Race Report – FFR818R at VIR UTCC2014


The Ultimate Track Car Challenge is an event put on by the Grassroots Motorsports magazine as a no-holds-barred track competition aiming to find the fastest machine on four wheels. A new FFR 818R was built by the Factory Five gang with the goal of setting a flyer lap (sub 2min) at VIR during the Grassroots Motorsports UTCC 2014. This build was amazingly done in less than one month, with a 170,000mi used engine, all while being filmed by a camera crew for a possible upcoming reality tv series. Many racers will tell you racecars after getting finished need a couple of race track events to work out all of the bugs, well we didn’t have that luxury with this new Red/White FFR 818R.

We tried to do a shakedown at Limerock the Tuesday before UTCC, but things were not looking promising as at Limerock the new red/white car had overheating issues and the front brakes were toast due to a faulty front master cylinder causing the front calipers/pads to melt. Luckily we brought and ran the backup car, a well-sorted Blue/white FFR818R – the development chassis mule – which ran flawlessly running blistering fast laps in the low 56sec on old race tires at Limerock.

After the Limerock test the FFR crew worked most of the day Wednesday to re-plumb some bypassed hose cooling lines differently and finally got the Red/White car to not overheat. We were all hopeful that getting the Red/white car’s cooling system working would be the end of our issues. New brakes were ordered from Wilwood sent directly to the hotel we would be staying at in Virginia. So the FFR crew including Jim, Tony, tuner Freddi, and tv producer/camera guy Adam loaded up both cars and started heading for VIR the plan to drive down past NYC on Wednesday, and complete the journey to VIR on Thursday ready for track activity on Friday.

Friday AM at VIR brought perfect weather for running a fast lap, mid 80’s all day. The schedule of the day had warmup then followed by 3 timed track sessions to set a flyer of a lap.

Taking the red/white car out in warmup had me getting familiar with the new car on the VIR track surface. The car did not overheat!! Handling felt extremely neutral with gobs of grip everywhere and very good aero balance from start. The aggressive front splitter / canards balanced out the new rear wing design and aggressive diffuser. I even got it a little sideways exiting out onto the front straight, and the aero bits quickly helped me straiten the car out without much fuss. I can work with this car! As part of the warmup shakedown I found a couple of bugs, the RPMs not being consistent on the Racepak’s Data Logger Dash having me shift early not wanting to over-rev the car. The shifter was a little vague not knowing which gear I was in, and often mis-shifting from 3rd to 6th instead of what I wanted 3rd to 4th. After the session the crew quickly got to work on spacing out the shifting problem by adjusting the shift-cables while I re-routed the RPM wire to reduce the interference on the display and set the smoothing factor on the RPM input to be greate. Freddi applied a new ECU tune after looking at the Racepak data and promptly informed me to shift at 7000RPM!! not 5500RPM. All these changes had us feeling good about the car, and set out for the first timed session with high hopes.

The first timed session started under pacecar, but had to do an extra lap to allow the safety workers ample time to remove a strickened Corvette from the track surface. When we finally went green, I pressed on the gas pedal and ohh my, the car is a rocket! from 4500rpm to 7000rpm it took off! Shifting from 4th to 5th to 6th, very impressive acceleration. I started 2nd behind this very fast BMW with 700HP and promptly passed him going into turn 1. Late on the brakes, they slowed me down quickly making the turn without issue, then proceeding to start my fastlap. Unfortunately coming out of turn 5 I see water spraying on the small windshield! looking down at the water temp I see it still at 200deg, no cause for overheating but the water spraying is not good at all. I quickly pulled off the racing surface just after the bridge waiting for the tow truck to come tow me in. Back in the paddoc the crew quickly jumped on the car, a bad radiator cap was determined to be the culprit and swapped it for a new one, bled the cooling system of air ready for the second timed track session.

Second timed session had me start the flying lap as usual, running great through the early part of the lap, flying up through the up-hill esses and into the old oak tree turn 10 when once again, spray on the windshield! ohh no! pulling off in the south paddock pitlane waited to get towed back to our paddock area. Talking it over with the crew we decided the red/white car is hurt beyond repair with a blown headgasket, its time for the backup car the last session of the day.

The third timed session started with me at the back of the pact as grid was based on the fastlap from previous sessions. Being mired in traffic is not that concerning but would make setting a fast lap early in the session very difficult. First lap working through traffic ran a 2:10 lap, not bad.. Time to get on with the program! I caught the exocet car going into the uphill esses (turns 7-9), holding me up all the way through oak tree turn 12, finally able to pass him on the back straight. The Racepak display has this neat predictive lap feature where it tells you, in real time, + or – in seconds based on your last fast lap, when I saw -5.5sec faster I was feeling good about the lap. 2:04.1, better, but not what the car can do. Time to focus! maximize braking into turn one, get a good exit powering out of turn 2. Suddenly the car gets a little squirmy, I catch it, then heading into turn 3 I spin! going off-track. As I get back on the racing surface I smell something and see smoke coming from the rear of the car. I drive through turns 4-5 and at turn 6 flag station I stop right in front. Steam/smoke now engulfing the cockpit I jump out of the car heading for the corner station. Thinking to my self, really? Is this happening? the Blue car worked flawlessly at Limerock, it is well sorted, had no issues in the past whatsoever! finally the safety crew come by, I help them take the rear decklid off the car, the smoke diagnosed as steam from coolant dripping on the hot exhaust manifold, nothing serious at all. But once again getting towed back into the pits the UTCC done and over with. 2 broken cars, massive disappointment by everyone. It turns out, the radiator cap on the blue car was not tightened allowing coolant past the cap dripping on the exhaust..

Such a difficult Friday track event to swallow, the FFR 818R has such potential with not much result to show. FFR will get a new engine into the red car, get all the bugs worked out, and we will take it to WatkinsGlen end of September.

I’d like to thank Dave Smith and Jim Schenck for having me be their test driver in this frustrating race day. I have full confidence we will get the bugs worked out and set ridiculously fast times in both cars no mater the track.

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