The NASA FL Spec Miata Challenge presented by 5X Racing visited Palm Beach International Raceway for rounds 3 & 4 of the 2010 championship season on April 24-25 2010. The field was the biggest ever for a NASA FL SMC race, there were 15 Spec Miata’s registered for the weekend and a lot of new faces to NASA Racing in Florida. The excitement was high as most of the field was participating in their first NASA Spec Miata Challenge race, and after all the dust settled from our special paddock location, or “Spec Miata Corral”, we were ready to hit the track!
Saturday morning, after the informative drivers meeting from the NASA race directors, we had a special racers only meeting where the drivers were briefed on what to expect on track and what race control expected of us. As always, Race Director Larry was informative and clear about what the rules were and how the races would be run. Spec Miata was to have their own split start behind the other cars in our group; this would be perfect as there would not be any other class of race cars getting mixed up with the SM class during the critical first couple of laps. Shortly after the racers meeting the Lightning group (what the group is named that contains the smaller bore car classes, such as spec miata and spec E30) was scheduled to hit the track for a 15 minute practice session. One of the advantages of racing with NASA Florida SMC is that you get a quick, timed practice session before you have to go out and qualify. This may seem standard to most race weekends, but it is not always this way. Sometimes in other race events there is not always a practice session, and you are forced to go out and qualify with a unproven fresh car, along with the drivers being a bit rusty and unfamiliar with the track in most cases. In NASA FL events, the track time is plentiful which allows for enough time to allow for a 15 minute practice session. Any racer that has had to go out on track for the first time and tries to put up a fantastic qualifying lap without “getting the rust out” knows how important this practice session is. While designing the 2010 season format, John Adamczyk the SMC director for NASA FL, worked with NASA FL directors to ensure this practice session was included in the race weekend. It goes without saying that after two races with this format it is working well, everyone seemed to enjoy the no pressure atmosphere of not having to qualify the first time your wheels hit the track!
The Saturday morning practice went well, the racers that were new to the track became acclimated to the layout and the racers that were familiar with the track were able to dial in their cars and experiment with their lines. The newer track surface is really starting to come in nicely, the track has a lot of grip and lucky for the Spec Miata racers older harder tires work well on this type of track surface, unlike the older less grippier pavements of Sebring and Daytona where new tires are the best choice. Some of the SMC racers were using up their remaining Toyo R888 tires, which are still allowed to be used until after the next event when they are phased out of Spec Miata competition use and the Toyo RA-1 tire is the only spec tire once again. Chris Fulton debuted his brand new orange and gray BSI built 1999 Spec Miata and George Munson returned to racing with his silver and blue 1.6 car. Both guys were fast as always and PBIR is one track they know well, especially Chris Fulton who is normally in a 1.6 car, but chose to shake down his new 99 at this race. The times of the top 5 cars were close, with John Adamczyk topping the list followed closely by Chris Fulton and George Munson. Practice is always a bit misleading though, as some racers drive to the limit and others take it easy, only qualifying would tell who was going to be fighting for a podium finish this weekend!
Qualifying for the 3rd round of the NASA FL SMC would look much the same way as practice, with the veterans of PBIR claiming the top 4 positions and PBIR newcomer and 5X Racing Team Driver Eric Gebhardt grabbing the 5th starting spot. Carey Atkinson was thrilled to qualify 4th for the race, he said “it was my best starting position ever!” and was looking forward to the race. George Munson was nipped by Chris Fulton in his 99 for the 2nd qualifying spot, so George would be starting 3rd on row two behind John Adamczyk in 1st.
The feature race of the day and the one that was definitely the most anticipated of the event was the Saturday afternoon Spec Miata Challenge Race. With 13 equally prepared spec miata racecars battling for 30 minutes, it was going to be a fun race to watch for the spectators! The Lightning group went out on track at 1:50 pm and the skies were clear as was the temperatures hot, probably in the upper to mid eighties. Tire degradation would be the deciding factor and whoever could make their tires last the longest and not overheat them would have the greatest chance in winning. The spec miata field was the second group of cars in the split start, the field was packed tight and coming around the last turn onto the strait-a-way the nerves were running high as the cars in the 2nd and 3rd rows bunched up and were bumping each other like a freight train! The green flag waved and the pack took off into the sketchy turn 1 & 2 chicane complex, which is way too tight for a field full of small cars to go into all bunched together. Somehow everyone made it through unscathed and after the mayhem got sorted out John Adamczyk was in the lead followed by George Munson and Chris Fulton. On lap two Eric Gebhardt got into the marbles while being passed by Gary Jenkins, which made the car too loose for his tires grip and spun in the chicane, unfortunately bumping Gary Jenkins left rear wheel which caused him to spin as well. Both drivers recovered and went on the finish the race, but I am sure they had lost a lot of ground to the lead cars after the incident. As Chris Fulton and George Munson battled fiercely for second place, John Adamczyk was able to pull away and concentrate on not making any errors and conserving his tires, which allowed him to take the flag to flag win from pole position. When the checkered flag dropped, George Munson led Chris Fulton across the line to round out the podium. The top 4 cars passed the post race impound check and weight check to claim their finishing positions. Here is how the final standings looked:
The drivers who had accidently made contact with other cars were questioned by race control and all was determined to be racing incidents, meaning there was not any malicious activity and all contact was accidental. Additionally, the drivers involved were encouraged to help the fellow drivers they made contact with repair and check their cars. Chris Fultons new 99 had a rear bumper corner cosmetically pushed in that was quickly repaired by his crew and other drivers, and Gary Jenkins car was checked for correct rear alignment as best as it could be at the track. While the alignment was just a bit off, Gary chose to play it safe and wait till he got to the comfort of his shop at home to fix the car properly. After the on track activity had concluded, NASA FL put on the Awards Ceremony and Social Event where beer and pizza provided by 5X Racing was served. Ironically, most of the Spec Miata drivers were so involved with helping each other with their cars for Sundays event they arrived late to their own awards presentation! Regardless, there was plenty of beer and pizza left over and the top 3 finishers received their cool trophies. As always there was race stories being traded and laughs being had by all! Surprisingly the on track action picked up again after the social event in the form of a Spec Miata driver kart race at the PBIR arrive and drive kart track! Several SMC drivers including: John Adamczk, Jim Blaisdell, Chris Fulton, Carey Atkinson, Paul Mclester, Eric Gebhardt, Michael Lliteras, and a bunch of spectators (including the driver’s friends and family) watched the kart action get down and dirty! 13 year old kart racing standout and future NASA Mazda Teen Spec Miata Challenge driver Michael Lliteras was so fast he had to wait up for the spec miata guys on the kart track, he eventually found his closest match and settled into a heated dogfight with Eric Gebhardt. This kid is fast and is going to be a great addition to the Spec Miata community!
