Modified Mustangs & Fords
Jack Roush Jr - Grand Am Racing Blog
A Second Place Finish with Two Races to Go
It's now deep into August and the 2009 season is coming down to the wire. My team, the No. 61 ROUSH/Valvoline Mustang just finished second in the KONI Challenge race at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. This was the 40th year of Grand-Prix here. For those of you who haven't ever been to Trois-Rivieres, it's a great city, about an hour-and-a-half northeast of Montreal. I'm especially impressed at how many people are into motorsports there. One cool thing to see was how many people driving around town here had modified Mustangs. There were quite a few Mustangs on the street, and it was hard to find one that didn't at least have some appearance customizations made to it.
But I digress... The race takes place on the roads of a sporting campus near the city's downtown area. The track is about 1.5 miles in length, with temporary cement walls on each side of the road. This is important for two reasons:
1) Air doesn't flow freely over the road. As a result, brake temperatures can easily skyrocket, causing brakes to fail. As some of you may remember from my race here two years ago, the brakes failed for my co-driver during practice, slamming the car into the tires and bouncing it on its roof.
2) With the walls right next to the track, there is virtually no run-off room. In most places here, the only run-off room is in the crumple zones of your side mirrors. What's also interesting is that the fastest line around this track is merely inches from the sharp wall corners.
Personally I love the challenges of this track. It has some very technical and subtle aspects to the turns, followed by a number of drag strips between the turns -- where you reap the benefit or pay the price for how you took the preceding turn.
The event here started on Friday, August 14th. We had two practice sessions on this day, the first being 40 minutes in length, and the second was 30. This was the only day of practice, which really wasn't much time considering that it gets spread between two drivers per car. That was alright, though. Both Billy Johnson, my co-driver, and I had a good handle on the track coming into the event. As usual, we made very good use of these sessions by going over data, identifying whose technique was better in each corner, and then adopting the best techniques from both of us.
As for set-up, we only needed to make one significant change this weekend, and the car was dialed in. You can see this on the time charts for the practice sessions -- we were in the top five fastest spots in both sessions. However, at the end of the second practice session, something went awry. The car started to jolt loose and lock its tires under braking. Also, the car wouldn't set its weight through the turns (it was too unstable). We thought that it was maybe an ABS issue or a differential going bad. So after practice, we looked for the problem but were unsuccessful at finding it.
The next time on track was qualifying the next morning. From the first lap, the problem from the previous session was only getting worse. The car was more unstable, the tires were locking up more than before, and the rear-end was bouncing under braking. Needless to say, the car was more difficult to drive than before. As a result, we pulled out a sixth-place qualification on the grid -- not as well as I believe we were capable of. Soon after my fast lap of qualifying, I heard and felt grinding metal from under the car, and the car stopped moving on the front straightaway.
As it turns out, the third link failed. This is the bracket that stabilizes the whole rear-end. As many of you may know, the third link is above the differential, hidden between the chassis and above the rear-end. That's why we didn't find the problem earlier. This also isn't a part that typically fails.
Why this part failed is anyone's guess: the weld seam my have been bad, there may have been just the right impact(s) at previous events that started the fatigue, etc. Once the third link started to fail, the instability caused by this grew faster and faster. At the point where this bracket wasn't supporting the rear-end any longer, all of the movement of the rear-end was pounding the driveshaft until it broke in two. When we got the car back to our trailer, we found that the driveshaft was beginning to dig itself through the floor of the car. We also found that the right rear ABS sensor line was cut, likely from the movement of the rear-end.
The Horsepower Ranch crew quickly got the No. 61 ROUSH/Valvoline Mustang back into shape. The ABS was fixed, and the third link and driveshaft were replaced. We checked out the differential, but we found no issues with it, so we put it back on.
