Reflecting on any national championship campaign is a year long process full of what-ifs, laughs and (sometimes) tears. 2019 was arguably one of my greatest nationals experiences to date. This was my 11th Solo Nationals, 8th trophy finish, 4th Third Place finish and the 2nd time co-driving with Alex Kang.
If you didn't know already, the SSM RX7 engine failed this summer conceding its contention at the big show. Alex and I were very much looking forward to the wild ride of the fire breathing turbo rotary but when the writing was on the wall we quickly transitioned to #PlanB. Fortunately, in the #garage lay this beautiful #E92 #BMW Lime Rock Park Edition #M3that slots perfectly into F Street class competition. With only one local autocross left before the car needed to depart for Lincoln, I jumped at the opportunity to race with @motorsports_northeast to reacquaint with the car. Before that day, I'd only autocrossed about 10 runs in the car much earlier in the season. Plan B, which was a premeditated contingency, also involved mounting up the fresh set of Bridgestone RE71R tires that were waiting in the garage - a decision which would later prove questionable.
Alex and I would arrive in Lincoln in time for the ProSolo Finale and compete in our respective classes, ES and S1 (not in the M3). After the fun drive in Erik Strelnieks Acura NSX at the ProSolo Finale where I’d finished DFL - not a huge confidence boost - Alex and I jumped into our BMW chariot on the Nationals Test and Tune course. There we dialed up the front sway bar and raised tire pressures until the car felt fast, balanced and ready for the big show.
Day one of competition rolled in with gorgeous sunny weather on the very fun east course. We shared the grid with countless BMW M3s and a few American pony cars, all of which were sporting #V8 power. The competition featured reigning 2018 Champion Jeff Cashmore and Tony Chow and Tom Layton - both of whom placed 1st and 2nd earlier this season at the Fingerlakes National Tour ahead of me in the Lime Rock M3. On my first run I over drove several sweepers finding the visuals for judging the room on corner exit very tricky. Tony in the #84 car set fast time by a considerable margin, 0.8 faster than the second place car and 1.3 ahead of my time. It wasn’t until I was released for my second run behind Tony’s co-driver, #184 Ido Waksman, did I realize they were sole FS car campaigning on the new Yokohama Advan A052. Recalling how earlier that day the leader board for STR showed the entire trophy line up was on the magical Yoks, I had considered in that moment perhaps we’d made the wrong tire selection! Quickly I shook off that thought and inched forward to the starting line focusing on the course. I screamed “LOOK AHEAD!!!” - my regular pre-run mantra - and launched ahead. I had significantly improved my car placement on the second run but sadly the time was negligibly slower than my first pass. I must have underdriven the car. Alex and I did some minor tire pressure changes for final runs but generally left the car alone for the third runs. On the third and final runs, I was able to combine great car placement with speed and aggression, squeaking out another half second improvement, while admittedly leaving some time on the table.
After day one runs were a wrap, I’d convince myself there was more time to be had on Yoks than Stones. The search for new tires began. A short phone call to Tire Rack made it apparent the tire was in short supply. A distress call was released on social media to source a set of magic sticky donuts. Simultaneously, Alex and I cruised paddock identifying most of the Yoks on site noting sizes and quantities. Not long after that, word came through friends on site and social media that Dennis Barrett’s broken RX8 was sitting on Yokohama A052s in the exact same size as the #84/184 M3 and Dennis was willing to part with them. The transaction was consummated first thing Day 2. By 9:30am they were mounted and balance on our competition wheels thanks to the onsite Hoosier Tire service vendor.
Running last heat, we’d spent the better part of the day speculating and second guessing whether we made the right call. The way we saw it, the tire is unlikely to be slower than the Stones and if they were in fact faster, we potentially put ourselves in contention to snipe the championship out from under Chow, should he happen to cone out all three runs (or generally underperform).
At the start of the fifth and final heat, we couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves for bringing the car to grid on the Yoks - our hail mary attempt at a 2019 F Street championship! Now, we just needed to drive fast and hard to make the dream a reality. Alex would be first out of the gate. He quickly and enthusiastically returned to grid shouting the trademark-Alex catch phrase, “These are WAY better!” Feeling confident but inexperienced, I’d underdrive the first few elements on my first run before realizing the Yoks full potential. By second and third runs I dropped 0.7 and 0.5 respectively for a best pass of 66.5. Tony Chow would claim his first national championship in F Street with excellent driving both days and a two day margin of victory of 1.0sec. His day two time posted a 66.2 which was much tighter to my best run and Jeff Cashmore’s 66.4.
By the end of the day Thornes good buddy Chris Mayfield swooped up my Yoks. By 5pm they were sold and on Mayfields car making my car the world record holder for shortest ownership of Yokohama Tires at 7 hours and change. Chris would go on to win the STU championship on them in his E92 M3.
Were the Yoks truly faster or was the Yokohama grip sensation a glorified placebo effect? Who knows, but it was fun to pull off the hail mary attempt and hammer down a fast lap in the hunt day two.
Thank you Alex for all your support, especially when my knee gave out and you made a midnight run to the pharmacy for a brace. Alex is one of the most enthusiastic, positive, energetic, accommodative and fun co-drivers anyone could ask for. Thank you to Robert and Amanda Thornefor helping with the logistics, hospitality & race prep and congrats to you both on your 2019 jackets. Thank you Elena, Max and Vince for always rooting for me and supporting the campaign for the weeks leading up to nationals and for the entire week I disappeared to the middle of the country for this silly race. I love you all! Thanks to Dennis Barrett for letting me poach your tires while your car was injured, I am sorry your STX RX8 nationals campaign ended early. Thanks to the SCCA & The City of Lincoln for hosting all of us coneheads. Thanks Erik Strelsnik for the surreal ProSolo Finale ride - an NSX on Hoosiers. Thanks to all the 2019 F Street competitors for the awesome race and keeping us on our toes. Thanks to all our marketing partners including HGU NYC: A New York Hotel (www.hgunyc.com), Jaxe & Company, Alfa Development, Bridgestone, Hawk Performance & Tire Rack. I will see you all in 2020.
Youtube video of the fastest runs...