So we’ve arrived at Road Atlanta and my first desire was to find a way onto the track. Unfortunately for me, Road Atlanta is a little bit stricter than Mosport or many of the other pro tracks – they had all of the entrances to the track gated and those gates were closed and locked. Not to be deterred Jesse and I took a stroll up to the top of the esses where the wall was only about 16 inches high and I hopped over (Jesse was too chicken). I was able to get a good feel for corner 1, 2 and the esses and that was really the area I was most concerned about learning – the entry to 2 is fairly blind but you can carry a lot of speed through there if you get it right. I was also interested in how much curb you could use there. I’m glad I did get up close for an inspection because about 2 feet in from the track the curbing has some very violent mounds designed into the concrete to deter people like me from using up too much of said curb.
We checked over the car, recorded the setup in Laptimizer and warmed up the motor. Kels seemed rather content to be back at Road Atlanta (surely she had been here once in an earlier life as a Grand-Am GS car), and we were ready to rip. I have logged so many hours in Road Atlanta with iRacing that I figured it was going to be a matter of getting used to the car more than the track. iRacing is an incredible sim that has really improved my driving and, more significantly for this event, my ability to get up to speed quickly at a track.
We snuck Apex into the hotel as we always do, had a good meal and went to bed. Tomorrow I would get to rip Road Atlanta, a track I have been playing in video games since my childhood. I was super excited.
So in the morning we got to the track and took a look at some of the competition. There were some really well built cars, the most impressive of which (to me) were the Unlimited RWD MTI corvettes. These guys brought out 4 (or maybe 5?) wild C5 and C6 vettes. A quick hop onto MTI’s website and you’ll realize pretty quickly that these guys know what they are doing. The principal and driver of the fastest car, Reese Cox is a former World Challenge GT driver and a man with a lot of professional racing experience. The cars had some really good looking aero:
It was also great to spend some time with fellow Canadians and OnPoint clients Michael Gardner (who is currently running Kels’ previous VQ35DE engine that is still running strong) and Will Au-Yeung from Point Zero Autosound with his wild turbocharged FWD RSX.
After browsing the paddock it was time to strap into Kels and get out there. I have to say, the track was just as amazing, if not more-so, than I had imagined. I had to ask Pete to constantly tell me to take it easy throughout the day (mostly on the radio while I was ripping) as I have a tendency to get excited too soon when learning awesome tracks and push a little too hard. You can imagine my desire to go real fast at Road Atlanta seeing how incredible the place is. It was nice having someone slow me down on the other end and it prevented any of those “oh-shit” moments from developing. Generally speaking an Oh-Shit moment at a track like Road Atlanta / The Glen / Mosport means you’re in the wall.
As I started to push a little bit harder the esses and the last corner became my favourite parts of the track, possibly of all tracks I have ever driven. The difference between Mosport and Road Atlanta is that RA has multiple corners that you need to string together, all at very high speed. Mosport’s corners are connected yes (specifically 8/9/10), but not in the same way that Atlanta’s Esses allow you to transition the car so hard at over 160kph at nearly wide open throttle. It was incredible.
Unfortunately a little bit of rain came down and the track became fairly damp in our later sessions so I wasn’t able to put in solid laps, but I knew the tires were totally done. It was time to sticker up and setup for the new tires.
Party time. Where the car had previously felt nervous and on the verge of snapping out and killing me, the car now felt entirely confident that it could hold all the throttle I could feed it. The car had so much grip in braking that I actually never got to the limit of braking despite producing over -1.7G’s in deceleration at the end of the back-straight. I couldn’t wrap my head around how late I could brake and as a result I think I left 3-4 tenths on the table. After digesting the data I realize now how much more was there.
I only got 2 laps in on the new tires, the best of which being a 1:29.4 with traffic. I knew there was easily a 1:28 in the car and was hoping for a 1:27. Unfortunately the gearbox was still shifting extremely slowly which was costing an estimated 2-3 tenths per lap on the two fairly long front straights (you can see the obvious shift points in the speed trace above – usually you can’t tell where they are Kels shifts so fast). The other issue was oil temps. Despite the huge cooler venting out the rear bumper, the oil temps were climbing up to 290F quick. We later added some NACA ducts to the rear window but I am not convinced that will be enough.
And so, with a little bit more work to do on the car we prepared for the final attack on time that would happen the following morning. I was confident we would find more time and was really hoping for a 1:27. The next morning we lined up based on our qualifying positions and were given a decent gap to work with and I went for it.
