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  • Writer's pictureEd Cangialosi

ME Racing Report August 2023; Thunderbolt

I used to not really enjoy racing at the New Jersey Motorsport Park Thunderbolt course. I found it frustrating and had a nasty crash into the wall that supports the access bridge to the paddock. It was raining and I looked down to see a disappointing lap time during qualifying. I put my foot down as I exited the Octopus to pick up speed across the timing line at start-finish. Unfortunately I got the left side wheels onto the grass while exiting the tight looping left and that sent me spinning around. I was able to get the car turned enough so that I didn't smash into the wall either head first or with my driver door. Instead I caught the rear corner and proceeded to ding three other corners of the car. The hit was hard enough to bend the rear subframe. I think I was going between 40 and 50mph, but that was plenty to bruise ribs and ego.

The first race in the rain after that was pretty tough. I got through it, slowly, but I got through it. Before the crash I wasn't a big fan of racing in the rain, but I wasn't too worried about it either. At my very first race (which was at Lime Rock Park) a rainstorm greeted the field as we got the green flag and headed into turn one, Big Bend. Eventually I got back to not minding the rain and further on I started to look forward to racing in the rain because I knew there were always going to be other racers who didn't like it and that became an advantage for me. This year I was kind of hoping it would rain at the American Endurance race we ran at the Glen in April because we would have a huge advantage against less experienced racers.

My crash taught me a couple things that have really helpful since. First, don't look at the timer - just drive and in qualifying don't just drive around like it's a practice session. I focused on being prepared to go for a lap time as soon as I had done a warmup lap and I had the track space to get a run. Hopefully all it takes is three laps. If need be I can repeat the cycle of warm up, hot lap, and cool down. I also learned about driving around problems with the car. A bent subframe is a bad thing to race with, but a great thing to learn from. Hitting the brakes hard with that crunched rear meant the car would snake it's way to being slower - a little unsettling, but good for practicing reactions. I upgraded the subframe to one that allowed us to adjust the toe angle and that made it possible to learn how to drive with a variety of setups from really loose through neutral and tight.

I've come to really enjoy driving and racing at Thunderbolt. It could be that I got a podium (in the dry) at a later race in the same car that I hit the wall in. That certainly helped, but I think it's a result of maturing as a driver and being better about accepting what is, and knowing more about working on setup while also pushing hard as hell when its appropriate. Communicating how to be patient and aggressive at the same time feels like the hardest thing that I try to do these days with my beginner students. They just want to drive. Who wouldn't rather be on the track instead of in the classroom? The thing I come back to is asking them to be quick but not hurry. (I got it form my basketball coach, he got it from UCLA's basketball coach, John Wooden.) I don't know where Wooden got it from but it doesn't matter. For a lot of us, our tendency is to push (hurry) and not be quick by being patient. I ask the students who feel they are being held back by slower drivers about what they should do. Often they think I'm just being jerky and trying to hold them back. That's not the case. I am asking them to tell me what their strategy is for dealing with traffic.

I'm not interested in spitting into the wind, however, I did have a lot of fun running around in my new Civic Si! A new set of Konig Hexaform wheels (Thank you guys!) with ME Racing customized center caps made an excellent a great impression on me and everyone on track with us whatever the run group.

Then there's the has become a project. I guess all projects become more projecty over time. Most recently we have upgraded the turbo and related plumbing, the oil cooler, and fabricated a new exhaust. We're working on the tune now. Being an OBD1 turbo M50/M52 motored car is making things interesting. As we make our way toward race tech for the E34 and even though it's not that much larger than the new Si, we've taken to calling it the bus, aka Frank, as in Frankenstein's monster, and of course the E34 route will include stops at Lime Rock, The Glen, NJMP, Pocono and other points with twists and turns.

Thank you for hanging in there on this bus ride!

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