TDI Cup Round 3: Disappointment @ Portland

After a very long, 2 month hiatus from the Jetta cup, it was time to go racing again. The original schedule would’ve included a street race in downtown Toronto with Champ Car, but seeing as they went bankrupt earlier in the year, that wasn’t happening. The decision was between a race at Miller Motorsports Park outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, or run during the all Mazda weekend at Portland Int’l Raceway. SCCA/VW chose the latter and after visiting and checking out Portland, I’m glad they did. Portland was actually a perfect venue for the Jetta TDI Cup as Portland is a very ‘green’ and environmentally conscious city. Everyone bikes everywhere and the public transportation is great.

For this race, my sister insisted on coming out and checking out Portland, as well as my race. We both met up in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Int’l Airport and arrived 5 hours later on the opposite coast, arriving around 7pm (10pm EST). After getting screwed over by a taxi driver to our hotel, we finally settled in. I have to thank my iPhone for being so resourceful this past weekend. It was so damn useful as neither of us brought our laptops. I used it for booking hotels online, using GPS to see where the hell we were at, using it to search for food, etc. What surprised me and amazed me at the same time was finding out how close everything was in Portland. It is unheard of for a race track to be so close to downtown of a city as it is in Portland. Without traffic, you could literally go from the track to downtown in about 7 minutes. The hotel from the track was about 3 or 4 miles, and same for the airport. I was impressed and wished that everything was as close on the East coast.

After walking around North Portland through the night on Thursday, we finally were able to get an awesome rate from Enterprise rent-a-car for their weekend special. 50% off sounded sweet. We picked up the car at noon on Friday and immediately went into downtown. What a fantastic city, not only from the mountains and city skyline, but how the vibe is throughout the city. We met up with my sister’s friend from Boston, Jon. Since my sister and Jon are into biking and it was the last Friday of the month, turns out there would be a Critical Mass ride. Jon insisted we go to the track first to check-in. After running into traffic on the I-5 (which was only about 20 minutes), we got to the track to find out that they weren’t doing check-in until Saturday morning. We headed back to downtown and did the Critical Mass ride. Even though it wasn’t a huge turn-out like in Boston or Chicago, we had our fun rolling through the city as well as riding down some awesome trails. After the ride, we headed to another hotel for the night in Vancouver, WA (just over the bridge from Oregon).

Saturday
Saturday morning we had to get to the track real early since they would be cramming in a track walk session at 7:15 am. We got in the golf carts as usual and hit the track at PIR. Portland is definitely a change from what I’m used to. PIR is very flat and pretty short at 1.9 miles. After studying the track with Jan, Mark and Ryan, we headed back to the hospitality tent. This weekend presented a change in the driver line-up. Not only was it James Kirkham’s hometown and his birthday weekend, he got replaced by one of the alternates, David Heinz. Good luck to whatever you do in the future, James. Hope you can run in the Jetta cup next year. I was excited for this race. I brought in 2 new sponsors, Induktion Motorsports (www.4induktion.com) and Soldier Design (www.soldierdesign.com), and was antsy to go racing again. Actually, the weekend before, I was in Englishtown, NJ at Waterfest 14 helping Induktion with their booth and promoting our sponsorship. There was a Jetta cup car there as well as the W12 GTI concept car, for the first time in the US. I also ran into one of the girls who helps with the Jetta cup, Nicole.

Anywho, the practice session around 9:45 came up so we all got suited up and into the cup cars. I was figuring out the course lap by lap, but it still felt like I was messing up key corners of the track. I never felt confident during the session and the lap times felt real sluggish. I had no idea what to expect as I didn’t know PIR times. Once we came into pits and checked the times, I found out I was 7th fastest! In fact, from 5th (Juan Pablo Sierra Lendle) to 6th (Timmy Megenbeier), we were a few thousandths of a second apart. In fact, from 1st to 30th, the times were around 2 seconds difference. Very impressive for all of us. As always, I checked up with the data engineer Matthew to see where I was losing time to 1st. It looked as if I was losing time at the final turn (T12) onto the straightaway, about a half second. And also, it looked like I could carry more speed into T3 and setup better for the festival chicane (T1 & T2). After getting approval from the new SCCA Jetta cup program director, Kyle Novak, about my sponsor graphics, I went to the tent to apply the sponsors on the hood and fenders. After applying the graphics, I saw the Playboy MX-5 Cup guys lining up. I saw #81, Ryan Schimsk, and said hi. He told me that they were going out for qualifying. When I tried to tell him that 1st to 10th place in practice was 8/10ths of a second difference, he proceeded to tell me that 1st to 7th in the MX-5 Cup were 2/10ths of a second difference! Holy crap…very close considering that the MX-5 Cup guys have a little bit more leniency with setup adjustments than we do. Oh, almost forgot to mention, finally they put in the ballast for weight equalization and we were now allowed to adjust tire pressures up to +3 or -3 psi.

After walking around the pit, watching all the different Mazda series run and cleaning my new painted helmet, it was around 4pm, time for qualifying. Qualifying went terrible for me. After talking with Matthew, he told me to do a few laps, come into pits to check times and to let the tires cool down. I ended up overdriving the car. I did a few hotlaps like he insisted and went into pits. I told the techs to check tire pressures and Matthew told me the top time was high 1:29’s. I saw on the AIM datalogger my best was a 1:30.03. After a few minutes in the pit, I headed out to chase after 1:29’s. I ended up missing my braking zones, understeering like mad trying to fight the car into a corner and once I came out of T12, I ran too wide, ran past the rumble strip and hit a nice, deep rut. Later what I found out would be a flat tire, I was wondering why the car was handling horribly. I would turn hard into a right hand corner and all it wanted to do was hop or understeer like crazy. It made sense later as the flat tire was essentially rolling over itself. I said screw it and finished the whole session instead of coming in early. Surprisingly, I was still able to stay in the mid 1:30’s, even with a flat front left tire. I had been chasing after 1:29’s so hard that I ended up overdriving to a 21st qualifying position. Ouch. Full qualifying results here.

