Al Hermans – My Inaugural MiDiv Time Trial Season

I started doing track days in 2002 when I first joined SVTOA (Special Vehicle Team Owners Association), an owners group sponsored by Ford Motor Company.  I started at Heartland Park (HPT), before the re-alignment, then came Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP) and Mid-America Motorplex (MAM).  After SVTOA scaled back, I did some days with the Touring Club at HPT until life got in the way.  Fast forward to 2015 when the Lake Garnett Grand Prix Revival (LGGPR) was in its second year.  After that event, I found my interest in track days reawakened so the following year I did one or two Track Nights in America (TNIA).  The following year I did more TNIA and LGGPR.  All of the track events were done in my 2011 Mustang GT.

In the off season between 2017 and 2018, the possibility of a divisional time trial (TT) series was brought up at the monthly membership meetings.  My interest was piqued and as more details became available, I decided this was something I wanted to do.  After the schedule was released at the MiDiv convention, I applied for a TT novice license from SCCA and ordered a transponder from SPS, a divisional sponsor.  I also ordered a removable vinyl door placard with number, class, and series sponsor logos from SPS.  I had made some modifications to the car prior to this but nothing too serious.  Aside from some lowering springs, Koni single adjustable shocks, cold air kit, a mild cammed tune, and a body kit, the car was relatively stock with 95,000 miles on it.  That was about to change, and it will continue in the coming off season.

The 2018 schedule was April 21 & 22 at Heartland Park, May 19 & 20 at Iowa Speedway, June 2 & 3 at Gateway, July 21 & 22 at Heartland Park, August 11 at Raceway Park, September 1 & 2 at Hallett, and September 22 & 23 at Raceway Park.  Due to conflicts with the MiDiv Solo Series, I had to skip the events at Iowa Speedway and Gateway and chose TT over solo at the first Heartland Park event.

Me on my 300 TW Sumitomo’s

So, April comes around and TNIA has been rescheduled from the usual Thursday afternoon / evening to Friday in order to allow for better staffing and participation from the club race workers and drivers.  My sessions went well with lots of tire squealing in the dry conditions on the full-length course.  Saturday morning began with damp conditions, so my street tires were a good choice for rubber.  It was a little lonely in PD as I had only one competitor which was also true for the afternoon session.  On Sunday, we were joined by 4 other people who came over from the solo event.  In the morning, it was quite wet, so much so that I put on my Hoosier H2O’s.  Unfortunately, someone in the previous session had dropped oil on the track which made things even more slippery.  Unbeknownst to me until on the track, the rims with the H2O’s did not quite clear the brake calipers in the front and were out of round just enough that they tapped the calipers at one part of the rim but not elsewhere.  This set up a vibration, especially at speed on the main straight, that was somewhat disconcerting at 90 mph or so.  I decided to pull the car in thinking, mistakenly, that points were awarded for the day rather than the session.  Oh well, that wasn’t happening again.  In the afternoon, the skies had cleared and the track was drying so I was back on the street tires.  Another good session and I had the fastest laps both days.  Unfortunately, that was the last time that happened.

Between April at HMP and July at HMP, I took the opportunity to make a few upgrades.  I swapped out the springs at all four corners, replaced the sway bar with an adjustable piece, and replaced the front control arms and bushings.  I also installed a rear shock tower X-brace similar to that found on the Boss 302 Laguna Seca.  The weekend of July 21 & 22 was hot and dry and I struggled to keep up with cars on better tires.  We were running two configurations of the track with turns 5-7 being omitted on Saturday and turns 1-7 being omitted on Sunday.  One incident of note, on the Saturday morning session I was coming over A0 at about 120 and hit the brakes going into turn 1.  I hear a small “pow” and the brake pedal goes to the floor.  Luckily, I was still going mostly straight so I headed for the runoff road and coasted to a stop with what brakes I had left.  I limped back to the paddock and started taking thing apart.  Hey, wait a minute, I’m missing a brake pad at the driver’s front wheel.  I found a place in Topeka that was selling PFC high performance brake pads (did not have a spare set of Hawks) that would do in a pinch.  Swapped out both sides and bled the brakes (thanks Larry Brady for helping), ready to go again but with a scored rotor.  The rest of the weekend was uneventful, but the “bite” of the brakes was somewhat less than before.

