Putnam Park was a weekend of excellent racing despite the, frankly, so-so turnout of GTS cars. With a solid seven cars in GTS3, GTS4 trailed with three, while GTS2 had only two.
The star of the weekend had to be Zach Hillman, who finally got his 944 S2 running right, and boy oh boy did it ever run. Over the last year or so, Zach has shown moments of brilliance on the track but the team has fought a series of issues as they tried to dumb down their very fast 944 to get it to fit into GTS2. This year they abandoned that effort and moved it up a notch to GTS3 where it appears that only calling it "competitive" is a bit of an insult. I talked to Doug Hillman, Zach's dad and engine builder, and when I asked what he'd done to the S2 engine to get an extra 40 or so horsepower out of it, he simply said, "everything."
Well, whatever it was, it worked.
Despite there being three GTS4 cars in the field (okay, in fairness, all three of them were in development mode, but still...), Zach: (1) was the fastest GTS car in every session, (2) held the overall pole position on both Saturday and Sunday, (3) won both races (overall), and (4) set a new GTS3 track record, torn from the hands of rocket man Scott Berkowitz. Other than that, it was pretty much a ho-hum weekend for the Hillman crew.
But, it turns out there were other cars at the track this weekend, too, including the self-same Mr. Berkowitz who was using up older tires, a fact that did little to help him chase down Hillman.
Tires, in fact, were one of the themes of the weekend. Putnam is notoriously hard on tires--particularly fronts--and it seemed almost everyone was fighting understeer which just makes matters worse. GTS3 driver Paul Davison said, "...I may need to moonlight in order to replace all the tires I corded (seems poetic that tire usage was high in the HOOSIER state!). Tire wear was brutal!"
There were others dealing with tires issues, too. Brad Waite, in his ex-Grand Am 997 said this:
I came to Putnam Park with dual goals of continuing to make progress in learning the 911, and to use up my existing supply of tires in advance of switching to slicks. I met both goals, but overachieved on the tire usage.
My already-thin tire stock became dire after I decided to run a portion of the Enduro on Friday afternoon. In search of tires after the Enduro, I did what every high level racer does and went dumpster diving. Tim Haines was gracious enough to give me two tires he was throwing away. Scott Berkowitz watched this and said, "I'll bet that's the first time that Grand Am car has been run on take-offs!"
Saturday's race started with Hillman on the pole and Berkowitz alongside. Waite and Dann Nelson (GTS3) were next. At the start, Berkowitz got the jump on Hillman, as did Waite, who was able to use his car's superior power off the line, but Hillman was having none of it. He soon made it past Waite and took off in search of Berkowitz, who looked very much to be in his old form. The two of them had an epic battle for the overall lead for the first two-thirds of the race, with Berkowitz managing to use his long experience to help hold back Hillman in what was pretty clearly the faster car. It was a classic battle of youth and enthusiasm against age and trechery where, time and time again, Hillman would get a look but Berkowitz would shut the door or take an alternate line through traffic and, time and time again, it would be Scotty back in front when they made it back around.
But eventually Hillman made it past and that, as they say, was that. With Berkowitz's tires going off and he, himself, wearing out physically, Hillman rode off into the sunset, opening up an 8.5 second gap by the end.
Paul Davison started out strong, racing hard with Dann Nelson and Mike Ward (GTS2), but faded as the car began to push to an almost unbelievable level as the race progressed. It turned out his problem was neither setup nor tire wear. It was, instead, a problem with pre-race prep. Paul explained, "During Saturday's race, I learned that a missing oil filler cap does nothing to help an already tight car. It's still a mystery as to how/where the cap went but eventually the motor slowly dumped 2-1/2 quarts of oil all over the engine compartment and front tires."
In GTS4, Denny Pedri (E36 M3) had his hands full, both inside and outside the car. Inside it was a problem of setup. Over the winter he'd made a lot of changes. New wing, new spring rates, new suspension components, etc., and the current combination wasn't working. Aggravating that general problem was the fact he'd changed so much that it was hard to know what to do first to try to get it back to where it had been in 2012 (when he was FAST). Outside the car, it was a problem of Brad Waite who has been creeping up on his new car's capabilities to the point he's become, if not as fast as he will be a few events from now, fast enough to be a problem to Pedri.
