September signals the start of the school year and the football season, but for those of us in the autocross world it means we are getting toward the end of the season and a shot at a National Championship against the best cars and drivers in the country at the SCCA Solo Nationals in Lincoln Nebraska. The Stalker Cars family brought out two of the new “AXR” chassis cars that we have been developing this year. Scott, and Glen Minehart driving the Orange #51/151 car in E-Modified, with Krista driving it in the Ladies class. I was driving the White #78 car in E-Modified as well. The two cars are nearly identical- both powered by relatively stock LS1 motors putting out about 330hp to the rear wheels- with the main difference being the Orange car running an automatic transmission and on Avon Tires, while the White car has the T-56 6-speed manual transmission and running on Hooiser Tires. Our times on the test course were only about 0.4s apart (34.3 and 34.7) as we got the cars dialed-in with the edge going to the white car on the new tires.
This was the first event that we’ve had the two cars racing together, and our first event going up the reigning EM National Champion, Jeff Kiesel in his Turbo Rotory powered Sprite, as well as a number of other competitive purpose-built cars autocross cars for a total of 17 drivers. The plan on tires was that with two drivers, the 51 car would be able to build the necessary heat into the Avon A11’s with the first driver and Scott would have warm tires running as the second driver. While I opted for the soft compound Hoosier R25B’s that would hopefully heat up quicker and work better as a single driver.
The weather in Lincoln this time of the year is very unpredictable, and as we were setting up in grid to get ready to run, the clouds were rolling in and rain storms were on their way. We rolled up with the dry slicks, hoping the rain would stay away, and had the rain tires ready as back-ups. As our heat started, so did a light rain, I knew I had to get a good clean first run if I wanted to be in contention over the two days as it may be the best conditions I’d get for my three shots at the West course. My first run out on the tight but fast slalom intensive course felt really good. The tires felt great right off the start and the car was handling great. I finished with a time of 59.173, and learned that Kiesel had run a faster time but hit a cone, so that put me in the lead by almost a full second after the first drivers. The rain continued to fall, and the course started slowing down. Going out on the slicks on a damp course, Scott’s first run was 68.404. With most of the competition in the high 60’s or 70’s, the best times were set at that point and we switched to the rain tires for the last two runs just to test them out.
Scott Minehart driving the 151 car. photo credit: Vitek Boruvka
Going into Day 2 with a 0.9s lead is usually a good buffer, but going up against Kiesel in E-Mod, I knew that it was still going to be tough to win. Weather on day 2 was much cooler, but sunny and dry so we’d all get three good looks at the course today. I started off the higher-speed and more open style East Course with a strong 50.8s run but tagged a cone. Again, the car was still working great and I knew I had some room for improvement. My second run matched the time from the first, but was able to run clean and put myself just a half second back from Kiesel who had taken the lead after his first and second runs. The third run was going to be my shot at a National championship if I could get a 49 second run. The run felt good but as I finished with a 50.297, it wasn’t quite enough as Keisel had improved his time and maintained his lead by 0.431s. My time was second fastest in class on Day 2 and had me firmly planted in 2nd place.
Jason Minehart driving the 78 car. photo credit: Vitek Boruvka
The second place finish was my best finish ever at Nationals, and to do it in a class like EM with such a tough history, in the first year competing in the Stalker AXR is really amazing. While we can enjoy this second place finish, we’ll also be planning the next steps and seeing what upgrades we can make for next year and see if we can get another shot at the top spot. We know we’ve got a great platform to work from and have lots more things we want to try out and test to get the cars faster for next year.
In-Car video of my fastest runs:
Day 1, Run 1:
Day2, Run 3: