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2005 US National Formula Vee Championship

June10/11th - Portland Rose Cup National

The track itself is a fun little track, not too technical but enough that the local folks do have a little advantage. I've only raced here once before and probably only have about 30 laps total on the track. Throughout the practice and qualifying sessions we chased an oil leak. Everything that filters or passes oil got stripped, inspected, cleaned and reassembled. Eventually we figured it was the oil cooler. That started a chase around Portland for a replacement. Eventually I found one in a bug ship about 30 miles outside the city!

Qualifying had gone well with a last lap draft clinching 4th place. The morning of the race the weather couldn’t decide what it wanted to do and alternated between heavy rains and then completely drying out. As I strapped on my helmet and HANs it began to rain. With no one on hand to help change to wets at this stage I elected to go on drys while Stan, my pit buddy, decided to change to wets with the help of an IT car driver paddocked beside us. (Stan would eventually get on track 3 laps into the race!).

The rain began to bucket down and arriving at the pre-grid I was relieved to find that just about everyone was on slicks. Unfortunately for me not everyone was on slicks. By the time we got onto the track the rain was horrendous and I couldn’t see anything when in the spray of the car in front….and this was on the warm-up lap! The start went ok with everyone tippy-toeing into the festival chicane, except for Brian Harding who was on wets. Brain headed off into the distance while Dennis and I battled for second. A lap later Brian had spun off and Dennis and I were now battling for 1st. It took me a lap or two but I eventually managed to squeeze by Dennis in the festival chicane. I was able to enjoy the lead for about 6 yards before Mike Smith blasted by me on wets to take the lead away. It was time to prove my prowess as an Irish rain driver! I pushed really hard and did my best to fill Mike’s mirrors as best I could. I hung onto him for a couple of laps but he drove flawlessly and eked out a lead on me.

The next thing I knew there was full course caution. We bunched up and puttered around the track. As we passed the festival curves it became apparent that Brian Harding had lost it at the end of the straight and made contact with something. It later transpired Brian had backed it into the wall and hurt is back (hope you’re getting better Brian!). We putted around the track for another lap or two before they called the race.

Second place wasn’t the worst and it was certainly a fun race. As I mentioned, the schedule was conducive to enjoying some nightlife for a change. Thanks to our local guide, Quinn Posner, we took full advantage of Portland on Saturday night and spent most of Sunday recovering!

Not so good is the realization that the budget is blown due to the engine mishap in Seattle. We’ll have to skip California Speedway and Laguna to focus on the repayment plan to my sponsors…Visa!

May 28-30th - Seattle Double National

Seattle is one of my favorite tracks due to mixture of high speed stuff and interesting back section through the forest. Luckily this year the weather was great although the track surface has degraded a lot since we were last there. It’s much more abrasive and very, very bumpy in some places which wasn’t good news for us as we hadn’t been able to get new tires for Seattle.

This being our second time to race here we knew a little aggression is needed in qualifying to make sure you get a good run. However the long run to the first corner is an opportunity for those behind to draft up on you. The result was that we entered the first corner in about 6th place. A couple of laps later we were back up to 4th and clear of the second group. Ahead were the lead group of Dennis Andrade, Quinn Posner and Ethan Shippert. It became apparent that a running without a draft and running on tires from March I wasn’t going to be able to bridge the gap. 4th place would have been ok but more was in store for us. Glancing at the oil pressure while in the back section of the track the gauge went to zero momentarily. It happened while on a straight so I thought it must be the gauge. Unfortunately it wasn’t the gauge though, half a lap later coming onto the main straight we lost power and new a bearing was gone….end of engine, end of race….no points!

Bob Posner heard of our plight and offered up his spare motor for the second race. With just three hours to qualifying for the 2nd race it would be tight. It proved to be too tight – we got the new motor in but it would fire due to a fuel problem. That was followed by a host of niggley problems that got fixed before the race the next day. The downside was that we would start last in 12 car field.