As it turned out, the balance between Pedri's setup not being quite right and the combination of Waite's still-growing comfort level and his own questionable tires was just about perfect, at least from a spectator's viewpoint. The two of them had excellent battles both days. Waite described it this way:
By Saturday's race, I was on twelve-cycle R6s on the rear and slightly newer tires on the front. Denny Pedri and I had a pretty good battle early on, until my tires started to fall off and I could no longer hang with him. With about 2 laps to go, I tried to turn in at Dead Bear and my car drove straight off the track. I quickly realized my tires weren't just falling off, but I was developing a flat at the front on the right side.
But, Waite is not one to let a simple flat tire knock him out of the race...
By the time I got to the white flag, the front right tire was completely flat. I finished the race with a flat tire by babying the car around the corners and pegging it down the straights. I kept looking for Tim Haines, the 3rd place car behind me, not knowing he had a mechanical and had dropped out. Ironically, after the race the right front was the best tire on the car--except for the hole in the center. The left front was corded, but holding air just fine.
Up until his tire started going south, Waite had been in a great battle with Pedri but, ultimately, Saturday's race went to Denny's BMW.
In GTS2, it was just Mike Ward and Chris Fries, Sr., and Ward's speed was much too much for Fries to deal with. Instead, Ward found himself in a race-long battle with GTS3 cars and finishing strongly enough he would have been fourth in GTS3, just ahead of Davison.
Sunday was more of the same. The GTS3 cars of Hillman, Berkowitz, and Nelson qualified at the front, followed by Waite, Bob Wisen (GTS3 996 Cup), and Pedri. Paul Davison was next, with his tires un-oiled but still fighting understeer, as was a very frustrated Pedri.
For the race, Davison gave up on subtle changes and took a big swing at the set up in an effort to loosen up the car up. He stiffened the rear dampening, softened the front dampening, softened the front sway bar, lowered the front tire pressures (again), took out some rear wing and--voila!-- ended up with a race car that would actually turn in! Pedri made a smaller set of similar adjustments and improved his car, as well.
At the start, Berkowitz got another jump but this one didn't last very long. By turn five (if memory serves) Zach found a way past and then just left him, going on to the overall GTS win with a margin of 47 seconds on the rest of the field! Berkowitz eventually had to park it after a dozen laps so Dann Nelson was second in GTS3, followed by Davison, Luke Perkowski, and Wisen.
The real battle on Sunday was in GTS4. Waite's story continues:
Capitalizing on Tim Haines' goodwill once more, I bought two sticker tires from him for Sunday's race, as he unfortunately was not able to make the start. So with stickers on the rear and two very well worn tires on the front, I took the green flag on Sunday.
By this time there were just two cars in class, Denny Pedri and me. Denny had been battling setup issues all weekend, so with my bad tires on the front and his handling issues, I thought we would have a pretty good battle; sorta like the battle for the tallest midget! A battle it was with several lead changes, very close racing and several side by side battles.
I spent much of the second half of the race trailing Denny so close you couldn't fit a fart between our bumpers. Denny's car was clearly becoming a handful for him, so I saw an opportunity late in the race coming into turn 9 as we were approaching slower traffic. Denny took the inside to pass a car around 9, and I took the line inside of Denny to go around the other two cars as we were entering 10. Having a little bit of a run on him coming out of 10, I won the drag race down the straight and entered turn 1 in the lead. We ended the race in this order, giving me my first win in the new car, and a strong desire to get the new wheel and tire package ASAP!
It was an excellent race and a great finish to the day. Ward won GTS2 easily, with a three-lap margin back to Fries, Sr.
Afterward, it was smiling faces everywhere. Lots of happy winners, folks happy with the setup changes they'd made, and who had had excellent battles on the track.
Next up: Gingerman (crossover event), June 22-23
Next on the Great Lakes schedule is Gingerman, in South Haven, Michigan. This is a resort town (there's a beach, I'm told) and a favorite destination. The track was designed by the same guy who did Putnam, which means it's fun and flows nicely. If you haven't signed up already, get to it before the good rooms are all gone. With the off-track niceties, this is the event you can bring the whole family to, so no excuses for not being there.
Normally i start these messages with a comment on the poor weather, well i don't know what more a Coloradan could ask for, we had beautiful racing weather for the whole weekend. And how about that turn out ? We had over 20 GTS cars register for the weekend, this put both of our highly attended classes (GTS2 & GTS3) in the top tire contingency spots. And the competition got pretty heated; it really shows that everyone has really stepped it up this year, all cars and classes were faster than October last year !
I'll get right to my observations; i gotta say it was really awesome to see those twin GTS-4, Porsche RSR's out there. Alexandra Sabadosand Alex Welch put on an amazing show and set the bar pretty high early on. Unfortunately Alex didn't have a current dyno, so he ran in GTS-U, but we all knew that he was laying down some smoking fast GTS-4/U times (1:35.643), in fact that was one of many track records that was reset during the weekend.
