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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Lots of cross-posting here. I apologize, but I wanted to get a wide audience.

We had another NASA SE-R cup race this weekend. This was my second race, and the 4th race weekend of the series. This one was a lot of fun. Cut to Willow Springs International Raceway, AKA, 'The Fastest Road in the West'.

As you may or may not know, Team Kickback (Tom Paule driving, Mike Kojima advising) has dominated the series so far, taking every race win of the year. Things were due to change. The field was down a bit this weekend, with Jarred Holtein off in Japan to film a new movie, and the Jim/Sheening NX predisposed to driving school duties so Sheening can finally join the series and show the rest of us what good driving looks like. The SR class was therefore limited to Tom Paule, Naji Dahi, me and Phil Usher (co-drivers), and John Almazon, aka Hybrid John for you old-timers, piloting his SR-20 powered Sentra E in his first SE-R Cup race.

Friday practise was brutally hot, with strong winds, and nobody turned a particularly impressive lap time. Mike Kojima impressed all in attendance with a lurid off in Willow's high speed Turn 9, then proceeded to bring the car into the pits and collapse from dehydration. The desert claimed its first victim. Saturday morning warmup was all Naji, and he streaked out to a 4 second lead over Tom, followed by John and Phil bringing up the rear (doing quite well in his first time at the track and only his third time out in an SE-R). As usual, the unlimited SRX class cars were significantly slower than the SR car, although Andris ruled Willow's long straights with his mighty 'Powered by Hotshot' turbo SE-R. Tom was a bit sullen after warmup, saying, "I wasn't pushing real hard, but I don't think I've got 4 seconds in me". Naji's joy was cut short as he hit a rock on course and punctured his radiator. It looked as though another promising weekend would be cut short for Naji. He and his brother Jude scrambled to get the radiator fixed in time, and just managed to get out on track for two qualifying laps. It was enough, as Naji knocked Tom off pole and put himself in an excellent position to win the race. John had a solid qualifying performance, while Phil only got two laps into the session before the primary-to-secondary bolts loosened up and the secondary promptly dropped off the header. Oops. I meant to check those before the race.

The race itself was quite uneventful. Phil made a fantastic start, gaining 11 places in the first lap. Unfortunately, Saturday was brutally hot, and after about 3 laps at speed, the car started to overheat. Knowing I had to drive the car on Sunday, Phil backed off, and had to let John past. After that, it was simply a matter of avoiding overheating the car and bringing it back in one piece, which he did a beautiful job of. Naji ran a great race, running clean and up front the whole time. Tom closed the gap towards the end of the race, but couldn't really threaten Naji for the win. The win was a costly one for Naji, though, as he put a real hurting on a brand new set of Kuhmos to pull it off. It appears that the Kuhmos can't handle the sustained high speeds in high heat for prolonged periods. Or Naji is just abusive on tires.

Sunday was my turn to drive the car. I built speed very slowly in the morning warmup, starting slow and building speed as I went. The car was very very good. The Ground Control Advance Design suspension worked great. I found myself having to force myself to go through corners faster, as I couldn't believe the cornering speeds the car was capable of. Willow Springs is a high speed track and the car really seemed to love the high speed sweeping turns, although some more power would have been very nice. Sunday was much cooler than Saturday, and I was feeling good about my chances since Phil had to back out of it so much due to the overheating. John busted and axle and had some motor mount problems on Saturday, and didn't run in the morning warmup. Times showed Naji out in front by a comfortable 2.1s margin, with me only .1s behind Tom. I was getting excited.... looked like we might be in for some racing.

Alas, it was not to be so good for me. Tom picked the pace way up in qualifying, cutting nearly 2s off his best time in the morning warmup. I was only able to improve another .2s. Naji again put his car on poll. John barely missed qualifying but was set for the race. The real surprise was Jeff Naeyeart putting his underpowered but well-prepped SRX car .2 seconds ahead of me in the field. This was a great showing for Jeff, a real improvement over any of his showings so far. Andris unfortunately couldn't race on Sunday after having a rock go through his windshield on Saturday.

The start of the race was fun. The SE-R Cup cars seem to start really really well, and can get a good jump on the Pro-7's and CRX's we are usually running with. I passed a couple of cars on the start, and was feeling good about my chances. Jeff just got away from me, but the car felt really good. I was trying most of the turns in a higher gear, following Tom's recommendation, and was hoping the car wouldn't overheat today. At the start of the second lap, all things went to hell. John got a good draft on me on the front straight, and I let him go by down the inside. He then passed a Celica on the inside going into 1, and the Celica didn't see him. John didn't pull off the clean pass, and the Celica turned into him. It was right in front of me. There was hard contact, and the Celica spun sideways right in my line. I hit the brakes, and went to the outside, but the Celica rolled backwards and I saw no way to avoid contact. It was an incredibly eerie feeling, how it happened so fast yet in slow motion at the same time. I said 'screw it' and went for the dirt. Turn 1 is a FAST turn, so I went pretty far off, and it took me some time to clear the ditch and get back on track. The only two cars that qualified behind me got around me. Great, now I'm in last place. I quickly ran down the GTi Cup car (VERY low power) and the Pro-7 that got around me, and then reeled in John, who was able to keep going after the accident. Once he saw me in his mirrors, he put his foot down, and we had a great nose-to-tail fight for the rest of the race. I could catch John in the turns, but the car started overheating, and I was short-shifting at 6100 RPM to avoid overheating. I'd pull him in for the turns, and then he'd pull me down the straight. It was great fun, and the field was thin enough that we had the track pretty much to ourselves the rest of the race. John did a great job keeping everything under control and was able to hold me off for third place. Unfortunately, he was DQ'D'd from the race for the contact. I think that it was a tough incident to call one way or another, but John handled it with a lot of professionalism, and my hat's off to him. He'll be fun to race with in the future!

Tom and Naji had an incredible last-lap battle for the lead, and Naji just held Tom off for the win. Luis Molina has it on video, and damn was it good racing. Those guys looked like they had some fun!

Overall, it was a GREAT weekend. The car held up well despite the overheating, and was a blast to drive. Our car is 115 lbs heavier than John's car, and we're the heaviest car in the series. Once I can get the weight down, I really think we're going to be able to compete at the front. I'm looking forward to next months race at Buttonwillow!
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