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Once the new toys got put to use, some staggering numbers were staring the team in the face. The car had a ridiculously large amount of scrub due to its toe settings, corner weight numbers that needed major adjustment, and ride height figures that only compounded the issues. Much time and effort was put into addressing the concerns and the final product going into the first race of the year could only bring excitement and anticipation.
When it came time for Chris to shake the rust off Day 1 at Gingerman Raceway, he did so in grand fashion by securing P1 on the grid for Sunday’s race and rewarding all the team’s hard work and long hours in the lead up to the event. With a great start in hand through turn 1, things were looking promising, but a banzai move/mistake by the driver in 2nd place resulted in contact at turn 2 moving him backwards in the field. Overall pace was much better than the newly leading car, but due to the parity of the class and differences in performance between model years, it made a cleanly executed pass very difficult and the end result was a very frustrating 2nd place finish.
Blackhawk Farms was the next stop on the schedule. Holding his P4 starting position through the 1st lap of the race, a surprising black flag / stop and go penalty was wrongly assessed and the resulting run through pit lane ended all chances of earning victory. Chris put his head down to collect as many points as possible toward the championship and drove past almost the entire field to place 5th and set the race’s fastest lap in the process.
With the teams return to Blackhawk Farms coming a fortnight later, it instilled confidence and lofty aspirations throughout the squad. Again finding P4 on the grid to start the race, by lap 5, Chris had found his way to the front and that was where he stayed for 2 laps. Unfortunately, it was again contact, this time at the final turns apex which removed him from his post. The resulting off-track excursion caused a strong vibration that compromised the cars performance and forced him to lose track of the top 3 cars by the checker.
The ultra competitive and prestigious June Sprints at Road America came next. The qualifying sessions showed that the 1.8 liter cars had an advantage over the 1.6 liter cars while climbing the hills and in top speed at the end of the straights. Chris had a race long battle with Steve Welk for the final spot on the podium and at the line, it was Welk by a car length. Chris did manage to take over the points lead in the process however, and now it was onto Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Fastest in all sessions meant bringing home the pole and race’s fastest lap, but a terrible start relegated Chris back to 4th. The battle up front ensued the entire race needing a photo finish at the line to determine the winner. Just short and 2nd.
With two races left to decide the division championship, all the competitors traveled to the Autobahn Country Club. Being fastest on the test day that preceded the event didn’t translate into qualifying success. The team missed the set-up for the Q run and almost caught it before the race. The left side tire wear and temps were discussed, but a change was not made. The miscalculation showed itself in the race as the car picked up a bad push in right hand turns and the end result was a 4th place finish with a 4th place car. It made for a long day when coupled with losing the points lead.
The last race in the Central Division was a return to Road America. The 1.6 liter again showed its flaw, but it did lead Chris into a great fight for 4th with the newly crowned SCCA Pro Racing MX-5 Cup Champion Jason Saini. Both drivers worked together to try and chase down the front running 1.8’s. It almost paid off as the gap closed significantly near the end, however, when it became apparent it was to be just out of reach the 2 drivers turned on each other. Great racecraft followed and Chris earned the spot by just a half car length. The championship points battle was lost and Chris needed to settle for 2nd.
In preparation to the SCCA National Championship Run-Offs, the team made the trek down to Topeka, KS for the “Last Chance National”. After qualifying 5th, just a few tenths off the pole, a bad start by some fellow competitors relegated Chris back to 7th. Over the course of the run, he began picking his way back up the queue. While passing side-by-side to take over P3, the other driver spun in the high speed chicane and proceeded to clip the backside of Chris’ car sending him rearward toward a concrete wall. Luckily it was a glancing blow, but major damage was still the result. Following the event, the damaged bodywork was fixed and a full exterior restoration including paint job was performed. Along with the exterior upgrade made to the car came the long overdue addition of the Mazdaspeed racing differential which the team had gone without in all previous campaigns. All that was left to find out was how much an increase in pace the car would show going back to the scene of the crime, it was 07′ Run-Offs time.
The differential made a night and day difference as it turned out. The car picked up a full second consistently and qualifying saw the car slotted in 7th spot as the fastest 1.6 liter. However, a tech violation forced the team to give up the time and changed the complexion of the event. An issue getting the car fixed and run on the dyno before the final Q attempt meant a car not at full song. Starting 23rd presented many obstacles like spinning cars and a fully mud splattered windshield. Chris had to drive off-course to avoid major contact and as it turned out the race only saw 8 laps of green flag racing. Time to recover was the enemy and the move back through the pack was halted at 20th when the checker flew. More hard lessons learned to close out the year, but watch for this driver, team, and car in the future!