A few short years ago I would have been in disbelief if someone were to tell me that I would lead a team across the country to compete in a professional sportscar race. Until recently a trip like this had only been a distant dream.
We covered 4,885 miles, nine states, three time zones, two trips to ‘In-N-Out Burger’ and one lost debit card over ten days. We climbed to over 9,000 feet towing 14,000 pounds behind a borrowed old truck with 328,000 miles on the odometer! We diagnosed several check engine lights, changed one fuel filter, and fortunately, never had a flat tire. Wow, that is a lot of numbers to digest…
My last update was sent after we had arrived in Monterey, or Seaside, California to be more specific. These beautiful ocean side towns are picturesque, and almost fairy-tale like in a sense. The weather is hard to beat, the locals are friendly, and the food is great. We stayed in a three bedroom two bath house that I found on Air BnB, that might have been the best part of the trip! On Tuesday we also spent some time on the beach!
Since my last update a lot has transgressed. Wednesday, Oct. 5th we loaded in at the race track. We unloaded the car, pit box, and set up our tents. After unloading Evan got the setup pad squared away, we took some measurements, and made some adjustments on the car before the early morning session on Thursday.
Thursday was the promoter test day, meaning two 40 minute sessions on track. In our first session the brakes felt as though they almost did not work! After a handful of laps I pulled into the pits complaining about how awful the brakes felt; little did I know this would be an issue we struggled to sort out for the rest of the weekend. We found that the bleed screw on the left front brake caliper had worked itself loose. Brake fluid was spraying out onto the brake rotor, and covering the inside of the beautiful Fikse Aro wheel. No wonder the brakes felt bad! Thanks to Honda Motorsports Alabama we had two new StopTech, Honda Performance Development brake calipers and we were ready to roll for the afternoon session. To my dismay the spongey brake pedal feeling persisted, and I came away from the session near the back of the pack, and with little confidence in the car.
Friday consisted of Official Practice, and a ten minute qualifying session. That morning the brake pedal still required at least 50% of its travel before any braking force was felt whatsoever, so we knew there was an issue. Thanks to our friends Josh and Matt with Honda Motorsports Alabama we decided to bleed the ABS module, and then do a compete fluid flush and bleed the calipers. It certainly helped, we managed to qualify in 13th position out of 23 cars. Not exactly what we were hoping for, but we knew that our front-wheel-drive high horsepower Accord was no match for the lighter more nimble cars at Laguna Seca. The Mazda Mx-5, the Porsche Cayman, and the slightly heavier yet thoroughly developed BMW 235i R would have the advantage on the tight course at Laguna. Pouring over MoTec data Friday night and utilizing in-car video paired with our APEX Pro Digital Driving Coach yielded increased confidence for me, and excitement for Saturday’s race.
Saturday was a great day all around. We were able to get some much needed sleep (the race was our only time on track for the day and it started at noon!), and had time to go to the local Honda dealer to borrow a diagnostics tool so we could continue attempts to remedy our braking issues. Thanks Val Strough Honda!
Saturday’s race went very well for us. Not only did I begin to come to grips with the track, and really push the car, but it became a battle of attrition. A combination of pace improvement and full-course yellows put us solidly in the top ten just past the half-way point of the race. I settled into seventh position behind another Honda Accord. Maintaining a solid pace behind the Accord I began formulating a plan to make a pass, then I saw the driver in front drop a wheel at the exit of turn 6. I knew that would be my opportunity. The black and light blue Accord ahead of me seemed to be able to gap me through turns 2-4, but I was strong in turns 5 and 6. I was able to get pretty close, and then it happened. The driver of the Accord drove into turn 6 too fast and ran off the exit, giving me a my opportunity to get past. I was able to hold off the other Accord after passing, as well as a hard-charging and much faster Cayman, to bring home our best result of the season! Sixth place, and the second Honda Accord was a great result for our team. With an average age of twenty-one we are far less experienced than our competitors, and with the exception of maybe one or two teams we work on a smaller budget as well. It was very satisfying to know that we had improved our car and overselves greatly over the season. A 6th place finish at a track that did not suit our car was a very strong result!
Sunday brought race two, where we started 10th based on our times from Saturday’s race. Again it was clear the Accord’s struggled compared to the other cars for ultimate pace at Laguna, but we knew that if we stayed out of trouble we would get a good result. Sunday’s race was a standing start, which did not go as well as I had hoped, but I still managed to get two positions by the time we exited turn three. A car ran wide on the exit of three giving us another position, and then a little later that lap, going into the famous corkscrew an over-zealous Porsche plastered the side of the lone Nissan 370z and they both spun. I had to slow to avoid the incident, but managed to pick up two more positions, and then lose one immediately following the incident. Unsurprisingly we went to a full-course yellow. I had managed my way up to 6th place from 10th on the opening lap after running in 5th briefly.
A long green flag run proceeded following the conclusion of the full-course yellow, and I settled in to a rhythm. It was clear that we had the car for 6th place, easily gapping the more suited BMW 235i R’s behind. I began to work through the slower TCA and TCB car traffic, and my gap on the BMW’s. Traffic management is huge at Laguna, and for the most part I had nailed it. The only time I lost in traffic was exiting turn nine nearing the final ten minutes of the forty minute race. The BMW behind me had been much faster in turn 2 and 11 (as the other Accord had been on Saturday, it’s not a coincidence…) all race, but I was faster through 9 and 10, and by 11 had a large enough gap that he was not close. The one lap that I mismanaged traffic it was different. The BMW had closed his gap to a half second or so after I lost some time in traffic where our car was strong, turn 9 and 10. He must have seen an opportunity knowing that he was faster through 11, and darted to the inside in the braking zone. I recognized he was there, and sacrificed the apex of the corner to give him some racing room. I am unsure of exactly what went through his head, but he seemed to momentarily forget where the brake pedal was and used the left rear part of my car to slow down. He nailed me right when my hands had dialed in the most steering lock, meaning I was just along for the ride! I now know that he just made a mistake, which happens. Luckily our car has only minor body damage, but i hope that driver learns from his mistake!
I ended up beached in the gravel trap at the exit 11 as I awaited a tow truck to pull me out. I could see the team standing on the pit wall, watching in disbelief. We were in position for our second top 6 of the weekend, and with another full-course yellow could have made a run at the top 5. Yet, another driver’s mistake had taken us out, putting us several lap downs and out of contention. The BMW was reprimanded for avoidable contact, and had to serve a drive-though penalty.
Although this was an anti-climactic end to an otherwise great weekend, I think everything happens for a reason! In this case, when the race airs on CBS sports we should get some good TV time (albeit sitting stationary off-track)! If you are a partner and have not seen your logo on CBS Sports yet this season, this is your opportunity!
CBS Sports airs Touring Car rounds 11 and 12 from Laguna Seca:
Sunday October 23 at 3:00PM ET, 2:00PM CT
Overall we had an amazing weekend at a truly beautiful facility. I’m saddened that the Touring Cars will not be returning next year, but I won’t miss six total days of driving to get there.
A massive thanks goes out to our partners, without your support this season the opportunity to compete at this level would not exist. We now have a car built that is eligible and competitive for next year. Thanks to our team and partners we are developing the Accord into a formidable challenger for 2017! I look forward to touching base with each of our partners individually over the next month or so to get feedback and ideas for 2017!