DE Crier Update: The Pitt Race

Hey!  Remember me?  It’s been 14 months since I last wrote an article for the NOR’EASTER and I figured that my reader might want to know what the Jamaican Bakin’ Team has been up to lately. This is the tenth year that our group of 5 PCA DE instructors (Dave Berman, Dennis Mascetta, Nick Shanny, Chip Wood and me) has been doing endurance racing  – or in the case of the last few years, it’s been more “trying to do” endurance racing. We started in 24 Hours of Lemons racing with a $500 Miata, upgraded to ChampCar (originally ChumpCar) and American Endurance Racing with an E30 BMW, switched to a Boss 302S Mustang and have now settled on an E36 BMW M3.

And oh boy, the Mustang!  What a disaster!  Our first race was at Mid-Ohio in 2021 where the clutch failed on the first race day.  Next year we went to Watkins Glen where the engine blew up on day two.  The replacement engine (don’t ask how much) then blew up on the dyno.  Then we learned that AER changed their rules so that the car was effectively outlawed.  We gave up and purchased the E36 and the Mustang finally left our hands via a sale on Bring A Trailer earlier this year. During the auction one of the commenters, who had seen the car at a race, questioned why it had Jamaican Bakin’ signage when it was owned by “a bunch of old white dudes.”  Ouch.

We raced the E36 once last year in a ChampCar race at Thompson where it ran perfectly and we were first in Class (albeit in a weak field).  For 2023 we plan to do three or four races, the first of which was over the April 1st weekend at Pitt Race. Nick was racing elsewhere (see below) and since you really need at least 4 members to do pit stops efficiently, Bill was allowed to participate despite being just barely legal after a bout of covid.

None of us had driven at Pitt Race before but we had heard good things and it lived up to expectations:  2.78 miles of rolling terrain with 17 corners, quite a bit of safe runoff (in all but one notable spot), some blind turns, grippy pavement and excellent facilities.  It was opened in 2002 and is located in Wampum PA (apparently the woke patrol has not made it there yet) not far from Pittsburgh – a 10 hour drive for us.  We stayed in a perfectly acceptable hotel for $100 a night in Beaver Falls PA (yes, the birthplace of Joe Namath!). We found three more-than-adequate places to eat and were astonished at the low prices:  dinner for 4 at the El Paso Mexican restaurant including top shelf margaritas was $79!  (Bill recommends the enchiladas verde.)

OK, maybe you’d rather hear about the racing.  AER changed their format this year and the assignment to classes was done based on lap times during a two hour race on Friday, rather than open track driving. With three mandatory pit stops the plan was for each of us do a 30 minute session. But of course it poured rain. Our “rain tires” are actually just all-season Michelin Pilot Sports in a slightly narrower width.  We softened the rear sway bar and the car had remarkable grip with nice predictable understeer.  As we were all just learning the track we were not too fast and were surprised to be placed in Class 3 (with 5 being fastest, 1 being slowest).

The 8 hour race on Saturday started in beautiful weather but a severe thunderstorm followed by rain was predicted so we left the rear sway bar soft and ran Falken Azenis tires (about the stickiest 200 treadwear tires available in our size).  Pitt Race was reputed to be tough on tires but with some rain we thought they would last. As it turned out the thunderstorm was a doozy – 60 mph gusts of wind that shut the track down for an hour, killed power for 24 hours (pop up tents flying everywhere!) – so the tires were fine to the end.  The car ran great and our lap times came down as we got familiar with the track but we were not competitive in Class 3 and also didn’t do a great job with pit stops. But no car problems or offs let us finish in the middle of our class.

Sunday started out with ice on the windshield but gradually warmed to be a pleasant, sunny 50 degree day.  We ran Hankooks (longer lasting but slightly slower) and stiffened the rear bar (one of us discovered a little more oversteer than expected but the spin managed to stay on the track).  We all took a bit more off our lap times but the results were similar to Saturday – reliability leading to another mid-pack finish.

So we are off to a decent start to the season with what seems to be a very reliable car – but one that needs a little fine tuning in the set-up.  Our next race is May at Watkins Glen so we will see.  And hopefully everyone will be over the covid that Bill seemed to have passed along by then.

Oh, yeh!  Back to Nick!  As you know this is his second year competing in the SRO GT4 America series in the Am class with teammate Terry Borcheller.  The second event of the season (same time as our Pitt Race) was at Sonoma and Nick’s team came in second in class on Saturday and first in class (and FIRST OVERALL against the pro drivers!) on Sunday.  Way to go Nick!  Bakin’ rocks!

Author: Bill Seymour