It’s been years since I’ve written a recap from one of our events. I can’t even blame the pandemic for this oversight! I recently had to look back through our history to document all the events we’ve been to and, to my surprise, it was much easier to find out what we were doing during the early years. Alec Cervenka and I had meticulously updated our blog month after month, year after year and then it sort of just faded away. Well, here’s my attempt at restarting the tradition, sadly it’s a month after our latest event, but the basics are still fresh in my mind.
The Global Time Attack Finale, previously called the Super Lap Battle Finale, has always been the bane of our time attack existence. We’ve broken more engines than you can imagine, had multiple fires, creepy old guys chatting up friends and so many “almosts” at really setting a fast lap that it’s painful to think about. 2022 was different. There was less drama, much more smooth sailing, but ultimately, we were left wanting more.
To talk about Buttonwillow in 2022, we need a quick backstory. We’ve been going out to race there since 2012, a freaking full decade of heading out to a dusty, desert track with little prestige outside of the time attack world. Sadly, due to the pandemic, we haven’t raced at Buttonwillow since 2018 and the car hasn’t been on track since early 2019. In this time off Grant Davis, team mechanic, has spent countless hours rebuilding and refining so many aspects of the vehicle. A new transmission, engine control unit, wire harness, power distribution module, cooling system, engine and I’m sure I’m missing plenty more.
With light approaching the end of the tunnel on the pandemic and the car build, Grant cracked the whip on Mike and me to start helping again so we could get this damned car on the track again! For the last 6 months or so, it was full steam ahead as the team itself reassembled, and then reassembled the car. We had teething issues at the dyno, which had glimpses of promise but not the full on confidence inspiring experience we had hoped for. We had one major, that turned out to be a minor, red flag of a potential engine issue. This slowed us down slightly, but was rectified quickly enough at a test session at Gingerman Raceway. That’s where things changed dramatically for the better!
The car just worked. Like really worked! I dusted off all my gear and drove the Evo in anger for the first time in, let me check my notes, 5 freaking years! We checked all systems, we re-checked, everything went so smoothly, it was hard to wrap our heads around it. We would experience a little thing here or there, but nothing like when we were blowing up engines and grenading transmissions in years past. We set our sights on Buttonwillow, a month away and started tying up loose ends.
Now that you’re up-to-date, Buttonwillow started with a practice session on Friday, November 11th. Yours truly got to drive the car again, my first time driving Buttonwillow in our Evo in, let me check my notes again, 10 freaking years! Overally, the car was healthy, the brakes where a little long, the wastegate duty cycle had to be reset, the power seemed a bit down; which we chalked up to my butt dyno not being properly calibrated, and we had one weird issue of the throttle staying open unexpectedly, which we thought might have been me accidentally side stepping onto the accelerator pedal.
With little to do on the car, Mike and I spent the next 5 hours hunting down extra Ignite Red racing fuel as we were going through it faster than expected. We would spend the night in Los Angeles with longtime sponsor Ziggy from Zeitronix, before waking up bright and early to pick up our real racing driver, Tom O’Gorman, from the airport.
The following day, and the official start of the event, we arrived at the track midday with the intent of making sure Tom was comfortable in the car and getting it prepared for really setting a fast time the following day. Tom’s first session went predictably slowly, we gave him low boost and old tires and his lap time was 1:46.8. His main complaint being turbo lag and understeer, but no issues with the brakes, Grant did some lovely work the night before fixing the long pedal problem. We swapped over to new tires and full boost for the second and final session of the day and that’s when we realized low power was indeed a problem! Tom ran a 1:42.8, which was over 3 seconds off of our previous best and his top speed was over 15 mph slower than the last time we competed. We truly felt the Buttonwillow curse had reared its head yet again!
With no more track time to figure out the issue, the team scrambled and started looking over all systems. Did the turbo fail? Did we lose compression? Did the exhaust manifold break? Everything looked peachy keen and the car ran perfectly. We poured over the data and I can’t remember who spotted it first, but we realized I had made a mistake on setting up the knock sensor. This sensor that controls how much timing the engine will run and it was pulling 8 degrees. Khiem Dinh, ex turbo engineer and still current friend, had arrived and told us that pulling 8 degrees of timing will increase your exhaust gas energy greatly. This caused the wastegate duty cycle issues during testing which we didn’t realize was an indicator of an issue. Additionally, it will cause a massive loss of power! That evening we got special permission to test the car on a secret track to make sure my mistake had been rectified and holy hell, yeah, the car was much faster with 8 degrees of timing back in it.
Starting day 2, we felt much more confident and Tom even got a good night’s sleep! First session out, Tom drove the car to a 1:38.7, almost as fast as our previous personal best and hope was renewed within the team that the elusive unlimited track record of 1:37.3 was possible. We would spend the remainder of the day trying every damned thing we could to get the car up to that level but it wasn’t meant to be. We worked on boost response, alignment settings, aero changes, ride height, you name it, but we just couldn’t get over that hump. We chiseled our way down to a 1:38.3, a personal best and good enough for second place in the event behind Lyfe Motorsport’s GTR, but a second away from our ultimate goal.
One would think that after so long away from racing and having to drive all the way across the country and back, that we’d feel utter disappointment. I can honestly say, I don’t, if anything, the event was our most successful in over a decade. No, we didn’t win or get a record, but we maximized the package we had for that weekend and the car just flat out worked. All of the background hard work and all of the lessons of over a decade of racing culminated in a car we can now focus on changing the small details that make huge payouts.
I can’t say a big enough thanks to our friends, family, partners, sponsors and supporters. I feel rejuvenated. We may not run back-to-back events like we’ve done in the past, but the team is as motivated as ever to build North America’s fastest time attack car. It’ll be done in a small garage. It’ll be done with a small budget. It’ll be done with a small crew. But it’ll absolutely be accomplished. Thanks so much and I’ll try to keep these updates coming regularly.