Even Later than Last Year: Saying Goodbye to 2021


It’s that time of year again when I catch up on a bunch of topics I should have discussed at the end of the previous year. Pretty sure I’ve used that opener before; but if you bear with me, I just may close out 2021 before the new race seasons starts.

2021 Regional Champion

To start things off, I won the 944 Spec regional championship a fourth year running. This year was particularly exciting as a couple new tracks were added to the calendar. Namely World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis (formerly Gateway) and Nashville Superspeedway. Both tracks are rovals with Nashville being particularly hard on equipment. Even with the disadvantage of running a tall fifth gear most of the season, I still managed podiums and a few wins on these high-speed tracks making those victories even sweeter.

I’ve said it before, but my first championship win was by the skin of my teeth, and I promised myself I would never let it be that close again. This year I had the largest margin of victory yet. Securing the championship early although several drivers were starting to find their stride towards the end of the season. With that in mind, I’m pretty sure 2022 is going to be a shootout and I’m prepared to bring more intensity and pace than the last few seasons combined to keep my car well out in front.

The pink #901 is still running strong.
2022 Nasa Mid South 944 Spec Podium.
First: Myself (Chris Simmons) Second: Rookie Patrick Findley (Wolfburgauto.com) and Brian Hurley in third after managing significant mechanical issues this season.

Hunka Hunka Burnin Rubber at Memphis International Raceway

The last race of the year took place in town and started with a Friday endurance race. Myself, Shawn Taylor, Manuel Moody and Daniel Madamba (from Express Automotive outside Nashville) took first place in an old, worn-out Spec Miata. Being the slowest car in the field didn’t give us much hope but we took an early lead regardless. Fancy cars have fancy problems and ours was about as basic as it gets. While the rest of the small field fiddled with electrical issues, we were clicking off laps. And by the time the competition was sorted, the sky opened up and rain conditions ruled the rest of the day. Neutralizing any horsepower advantage and with it, any chance for the others to unlap themselves.

On a side note, I ran a few endurance races last season. It’s a good fit as I always shine in longer races. During the Memphis race I ran more than half the race as two of the other drivers were just testing the track. One thing I find particularly interesting in throwing a bunch of racers in the same car is the data. I ran my AIM Solo in the car and captured basic data on all four drivers. It’s really fascinating to see where someone is faster, slower etc… and to see someone else’s approach to a particular corner. It’s a great learning tool and I may get into specifics in another article.

Daniel, Myself, Shawn and Manny taking home P1 in the car that could.
The car that could.

Track Records

Saturday and Sunday it was time to hop back into the 944 for some end of the year sprint racing. Not only was I looking forward to mixing it up in the field, I also had plans to lower the track record. (I set the track record by a few tenths the previous year lowering it to a 1.18.1) Seeing as I was running the tall 5th gearbox at the time, I figured breaking into the 1.17’s at MIR was a forgone conclusion with the short 5th installed. Let’s see how that went.

I dominated race 1 after dispatching an always sneaky Shawn Taylor early in the race. Easily keeping the car in the low to mid 1.18’s consistently and building a nice gap by the end.

Race 2 was another animal altogether. We inverted the start and the field immediately boxed me in. I gave the car in front a little encouragement and slipped into 4th place by turn 1. After dispatching a few cars on the next 2 laps I’m in the chase for P1 against Shawn again. I manage to close the gap and then around the 10 min mark the handling of my car changes abruptly. At 10:35 it looks like I’m driving a different car as it snaps to oversteer and never seems to take a set. As such I drop off Shawn’s bumper and maintain a manageable gap to take home 2nd place with a crippled car.

Lessons Learned

I learned an important lesson Sunday after spending the morning inspecting the rear suspension for issues. Remember I said the car wouldn’t take a set and snapped to oversteer. Both of these issues felt like they were coming from the rear end. After finding nothing out of sorts, I threw a different set of tires on thinking it was something atypical.

I was wrong and at the start of the 40 minute Aussie Pursuit race I immediately met the same handling issues. Having the largest starting handicap in the field meant I had the most work to do. I managed to work myself up to p3 with a broken car. Not only was I able to drive within a second of my usual lap time but I avoided hitting anything in the process. Looking at a competitors angle below, you can see how the car is ‘wiggling’ through the turn as I make the pass.

And here’s the full race. I’m fighting the car the entire time.

And Shawn giving me an easy pass for 3rd during the last few laps.

I mentioned learning a lesson didn’t I. The next weekend when I had time to inspect the car, I threw it in the air and immediately noticed the front sway bar was disconnected, throwing off the dynamic balance of my car dramatically. The lesson is this, ‘issues in the rear may very well be coming from the front.’

I think that catches things up for now. I have a lot to post about the NC MX5 I’ve been building over the winter and the race season starts in 2 weeks. Til then…

By Chris Simmons

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