July 2022 NASA Utah

July 2022 at the Utah Motorsports Complex

A full weekend of racing with two races each in ST4 & ST5 and a 6hr WERC Enduro in E1 & E2.

We are now halfway through our season! In NASA SoCal, Palomar Racing has a strong grasp of the ST5 region-al points lead. In NASA WERC, Palomar Racing has won all 3 of the previous endurance races in E2 class. Now we will travel over 700 miles to Utah and to add to the challenge, we are now campaigning 2 cars.

In early June at Auto Club Speedway, we brought the new #24 car to the track for the first time, however due to a few teething issues it wasn’t able to compete. A few weeks later we took the team to Sonoma to again attempt to get a handle on the new car. Team mechanic Kevin had worked out the kinks and we were able to explore the potential of the new chassis. While Sonoma was a successful test, we also learned that if we wanted the ST4 program to be successful we’d have to make some changes. The #24 is inherently a bit heavier than the #25, so we decided to swap their classes: #24 in ST5, since it is already just about at the right power to weight, and #25 to ST4 where its lighter chassis would get us closer to the class limit…with the ballast and restrictor plate removed, that is. We cannot fully exploit the ST4 rules because we will be returning the car to ST5 trim after Nationals in September, so the setup is a bit of a compromise. Our cars are built primarily to ST5 specs, much of the reason we have dominated the class so far. While we believe the #24 should be ultra competitive in ST5, the ability of the #25 to compete against true ST4 cars is still unknown.

Due to the nature of a 6 hour enduro (the longest race of our NASA WERC season thus far), this will also be the first time we run with 6 drivers. We are building the team in order to get ready for the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill in early December. We will need as many as 8 drivers for that ultimate test of en-durance, and now is a good time to start understanding the difficulties of running a 2-car team with mul-tiple driver lineups. We will still lean on our primary drivers Nik Romano and Matt Million, with each of them taking a stint in both cars, but in addition we will have 4 more drivers join us for Utah. Sonny Watanasirisuk, who joined Romano and Million during the June NASA WERC victory in E2 at Auto Club Speedway will return again, also joined by Ryan Keeley. Both Sonny and Ryan are accomplished enduro drivers and have been a part of various winning endurance efforts. New to the team is Ryan Bittner, front-running SoCal SE46 driver who we know well as he is chasing us in the SoCal ST5 points fight. Our final driver will be Lucas Weisenberg, a young gun who is currently leading the NASA SoCal Spec E46 points. All 6 are top drivers in their classes; our enduro team is not one of compromises. Once again, we are building an unfair advantage.

In order to compete, first we must get to the track.

Let’s challenge the team with yet another “first”. We recently acquired a shiny black race hauler from the legendary Paul Gentilozzi of Trans Am and INDYCAR acclaim. Thanks to our friends at Sign Art,the rig’s livery was installed and it was ready to go. This was our first weekend with the new rig but lucky for us, Ryan Keeley, in addition to being an accomplished race driver, is also a Class A truck driver and ran the rig on its first race weekend for us. The trip to Utah went reasonably well with the exception of a blown trailer tire just out of Beaver Utah. After a quick roadside pit stop by the crew we were again on the road and finally arrived at the track on Thursday afternoon. We unloaded the new rig, set up the cano-py for the first time and looked on with anticipation – this would be our paddock to challenge a long and grueling weekend in the Utah heat.

Saturday, and it’s time to race…

In ST4, we had Nik Romano start the weekend in the dependable #25. While the car is down on power for ST4 class, its superior handling had the car poised to be at the front of the field. Matt Million piloted the new #24 in ST5. While the #24 is new to the track, its formula is based entirely on the very reliable #25. During the day on Saturday the team worked tirelessly, with the cars rotating on and off the track. It seemed like there wasn’t a minute that the team wasn’t on track with one car or the other. At the end of the daytime sprint races, both cars had run exceptionally well and finished first in their respective classes, including some hard-fought battles with well known front-runners. While both were running up front as we had hoped, unfortunately both cars were experiencing a fueling issue due to the extreme heat and 6,000’ elevation. We attempted a number of trackside repairs but the issues remained. Our only solution was to remove the discriminator valves which were our safety net to prevent fuel spills during enduro pit stops. Without them, fuel entering the tank too quickly could make its way out the vent tube and onto the ground. We would need to be extremely careful in the race to avoid a penalty!

Time to run a 6 hour Enduro after a full day of racing.

Without a chance for the team to take a breath it was time to take to the grid for the NASA Utah 6 Hour race, running from evening until midnight. The boys had been setting up the pits throughout the day, and just be-fore the 6PM start we had our hot pit set up and ready. Fuel: check. Spare Tires: check. Tools: check. Radios: check. Shade canopies with lighting: check. Team fluids and Pizza: check (Thanks parents Million). Right at 6PM, it was time to go. We began the race with Nik in the #25 and Matt in the #24. Both drivers were tasked to run hard and try to gap their respective fields. The two cars found themselves in 2nd place during the first hour, both exploiting momentum to battle their higher horsepower foes, and once the field cycled through the first round of fuel stops they both moved into first. There was definitely a lot of pace in a few of our competitors but we knew our stacked driver lineup would be able to run them down. An hour and a half later, Nik pulled in for a flawless pit stop and turned the car over to Ryan Bittner. Shortly thereafter, Matt pulled in and turned the car over to Lucas Weisenberg. Despite our on track position, not all was well with the #24. We found ourselves with a misfire in the new car’s engine – down on power, Million reported on the radio before pitting

Into the night we persevere. Ryan Bittner ran the #25 car through the next couple of fuel runs and despite a radio issue with Bittner in the beginning or his run, we were able to communicate via a pit board until he was able to adjust his radio while driving and restore communication. In the 3rd hour, the car was turned over to Ryan Keeley, remaining in the lead. We weren’t getting quite the excellent fuel mileage we are used to, could that have been due to the elevation? Our pace was strong however, and we still liked our strategy.

