2017 Trackbattle Championship Preview: Down to the Wire
Abrin Schmucker - Director of Time Attack
Few people have been as lucky as I have been this year. Taking some time away from the driver's seat, I've had the pleasure of being at the front of pit lane managing the competition side of Gridlife. I've gotten to know the stories of dozens of racers both new and old. It's incredible to see how much blood, sweat and tears go into running a full season of Gridlife Track Battle. All of us at Gridlife are humbled and grateful that you all devote so much to this series and have helped us build it into what it is today.
With the whirlwind of South Festival and Track Battle Round 4 behind us, drivers have a month off to dial in their cars before some of the seasons's last events. As the season comes to a close, the chase for the Powerstop Bondurant cup is closer than anyone anticipated. All 4 classes are still theoretically up for grabs, with drivers from both Unlimited and Track Modified separated by as little as 23 points. Despite having so much at stake, many drivers can't resist the draw of prize money from The Speed Ring (Sept 30-Oct 1) prior to the Round 5 conclusion. With only a week between events, the margin for driver error and window for mechanical repair is tiny.
Here are the major battles you should expect to see on track at Round 5.
James Houghton - 4340 Points
James has been battling with Brian Faessler all season. Both of them have at least 1 event at Gridlife this year with overall FTD. James leads by only 130 points, which means that the Unlimited class championship is still totally up for grabs. James worked on aero development extensively in the last offseason in a collaboration with Professional Awesome Race Design. The changes have allowed him to shave nearly 2.5 seconds off his 2016 pace at GMR. With no dramatic increase in power, the additional speed comes from weight reduction and more lateral grip in the corners. Consistently improving, James is continually in contention for overall event FTD. The performance of his FWD car continues to prove that drivetrain differences matter very little in the Unlimited Class. He and his K-Tuned Integra remain a force to be reckoned with. Here's a fast lap from James at Round 1 - Mid-Ohio.
Brian Faessler - 4210 Points
2017 Trackbattle saw the addition of newcomer Brian Faessler. Showing up last minute on Sunday of Round 1, Brian rocketed to the top of the time sheets taking overall FTD for the weekend. He's been with us since then, wowing everyone with the pace of the car. Built by Paul's Automotive Engineering, the Mustang is a Ford Performance 5.0L Coyote Motor with upgraded valves, pistons and an 81mm Tial Sport Turbo. He always just smiles when someone asks about how much horsepower the car makes, but it's enough to hit 186mph on the back straight at Road Atlanta coming through Turn 9. With that kind of advantage, Brian was able to best nearly all of his competition in Round 4, finishing 2nd place overall. To make up his difference in points and win the season, he'll likely have to set FTD and a new track record at Round 5 - GMR.
Kendall Samuel 2863 Points
Though not in the hunt for the overall championship in the Unlimited class, Kendall uses every minute on track to learn how to make himself and his car faster. Consistently improving the performance of the "Slumdog," it has gone though multiple changes throughout the year. The season began in a rush to get things ready for Mid-Ohio. Since that time, the car has evolved from a modest 480 whp powerplant, to an incredible 715whp with the help of a new built motor and EFR 9180. Taking inspiration from Mike Warfield's GST L, Kendall's on a quest to build an elite machine and documents much of the work on his blog. With many of the issues resolved, he's got his eye on the prize at Speed Ring and Round 5. Let's hope everything goes according to plan.
Andy Smedegard - 2510 Points
Andy has missed 2 of the 4 Track Battle events this year. Though he is not in hunt for a championship, he's never out of contention for an overall event win. He could be play spoiler for the battle between Houghton and Faessler in round 5 by taking FTD or setting a new track record. His 2006 Evo IX RS features a 2.2L 4G63 built by RS Motors paired with a new Garrett Gen 2 GTX3076. A DHP Composites rear wing and some homemade alumalite aero up front help keep the car planted. A gifted driver, mechanic and driving instructor, Andy is not one to sit still while at a race weekend. You can find him around the paddock with his Quick Trick alignment kit working with drivers to fix issues, swapping out someone's coilovers between heats, or in grid helping the track side-crew keep things on schedule. Embodying the spirit of Gridlife, he's come through more than once for other drivers by donating random spare parts they need to get back out on track. Registered for 3 major events in the next 4 weeks (CSCS in Canada, Speed Ring, and Round 5), Andy has a lot in the works. We're wishing him the best of luck as he takes the Gridlife Evo into Ontario for his first international competition.
