Words by: Matt Field
Photos Courtesy of Alex Wong of Emotive Image and David Karey
New Jersey is one gnarly track. The bank wall is unforgiving, relentless, and will suck you in and end your weekend in the blink of an eye. I think that is what most drivers love about this track. Thursday practice started well for us with the car handling the dirty track well right away. We knocked off two laps and parked the car for a gear change and to let the track come in. The surface was so dirty it was comical, and the tire smoke was brown. After a few people cleaned up the track, we headed back out for some tandem and to lock down a qualifying run. After a successful Thursday practice, we loaded the car up and shifted our focus to Friday’s qualifying plans.
Before Friday’s practice session we made a couple more setup changes. We changed the sway bar settings and a gear change to try and keep the engine off the rev limiter. These changes seemed to help, we stuck to our schedule and were able to get some great lead and follow runs in before qualifying. During the first pass in qualifying we ran high on the wall, ripped off the rear bumper but unfortunately I made a huge mistake and over-rotated coming into zone two, having to jam on the left foot brake to keep the car in drift, I finished out the run knowing it would be a crap score. The judges must have been blinded by the huge amount of Falken Tire smoke, because they rewarded us an 80. We took that score, put it in our back pocket, and headed back to the pits to prep for run two. The second run was looking great, high on the bank, smooth and deep in zone two, a snappy transition into clip three, but right when I went to pick up the throttle the engine instantly lost half its horsepower when the blower belt flew off! I nearly straightened, but made it across the line and was given a 78. We looked into the belt issue and found that with the final drive we were running, the rev limiter was just too much strain on the belt and caused it to pitch off the gear.
We ended up qualifying 14th, which was our lowest this year. However, the team and I were not worried because we knew we had one hell of a car for tandem battle. With another gear change, and some modification and ECU tuning, Jei from Blacktrax and my crew chief Ty Milner formulated a plan to not only keep blower belts on, wheel speed up, but also make my throttle control even more manageable. Our first battle was against Charles Ng. We knew we had the car to beat him, it was just all about playing it smart and staying consistent. Laying down an awesome lead run, Charles was still able to apply pressure in a few places around the track, so we knew we needed a clean consistent proximity follow run to take the win. That is exactly what we were able to do. Charles was just fast enough to make it easy and fun to follow, and I was able to stick the nose of my car in for a few jabs around the track. The judges awarded us the win and we were moving on to the top 16. Strangely enough, we were to face Faruk again. Faruk’s competitor’s engine blew up in practice, so he received a bye run in to the top 16. This was our chance for redemption, to play it smart and prove we can hold it together against a competitor who is hard to drive with. On our lead run I kept the car smooth and high around the bank, through zone two and across the finish with a smoky run. This is where things always seem to get interesting with Faruk, the follow. I presumed he was going to drop low on the bank. This is where driving behind him gets difficult. We set the car up to run high and tight on the main bank wall, so to force the car low behind a driver is even more difficult than scraping a bumper on the wall. Because I have an amazing team, we were able to know what to do in this circumstance with Faruk. Daniel Chow, my spotter, gave me great insight on what was more than likely to happen through the run. Sure enough, it played out almost exactly like he had thought. With his great information I was able to throw the follow run needed to beat Faruk and move on to the great 8, where we were going to face Ken Gushi.
With Gushi, we did not even need to change the setup. Our car was much faster and the plan and driving was to remain the same, drive smart. With Gushi, we were to follow first. This is where I wanted to end the battle. I followed Ken around the bank only a few inches off his car the whole time, we transitioned off the bank, across clip one and into zone two. I again applied pressure through the entire zone. We tossed the cars into the last corner and I made a slight mistake behind him which caused me to rev up the CBM Engine’s 1060 whp and dump the clutch, launching the car forward towards Ken and smashing one of my Rotiform wheels right into his door while a full lock. We finished off the run and on my return to the line, I shook the car around, trying to feel if any of my Parts Shop Max suspension was bent or broken. I couldn’t feel anything strange, so we lined up and I went for our lead run. Right away we pulled a five car gap around the bank, this gap pretty much stayed through the entire run. Coming out of zone two, I looked up at the jumbo-tron and saw my massive gap on Gushi. I knew all I needed to do was take it easy across the jump section of the track and wrap the car around the last inner clip for the win. When the car transferred into the last corner, and went over the bumps, the most insane quick spin ever occurred. At the time I was not sure how this happened, or why. I was just upset that we had just lost and really confused.
Upon further inspection, when I hit Ken on my follow run around the last corner, I bent the front crossmember that the suspension bolts to. This caused my wheel to move back into my passenger side firewall and when the car took the bumps, the wheel locked up as it smashed into the chassis, causing the erratic spin.
My team and I were all gutted. We knew we had the car to win the event. I will say this, although we did not stand on top of the podium this weekend, I think this was one of our best events. The team worked together great, the car was the best it has even been, leaps and bounds above the competition. The team gave me a car that I could literally drive at 7/10ths and still pull gaps, confusing other competitors and with more angle on a wider line. The car was just straight up ON POINT!
Going into Montreal, the team and I are feeling great. We did well there last year, and with the car as good as it is now, I can only imagine. Watch out.