3rd Time’s the Charm

We all know the saying the 3rd time is the charm and this year’s SCCA National Championship Runoffs was no exception to the rule.  The past 2 runoffs I have not made it to the finish.  In 2016 at Mid-O I was hit on the first lap and punctured my left front tire.  At Indy, I retired as we developed a fault in the ECU from some beta software we were running and the car dropped into limp mode and I wasn’t able to maintain full throttle.  

We have been working on the brakes for the past 3 years and during the season it limited us from running the car as much as we like.  We have also been chasing a fault/error with the ECU/control system of the car. We were still able to get the car enough starts and race finishes to get qualified for the runoffs in Sonoma.   Granted the car was not happy at most of those races and it was a struggle to get the finish.

2 weeks before the runoffs we sorted out the ECU problem and were confident enough in the car to race it.  The backup plan was to race my Spec Miata if we couldn’t get the Mazda 3 fixed as I ran it this past season as well and had enough starts/races.

With the Runoffs at Sonoma it was within 1-day driving distance unlike the past 3 runoffs at Daytona, Mid Ohio, and Indy so I got to try out the new (to me) truck and trailer.

I had raced at Sonoma one time prior, so the track wasn’t totally unknown like Mid-O and Indy, which all I had was simulator time so I was able to get up to speed quickly on a test day and find out what I needed to work on for chassis setup and driving.  The driving was easy to adjust, look at the data, see where the driver was sucking and had to man up to keep a foot to the floor in some sketchy corners.

The car, on the other hand, had what we call “a good problem to have”, too much power.  We have been running a torsen style differential in the car which works pretty good in a straight line and relatively flat tracks.  Sonoma is not a flat track which unloads the car 3-4 times per lap. With the Mazda 3 and the amount of torque it makes means I was unloading the tire enough for it to spin the inside tire.  Most people think what is the big deal with a little tire wheel spin? It is a problem when you enter turn 10 at Sonoma at 97MPH and you start lighting off your right front tire. Look at the picture below and you can see that front inside tires is barely on the ground and the rear isn’t.  The speedometer would jump around and you could see the right front wheel speed turning at 5-10 mph more in the data.

We tried several suspension changes and driving style changes to make the best of it but in the end, we were way off the pace by 2-3 seconds of the rear wheel drive cars in the class.

The good part about not being at the front of the field, there was zero stress when race day came.

Like any race there was a fun challenge, we would be heading into turn 2 blind as the race was at 4 pm in the afternoon and the sun would be shining directly down the hill.  Since I wanted to see the end of the race I a little cautious at the start and Ali in the other Mazda 3 got around me at the start.

We fought it out for 8 laps and he went into turn 6 too hot and I was able to get under him and pass him on the inside.

After a few laps I put a 4-5 second lead on Ali I was basically in no man’s land, slower than the front guys and faster than the back half of the field so I spent my time working on tire management (it is easy to overheat your left front tire at Sonoma) and made it to the end of the race.

My official finishing place was 10th but after some adventures in tech, I was moved to 9th in the final results.  This isn’t where I wanted to be by any means but the 3rd time was the charm and I made it to the end of the race.

Huge thanks to the support we get racing the car from CorkSport, BFGRacing, Monarch Inspections, G-Loc Brakes, and Mazda Motorsports.

 

Derrick Ambrose

The Race Car Romance

I recently had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite up and coming racers and wanted to share with you some of her advice and story. This is just an awesome look into the winning mentality of one of SCCA’s Wendi Allen Scholarship prominent women Racers! From where she started to where she’s headed and some info in between, you’ll get a chance to hear direct from Johanna Foege in this interview.

How long have you been racing? What got you started?
My brothers both got involved with auto-crossing while I was in college and were always trying to convince me to come out and race with them. It wasn’t until the end of 2011 when a friend offered me a codrive in their Mazda3 (and a year after I purchased my first MazdaSpeed3) that I finally gave it a try.

At that first event, I ended up taking first in my novice (open) class of 7, on my first run, nonetheless! Naturally, I was immediately hooked.

What have been the best outcomes for you since starting racing?
This year I received the SCCA Wendi Allen Scholarship. I suppose this means that I’ve made enough positive impressions on SCCA members to have been nominated for this award, which is intended for young women drivers that show promise at driving and inspiring other women. This scholarship has made a crazy year of racing possible for me, and I’m so grateful to have received the recognition and the opportunity to compete in 8 national tour events throughout 2018!

