2001 Ft Myers ProSolo

Tuesday night, Feb 13, we decide we can't wait for the morning to get on the road. So we pack up the rig, drive the car onto the trailer, and set off for Florida for the first race of the 2001 season, the Ft Myers Pro Solo.

2184 km and 23 hours on the road later, we roll onto the concrete in Ft Myers. We're early, but this being the first real test of a heavily reworked race car, I want to make some test pulls and do a lot of inspections before we run the car in anger. Last year, an atmospheric conditions-sensitive boost controller overboosted and started spitting off hoses at a critical part of the race. That will not happen again this year.

I had recently figured out how to get the laptop to log data from the ProEFI engine controller, and with a tankful of 106 octane race gas and a functioning O2 sensor I was looking forward to getting the fuel maps properly tuned. They had gotten fairly close last season, but doing so was driving the stock injectors static on the top end. In went a set of 550's, and while I had made a rough cut at scaling the fuel map for the larger injectors, I wanted to get some fine tuning in. We started doing 2cd gear passes from 2000 to redline, reading the logs recorded from the computer, and then changing the maps accordingly. The first passes showed the car was a little lean - not outrageously so, as had been the case at Nationals, but enough to warrant richening the car up somewhat. Furthermore, the EGTs at redline were off the scale, and all that heat had to be running counter to future piston solidity.

The car responded well to changes from 2000 to 5500, but from that point onward the mixture would tail progressively leaner, and it didn't seem to respond to my incremental changes in injector open times - so I made a HUGE change. By all rights, the engine should have been swimming, drowning in fuel, but the next pass showed the air/fuel reading reported by the O2 sensor as completely unchanged. Furthermore, I had picked up a miss at 6600 RPM. It could be driven through, but from 6600 to 7000 it would snap and bang as if the rev limiter was on.

This was not good. I pulled the plugs, fully expecting to find four bleached-white, aluminum-speckled lumps, but they looked fine. A little leaner than I'd like to see perhaps, but they showed good color and no signs of detonation. The knock sensor too was not showing any signs of knock. I reverted back to an earlier fuel map (to avoid driving the injectors static) and the miss persisted. High EGTs, a slight miss (that could be driven through) an O2 sensor reporting a leanout, plugs that were reading more-or-less stoch, a slight (but noticeable) loss of power at 6000... sounds like I have a fuel pressure problem. The quick assumption - was the line to the regulator attached? - turned out to be OK, and a visual inspection of the rest of the engine turned up nothing obvious. Without a fuel pressure gauge, I was going to get nowhere chasing this down, so I decided to live with it. We spend most of our time between 4000 and 5500 anyway, and the car was fine there.

Friday night, and practice starts. It has become my routine to do one start on each side early on, and then let everybody else try and match me. The set the finish lights 60' off the start line, drop the tree, and you sprint through the lights. But this year, I had a surprise - the 2-step on the MSD was hooked up, and I was going to use it. I was absolutely terrified that I was about to blow the driveline out the bottom of the car on the first launch, but it turned out that the start line was a little less grippy than was feared. 5500 RPM against the limiter, 12 PSI of boost at the line, drop the clutch with a bang, and suddenly you're doing 30 MPH with no sensation of acceleration at all. The logger showed 1.3 G at launch, and we had the rest of the field by over half a second at the 60' mark. The only other car that even got close was a F125 shifter kart.

Time to walk course. This year's course was much more technical, and combined a fairly fast front side with a nasty decreasing-radius turnaround and a very busy series of slaloms and offsets on the return. The key was going to be getting through the frontside as fast as possible, and then not screwing up on the return.

Kent Rafferty, last years' winner in his Supra, didn't show, but Karl was back (in a borrowed Firebird, his Camaro having eaten a pinion gear) What's more, we got the very talented Aaron Miller (in a Neon with a 2.4 swapped in) and the infamous Mark Allen in a supercharged Type R. Some of you will remember that name - Mark is the gentleman who protested my car in my very first pro race in '98. We have a history, Mark and I. I had been afraid that Street Modified was going to attract a better calibre of driver than last year, and it seems I was right. If I didn't go a LOT faster than I had last season, I'd be running mid-pack at best.

