Barber Motorsports Park with NASA Midsouth July 2020

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‘Holy Shit it’s great to be back at Barber!’ Yep, that’s what I’m starting with.

944spec has been on a two year hiatus from Barber Motorsports Park. NASA Midsouth used to hold races during the Halloween weekend and it was always a blowout. Unfortunately, that weekend was lost due to scheduling conflicts on the national level three-ish years ago. This gave rise to a brutal summer event ironically coined ‘Winter in July.’ I say brutal as there is nothing nice about the weather in the South in July. Let alone Leeds, Alabama right outside of Birmingham where Barber Motorsports Park resides. Maybe one day we will get the nice Fall weather event back but for the time being, we race at Barber once per year and we race in July with it’s mid 90 degree ambient temps and swift evening thunderstorms to steam things up. The Winter in July event has become the biggest driver (and equipment) test of the season.

Systems Check

My number one concern going into this weekend was the cooling capability of my car. The pink 901 is a well balanced spec racer with a healthy motor that is temperamental in the heat. The heat intolerance cost me at the National Championships last year and reared it’s head in June at Road Atlanta, once again hurting my ability to draft. A full cleaning and inspection of the cooling system was in order before Barber.

First up was the fan system. I have four fans on my car. 2 small SPAL fans on the oil cooler and 2 x 10″ Flex-a-lite’s on the radiator. These are tied to the same circuit and this circuit kept blowing fuses at Road Atlanta, meaning I would easily overheat when stationary. Upon disassembly I noticed that both SPAL fans had separated from their motors, an odd failure for a ‘race’ application fan. Luckily, I cannibalized a fan from my old Lotus Elise oil cooler for a quick repair. (It as well is made by SPAL. I will be watching it closely.) Once replaced the fan circuit worked flawlessly.

Image of VP Racing's Madditive Cool Down Coolant Additive.

Next up was the radiator. I like to mow the grass from time to time in the spec car and it was probably overdue to blow out the radiator fins. There wasn’t near the amount of debris as I expected which was disappointing as this would have been a very easy cause to my overheating woes. Moving on I drained and flushed the coolant loop refilling with plain water and VP Racing’s Madditive Cool Down Coolant Additive. (That’s a mouthful) It’s advertised to lower temps quite a bit over Water Wetter so I figure it is worth a shot.

Finally, for a bit of additional insurance if all this failed, I packed an industrial airmover and set the car directly in front of the fan after each session. Allowing constant airflow over the radiator when parked in the paddock to cool the car down slowly.

I don’t think any one thing was ‘the fix’ but combined I was able to confidently push the car to the limit throughout the weekend with minimal risk of over-heating.

On to the Racing

I locked this weekend out. Qualifying first both Saturday and Sunday and winning both races. But each race played out vastly different.

Race 1

Race 1 on Saturday took me by surprise. I am known as a smooth driver and the result of that is happier tires, especially towards the end of a stint. And in general, the longer the race the more it plays into my strengths. My strategy for just about any race over 40 minutes is to go out fast, set a repeatable fast lap and hold. Not necessarily playing the long game but also not wrestling or fighting the car for an extra tenth. What I wasn’t anticipating was a very aggressive Shawn Taylor. Shawn started p4 and although I pulled and pounced at the green. He quickly dispatched p2 and p3 and immediately filled my rear view with red 944. I caught a small break passing an EV at a very advantageous time only to get backed up by a group of Miatas. I passed them shortly thereafter. I didn’t get to see it but I am pretty sure they ‘parted the seas’ for Shawn as next thing I know my mirrors are full once again.

This is where things get a little interesting as Barber can be a difficult track to pass on, especially between two closely lapping cars piloted by aware drivers. From the start I had the advantage in p1 as I could control the pace a little but I was also much faster in the mid section of the track where Shawn was much faster on the back side. Compromising the entry of the corkscrew for more exit speed, I would pull a few lengths on Shawn every time through the esses and he would immediately reel me back in by the carousel. We did this yo-yo’ing for about 30 minutes knowing that as long as I didn’t make a mistake I would remain in the lead. And with about two laps to go the tires came into play. I stayed on the inside of the carousel and Shawn made a move to the outside when he went into a slide. He composed the car quickly but not before losing 10 seconds allowing me a much needed breather driving the car to first place shortly after.

Race 2

One of the cool things about spec racing and club racing in general is that we help each other. It was pretty apparent from race 1 that Shawn was killing me through the back section. So after tuning his car and sharing notes about my corkscrew exit, I was privy to his method through the back section. After adding my own notes from reviewing the race 1 footage, I took all this data and reformulated my approach. The result, 2 seconds faster during race 2 leaving things to play out much differently. I slipped away early and steadily throughout the race building a 20 second lead. I also broke my PR and was a couple of tenths from running in the 1.48s. Not a bad time in the heat of summer.

Chris Simmons By Chris Simmons

About the Author:

Chris Simmons

Chris Simmons is a race car driver, instructor, business owner and all around gearhead. His passion for motorsport started in the drifting community and progressed into wheel to wheel racing of all kinds. When off track Chris can be found training and working on a myriad of projects. After a hiatus from writing, he is back to share his passion, knowledge and experience in regard to motorsports on and off the track.

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