The start went ok as I popped off a couple people early on. A couple of laps in and I was up to 6th and quite happy, even more so when we got a full course caution! On the restart I got right up on the 5th and 6th place and stuck there through the back section. Coming up to little Indy I was patting myself on the back as to what great a job I had done and thinking I was about to get a great draft. Well, Leroy brakes a little early for little Indy and this caught the 5th place guy (I think it was Alan) out, he jinked to the right to avoid Leroy, I had to jink to avoid Alan and spun out in doing so…how embarrassing! I executed a nice 360, dropped a gear and got going again. Although I didn’t lose much time, I was last again as everyone was still close together after the restart. I set about reclaiming the spots I’d lost and managed to get back to 6th. A DNF and 6th place weren’t exactly what we were expecting after such a great time a Thunderhill but that’s racing!

March 20-21st - Double National at Thunderhill

Nowadays I actually enjoy the drive to the track as I get the opportunity to catch my breath and just think after all the preparations. This time around we had the rare opportunity to go testing prior to the race and we took full advantage of it. Blake Tatum of Crusader joined us to offer guidance and we got to work through all our different setups. We finished off the day with some quick laps to confirm the final setup.

Friday was a relatively easy day for us with just practice and tech. Rain had been forecast but it held out until just after our practice session which we used to scrub tires. It then proceeded to rain all night and batter the trailer and awning. At least it was obvious in the morning that we had to go to a rain setup! With only one set of dogbone Goodyear Rains we decided to take it relatively easy in qualifying and preserve the tires. Still, we ended up qualifying on the front row with Colin Cross. After our session the wind picked up and the track dried quickly, with the result that by the time we lined up the track was bone dry and we were back to dry set up.

The start was a little hectic as we'd qualified in front of a couple of the FFords in the wet. Once it all settled down Colin and I broke away from the pack. After swapping the lead once or twice the pace settled down in preparation for the finish. The faster fords began to come through with about 4 laps to go which would lead to our downfall. Heading into the crows nest turn I waved a FFord by only for the Ford to lock up in the corner, hit me and push me off the track. The car was damaged but not enough to stop it from finishing - although Colin was long gone. Fortunately there was enough of a gap to third place Dennis Andrade to allow me to come home in 2nd. Some consolation was that we grabbed the fastest lap proving our off-season development had made a big difference to our performance.

We decided to make some setup changes for qualifying for the second race which were ill-advised to say the least. The car just wouldnt handle and I ended up spinning once in an attempt to wrestle the car around the track. The result was a less than pleasing 5th place on the grid. Naturally, we changed the setting back straight after the session! The weather gods proceeded to give us the run around for the next couple of hours. THere were two torrential downpours and then the track completeley dried out. With 30 minutes to go we decided to stick with our dry setup and luckily for us it stayed dry.

Another good start saw the number 16 pop straight into third place behind Colin and Quinn Posner. The lead group quickly pulled away and diced for the lead for the next 10 laps. It must have been fun to look at with the three of us racing headlong into turn 1 (85+ mph corner) three abreast. As the laps wound down and ominous blue silhouette began to gain ground in our mirrors. Dennis Andrade had put his head down and was slowly reeling us in as we diced for the lead. Heading into the last lap I was sitting third looking forward to the draft for the finish line. Coming out of turn 6 Quinn had a little bobble which allowed Colin to eke out a small gap and dropped back. Second place was still up for offers though and as we headed into the last turn I was nicely placed for the draft. Quinn ran wide however and I got up the inside only for him to close the door and both us lost momentum. All this while Dennis was watching and used his momentum to cruise by me and steal the place from me while Quinn took 2nd. Fourth place was pretty disappointing after the car working so well!

Next race is probably going to be Seattle in May followed by the Rose Cup. We've got a couple of more changes to make and I expect we'll be on the pace again if not setting it! A quick thanks to Blake and Chuck for all the help with the car, Ronnie Chuck for a great motor as usual and Brian Schmidt for crewing on Sunday.

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