June Sprints 2019

I am just home from the 64th running of the June Sprints at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. This 4-mile track is one of the best facilities in North America and always seems to provide for good racing and large fields. This year was no exception (14 P1 cars entered) except for the fact that we ended up running in the mid-pack instead of the front pack. For the first time we failed to make the podium in either race over the weekend. The improved and redone Elan DP02s have rejuvenated the P1 class and are now the predominant car. The level of driver competition has improved markedly as additional quality drivers have joined the fun. So the success of P1 as a class is on the rise and that is a good thing. I just wish we weren’t so handicapped at this particular venue where power and a smaller frontal area mean so much to the outcome. We tried several different things over the course of the weekend to improve our situation and some worked and some didn’t. Since the Runoffs are coming back here in 2020, we’ve got a lot of incentive to see what we can do to make things better.

I captured some great video and post the best of it here:

Q2

Race 1 start and being bumped off track

Race 2

After Q1, we were in a disappointing 8th on the grid. In Q2, we finally improved to 4th. In race 1, we got a great start moving up to 3rd but then it was all over a few corners later when I got hit in turn 3 and knocked off track. The bodywork was damaged enough that we had to retire. The driver, Brian French, came up to me after the race and apologized and fortunately we were able to fix the damage and return for race 2 on Sunday. Timing and scoring took the best lap time from both qualifying sessions and race 1 for establishing the final grid starting positions for race 2. I was demoted one spot to 5th as another driver turned a better lap in race 1. Race 2 got off to a clean start for everyone and broke off into 2 great battles for the remainder of the race; the battle among the top 3 for the podium spots and the battle for 5th through 8th from my group. Chip Romer, who started behind me in a DP02, got himself into 4th after one lap and ran by himself for the rest of the race and missed all the fun.

The level of driving quality in my battle group was excellent. The driver I battled the most with was Jean-Luc Liverato in a DP02 as he led me for most of the time. I was able to stay close in his draft and eventually got around him twice but he was able to get me back each time. The first time was because I caught a slower car at the high speed kink and had to get out of the throttle. The second time was because he just powered by me down the long back straight and I fought back in the brake zone, but he was able to do a brilliant over and under move and just squeak by with only inches to spare. His handling started to get a bit dicey at the very end and but for me having to get off the gas coming on the front straight to avoid contact, I would have got him in the run up the hill to the checkered flag. Darryl Shoff who I raced a lot last year at the Sprints was closing in and finished right behind me also in a DP02. Darryl had worked his way around John McAleer’s DP02 who followed me early on. Both races were won by Jason Miller, the hometown favorite, who runs the very unique 6 cylinder two stroke Kohler powered machine that is really fast at this track. They seemed to have solved some of the reliability issues that have haunted this car for a long time, so he looks to be a big factor at this year’s Runoffs at VIR.

As a sidebar to all of this, I had a couple of good chats with Brian French (he’s the fellow who hit me Saturday) and we became friends and he introduced me to James, his son, who is a rising star in sports car racing running LMP2 in Europe and LMP3 in the USA. Brian is no slouch either as he finished 2nd on Saturday… as I declined to protest… and 3rd on Sunday. Brian was a real gentlemen under trying circumstances and I hope he races with us more. His car is a one-off beautifully prepared car. Enjoy the videos.

Challenges Ahead in 2019

The year is about 1/3 done and at this point we’ve competed in all 3 cars (Norma, FE2, & Chevron) and I can comment on the challenges ahead for the rest of the season. I’m running the open wheel FE2 in mostly regional competition to try and get a great chassis set-up figured out for the new Hoosier tire we now run. This tire has more grip than the old spec tire so track records are being set every time out. If all goes well, we plan to give the Runoffs another try in this car. Since the FE2 and the Norma usually run together in the same run group, we have to run the cars on alternate weekends.

We’ve already made the long trek back to Virginia International Raceway for the spring Super Tour race that acted as a big preview of the Runoffs for P1. The pole sitter at the Sonoma Runoffs, Todd Slusher, got the big Sunday win in the feature race. We made the podium in 3rd but have a lot of work to do to get up to speed and be a big factor. The loss of horsepower is really evident on a very high speed track like VIR or Road America, the site of the 2020 Runoffs. Our large frontal area, the largest of all P1 cars, works against top speed on the straights giving us a big disadvantage to overcome. We will be trying various changes throughout the season to see if we can do better. Check out the VIR race 2 highlights here.

