Jackson-Dawson team snap up first place on Saturday, and pole position on Sunday.
05.24.07 - Jackson-Dawson Scion Team Takes a Pole and a First at a Windy Willow Springs
Torrance, CA -
This month's Willow Springs race saw Dan Gardner and the Jackson-Dawson team snap up first place on Saturday, and pole position on Sunday in NASA's Performance Touring E (PTE) class. The team also grabbed a first in TTE, again coming just a hair short (two-tenths of a second) of the lap record in the Time Trial series. In fact, the team would have beaten the record by a full second if they would have run the same pace during the time trial as they ran in the race or even the race warmup.
"We really were gunning for that record, despite the car being down on power, and development of the platform ongoing throughout the season," said driver, Dan Gardner. "We thought we had enough firepower, and we did, but with gusting, high-speed winds, track conditions were always changing, and we just couldn't quite get the job done during our TT sessions. It's not over yet; we'll be back at Willow soon enough!"
The team had just come off an extremely productive testing session with suspension sponsor Progress at Buttonwillow the weekend prior. Multiple suspensions, alignments, ride heights, and swaybar settings were thrown at the car, and in the end, significant improvements were made. The team also found an area that they think further performance can be had. Ed Flores from Progress was on-hand in the garage during testing, and provided invaluable assistance throughout the process.
Despite the great testing session, it was a crunch to get the car ready to go to Willow just five days later. Steve Mitchell at M-Workz again provided meticulous alignment and corner balancing services, while the boys at America's Tire in Torrance hustled on tire mounting and balancing. Nitto provided the team with more sticky NT01 tires, and Carbotech got out more XP10 race pads. The team jammed and everything came together, setting the stage for a great race on Saturday.
The GTI again was projected to be the team's nemesis, but it would be the red Celica that would prove to outqualify Gardner by two-tenths. In warmup, Gardner drove hard, but didn't push the car to the ragged edge. When he came in, his team has some unexpected news... he had ripped off a 1:38 laptime, and things were looking great versus the competitors. In qualifying, Gardner couldn't seem to get clean track, only managing a 1:39. He would take second position on grid, with the GTI in third and the rest of the field falling into place.
Gardner battled the whole race.
The race is rarely won in the first turn, but Gardner still found himself in a position where he'd have to play catchup. The GTI was leaning hard on Gardner in the outside lane and jumping on and off the throttle before the green flag dropped. When it did drop, the GTI pulled hard on Gardner, managing to pass him and the Celica coming out of just the first turn.
Gardner passed the Celica, and then quickly tracked down the GTI. It would be a battle to pass him though, as the combination of a veteran driver coupled with better power-to-weight and drastically lighter weight would prove challenging. Gardner glued himself to the bumper of the GTI and tried to create opportunities to pass under braking.
The GTI was driving defensive lines, teetering on the verge of blocking, and Gardner was hard-pressed to get around him. All the while, the Celica lingered in a close third position. Every time Gardner would try to pass, or gain a position advantage, the GTI would take it away.
Finally, going into turn one, Gardner managed to get alongside the GTI, who was simultaneously cutting off the inside line. The two cars went through the turn together side by side, but it would be Gardner who got the best of him, as he was set up perfectly along the inside going into turn two.
Coming out of turn two Gardner would find himself in the lead. From there, a steady pace kept Gardner out in front, while the GTI and Celica battled furiously behind him, changing positions several times before the race was done. Gardner managed his way quickly through traffic, and virtually checked out, finishing the race many seconds ahead of the Celica, who would get the best of the little VW in the end.
Before Sunday's race, the team made the decision to change the camber on the right front to match the camber on the left. They also chose to run the older Nittos. Although the tires were pretty worn down, they were not corded, and experience told the team they likely would still be fast. Both decisions would play small roles in costing the team the victory, but it was an error on Gardner's part that would seal their fate.
In qualifying, Gardner's crew chief was letting him know that he'd have to pick up the pace if he hoped to outqualify the GTI. Traffic was again an issue, and getting a clean lap proved difficult. Still, in the second to last lap, Gardner was able to pull out a time that would be a single tenth of a second faster than the Celica, who outqualified the GTI. The team would be sitting on pole, and was in a good position.
The wind gusts made it difficut to drive on Sunday.
