Thursday, October 13, 2011; Set-up
On Thursday morning, half of the team arriving by plane, landed in Salinas, CA for the Rennsport Reunion. We land at noon and once we gather our gear, we head to the Embassy Suites Hotel in Monterey to pick up our wrist bands, parking passes and an invitation for one of the coolest events of the weekend, the Saturday morning unveiling of the new Porsche 991 at Quail Lodge by Detler von Platen, President and CEO of Porsche North America. As we arrive at the hotel, we find the parking lot littered with everything Porsche. Most are street cars, driven by their owners to gather credentials as we were, but there are a few haulers loaded with race cars.
This past year I have been involved with a number of races as we followed the Hawk and Cragar Corvettes through the World Challenge season. I also raced the Hawk Corvette, the Cragar Camaro and the Hawk Porsche in a number of vintage events across the country. So, going to the track should be old hat, but this is a special event. For those of you who have not been to Laguna Seca, it is a fabulous location for a race track. Within 15 minutes of Monterey, located on a hilltop in the middle of a park stands Laguna Seca.
The Porsche is located in the PCA Club Racing Paddock. Being from the east coast, I don’t recognize any of the cars in the paddock. Most of these cars must be from the west coast. Then, I look across the paddock to see two shipping containers that have become racing garages for the weekend. These containers are from Australia. We learn that they were loaded with 911’s and all of the gear needed to compete this weekend. The containers were loaded on a ship in Australia, shipped to a port in California, loaded onto a semi and dropped at the track. Viola, instant race headquarters!
Once we get our bearings, we drive the 944 over to PCA Tech and I see a familiar face. The PCA Club Racing Tech Inspector is an old friend from my Minnesota Club Racing days. After exchanging pleasantries, he techs the car, signs my log book, wishes us well for the weekend and sends us on our way. Thursday is the ideal time to take a stroll of the paddock. As of Monday, 77,000 tickets to the event have been sold and we know more people will show up at Mazda Raceway’s doorstep on Saturday morning to see these terrific cars in action. We go past the Global Motorsports hauler where James Safronas’ GT2 Cup World Challenge car is located. Next to Global is the Tru-Speed hauler and we see Patrick Long getting ready to film a TV program. He sees us and asks if we are racing a car with the engine in the proper location this weekend. We know Patrick from World Challenge and he knows we normally race Corvettes. Not having the heart to tell him we are racing a 944 Club Sport, I tell him yes!
Everything from original speedsters to 911’s to 917’s to 962’s have found a home for the weekend. Fantastic race cars. I am like a tourist seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. My iPhone camera cannot take pictures fast enough. Just walking through the paddock is sensory overload. If you are a Porsche fan, you have to get to a Rennsport Reunion. These are the most significant Porsches race cars in the world. Every Porsche fan and every race fan needs to see these cars.
Friday, October 14, 2011, Practice Day
The 7:15 Driver’s meeting is complete and the track is hot. I am in Group 7 and we will go out at 11:00 for our first test session. This will be both quizzical and exciting. I have been around Laguna Seca a total of two and a half laps in the Corvette. That was during the ALMS/World Challenge weekend about a month ago. Not much can be learned in two laps, but at least I have been on track.
10:45 arrives and the Group 7 cars are staged in pit lane. Looking around pit lane, you see a huge discrepancy in car speeds. Mainly 911’s, but a number of very fast GT cars are in the group. James Safronas, one of the faster drivers we race against in World Challenge is in Group 7 with a GMG Cup GT2. Stock, this car produces 600 plus horsepower car. My 247 horsepower Turbo Cup is going to be a rolling road block out there. The good thing is that James is very experienced running with slower traffic as he runs in World Challenge and that includes GTS and TC, or Touring Cars, on the grid with the GT cars
We roll out on the track and I am wondering how many of these drivers have never been around Laguna Seca. I have two goals for this session, find the line and don’t get run over by a GT car.
This track is very technical. I find Turn 2, the Corkscrew and Turn 11 the most difficult to learn. Figuring out what gear to be in through each turn is challenging. Finding the fast line will take time. During the session I find the rear end loose and radio back to the crew and tell them about the condition. It could be the set-up, or it may be the Hoosier R6’s we are running. They have a number of heat cycles on them and are starting to show the wear. We run about 10 laps and the session ends. I have achieved both of my goals. I stayed out of harm’s way with the GT traffic and I am starting to get a feel for the track. Back in the paddock, Charles, the crew chief, thinks the rear tire pressure may be slightly higher than optimum and we decide to lower pressures for the next run. The Hawk wheels are sitting with a brand new set of Hoosier R6’s, but we decide to keep those for qualifying and the race.
I pick up a few tips as our 4:20 practice session approaches. Back on the grid, I head onto the track. The cars are staged properly by speed this time. I am near the end of the line-up based on lap times from the 11:00 practice and the fast GT cars are up front. This session will allow me to learn the track and not worry about fast approaching traffic, at least for a few laps until they catch the rear of the field. I take what I have learned from the 11:00 session, the coaching I received between sessions and the information I picked up from watching cars in other run groups and I drop 4 seconds from our fastest run of the morning session. Back in the paddock, we decide we will bleed the brakes and mount the new wheels and Hoosiers on Saturday morning. No need for new Hawk pads as the pads on the car have served us well. We used this set at Road America and when we checked them back at the shop in Charlotte, they still look like new.
Saturday, October 15, 2011; Qualifying Day
The day starts at 7:30 for a 10:50 qualifying time. Arriving in the paddock, our pit area has a large puddle in it. It has rained the night before at the track. Group 1 is out at 8:00 and the track is moist. They traverse the track without incident but after their session, we hear that the fog is so dense at the top of the hill you cannot see the Corkscrew. They are driving from memory. Fortunately we are not out until nearly 11 and there is time for the fog to lift. There is an advantage to being in Group 7.