With the #24, things weren’t running quite as smoothly. Lucas could feel the power loss throughout his run, but he was still able to maintain a strong pace – strong enough that we were in the hunt for the win even with the lack of power. Towards the end of his stint however, the car suffered a much bigger loss: the shifter had come apart from the car, literally, leaving Lucas with only 4th gear. Time for some magic from our Chief Me-chanic Kevin DeSirello. Unbelievably, in less than an hour the shifter was reunited with the car and Sonny was sent out into the fight with just over 2 hours left in the race. We had fallen to 7th but had no intention of quitting. Sonny is a veteran on Enduros and knew it was time to do what he could with the tools at hand.

Meanwhile in the #25 Ryan Keeley had maintained 1st position and with 90 minutes remaining he was brought in to turn the car over to Matt Million. We had decided our best move was to give Matt a full tank of fuel and let him run to the finish. Million left the pits in 3rd place ready to chase down the leaders who were about 20 seconds up the road. While our previous pit stops had all been flawless, at the beginning of this fuel-ing the fuel vent burped and a small amount of fuel reached the ground. This is frowned upon in NASA and we prepared for the repercussions.

Five Laps? Shortly after the pit stop while checking our track position on Race Hero, got a sudden and detrimental surprise: we had been penalized 5 laps! This seemed excessive, it was barely more than a dribble, certainly not a flagrant and dangerous mistake that resulted in injury. Our team principal Andy began petitioning for a more reasonable penalty with the pit marshals. Meanwhile, Matt was told to keep digging. We were shown in 5th place, though our physical track position was 1st – Matt had already passed the two cars that got by us during the fuel stop – and hoped that luck and speed could get us to the podium. For more than an hour, Andy continued petitioning the pit marshals to no avail. Finally, with barely any time left and still down 4 laps, he went up to the tower to take one more shot at the decision-maker him-self: the Race Director. Armed with just a picture of the spill, the case was made. Unbelievably, without hesitation the penalty was not just reduced, it was completely overturned. We were back in the lead! With only 15 minutes left in the race, Palomar Racing #25 found themselves in the lead over a very solid Team EDGE #37 in the E1 class. Matt received word of the news, and was quickly brought in for a splash of fuel so he could comfortably make it to the end. The petitioning and Matt’s quick laps over the final stint made the difference. Our first race in E1, and we crossed the line to win! Not only that, but we had beaten all other touring cars including all E0 class competitors. Finishing in 6th overall with a total of 151 laps, only an ESR Prototype, an ES Porsche GT3 Cup car and 3 ES GT4 cars were able to cover more miles than us.

In E2, Sonny had persevered for the last 2 hours, incredibly running some of the fastest laps in class with the motor down on power and limited to 3rd and 4th gear. We ultimately finished in 4th. Yes, it was the first race of the year in E2 that we didn’t win, but we salvaged a 4th from the grasp of total failure. We are still firmly in control of the points race.

We had persevered through our first 6 hour endurance race and came out with lessons learned and even more respect from and for our competitors. We are in it to win it, because winning is fun!

Sunday morning, one race to go…

As is our norm, we switched cars to give Nik and Matt a chance to compare the ST4 & ST5 cars.

First out went Nik in the #24. Just 6 hours ago we put the car into our paddock with only 3rd and 4th gear. Somehow, Kevin had managed to repair the transmission overnight so that it “felt like nothing had ever gone wrong,” according to Nik. He qualified on pole but it was obvious the car was not at full steam. The car was far down on power, so in the race he ran just hard enough to finish P1 in class for the 2nd straight win in ST5 for the #24. True to the recipe the car is nimble and can do a lot with less power, but we need to find out what hap-pened to the motor.

Next out went Matt in the #25, again qualifying P1 with a weekend best lap of 2:07.009. On lap 2 we heard Matt call on the radio that something was definitely wrong. The #25 also had a transmission failure! The shifter was still in the car, but it was no longer attached to the gearbox. He was stuck in 3rd gear only. With nothing to win in this out-of-region competition, the call was made to pull the car out of the race.

Now it was time to break everything down and head home. Teardown always takes longer than desired, and after this non-stop weekend everyone was dragging. Eventually we get it all packed away, and we hit the road. Not to be outdone by the trailer, the team RV shed a tire in the same 5 mile stretch outside Beaver. Thank goodness we had local commercial repairwoman extraordinaire Whitney to the rescue, repairing our tire on the side of the highway! Onward to our Sunday destination, Mesquite, NV. It wasn’t quite the steak dinner we had in mind when we left Utah 7 hours earlier, but our team dinner at midnight was still a good time for all.

What a weekend. It was an unbelievable challenge for this young team. We finished with 3 of 4 wins in our ST races and a 1st and 4th in our first 2-car endurance race. We were able to run with new teammates, all of whom did an amazing job for the team. Was it a perfect weekend? No, but the team continues to grow and learn how to keep punching above our class.

Great teamwork Palomar Racing! Now we head into August where various improvement projects will take place in preparation for September’s NASA National Championship races, after a quick stop at the USTCC Races in La-guna Seca with INDYCAR the weekend before NASA Nationals.

Palomar Racing E2/ST5 Challenge

NASA ST5 Regional Championship — 1st in class |  won 8 of 12 races
WERC E2 Championship — 1st in class | won 3 of 4 races
NASA ST5 National Championship — TBD September
NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill E2 — TBD December

Also in play
NASA ST4 National Championship

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