What have been your best standings thus far?
My first taste of victory was at a local event in Champaign, IL when I took the fastest run of the day (out of all the drivers), in the Mazdaspeed6 back in June 2014. I’ve only made it to one National event which was in September 2017 at Lincoln, NE, but I managed to trophy there, finishing 3rd in my class. And just last week at the Championship Tour Event in Peru, IN, I managed to finish 16th out of 275 drivers.

What do you believe is the best MOD for racing – if you had to pick the best one?
I think this entirely depends on your car and the kind of racing you do! For autocross, the rear sway bar has been my favorite in my Mazdaspeed3, as it helps combat the understeer, pushy front wheel drive characteristics. My favorite mod on the Mazdaspeed6 has been the custom valved, high spring rate coilover setup since that car has relatively soft suspension and a lot of body roll from the factory.

What is your favorite MOD – other than the Driver Mod, which we know you invested in already?
If awesome tires count as a mod, definitely that! All other mods depend entirely on how much grip your tires have on the surface at any given moment. This applies to the street, too. Also, have you seen our Hoosiers? 😝

What has been the most memorable mistake you’ve made on the track?
At 2017 SCCA SOLO Nationals, I had a KILLER run- 0.7 seconds faster than the rest of mine, and 0.5 seconds ahead of first place in my class. I’d been working on looking ahead while driving throughout the year and was doing such a good job of this that I hit a cone that was right in front of me on that run. I remember seeing it at the last second and thinking, “There’s no way I’m getting around that now!” What I didn’t know at that moment, was that cone was going to cost me first place at my first Nationals.


What is your best advice for other Drivers starting out?
Take a school, ask people for help and advice (and be receptive to it), and don’t give up! Don’t be too hard on yourself, driving skills take a long time to polish, and do come more naturally to some people. In the end, racing is really about mental preparation, confidence, and ambition composure on course.

Why do you believe women in racing is important?
I think it’s time we see a paradigm shift about the activities that women (and men) pursue. I’m all about supporting whatever healthy hobbies people find themselves interested in, and I don’t think there needs to be gender stereotypes associated with any of them. I love to see women participating in motorsports because it serves as a reminder to all that we are on the same playing field as men, and are capable of just as much. As more women enter the world of racing, I really hope it opens the door to other ladies feeling comfortable pursuing what has historically been an atypical interest. I just hear way too many women say “That’s so cool that you race, but I could never do that!” You can, and you should give it a try!!! Maybe someday, they will.

Lastly, feel free to add anything you’d like the public to know about you, your car or your racing experience!
I’ve made efforts in the Mazdaspeed (forum) community to support and encourage all members, but particularly other women, to participate in the sport of autocross. I’ve taken part in organizing four different national meets, and assured autocross was on our schedule at each one. I also made myself available to instruct at these events, and really focused on getting the women members to take part with me. I’ve gotten several of the local member’s girlfriends into the driver’s seat at autocross events as well. It has been rewarding to watch them find enjoyment from it and helping them grow into better drivers, as many have found it easier to learn from a fellow woman, than their significant other, lol.

My teammate and partner of 5 years, Clint, and I live nearly 600 miles apart. He’s been my inspiration, engineer, coach, mechanic, and best friend all along, and I credit him for bringing me to where I am today, and for building us an amazingly capable and unique car. I just started a blog to keep track of our long-distance relationship racing adventures this year, as well as driving tips, goals, and my progress through each event! www.TheRacecarRomance.com

Working on the Driver

I have been racing Mazdas on the track in wheel-to-wheel competition since 2013 and I have learned quite a bit.

I am nowhere near being the best driver. I have good moments and plenty of “WTF Derrick” things which happen on the track which are masked by good car control.

2 years ago I bought a Spec Miata (SM). Locally the number of B-Spec and Touring 4 classes are smaller.  This is not great for me, as I find my racecraft suffers when I get too big events where there are more than 5 cars and the racing is close.  I can always fight my way to 2nd or 3rd place but the top step has been elusive.  Don’t get me wrong, I can go to events where there are other T4 cars (they are not unicorns) but the travel cost, time away from CorkSport, and fuel gets pricey really quick when constantly towing to southern California.

I took the SM out a few times last year and found I was way off the pace I needed to be to even get into the top 25% of a Ppec Miata field at any events.  The Northwest has a really strong group of SM racers who are more than happy to beat the illusion out of you that you can drive fast on the track.

This year I have been working on the car setup and updating the drive train to the best I can get for my car.  I worked with Haag Performance to get one of their SM 1.6 engines which have been winning races up and down the west coast. I have been also talking with Joe Jordan on car setup and general SM advice as he has gone down this road before with multiple SM drivers including Joey Jordan and Will Rodgers to get them to the top.

