HPD Blog

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Team Honda Research-West Takes SCCA Majors Victories in Arizona

WILLCOX, AZ – February 23, 2014 – Team Honda Research-West drivers Mike Tsay, Matt Staal, and Lee Niffenegger traveled to Inde Motorsports Ranch in Willcox, Arizona February 22-23 for the second round of the SCCA Western Conference Majors Tour.  The Majors events consist of a 30-minute “sprint” race on Saturday with a 40-minute “feature” race on Sunday.  Mike Tsay was competing in the B-SPEC class with a 2010 Honda Fit, while Niffenegger and Staal piloted their 2012 Honda Civic Si’s in the Touring 4 category.

THR-W drivers participated in the Friday test day to familiarize themselves with the Inde Motorsports circuit.  The track was new to almost all  SCCA competitors, and what they found was a highly technical track with slow hairpins, blind crests, and fast, sweeping corners.  Lap times consistently dropped throughout the day as the drivers became more familiar with the track.

Saturday morning dawned cold and clear while the team prepared for qualifying.   The technical nature of the track  made passing difficult, so achieving a good qualifying position was  critical. Niffenegger and Staal posted 1-2 qualifying times in the T4 class.  In B-SPEC, Mike Tsay  grabbed the  pole for THR-W over a Mazda2 and the Honda Fit of HPD Race Club’s Tom Grosart.

Race One lived up to expectations as Niffenegger and Staal battled traffic and each other for the Touring 4 victory.  Niffenegger pulled out an early lead, but eventually found himself held up by a car that was faster on the straightaways but slower in the corners.  This allowed Staal to catch up to his teammate's bumper late in the race.  Staal was able to have a look heading into Turn 1 when Niffenegger  was slowed by a lapped car.  However, Niffenegger held his teammate off and the finishing order remained unchanged  as both drivers collected valuable points towards the Western Conference Majors standings.

“That was a non-stop intense race.” said Staal.  “It was difficult with all of the cars that were running nearly identical lap times in completely different ways.  That is one of the big challenges of multi-class racing.”

Mike Tsay also had a tough race in his Honda Fit.   His challenge  was to maintain momentum, keeping B-SPEC competitors behind him while allowing faster traffic to safely pass.

“I got a good start and was able to keep my momentum up to stay ahead of the  second-place car,” Tsay noted.  “He learned the track quickly and got right up behind me during the last two laps.  However, he got a bit too close to some traffic at the end of the main straight and went off to avoid contact; leaving me to grab my  first P1 podium of the season.”

The Sunday Feature  was much calmer from a traffic standpoint for the faster T4 cars.  The biggest challenge proved to be tire wear.  Not only was the track filled with demanding turns, but the surface was quite abrasive.  Both THR-W T4 drivers noticed high rates of wear to the left front tires following the shorter Saturday race.  Knowing that the Sunday race would be  longer, both Staal and Niffenegger had to balance speed with tire management.

Niffenegger started on T4 class pole by virtue of having the fastest lap of the weekend.  He  translated this into his second win of the weekend and fourth straight to start the Majors Tour.

“The track was very abrasive and the left front is really punished at Inde,” said Niffenegger.  “My strategy was to be as kind as possible to the left front, but that’s not very easy here.  I was able to lay down some very fast laps at the beginning and then just maintain a gap over Matt.  I knew he was facing the same issues as me.  He’s a formidable competitor and a great teammate.  He definitely forces me to be on top of my game.!”

The Sunday race saw an even tighter B-SPEC duel.  Armed with data from qualifying and the race, Tsay looked for precious seconds to try and hold off (FIRST NAME???) Ambrose.  Tsay started in front again, but despite upping his race pace bynearly two seconds, Ambrose was a constant presence in the FIT’s rear-view mirror. About halfway through the race, Ambrose dove inside at the end of the straight and made a clean pass.  Ambrose held on for the win, with Tsay and Grosart finishing second  and  third, respectively.

Following the Inde round, Niffenegger has stretched his points lead in Touring 4, with Staal running second overall.  In B-SPEC, Mike Tsay holds a solid second place in points.  The SCCA Western Conference Majors season continues on the weekend of April 12 at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, CA. 


HART Lands Pole at Sebring International Raceway

Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge: Sebring International Raceway recap for HART Racing


