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Daytona Is Where I Want To Be

What a weekend for iRacing! The RACC runoffs, the Rolex 2.4 and our involvement in the Rolex 24. Sean Siff and  I were in Daytona this past weekend supporting our teams and many drivers who were competing for the coveted Rolex watch.

Our weekend in Daytona started-off a bit ominously as it appeared the iRacing curse had struck again. The curse is not really a curse but more of a string of bad racing luck. The two cars we sponsored last year both were wrecked on track – Marcos Ambrose’s Camry at Pocono and the Daytona Prototype shared by Ambrose and Carl Edwards didn’t even make the green flag at Montreal. I had hoped we were starting with a clean slate this year but just as we arrived at the track on Thursday I received an e-mail from the office informing me that Jimmie Johnson had just wrecked the GAINSCO car.  Yes, the very car we had partnered with for the Rolex 24! At first I thought the e-mail was a joke but I quickly realized it was not.

As soon as we got to the infield of the track we headed straight to the 99 car’s garage to survey the damage. Initial reports were not good as the team was planning to go back to Texas to get the backup car. They were hopeful they would be ready with a new car in time for the race-no guarantees though. This was not good but there was nothing we could do at this point so we moved on to meet with our other driver, Andrew Caddell. Andrew was driving for Rehegan Racing in a Mustang, competing in the Fresh From Florida 200 in the Continental Challenge Series. This is the support race that will be aired on SPEED on February 13 at 7 p.m. eastern time.

Andrew is an iRacer and an accomplished racer in the real-world having won the Mustang Challenge series for the past two years. iRacing was sponsoring Andrew for this race in his orange Mustang. Our logos were featured on the doors and the roof. Andrew and his co-driver Kenny Wilden were struggling in practice, only managing to post a top 15 time. Eventually the team sorted out the setup and Andrew was able to qualify third. After Andrew provided his blog update we called it a day and planned to regroup Friday morning.

An early wake-up and straight to the track to check on our cars and get some interviews for 3 Wide Life, a racing show for which iRacing is the primary sponsor. We were pleasantly surprised to learn the 99 team was able to repair the car over the night after Jimmie Johnson used his personal helicopter and jet to shuttle parts to the track. In fact, the car was already on track when we arrived! Things were looking up for iRacing!

A few more driver interviews were completed including Jimmie Johnson and Alex Gurney, and then it was time for the Continental Challenge race. We were lucky enough to get to the grid in time to wish Andrew luck and then watched the race from the pit stall with the rest of the team. What a great place to watch a race! Caddell made a clean start and the race was going well until the first caution. Upon the restart the car developed a problem, it was down on power. It turns out it was due to a cracked header. The car was still handling well and Andrew managed to hold onto a top ten finish, which is a testament to his driving ability.

After the Continental Race, we headed to the Gainsco corporate party where we were demoing our software to Gainsco employees and the drivers of the 99 car – Jimmie Johnson, Alex Gurney (a long-time iRacer), Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser. After some brief words by Bob Stallings (team owner) and a Q&A session with the drivers the driving competition began. Obviously we were running the DP at Daytona. Bob Stallings posted a time of 1:59.802. Jimmie went next laid down a really quick time right off the bat, he posted a 1:43.703 on his first flying lap. Jon Fogarty went third and put up a time of 1:54.122. Alex then posted the fast lap of the driver competition, a 1:42.537 and the crowd went wild. It was a lot of fun coaching these world class drivers and all of them noted how great the software was.

Saturday morning was another early day to the track. Our mission was to track down another iRacer competing in the Rolex 24, Justin Wilson. We wanted to get a quick interview for 3 Wide Life and managed to meet up with Justin at his RV. The interview took place on the walk from the RV lot to the drivers meeting. It was sheer madness fighting through the crowded infield while trying to keep the camera and mic focused on Justin. Kudos to the crew from 3 Wide Life!

