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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Long Beach Grand Prix

We left St. Petersburg on Sunday to arrive in Los Angeles 46 hours later. Thursday was already load-in day at the convention center.

The format for this venue was rather.. unique - the entire World Challenge GT paddock was inside the convention hall nearby the loading dock and only 6 race rigs were allowed to be parked at the loading dock outside. Luckily, ours was one of them.

During the first practice, I experienced what felt like a slipping clutch, which was odd as our Tilton carbon clutch was brand new since the St. Petersburg race. The crew looked over the clutch and cleaned any debris and fluids out of the housing, but the 2nd practice the following day proved to show the same problem. It was a broken left rear axle. With that fixed and continual setup adjustments, we prepared for the qualifying session on Sunday morning.

On the first hot lap, I am going around 140 mph into the braking zone for turn 2. I press the brake pedal down, and all of the sudden I feel an incredible lockup, with white smoke from burning tires everywhere. The ABS failed. As ABS is part of the GT-R's 4wd system, I had never driven the car without it, and not having it here was a complete surprise. That one braking zone toasted the tires to show metal around the flat spots. I barely made any laps in qualifying and with the problem worsening, was forced to brake earlier and softer.

We qualifying 24th. The race was the last of the day, after Champ Car, and to our surprise, an incredible amount of spectators were still all around the grand stands, ready to watch World Challenge. Apparently, hardly anyone left after the Champ Car race at 3 pm as the public awaited our race to begin at 4 pm.

With our past track record with World Challenge of not finishing either of the first 2 races, my objective was clear - finish the race and nurse any possible technical difficulties we may have.

During the warm-up lap, I hear Sean over the radio - "Take it easy on the standing start." And so with 5 seconds to go before green, I revved a bit less than at St. Petersburg and slipped the clutch a bit more. The all-wheel-drive launch gave me 7 positions at St. Pete. Here, I gained 4 positions going into the first turn. Nissan Skyline GT-R - The beauty of all-wheel-drive.

During the first part of the first lap before the back straight, I gained a few more positions in the traffic, but once the back straightaway came, I knew what awaited me, just like every straightaway at Sebring and St. Pete - the other cars blew by us.

As the race progressed, we again had not a single full course yellow... a true surprise for World Challenge. I was slowly but surely picking up pace through the race, as this was my first real opportunity to get to know the track and push the car.

When the leaders came around to lap me, their gain at the straightaways was absurd - the power those cars put down. We are the heaviest and down by 150 wheel horse power compared to the competition.

I finished the race in 17th place, ahead of the factory sponsored WRX STi, which is most comparable in trim to our car.

Tamura-san, aka Mr. GT-R, aka product planner of the R34 Skyline GT-R at Nissan, attended the event between meetings at Nissan in Gardena, and was present for the entire race. I am sure he flew home with a smile on his face - having seen the GT-R made of his own work and sweat compete in a race series in the United States.