Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords
Project CMC Part 5 NASA Championships - Go Road Racing For $10 Grand Or Less
We Wrap Up Project CMC With An Amazing Race Weekend.
After spending most of the 2008 racing season building and sorting our '95 Camaro-Mustang Challenge race car, documented in the previous four issues of MM&FF, we're finally wrapping up the project with the story of our run for a National Championship at the NASA Championships, which were held at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on Sept. 14, 2008.
The final leg of our project car journey was the 865-mile round-trip tow from Milwaukee for the four-day Championship event, but getting there also included stops at Autobahn Country Club, Road America, and a warm-up run at Mid-Ohio just a month prior.
We covered the first shakedown run at Autobahn and the car's debut race at Road America in a previous issue, but the most important preparation for the Nationals came in August 2008 at Mid-Ohio during the last NASA Great Lakes region regular-season race prior to the big dance. Mid-Ohio is one of the country's premier natural road courses, and we needed the track time to sort out the suspension on the track's flowing combination of high-speed straights, elevation changes, and highly technical corners. Our run at Road America had been without the benefit of the Astro Performance A-5 Road Race Fifth gear set that we installed in Part 3, and we were eager to see how the car would stretch its legs on Mid-Ohio's long back straight, where a CMC car approaches a top speed of nearly 130 mph.
Off the trailer, the car was understeering badly in two of the track's tightest corners, the Carousel leading onto the pit straight and the all-important Keyhole that leads onto the backstraight-the fastest part of the track. Carrying maximum exit speed out of the Keyhole is critical for a good run down into the braking zone at the end of the straight, which is one of the best places to pass. To correct the mid-corner understeer, we made a series of changes to the rear suspension, including increasing rear tire pressure and substituting a stiffer rear sway bar. These changes produced an encouraging fastest lap time of 1:42.200 for the weekend. Considering changes to the track's surface since the prior year's Nationals, it was a solid time and turned out to be the quickest lap of the 2008 season turned by any CMC car at Mid-Ohio, including during the Championships, although it's short of the current CMC track record of 1:40.713 set during the 2007 Championships.
Back home in Milwaukee, following a pair of race wins at Mid-Ohio, we had just over a month to get ready for the NASA National Championships. Preparations included ordering a freshly shaved set of spec Toyo RA-1 race tires, mounting them on brand-new MB Motorsports Competition wheels, changing the engine oil and transmission fluid (more on that later), bleeding the brakes, and doing a general nut-and-bolt check to ensure everything was tight and properly adjusted.
Back at Mid-Ohio, the championship weekend included a test day on Thursday, a pair of 20-minute qualifying heat races on Friday and Saturday (each proceeded by a separate qualifying session to set the race grid), and a 45-minute championship race on Sunday. Weather was the big story of the weekend this year, with Thursday's dry, sunny conditions followed by torrential rain all day Friday and most of Saturday. Many racers were caught without windshield wipers, window defoggers, and rain tires (us included), and those days were spent trying to stay out of the gravel traps, off the tire walls, and hoping for clear conditions on Sunday. We managed to borrow a set of spare rain tires for the wet sessions (thanks to 2008 American Iron champ Robin Burnett) and eked out a Fourth place finish in the Friday heat race, picking up one spot from our starting position.