A couple of weeks ago I was invited by the guys at RaceEnergy to join them at Portland International Raceway for the first Regional SCCA Club Race of the 2011 season. Club races are usually a three day affair; with the track open on Fridays for testing they normally run a qualifying session and race on both Saturday and Sunday which makes for a fair bit of track time over the three days.
I met with Jim and Scott Hargrove at the Skip Barber 3 Day Racing School back in October; turns out they live 30 minutes from me here in the Vancouver area. Jim is the owner of RaceEnergy and shares driving responsibility of the two Hondas with his son Scott.
This weekend was Scott's first time in car racing since he received his SCCA regional license just after becoming eligible this year at 16 years old. He's been karting for three years now and already has two IKF Championships under his belt.
Scott was also one of the winners in last December's Skip Barber Karting Shootout at Laguna Seca, where he received a scholarship in the Skip Barber Regional Series for 2011.
Friday saw torrential downpour hit PIR so neither driver got any track time, but it gave the team some time to prep the cars further for the weekend. I got to Portland late on Friday night, driving in from Vancouver through the heavy rains. As Saturday arrived, the rains had stopped but there was still a lot of moisture both in the air and on the track.
The first qualifying session of the morning started out pretty wet, but most teams still ran on slicks and the line dried up almost completely by the end of the session. Unfortunately there were no other cars entered into GT3, however still plenty of fast cars to race against in the two races.
The GT3 Civic is built by Robinson Race Engineering in the US who has built many other types of GT class chassis'. The car is a full tube framed car with carbon fibre body work. The K24 block, front grill, and taillights are all Honda, the rest is all custom!
Getting ready for his first session out in a tin top (which is a misnomer for this car since it has a composite roof panel), Scott gets some last minute coaching from his dad. They were having some problems with the in-car radio, fortunately Scott could hear everyone on the radio, he just couldn't communicate out. Not ideal for his first session but at least the track was dry.
Scott is running his dad's old 76 Honda Civic HB which is built for the GT Light class of cars. It runs a very trick 1.3L Honda based engine and a pseudo tube frame/uni body chassis.
I think a lot of maturity showed through as Scott took to the track; he gradually built up his speed pushing harder and harder each lap, getting more comfortable with the car. I don't think I would have had that restraint when I was 16 years old!
As Scott became more comfortable with his car, the lap times started to come down. You could see how hard he was pushing as he approached the Festival Chicane at PIR with a nice amount of slip angle, pushing those 13" slicks to their limit.
I was really surprised by this little beastie, sounded like an angry insect, and went like hell. The Civic easily outpaced the other cars in the run group.
The wide body fenders and front splitter completely transform this Civic's appearance. Looks like it belongs on some crazy hill climb track in Europe!
Scott finished the session with a huge smile on his face; in the dry he was able to almost match the laptime of his dad in the GT3 car in the wet that morning…
…But that would prove the last session for Scott that weekend. After the car came in from Qualifying, it went up onto jacks and a complete check over was done only to find that the intake trumpets had loosened off the engine, and the nuts holding the flange together were sucked into one of the cylinders. Jim did a leakdown test of the engine and found cylinder 2 had 12% leakdown.
Racing is full of disappointments such as these, and as the saying goes 'That's Racing!' It was really unfortunate for Scott he didn't get any more seat time in the car, he was hoping to get as much as he can in preparation for this weekend's Skip Barber race at VIR.
Prepping the cars was a team effort, with Scott and his brother Rob helping get the GT3 car ready for the afternoon race and the next day's events.
Rob and Jim having one more walk around before heading to Pre-Grid for the first race of the weekend.
That has got to be the meanest looking Civic I've ever seen. I think Jim should throw some Civic Hybrid badges on the back to throw off his competitors. Here, Scott waits with Jim on Pre-Grid for the all-ok to head out onto the track and get some heat in the tires. SCCA races are all run with a rolling start so there is no official gridding on the tracks.
With a dead battery on the pre-grid, a couple of marshals and I had to push-start the car. This meant that Jim essentially started in last place, but he made time up quickly, and was back to his starting position within just a few laps passing half a dozen cars in the process.
Jim's run group ranged from GT1 Trans-Am style cars all the way down to small displacement Super Touring cars. The fast end of the field was filled with two Trans-Am style cars, a couple of Porsche GT3 Cup Cars, and a GT2 Panoz, definitely a motley crue out on track!
The one car he couldn't catch in the session was the GT2 Panoz, which started one position ahead in the grid slot, but since the Panoz was running similar lap times to the GT3 Civic, Jim just couldn't catch him.
The Civic ran like a champ the entire race, and sounded absolutely awesome. The fully built K24 engine didn't even sound like a Honda anymore.
The Sunday race worked out a bit better for Jim. No issues off pre-grid, Jim started to dice it up with the GT2 Panoz, eventually passing him just before the back straight. One of the AM cars blew up arriving into the Festival Chicane and dumped what looked like his entire sump of oil through the chicane. The race was then red flagged and all cars came back into the pits in their current order.
At the restart, the GT2 Panoz jumped Jim's Civic, using its big displacement and horsepower advantage. With only a few minutes remaining in the race, Jim couldn't get the position back; he ended up finishing 5th overall where he started.
At the front of the pack there was a great fight for first place. On the last lap, David Cormier in his GT3 Cup Car went for the pass on Nick Fluge's SPO Shelby GT500, David ended up dropping a tire off the track and as a result spun on the wet grass. Very exciting racing! I highly recommend checking out some of your local SCCA or NASA racing if you ever get the chance!
With the day's racing done, Jim downloads all of the data logged by the MoTeC system in the car. The more familiar he can get with the car, the better chance he has at winning this fall in the SCCA National Run-offs!
I had a great time hanging out with the team over the weekend, and even got to turn a few wrenches on the car over the two days. I'll be joining them for at least a couple more races this season as well, hoping to see some competition in the GTL and GT3 classes next time around!
Also stay tuned for a Spotlight on both the GTL and GT3 Civics' and possibly a few more awesome rides from the weekend!