November 7-9: A mid-pack view of the NASA Western State Championship 944 Spec race weekend.
Anytime you get to compete in a championship event your heart rate rises in anticipation, double the excitement if your first time is at a home track. Daybreak over the San Rafael bridge, Sonoma Raceway revealed her blind crests for the inaugural NASA Western State Championships. Had to start early and sunlight’s first rays radiated brightly off a setting moon as everyone prepped for the first session of the day. Drivers from California, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, and as far away as Illinois would be joining NorCal's local racer contingent.
Thursday's pre-race testing brought an inauspicious start to the weekend: Jim Richmond’s car coming off a tow truck, front left wheel shrugged into the wheelwell. Before Richmond was out of his driver’s suit, Jim Hicks, Ron Dale and others were rolling up their sleeves to get dirty and keep the 512 car on track for Friday’s sessions. Driving Concepts Racing School instructor, Carl Mc Ginn had a saying, paraphrased: "Your driving is your reputation." 944 Spec has a reputation: We come together for each other. The early diagnosis was a broken spindle and the group got Richmond’s wheels turning before sunset. Dan Piña’s reputation was growing, traveling all the way from Chicago with a second place from the Eastern Championship event, but he was swapping computers. His crew was working hard to get things right.
Our race director Tim Comeau summed it up proudly: “It shouldn't be about the car, it should be about how you drive it." Comeau wanted legal, compliant cars, zero contact reports and for everyone to have fun.
A 4-way tie for pole position. This single, amazing event sums up the inaugural East Coast Championships in 944 Spec.The week of racing included strong competition up and down the field, with no less than 5 different drivers leading the pack during the championship races.
In typical 944 Spec fashion, driving coaching and sharing speed tips abounded in the paddock. Gary Barton, a second year driver who would go on to podium, had this to say:
This is my second Nationals Event and I can say with certainty that the 4 days’ worth of driver education with this group of racers both on and off track surpasses any other race weekend or driving school I've attended, bar none.
Dan Pina also summed up the weekend well:
The entire week was a great reminder of why I joined 944 Spec to begin with. From the Chicken shack guys hospitality, to the entire group jumping in to help get Neals car back in the race, the group parade and pictures, extremely nice neighbors and just good fun TOUGH racing. Such a blast!
Round 5 of NASA’s Midwest and Great Lakes 944 Spec championships took place at the world famous Road America on August 1-3. The draft on this track’s long straights makes for close racing and frequent position changes, and this three race weekend did not disappoint. Drinks and dinner at the historical Siebkens Resort and the chance to share the track with the professional Pirelli GT3 Cup series also made for a memorable event.
Neal Agran earned the pole, followed by Gary Barton, Shannon McCue, Shane Patza (in his rookie debut), Ken Frey, Brad Raum, Sudhir Chhikara, Peter Nystrom, and Michael Cooper. At the flag, Agran got the jump and was able to slip away as Barton and McCue exchanged 2nd multiple times on the first lap. As Barton built a gap on McCue after reclaiming second, a 5-way battle for 4th emerged as the race to watch. Chhikara eventually took control of the scrum in lap five, moving from 7th to 4th and eventually building a small lead on Patza in 5th. Immediately behind, Frey and Nystrom fought tooth and nail to the end, with Frey earning 6th in a drag race to the line. Cooper and Raum rounded out the field.
An abbreviated qualifying session shuffled the field for Race 2, setting up a fantastic battle. Agran again secured the pole in a flyer lap, followed by Barton, Cooper, Patza, Chhikara, Nystrom, Raum, McCue, and Frey. Agran and Barton formed a breakaway two car train for the first several laps, but the race to watch was the four-way battle for 3rd between Cooper, Chhikara, Patza, and McCue. Each eventually held the position as they jockeyed in a four car train over the first half of the race – twice in the case of Cooper. McCue made the critical move four laps from the end, shifting from 5th to 3rd in a single lap while Patza fell back to 6th with an off course excursion. In the closing minutes, Patza, benefiting from data coaching throughout the weekend, clicked off the second fastest lap of the weekend to regain the tail of the fight for 3rd and set up a sprint to the finish.
At the line, Agran set a new lap record and took the win over Barton while the four-way battle for 3rd culminated in a drag race. McCue held off Chhikara for the position by 0.2 seconds with Patza then snaring 5th from Cooper by a mere 2.5 feet at the line (0.015 seconds) after getting the run out of turn 14. Within sight were Raum, Frey, and Nystrom running nearly identical laps.