Soon after the car was back together, Grand-Am gave us and another team that have problems during qualifying a "hardship lap." We were given the opportunity to go out with the ST cars as they were doing their pre-race recon lap to make sure that our cars were running properly. Our car was handling great once again as it was in practice. This is a testament to the No. 61 ROUSH/Valvoline crew. Once we found the issues with the car, the guys swarmed the car and got the job done right.
The race took place at 9 a.m. the following day, Sunday, August 16. I was starting on the outside of row three, next to the No. 39 car. Turn 1 at this track is fairly unique. It's typical to be at a disadvantage when on the outside of a turn, but the disadvantage is greater here. That's because there's a crown in the road designed to allow rain to run off to the curbs on either side. As a result, the innermost part of this right turn has banking, but out further to the left, the track falls away (with negative banking).
Before the race started, I knew that if I could just stay close enough to the No. 39 so as to make some use of the inner banking, I might just be able to take the inside of the next turn to the left. This is exactly what happened.
Going into Turn 1 the first lap, I was able to hang on almost as fast as the No. 39. Going into Turn 2, the No. 39 was slightly ahead and tried to pinch me out. However, I pushed my way into the inside line (without contact) and took the position. Before we got a half-lap into the race, the yellow flag flew.
Apparently, there was a chain reaction of collisions behind me that sent the No. 41 car into the tire wall on the outside of Turn 1. A few laps later, the green flag flew, and I was working on getting around the No. 58 car. After a few laps, I got a good enough run out of the last turn to get a jump on the No. 58 onto the front straight. As it turns out, my run here was good enough to steal the inside line into Turn 1 and seal the deal.
Soon after this pass, the yellow flag flew again. This time, there was a collision between two cars heading into a hard (and high speed) braking zone. I'm not sure of the cause of this crash, but I think that it's a safe bet that it was due to a brake failure.
At this point in the race, I was fourth. While still under yellow, the No. 96 BMW came in for fuel and a driver change. This car was driven by Don Salama and Matt Belle. Matt is the regular in this car and is going for driver's points this season. Don, on the other hand, isn't a regular in this car, and consequently was not going for driver's points here. This is an important point, especially for this race. That's because the event at Trois-Rivieres was only an hour-and-a-half long (most of our races are two-and-a-half hours).
It can be an advantage to stop for fuel as early as possible during a one-stop race. That's because the earlier you stop, there is a tendency to be shuffled (during yellow flags) behind those that have already made their stop. With our fuel window being about an hour-and-fifteen minutes (depending on the number of yellow flags and the nature of the specific track), that would give you an advantage to stop before the minimum driver stint length of 30 minutes. Stopping before this point would nullify the first driver's chances to earn points.
The No. 96 pitted at just 20 minutes. Wanting to get driver's points for both drivers in our car, we stopped for our driver change just after the 30 minute mark. It was hard to give up the Mustang to my co-driver, Billy, at this point. I was then starting the first green flag lap after the yellow in which the No. 96 had stopped. I was right behind the No. 37 and No. 59, and I would have enjoyed battling with them.
However, that was not to be in this race. I brought the car into the pits before completing this green flag lap. Our pit stop went flawlessly. The driver change was quick, our fueling was perfect, and the tire changers did their job at lightning speed, as usual. Billy did a great job in his stint. He knocked off several positions on the track while not getting passed himself. Billy brought the car home in second place, not far behind the No. 96.
The second place finish matched my career-best in KONI Challenge competition, and it felt great to follow-up our third-place finish at Barber with another podium. The finish was a well deserved accomplishment for the crew, drivers, and sponsor of our team. I'd like to offer a special thank you to our sponsors: ROUSH Performance, Valvoline, and MossMuscle.com. This second place finish shows once again that barring problems that are beyond our control, we can battle for the win wherever we run, and this includes our last two races of 2009: Miller Motorsports Part on September 18 and Virginia International Raceway on October 4. Stay tuned to see how the No. 61 ROUSH / Valvoline Mustang does at these final events of 2009.