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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

The Grand Prix of St. Pete was our 2nd race of the season. Since we are from Los Angeles, we spent the two weeks after Sebring leading up to St. Pete in Florida, in the Ft. Lauterdale area working on the car.

The race weekend was definately interesting as we were sharing the track with the Indy Racing League. This was my first ever street course, and what an experience it is to race around regular streets right next to the water - ignoring those street lights and double yellow lines.

We continued to experience various small issues with the car - but never the same one! This lead to us missing the first practice session. This only left us with one practice before qualifying. We were making some radical changes to the suspension setup, as there is no such things as a baseline for an R34 GT-R for St. Pete, or even a street course, period.

Chip Van Vurst of continued to assist us on the setup front.

When the time came for qualifying, I still barely knew the track, and with an incident to get the session going that caused the red flag, lady luck did not shine on us.

During the parade lap, I saw a big puff of black smoke - Johnny Mowlem's Aston Martin DBRS9 caught on fire, which I later learned was caused by a faulty fuel line that went through the cockpit. After about 10 more minutes of waiting, this prompted the SCCA officials to redo the parade lap, and then we were ready to go for green. The starting position was near the back of the pack, but I knew it wasn't going to be the case for long with the standing start. I revved the engine to 7000rpm and dumped the clutch, with just a little bit of slip, propelling the car by at least 6 cars on the right side runoff of the front straightaway. I kept steady and let the obviously faster cars go by without a fight - with as much power as we are down, our priority right then was to simply finish. On lap 2, a few Vipers got in a jumble at turn 9 - gaining me 5 more positions. At that point, I was near the top 10 in running order and was gaining 2 seconds per lap and getting settled in with the new setup adjustments we had made before the race.

But then... the engine just died on lap 4 and luckily I found a safe place to pull in behind the concrete. I got out of the car and was greeted by the smiles of the safety workers that had just helped me push the car off of the track, and a couple of waters for me to gulp down.

I popped the hood and found a loose intake hose and the situation appeared positive. With some work and help from the corner workers and the fire fighters, we were able to get the car started again, but it was only minutes before the end of the race and SCCA radioed them that it was too late to get back out.

As unfortunate as this outcome was, our team learned a tremendous amount and are looking for the Long Beach race, coming up in only 1 week.