Phoenix: Nonnamaker Racing diary

Coming into the Phoenix round the team had high hopes as we have won there two years in a row. The weekend started out early on Wednesday as we had a test session to help prepare us for the rest of the weekend. While our competition in the Grand...

Coming into the Phoenix round the team had high hopes as we have won there two years in a row. The weekend started out early on Wednesday as we had a test session to help prepare us for the rest of the weekend. While our competition in the Grand Sports II class utilized the test day, our Sports Touring II class competition did not take advantage of the test day.

* Test Day

For the Acuras the test day proved very beneficial. Will and his co-driver, Howie Liebengood, were trying some various different things with suspension set up and the things they learned on test day made the car much more drivable. On the Porsche side of things Joe and I used the test day to try a couple of small suspension changes, but mainly we were focused on learning the Phoenix track and how the Porsche reacted to the tight course.

For me the Phoenix track presented the biggest challenge this year in terms of adapting from the Acuras (which I have driven for three years) to the rear wheel drive, rear engine Porsche. The long slow speed turns meant that throttle application was very touchy and it took me a couple of sessions to come to grips with the difference. For the first time this year the line around the track was dramatically different in the Porsche compared to the line I have learned in the Acuras.

* Practice and Qualifying

The practice and qualifying days went fairly well. The only glitch came when a car dropped oil during a Grand Sports practice session. With oil on the track, several cars slid off in front of our silver #40 SpeedSource Porsche test car. Joe slowed to avoid going off track himself. Another car came from behind him and never slowed, hitting the oil first and then our Porsche second. We were very lucky that the only damage was cosmetic.

The Phoenix race was the first of four split events this season. A split event means that they run the Grand Sports and Sport Touring classes in separate 200 mile races on separate days. Because of this Joe and I were going to run the #42 Integra in hopes of supporting Will and Howie's bid at the 2003 STII title.

Qualifying for the Acuras saw Howie and I go out nose to tail to try to draft and go for the pole. We were pleased when we ended up second and third on the grid. The #48 Cavalier can turn one flying lap that none of our cars can touch, so we figured the pole position was out of touch for us. However when the race started, our cars could consistently turn our qualifying times while the Cavalier would have to slow his pace.

In GS qualifying we were only able to capture a ninth place qualifying spot in the #41 SpeedSource / Planet Earth Porsche. In an effort to get Will some more track time in the Porsches, he qualified and started the race in the #40 Porsche (another benefit of the split race format). He did remarkably well adapting to the rear wheel drive car at a very difficult track to try and make the transition (this marked his first time in a rear wheel drive car). Qualifying netted him a 1:11.137, only 2.3 seconds off the pole position time; very impressive for his first time in a rear wheel drive car.

* Races

The races started on Friday night at 6:00 PM with the Sports Touring race. Howie and I started the #43 and #42 Integras respectively. The two of us and two other cars in our class ran nose to tail for sixty minutes straight. Ed Magner, in the #48 Cavalier, was leading the race and with the layout of the 1.51 mile PIR track it was nearly impossible to find a way by Ed. Our car out-handled the Cavalier and the heavier Cavalier had us in straight line speed. It was an exciting race and should make for excellent television (tune in to Speed TV May 10th at Noon).

At the pit stop Will took over for Howie. One thing I forgot to mention about Howie's drive that was very important. In the middle of his stint, Howie was attentive enough to the gauges to notice an oil pressure fluctuation in the banking. At the pitstop we discovered a minor oil leak and added some of the great Pennzoil oil to the car. Had Howie not caught that during his stint, we would have lost the race and perhaps a motor.

Will came out in second and ran down the #27 Fenton Integra and passed him for position. As the race came to an end Will had pulled out a hefty advantage over the #27. Joe, who was finishing the #42 for me, was put at a disadvantage when a slow driver's change put him back in the pack. Without light it was tough to make the adjustments to the belts and we lost thirty seconds in the pits. Still we came in third with the #42 King Motorsports / Pennzoil Integra.

The second race of the weekend came on Saturday at 1:00 PM. Joe started the #41 Porsche. Making it through the first few laps of a Grand Sports race can be tough, especially back in the pack. Joe took a very cautious approach to the first few laps. After everything settled down he drove from the tenth in class up to the lead in class when he came in to hand the car over to me. It was a remarkable drive from Joe as he had to work his way around nine cars, all of which were not easy to pass. In addition to working his way into the lead, he caught a glimpse of a Firebird with no brakes in his mirrors under braking for the hairpin turn. Joe never turned into the corner, and the Firebird never slowed (he had a broken rotor). Had Joe turned into the corner, the front of our Porsche would have surely been written off and our title hopes would have been eliminated.

I only had one car to pass and after all the pitstops were complete. After that pass was completed, I had to pace my tires against holding the split to second even. We ended up winning the race by 25 seconds. The race ran the entire length with no yellows, so the 25 second margin of victory equated to only a difference of two tenths of a second a lap.

The Grand Sports race will be televised on Speed TV on May 10th at 1:00 PM, so be sure to catch that as well. For us we have our work cut out for us as we race at Barber Motorsports Park on May 17th. Look for another report after that race.

-wayne nonnamaker-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Howie Liebengood
Teams SpeedSource