To that end, we tried some new things on our Norma at the Buttonwillow Super Tour race weekend and had some success although competition was limited and none of our top competitors were there. Nonetheless, we did sweep the weekend for fastest lap every time out, plus pole position and two wins, as well as lowering our all-time track record that we set 4 years ago. Check out the highlight videos here:

Q2 fastest laps : Race 2 start : Race 2 all-time track record

Links to post race interviews for Buttonwillow Super Tour are here:

https://www.scca.com/videos/2036580 : https://www.scca.com/videos/2036599

We got accepted to run in the Monterey Historic Races in August in our vintage Chevron B36 so we’re pretty excited about that. This past weekend we ran it at Thunderhill in the spring CSRG event. The car is challenging to drive consistently fast as you have to be smooth, precise, and spot on when it comes to shifting the Hewland tranny with heel-toe braking/blipping required. Running a whole session without making any mistakes (ie. grinding the gears) is a big deal. Check out a 10 lap race run with good pace throughout and no missed shifts here. The sound the car puts out is amazing.

Come From Behind Runoffs Victory Makes History

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We accomplished our dream goal of winning the NASA national championship in SU and now the SCCA Runoffs national championship in P1 with the same car in the same year. The Runoffs battle was hard fought and included a whole cast of racers vying to beat us and prove Sports Car magazine wrong in picking us to win.

The initial main challenger was (as predicted), Todd Slusher, who raced me hard earlier this year at the Sonoma Majors race. In the very first qualifying session, Todd and I ran the three fastest laps of the entire event with only 54/1000’s of a second between us on our best lap—1:27.714 vs. 1:27.768, respectively—but I had another one at 1:27.902 which turned out to be a telling sign as our consistency in running hot laps was better than the competition come race day. As it turned out neither of us nor anyone else would ever duplicate these times again in Q2 or Q3 as the track was extra special that Tuesday morning in Q1. So Todd was on pole with me lined up next to him in 2nd for the race start. See my fastest two laps in Q1 here.

Sunday morning on race day turned out to be the coolest (about 50 degrees) and most overcast day of the week and the track was stone cold exiting the grid. Immediately, I could tell getting heat into the tires to achieve ultimate grip would take some time. I scrubbed the tires aggressively on the out lap and did about 20 burnouts trying to get the tires to come in as best I could. Check it out here.

The race start was clean and I got shuffled back to 4th as tire choices came very much into play. Some tires respond better than others to cold conditions and come up to full grip quicker but then may fall off near the end. Our Avon tires take longer to reach their optimum grip but then retain that peak ability better than other brands. Still, I didn’t quite plan on being 4th, but then suddenly at the start of lap 2, Todd Slusher lost control and spun immediately ahead of me. Fortunately, we missed hitting him but lost almost 4 more seconds to the new leader, Perry Richardson, due to having to slow way down. But first we had to chase down the 2nd place car driven by Parker Nicklin. Check out the wheel-to-wheel action for 2nd here.

After clearing Parker, Jason told me on the radio the leader had an 8 second lead and I just needed to dig deep and go for it. Immediately, we started closing on the leader at about 1 second per lap and after several laps the leader finally came back into our view after initially being so far ahead I couldn’t even see him. Once you can see the other car, it makes it a whole lot easier to continue to make up ground. Finally on lap 18, with just 2 more laps to go, I caught and passed Perry and then hung on for the win. See the winning pass here.

This victory was made all the sweeter after dominating all the sessions at the Indy Runoffs last year but failing to win the race and then getting penalized for our fast times with a loss of horsepower and added weight to try and slow us down this year. To win at our home track in front of friends, family, and Team Cranbrook folks was really special. Having to come back from 4th to 1st under green flag conditions felt like total vindication that we could really perform under pressure when the national championship was on the line. By most accounts, the P1 race was the best one of the entire event.

We also competed at the Runoffs in FE2. We qualified 5th and ended up finishing 6th after running most of the race in 4th. I had a really good battle with Paul Schneider that he eventually won by overtaking me for 4th. In my effort to try and get back around Paul after he passed me, I spun and lost another place. Next year, this spec car gets a new tire to replace the miserable one we had to race on this year.

Finally, I have to thank Jason Hohmann, owner of Bulldog Motorsport LLC, and Chris Garcia, his lead mechanic, for preparing both of my cars in such magnificent fashion. Bulldog has gained quite the reputation for having its cars be reliable and at the front of the pack. My stable mate, Tim Day Jr., also won the P2 title in a Bulldog prepared car. This is truly a team sport and Bulldog’s meticulous efforts play a BIG part in our successes.