At 3:30 pm the race got underway and the 99 car was running well. The team settled into a comfortable fifth place. Positions changed as cars adopted different pit stop strategies but the car was in a good spot when we left for the evening. I wasn’t about to attempt the all nighter!  In the middle of the night the car did head to the garage for some minor work which put it down a couple of laps but, when we arrived at the track in the morning, things were still looking good for a possible podium finish for the Red Dragon. Unfortunately that all changed around noon, when there was less than 4 hours to go. Jimmy Vasser reported on the team radio that he was showing zero oil pressure. He pulled it off the track and it was towed back the garage where the team ultimately diagnosed an oil pump belt failure. The race was over for the 99 team.

While we were certainly hoping for a victory in the Rolex 24 (I was secretly hoping for a new watch) the entire event was a huge success for iRacing regardless of the finish. We got tons of exposure to racing fans both at the track and around the world, and three of the top four finishing cars had iRacers on their driving teams (P1 – Joao Barbosa/Action Express, P2 -Justin Wilson/Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, P-4 Colin Braun/Krohn Racing). Being part of the race weekend was a fantastic way to connect to motorsport fans. Daytona really is the place to be this time of year!


It’s the most wonderful time of year

Living in the northeast US I am used to cold, snowy winters, I actually enjoy them. What I don’t like about winter is that it is the off-season of motorsports. Sure there is still some racing going on around the world but none of it is covered on US television so essentially motorsports is on winter break. Now winter is still here but it is the end of January which means racing is about to start again!

Anything is possible at this point in the season. Whomever you root for – the championship is still a possibility. New rules and new teams add questions and intrigue. How will the new COT spoiler work, who will be behind the wheel when USF1 debuts their cars? How will Danica fair in a stock car and will she win the Indy 500? The questions only increase the anticipation. The racing gods have yet to bestow any victories or take away any dreams. It really is the best time of year for race fans.

This year I am even more excited about the start of the racing season than usual. So much is going on at iRacing – the official NASCAR series are about to start, we just signed a deal with Williams F1 to bring the FW32 to the sim, the iRacing Rolex 2.4 is this weekend, we have partnered with the #99 Gainsco car for the Rolex 24 (you’ll see our logo on the rear wing) and we sponsored Andrew Caddell’s Mustang in the Continental Challenge race at Daytona. As a diehard motorsports fan I have always anticipated this time of year, but always as a fan. Now I actually feel as if I am part of the world wide racing community.

This weekend’s iRacing Rolex 2.4 is sure to be a great event; unfortunately I’ll miss it as I will be in Daytona for the Rolex 24. I’ll be tweeting live updates from the track and garages though. Keep tabs on the iRacing cars by following iRacing on Twitter and becoming a fan on Facebook. I ‘m disappointed to miss the iRacing Rolex 2.4 but thrilled to be part of the official opening of the 2010 racing season.

What has you most energized about the upcoming season? NASCAR, F1, sports cars, iRacing? Will the drama in the paddock be more interesting than the battles on the track? Let me know what excites you about 2010 motorsports.

iRacers to watch at the Rolex 24:
Alex Gurney #99 Gainsco Riley DP
Justin Wilson #01 BMW Riley DP
AJ Allmendinger #6 Ford Riley DP
Colin Braun #75 Ford Lola DP
Derek Johnston #77 Ford Dallara
Jordan Taylor #30 Mazda RX8
Spencer Pumpelly #71 Porsche GT3

Continental Challenge
Barry Waddell #99 BMW M3
Andrew Caddell #59 Ford Mustang
Trevor Hopwood #12 Kia Forte Coupe
Adam Burrows #12 Kia Forte Coupe
Josh Hurley #181 VW GTI

Danica or Michael?

Danica Patrick will don fenders in 2010, joining NASCAR part-time.

Danica goes NASCAR. Schumacher returns to Formula One. Coincidence? Both NASCAR and F1 will benefit from such high profile names joining (or rejoining). The fans will eat it up. TV ratings, ticket sales and merchandise sales will be up. And let’s not forget about ad revenue. I ‘m not saying that NASCAR or F1 are responsible for Danica and Michael becoming the stars of their sports but I am sure they both hand their hands in it – at the very least making it as easy as possible for them to go racing. Why else would they make these moves – money or ego perhaps?

How about Danica and Michael’s competitive drive. Neither racer needs the money but they both seem to crave the limelight and the thrill of racing, who can blame them really. Racing is an adrenalin filled sport and to have the opportunity to race at the highest levels of motorsport is every racers dream. For Michael and Danica living the dream is what racing is all about.

