Race Report for Viking Racing, Formula Car Challenge - Race 9/10. August 25/26, 2012
August 23-26th was the date for the annual Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, where the Formula Car Challenge is a featured series. Also this year the annual Formula Car Challenge Nationals Championships were to be decided this weekend. All together this was by far our biggest race of the season with thousands and thousands of race fans.
This would be the first time I ran the car since the big crash in Portland and it should soon show that it would be a challenging weekend hunting all sorts of car/engine problems. Thursday was a promoter test day and since Turn 7, Turn 9/9a and Turn 11 had been changed for the Indy GP weekend it was important to get some laps under the belt.
Unfortunately the car did not feel right and it turned out that 2/4 bolts holding the rear end of the car together with the tub had stripped in the Portland crash and the car was literally falling apart. It took most of the day to get it fixed and thus I missed most of my sessions.
On top of that the engine was acting out being significantly down on power, intermittently it would completely die, but only exiting narrow right hand corners. On the data we could see that power would drop meaning the ECU would not for the plugs (same as turning ignition off). It turned out that it was the battery shortening itself up against the carbon fiber tub, and were happy and confident that all engine problems were fixed...
I managed to qualify P4 and considering that I only got half the track time of everybody else and both P1/P2 literally both got new engines Friday night P4 was not too bad. Had I had the budget, I should have installed a new engine as well as doing that mid season before a big race is the right thing to do. In qualifying the engine ran reasonable well but still down on power.
Just before we were supposed to be on the grid for the race, my engine started to act up again. We had not touched it since qualifying but out of the blue it started to smoke and ran very rough like it was not firing on all plugs. With my helmet and everything on I ran to the spare parts center picked up new plugs and my mechanic Brent just made it at the last minute before I had to be on the grid.
In the first race I managed to hold on to my 4th spot but only barely as intermittently the car would just lose power and the cars behind me would catch up to me. When the engine acted up I would lose as much as 0.5 seconds out of one corner.
After the race we started to search for more failures on the engine but could not find anything obvious. The Mazda Rotary engines are pretty complex with a lot of valves, actuators and solenoids so we basically changed all of that as well as a few wires here and there.
There were no more warm up sessions so hoping the car was fixed we went out for the second race. I got a good start, held on to my 4th position relatively easy while the leaders started to open a gap. Me engine ran reasonably well beyond not making max power. The gap never got to big as there were both yellow and black flag sessions during crashes further down the rows in the +30 car field.
I could see P2/P3 battling very close and I was convinced it was just a matter of time before they would bang in to each other and sure enough - half way in to the last lap they tangled in a series of reckless moves and I was able to slip by and claim a second place!
Claiming 2nd place in the end in such a challenging and frustrating weekend was fantastic and a huge relief for the whole team. Everybody was ecstatic and with all the times someone has run me off in the past, where I have lost several podium finishes it was great and well-deserved finally to get a break and end up at the podium.
With a 4th and a 2nd place I claimed 3rd place in the National Championship, meaning I was on the trophy twice. The championship leader only made 9th place meaning I caught in on him as well as consolidated my 2nd place in the championship with only 4 races left.
I would like to extend a special thanks to my mechanic Brent for not giving up as well as working very hard for 4 days and nights straight and it was nice to share my award and champagne with him! I would also like to thank my engineer Rick for giving me a great setup (without that I would never have made it with a bad engine on top) and to my drivers coach Steve.
Finally and as usual I would like to thank my sponsors for making this season possible.