Great race shot by Robert Carpenter

Great race shot by Robert Carpenter

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Quite a feeling seeing that on the score board.

Quite a feeling seeing that on the score board.

Here’s a link to the official SCCA press release on the P1 victory:

https://www.scca.com/articles/2010600-persistence-earns-devenport-win-in-prototype-1-at-runoffs

Here’s a link to the excellent race day live stream footage:

https://www.scca.com/videos/2035597

National Championship Season-First Win with NASA, Two To Go with SCCA

The racing season is winding down and that means the national championship races are on the line with two different sanctioning bodies. For the first time ever, we elected to compete in the Super Unlimited class at the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) national championship races. This year’s event was held in Austin Texas at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) on the Formula One track. Super Unlimited (SU) means there really are no rules and you can run whatever you want. So it was a chance for us to run our Norma in her fully developed state without any artificial restrictions. There were several noteworthy competitors entered as well including the defending champions—Davidson Racing and their pro driver Brian Frisselle. Their race car is an older Norma with a very powerful BMW 6 cylinder engine making about 450 h.p. versus our 285 h.p. Their car was built specifically for SU.

Jason actually had a lot of experience with this car as he crewed on it several times in the 25 hours of Thunderhill including the year it won the overall title. We knew the Davidson car would be faster in a straight line but felt we could make up for this with our superior braking and cornering speeds, so the stage was set for a good battle. The real battle, though, turned out to be among the mechanics.

The Davidson car only turned one lap in the first qualifying session and then the motor blew up. We successfully ran both qualifying sessions, turning the fastest laps, and putting the car on pole. In the qualifying race on Saturday, we ran in a rain storm for almost 5 laps before coming in early due to the dangerous conditions (watch treacherous rain video here). Meanwhile, the Davidson car was still being worked on.

In drying the car out from the rain storm, we found out the front oil seal had failed and needed replacement. Jason and his assistant Cody (Chris was back at the shop preparing cars), tore the car apart and 8 hours later it was back together and ready for the championship race on Sunday morning.

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Amazingly, the Davidson car finally made the grid and started only a few rows behind me. I was starting in 5th place after coming in early in the rain race. By the end of lap 1, the Davidson car was in 2nd and I was in 3rd and we had a double yellow caution period. After the pace car pulled back in, the race was on as both of us got around the 1st place car and we both set our fastest lap of the race on lap 8 in the 2:07 range and then the Davidson car just quit running on lap 9. And that was that. Officially, Jimmy Casey finished less than 2 seconds behind me in a Radical SR8 but we had plenty of speed in reserve if it was needed.

Jason really won that race for me by giving me a car that ran flawlessly the whole time I was there. We both made winning that race a goal for the season—so mission accomplished. Check out the highlight video here.

Here is a link to the official NASA article touting the win: https://drivenasa.cld.bz/NASA-Speed-News-Volume-7-Issue-10-November/44/

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Now all attention goes to trying to make history and win the SCCA Runoffs in Prototype 1 (P1) and be the first team to ever win both sanctioning bodies national championships in the same year in their premier class. In addition, we are competing in Formula Enterprise 2.0 (FE2) for the first time at the Runoffs and hope to do well in that one too.

In fact, Sports Car magazine picked us to win both races. I’ll gladly take that pressure in P1 but FE2 is a different story. I’m doing that class for fun and there are plenty of top drivers capable of winning that one, so we’ll see what happens. Here are the links to the predictions:

http://www.sportscarmag-digital.com/sportscar/october_2018?pg=48#pg48

http://www.sportscarmag-digital.com/sportscar/october_2018?pg=42#pg42

Sonoma Majors--Runoffs Preview?

Well we sure hope it's a preview as we swept the weekend by putting both cars on pole and winning all the races.  We ran both the Norma in P1 and the formula enterprise car in FE2.  This was the first time in about 7 years that I attempted to do the double...meaning driving two different race cars over the course of the weekend.  With my arthritic neck always being a concern, the physical demands placed on it by all that seat time and high g forces made me a little nervous heading into the weekend.