As the cars took formation for the start of the race, things again worked out in Gardner's favor, as he was beside a PTD Sentra with the rest of the PTE field behind him. A poor start, coupled with another great start on the part of the GTI, left Gardner chasing down the GTI for the second time in two days.
Gardner chased the GTI down, again was thwarted, but going into turn 8, he would make a pass attempt that would be preserved going into 9. Gardner's Scion came out onto the back straight with more exit speed than the VW, and proceeded to pull on him down the straight. The GTI shut the door to the inside pass, but Gardner got side to side with him on the outside and proceeded to pull ahead as turn 9 approached.
The winds had shifted literally at the track from the day prior. The winds threatened to push the car off the outside of turn 8 on Saturday, but actually helped drivers as it was blowing the opposite way on Sunday. This helped Gardner make the outside maneuver. But the winds weren't done yet.
The gusts that helped keep the car from pushing out in 8, threatened to push the car to the inside of 9, a place where drivers rarely want to be too early. They also were wickedly whipping in turn 2 causing both push and oversteer in different parts of the turn. And a headwind sapped power down the front straight.
The GTI was deep in the Scion's draft, and was glued to Gardner's bumper. Taking a page from the competing driver's book in Saturday's race, Gardner defended feverishly, shutting the door at every pass attempt to stay out in front. This went on for several laps, and Gardner was hoping to get away far enough where the GTI wouldn't be able to take advantage of his draft.
Coming out of turn 5, Gardner was able to pull significantly on the GTI, but by the time 9 came around, the GTI was right there again. He, in fact, ran his fastest laps behind Gardner. Eventually turn 9 would get the best of Gardner, as the winds pushed him inside and he turned in early. This wouldn't have been too much of an issue, except that he turned in too deep as well.
As the Scion got to the apex, Gardner tagged the right front tire on the curbing, which is raised and split, and not a curb meant to be driven on. This sent the car careening on exit, beginning a long oversteer. Gardner saved the car by mashing the throttle and then applying 90 degrees of opposite lock, but the car was still sliding down the front straight with its rear end toward the wall, and nose toward the infield.
Rather than risk a snap in the other direction and a crash into the pit wall, after what seemed like an eternity, Gardner straightened out the wheel and chose to go off under his own terms in the infield. The car violently hit hard dirt, rocks, and dips, as Gardner tried to lock up the brakes.
Dan expects greatness from himself and the car.
One of the downsides the team has experienced with the electronic braking system is that the wheels won't lock up once the vehicle gets into the dirt. This made it extremely hard for Gardner to stop the Scion's momentum, and he found himself going for a long ride. When the car finally came to a complete stop, a long wave of cars was coming down the front straight. That caused Gardner to lose a tremendous amount of time in addition to the off itself.
Gardner finally did get back on the track, and felt things out to make sure he didn't debead a tire or break something else. The car felt fine, but Gardner wasn't pushing by any means. The only hope was to catch the tail of the pack to at least preserve some season points. The tC did, in fact, catch the back of the pack, and Gardner was able to pull out a third place.
It was an anticlimactic ending to the weekend, but at least the car wasn't much worse for the wear, and Gardner ended up tying the GTI for the weekend, who had taken a third and a first.
"That's just racing" said Lead Engineer Mike Kojima. "Dan's hard on himself, and he expects greatness from himself and the car, but things happen, and the reality is, we're still sorting out the car. We're pleased at how far we've come in so little time. It really has been on a fast track due to the dedication of many people, especially all our great sponsors."
Another positive was the surge tank that Marty Schwerter at Toyota Motorsports put in before the race. It effectively solved the team's fuel starvation problems, as the car could be run down to a quarter tank without any sputtering or violent loss of fuel pressure.
And all the suspension testing the team did at Buttonwillow the week prior seemed to pay off, as Gardner had no negative feedback for how things were working. Credit the hard work of Progress for the improvement there.
With the finishes at Willow, the team still leads the points race, having accumulated 565 season points in NASA's SoCal region.
"I made a call to Dan on Saturday after he was disappointed about not qualifying on pole," said Chief Mechanic, Chris Viscovich. "I guess the pep talk helped! I would have loved to see that battle. Sure, I was less than thrilled to hear about Sunday, but we're regrouping, and ready to take on all challengers at Buttonwillow."
The next NASA race is back at Buttonwillow on June 9 and 10. The course will be run counterclockwise this time in the number 1 configuration.