Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA is most well known for hosting the NASCAR series but recently played home for Redline Track Event’s Round 3 of their Pro Track Challenge, Pro Time Attack, Moto IQ Pacific Tuner Car Championship, and Lotus Cup USA on May 28th & 29th.
I solely compete in Redlines Pro Time Attack because for me it is the best TA series to run in. I am located in Southern California, and I am a self funded privateer. Redline Track Events is cheaper than it was in previous years and now runs all of their events on the West Coast, so for me it is the best bang for the buck, as well as any other TA or wheel to wheel drivers/teams who seek a series with a good amount media coverage.
Round 3. This was to be my first event competing with my R32 GT-R. Almost 4 years ago I competed with my Mitsubishi Evo IX (might I add I was also running my favorite racing wheel the NTO3+M) this was the last time I did any competitive driving. You can probably guess how nervous and excited I was for this day to come to fruition.
Months leading up to that weekend Cobb Tuning SoCal and I were slowly putting together the pieces that would be an unfinished puzzle, just getting enough fragments together(within budget) to have a good idea of the finished picture. While the weeks wound down to final days and we were losing time, some things had to be left out but they wouldn’t be detrimental to make the weekend happen without issue. Or so we thought.
During the last couple of weeks I was just excited to get back on the track. The track is a place I am happy, despite the usually severe conditions of hot or cold weather mixed with the blazing sun and abrasive wind, I am very comfortable there and don’t mind spectating, working or supporting but obviously I most enjoy driving. This is my heaven, my home, my sanctuary. Or so I thought.
It’s Friday May 27th, I head to Cobb Tuning SoCal to pick up my GT-R and trailer it to Auto Club Speedway. Last few finishing touches being made so I run a few local errands. Load up the car and me and my sister head out to drop ship at the track. I see my Fontana Nissan Racing family in the garage readying the R35 its new livery to match the monster 350Z and also setting up the transporter for hospitality services for crew, drivers and guests. This makes me more excited for what’s to come the next day and Sunday but still not an ounce of nerves.
The rest of the Nissan Race Shop/Fontana Nissan crew roll in, Scott Vanderheide in his SR powered B13 Sentra and Aaron Singh in his JDM S14. We all continue to work, wrench, polish, sticker, banter, BS, chat and shoot the…well you know. Its Midnight…time to head home. I’m still just as excited, no nerves, no anxiety. Is it 5am yet?
Alarm goes off, I get up, get ready and we all roll out to the track. Sign in, and start on the cars. My car is mechanically ready, no preparations to be done quite yet just needed to install data acquisition unit, clean her off and apply the new stickers. Previously they were black, which looked good I think, but I noticed any photograph that wasn’t a quality pic or too far from the car lacked one very important thing…..clear logo’s for my generous sponsors. If there is anything I don’t want its disappointing my sponsors, and this was not acceptable, so I changed up to plain white stickers, no fancy trim, no fancy shade or outline, just plain white to show the world this is who I trust to contribute to such an important project. Bah rambling, sorry. But you get the idea….so guess what I got to do that morning? Sticker party! I previously sketched out my car front back and side with a general idea of where I want my sponsor logo’s and how many depending on their contribution so this wasn’t too big of a deal since I was able to reference the sketch. One problem: 2 sponsor logo’s are missing, this is not good, I’m kicking myself because I knew I should have checked all of my stickers in case there was an issue, sure enough there was. Fortunately I was able to speak with one of my sponsors Costa Gialamas of Gialamas Technical Innovations(Who also helps my fellow Enkei sponsored Stephan Verdier with his STi) about the issue and being the nice guy that he is, he was understanding, my other sponsor Buddy Club was contacted via phone also to let them know they were not forgotten. The nerves are now beginning to set in.
There was an issue with my registration and I began to stress about that, though it was resolved shortly after but I missed a session, it only added to my currently blossoming frustration. A few other issues came about, minor but none the less further accumulated my increasing frustration and anxiety.
All of a sudden I realized my session was starting in 10 minutes and I had to be at grid now. I changed into my driving suit and gear and jumped into the car, with the help of my crew I strapped in, fired her up and headed to grid.
First practice session with my car ever. 7 months ago I did a few sessions but I slowly putted around the track doing “cool down” speed only to get used to shifting and driving RHD. I knew all I needed was today to get acclimated enough to be pretty comfortable with the car and get a good idea of my lines with the car. Little did I know that I would have essentially no time with the car the entire day.
