The good photos by : Yia Lor
We hauled the car to Buttonwillow Raceway for Global Time Attack's season finale & ultimate North American Time Attack: Super Lap Battle. It was a battle just getting there. We skipped a couple teeth on the timing belt at 2 AM Wednesday while loading the trailer. After verifying the repair was sound, we all got a nap. Shortly after at sun up, it was time to haul from Colorado to the pungent Central Valley of California.
75 gallons of gasoline and a night's sleep later, the sun was peeking over the rabbit brush and sage foothills of Kern County. We were at the birthplace of American Time Attack, waiting for 7:30 AM and the noise ordinance to subside so we could get the car's tech inspection. Going to work festooning the external aerodynamic bits on the car like rear diffuser and front splitter turned the short delay into a rush of urgency. The paddock roared to life with a nostril burning race fuel cacophony of inline fours, boxer fours and the odd rotary. Our Subaru flat-six coughed and sputtered to life with a heavy waft of rot gut tequila from the partially burned ethanol. The paddock felt like that moment at the party where the needle and stylus scratch across the record; when the background noise and mingling racers pause and stare silently. Our car was idling across the paddock to scrutineering like an obnoxious snorting bull led by his septum ring.
After a mandated and proper re-threading of the driver safety harness and concurrent driver meeting, we were assigned our run groups. "Tadd Rigsby run group B" was called out by one of the GTA officials. As the morning practice session bellowed to life we watched with cautious optimism as Tadd manhandled the car on his warmup lap which was less warmup and more "run for your life." He drove light and easy through the Cotton Corners, rocketing out of the Grapevine with great thrust and urgency into the Bus Stop. Wow! I thought to myself, we have a chance in Unlimited AWD, on wastegate boost (12 psi). Just as quickly as my astonishment rose, it faded to the sound of s sputtering opposed six. The camshaft sensor sync jumped erratically after the car squatted and squirted out of the Truckstop into Riverside's sweeping right. Our rev limit was just chopped almost in half, from 8500 down to 5000 rpm as anything beyond, wouldn't track the signal. The car had gone from a front tire lifting, corner-exiting beast to a noisy green, rolling chicane. Tadd cautiously piloted it back to the hot pit where he shared our disappointment. We spent the remainder of day one chasing this sync error and procuring supplies in the vast expanse of the literal and material desert as everything in the Kern Valley is separated by miles of almonds, cotton and pistachios.
Upon return to Buttonwillow Raceway, 75 roving miles later, bearing gifts of US Imperial Standard hardware, a spare alternator belt, refreshments and other consumables. Will Rinehart, our team ECU calibrator and resident vice-monger informed me that the car is now pulling clean to 8500 rpm and that we should take it to a drag strip because "this bitch will run 9s on wastegate boost." Who was I to argue with an Evo owner carrying multiple 9 second passes under his belt? As darkness fell we left our recalcitrant, wrong ended flat six chariot parked in the paddock. We were ready to participate in another time attack ritual: meat and potato consumption lubricated with cold beer at the Willow Ranch. It looked like the entire grid was there, slowing their cars down with BBQ and beer.
After the morning driver's meeting and run group assignments, we all unironically listened to "The Final Countdown" by Europe. "Leaving ground (leaving ground), Will things ever be the same again?" I can answer those lyrics with a resounding "NO!"
Late for our run group's first session of the day, Tadd trotted the car over to grid and the steward ushered him onto a hot track, "GO! GO! GO!" The little Impreza banged and popped.
The chassis squatted hard, spun all four tires and took off like it was fired from a rifle, while stewards and crew hastily dove over the pit wall for cover. The engine roared and whistled with the urgency of a hundred boiling teapots but the excitement soon turned to the familiar frustration of an artificial 5000 rpm rev limiter. Will and I attempted a fix in the form of a cam sensor swap in the hot pit. It did nothing to quell the asthmatic reflex the ECU was inducing. Tadd indicated that we should at least get some lap data and he short shifted his way back onto a hot track with a SNORT-KABLAP SNORT-KABLAP. We were now operating completely inverse of how we thought we would: we had planned to murder the straights and corner exits with the brute force available from big engine/little car power to weight ratio but instead, Tadd was momentum racing, carrying as much speed as he could while using the entire width of the track to the curbing. It was "slow car, fast" instead of a violent beast clawing off of corner exits and coasting entries and apexes. He shaved 6 seconds off his laps in one session, learning the braking zones of the track and learning our rear suspension wasn't up to the task of dealing with speed with downforce.
On the Riverside sweeper, the KW rear progressive springs were squatting hard enough for our Federal semi slicks to rub and bellow acrid white smoke. As Tadd piloted our hampered beast back to the paddock, the pits fell reverently calm while the Gridlife Evo, Spoon Civic and an unassuming gray and hot pink Porsche GT3 cup shrieked around the tarmac.
It looked like low 1:4X.XX was the benchmark. The Professional Awesome Evo was circling the paddock like a hungry shark, gathering its bearings from a rumored overnight engine freshening. Somewhere between the B and E run groups we hear cheering and see plumes of dust, wondering whether it's the Hoonigan or Snail teams using every bit of the track and a little more. Afternoon has set in and I've jacked the rear springs up to crutch our lack of rear stiffness. It's time to gamble on the last session of the day. Earlier, we had visited 7s Only Racing, a race shop conveniently located on premises and hired the proprietor to grind our cam sensor bracket out so that we could fit a later, newer, cheaper and readily available WRX mag sensor in place of our expensive, discontinued, SVX mag cam sensor. Air gap on the cam sensor seemed to have no effect on the magnitude of the rpm tracking errors.
We surmised that we may be able to remedy the situation by desoldering the resistors we had earlier added to the trigger circuitry as noise filtration. This will fix it or finish us off. The clock is ticking, Will is operating the truck's cigarette lighter-powered soldering iron. The announcement calls out our run group and I hear Will cussing softly in a defeated tone. He found a loose pin in the ECU's harness, one that happens to be part of the sequential trigger circuit. Our race is over, our run group is done. Our consolation is found watching Run Group A hammer their machines around Buttonwillow CW13 one last time in 2017.
The K tuned Honda dramatically showers sparks each time its diffuser kisses the tarmac, the glow of David Haagsma's R35 brakes foreshadow the coming sunset while the Professional Awesome Evo chugs black smoke with a Halloween orange blaze erupting from under its bonnet.
At the track, glory is found through grit, skill, horsepower and grip but we all live and die by plumbing and wiring. Our Federal FZ201 semi slicks warm quickly, grip well and wear even better. Our ASF engine has happily been through the paces of a crummy wiring harness, mediocre ECU with two master caliber tuners Harvey Epstein of The Boost Creep and Will Rinehart of Elevated Tuning doing their best to make old technology functional in a modern & reliable manner. Custom engineered aluminum bits by Colt at 39N make the puzzle of a big engine in a little car fit much better while providing bling. Sean Black and Cyril Gress have cussed and bled to the beat of whatever drums were thumping in The Gripwell Garage. Tadd Rigsby has sweated, bled, sneezed paint droplets to build driving callouses on the track while honing his racing lines. Thanks to all of you for what is often mistaken for luck is actually preparation. For 2018, we resolve to be prepared, we'll see you at the track.