The late race on a three race weekend is always a great battle for those who stay to the end of the day, and Race 3 was no exception. Agran volunteered to start at the rear, leaving Barton on the pole followed by Chhikara, Patza, Cooper, Raum, and Agran. At the flag, Barton and Chhikara made a clean getaway while Patza, Cooper, and Agran made their way through turns and 1 and 3 two-wide. Agran emerged onto the back straight with a run that allowed him to suck up on Chhikara in the draft and pass for second under braking to turn 5. As the race progressed, Agran eventually assumed the lead from Barton under braking for turn 12, after which the two formed a two car train until Agran broke free working through Spec Iron traffic. The battle for 3rd was a replay of prior hostilities, with Patza putting together consistent laps and edging away from the nose to tail Chhikara and Cooper. At the line, Agran took the win over Barton, followed by Patza (in his first podium!). Cooper out-dragged Chhikara to the finish by tenths, with Raum looming only 2 seconds behind.
Besides having an outstanding time, Midwest and Great Lakes 944 Spec drivers took home over $1400 in TOYO and HAWK contingency dollars this weekend. A special thanks is due to Jim and Kelby Hartman of Pine Tree Motorsports, who again offered technical support to all competitors during the event.
Round 6 will take place at Autobahn Country Club on September 6-7, following the NASA Eastern States Championship race at Road Atlanta on August 31. If you’ve read this far and you’re not racing with us… why not? We’d love to have you out to an event and give you a ride, let you take a test drive, and get you involved. We believe 944 Spec is the best way to get racing fast and to get faster. Take us up on the offer to try it and find out!!
Neal Agran NASA 944 Spec Midwest Region Series Director
July 26-27 2014, Laguna Seca Raceway
Written by A. U. B. I. E.
Tuesday, 29 July 2014 23:25
California. When you think of California you might think of the sandy beaches of Los Angeles. You might think of the tech monkeys in Silicon Valley. You might think of the bottle of wine on your table from Napa Valley. But no, this is Monterey: The Historics, Pebble Beach and Laguna Seca raceway, home of NASA's Northern California/Southern California crossover event. Drivers came from Arizona, Nevada, and our fine Golden State. New friends were made and past acquaintances renewed for a race around an old dry lagoon.
We were expecting a little more temperate weather than what greeted us on Friday as we dropped off the cars and settled in for the weekend. Saturday would remain at elevated temperatures in the 80s, the occasional breeze to take the edge off. It wasn't high desert heat, or a smothering central valley blanket but our warmup session was already hot, seemed like it may have been sapping some performance from the engines as most of the times felt a second or two off our practice pace last year.
I'd just gotten my car back from some extensive body work and a few minor tweaks, wanted to get a feel for a couple laps before I got aggressive. Brake markers and shift points were all jumbled in my head, much as our 944s were mixed in with a group of Spec E30 BMWs. I caught a few E30s tossing their cars into the dirt, especially around turn 6 and 9. Turn 6 is a high-speed kink into an uphill. To get it right gets you a great pull up-slope into the legendary corkscrew. To get it wrong at best leaves you bogging, a duck on a pond for your fellow racer to hunt down. At worst you'll be in the barrier at 70mph. Turn 9 is a big downhill sweeper that you have to get the line right for unless you want understeer and a sand trap to beach you. I mentioned old acquaintances: One of the E30s in our run-group was piloted by our friend, Charlie Buzzetti, turning up in a Roundel coat instead of the accustomed shield of Stuttgart. At least we got to crack jokes at the driver's meeting.
Qualifying: Jim Hicks, fresh off a great run at Sonoma Raceway and utilizing the age-old power of "lots of seat time" would take pole. He was nearly a half second up on Ken Myers. I ran third, less than a tenth behind, and on the desirable inside grid position. Steve Lewis, fourth, Thomas Atteberry fifth and Jim Richmond, sixth. Less than two seconds covered the top seven qualifiers. The field rounded out with John Niedernhofer, Mary Riddel, Everett Delano, Simon Peck and Jason Jane. The pace was picking up.
Saturday Race: It was almost over before it began. Several minutes after we gridded, officials told us that "it would be a while." Gary Walton, PRC's chief steward, informed me that Jerry Kunzman's brand new tow truck had gotten stuck at the top of the corkscrew while trying to pull someone out. Nearly ten minutes of track time elapsed. I felt like an overcooked burrito as the sun beat on us, engines idle, no air conditioning, three layers of fireproof clothing, helmet, gloves, the works.
Finally the flags came down and they waved us onto the track. The pace car was trying to make up for lost time and took an aggressive trot out the gate, which spread the field. I took my spot behind Jim Hicks, Steve next to me. Jim did a slight gas/brake and I lifted right when the green flag flew. It dropped slightly early (what did I say about making up for lost time?). I felt the entire field open its mandibles to chew me up and hammered the throttle in a belated attempt to stay alive. Steve slipped neatly in front of me and Jim Richmond pulled his rear quarter panel past my door. We were three wide as the heavy braking zone of Turn 2 fast approached, Steve held off my inside dive on entry while making his car wide enough mid-corner to lure Jim Richmond into the marbles. Steve flashed some oppo right in front of us to seal the deal at the exit. Showoff.