I come off grid and enter the track on the apron and swing out wide to enter turn 3 and transition to turn 4, 5, 6, 7 , 8, 9 and eventually make my way down the strait after the chicane. As I make my way down the strait at full boost I go to grab the next gear only to hear a “POP”. The car sputters and coughs in its boost leaky kind of way, I pull off to the left of the track after turn 14 and she dies on me. I am not even one lap into my session and I am dead on the track. Not a good way to start my morning.
Charge pipe or hose rather has popped off. So many of my own peers sessions have been killed by this very problem, and for the first time in my life I get to experience it now too. Victor aka Emergency Hooker pulls the lifeless Godzilla off track and back to my garage. Time to tighten that T-Clamp up like its never been tightened before. Next session yielded me with about 2 laps only to have the same issue come about except this time a different truck pulled me in, I guess that saves me the embarrassment of having Victor tow me in again….this is becoming a trend, because funny enough that’s how we met last year. Did I mention he towed my car from KW Autobody to Fontana Nissan for a meet….does he have a punch card because I think mine would be filled at this point.
Back to the bat cave, or the Godzilla cave. Scott and Aaron are having gremlins and the Fontana Nissan Z is having issues. At least we are all in the same mood, I guess. Same issue different part of the hose. Steve from Cobb Tuning SoCal talks me down from the psychological battle I’m having with myself and the issues with my car. Between my anxiety from all issues that morning not related to the car itself and the pretty miniscule yet somehow session killing issue has taken its toll on me and I am a ball of nerves because I don’t have enough time with the car, a car that still feels alien to me, despite coming from an AWD car onto another AWD car, the Evo and the R32 act completely different on track, and I have to figure out different lines because this car does not want to rotate. Did I mention my tach and speedo weren’t working also? I had to drive this car off my instincts, and essentially for the first time. This was not the happy place that I used to know.
Next session. I’m finally a little level headed and less frantic after some time to relax and realize what my situation was and understanding I just had to think less about everything and just drive to get a feel of the car. I grid and tell myself “Don’t think, just drive”. I get sent out on the track, and I let go of every emotion and just feel the car around me, the tires rolling over the asphalt, the sound of the engine, my oh so quiet exhaust note and the twin turbo’s spool. Yep this is the session, this is where we connect, and I “get it”. As I start into the technical infield and come up to the strait where I first popped off the hose, I go for full boost knowing that this may be the last shift I make for the rest of the day. As the turbo’s begin to spool up and sound off like a jet *POP* sure enough it was the last up shift. I keep the car going as much as I can only to crawl into the offshoot that takes you back onto grid. Here comes Victor again, he comes over to my window and I say “Yep same issue”. As he hooks up the strap to my tow hook I sit there with my helmet on still, completely crushed. My last session gone.
Back to the garage, towed back to the garage. I pull up and push the car back in. Steve says he is pulling the same part that keeps failing off of his own R32 GT-R tonight and throwing it on first thing tomorrow, Scott asks me if I want to have Turbo Smart bring me something but at this point I think the best thing is something we know will be a perfect fit since it’s such a relatively rare car, and I don’t want to be stuck last minute with no options but safety wiring that hose down.
The engine has all new mounts and the car is on stock boost, we attributed the issue to the crappy old hose that has been there since the engine was made, time to upgrade sooner than later.
It’s Sunday morning, race day. I have one 10 minute practice session….yep you heard me right ONE 10 minute session. Then I have two rounds of Time Attack, each lasting 5 laps giving me 3 laps each TA session to pull a decent time. The old charge pipe has been replaced, double clamped and 3M adhesive has been utilized to keep things from “popping off” so to speak. A few strait line test runs Steve did on another part of the track made the hose pop off again. This wasn’t comforting but it took a lot of effort for him to make it happen, I decided to shift less aggressively and I short shifted too, which affected my time tremendously but my goal at this point was to make sure the car made passes without dying.
They pre grid me. They tell all of us to fire up our engines, and I sit for a few minutes. They let us loose on the track, as I’m making my way down the hot pits, I realize something is wrong. My car is barely making power, and I’m thinking you have got to be kidding me. I continue onto the track and all the while watch my temps and listen to my car. I literally putt around the track, my car is not making boost, it is somehow stuck in limp mode and is at this point NA and topping out at a certain RPM. On my last lap I hit the strait after turn 11 and all of a sudden the car jumps out of limp mode(literally) and I feel like I’m in the Fast and the Furious when Paul Walker hits the nitrous button. Are you kidding me….your really coming back to life on the last half of my last lap?! Godzilla hates me.