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Fortunately, my neck held up well and we were able to run all the sessions.  The Prototype 1 field had 11 entries including Todd Slusher who is looking like my strongest challenger.  Todd and I have already had several good battles this year at Portland and most recently at Road America.  This time I edged him out for pole position (see pole lap here) but it turned out to be moot as he got the jump on me at the start of both races.  In race 1, Todd getting the lead early turned against him as he ended up hitting debris on the track that punctured his radiator.  I was right behind him when it happened and watched bits and pieces of fiberglass and metal fly by.  In race 2, we had an epic battle all race long with my margin of victory being less than 8/10ths of a second.  Watch the full race video here.

In FE2, my only competitor was Tom Burt so not sure how we'll stack up at the Runoffs when the fast young guns come to Sonoma.  Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Road America June Sprints Experience

I turned 63 on May 23rd and so did Road America (RA) with the 63rd running of the June Sprints this past weekend.  The Sprints are second only to the Runoffs in being the most prestigious event of the year.  RA is a 4 mile super fast track with 3 long straights where you reach terminal velocity of +/- 150 mph on each section.  Thus power and frontal area of the car are extremely relevant in just how fast you go.  These are areas where my car is at a big disadvantage and really suffers now from all the penalty rule changes.  I was routinely 5-10 mph down on all my main competitors in top speed. Many times I had a big run on them entering the straights and easily in their tow yet they could easily defend at the end.  I learned this early on in the test day so my only strategy was to drive smart and wait patiently all week end long and qualify as high up as I could.  Then hope for a mistake or opportunity to come my way through being consistent.

The level of competition was the best of the year to date, a total of 10 cars, and 5 of them qualified within 1.5 seconds of the best pole time of 2:04.2.  I was starting from the 3rd position and 7 tenths back at 2:04.9.  My fastest lap came in Q2 although only a few hundredths faster than my best time in Q1..  That consistency bode well for the races.

The quality of driving was pretty good by everyone so that we had no double yellow periods in any of our sessions.  That's remarkable in itself.  Because of that, I captured lots of good front facing video and have decided to post it all as a way for someone to actually be a passenger for the weekend...so to speak.  Check out the various videos yourself.  Qualifying always produces the fastest laps so if your looking for the best a man can do--check those videos out.  Also, explore the intensity of the slow dance on the pace lap scrubbing tires.  Then there's always the  entertaining green flag start and opening laps of the race.  Add the daring passes that become pivotal to the outcome and you have a lot of excitement.  See them all (below) or watch a highlight reel here.

Bottom line is we got a bit of a lucky win on Saturday when the leader broke a CV joint on the last lap and we were in second place and able to capitalize on the mechanical failure.  On Sunday, we finished 3rd and under great pressure from the following car.  The only unfortunate thing that happened was on Sunday we had a great three car battle going for the lead with me in second and lapped traffic ruined it with a competitor ignoring blue waving flags for over one lap that allowed the leader to get away.  Otherwise, the quality of driving put on display by our run group was remarkably good.  While we were at the event, it was announced that the 2020 Runoffs will be held at RA.  We are definitely looking forward to that even though for now it appears we are running with too much handicap for that track.

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Here's the link to the Saturday post race interview:  https://www.scca.com/videos/2035062

Here's the link to the SCCA press release for Saturday's race: https://www.scca.com/articles/2009802-june-sprints-surprises-sat-at-road-america-hoosier-super-tour

Norma's Back in Business in P1

New rule compliant engine being installed

New rule compliant engine being installed

After 6 months of hand wringing and trying to figure out what to do since the infamous Club Racing Board (CRB) ruined our racing plans for the Norma and obsoleted our existing engines with a rule change unique to us, we finally made it back on track for the Portland Super Tour weekend.  We now have to run with 50 more pounds of penalty weight and a dumbed down engine that when combined with the hit from last year is now 25-30 horsepower less than when we won the national championship in 2016.

Despite this handicap (we were the slowest P1 car in a straight line), we won the Sunday feature race over 5 other P1 entries.  Our run group had about 35 cars in it spread over 6 classes.  Unfortunately, a big wreck caused the last half of the race to be run behind the pace car so it was not a very satisfying way to win.  Nonetheless, we did have the fastest race lap on Sunday and showed good pace all weekend long.  Our Q1 effort was just .047 seconds off pole at a 1.09:964.  This time was 1.1 seconds slower than our best qualifying time last year so the CRB's balance of performance adjustment definitely affected us in a big way.

In Saturday's race, I was having a good battle with the pole sitter, Todd Slusher, who races an Elan DP02 P1 car.  Then on lap 14, my throttle stuck wide open at 140 mph going down the back straight away.  Check out what happens next: here.

