The track had grip and because of the warm weather it had not turned cold over night. At old tires we were able to put down a time in the mid 52’s and we were confident we would improve with new tires and a track that would improve as well. We were able to follow and actually catch in on our closest competitors, however at the end of the practice session our engine started to bog down (not responsive to throttle input) out of at least 3 corners costing valuable tenths on each lap, meaning we started to lose time to the closest competitors and could not keep up with their pace.
As we were fighting the engine problem we did not put on new tires for the second practice session as we felt it would be a waste (new tires are fastest after 3-4 laps and then degrade after that). Despite changing different things in the carburetor the problem was still there and partly because of frustration over the engine problem and partly due to lack of track time (practice) we (unconsciously) started to change our racing line and lose focus. By changing our racing lines we would drive outside the rubber track laid down to the asphalt meaning we would have to brake harder to keep the Kart on the track, which again meant lost time due to over slowing and our best time in practice session 2 was 53.02 or half a second slower than our first session. That put us in to a 6th place in the field, which was not really what we came for.
We made more adjustments, mounted new tires and went out for qualifying just behind our closest competitors and tried to keep up with their pace. Due to the same reasons as above as well getting used to the new tires we only did a best time of 52.2 seconds. Although it was the best time we ever did on this track it was not in the 51’s as we wanted and we put down our fastest time at the last lap of the session indicating that we had not taken full advantage of our new tires. Everyone else in the entire field (we are running two classes) put down their fastest laps in their lap #3/4. Something to work on, and our tactics had failed. Anyway we qualified 5th – not a disaster but disappointing as we knew we could have done better.
We started the pre-final behind our closest competitors with a couple of the other class drivers in between. Traditionally in the first four races we have gained positions in the start so our tactics was clear. Gain a few positions, get in the tale of our closest competitors and start right behind them on the grid for the main-final. We accomplished exactly that as we gained two positions going in to corner #1 and were able to keep a reasonable small gap between us and the closest competition. However we were not able to catch them, still fighting the engine problem and we had gone back to racing a bad line and over slowing in to the corners. We finished 5th but both coach and driver were a bit frustrated as we knew we could do better. On the flip side we had a good position for the main-final, as we would be side to side with our closest competition on the grid. We would be on the outside going in to corner #1, but we were confident we could improve on our 5th place.
We had given up on the engine problem for now and agreed to try to ignore it for the main final and just accept that it was how the engine would run today. Instead we spent significant time analyzing data and compare to the earlier practice sessions. It was evident that our line was off in some important corners as well as our speed rolling in to the corners was too low. It is difficult to change driving style in a race because it IS a race after all with competitors etc. but we were confident that we could improve at least a bit.
As we hoped we made a perfect start in the main-final. We passed our closest competitor in the championship going in to corner #1 and we even had the chance to pass one or two Karts more. However learning from the last races we did not try to win the race in the first corner and we pulled in behind the other class driver and focused on being consistent and tighten up our lines. Both to be faster but also to become more difficult to pass. We succeeded in almost ignoring the engine problem (which still cost us tenths of seconds each lap), we got our lines tightened up and we ran all laps without traffic in the 52 seconds during the entire 18 lap race and although our closest competitor was in our tale he never really had the last speed to pass us. None of our closest competitors did below 52 second laps in the main final either, so it was really close. One Kart was disqualified because of using non approved parts in the carburetor meaning we now climbed to 3th position! In the end we had the marginal’s on our side. Last time we were unlucky with an exploded engine and someone else were benefitting from that – that’s the game…
Yet a learning experience where got confirmed that we are very close to the top with the right amount of practice, focus and marginal on our side. We gained on our closest competitor in the championship, we became faster during the day and we ended with a podium finish. Only objective we did not meet was to break in the 51 second lap times. With a perfect running engine we are confident that we would have been there however. We were a bit less aggressive in the starts compared to last race, which also paid off. All in all a challenging day with a great outcome!
Due to travel we will miss the next race, which is already next weekend at the Dixon track close to Sacramento. As we are allowed to subtract two races from the championship ranks we are still on our pace here and we will be ready for the next race September 26th.