AER Race Report, Mid-Ohio: Sometimes Fast, Sometimes Furious

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The story thus far: After driving a BMW Spec E30 to victory in the first-ever AER race last summer, I convinced Matt “Tinman” Johnston to form an endurance-racing team with his V6-powered RX-7, me, and brother Bark. Our debut weekend at Watkins Glen saw us take eighth place on Day One and a DNF on Day Two thanks to a wayward BMW that spun and put me into the wall.

For our second AER event, at NJMP Lightning this past spring, I took the overall lead for the start of Saturday’s race but we had to retire due to a blown oil seal. On Day Two we succumbed to overheating and didn’t finish.

This past weekend was our third AER event and as you can see we managed to bring home some hardware. But it could have been even better than it was…


team

Given how difficult and how tiring the RX-7 is to drive compared to, say, a late-model BMW or Porsche, I thought it would be a good idea to get a few more drivers for this Mid-Ohio double race. Enter Sam Smith, of Road&Track and Esquire TV fame, and “Mental” Ward, of AWACS-operating, tourist-life-saving fame. With a five-driver lineup, we wouldn’t need anybody to drive twice in a day. And with my old street-racing pal “RangerMan” handling radio duties and assisting Keith, our normal crew chief, we figured that it would be a very relaxing race for everyone.

Of course, when I broke my leg that went out the window.

Saturday saw us run clean and strong in the top ten all day. The sole low point was when Tinman got clipped and shattered a wheel. Sam Smith had an absolutely heroic drive to get us up to fourth overall and second in class, but without the damaged wheel we’d have taken a win in class plus an overall podium.

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There was some confusion about our team name. It was “Road And Track And Friends”, as it’s been since the beginning. But this weekend, there was actually a Road&Track car as well, a BMW 325i that was racing in a two-car class against a very similar BMW driven by the staff of Jalopnik. That race-within-a-race didn’t last very long because the Jalopnik guys spun the car multiple times and caused a truly epic crash, leaving the R&T car as the winner by default.

Sam, Bark, and Mental were also three of the five drivers in the Road&Track BMW. But that car finished about 20 places behind us in the overall standings.

Come Sunday, we felt pretty good about our chances to take a win in class, and when Mental got out of the car just one half-lap behind the leader with three hours to go, I was feeling confident myself. But then disaster struck in slow increments. We were short one driver due to professional commitments and the fellow I recruited to replace him, a very fast and dependable engineer for one of the Big 2.5 automakers, didn’t fit in our race seat. We didn’t realize this until it was time to do the driver change. There wasn’t enough seatbelt available in the car. It took us fourteen agonizing minutes to not get him in the car and to put Bark behind the wheel instead. Bark came out strong but we were seven laps off a podium at that point. His window net fell down, which caused a three minute pitlane delay and put us ten laps down. Finally, we were able to send him out again.

His first lap was good. On the second lap, the RX-7 lost a wheel bearing and the car started sliding all over the place. So we brought him in and called it a day.

At which point the two fastest cars in our class promptly crashed. So without the wheel bearing we’d have still had a podium, even after all the pitlane drama. Oh well. Nothing we can do in hindsight. I think our rather luxurious lineup of five drivers and four additional crew works pretty well togther, so we’ve decided to contest AER for the full 2016 season. Wish us luck. I’ll leave the final word to my father, who suggested as diplomatically as he could that perhaps the team does better when I manage instead of drive. Maybe he’s right. And my leg isn’t improving all that quickly. Maybe next year I’ll just manage the team again…

3 Replies to “AER Race Report, Mid-Ohio: Sometimes Fast, Sometimes Furious”

  1. Ronnie Schreiber

    Here are some videos that I shot of the Road And Track And Friends RX-7 during the last hour of the first race. Even managed to catch a couple of passes. Once you start the video, you can use the settings icon in the menu bar to select 2D or 3D format and change the resolution to HiDef. https://youtu.be/9uESJRW3los , https://youtu.be/xNu3XT1j3Iw , https://youtu.be/3Y4y3s1W310 , https://youtu.be/6sxv46uvnDc , https://youtu.be/apNB4cyMYak , https://youtu.be/r1BWPLaL6Os , https://youtu.be/-CQpEwlyn_8 , https://youtu.be/kJJ4zfqtQ4g , https://youtu.be/J1T09Mma7RA , https://youtu.be/S_ZWn0J8Nns, https://youtu.be/r1BWPLaL6Os

    Reply
  2. VolandoBajo

    I’m a little late reading this, but congratulations to the whole team for putting in a more than yeoman effort.

    Your father’s comment about managing vs driving needn’t be taken as a criticism of your driving. It sounds like there was a lot of coordination needed to bring things together and to remain competitive, and while the team might have some great drivers, if someone doesn’t make sure that all the things that need to happen, happen, it can all come to naught. As witness a driver who couldn’t drive.

    And there is nothing to say that you couldn’t drive as well as manage, though trying to be a player-coach is inherently difficult, even if the coach/manager side tries to be diplomatic about decisions as to whose rear end is in the seat at any given time.

    Regardless, and notwithstanding some of the adversity you guys encountered, it seems like a truly auspicious start, that demonstrates a realistic conclusion that better things likely lie ahead for the team.

    All the best to you and your crew of drivers and mechanics.

    Please continue to give us the details of what goes on in the background that is necessary for the raceday festivities to occur. It is truly interesting to see how problems are encountered and then resolved.

    Just one more suggestion, though. Post the dates and locations of the upcoming races a couple of weeks or so in advance, as a reminder to your loyal readers, in case any of us can attend and cheer you on to victory, or at least a credible attempt at it.

    All in all, very nicely done, guys!

    Reply

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