Lap 1 was a 1:28.658. Then traffic. I backed way off and got myself a gap for the next lap, checking with Pete to ensure there were no cars coming out of the pits that would ruin my lap. The next lap was pretty incredible. Not perfect, but pretty awesome. I now had some confidence in what the fresh Michelins could do and I was on the the throttle earlier and more deliberately coming out of almost every corner. Kels would sqirm and fight for grip over Road Atlanta’s slightly bumpy surface but I had faith she would hold on. I was able to go through the esses nearly wide open the entire time, with only a breathe to 50% throttle (50% throttle is still 300whp). I decided not to go down to 2nd for the hairpin before the back straight, as the upshift from 2-3 would take too long and staying in 3rd would allow me to left foot brake into the hairpin and roll maximum speed through the corner. Using up all of the exit curbing and trusting the M800’s traction control to take care of me if the curb was dirty I got a strong run onto the back straight. Had to be patient through the gear shifts – each of which took 5 tenths of a second compared to the normal 2 tenths.
Flat until the 300 mark and on the brakes – again way earlier then the car could have done it, but it’s hard to grasp just how much the compression adds to the cars braking ability, but it’s very easy to see the gravel run-off. Once through the braking the car had massive, scary grip coming into the chicane. 1.72G’s at 100kph is unheard of for Kels, but the data isn’t lying. Maybe it was the FD guys laying down all the rubber in this corner, but the car was flying through there. I give the car a quick jab of throttle and transition to the right as hard as I can, back to 1.7G’s the other way. The car transitions fantastically – a little bit on the lazy side, but that’s great for an aggressive driver as you can turn the wheel as fast as you are able without having to worry about the back end coming around. Full throttle just about instantly and then never lift again until the start finish line. Just a light breathe, totally unnecessary, to inspire some confidence over the bumps through the final kink – 1.6 G’s, 200kph at wide open throttle.
And that was the lap. It was a 1:28.07. Had I kept going, perhaps a 1:27 would have been possible. But at the time, the lap felt so awesome and so fast that I was convinced there wasn’t anything else in the car. I also know myself and my aggression level would only continue to get higher until, potentially, something bad happened.
And that was that! We packed her up and headed back to Toronto – no time to spare as there was dyno tuning to be done on the Monday!
It was a great experience and Global Time Attack did a great job of promoting the event and spreading the stories from teams leading up to the event. It was a great time with a lot of different and cool cars. So thanks to the guys at GTA for putting it all together. Maybe on year there will be a Canadian Time Attack finale that will merge CSCS and Global Time Attack at the Mosport GP track. That would be awesome.
Of course, I have to thank all the guys that have helped me get Kels together over the last few months. It’s been a struggle doing everything out of my garage, with no hoist and limited tools. But we’ve swapped gearboxes, built engines, fabricated dry sump systems and built carbon fibre parts all in this humble little garage. So for you guys out there that think you can’t do it without a shop – you’re wrong. It is very much possible. It just takes longer, and is significantly less comfortable. It was also nice working on the car from home, having Nicole come out to the garage with snacks (thanks BL!) and being able to tinker at night when you just want to check if an idea will work, or sit in the car for a couple minutes and dream about ripping… all things that you wouldn’t do if you had to drive 30 minutes to the shop first.
So what’s the next event for Kels? That’s yet to be determined. I’m busy with OnPoint and helping run Sports Car Boutique’s GT3 Cup program, and as of recently possibly Kevin Sittle’s time attack Swift. But Kels has been bugging me to get out and rip some more, and those Michelins aren’t getting any newer – so we’re looking at a regional Mosport race or potentially a Supercar event, although the only races left are 3 Rivers and ICAR, neither of which interest me all that much. GP3R is a power track so we’ll get killed there, and ICAR is a concrete airport. The other option is heading down to the Glen and seeing how fast we can get Kels going over there.. I’m sure she would love the bus stop.
Thanks again to everyone that has helped me labour over the car this past year: Jesse Tong, Nicole, Fizzer, Kevin Stittle, Andrew Stittle, Andrew Wojectzko, Peter Tarach, Trevor Nevils, Liam Kirby, Marco Martins, Charles Spivak. These guys are all awesome dudes (and Nicole is an awesome girl) that are passionate and good at what they do. I’m lucky to have them for friends.
I also have to say thanks to all of the companies that have supported me that make awesome race car parts. It’s easy to get help and free parts from shit companies that make shit product that want it to be on fast cars, but it’s a totally different story to get support from guys that don’t need to give it out – they are already known as the best in the business.
Jim Wolf Technology
DJ Racecars / SM Aerotechniques
If you would like more information about Kels the 350z Racecar and those that support the car, click HERE.