Formula D Irwindale has passed. I’ve realized a lot of things and I had a hell of a lot of fun doing it.

Thursday’s practice started out well… first run out, I held a higher line and was able to enter at higher speeds. I was doing better and better each run, and was starting to piece together the first half of the course and the second half of the course so that I could make a clean run through the whole course. I was taking notice of the strange nuances in the car’s engine and suspension tuning and was compensating. But about 2-3 hours later, my runs started to become inconsistant… I was spinning, taking different lines through the bank. It was really weird, and I don’t think I’ve ever driven so inconsistantly. I was confused and I was trying to check off all the different things that could be causing it…

  1. It was near 90 degrees outside and I was covered head to toe in heavy Nomex. Was I hot and exhausted from driving 2-3 hours straight?
  2. I was taking passengers… were they throwing off my concentration? Was it the weight difference?
  3. Maybe it’s the tires… the track’s surface temperatures were getting worse and worse. Were the tire pressures too high because of it?
  4. The car seemed to never react the same even though I was sure that I was initiating at the same speeds and the same point every single time. Was it the engine?

I kept making more laps, consciously eliminating each possible cause everytime time I went out. I didn’t understand… It was either the car or me getting tired. I stopped and gave us both a rest while the pit crew guys from AfterHours changed the rear tires for me. Ron sat with me in the air conditioned truck and talked to me about what was going on out there. After taking a quick breather, I was determined to go back out and figure it out. I did a burnout to burn off any of the oils on the new tire surface and BOOM! …Drivetrain broke again… Our day ended short and I asked the guys about the engine. They said they’d do a leak down test on it when they got back.

A few hours later I got a call… The drivetrain is totally fixable. But the engine… there’s little compression left in cylinders 1 & 4. The only reason the car was moving at all was because of all the boost we were running… it made up for the lack of compression. There wasn’t much I could do but offer up any suggestions to get around the situation but it was of no use. There wasn’t enough time to get a new engine and swap all of the valvetrain and headgasket over… even then, we wouldn’t know how the tuning would be nor if the engine would run at all. The only thing I could do was find another car… and I did. My awesome friend Mr. Richard Tang came through YET AGAIN and gave me permission to use his car. I can’t believe how often this guy comes through for me… no matter what… if he can, he will. And he’ll help me out like it’s his own problem. You don’t meet guys like this but maybe once in a lifetime.

Anyway, Richard’s JDM Rice 2 wasn’t exactly ready, and after a long night, and borrowing parts from Nadine’s car (thank you Honey), we made it out to Irwindale at about 12pm for Friday’s unseeded drivers’ qualifying round.

Yeah, I know you’re confused. Okay here’s how it goes:

  • Seeded drivers are Formula D drivers who have enough points in the season that they don’t need to PREqualify the day before the event.
  • Unseeded drivers are those who don’t have enough points (or none at all) and they need to prequalify the day before the event.
  • The top unseeded drivers are selected from prequalifying scores and they are allowed to qualify with the top dogs on event day.
  • On event day, the seeded and qualified unseeded drivers qualify together… from this, the top 16 drivers are selected to run in the tandem elimination rounds.
  • I had to prequalify because I didn’t drive a single Formula D event all year long. I had no points.
  • Qualifying consists of 3 laps… first lap is warmup/practice and the second 2 are judged. Qualifying is based on your BEST scored lap.

Okay so back to prequalifying day. We were running around frantically, because we got there really really late and I was about to miss my driver’s meeting. The car wasn’t exactly ready, so Richard, Nadine, and Josh (he came from New Jersey to hang out!) were helping me with the car as I did other things. I was worried because the tires I had were for Yellow Thing, which makes about 80hp more than JDM Rice.

We got the car out to the grid… and I go into the oval at a decent speed, just to see how the car is (remember, we didn’t do a single thing to check the car out after it was put together the night before). The whole car started to vibrate as I entered the oval and I ended up just gripping to see what was going on… I had no idea… was it the alignment of the car? The old tires we were using for the front? Richard couldn’t figure out the problem… he told me to just go for it anyways and whatever happens happens. I did… and the car was vibrating again even as I was drifting. Not to mention… the car was PLOWING towards the oval wall because the car didn’t slide when I kicked the clutch! We got under the car and figured it out… the driveshaft bolts that connected it to the LSD were NOT TIGHT!! It was freaking funny… but now that I spent 2 of my runs trying to figure out the problem, I lost all of my practice time. And qualifying would begin in 30 minutes. Crap… I don’t even know if that’s what caused the vibrating because I didn’t have the chance to go out and test it on the track. Just to be safe, I changed my front tires to brand new 235/40/17 Yokohama ES100s… Thank you Verena for letting me take yours.

After getting tires mounted, I jumped back into the car and made it back out to the track… I lined up as the VERY LAST person to qualify. Man… it was HOT. And I had to sit around and wait for EVERYBODY to qualify since I was the last one. My turn finally came… I was wondering what the judges were thinking… I mean, they had to sit through hours of this in the heat… were they sleepy? Were they cranky? Were they still paying attention? Oh well. I went out anyways… being cautious of course, since I didn’t know if we fixed the problem or not. The car wasn’t shaking anymore! I decided to kick the clutch AFTER the oval and I continued to drift the latter half of the course. It felt OK… next run out… first qualifying run… I dove in a little faster… crap… the car had absolutely no front steering response! I straightened out half way around the oval… and I drifted the second part of the course just like I did the lap before. This time I knew how the car felt and I had a little more faith in it, even though I knew the car was understeering. I dived into the oval with a little more speed for my last qualifying run and kicked the clutch… the car rotated kinda strange but it was rotating. Good. The car’s angle was set and I was on the gas making my way around the oval while drifting. I made small adjustments with the steering wheel… it didn’t do a damned thing… but the car was going on the right course… the line it was taking was ok… should I stay on the gas and just hope that I was pointing the steering wheel in the right direction? If my steering was a little bit off, the front tires could grip back up and slam me into the Irwindale bank! Well, it was my last qualifying lap and I had to make this one count… the car was going where I wanted it to go… I pushed the gas pedal to the ground… the car started to climb up towards the wall… whew! I cleared the clipping point and the wall and I saw tons of tire smoke out of the corner of my eye (this is what happens when you are drifting a car that understeers). I clipped the second cone and went in towards the final corner. JD

M Rice 2 and I made it out alive… man, that was a little bit sketchy!

I got out of the car… I nodded my head and told Richard that was the best I could do with the car being setup that way. He said it’s okay and we all went back into the pit area. Compared to the practice runs I had in Yellow Thing, my performance during qualifying was nowhere close to what I wanted to do… it was slow, my line was low on the bank, and it just wasn’t exciting to anybody watching. I wasn’t expecting to qualify… to my standards, my runs stank.

Suprise! I qualified 7th. I don’t know how… I really felt like crap about my runs and I honestly got a little irked whenever somebody said I did a good job. I guess qualifying is qualifying… It was time to chill out with my buddies and Josh. I made it to event day and we still had a long day ahead of us for tomorrow.

To be continued…