BRIGHT RED BULB AND TIRE SMOKE CONSPIRE TO END WILK'S DAY
Tim Wilkerson is about as steady and reliable as they come, in terms of reaction times. His standard .075 to .085 light is as regular as the sunrise, so it was a stunned Levi, Ray & Shoup team that collectively saw the dreaded red bulb illuminated on Wilk's side of the tree, after he and Ron Capps had launched in round one on Sunday. To make matters worse, Wilk's LRS Shelby Mustang then drove into tire smoke at the 330-foot mark, allowing Capps to tear away for a bigger win than the one he had already clinched. Wilk was .007 too quick on the tree, fouling out.
Despite Sunday ending in an outcome that disappointed the popular Springfield, Ill. driver, some seriously good strides were made during qualifying here at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with much of that emphasis coming on the opening day of time trials. On Friday, Wilk joined the vast majority of Funny Car tuners who were looking for and traversing the edge on a hot track, when he smoked the tires near half-track. Despite the tire spin, Wilk knew the lap had provided great data and solid input, and he was ready for Q2.
"When we got back to the pit and looked at the data, I'm telling you it was so close to making it on that lap it was pitiful," Wilkerson said. "You could run that exact pass again, in the same conditions, and it would have a 50/50 chance of making it the next time around, because that's how close it was to going A to B right there. Even so, we had a pretty good idea of how to turn the knobs to get it down there later in the day on Friday, and for the first time this year I really felt like it would absolutely, beyond any doubt, do what it was supposed to do and put up the sort of number I expected it to run."
On the Q2 run, Wilk took the knowledge and data from the earlier failed effort and turned them into the third-quickest lap of the session, running 4.196 to move up to the No. 3 spot overnight. The run also earned him his first qualifying bonus point of the year and gave the team a much needed boost of confidence.
"It was nice and safe, and as a matter of fact the first thing I wanted to see when we got back here was just how much we left on the table," Wilk said. "Sure enough, as soon as the data popped up on the monitor I could see that there was a lot more out there. The best thing, though, was that we were solidly in the show on Friday, and that makes Saturday a whole different deal when you don't have to sweat getting into the field."
On Saturday, during Q3, Wilk's LRS mount was on another solid pass when it dropped a cylinder at about half-track. The loss of power on one side caused the Ford to make a move to the center line and slowed it enough to alert Wilk to the issue. He lifted early to avoid further trouble. On the final pass, later on Saturday afternoon, track temperatures were rising and Wilk's tune-up was just too aggressive for the conditions. Tire smoke ended that one.
We can't seem to find that balance yet, but we sure are making a lot of power.
"That's really the first time so far this year where we went out there trying to be aggressive just to see what it would do," Wilkerson said. "Our motor is really making a ton of power right now, and the biggest issue we're facing these days is getting the clutch to handle it. We can't seem to find that balance yet, but we sure are making a lot of power, Too much, on that run."
In the end, Wilk's qualifying position had slipped a bit since Friday night, but he still maintained a top-half position and would race out of the 7th spot. For that effort, he was graced with a match-up against Ron Capps on Sunday morning.
With temperatures considerable cooler, but with the bright desert sun still pounding the heat into the racing surface, the opening round was going to be a challenge for everyone, but especially for a team dealing with an excess of power and a slight lack of clutch control. To compound the test, Wilk and Capps were saddled with being the seventh pair in the opening round, and with each passing minute the track grew hotter.
At the flash of amber, Wilk sincerely felt he had seen enough of the yellow bulbs to be safe, but his LRS Shelby broke the beams 7-thousandths of a second before the green. With the starting line foul, this one was over at that point but Wilk was unaware of the transgression and kept his foot to the floor. Tire smoke at the 330 mark came next, giving the Levi, Ray & Shoup group the ignominious honor of having found two ways to lose on a single lap.
"All I can figure is that I was just staged that much deeper today that when I did my normal deal, and at the flash she got out of the beams a hair early," Wilkerson said. "We looked at the video frame-by-frame, and it looked exactly like our run in the same lane on Saturday. Everything is the same, right to a single frame, but the red light comes on in today's video and the green light came on yesterday. Staging a bit too deep kind of has to be the only answer there.
"What really makes me mad is the tire spin. The motor was just screaming again, making big power, and as much as we took out of the clutch it still overpowered the track. We have to get a handle on that, because it seems pretty counter-productive to take power out of a stout motor, so we just need to get the clutch dialed in with the power we're making. We're going to Charlotte next, and all that matters is that we get better. We got better here, even though the results didn't show it, so step by step we go. We're going to fix this thing one of these days and then we'll be getting our notches in the win column."