For the first time in North American rally history the…
Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
Like most of our coordinated amateur race weekends, the instigator of our group, Duke Stachington, got the tires spinning with a simple email:
Hey guys, Letting you know that Manstache O’Toole, [pointless name 1], [pointless name 2] and myself are going to be doing the track weekend at Chuckwalla with the link below. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll loop you into the conversation.
This email chain evolved into a concrete game plan to ensure a successful weekend of shredding tires and debauchery – a weekend not soon to be forgotten.
Saturday, March 28th, 2015
Day 1 – 97 degrees
For this particular weekend, three of the guys shared an incredibly nimble E30 318is. Those three drivers are also the most seasoned in our group so the E30 saw some serious abuse.
Then we have the two Miatas. They do what typical Miatas do best, go fast without breaking the bank. Sure, their acceleration is anemic but on the track a well configured Miata can be quite formidable.
As for me, I drive a fail wheel drive 2004 Volkswagen GTI with the rare 2.8L 24V VR6. Why a Volkswagen? To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know. I came home one day, got the urge to build it for racing, removed all of the interior, and never looked back. What I do know is that I am in far too deep and my smile is just as big, if not bigger, when I get off the track. It’s actually proven itself to be pretty quick.
Being realistic though, it’s important to remember that at the end of each session it’s how much fun you’re having, not so much the speed at which you’re going. Being among friends is what ultimately makes trackdays fun, racing cars just provides the body with the adrenaline high. Our group is really no different from all the others, it’s a weird amalgamation of comradery and rivalry. In a pinch we are there for each other but once the times are posted, the insults start to fly back and forth.
By the end of Saturday, the E30 successfully claimed 1st with a second ahead of one of the Miatas. The E30 ended up needing some repairs though as there was a faint smell of fuel coming from the engine bay into the cockpit. We didn’t dare bother to work on it until the heat subsided though.
Eager to help the other drivers get up to speed, the veterans in our group lectured the rest of us as we walked the length of the 2.68 mile track while the sun continued to set. It was amazing to hear how technical the course really was and it was even more impressive to feel the drastic changes of elevation through tired legs. Before that walk, I had no idea how much the build-up of rubber improved the grip on a rumble strips through the corners, the difference was substantial.
Once we arrived back at the camp, educated, sore, and tired, it was time cook the kind of food that one would never expect to have in the desert: A Kirkland beef patty, melted Tillamook cheddar, extra crispy bacon, bacon fat caramelized onions, buttery avocado, crisp lettuce, ripe tomato, one egg over hard, all on on a grilled sesame bun. We spent the remainder of the evening in a comatose state, talking around the E30 while the more mechanically inclined worked their magic to get the car ready for day 2.
Sunday, March 29th, 2015
Day 2 – 96 degrees
This was it, the last day to put down some solid times, desperation if you will.
With the walk still fresh on our minds, lap times gradually started to come down for everyone. It certainly helped that we had a good 3 hours of thin cloud cover throughout the morning. Feeling more familiar with the track, I made a few setup changes at the beginning of the day and with the previous day’s advice, I quickly found myself shaving off 4 seconds in the first session. The car felt far more balanced with a more aggressive spoiler and slightly less aggressive rear sway (9-way adjustable). Come the third session, I managed to shave off an additional 2 seconds making the car the fastest in the group by half a second.
It was a very proud moment for me with so little experience under my belt, and I know full well that I still have plenty of chances to pick up speed as my comfort levels continue to improve on that track. They didn’t admit it but I had finally earned the respect of the group in a FWD car. Sure, the VR6 might have 50HP on the nearest opponent but hey, I will take what I can get! Here’s some in-car footage to review!
Chuckwalla has officially been bumped up to the status of my new favorite track in southern California. If you live within 300 miles and haven’t tried it, I highly recommend making the journey, it’s definitely worth the trip. I was super stoked to find out from Cole (Chuckwalla’s general manager), that over the next few years the track is due to see some big upgrades with a second and completely separate track, a rallycross course, an expanded paddock, team garages, a pro-shop, and possibly even a clubhouse for people to stay at.