I pull into tech, Steve is awaiting and I advise him of the issue. We run the scan tool, check over everything, take a few strait line runs elsewhere and there are no issues to be had of course. He chalks it up to the car sitting at idle on grid for too long and essentially protecting itself due to rising water temps. Did I mention some of my gauges are stock and have a margin of error? Oh forgot that part.
I try to de stress, all of my peers try to help me de stress, but I can’t help but think wow I have had basically no real time with my car. Oh it’s time for me to go on track again….I rush over to grid and start my car right before I drive. Last chance Godzilla, be good to me please, I start talking to her and telling her all the things we’ll be doing after this weekend and all of the things I am going to buy her as if I’m a player trying to spit game at a woman. Please baby can we just dance? Give me one dance. Here we go.
I roll out of the hot pits and onto the apron, I baby the car around the track for her warm up, the plan is baby her the first 1-2 laps then open up a can of you know what right after and show her who’s boss. Warm up lap down, I cross the start/finish. I am still babying her, increasing speed but still taking it super easy and still nervous about coming into turn 1 not knowing how fast I’m going especially on not so sticky street tires(budget didn’t allow stickier tires). I get around the track without issue but mentally still apprehensive. Onto lap 3 I pass start/finish with my twin turbos howling down the strait, it feels so good to hear them without that hose popping off. I get around the track still tense, I see someone in front of go through the chicane only to find I have been taking the chicane wrong the entire time….I’m so used to the same setup and so mentally involved with everything going on that I didn’t see the chicane had been opened up. Wow that’s like 1-2 seconds off my time and I missed it! I run down the strait frustrated from my new finding and throw the car into the final turns of lap 3, taking on the burm’s, breaking my tires just loose enough to make the car slide and the tail to come out, it was happening and I didn’t even know it, I was finally pushing the car like I needed to because I let go of all the over thinking and just drove. Lap 4 my car began to sputter so I took it easy for a few sections of the lap for preservation sake but on that last set of turns before the transition onto to banked strait I let her loose again, feeling the car slide over the pavement, bounce over the burm’s and accelerate out of the corner like a slingshot, and it felt damn good. I continued onto my cool down final lap and pulled into tech, then into the garage to see Steve smiling at me for the first time the whole weekend.
Those 2 laps were worth the entire weekend of stress, and anxiety. When I got out of the car it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I relaxed, watched some of the other races go on and hung out with my peers. I was sitting in my garage when all of a sudden someone runs over to me and says “Kerryann they are calling your name, go to the stage” I make my way over to find my buddy Aaron who tells me I won an award(I wasn’t expecting or planning on that). Yukio the MC of the event calls me up for winning the Modified AWD class. This was a big surprise, in fact when you look at pictures of me on the podium I look pretty awkward up there as if I accidently walked into the men’s bathroom. Oh well I’ll take it.
Overall the weekend opened my eyes to a different point of view, well a skewed point of view than I was used to. The day after the event I had a feeling of complete failure. I failed to recognize what was going on with myself that really affected my driving ability, I was also constantly comparing this weekend to the last time I was at the track. I ran much faster and was far more confident on the track. I also had been driving that car for 4 years and had plenty of time with it on multiple tracks from stock to “Street class”. I also realize now that right after I was pretty hard on myself. But I know that is how you learn. I am grateful for a weekend of learning, and even more grateful for not breaking anything! I have much more to learn and Godzilla has much more in store for her this year. I promised her a blingy BBK if she was good to me the next few months.
Next event is the Redline Liberty Grand Prix on 4th of July weekend at Willow Springs, but I will be sure to get some testing in before then. Wish us luck!
Thanks to my sponsors:
Enkei Wheels, Nissan Race Shop/Fontana Nissan, Cobb Tuning SoCal, KW Auto Body, K&W Suspension, Buddy Club, Gialamas Technical Innovations, Sparco, House of Kolor, Debeer, Seibon.
Special Thanks to Steve Mitchell at Cobb Tuning SoCal and Scott Vanderheide at Nissan Race Shop.
Photos: Urban Racer, Kyle Lewis, Jason Kasugaya, Bruce Heimbach, Miguel Molina, Steve Mitchell, Cali Photography.
See more pics at my Face Book Page! http://www.facebook.com/KerryannDeLaCruzRacing