Our weekend competing in Redline Time Attack Round 6, Liberty Gran Prix started off about as rough as one could expect. Despite our intentions of fitting our new brake rotors and top hats for the first practice sessions on Friday morning, a miscommunication by our supplier left us without any new brake hardware. “The existing hardware was literally falling apart,” car chief Brian Marsteller stated as he frustratingly tried to remove the scorched bolts from our fire-damaged rotors.
Being 4th of July weekend, having parts rushed was going to be difficult. The best we could do was have parts sent back up to Portland after this weekend, making the possibility for a DNF ever present in all of our minds. I began to peruse the parking lot, searching for any spectator owned STIs that may have been running our same brake setup. Luckily, before things got ugly, the LIC crew came through with a pair of rotors and top hats from a previous package they used to run allowing us to get on track!
Having not run any practice sessions Friday, I took the opportunity to reflect back to my experiences from SubieFest 2009 and used my spare time to walk the track and do my best to become re-acquainted with the “fastest road in the west”. Saturday morning as I walked back to the pit from the driver’s meeting, I was happily surprised to see that Tim and Brian had rotors back on the car and that we would be making our first session.
I took the first few out laps incredibly slowly, we were watching a remarkable amount of smoke billow from the engine bay as the engine burned off the oil soak the car got at Chicago last month. We anticipated some oil burn off as the car got back to temperature for the first time since the fire, but we didn’t expect the extent that we ended up having. Residual oil seemed to pour from every possible orifice of the car; the sub frame, intercooler and radiator, and the frame rails were all spitting oil onto the cars fan assembly. This raised some big question marks as we were all hesitant to disregard a possible oil leak as just residual oil, but as we ran slower laps our indicated oil pressures suggested that we were leak free.
Nevertheless the front of the car and intercooler/radiator assembly was apart for the majority of Saturday morning; a thorough cleaning was in order to try and remove more of the oil that was giving us such trouble. It wasn’t until the late afternoon sessions that we were finally able to put in some hot laps. Despite having not touched our setup since Chicago, the car felt decent. We definitely had something to work with. A high 1.30 lap time in the last session of Saturday moved us into the lead in Street Tire Class, but we all knew the car was green and that there was so much more time left in our chassis.
There was a distinct moment at last year’s SubieFest where I realized where a lap at Willow Springs can be either made or broken- this was the turn 8-9 complex. Remembering the Harman and LIC car just walking away from me as I tried to follow them through this high speed section of the track, made me realize how much better the car now felt. The feel of the car through turns 8 and 9 is so intimate because it is such as high risk/high benefit corner; I found that as a driver I was so in tune with what the car was doing in this complex because I knew the risk of going off and the rewards here for going fast. The AST 5200’s were absolutely, hands down, phenomenal here. Getting off the brakes, the car took an excellent set through 8, and the steady state performance that is so crucial in this portion of the track was amazing. While last year I struggled to maintain speed through this section, I was now making time on most of my competitors through 8 and 9. In comparing data with some other teams, we actually found I was carrying roughly 10mph higher into turn 8 than even some of the mod cars running on R-comps.
With lap times that put us into an early leading position, it was time for us to outline a race strategy that would allow us to lower times in the relatively short amount of practice time we had left. Brian Lock, Brian Marsteller and I made the decision that instead of spending time we didn’t have trying to continue chassis setup; we’d try and improve the setup we already had. We would do this by altering tire pressures. This wouldn’t find us seconds, but that’s not what we needed. By lowering our tire pressures by just a few PSI we kept the balance of our setup, while increasing overall grip- we were rewarded by dropping several tenths of a second, widening the gap even further over our competition.
Moving into the Time Attack, with ambient temps over 100 and track temps of above 140 degrees, the key was to be smooth. Most competitors over drove their cars, dust plumes constantly shot out of turn 9 as drivers would dip wheels as their tires screamed to maintain grip in the blistering heat. We matched our early morning times that afternoon, despite the increase in temps. While it felt like we were constantly behind the eight ball all weekend, it looked like our luck was finally shifting. Coming out of our first qualifying position, we were gridded 1st overall in the street class.
We were eventually bumped to 2nd by a wicked fast 135i that clicked off an impressive sub 1.30 lap times. Regardless, in Street AWD the competition remained incredibly close; the first 4 competitors were separated by less than one second. We’d have to work for this one. Steve Ruiz brought the heat as usual, running just 2/10ths off our pace coming out of the first time attack session. We made a few slight tire pressure changes in anticipation of slightly cooler track temps in the second time attack session, and despite a 4 wheels off excursion coming out of 9 with the accelerator still pegged, we dropped one more tenth. Just 3/10’s of a second separated Ruiz’s StopTech EVO from the STI at the end of the day- a testament to the level of preparation had on both cars.
While the Street AWD victory in the time attack was in the bag for us, the exciting super session still remained. The grid looked full as I glanced over from our pit; Mike Bonanni and I shared our excitement for what was going to be a great race. The green flew and I watched the G-STIG in the GST Impreza and the COBB GT-R jockey for position into turn 1. As the field spread, I held and inside line through the first turn and homed in on who I’d be racing with. It looked as though the Super Modified FWD Mini piloted by Dez Ballard may be my main competitor. While he was in front, I could tell that I was making time on him. His tires were ailing, and by lap 4 I was riding all over his bumper.
I was mere inches off his rear bumper through Omega and down through 5. The Mini stretched its legs as the 700hp compact stayed neck and neck with me down the back straight and over turn 7. I positioned myself on the outside, and braked just after he did securing me a clean pass into 8 and through 9. By turn 2, it looked as though the Mini had dropped off pace, and with just one lap to go, we had secured 5th place overall in the super session and 1st in the Street Tire Class!
The Liberty Gran Prix at Willow Springs has been one of our more challenging events, having only run 5 sessions the whole weekend we just didn’t have time to do what we wanted but despite the setbacks we kept our attitudes positive and our heads on our shoulders. We used pragmatism and logic to derive an approach that would maximize our use of time. In the end this approach paid off giving us a win we really worked for and deserved.
I want to give thanks to all the car’s sponsors, AST Suspension, COBB Tuning, Velocity Carbon, Jongbloed wheels, and our newest sponsor that has just come on board, Subaru of Ontario! Looking ahead, we will be taking the car back to my alma mater, Portland International Raceway, for 2 months of rigorous testing prior to Round 7. We will further to develop our chassis and suspension setup, and when we arrive in Pahrump in mid-September, we will be certainly looking for another win.