Team Superlite Cars made another trek this weekend to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, racing with NASA just weeks before the National Championships which will be held at Mid-Ohio. We wanted one last race meeting to validate the SLC package, check out a new engine assembled from the detritus of the other two destroyed engines, and make sure we had a stable vehicle platform for the Championships. We also wanted to prove that we were not only fast, but could run the distance needed to win races.
We opted to run a Test & Tune day on the Friday before the race weekend, as the team had made several changes to the car since the last race. A new engine, new dry-sump pump, new cooler and associated plumbing, an Oberg-style oil filter, and a couple of small aero tweaks were the new variables. The sessions on Friday weren’t timed, but we did get to run some reliability runs, and worked through some of the usual small issues that crop up in race cars from time to time.
So we were confident, as Saturday rolled around, that we’d have a competitive platform, based on the speed we’d shown previously, now backed up with what we hoped was a reliable engine from a different builder.
Qualifying on Saturday was a frantic affair, with a very large run group, which meant the SLC was always passing cars everywhere, trying to get a clean lap. Frustrated with traffic, we pulled the car into the pits for a bit to take advantage of some clear track, and jumped back out to clean air and a clear track. As Ryan had been able to do every time
the car had been in a qualifying session, he grabbed the class and overall pole position.
To put that in context, the SLC has always been the fastest car at the track, whenever it has shown up. Not just in class- but the fastest car overall, across all classes in NASA. This is pretty remarkable for a car designed, built and developed by a small cadre of dedicated engineers, stylists and craftsmen. To be able to beat competition cars from the likes of Porsche, GM and Ferrari with the SLC says something about the car, and it’s potential. The SLC has been able to do that not because it has a power advantage (we are actually from 200 to 500 HP down on some of our competitors), but because the entire vehicle package, including power, aerodynamics, braking and handling, works to extract maximum performance.
Our race was the last of the day, so we polished the car, and fielded hundreds of questions from other racers and spectators until it was time to grid for the race.
The Thunder race group got a late green, and Ryan was able to capitalize on it, immediately pulling the SLC into the lead, and gapping the fast and capable ex-IMSA Porsche 911 that was our main competition. Later, Ryan explained that the car was very fast not only on hot tires, but was predictable even on cold tires, which allowed him to pull out a 2 second lead at the end of the first lap. We led for a lap or so until a full-course yellow let everyone get back up to us. With warm tires and more power, we thought the Porsche might get a jump on us on the restart, but the SLC hung on and kept the lead on the restart—and then just kept going quicker and quicker. In a few laps, we had broken the lap record, and then again, eventually shaving about a half second off the old record, setting a new, final lap record of 1:26.91 seconds for the Pro Course in the Super Unlimited class (as well as fastest time of the day). The race wasn’t over yet, though, and we began to see smoke coming from the rear of the car with about 10 minutes to go. Ryan radioed in that the temps were fine, and that oil pressure was good, so he stayed out. The smoke got worse, but we took the checkered flag.
So the SLC had won its first race. The car had always been fast, but engine-related issues had kept us from the prize in the past. Now we’d proven that the car was not only fast, but could last, as well.
The team was elated, and we took the rest of the day off to celebrate at the local steak hangout after the awards ceremony.
Sunday dawned dark and cool, with rain expected intermittently through the day. We thought this was a Good Thing, as we wanted to perfect our rain setup. We came prepared with rain tires, and felt the SLC would be just as good in the wet as it was in the dry, based on some damp sessions early in the year.
We also wanted to understand about the smoke we saw in yesterday’s race, and tightened up a few oil line fittings, as it was clear the smoke was from leaking oil. We changed the oil since the engine was still new, checked the filter (it was clean, after the initial filter change) and topped up the tank.
We also noticed a small hairline crack in one of the front rotors, and decided to swap them out. But the new rotors, despite being new and shiny and all, didn’t fit on the hats (we think the manufacturer shipped the wrong part numbers to us), so we decided just to swap the rotors front-to-rear as they are the same size. This took a bit of time, and we finished just before the first session. When we went out for the warmup session, Ryan reported that he had a long pedal, then no pedal on some parts of the track. So we pulled the car in and checked out the brakes again. It turned out that the right rear rotor had a slight wobble, which was causing pad knock-back, which was the cause of low-to-no pedal in the car under power. It was something that wasn’t apparent in the pits, but only when the car was at speed. We didn’t get a time in the warmup, but qualifying was a couple of hours away, so we had time to fix the brakes again, with more time to check them.
Because qualifying order is based on warmup times, we had to start at the end of the pack. We actually waited for about 30 seconds after the rest of the field had started, so we’d have a clear track ahead. The car was on a good qualifying lap when another car smashed into a concrete barrier on the pit straight, causing the session to be black flagged. It never restarted, so we had no qualifying time. No one else did, either, so the session was cancelled. That meant that our race order would be set by the warmup times, of which we didn’t have any. So for the first time, the SLC wouldn’t lead the fastest race group into the first turn in the race. We’d be behind most of the cars in our class (some didn’t even start the warmup, so they were behind us), but at least we’d still be relatively close to the front, based on class order.
Because of the weather, the team wasn’t sure about the right tire choice. We’d seen several other race groups start on slicks, only to have a downpour cause disruption in the race. It usually rains in the afternoon in this part of Ohio, and we could see dark clouds rolling in before our race. We put slicks on one side, and wets on the other, so whatever last minute decision we made would involve only changing two tires, not four. When decision time came, we mounted slicks, but left the wet setup on the car, and got in position on the grid.
The race started on a damp track, and we were all trying to be careful, except for a Corvette driver who evidently wanted to make a point, and tried an aggressive pass on the first lap. Ryan let him by (he was in another class, anyway), but repassed quickly and took the overall lead. The track was drying slowly, and the setup probably wasn’t optimal, but the SLC was still in the overall and class lead, and extending it as the laps wound down. One by one, the other Super Unlimited cars began to drop out, and eventually Ryan was running alone as the only SU car on the track, as well as leading the overall race.
Rather than risk the car further (the Championships were less than a month away) we pulled him in and still took the class win.
Team Superlite Cars had a great weekend- we won both races, and set a new lap record. That means we will be heading into the National Championships as the current lap record holder- perhaps that will be worth a couple of intimidation points.
But most importantly, we proved we had the reliability as well as the pace to win races. The National Championships are coming up very soon, and we look forward to testing the SLC against the best the nation has to offer. We think that will be pretty exciting!