Grid time. The car is ready to go for our qualifying session. My car along with other 944’s and 911’s are at the back of the grid due to speeds. The fast GT cars are up front. James Safronas, in the GT2 was fastest the day before so he is first out. We learn this is a test session for the new 2012 World Challenge season. James has received permission from the SCCA to run the GT2 car in World Challenge next year.
The 944 is running well as I depart pit lane and the track is green rather than running under a yellow flag on the out lap as is customary in PCA Club Racing. This is only a 20 minute qualifying session and every lap is important. I get past a few of the cars in front of me and have an open track. As I complete the second lap, Charles comes on the radio to tell me we have run the fastest lap of the weekend. We are 2 seconds faster than the previous best time. The car feels good on the new tires.
I head through Turn 5 up toward 6 and the car starts to miss. As I head up the back straight to Turn 7 and 8, the Corkscrew, I signal to traffic that I have a problem and call Charles. He tells me to bring the car into the pits. In the pits, Nick, Charles and Albert cannot find anything visually wrong. They check all of the wiring, but nothing. The hood is closed and we decide to take a few more laps. As I exit pit lane the miss is gone, but as I head up the straight between 5 and 6 the car has very little power between 5,000 and 7,000 RPM’s. I try the car another lap and the same thing, no power. The session is over and I head back to the paddock. The crew checks all vacuum lines, spark plugs, etc. Charles pulls the distributor cap and rotor. Looking at the rotor we discover the brass tip has rotated from the center on the rotor. The search begins for new spark plugs, along with a rotor and distributor cap.
It is now mid-afternoon on a Saturday, but we learn that the Porsche parts department at the dealership in Seaside is open. Nick has already called NAPA, which is just down the street from the Porsche Dealership, and they have the spark plugs. First stop, NAPA. The desk clerk has our plugs sitting on the counter and checks for a distributor cap and rotor. His store does not have the set and he cannot locate either at any NAPA store in the area. From NAPA we proceed to the Porsche dealership hoping they have both. As luck would have it, he does not, but tells us they have two 944’s sitting in the back of the dealership. We head out back and actually find 968’s. These have a different distributor than the 944, so no joy at the dealership today.
Back at the track, Charles tells us he has a line on two or three different sources. Apparently the 944 drivers, whose cars are parked in the Porsche Platz, carry extra ignition parts. They have replaced the parts on their cars, but keep the parts they have replaced. 944 owners are drawn to the Turbo Cup car as it sits in the paddock in a sea of 911’s and notice the car sitting without a distributor cap or rotor. They tell Charles if we cannot find the parts, we can have their extras. While standing there, one of the 944 owners and his wife come back to our pit. We tell him we have not found the parts in town and he offers his used set. Walking to his car, we learn that he is a retired truck driver from San Diego and loves his 1989 944S, which is pristine. He pulls the parts from the rear deck and we head back to the paddock. It looks like we race tomorrow.
Sunday, October 16, 2011; Race Day at Rennsport
Another 7:30 arrival at the track for an 11:15 race, a warm-up session is scheduled for 8:00 but we are not ready. We are still looking for a new rotor rather than using one of the used ones we bought or have been given. Within an hour, we find a new rotor. Over the next 30 minutes we have the car back together and ready to go. With the engine started and warming, we decided to drive the car out of the paddock and up the parking lot road. It was important to see if the engine has power above 5000 rpm. It does.
Race time approaches and call to grid is announced. We drive to the false grid and await the call to start engines. We are given the three minute warning and all engines are now running. Everyone is checking helmet straps, pulling on their gloves and checking the tightness of their shoulder harnesses. The cars start rolling down pit lane and onto the track. We were told at the driver’s meeting to form up in the starting grid going up the hill, the Rahal Straight, to Turn 7. We get there and the field is tight down through the Corkscrew to Turn 10. As we near Turn 11 the call comes over the radio from Charles, “Green, Green, Green.” The front of the grid is already on the front straight and has been given the green flag. Here is where positions can be gained or lost. Get a good start and get by a few cars putting some cars between you and your closest rivals.
I get a good start and get by four cars, but I cannot get by the 944 in front of me. I need to catch him on the straight because he is faster through the corners. I get beside him going into Turn 1, but he has the preferred position. He gets away but the pack is still tight as it usually is during the first lap. I keep the cars I have passed behind me, but the racing is intense. By the time we are through the Corkscrew and head to Turn 10, the field has started to string out. We cross the start-finish line and one lap is in the books. We race on and as I cross the finish line to complete the second lap, Charles comes on the radio and says we have run our fastest lap of the weekend, 2 1/2 seconds fast than our qualifying lap.
When there are a number of cars from different classes and different speeds, races within the race begin in earnest. During the race, cars of approximately the same speed get into intense battles. My race develops with two 911 GT4R cars, a Spec Boxster and a Spec 911. I am lucky enough to stay in front of all four, but it is a tight battle the entire race. One of the GTR cars tries to out brake me going into Turn 2, but he is going too fast to make the turn and slides to the outside of the track and I get back by him immediately. We stay this way until the end of the race when the checker flag falls not only on the race but on Rennsport Reunion IV. Group 7 has only 8 stock class cars. The top finishing stock car is an I class 2011 Spyder set-up for the track. The two other I class cars finish ahead of us as well as an E car. We are the highest finishing G car. It has been a great weekend and on the way to the airport, I wonder where Rennsport Reunion V will be held.