Before the season started I knew I wanted to get some top-level coaching so I looked locally at Pro Drive Racing which offers race school for SCCA certification and high-performance driving classes.  After few emails finding which event I should show up with my SM it was determined the June 5th high-performance school would be the best bet and I could get someone on one coaching with Todd Harris the head instructor.

I have struggled with the braking too much in the corners, as past instructors/coaches I have consistently mentioned this to me. I needed to overcome this if I was going to have a chance to match times with the top 25% of the field. With Todd strapped into the “Thrill Seat”, we hit the first session at speed so he could see how/what I doing and work on it.

This was a good news and bad news sort of ride.  He found my approach and driving style to corners works but it was not the fastest way through them – I was giving up cornering speed and to be able to get back to the throttle quicker. By simply backing up my braking zones I had more control in the corner which allowed me to stay committed to the throttle without having to modulate it after the steering wheel was turned.  This doesn’t seem like a huge thing but the feedback from the SM was drastically different. I was able to roll speed into the corners and carry a few more MPH. Heading onto a straightaway this is huge. I spent the rest of the day fine tuning the changes and making sure they stuck with me.

By the time this blog goes up, I will have raced again at the Oregon Region SCCA event at Portland Intl Raceway and found out how much the school improved my driving technique.  If I don’t screw it up too bad I should be able to take a second out of my lap times which in SM is HUGE! The weekend of June 29th I will be at Sonoma racing against 40 other SM drivers to really get a feel for where I am at skill level wise, I am prepared for this to be humbling, lol.

So, my advice to you, if you ever have a chance to take a driving school I really recommend it and specifically Pro Drive if you are in the Portland Oregon area.  They run a great program and you get one on one seat time with some of the best local drivers and instructors.

Look for future updates here at the CorkSport the blog on how it went.

-Derrick

What Is Required at the Drag Strip?

 

Good day all of my CorkSport followers.  Is anyone else excited for warm weather, and track days?  Now is the time to get that Mazdaspeed prepped, modded, and out to the track.  

The CorkSport team has plenty of experience when it comes to track days. We have noticed in the past year more and more people have been getting into a Mazdaspeed platform, and before too long they are modding the car to test its capabilities.  Derrick is our road course guy in his 2015 Mazda 3, and I am the guy that likes the 1320. So what do you need to be able to run at the track? Protecting yourself, and making sure the car is properly put together can affect if you will be able to run your Mazdaspeed down the 1320.

Clothing

You will not be able to race your Mazdaspeed unless you wear pants, and closed toe shoes.  Every track you go to will require you to wear these two things. Every little bit counts especially if you have a high horsepower Mazdaspeed.  We have all seen the videos of accidents happening. I would hate to roll my Mazdaspeed, break glass, and have glass bits hitting my legs. So don’t forget those pants, and yoga pants do not count to all of you lady drivers.

Helmet

Each track has standard rules when it comes to safety equipment.  Depending on how fast your Mazdaspeed runs will determine what safety equipment you will need in order to race.  13.99 and faster you will need to make sure and wear a helmet. Also, if you run 13.99 and faster, you will not be able to have a passenger in the car with you.  If it is your first time at the track and you run faster than a 13.99 without a helmet, the track officials will ask you to wear a helmet moving forward. Failure to comply could get you removed from the track.

Vehicle Maintenance

This is probably the most important part of the inspection process when going to the track.  If you have been racing when oil/coolant dumps onto the track then you know how long it can take to get that stuff cleaned up.  Here are a few things the officials look for when you are trying to race your Mazdaspeed.

These things are non-negotiable.  If your Mazdaspeed does not pass any of these then the track officials will not let you run your car down the track.  All you fast guys out there need to double check with your local track to see what you have to do to the car depending on how fast you run.

Additional Safety Equipment

If you do have a Mazdaspeed capable of 11’s or faster, then you will be required to do a lot more to the car in order to safely run.  I would double check with your local track, but every track I have been to require you to have a roll cage, and a fire suit if you are running 11’s or faster in the 1320.  Also, if you have your battery relocated into the hatch, you will need a kill switch mounted somewhere on the rear of the car just in case you roll when racing.

READERS BEWARE:

Going to the track is highly addicting.  CorkSport will not be responsible for empty wallets in an attempt to make your Mazdaspeed go faster.  CorkSport will also not be held responsible for pulled muscles in your cheeks from having too much fun.  However, if you must modify your Mazdaspeed, CorkSport will be there to help you reach your goals!  Stay safe, and ZOOM ZOOM people.

Cheers,

Luke