Editors Note - I've known Emmanuel for a few years now, ever since my FR-S ownership days. At the time, there were only a few select people really tracking the FR-S and BRZ hard, and even fewer that went down the rabbit hole of caging a perfectly good, nearly brand new car. I've watched him develop the car and get faster and faster as a driver. What has really impressed me however is his attitude and personality. In addition to the driving on track, he's all about the social side of the track that many of us enjoy. Everytime I'm at an event, he always has a group of other people around him, and usually they are all laughing. He's just that kind of guy. Oh, did I mention that he usually works race control at NASA Southeast events? I don't know how he does it all in a weekend. He pretty much exemplifies what we are all about here at tracktuned.com and I'm pleased to have him as a contributing writer. - Austin
OH HOW QUICKLY IT GOES SOUTH!
By Emmanuel Baako
Left foot pump for brake pedal…check! Here we go! Crap! 3rd gear downshift fail again. “Darn it EB, hold the shifter in. A clean lap at eight-tenths speed is all we need”, I thought to myself. I got by another PTD class car without much compromise at Turn 3. Flat through the kink, gentle downshift for the International horse shoe, clean exit out of Turn 6…check! Cars in my mirror were diminishing in size. This lap had gone well thus far. I spotted a waving yellow at the bus stop, and saw a mustang on the edge of the track. He was attempting to re-enter so I took extra caution. I downshifted into 3rd gear so I wouldn’t be bogged down at track out. I chose to keep the exit tight to avoid running into his rear bumper if he didn’t get up to speed. It looked like I’d be clear so I squeezed the big pedal on the right. No! No! No! Opposite lock, tire squeal, CRASH!!!
Let’s back this up a bit. I woke up excited that Saturday morning. A return to Daytona and a shot at the victory which had eluded me a year ago. I’d been too busy in the tower above the start finish line to the make warm up or qualifying sessions. I spend the majority of my time at NASA Southeast events working in Race Control. So missing qualifying was a bit of the norm. I’d pulled up to the back of the grid with no knowledge of how many cars were in the race. These would be my first complete laps at Daytona - straight into a race. Yup, #soundslegit applies here. I had a good number of laps on the simulator though, and so after a few laps I had my bearings sorted. By the time I made my way to the front, I assumed I was fighting for the class lead as I couldn’t see any immediate cars in my class ahead. It turned out to be a battle for 2nd place. I had fuel related issues that weekend and had to pull in on the 2nd lap of the Sunday race with a disconnected fuel line, so I lost out on redemption. Here’s a link to that race..
***Editors Note - Watch the above video in your browser to include Emmanuel's Annotations.***
So 1 year later, I was back for another try. I unloaded the car from the trailer after the morning meeting and made my way to the tower to get the weekend started. With one session to go until qualifying, I could feel the anticipation build as I waited for relief in the tower.
My father-in-law had texted me earlier to ask what I wanted my tire pressures at. He would take care of that so I wouldn’t have to do anything before I went out. I texted back “28psi all around, I’ll make adjustments after qualifying”. My wife and our 2 babies had arrived separately within the hour, so I gave them hugs and kisses, put on my safety gear, and made my way unto the grid.
My Scion FR-S has always been tail happy, so the oversteer on the outlap didn’t really bother me. Nothing had changed in the car setup from the previous event at Road Atlanta. I’d hit my personal best then on this setup, so the plan was just to drive what I had and check tire temps and pressure afterward. (Editor's note - a lot of people could learn from doing this. Just drive, worry about setup later). I still had to feel my way around the track so the power slide at T5 on “cold tires” wasn't alarming. I just needed a clean day to win this race. Daytona is a power track, and I had plenty of it. After a clean run through the bus stop chicane, the drama began.
Uh oh! I had no 6th gear. “Is the Clutch gone?” I wondered as I crossed the Start/Finish line to begin my first timed lap in Qualifying. I approached turn 1. An estimated 7s is spent on the brakes here slowing from 131 mph bouncing off the limiter in 5th gear to 55 mph in 3rd gear. I should have been at 142 mph, but oh well. I downshifted, back on the throttle, and listened to the engine freely revving in neutral. 3rd gear issues again. It just wouldn’t stay in there. I shoved the shift lever back into 3rd and barely made the corner after shuffling the wheel around a bit. Found 4th gear just fine, must be me. 3rd gear popped out once more at turn 3. This would definitely be a crappy qualifying session. The car balance felt odd at turn 5 again, but I had kept my hand on the shifter to hold it in gear and pinched my line, so perhaps it was driver error. I opted to just leave it in 3rd for the run into turn 6, avoiding a shifting fiasco heading out to the oval.
I had too much going on. “I just need a decent lap after this one and we’ll figure out what’s going on” I muttered. I tried 6th gear once again before the bus stop. Nothing! A little wiggle out of the chicane, then full speed ahead towards Nascar 3 and 4. After another futile attempt for the over-drive gear I decided to relax and simply string a lap together. I’d passed the Spec E30s as if they were standing still, so just completing the lap without a big bobble would be enough for pole. That focused lap, described in the first paragraph, didn’t go according to plan. Here’s the session clip.
At the end of the day, I found out from someone I’d passed on track that my car was dumping fluids out of the rear. It turns out I’d left my coolsuit cooler open in the trunk when I filled it with water. It was ready to accept ice, but I’d completely forgotten about it before qualifying. Under braking, the water sloshed forward unto my rear tires. Add the yellow flag incident that made me take a tighter than usual line, the extra slowing down, and perhaps being off my game with all I was dealing with in the car and we have a recipe for disaster. That’s club racing. The pros don’t tend to make silly mistakes like these. Perhaps the occasional loose wheel, but an open ice cooler?
The highs and lows can come at a swift pace in unexpected succession. I was pumped for a chance to claim the top step in front of my family, but quickly met the NASCAR safer barriers at 70mph. I woke up the next day without any pain from the incident thanks to the awesome safety gear… well, there’s the expectant financial pain I couldn’t help but think of, and the dejection, disappointment, etc. But hey, it’s part of the game. They say there are 2 kinds of racers; those who have crashed and those who are yet to crash. I joined the camp of the former and walked away without a bruise.
Surgery is already underway. The first event next season is Jan. 22-24 at Roebling Road Raceway. I’ve got roughly 2 months to get the car repaired and dropped off at EliteForce Motorsports for track prep. Even though Daytona is not on the NASA Southeast calendar for 2016, I will be making a return there in STL trim at one of the SCCA races for redemption.