Saturday AM, first runs. We've got 7 drivers all told (2 no-shows) and I'm running last because of my high door number. With the odd number of cars, I'm running by myself, for my first racing runs since October. The car feels GREAT! The back end is ever-so-slightly loose, and I can drift it at will in the offsets, then plant it and go to the next one. I make a few mistakes here and there as I feel out the car and the course, but nothing really serious and I hit no cones. And as it turns out, I'm in the lead too, and by a fair margin.

For the afternoon heat, we're rearranged in running order, so I'm on "pole" and Mark is in second, so he lines up next to me. I make a little mistake on the way down, and when I get to the turnaround I realize that I can see the other car as we go through the turn, as the turn crosses over itself like half an "8" instead of being a simple "U". Mark is dead even with me. Instant red mist mode! I try like hell to blast through the return section, but this section is about patience, not aggression, and I get punished for it, getting behind in the slalom and hosing the run. The next 2 runs are similar - lots of thrashing, no results to show for it. On the last run, I find a way to make it through the front section without lifting, but I'm so amazed that I made it though without spinning or hitting anything that I blow the entrance to the turnaround. Mark matches me on the left, and runs a little faster on the right - I'm in second. More alarmingly, Aaron (who has been mowing down cones like a combine) has run faster yet - by over a second! - than Mark, but has coned them away.

I spend the evening reviewing data, going over the course in my head, and coming up with a plan of attack for the next day.

Sunday AM, Mark and I line up. I execute my new plan reasonably well, and am rewarded by ripping seven tenths or so a side off my time, putting me back in the lead. The next run I get behind on the slalom, and is a throwaway, but the last run is a real screamer, being a full 6 tenths faster yet (and right there with Aaron's fast raw time) but I clip a cone in the process. Mark doesn't improve. Aaron, the weekend conekiller, puts down a clean fast one on the right, and a clean slow one on the left. I do the math in my head, and we're tied - it'll come down to the hundredths place. Shades of last season!

We're in Impound when the results are announced - I've won! The monkey leaps off my back and scampers into the bushes. They don't announce second and third place, so I trot off to the time board to see just how narrowly I've dodged the bullet. Something is wrong - they have Aaron in third, and he should be second. Further inspection reveals they didn't record any of his left side runs, so I send him off to timing and scoring to fix the problem. When he returns, he has bad news: I'm in second, by a whopping 0.032.

The monkey runs out of the bushes and hops on my back again.

Even so, it's hard to be all that upset - this is the best I have ever driven, and the car is FAST. We beat ESP by a solid margin, and our overall performance is approaching the level I feel it should be at. Things are coming together.

In the Challenge, I dispatch the first two drivers without much fanfare, and so make it to the quarter finals. There I run up against my good friend Marcus Meridith in his evil ESP Mustang. It's hilarious watching his light drop, then mine, but I still beat him to the first turn. :) After the first half, I've got him by a couple of tenths, and I decide to try a little strategy: Marcus is a notorious conehound, and with me ahead of him, he's going to be trying even harder - he's certain to punt a cone or two. All I have to do is NOT hit anything, and I should be OK. So I back it down a touch to stay clean, and a miracle happens. Marcus doesn't hit a cone! He runs a couple of tenths faster than my previous run, and I'm eliminated.

So much for strategy. :P

Overall, a great weekend. It sucks golfballs through garden hose that the win was stolen from us by such a tiny margin, but it was very good to run as fast as we did. I had been terrified that we'd be outclassed when the real talent came to play, but we ran right there with them, and did really well in the Challenge too.

Thanks to all those who came out to watch. I wish I could have been a more active host, but race weekends are really hectic and I don't get much time to be as sociable as I'd like to be. I hope you enjoyed watching the event.