Well, the 2020 racing season has come to a close for me. I can sum it up in one word:
The decision to run this Probe turned out to be one of the best automotive decisions I’ve ever made. The car is fun. The risk level is low. The consumables are lower. Plus, it hasn’t sucked.
This past weekend, we trekked southwest to Austin, Texas, for the Hi Performance Expo put on by Optima Batteries. This was a sort-of SEMA replacement. Optima really wanted the Ultimate Street Car Invitational to happen, and with SEMA cancelled they had a challenge: find a venue and organize an event.
They did it. After a 45 day thrash, it happened. And at COTA!
Once we got the invitation, it was time to fix a couple of things. Specifically the fore and aft engine mounts. They were stock replacement and a season of beating on them had pretty much turned them to mush. I pulled them from the car and filled the voids with 3M window adhesive, which is a polyurethane material that cures to the same durometer as a typical urethane engine mount bushing.
Once those were replaced, my problem with the car popping out of gear in third went away.
A fluid change in the gearbox to 90W140 also helped, and was necessary preparation for COTA, which is a very high speed track where we’d be mostly in 3rd and 4th, with a shift up into 5th at the end of the back straight.
The other bit of preparation was a lot of sim practice. COTA was a new animal to me, so I managed to find a really good model of the track for Assetto Corsa and got a bunch of laps in. I didn’t come close to mastery, but I was able to learn the layout so I wouldn’t waste a session being lost.
Adding to that, I cleaned the car and had the tires flipped. That ended the preparation.
When the time came, we loaded up and headed south. With my newest crew member, Jenni, providing keep-Andrew-awake-by-feeding-him-jellybeans services, the 16 hour drive passed quickly. We did have an overnight stop in Irving with some family.
Our biggest challenges of the weekend happened at the point of arrival. A closed road near the track that Waze didn’t know about had us going in circles for about fifteen minutes until I figured out how to tell Waze the road was gone and it routed us around. Then, we got checked in at registration and prepared to unload the car from the trailer for tech and ran into the second obstacle: the car wouldn’t unlock.
They keyless entry wasn’t working. I also didn’t have the door key. I managed to reach up from under the car to check for voltage at the starter, and the battery was good. I also tore apart the key fob and that battery was also fine. So, we called AAA, and they came out and broke into the car for us. Too late to make tech, but we were able to move in and we’d be able to tech it in the morning.
Oh, and the keyless entry worked the next morning and continued to work all weekend. So… WTFCar?
Our paddock spot was awesome, close to everything we needed to be close to: bathrooms and the Optima Stage:
We got Tech done early, and then Sunday was basically ours. We had the option of doing D&E, which we took advantage of, but Sunday was largely a goof-off day for us. The Optima World Challenge of Autocross was running Sunday, which we hadn’t entered. We did have the Road Rally in the evening, which went off without a hitch. The real action started on Monday with the QA1 Autocross.
Big thanks to Jenni for the exterior view.
The autocross was basically a shit show for the Probe. The lot was REALLY bumpy, and the Probe’s rear springs were simply too stiff for this lot. The back end spent a lot of time in the air, making it really hard to control and impossible to put any power down. An item to address for next year will be some softer springs in the rear of the car.
My best run of the day had a cone, so I had to stand on my third run, which wasn’t very good, but it was what it was. Moving on!
The giant group photo was taken on the giant hill at the end of the front straight. That hill is steep, and as luck would have it, once I was parked, I pulled the parking brake and it snapped. The hill was so steep that it was turning the motor over, so some improvisation was necessary. The owners manual was still in the car, and worked well as a wheel chock.
Monday night was the Mike Row Works charity kart enduro. We split into twenty teams and ran an hour and a half. Karting is fun. Not much more to say about that. My team didn’t win.
Then Tuesday. The big day. The Falken Tires Hot Lap Challenge and the Powerstop Brakes Speed Stop.
Speed Stop was Speed Stop, down and back again:
This was probably my best Speed Stop of the entire season. The newly solidified motor mounts made the launch much easier to modulate. With the engine not flopping around, wheel hop is largely gone and I was just managing tire spin. I also am confidant in the brakes. Got some lockup at the finish, but managed to just miss hitting the back of the box. Fixing the ABS in this car is on the list for the winter.
With Speed Stop out of the way, I was able to concentrate on the road course, and what a course. Circuit Of the Americas is the most modern racing facility in the western hemisphere, built for the 2012 F1 United States Grand Prix. Everything is just so… new. The course itself is an extremely technical high-speed circuit. The Probe was able to hold its ground in the technical areas, but the lack of power had us severely outclassed on all the straights. Any ground I gained in the tighter stuff was immediately lost when the hammer went down.
But the Probe managed at 2:55 during the first session, immediately meeting my goal of a sub-three minute lap.
By the time the fourth session happened, I was much more comfortable with the track and landed at 2:53.6. To add icing to the cake, the Pi in the car managed to log the session properly, so I finally have engine telemetry to spice up my video:
All in all, this was a fantastic event to cap off a fantastic season. We set some ambitious goals for this lowly Probe, and we managed to hit them all. It’s incredibly satisfying.
Big thanks to Cody Willet for all the Probe knowledge and help, FM3 Performance Marketing and Optima Batteries for putting on two awesome series this year (OSUSC and DriveAutoX), my family for putting up with this insane experiment, and all my competitors for not laughing me out of the facility when I show up.
We’re going to run the Probe again next year, but it’s getting upgrades. I’m going to move the goalpost again.