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It's been about two months since my race at Road America and I was getting antsy to get behind the wheel of the Contour. Luckily, the time off gave the guys at Three Sheets Racing to go over the car and assess what was broken or what might break in the near future to build a solid race car for this weekend. This being my second race of the summer I wasn't as nervous going into it but every bit as excited as I had been in April. Comparing the two tracks, BIR is much more like a go-kart track in that there are a lot of tight, technical corners and not many straight-aways which would seem to favor light, agile cars that can maintain momentum while turning, whereas Road America has many long straights and fewer tight corners, favoring cars with power over those with cornering capabilities.
Unfortunately, it turned out that our car was far better suited to Road America. At BIR, we struggled to keep up with many of cars that we would have easily been able to pass on the straights at Road America. That didn't stop us from having fun though! A bad weekend of racing is still more fun than a good weekend of doing just about anything else!
We arrived at BIR on Friday evening to go through registration, tech inspection, and setting up our pit box next to the track. Everything went off more or less without a hitch, although one salty tech inspector apparently had it out for us, saying that he had been stewing on our car since Road America, wondering how he could give us penalty laps. He ended up giving us 5 penalty laps for our very tired stock SVT Contour suspension that has covered over 160,000 miles because he thought it was still an upgrade over the stock, base model Contour's shocks. Although we were bummed, we didn't let the outcome of tech inspection get us down too much.
After cracking a few beers, some of the team split off from the group to walk the track in preparation for the race the next day.
After our track walk, our team split up to check into our hotels and find dinner with varying degrees of success. We did eventually grab a bite to eat and managed to get at least a little bit of sleep before the race the next morning.
We were up early on Saturday to get to the track and set up a few last minute things like our TraqMate and some GoPro cameras as well as changing tires and checking the oil. This ended up taking longer than expected and we were a bit late getting onto the track but managed to get a warm-up lap or two in before our car was picked at random to start the race.
Despite the relatively small field of 24 cars, there was plenty of very close racing action to be seen! Turn 12 was especially fun because it is one of the tightest corners on the track and it's after a short straight so the cars tend to get bunched up there. This makes for some exciting incidents with cars going off the track or coming very close to making contact with each other!
After shooting for awhile, I headed back to the pits to see if anything was going on and managed to catch the Tow Mater Dodge Dakota coming in for fuel, as well as a ceremonial passing-around of cheese balls. Our car also came in much earlier than expected. As it got warmer out on the track, one of our drivers wasn't feeling so well and had to come in early.
After a quick driver and tire change, we got back out there and kept plugging away.
After a few more pit stops, it was my turn to hit the track. Suited up and ready to go, I snaked my way into the car and took off. For a number of teams, this was their first year of the race and quite a few of the other cars were having issues that were being addressed in the pits. This left me with a fair amount of clear track to get a feel for the car as well as the track.
Unfortunately, my run didn't go as well as I'd hoped. It was late in the day and I had been pushing the tires a bit harder than I should have, first locking up a wheel while braking for Turn 3, and then later losing control at Turn 2 and going off track and into a small pond before making my way back onto the track. Black-flagged and feeling defeated, I eased the car back into the pits and handed the car over to a team mate to finish out the race.
We finished in a respectable 7th place for the day, hoping to improve on Sunday. After the race finish, the CHUMPCAR staff had ice-cold beer waiting for all of us.
That evening, we all went to a local restaurant near the track for a great dinner and to talk about the day's events and strategize for the next day's race. We retired to our hotel rooms early, excited for what Sunday's race would bring.
At 7am on the next morning, we arrived at the track to swap tires and check the brake and power steering fluid. We decided not to bother with the TraqMate data logger and made sure to get the car to pit lane early this time. The driver's meeting was quick and before we knew it, we were out racing again!
Unfortunately, several of the teams we'd raced with on Saturday couldn't fix their cars in time to start Sunday's race, however, there were also a couple of teams that didn't make the starting grid on Saturday but were able to join us on Sunday. As always, there was plenty of great racing!
With the race winding down, I made my way back to the pits to watch the end of the race. We were currently in 8th behind the #22 BMW that was on the same lap as us with about 10 laps to catch him so I knew it would be pretty close. As I looked out on the track from pit wall, I'd see the gray BMW streak by and then shortly thereafter, I'd see our Contour come shooting by, chasing the carrot at the end of the stick. On the next lap, the BMW would go by again with our Contour just a little closer. Another lap, a little closer, again and again until I saw our car go by first! There was no trophy for 7th place, no prize money on the line, but the fact that we were able to catch up to, and pass, this BMW after almost 7 hours of racing felt really, really good. A few laps later, we took the checkered flag in 7th place, chasing down another BMW despite that car being many, many laps ahead of us.
All in all, it was a great weekend with a few ups and downs. I think the whole team was a little disappointed that we didn't do better than 7th place, especially when we knew how fast the Contour could be when driven smoothly. Unfortunately this just isn't the right track for the Contour to shine on but it gives us something to work for in the future. Everyone had fun and the car made it back in one piece so that in itself is a victory.
My friends from The AutoMotorPlex put together a great CHUMPCAR team, calling themselves "The Speed Doctors". They did an incredible job this weekend, finishing 2nd on Saturday and they won outright on Sunday! They're great guys who really only get out to a race or two each season so I'm glad they did as well as they did this weekend.
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