Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Trackin' round the Rockies!


Now there’s no need to plan for the trip back to Boulder - after nearly five years of commuting to Omaha, Nebraska, and then Simi Valley, California, the wheel has finally stopped spinning and we are able to treat our house in Boulder truly as our home. Yes, the garages are full as we went about consolidating what was spread across multiple locations, and while I had done my best to join Margo as often as I could at her townhome in Simi Valley, neither of us ever felt really at home there.

As for the blue Vette, number 116, we finally were able to enjoy it once again. In the last post, “We need (more) new pumps!” the team at Rocky Mountain Competitive Research (RMCR) determined that our fuel pump was on its last legs and simply couldn’t keep up as revs rose, so a replacement pump was ordered and this time it would be the fuel pump normally reserved for the C6 Z06. When I was advised of its arrival I took the Vette once more to Colorado Springs. What a difference!

So, where do we stand today? Let’s turn to the charts. The first chart at the top of this page (click on any chart for a bigger picture) is what transpired at A&A Corvette in the summer of 2008 when the Vortech supercharger was installed. Stock figures for the C6 Vette coupe were 348.23 hp with 338.07 lb-ft of torque. All figures are measured at the rear wheels and are adjusted for sea level. With the supercharger installed, and an initial dyno tune performed by Andy, the new figures were 497.66 hp with 466.16 lb-ft of torque.

However, this was just the start of the journey. Following the power steering pump failure during the summer of last year, and as part of the rebuild that followed, we upgraded the intercooler (to be safe) and replaced the stock muffler system with one from a Z06 where a butterfly valve was added that could be manually flipped to give the inside two pipes the capacity for unrestricted flow.


The second chart here is of the dyno figures Andy generated following the repairs and much to our surprise, the results were pretty impressive. A jump to 545.12 hp and 490 l-/ft of torque.

The final chart below was produced just as we arrived at RMCR where Mark had been running the Vette on the dyno following the change of fuel pump. After we had a run on the dyno that produced figures of 588.43 hp and 510.67 lb-ft of torque, we backed off a little and made the fuel mix a little richer higher up the rev range for the engine’s safety. What this latest chart reveals is that we have pretty much 570 hp and some 500+ lb-ft of torque and where the shape of the torque line tells its own story – this blue Vette will really pull!



Now for a weekend at High Plains Raceway with an open lapping day on the Friday and an opportunity to join our friends at NASA Rocky Mountains for a full day of sessions on the Saturday.

Considerable planning had gone into preparing for the weekend and not everything revolved around the preparation of the Vette. For the occasion we would be joined by our good friends Brian and Jan from Simi Valley, and while I would be driving the Chevrolet, they would be entertaining themselves in the Dodge – once again, a “loaner Viper” from good friends of theirs.

Arriving at the track early Friday morning and bringing with us some 1300+ hp, was quite a treat! The picture below is of the pair, the Viper and the Vette, having spent the night parked in our garage!


Margo would not be joining us; a change in careers prompted by our return to Boulder has her fully committed, time-wise. Furthermore, her last time out was cold and windy and she just wasn’t at peace with the track. We have been asked on several occasions whether we would be continuing with this activity and I was still hopeful that we would. Margo, on the other hand, was less enthusiastic.

When the time came to roll out onto the track for the opening session, Friday, I was determined to give it my best. There were a few moments arising from just being a little rusty, but I was ready for the second session when Brian offered to ride along as a passenger. Brian usually circulates in HPDE 3 and in NASA Southern California events has of late been asked to observe candidates in HPDE 3 that are looking to move to HPDE 4. As I do Hal’s, I value Brian’s judgment very highly.

After 30 minutes circulating the track among the fast group, where racers were fine-tuning their cars for the upcoming weekend, all Brian offered was “drive like that, as consistent and as smooth as you were, and you will easily make it into HPDE 3. You’re ready. There were a few times when I thought your brakes might fade but you managed them well and there were no incidents late in the session.” And the picture below is of the two of us thundering down the main straight with just a glimpse of the back straight at the top of the picture.


It was only a few weeks earlier that my good friend Hal had followed me around the track, as readers may recall, in the post of May 1st, 2011, “Just got in to the Windy City …”. Hal races in the American Iron series with NASA Northern California and as I said, I value his judgment highly, so I was pretty pleased with his observations. “You used all the track, you were changing gears where I thought you should, and consistently with each lap,” Hal had said, “and you used all the track while you were making full use of the rumble-strips!”

I went out on the track for four more sessions, a total of six thirty minute sessions in all, and worked on a couple of different lines through two of the turns – turn 7 “High Plains Drifter” and turn 11 “Bobsled”, and the climb up through the “Ladder to Heaven” – and as these were tough, right-hand uphill turns requiring finding just the right trade-off between traction and retaining momentum, in the Vette, with the power it had, both turns were proving to be a handful!

Inevitably, Saturday morning arrived. In the weeks leading up to the NASA event, there had been a number of email exchanges with all involved at NASA about being approved to drive in HPDE 3, and I was unsure how the process would work, but as the driver meeting wound down I was called me out to join a number of others for a briefing.

As succinctly as possible I was informed of what would be expected, who would be joining us (as passengers, conducting the evaluations) and then letting us know that should we be invited to join HPDE 3 there were already too many entrants and our participation in an HPDE 3 session would be deferred until the next event.