Sunday brought the threat of rain, much to the excitement of Eric Gebhardt who dominated the rain soaked SMC Round 1 race at Homestead/Miami Speedway in January. With the priority scheduling of the Lightning group, it made the late chance of rain a distant worry for most, as the Spec Miata race would be finished around 2pm. One of the many things NASA FL did to cater to Spec Miata racers is schedule the Lightning group as the first race group after lunch so everyone could pack up their race rigs and get home at a decent hour. This is such a nice thing to have, as there is nothing worse than leaving a track a couple hours away from home at 5pm knowing you have to go to work in the morning.
Qualifying for Sundays Round 4 of the NASA FL SMC presented by 5X Racing went off without a hitch; everybody had their sights on setting a top time for the afternoon race. John Adamczyk, winner of Saturdays Round 3 race discovered a brake pad problem right before the qualifying session while changing tires. His Carbotech brakes work so well that he didn’t even realize that they were almost gone! Luckily fellow racer Chris Fulton had a spare set of used Carbotech pads from his 1.6 racecar to lend John, who had just sold his new set that he brings to the track for customers. John quickly changed his brake pads before the session started only to figure out that the key to his #25 5X Racing Spec Miata was missing! Luckily John was able to locate the key and get out for a couple of laps of qualifying. Apparently the increased adrenaline helped John go faster, as he posted a weekend best Spec Miata laptime in the 1:35’s to grab his second consecutive pole position. George Munson swapped positions with Chris Fulton to round out the top 3, and Carey Atkinson and Eric Gebhardt were slated to start 3rd and 4th. Spec Miata first timer and former Porsche racer Lindsey Jarrell had a great first outing and showed that he will soon be a force to be reckoned with in Spec Miata. Paul McLester, Tim Allen, David Pazdur, Mitch Taylor backed up their solid performances from the previous day by knocking a couple of seconds off their lap times. Rick Adamczyk and Jim Blaisdell also had strong qualifying efforts as they did in the previous day despite both chasing cooling and electrical gremlins.
With the table set for Round 4 of the NASA FL SMC presented by 5X Racing, the drivers gridded their cars in the hot pre-summer Florida sun in anticipation of the 35 minute race. A couple of drivers made some setup changes to try and perfect their handling. Eric Gebhardt totally went through his alignment settings for the first time (yes, he has never even looked at his alignment) and found that he had some room for improvement in his car. John Adamczyk and Jim Blaisdell fine tuned and verified their alignment settings with the hopes shaving off that precious little bit of lap time. When the green flag flew for Round 4 of the SMC John Adamczyk went into turn 1 first followed by George Munson and Chris Fulton. The start was clean and tidy, no spins, and maybe a tire donut or two in the tight chicane complex. The race was close at the front for the first quarter, John was chased by George and Chris, but eventually Chris started losing his tires as the track temps rose and the cars started to push around turns, searching for grip. Eric Gebhardt’s new setup seemed to work for him; he eventually caught Chris Fulton and took 3rd position, where he would stay for the remainder of the race. Tim Allen had an unfortunate event when his hood came unlatched and blinded his view for a minute, the corner workers were quick to help him get back out on track and he finished the race in one piece. Lindsey Jarrell stood his ground and finished strong in his ICT Motorsports rental; Paul McLester and Jim Blaisdell had a good battle as well, both finished the race and their cars lived to race another race without any dents or damage. Carey Atkinson finished a strong 5th place behind Chris Fulton, and was equally excited to receive his two Toyo Tires credits for finishing in the top 5 in the weekends two races. As the top 4 cars reported to impound, the hoods went up and the competitors looked over each other’s cars to ensure the vehicles were compliant, which of course they were. The cars were once again proven equal when the timesheet was printed out, the top 4 cars all recorded best lap times in the 1:36 range! This is as equal as it gets, and just the way Spec Miata racing should be. The final results of Sundays Round 4 of the NASA FL SMC presented by 5X Racing was:
What a great weekend of racing from PBIR, the on track action was intense but clean, and everyone went home with their cars in one piece, which is hard to say at any other Spec Miata race. Rounds 5 & 6 are going to be held on May 22th and 23th at Homestead/Miami Speedway, please join us if you are a Spec Miata racer or fan. And if you are looking for clean, fast, and fun racing, as well as camaraderie from your fellow racers the NASA Florida Spec Miata Challenge is where you will find it!
Mon-Fri 9am-5pm (EST)