Our first Ultimate Track Car Challenge
Each year, around the time most folks are sobering up from 4th of July libations, some of the countries fastest drivers and their mechanical weapons of choice descend upon Virginia International Raceway to see just who has the Ultimate Track Car during Grassroots Motorsports’ editorial exposition of speed. This year, a change was made. The change moved the event from scouldering hot July to a near perfect mid-May weekend and peaked the interest of the spectators already planning to attend NASA Mid-Atlantic’s Hyperfest weekend. This schedule change was welcomed by most everyone who was planning to run in the Ultimate Track Car Challenge (UTCC), and it also made an opening in our schedule of events to attend put our 1994 naturally aspirated Mazda Miata and driver Michael Brose against the best the nation has to offer. We knew this would be an exciting opportunity to test driver, team and machine. Not to mention, we’d never miss the best weekend in NASA Mid-Atlantic’s lineup for the year!
We arrived onsite at VIRginia International Raceway and quickly located the designated paddock spaces for UTCC competitors. It was Thursday evening, but the sun was still out and after nearly a month of rainfall in Virginia, we still had dry ground and blue skies to light our way until we got everything unloaded. The sun continued to peak around the clouds long enough to make the first open tech inspection timeslot that evening. The line of cars in the paddock already showed promise of a great weekend, and a lot of stiff competition. Behind us was a 700 horsepower BMW 135i. We got this, right? Other familiar faces seen around the paddock included Joey Atterbury and Mike Skeen, professional drivers who we were honored to share the same track surface with, even if only for a weekend.
The car passed it’s tech inspection and we tucked away for the night. You have to be rested for that 7:30am driver’s meeting and Michael needed some rest before trying to remember last year’s line at VIR as this would be the first time returning to VIR in over a year and with a car setup that we’d made a few changes to since previous VIR laps.
Friday morning, everybody was up and at the first NASA driver’s meeting and the subsequent UTCC driver’s meeting where NASA TT Director Jon Felton provided some encouraging words and rules to live by for the day. He also confirmed we would be running in a single run-group, meaning concentration and focusing on your mirrors were going to be important items to remember throughout the day.
The first session went off and our newly built front air dam was holding up. Even proving a few extra MPH were finally within reach on VIR’s front and back straights. A welcomed improvement for sure. That’s probably where the most advancement for the weekend would end for us. We quickly learned the 134whp ITB setup still wasn’t enough to keep the Miata chasing down obviously much more powerful cars, the prototype/non-production cars aside, we were getting a serious whooping. We knew this was going to be the case, but just how far apart would we be from the “normal” field of cars would have to wait until regular TTD class runs later in the weekend. At this point, we just wanted to stay on track and out of the front-runners way!
A few sessions in, and for the first time, the Miata gave us some mechanical grief. Maybe it was the car’s way of saying it was scared? Cylinder #1 stopped firing. We tore into the ignition system, not finding any obvious faults. Only after reassembly did the car start running properly again, but at the cost of one timed session missed. Now that it was running well again, we noticed the harmonic balancer was walking around a bit more than normal. Teardown #2 for the day started. Pulled it off and found that it was not tight – retorqued and reinstalled and we’re back in business. Not sure what caused it to come loose at this time, but a replacement is on order as well as new hardware to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
We ended our first UTCC the way we started it, in the back of the field but with a whole new respect for what its like to run with seriously fast cars on course. It surely does not curb our appetite for coming back next year. Mike has the driver aptitude and skill to keep pace, but our MX-5.. well, power has to be reconsidered. It looks like to be an ultimate track car, we’re going to need another 30-50whp at minimum. Just how we get there? Stay tuned….
A big huge THANK YOU to the Grassroots Motorsports team for putting the event on, NASA Mid-Atlantic and Hyperfest weekend for providing the staff to making sure we’re always safe and having fun and VIR for providing a stellar venue. Of course the sponsors of the event – TireRack.com, Koni, Lucas Oil and Continental need credit, without sponsors, events like this may not happen! Also, shout out to Tom for the hand in tearing down the MX-5 while he wasn’t working in the paddock next to us on the E-85 Vette!