Rushing quickly to the HPDE 1 and 2 briefing, as I needed the wrist-band to go on track, I caught up with the group only as the wrist-bands were being handed out. There had been no time left to catch up on the group’s protocols or to listen in on grid and starting procedures. Where are the passing zones? I asked those around me. Are they opening the front and back straights? Unsure of what I heard in response I left in the belief that for HPDE 1 and 2, both passing zones would be in effect.

With little time to prepare further, I had to grab my helmet and head for pre-grid. Joining the group a little late I already had five or six cars ahead of me, and catching the attention of one of the evaluators I jokingly said that yes, I was sure appreciative of NASA not wanting to judge us on our first session. Nerves were still raging and it was difficult not to be anxious. Finally, rolling onto the track I thought that with all the preparation and coaching I had received over the past couple of months it would be a simple formality before I was driving in HPDE 3!

And then the disaster out of nothing more than a rookie mistake. Would there be a full course yellow, as is typical first time out? Again, no one responded but watching the flags I could tell that yes, there was a full course yellow for the first lap. But as I came out of turn 15, the exit from the Prairie Corkscrew, I could see the green flag waiving, signifying the start of the session. On entering the front straight, I romped on the gas and quickly passed a couple of cars.


Negotiating the next couple of turns easily I entered the long back straight and, an open track ahead of me, I pulled out from the other drivers and passed them all, braking deep into the turn that dropped cars down a short incline. With nothing ahead, I really focused on my line. Yes, I wanted a repeat of yesterday’s consistency. The picture above is of the big Vette rollicking down the Prairie Corkscrew!

Pulling onto the main straight for the end of the first lap under green, I had already caught the tail of the HPDE 1 drivers so I easily rounded a couple of them. Again, on the back straight and now three wide I eased passed a sizeable group and was back into clear track. Pulling quickly through the turns and continuing to build speed, this time I entered the main straight only to see the black flag being waived furiously with 116 being held above it.

“What were you thinking? There’s no passing on the main straight with this group and remember, point-bys? They are mandatory for all drivers in HPDE 1 and 2 and one point-by, one car, and never any three-wide passing, not under any circumstances!” And the condemnation kept on coming. NASA runs 20 minute sessions so all I had time for was a cool-down lap and it was back into the paddock.

Still, there was no let up as each returning student who passed me had their instructor trying their best to educate me further. At least, I think that’s what they were so earnestly conveying; it was hard to tell amid all the ruckus being thrown up!

I attended the download all the same, but slinked back to the wall and kept my head bowed. Oh yes – my car number was called and I was given a true education on the finer points of driving at this level. And for me, the weekend ended with that meeting.

My heart wasn’t in it and as I picked up Joe, my evaluator for HPDE 3, just as the second track session began I was still so angry at myself and just about at anyone else I came across. However, as best as I could I behaved myself and lapped the tracks as a much-humbled HPDE 2 driver.

“You demonstrated situational awareness expected at HPDE 3; you were consistent with each lap; and you lapped at a speed HPDE 3 would require,” Joe informed me, but it will be up to the others to confirm your move up. And of course, as you would surmise at this point, this elevation to the higher group was not granted. “Your lines through turn 7 weren’t consistent, as was your approach to turn 13, the Prairie Corkscrew,” was the consensus followed by the expected “all you need is a little more coaching.”

Never mind that this comment came from the instructor behind me, even at a time when I was explaining to Joe the different lines I had been trying through turn 7 – yes, they weren’t consistent as I was showing him how difficult it was to drive all 700+hp through an uphill sweeper turn without it breaking away!

It was disappointing to end the weekend on this note. I did go out for one more session but not only was my heart not in it, my brain was wondering miles away, so for my own safety as well as that of others around me, I came back into the paddock early. After expressing my feelings to everyone I could find – how could they let anyone onto the track un-briefed as they did; what were they thinking!

After all, looking back through these blog postings, it’s been more than a year since I last drove with NASA and after more than a dozen events in race groups of all capabilities, forgetting about the point-bys was not surprising.

Never would have happened in Southern California on John Matthew’s watch, of that I am sure! But even as ranted and kicked sand high in the air, I really had no one else to blame. The assumptions I made were wrong, and Dave had every right to be critical, but I did recover and I did drive pretty well for my second session, and I will leave it at that.

Margo and I are now looking at how we will end the year. It’s been tough on her with the conditions against her, and a Vette that’s not quite made it into her hands those times she’s been to the track. The expenses this year have mounted to an unsustainable level, so we need to come to terms with that as well.

We pursue this pastime for fun and for Margo it’s likely to be starting close to the bottom once more. Not in terms of driving ability, but in terms of overall enthusiasm It was only a few weeks ago that Fulton Haight, an instructor with NASA SoCal and a winner last year at the Nationals, emailed with the observation “you are right Margo developed a special feel at Willow that should carry her well at other venues as well.”

Next month will be a big test and I hope she will find the peace she needs to settle back into the driver’s seat, as I for one really miss having her trackside on these weekends. Winter will arrive shortly and our ability to turn laps at HPR will be curtailed, but there’s always that one more opportunity and for that, I remain very thankful. Perhaps I do need to take a closer look at my lines through turns 7, 11 and 13 after all!