I was very disappointed with myself as I was 7th fastest in practice. What a let down. And to make matters worse, during the 2 month break, I had completed forgotten about the tire strategy. I kept on thinking we were allowed 6 fresh tires per weekend. Not the case, we were allowed 4 fresh slicks and 2 scrubs from the previous race. So from practice and qualy, I had used up all my good tires and was now stuck with my useless scrubs that I had managed to burn during practice and qualifying. Great, it was only getting worse. Even with my sister trying to tell me encouraging things, it didn’t change my mood. After cleaning up the cars, the original schedule was supposed to be an autograph session, but we found out that that was cancelled. I had to get away from the track and take my mind off of the dismal performance I put in that day. We ended up checking out Wahkeena and Multnomah Falls, 30 minutes east of the city. It was good for me to get my mind off of qualifying.

Sunday
Sunday morning, we didn’t have to arrive at the track until 10 am. I got lots of sleep as there were all kinds of festivals and pretty much every hotel in the Portland/Vancouver area was sold out. We lucked out and found 1 room available in Vancouver at the Phoenix Inn. We went over media training with Shand Spencer and Maria Burkel (VW public relations people). Turns out whoever receives the must publicity wins a free trip to Germany and possibly 1 race in the German Polo Cup series! After the presentation, I immediately showed them my pic and insert in the September issue of Diesel World Magazine (thanks Chris Neprasch!) about the Jetta TDI Cup. Todd Steen, a marketing consultant, gave us a very informative slideshow presentation about brand identity, marketing, sponsorship, etc. Like I had experienced with corporate businesses, 6 figure deals take atleast 12-18 months while $5-15,000 deals take 3-6 months. I finally received a reply to my sponsorship request emails from a few corporate companies the other day, which I had originally sent out in March. Todd also explained, don’t look to companies who are already sponsoring another race team or sponsoring some motorsports event. Sponsorship is strictly a business deal and the sponsor must see benefits. It is not a charity. An executive from ViON (one of our series sponsors) explained that their logo on the side of the car means nothing and that it does them no good. He explained the real benefit of being a sponsor is the business deals that happen in the background and connections you make at race weekends. Most of this was information that I had already learned from Mike Levitas of TPC Racing.

After the meetings, we all did our own things for a few hours until we had to get to our cars around 2:30 pm. Lining up 21st on the grid, I knew I had a lot of positions to make up. Realistically though, we were all so close, it would be hard to make a pass on anyone. Before the race, I saw tire pressures and it was vital information. Since PIR was mostly a hard right hand turn track, the rear left tire had the most pressure/load, so I balanced out the pressures to make the handling more neutral. We lined up on grid and did our warm up laps. We gridded up again, the staging lights came on, they went off and then we all shot off. On the first lap, SCCA told us to go straight instead of hitting the festival chicane. We all took off and headed for T3. The first lap was absolute chaos as we were all fighting for position and trying to find any space on the track we could. Once it settled down a bit, I was behind #4 Juan Pablo Sierra Lendle and was immediately in the chase. Lap after lap, it didn’t matter how hard I drafted him on the straights, I couldn’t overtake him. I didn’t want to chance taking both of us out, so I always backed off. I could never find grip in the corners, due to running on scrubs. A couple of times I went off and was screwing up real bad, but somehow managed to keep #32 Adam Kretschmer behind me.

A few laps later, I saw one of the blue Auto Logistics cars screw up in the festival chicane so I immediately tried to overtake it thru T3. As soon as I tried to hold the inside line, the front tires pushed hard and I was so close the Auto Logistics car and I came together, which ended up breaking my driver’s side mirror housing as well as scuffing the front left wheel. Immediately after the race, #2 Adam Crepin came up to me and told me I was lucky, because as soon as I got by the blue car, it had collided with Kretschmer. Whew. Lap after lap I was pushing it as hard as possible to draft and pass Juan Pablo, but it wasn’t happening. I got very close by setting up on him before the long back straight at T6, but he still had better grip and a better exit speed. Later on through the race, I felt my head getting real heavy as this was the 1st race that we had ran without a full course caution. The full 30 minutes actually felt really long! By the end I was far away from the guys behind me and still far away from the guys ahead of me. I ended up finishing 18th, almost 25 seconds behind the leader, gaining a mere 6 points. I had done such a great job in practice and threw it all away in qualifying, and to make matters worse, screwed up my own tire strategy. My roommate from Phoenix testing, Josh Hurley, took 1st with 60 points, DC area driver Liam Kenney took 2nd with 48 points and David Jurca finished the podium with 40 points. Full race results here. I left Portland frustrated as I really needed to be atleast within the top 10. I should’ve had a podium in Canada. But I can’t dwell on the past as there’s 5 more rounds left that are very very crucial. I’ve already given up 3 races and I can’t risk giving up any more. The next race is at Lime Rock in Lakeville, CT in about 2 weeks. Hopefully Lady Luck will be on my side…