Moving down the GTS ratio-ladder, GTS-3 saw some pretty good battles throughout the field. Dan Goodman piloting his widebody E36M has always been a target, usually one disappearing around the corner ahead of his competition. This weekend a couple of challengers arose; on Saturday Garrett Walz gave chase in his E46M to steal the top spot in the first race. That victory was short lived as Dan pulled off a heroic start in the second race to grab the pole into T1 and held it through the checker.
Just behind them the E36M's of Christina Werley, Rick Snyder & Cody Overcash were battling for position. Christina, a recent rookie-alumnus, and Synder, a self-proclaimed 'rusty' driver back from hiatus, were laying down fast and consistent laps on Nittos! Cody was doing all he could to hang with those two, as his car was down on power, later diagnosed as a failing coilpack. Chasing the E36's was the Porsche of Lisa Bryan and the E30 franken-car of Pete Norman, both new Rookies, getting up to speed they found themselves caught up in the super fast GTS-2 cars.
umping to Sunday, Cody had resolved his motor problems and was back to full power and ended up pushing past the field to catch Goodman for the win in the final 40 minute race. During his chase he reset the GTS-3 track record (1:38.225), what great comeback! It was a great race to watch... yes, watch, as my car decided it didn't want to start (later diagnosed as an EWS fault). No problem, another Rookie driver arrived to race, John Allen, piloted his clean E46M against some tough competition, but being underweight, opted to run GTS-U for the day; let's get that car ballasted up John!
"What about GTS-2 ?", you ask... well, this group is always a blast to watch, and race with. I love seeing their video (and when not racing, watching from the stands) as the top six cars are all running within a half-second of each other. The BMW E36 chassis seems to be the GTS-2 vehicle of choice as eight of nine GTS-2 cars look an awful lot alike. Bucking that trend was new to NASA, driver, Travis Tiller in his Porsche 911 C4. Travis slotted right in and ran some very competitive times in GTS-2 but ended up being bumped to GTS-U without a dyno form on hand. This left the front of the pack to perennial fast-guys and defending regional champs Doug Young, Lee Bohning, Gene Dackonish & Dale Laushman. From what i saw these guys were constantly trading places throughout each lap, two wide in most turns. And mixed right in, was our newest Rookie Joe Ostrander, Joe didn't waste any time getting right in the game and found himself on the podium by Sunday.
The top of the podium was being held by Lee and Doug swapping for the top spot until the last race on Sunday when Lee grabbed the wrong gear and over-revved the motor to destruction in T2 on the opening lap... good luck to Lee getting his spare motor swapped in for the next race. At least Lee got to go home knowing that he now holds the GTS-2 track record, dropping it to 1:42.956. Behind them, Gene & Dale fought for third spot until Pete's GTS-3 car collected Gene in the middle of Race-3 sending both cars to impound for hammer-time (and paperwork).
Keeping the trend of graduating Rookies, Laura Scott got to remove the "R"s from her car on Sunday after completing her provisional book. Congrats Laura! More Rookie action, Judson Williams, also stepped up the game bringing his refreshed E36M sporting new aero. This seemed to be a common theme, as we've seen Doug & Lee's cars sprouting new aero equipment this season as well. On Sunday we got to see Alain van der Heide's return to the track in John Clark's old E36M, looking forward to seeing him out at more events this year.
March was madness again with the weather! It must have been the visiting Great Lakes GTS racers who brought another round of snow-filled fun for us. Fortunately, Saturday provided dry and nice weather.
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- Great Lakes - April 26-28, 2013
- Rocky Mountain Season Opener @ PPIR
- GTS Midwest season opener
- February Snow Race
- 2013 Rules are posted!
- 2013 Mid-Atlantic Preview
- Midwest 2012 Wrapup
- Rules Change proposals being accepted.
- Rocky Mountain Region August Update
- Great Lakes - Mid-Ohio, June 30-July 1, 2012
- GTS Nationals 2012 Recap
- NASA MidAtlantic Summer Breeze Recap
- NASA Midwest GTS at Autobahn 7/14-15
- Great Lakes - Putnam Park May 11-13
- NASA Heat Wave @ VIR
- NASA GTS at Autobahn - Pre-event info
- Great Lakes - Grattan June 2-3
- Updated 2012 Mid-Atlantic Season Points
- Midwest Season Opener
- Hyperfest 2012 Recap