Optima NOLA Recap!

We’re back, baby!

Well, maybe not totally, but we made it through an event and the car is still running and at no point during the weekend was it on fire.

We traveled to the Big Easy for the second round of the 2023 Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car. The NOLA event is always a great one. The track facilities are excellent, and the newly repaved track is ideal for an early-in-the-year event. It’s completely flat. The engine doesn’t have the fight gravity. The suspension doesn’t have to deal with extreme articulations. If something goes awry, there’s nothing to hit.

We sailed through tech and moved on to the orientation laps Friday night. During tech at the first Optima Event of any season, you have to complete a “fire drill”, where you must don all your safety gear, strap into the car, and then exit it in under 12 seconds. Having been experienced in such exits, we completed the drill in four seconds and were commended on the violence of our exit.

Right before we headed out for our orientation laps, it started raining. 45mph behind the pace car. Car worked. All good.

The next morning was the autocross. As as been the theme the last few years with the Optima Events, the autocross course was designed with speed in mind. It presents a serious disadvantage to the lower horsepower cars. But they’re fun courses. Five runs in the morning went without incident, but we were hot lapped. There wasn’t even time between runs to get out of the car most of the morning.

In action on the autocross course

BUT! If you watched the NOLA episode of the TV show back in 2021, there was clip in there where I was noting the car was getting hot. That issue did not come back. Five laps with just a few minutes idling in the paddock in between and the water temperature was right at 200. That’s thirty degrees lower than the last time we were autocrossing at NOLA. Big credit to the work we’ve done to improve the cooling system.

The afternoon was not so happy. It got slightly warmer, and the hose couplers for the intake piping started to slip out from under the clamps. We had a pipe blow every single run in the afternoon. It was a harbinger of things to come.

After the autocross sessions were complete, we hit the track for sighting laps, then a practice session. I was meatballed halfway through my first lap.

For those that are unfamiliar with running race track in the USA, the “meatball” is a black flag with a big red dot in the middle. It’s used to signal to a driver there’s a mechanical problem with their car and they should pit. In my case, I was smoking. This brings back all sorts of PTSD from the VIR event where a failed oil cooler line had us oiling down the entire autocross course and nearly destroying the engine.

But in this case, it was not serious. The oil filler cap and dip stick were leaking, and a PCV hose had slipped off the nipple on the rear valve cover. During the road rally, we stopped at Advance Auto and purchased what we needed to seal those up, and we didn’t have a single problem with oil exiting the engine the rest of the weekend.

During the D&E Presentation

But the charge pipes continued to a be a problem. So much so that we only got two good timed laps, and only two runs at the Peak Performance speed stop challenge at full power. We were seven seconds off the pace on the road course versus 2021.

However, the car survived the weekend. Sure, annoying problems, but all fixable quickly. There also were several very high points:

  1. When the charge pipes held, the car ran well
  2. The suspension is dialed. Tire wear was incredibly even, and we’re pulling 1.5+G in corners on an 8/10ths lap.
  3. Data logs indicate the car is making at least 20hp more than before the engine was rebuilt. That’s a 10% gain from the rebuild with no other changes (same turbo, same tune).

Overall, it was a good event for us. We finished second to last in GTC, but we still managed to score 384 points. The D&E scores identified some very solid opportunities for more points in that portion with tweaks to the presentation, and most importantly, the engine appears to be fantastic.

Reconnecting popped charge pipes

Next event is the Pine Mountain Hill Climb. That events is 4-6 runs of ~ two minutes each, but uphill. If we get through that one, we pile in the truck and drive three days out to Laguna Seca for round 3 of the Optima Series.

Fingers crossed.


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