Last weekend was NASA Southeast's last event before the summer break. This was the summer edition at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, one of two events they host there each year, the other being in December.
Road Atlanta is easily a contender for my favorite track, and I hadn't been there in a year. Even though there was a good turn out in the TT6 group, I wanted to bring out my new M52-powered and aero-equipped E30, fresh off it's maiden outing at GridLife South Carolina.
There were surprisingly no entries at all in TT5, which is ostensibly the class this car will fit into. I haven't had the car on a dyno yet anyways, so I just entered it in TTU (time trial unlimited) instead.
I chose to run this car for 3 reasons:
- I wanted to test the recent changes I made to the setup.
- This car is going to help me conquer comp school soon, so I wanted another event under its belt.
- I can no longer see myself tracking a car that doesn't have a full cage.
The weather on Saturday was pretty great. It was warm-to-hot in the late afternoon, but the morning was quite nice, and the track felt great.
Saturday morning started with the typical warmup/practice first session. I went out on old 200tw tires, because I had fresh pads and rotors on the car, and I had to bed them in anyways.
For the second session I put on a set of 3 heat cycle Toyo RR tires, which is what I'll be running in ST/TT5 trim. The session went off without a hitch and I was able to achieve two laps each with a 1:41.4 time. A pretty good result for the car, class, and my experience level and comfort at the difficult track.
The final two sessions of the day were both cut short. In the third, a Mustang hit the wall in turn 12, before most of us even took the green flag. They kept us out under full course yellow for a couple laps, but the car was stuck with deployed airbags, so the black flag was inevitable.
In the fourth session, TT6 Road Atlanta record holder (and Rising Edge reader) Tim W. had an unfortunate run in with turn 3; a tricky corner with a blind approach and an unforgiving inside curb. Thankfully both drivers were okay and the damage minimal & repairable. Chin up, Tim! You drove great.
The changes I had made to the car since GridLife definitely helped. The car was more balanced than it was before, especially on the crisper-feeling Toyo RR tires. Nevertheless I wanted to try some more changes, so at the end of day on Saturday, after consulting with my braintrust, I stiffened the rear sway bar (from soft to medium) and increased the front rebound stiffness on my AST dampers by 2 clicks. This was in an effort to help the car rotate better at mid-corner and decrease the on-power understeer at corner exit.
The forecast was calling for a lot of rain on Sunday due to a frontal system moving through the area. The rain was predicted to start right around the time of our first session at 8 AM. I was hoping we'd get at least a few dry laps in. I was happy to see that it hadn't rained when I woke up, but by the time I had gotten out of the shower, it had poured outside.
Rain sessions are mostly avoided by time trial racers, since it rarely rains the entire day, and you can usually get at least one dry session per day to set a good time. However, races run in rain or shine, and seeing how much rain that Carlos has had to deal with in GLTC this year has made me realize that I need to take rain practice more seriously.
Add to the fact that I had recently listened to a Speed Secrets episode that talked about the great opportunity that wet sessions offer to test car control limits, and I was honestly pretty excited to drive in the rain.
In the first session the track was damp but actually pretty decent, and I was able to push reasonably hard. I set a goal of a sub-2:00 lap, and achieved it on the last lap of the session with a 1:57.5. This time was the 4th overall fastest, and 3rd in TTU.
The rain was really coming down for the second session, and the times were considerably slower. Battling a foggy windshield meant I took it pretty easy that session, but I stayed out there!
The third session was more damp than the first, but the rain had stopped, and a dry line was definitely forming by the end of the session. Nevertheless the times were a bit slower than the morning.
Most of the racers and time trial drivers had called it a weekend by this point, and I decided to do the same knowing that I had a ~4 hour drive home ahead of me. Luckily for the few drivers that stuck around for the final session, it was quite dry by then, so those drivers were rewarded with moving up the standings for the day.
Given that I only had one full session to push the car in the dry, I was happy to see that my time would have been a podium contender at last year's event, which had ~6 cars in TT5.
In the rain I was quite surprised by the capability of the car as well as my comfort driving in it. While reviewing my video, I could see that I wasn't even near the limit of the car in most situations. It had quite a lot of grip and I was leaving a lot on the table.
The first and third sessions on Sunday, despite the wet track, showed enough promise that my setup changes from Saturday afternoon were a move in the right direction.
I was very happy with the car and the weekend as a whole. The track is as fun as I remember it, and it was great to spend time in the NASA time trial paddock with some awesome people.