Next up was RPM, a single day with 4 sessions.  Before the event, I had found some Pirelli slicks that were qualifying cast offs from the Ferrari Challenge along with some new rims.  These were wider than the street tires as well by 30 mm all around.  During the warm up session at about the halfway point, I felt the rear sink down coming out of turn 12.  Soon after I heard the unmistakable sound of metal on asphalt so I turned off the track to the inside of turn 14.  I was far enough off that they did not have to stop the session to get me out of the way.  After the session was done, the safety safari came out with my jack and one of my street tires so I changed the tire in the infield and proceeded back to the paddock.  Apparently, the right rear tire had de-beaded.  I took the tire and rim to a tire shop in Bellevue to see if they could re-mount it.  Unfortunately, the tire was too badly damaged so I spent the rest of the day on street tires.

For Hallett, I got another rear slick to replace the damaged one from RPM.  The event was billed as bass ackwards as we ran the circuit in the reverse direction.  Having never been to Hallett before, it didn’t matter to me as I did not have to unlearn the opposite direction.  This weekend was also quite hot.  As a result, my brakes started getting spongey in some of the corners during the morning session.  I figured the brake fluid was boiling so I went in search of something better.  After calling the auto parts stores nearby with no luck, I searched the paddock to see if there were any ideas.  I came across Jim Wheeler and he gave me a quart of some Wilwood 600 he had lying around (thanks, Jim).  I bled the brakes, concentrating on the fronts (one-man brake bleed kits are wonderful) and went out again in the afternoon with no sponginess.  On Sunday during the morning session, I was braking going into turn 3 and got smacked in the rear by a BMW that had gotten a good run into 3 and couldn’t stop in time.  I remained on the track but the BMW went into the grass.  I limped to the tech area (I was directed there to weigh) and started assessing the damage.  The bumper cap was partly torn off as well as the valence below.  The foam insert was destroyed as well.  After I got back to the paddock, I started taking things apart and seeing if there was any structural damage.  I removed the bumper cap and valence as well as the mounting brackets on the sides, one of which was broken.  I disconnected the wiring from the bumper cap and put it in the trunk.  The bumper beam was straight as an arrow, no damage that I could see so it looked like the only repairs I would need to make were cosmetic.  I ran the second session with my rear end exposed.

The season ending event at RPM would score double points.  I was comfortably in second place in the season standings and would have to do really poorly for that to change.  Matt in first place would have to be a no show for me to take over first place.  I had added some brake ducting to help keep things cooler at the calipers.  During the first session on Saturday, the front grip was getting progressively worse so I pulled off course into the paddock to see if I could determine why.  What I found was a bit disturbing, the front tires had worn all the rubber off down to the cord for half the width of the tire.  I’m not sure if they would have made it another lap.

So, back to the street tires.  On Sunday, I tried an experiment.  I put the rear slicks on and left the fronts as street tires.  It wasn’t terrible and my lap times came down but not nearly enough to keep me from bringing up the rear.  I finished the season in second.  If Skip had attended more events, he would likely have been second with me third.  For finishing second, I will receive a set of Hoosier tires.  I am curious to see if there are any restrictions on sizes or compounds.

I plan to participate in the 2019 season.  I have a number of improvements already in the garage waiting for installation.  These include a new K-member, radiator core support, shifter, intake, tune, differential and gears, and steering rack.  I am also thinking about a rear wing.  Hopefully the Hoosiers will be R7’s.  I could also look at trying to remove some weight but I don’t want to take it too far from being streetable.  Where have I heard that before?

I would like to thank Erich Pfalgraf, Zach Bertness, Johnathan Burchardt, and I’m sure I am forgetting a few people for organizing the events and making it possible for me to do this.  I would also like to thank the sponsors Momo, Hoosier, Racetech, and Sparco for their contributions.

See you on track in 2019.

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