Jim Richmond recovered enough to give me a run inside of 3. I gave room at the apex, then was able to pull ahead into Turn 4, a quick right-hander. I got a brief run on Steve up the hill, but a missed shift and overrev made me think better of it and I backed out, trying to keep my momentum up so I could see what was going on behind me.
What was going on was an epic battle between Thomas Atteberry, Jim Richmond and Simon Peck. I was gapping them steadily while Hicks, Myers and Lewis were gapping me. It wouldn't last.
Simon Peck had broken free. I had a good gap and tried to manage it. Mis-shift here, coasting too much there, a little wide somewhere else. Small mistakes ate into my lap times. Lap by lap number 52 was steadily eating into my comfort zone. I was holding myself on track and everything felt good mechanically, but the pace wasn't coming together, I was hoping for the checkers to drop. What was once a comfortable margin was now a white bumper with blue and red stripes filling my rearview. Simon Peck put together a good run on me through the infield and was able to make a pass stick at the corkscrew. We came around turn 11. White flag: One lap remaining. If only.
Simon Peck went defensive into 2 and I had a glimpse of a look into 3 but it would have been total banzai. On the final turn of the final lap we both blew 11, Simon locked up a touch and my timing was not quite right mid corner. That was that.
Saturday finish: The podium would be: Jim Hicks, Ken Myers, and Steve Lewis. Simon Peck served notice with the fastest time of the race, 1:58 and change, during a storming drive from second-to-last through the field.
Sunday: Mother Nature had it in her mind to mess with us. Sharp winds and steady rain came down through early morning. California's in a drought so we'll take what we can get, but really? Rain in July? The forecast said there was a 1% chance of precipitation. We should've all bought lottery tickets. And it had to rain again right before our session started. I was all prepped and I could hear the cars in the run-group before us throttle up, pull off, and throttle down as drops fell on them and track conditions varied. It didn't make for much more than speckled Tarmac but it added some tension.
Jim Hicks would set the fastest time of the weekend thus far with a 1:48.279. I somehow managed second fastest with a 1:50 while mostly working brake and turn-in timing in several specific areas that had vexed me yesterday. The rest of the field fell in line doing course checks, installation laps and running to conditions.
Qualifying: All this set up a gonzo qualifying session. Jim Hicks was a broken record with pole. The next seven drivers were all within a second! Tomas Atteberry was the story, in the two hole at 1:49 flat. Ken Myers had a spin at the top of the corkscrew mid session, but he kept the car going and safety vehicles remained off-track. The rest of us were able to stay out of trouble. The grid: 1:48.564 Jim Hicks 1:49.037 Thomas Atteberry 1:49.107 Steven Lewis 1:49.279 Simon Peck 1:49.535 Auburn Schmidt 1:49.576 Ken Myers 1:49.927 Jim Richmond 1:49.950 Everett Delano 1:50.719 John Niedernhofer 1:52.158 Mary Riddel 1:58.671 Jason Jane
Sunday Race: Nothing is like the start of a race with a decent field. Kept my eyes on the flag this time and improved my start even though I still wouldn't call it good. Held position and we were three wide again into Turn 2, this time myself on the inside, Simon Peck outside, making a Tom Atteberry sandwich. We ran: Jim Hicks, Steve Lewis, Simon Peck, Auburn Schmidt and Ken Myers through the infield.
Simon Peck carried a run uphill and pulled out for a look on Steve Lewis into 6. I reacted with an early lift, cautious of contact or spins at a corner I had history with. It gave Myers just enough momentum to slip even with me outside of the corkscrew and he took it down the crest while Lewis held Peck tail to bumper through 9, 10 and 11.
On the next lap Peck had a look on Lewis into 2. Lewis went deep and held it wide, door to door on the exit of 2 but took a gap into 3. Myers made his presence felt and went bumper to bumper on Peck through 4 and 5. I got a brief run on Myers but couldn't get enough speed to attempt a pass. Peck had a good run out of the corkscrew and opened some space on us as we streamed downhill, again on Lewis' tail through 10 and 11. I was right at Myers into 11 but he got a better exit and opened some space on the main straight. Meanwhile Hicks was off into the sunset.
Steve Lewis was again very wide around 2, but held his momentum and maintained position. Simon Peck stayed on his bumper, and made a daring show again into 6, claiming the apex in a risky corner. Steve Lewis relented, costing him precious momentum and three positions on the upslope, Peck, Myers and myself able to slip by.