Shuey makes his return to F1 in 2010.

Who do you think will have the larger impact on their series?

Going Clutchless

It all began at the Glen – turn one of my last on track session. I stepped on the clutch as I was braking, beginning my shift down two gears just prior to turn in. I pushed the shift lever forward but I couldn’t find my gear. So I tried pushing again, and again nothing. I quickly checked my mirrors again to make sure no one was closing rapidly, thankfully no one was near. As my heart rate went up I thought about what all of my PCA driver instructors over the years had told me to do when something doesn’t go as planned – don’t panic!

I kept my 944 S2 on line through the corner so as not to do anything too abruptly. Once I exited the corner I pulled off line. I continued to try and find a gear as I was coasting down the hill. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill I still hadn’t found a gear and now I realized there was no place to pull my car off track! As I came to a stop I whacked the shift lever forward as hard I could, partly out of frustration and partly out of desperation. This time it worked. I had found first gear! I checked my mirrors and looked for a flagger. No cars in sight so I slowly pulled forward limping back to pit lane. I managed to force my way up to third gear by the time I got to the bus stop.

I pulled into the paddock and my crew chief (my father) asked how my run was and I told him what happened. We looked under the hood and under the car and found nothing that looked out of place so we took the car for a short drive around the paddock. Shifting was difficult but nowhere near as bad as it was in turn one. As I debated if I should drive all the way back to New Hampshire with this problem or hire a wrecker my father offered me a tow. He unloaded his racecar car and loaded my car. He towed me seven hours home, spent the night and then drove back to the Glen to pick up his car and drive home to Virginia. Can you say Father of the Year! Thanks again Dad.

After consultation with everyone I know and some I didn’t, I concluded my clutch was shot. It was fitted with the older, rubber center clutch and this was textbook symptoms of failure. After pricing out a clutch job I decided I would try to do this myself (“myself” actually means with the help of a half dozen Porsche Club members, my father and a certified mechanic).

A friend offered her garage equiped with a car lift, and another offered his transmission jack and still many others offered ideas and strategies. Next my father came back to NH specifically to help with the job. I prepped the car a bit before he arrived by removing the exhaust and some other miscellaneous parts. My father had consulted with his mechanic Robert in Williamsburg, VA prior to visiting. Robert actually loaned us some tools and extra parts that he thought we would need, and boy did we need them! He also made himself available via phone for questions.

My father and I spent two full days under, inside and on top of my car before he had to leave. I was able to finish the job the following weekend in a couple of hours. The job required more patience and muscle than technical ability. Once you get everything apart it really only goes back together one way. Just make sure you connect your ground wires correctly if you want the car to start – ask me how I know some time.

I really want to thank everybody who helped – Judy, Edgar, Robert and especially my father. I saved a ton of money doing it by ‘myself’ and learned a whole lot about my car.

Hex-a-what?

The worlds of motorsport, both real world and online, are continuing to blend into one. I had the opportunity to drive the Cruden Hexatech simulator this past week at the Performance Racing industry show (PRI) in Orlando, FL and it is really pretty remarkable. Incredibly smooth motion including the ability to simulate yaw which I have not found in any of the other motion platforms I have driven. Being able to feel the back end of the car you are driving move around in a corner is incredibly important when it comes to replicating a real life driving experience.

The 6-axis Cruden Simulator

Race drivers who wish to sharpen their driving skills would no doubt find the simulator useful, albeit a bit pricey – $300K. The average sim racer will likely find it impractical in terms of size and price but if given the opportunity I do recommend you give the Cruden a test drive.

Now if only they had been running iRacing software I think the experience would have nearly perfect! iRacing’s track modeling and car physics are more precise than what I drove on the Cruden and would add a lot to the experience.  Yes, I am a bit biased as I work for iRacing but there really is no equal to laser scanned tracks with millimeter accuracy.

Combining multi axis motion with incredibly accurate track and car models will continue to grow as a way for racers to practice and hone their skills. Testing and training on a simulator is cheaper, safer and less time consuming than going to the track and in this economy what team wouldn’t want that.