Optima Search For the Ultimate Street Car, NCM Edition

You may remember my post last year about attending the Optima Search For the Ultimate Street Car event at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park. You may remember that weekend ended with the car on a trailer being towed home after some serious electrical issues disabled the ECM and later, the cooling fans.

That is not what happened this time.

I did it! Not only did car and I complete the entire event, I placed ninth! Out of thirty one in the GTV class!

Arrival Friday was uneventful, in stark contrast to last year, when I had to immediately change the diff fluid. Nope. This year I parked the car under the Discount Tire Dangerous Curves Motorsports pop-up tent and changed my tires in the shade.

Shade!

 

After that, it was a trip to the tech shed. Tech inspection was slightly different this year. In addition to the normal safety stuff, they went ahead and went through the standard part of the D&E judging, verifying lights and horn and A/C and stereo worked. I got docked a point for non-functioning reverse lamps. As it turns out, the parking lot fix I had to perform to get the shifter working at Putnam Park a few weeks ago disabled the reverse lights. I’ll need to get that taken car of soon.

Another change this year is the fire drill. I had to get into my full road course get-up, with my driver suit, shoes, helmet, neck restraint, and gloves, strap myself completely into the car, and then escape it within 12 seconds. I think I got out in less than two.

After that, I hung out with the Dangerous Curves Motorsports team, walked the autocross course, and had a couple of beers before retiring to the hotel for the night. Which was a nice place. Brand new, I think I must have been the first person to use the room I was in. Way less stressful than last year.

Saturday morning started bright and early. The format was slightly changed from last year. The Autocross and Design and Engineering judging were the only things happening. The Speed Stop had been moved to Sunday. I got in line to get the D&E out of the way early. I wasn’t really prepared for it this year, and I forgot to point out a lot of the stuff I’d done to the car, so my D&E score was really lackluster compared to last year’s top ten finish. Oops.

Then on to the autocross. It was a fairly simple course, about thirty seconds long. I started out in the mid-32 second range, but tips from my new best friend Paul got me down to a 30.56, which was good for 11th in the GTV class. The first place car had a 29.022, just 1.4 seconds faster than me. Which is a lot in an autocross, but I’ve significantly closed the gap. A year ago, these guys were beating me by nearly six seconds.

Autocross results

The car performed flawlessly. In fact, the new front swaybar made a huge difference. The car was even packing the front wheel digging out of turns, so I may need to stiffen the back up somehow.

Also, it was hot. But not as hot as last year. My best run follows:

Another cool item is my second best run. I captured data from the ECM using my Powerlogger and an old phone, and managed to merge that data with my Harry’s Laptimer Data, and overlaid it with Dashware:

You can see in the second video I have working throttle indicator, manifold pressure, and tachometer. I also meant to throw in oil pressure, but I forgot. The six year old Samsung Reverb smart phone I was using ended up not being able to run reliably for the entire day, but at least I proved out the concept. I’ll need to get a better Android device for the next event.

After the autocross, we did the “Road Rally,” which was less a road rally, and more of a 40 minute jaunt south to Franklin on I-65 and back again. Dinner was a decent BBQ spread, which I ate. But then I went back to the Dangerous Curves Motorsports pit box and ate Troy’s food. The event catered BBQ was really good. But Troy’s was fantastic. So I ate both. *burp*. We hung out until dark chatting with some local friends from Bowling Green that had come out to hang.

The next morning, this had happened in the parking lot of the hotel:

Four decades of GM power!

Yup, a split-window Stingray, a Chevy SS, my car, and a C5. The pinnacles of GM performance for the 1960s, the 1980s, the 00s, and the current. Pretty cool. Especially the SS. You don’t see many of those. The blue Corvette also had a great weekend, placing very high, I think possibly winning a class, but broke on Sunday. I heard it making sad knocking noises and eventually being pushed into its trailer.

Sunday was the Hot Lap challenge and the Speed Stop. Where last year the speed stop had been a single-car at a time blast through the sinkhole on the east course of the race track, this year they set up a small side-by-side autocross with a drag tree start. Reaction time and 60′ weren’t measured, but it made for good TV.

It also rained. A lot. There was a dry period after an initial downpour, but I wasn’t able to get dry speed stop runs. Amazingly enough, my wet ones were still good for ninth in the class, and many of the cars I beat had dry runs!

Then the Hot Lap challenge. Woah nelly. Butterflies. I’d heard about how technical the NCM course was. Blind corners and elevation changes that easily catch unsuspecting drivers out and send them careening into gravel pits and ARMCO barriers. My new best friend Paul to the rescue again. He gave Peggy and I a good brief on the course and pointed out the tricky spots. It helped. A lot.

In fact, some of my other novice friends didn’t have a Paul. One of them nearly wiped out right in front of me in a blind turn during the orientation lap. So thank you again, Paul!

Once we got going, the course was a blast. It was technical. There are several turns that don’t behave the way they look, which made it a challenge getting them right. But I improved steadily through the first three sessions, with the second and third sessions actually being on a dry track. My best lap time of 1:47.2 was good for 11th.

That’s the Dangerous Curves Motorsports Mustang in front of me. Super nice car. I wish my chassis setup was as good as theirs. Their tires must last twice as long as mine. Easily.

Compared to Putnam Park, NCM was much harder on the brakes. However, unlike at Putnam Park, my brakes worked really well. The new compound pads were a really big improvement, and I had no fear of the car not stopping by the end of the first session.

The car handled fantastically. The back straight ended up being longer and faster than expected, and I know I could pick up nearly a second there by not chickening out and lifting so soon. I also left a lot of time in turn one. No more heat issues in the engine bay, thanks to some heat wrap and reflective tape. The front brakes, however, got cooked. The rotors were grooved and annealed, and the anodizing on the calipers became discolored.

Hot rotors turn blue, and black calipers turn purple

I’m currently installing new front air dams on the car with brake ducts to hopefully ameliorate  this issue. If the ducts don’t work, I’ll be investing in some big brakes.

After my third lap session, the skies opened up. Then lightening halted the event. The race track shut down. The Speed Stop was re-opened for a while, but it never dried out.

Rain, rain.

The awards were moved up to 4:20 pm, and everybody got out of town. It was a long, wet drive home, but the weekend was well worth it. I’m seriously considering the event in New Jersey in August, and Road America in October. I think with a few more tweaks to the car and a lot more driver tweaks, I can go faster. With an improved D&E performance and dry Speed Stop runs, I easily could have moved up several spots.

I’m finally trusting the car, and when you trust the car, you can drive it harder. It’s been a long road getting it to this point, but I’m happy with the results so far.