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  NASA Thunderhill 25hour enduro

NorCal Racers Travel to California Speedway to Race with NASA SoCal
written by Carl Chiu
March 2008

Victor Beraja leads Carl Chiu and AJ Goldsmith during practice at California Speedway

Friday March 21, 2008

The morning started chilly, but the day turned out to be near perfect. +70 F, sunny and a very calm cool breeze. Morning practice started without a hitch. I cannot describe the feeling of the first time striking into those Nascar banked oval turns. The width is huge, and the asphalt smooth – certainly it is about speed. This track is not that old, and the amenities and coliseum like stands for big races certainly exude pro racing. Practice seemed to get going smoothly as I learned the track’s interior road course. The course while long at 2.8 miles, is fast with several straights in the interior course leading to heavy braking, and a couple of full throttle chicanes. The slowest part is what many call an “autocross” part at the last section of the interior course at the entry to the main Nascar oval run, which is preceded by 2 full speed left turns which are best taken with a little drift. While not overly technical, the course is exhilarating with a few “pucker” factor areas. Most action comes into turn 3, the 90 degree slow left hander you come into from a maximum speed off the Nascar ovals. Our cars get into turn 1 of the Nascar oval around 130mph (depends if you got a draft) and exit near 120mph. You really feel the spec Eibach springs compress and the load this car gets in the turn, but you can keep the throttle fully on. Friction will get the better of you and scrub you down a little.

For SpecE30, there were only 3 entries for this new series in SoCal. Victor Beraja (car 007) was the only SoCal region native, joined by AJ Goldsmith and myself. During Friday qualifying we were able to join up together. This would be the only time all three of us would be grouped up, and I luckily got some photos of that. Qualifying went well, and there was good room – despite several marker cones being hit into the middle of the track. Friday’s qualifying saw me at pole with a 2:07.9, AJ with 2:10.8, and Victor with 2:14.4.

Carl leads AJ through some of Cal Speedway's Twisties

SoCal is different in how they grid the race group than how I see it at other regions. They put everyone, no matter which class, into the group grid by time. Thus I found myself with Spec Miata’s and some Porsches, while both AJ and Victor were also by themselves positioned by time. Rolling start goes well and we all fly into turn 1. Despite talking about this in the drivers meeting, some drivers put all 4 tires below the line and kicked up mass amounts of debris and dust from the bank’s infield. Not cool. Also as drilled into the driver’s meeting, turn 3 would have much excitement, which it did. We had 4 to 5 cars wide going into this slow left hander. I played fairly coy and stayed inside searching for a slot. AJ did very well and was able to come within 1 car behind me. There we would race for much of the time fighting within a pack of us two and a Mazda and Porsche. As the race winded down to finish, I had one moment of clarity when I nearly lost it at the “autocross” section of the track while giving a little too much throttle. Our tires have had many many sessions on it, and I was beginning to feel how loose they get towards an end of a session when they are hot. I saved it and continued on for a win.

SoCal Mixed Race Group on the Cal Speedway Oval

The bad news is Victor wrecked his car during this event while losing it at one of the chicanes and hitting a tire barrier, supported by concrete. His passenger side rear got toasted, but he says he will be back once this body work is repaired. We all wish him the best of luck. I hear of another SpecE30 being built for the region, and I suspect it will be a growing field down there.

Saturday March 22, 2008

I could tell the weather changed. The morning was already warm at 7:00am, and there was a strong inland desert-like wind that carried warmer air and dust. The day would be a bit warmer, almost hot. During practice into turn 1, the car was buffeted by winds. A little more dusty, but a good day all the same. I made several changes in the garage the evening before, so my mind was not on time as it was car feel and performance.  Tires were certainly going to play a factor for the day as I fought perceptively looser grip, and a minor flat spot in one of them from a excursion over an infield curb while experimenting with a later brake point.

Nice Paddock Accomodations...the SoCal NASA folks make the NorCal racers feel welcome!

However qualifying seemed to reveal some magic, as I posted the quickest time of the weekend for SpecE30 at 2:05.9, giving me the pole again and AJ giving a very good 2:06.6. AJ and I were having a lot of fun at the track and as our times both improved, we both began to run closer to each other.

Again, race grid put us by times, and AJ and I found ourselves intermixed with a Miata’s and Porsches, the same cars we have been neck and neck with all weekend. The race starts well once again rolling, and into turn 3 everyone was clean. AJ and I ran pretty close together with him grabbing the lead around lap 4 in a breaking maneuver in turn 3, with me overtaking him back in  the next turns 4-5.

At one point just after the midpoint of this race, a scary event happens for AJ and I. In front of me just out into the main oval straight by the finish line, a corvette blows his motor, big time. He was on the inside line, but so much smoke billowed out that I could not see 10 feet in front of me for what seemed like much too long. A “Days of Thunder” moment, and I had no one on a radio to talk to. I drifted a little more to the outside hoping the corvette did not spin or drop quarts of fluid. Held my breath and all of us got through this fine, with the corvette dragging himself to the interior grass off the course.

Carl leads AJ on the oval portion of the track

There I led for most of all the race, even getting a decent gap from AJ, despite being cornered off line at a critical point by a greedy Scion. But 2 laps until the end I ran into trouble. Taking a somewhat middle-outside defensive line into turn 3 from the fast oval, I braked like I had several other times before in that position. They were as greasier than I had ever felt, and I found myself fighting a rear end that wouldn’t come back while running out of room to make the turn. Thus I swung out 90 degrees looking at the outside of a turn and had to let a group of cars drive through, with AJ in them, before I could safely re-enter the turn. With not enough time to fight back, AJ wins a good race – and both of us come out of SoCal with a win. I had a blast, and would certainly love to race there again.

SoCal SpecE30 Racer Victor Beraja and his super clean #007 E30 Racer

For more event photos click here


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