A clamp broke and got caught up in the throttle linkage causing the issue.  Prior to that we had a real good contest going on.  I always say it just takes one other competitive car to make for a good race.  See the battle: here.

Check out the Sunday post race interview link:  https://www.scca.com/videos/2034915

Maiden Outing in 1976 Chevron B36 Goes Well

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We successfully ran the Chevron B36 for the first time at the CSRG Spring Races at Thunderhill Raceway this past weekend.  Last year, Jason and I flew to Northern England to inspect the newly restored car and decided that it was indeed a good car to buy.  Getting the car to Bulldog Motorsport's shop in Modesto and then having Jason and Chris go through it more thoroughly and build me a custom bead seat and head surround and then find an opening in the schedule all took time.  Finally, it all came together and it showed in the on track results (2nd and 1st) in the first two qualifying races.  It was not totally trouble free as I struggled early on to get the feel for downshift blipping and heel-toeing just right.  Then the car started pulling hard to the right under braking and we realized one of the disc brake pistons was stuck on the left front.  Ultimately, we decided not to run the 3rd feature race as the brake issue was not fixable at the track.  But, all in all, it was a great outing and the sound emitting from the motor is intoxicating both in and out of the car.  Check out a lap around Thunderhill and crank up the volume:  Race Video

The Debut of FE2 is a Hit

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Last weekend, at Buttonwillow Raceway near Bakersfield, CA, the Formula Enterprise 2.0 race car made its debut on the west coast with two cars just being converted to the new specification motor the night before leaving for the track.  I was driving one and Tom Burt was driving the other and these are only the 3rd and 4th conversions completed in the whole country.  The brainchild behind this generation 2 effort, Mike Davies of SCCA Enterprises, came out to help sort things out and gather needed data to continue to refine the new engine ECU mapping.

The new Mazda MZR 2.0 liter engine makes about 10% more horsepower than the engine it replaces and it is now about 185 hp. in total.  This difference doesn't seem like much but it translated into about 2 to 3 seconds a lap faster than the old 2.3 liter motor.  Plus it sounds great and revs higher and thus pulls far longer than the old one.  In addition, we gained a new 'no lift' upshift capability that makes driving the car more fun.  Next on the agenda is having an 'auto blipper' downshift mode that will really bring the car into the modern era and add to its drivability and fun quotient.

Tom and I battled all weekend long and he really got up to speed quickly.  I developed some fuel delivery problems late in practice that set me back a bit and we missed the first qualifying effort.  Finally in Q2 we got up to speed but never quite as fast as Tom so Tom was always one starting spot ahead in both races.  In each race, I got a better start than Tom and immediately went past him...but also in each race he chased me down and eventually got back by me.  The race to the finish line was a close one each time--less than half a second between us-- but I was able to prevail and got both wins.  Check out the highlight videos here:  Race 1 vid     Race 2 vid

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New Year, New Rules Battle, What Else is New?

Well the infamous Club Racing Board (CRB) acted swiftly and punishingly and changed the rules which effectively bans me from P1 competition unless I am willing to spend a lot of time and money to modify my Norma again.  This is really getting old that every year starts off with a big rules battle.  They are writing rules that only really affect me at the end of the day.  I guess I should take it as the ultimate compliment that since our racing program has been so successful, other drivers think they have to get the rules changed to slow us down.

In anticipation of being hassled again by the CRB, Jason and I have added some other race cars to the fleet and plan to run them as well this year.  Our primary emphasis will be in running a Formula Enterprise (FE) which is an open wheel formula style race car.  I raced one of these for several years back when I started.  What's making it more compelling this year is that a big upgrade is in the works that swaps out both the transmission and engine and rebrands the car from FE to FE2.  Jason and I are looking forward to the conversion and developing the FE2 into a very fun affordable (and rentable) race car to drive.  In addition, a new race series has been created just for FE and FE2 and it is called GP4.

First races of the season for GP4 in my FE at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX

First races of the season for GP4 in my FE at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX

Another race car we plan to run is a vintage sports racer from 1976, a Chevron B36.  It is a beautiful race car from the golden era and runs a 2 liter Hart 420R race engine.  In essence, it is a 40 year old version of my Norma.  This car will be raced in a few vintage events and, hopefully, the Monterey Historic Reunion event which is one of the best vintage events in the world.  Jason and I have been busy getting the Chevron ready, including making a custom bead seat and head surround.  This car was just freshly restored by the previous owner but we'll need to get it all sorted out and running just right.

1976 Chevron B36

1976 Chevron B36

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