HART returned to sunny Florida for the second race of the 2014 season.  This time, the team traveled to the oldest sports-car track in the US, Sebring International Raceway.  Sebring is known not only for its history, but for its surface.  The circuit is made up of both asphalt and concrete, with most of it being original. Over the years, the surface has seen better days, but its bumps and cracks – coupled with the high speeds – create some of the most challenging corners of any track in the world.  If you can make your car go fast and last at Sebring, it will work anywhere.
This would be the first time for many of the HART members to visit Sebring.  It would also be the first time for three of the team’s four drivers to run there.  The team arrived at the track early in the week to take advantage of a test day.  After lengthy repairs from damage incurred at the previous race the cars were ready to hit the track (or, so they thought).  Cars 92 and 93 rolled onto the track for the first of two one-hour test sessions, only to be cut short after only two laps, when the 93 car started smoking!  Chad Gilsinger was behind the wheel as the cabin started filling with smoke.  He managed to get the car back to the pits just as a fire broke out beneath the car.  Luckily, the crew and on-site fire department was ready and were able to extinguish the fire before any major damage occurred.
The cause ended up being a drain plug that had worked loose and was spraying oil on the exhaust.  This oil also got on the track, and the session was cut short as cleanup was necessary.  The cars would be ready for the final test session, however, and both cars ran flawlessly, giving the drivers valuable seat time and the crew data to help plan for the upcoming event.
On Wednesday, the IMSA event sessions would officially begin, and the team prepared for two one-hour  practice sessions.  The goal was to try chassis settings that would work with the bumpy conditions, but still give the car good control and tire wear.  HART knew it could make the car go fast but could it keep a consistent pace lap after lap?  The advantage of having two identical cars is that you can try multiple changes at once. HART tried different combinations on both #92 and #93 to see what worked best.

Throughout the test, the cars were typically in the top five, so the key focus was longevity.  The team needed to control its tire management against the lighter-weight and better-balanced Mazda MX-5.  At the close of practice, HART was confident it had made improvements, but would it be enough?  Directionally, HART was on the right track, so the team made even more changes for qualifying.  Normally, the team does not make these types of changes for qualifying, but it wanted to use this time to get more data.

On Thursday, the only activity for the team would be a 15-minute qualifying session.  Steve Eich would qualify the #92 car and Chad Gilsinger would qualify the #93 car.  The two cars took the track at the back of the field to make sure they could get a gap and have clear track ahead of them.  The Sebring surface is very hard on tires with little grip, so it would be important to get a good lap early when the tire was at its optimum.  Gilsinger jumped to the pole quickly on his first flying lap, but soon was knocked back to second.  Eich was struggling with the setup chosen for #92 but still managed to better his time for the weekend. Unfortunately, it was only good for 22nd spot on the grid.  After the post-tech qualifying results were released, Gilsinger had hopped back up to the pole position when the CJ Wilson Mazda MX-5 was disqualified for a rule infraction.  This also handed the new track qualifying record to Gilsinger.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” admitted Gilsinger after taking his third ST pole with a lap of 2 minutes, 24.508 seconds (93.171 mph). “I was really happy with second, because I didn’t think we would be up that high. This is a demanding track, especially with a front-wheel drive car, because we put a lot of demand on the tires. This isn’t how we wanted to get the pole, but of course, we’ll take it.”

Heading into race day the team had high hopes.  Throughout the evening, the team worked hard to get the cars ready while also updating the #92 chassis settings to match #93.  Gilsinger was able to put in the best time of the week in qualifying, as the chassis changes showed even more improvement.  Race Day brought beautiful weather and a sunny sky.  The goal for #92 was to benefit from the chassis improvements and move  through the field, while the goal for #93 was to focus on tire and brake management and keep the car in the top five.  As the green flag flew, both cars did exactly what they were supposed to.  Steve Eich had a great start and by the time he would pit, had already moved near the top 10 in position.

Gilsinger got a good jump on the field and was able to lead many of the opening laps. He managed to stay in the top five approaching the halfway point.  In a rare occurrence, there would be no yellows in the first half of the race.  The team decided to pit the cars under green conditions to gain needed track position if /when a yellow would occur.  The #92 car would pit first, with Kevin Boehm taking over driving duties.  Shortly afterward, crew chief Andrew Salzano made the call for Gilsinger to pit.  As Gilsinger approached the final corner before the pits (bumpy turn 17) the car suddenly lost drive force.  Chad was able to coast the car to the pit box but #93 was now in big trouble. 

The team did not panic, completed the pit stop, and assessed the concern.  It turned out that the outer drive-shaft joint had broken off the shaft.  The team went to work and was able to replace the drive shaft in about 10 minutes.  The crew did a great job to get the car back on track, but unfortunately the #93 car was now four laps down.  All hope was now on the #92 car of Boehm.  Boehm ran consistent times and started picking off cars one by one, moving into the top 10 by the checkered flag.  A violent late-race crash involving other competitors ended Boehm’s run towards the front, as the last 20-30 minutes of the race were run under caution.  Boehm was able to land in ninth position as the final results came out.  
“We have to catch a break sometime,” said crew chief Andrew Salzano.  “The crew did an awesome job and the drivers showed our competitiveness, with the pole and a top-10 finish.  If we could just get a little bit of luck, we are sure to see the podium soon.  At least we walked away from this weekend with no car damage!”
You can follow all the action on the new IMSA website, www.imsa.com
The Sebring race will be aired on Fox Sports 1 Wednesday, March 19, at 1pm EDT, and on Fox Sports 2 Sunday, March 23, at 7:30pm EDT
The next event will be at Laguna Seca, May 2-3.
To keep up with HART’s progress and to see pictures and video of the cars and team, ‘Like’ us on Facebook  ( www.facebook.com/HARTracingteam )
Follow us on Twitter @HARTracingteam
Special thanks to all our Sponsors/Partners.  We would like to welcome RAYS WHEELS to the list, for providing us with new forged wheels that are lightweight and help improve our pit-stop times!




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