Utah was hectic from the moment we arrived. After discovering some troubling things in the 2JZ's top end during testing two weeks prior, we made the call to swap to a spare engine to prevent a major failure. Some issues during that process meant that we ended up having to do some additional work to the new engine and we arranged for dyno time on Tuesday on site at Utah Motorsports Campus.
After the low RPM engine protections were set, it was time to move on to dyno pulls - unfortunately the engine developed severe rod knock after the first pull, and we were immediately into problem solving mode.
Luckily, we had the engine that had just been pulled out of the car with us in the Drift Cave trailer - we made the call to reinstall that engine, but during that process, a closer inspection of its top end revealed mushrooming valves. We then decided that the best way forward would be to combine the undamaged parts of each engine to make one engine that would at least last the weekend.
Once again, my crew demonstrated how dedicated, professional and efficient they are. From engine failure on the dyno to making it to the line for practice was less than 24 hours, but we got it done, with special help from Jerry at GT Radial (engine crane), Daniel Stuke (Cam Seals), and Brandon Wicknick (head gasket).
Due to all the attention being on the engine, our practice session on Wednesday consisted of gradually increasing boost while monitoring engine health, making suspension adjustments, and looking for any other issues with the car.
It was not perfect (still a drift car!), but I was starting to feel pretty good, until I had a sudden very obvious toe change in the rear - we discovered that my rear subframe had sustained some damage when I hit the wall in New Jersey, which we didn't notice when getting the car back together in the 30 minutes before my top 32 battle. That meant a longer day for my crew again as we finally corrected that issue.
In Thursday morning's practice, we added nitrous back into the equation, continued logging and everything really started to come together. My last lap in practice felt like exactly the lap I wanted to take into qualifying.
Unfortunately, I got a little bit overexcited on my first qualifying lap, and initiated too deep for the speed I was carrying, and overshot OZ1, resulting in an incomplete. On my second qualifying lap, I made a mistake between OZ1 and OZ2, which caused the judges to consider my second lap incomplete as well.
With everything my crew went through to get the car to the line, as well as the support from my partners and the fans, I really felt like I let a lot of people down. This sport in general is an emotional roller coaster, and I am in this for the long haul, so I am doing my best to focus on the positives: I feel my driving has made tremendous gains over the season, thanks in no small part to my team enabling me to be able to focus only on driving, and to the insights of my coach, Taka Aono.
I also had the opportunity to give lots of fans tours of the car, give ride-alongs to my crew for the first time on the skid pad, as well as getting some younger fans sitting in the car so they experience a racecar from the inside, which is one of my favourite parts of fan interaction at drift events.
Overall, I can say while I didn't have the inaugural season I was hoping for, it was extremely educational. Developing a car to compete at the pro level can only go so far without subjecting the car to the level of force and abuse that FD tracks require. Utah's entry speed and track speed in general especially exposed some areas where the car needs reinforcement and refinement. Going into the off-season, I have some areas to improve on the car, and a plan for driver development as well.
It's crazy to think how much goes into "only" 4 weeks of the year, and also how much comes out of it. I am so grateful for my crew and the relationships I have built that already feel that they have existed for years.
I really want to thank Mike and the NonStopTuning team, as well as my teammates, Alec Robbins and Alex Lichlighter for making me feel so supported through the good times and more importantly, during the struggles which are a big part of any motorsport experience. My season (and my mental health) were so greatly improved by these relationships, and I am really looking forward to continuing to develop them throughout my FD career.
WORDS: Zandara Kennedy
NST - NonStopTuning
NST - NonStopTuning