Ken Myers was able to stay with Simon Peck, I was able to hang onto Myers' bumper and Lewis was all over me. Myers had a look at Peck into 5 but couldn't draw any overlap. We continued nose to tail for a few laps, Lewis taking a couple looks at me into 2 on consecutive circuits. Lewis got a run on me out of 4 and made it stick through 5, so I was resigned to front row witness of another fantastic four-way battle.
Resetting the order: Jim Hicks in the distance. Simon Peck from Ken Myers from Steve Lewis from Myself. Jim Richmond hung around in the rearview, tailed by Atteberry, Niedernhofer, and Delano.
Fatigue started setting in once we eclipsed mid-race. Steve Lewis dropped his wheels full rally style but held it out of 4. Myers, pressing for a run upslope sent up a cloud of dust on the outside of 6, also holding position. Couple of E30s weren’t so lucky, one of them beaching itself at track out of Turn 2, a dangerous place and an impact zone. Everyone had to check up from waving yellows. This brought Jim Hicks back into view, but he was managing his gap well. We’d have to contend with safety vehicles on-track at the exit of 2 for the remainder of the session.
I spotted a red car moving slow as we approached the corkscrew and thought that maybe Jim Hicks had a problem, but Jason Jane had a spin inside Turn 6 and was letting traffic through as he got going again. Too many red cars! I locked up into 11 with no one to blame but myself. It was enough to overheat my tires and the car never felt right after that, while the leaders pulled away.
I tried dialing her back but she just wouldn’t turn or slow down any more. Had a big moment into 2 but held on and saved the car right in front of Safety, which I’m sure didn’t look good. Even worse, it ate most of my gap to Richmond, who thought he might get me on a late mistake. Coasted into braking zones, even throttle through mid-corner and steady pedal work. I nursed the car around as best I could even though it had nothing left, eked out just enough pace to pass checkers with some gap.
The top five drivers were all into the 1:48s.
Finishing: Jim Hicks Simon Peck Ken Myers Steven Lewis Auburn Schmidt Jim Richmond Thomas Atteberry John Niedernhofer Everett Delano Mary Riddel Jason Jane
And everyone could drive their car onto their trailer.
Unfortunately there were some rulings by the stewards that changed the finishing order. See this forum post for details:
Round 3 and 4 of the NASA Midwest 944 Spec season took place June 20-22 at Gingerman Raceway and July 12-13 at Blackhawk Farms. The weather was exceptional both weekends, as were the camaraderie and racing.
Gingerman – June
A 10 driver lineup contested the Gingerman weekend after most participated in a full day test and tune on Friday. As expected, the racing was close. Neal Agran prevailed in the first two races of the weekend, while Dan Pina held off a charging Gary Barton and Agran in the third. The best battles of the weekend were Tara Brewster and Ken Frey’s fight for 7th in race #1, Barton nipping Pina for 2nd in race #2, and a three way battle for the lead in race #3 following a fantastic inverted start (see video below).
At the conclusion of the weekend, Tara Brewster and Michael Cooper shed their orange “rookie plates” and earned non-provisional licenses. Both were rewarded with a customary ice water shower.
Blackhawk Farms, a beloved track for many drivers, made a return to the series schedule for the first time in four years July 12-13. For most it was a new course, which made for exciting racing and good use of data based and video coaching. Agran ultimately prevailed in both races, but only barely over Barton, who had the fastest race lap of the weekend and was largely in control of the pace. Sam Grant cinched 3rd in both races, fighting off Pina and Cooper, who consistently ran at the front and qualified in the top 3 twice. The best battles of the weekend were a fight for second between Pina and Barton (diced side by side through an amazing 7 consecutive corners) and an intense 12 lap battle for the lead between Agran and Barton in the Sunday qualifying race. The only losers were a couple of CV joints, which did not take kindly to the curb hoping required to eke out the last tenths at Blackhawk.
Midwest 944 Spec drivers took home over $2700 in TOYO and HAWK contingency dollars in June and July. A special thanks is due to Jim and Kelby Hartman of Pine Tree Motorsports, who again offered technical support to all competitors during both events.
The battle for the Midwest season championship podium remains wide open. Agran leads with 965 points, followed by Pina at 878 and Barton at 855. Sudhir Chhikara has been on the podium twice in the last two weekends, and several of the 18 drivers contesting the series are now mixing in the lead pack – so any combination of results in possible in the final three weekends, which are crossover events with Great Lakes.
If you’ve read this far and you’re not racing with us… why not? We’d love to have you out to an event and give you a ride, let you take a test drive, and get you involved. We believe 944 Spec is the best way to get racing fast and to get faster. Take us up on the offer to try it and find out!!
Neal Agran NASA 944 Spec Midwest Region Series Director