Tony Fuentes - 2950 Points
This year, Tony and the team at Solo Motorsports put together an incredible BMW 135i. With a Borg Warner EFR 8374, and a fuel-it port fuel kit pumping in Ignite Red 114, Tony is pushing the limits of the stock powertrain at 620whp. It's not all about power though, Tony and the team are always working on making the car faster. During Round 4, they were busy building and fitting a splitter designed Professional Awesome. The first Iteration didn't survive though. It made so much downforce that it ripped from the supports and flew off the car just after turn 12 at 100+mph. New for Round 5 should be a more solidly mounted splitter and a full set of 2-way remote coilovers from Motion Control Suspension. Despite missing our Round 3 event at Autobahn Country Club, Tony sits in the lead of Track Modified. He'll need a strong performance to fight off the barrage of contenders sitting right behind him in points. He's got big goals, aiming to shatter the overall TM class record 1:34. We'll see if all the pieces come together in the cool October air. A 1:31 might be possible.
Dan Lewis - 2927 Points
Dan is the "D" in DMN Racing. He got connected to the Gridlife Family before Gridlife was a thing, and has been developing his S2000 since 2010. One of the most consistent performers in his class, he's been at all 4 rounds of the 2017 season. Adding some additional power since 2016, his Science of Speed Supercharged S2000 is fit with custom-valved aluminum Stance Suspension XR3s. From the paddock at Mid-Ohio, Dan made a call Dave Lee of TF Works for some real time suspension support that resulted in a 3 second reduction in laptime. Not bad for adjusting some knobs on the suspension. Aero from Kognition, Voltex and Wasp keep the car planted, and some new hood vents help keep temps under control. Dan is within striking distance, but he needs to pull out all the stops in Round 5 in order to sit at the top of the podium and win the championship.
Levi Brown - 2873 Points
No one has a better time at #Gridlife than "Big Bad" Levi Brown. The "Chirpin' Third" Civic is fitted with a K20R jdm Civic swap, bolt in roll bar, and "unknown suspension." Despite few changes to the car since 2016, Levi has managed to find some additional time in the car throughout the 2017 season. He's back less than 100 points, but he'll probably need to finish close to the class leaders and secure a FWD record in order to close the gap. If you ever need to find Levi's camp in the pits, look for the giant pink tubeman running all weekend on the top of an old camper.
Michael Puglisi - 2713 Points
After missing Round 1 to get his car ready for the June festival at GMR, Michael has been playing catch-up ever since. A custom wide-body kit and Stance Suspension XR3 3-Way Adjustable Coilovers are the biggest changes since the 2016 season. Powering his car is a Apex Automotive built 4G64 and Garrett GT3076R, mated to a TRE drivetrain. Consistently a high-performer, he's been adding speed all year as he gets used to the additional aero grip. On the outside looking in, Mike needs a class record and to finish at the top of TM to be in the mix. After his performance at Road Atlanta, it's definitely a possibility.
Graham Gaylord - 3523 Points
DOMINANCE! Graham and his beloved NASTI have shown the performance potential of the Street Modified class. He's left every event with a new class record. Really this is just a battle for second place. Purchased new, the 2011 Subaru was retuned within the same week. A true DIY project he started tuning it to learn the craft. Years later, the stock head bolts had enough of this abuse so he replaced it with a closed deck engine with forged internals rated up to 750whp. A twin scroll turbo kit with a Borg Warner EFR 8374 turbo has proven a reliable setup for road racing use. Cooling and fueling issues were problems initially, but with a new unit from Setrab, trick fuel setup from Radium Engineering, and digitally controlled pump from Fuelab the car has been running great. On this car, aero modifications are still pretty basic, utilizing off the shelf components from APR Performance. His first shakedown after a bunch of changes was also his first timed event with us. He barely got the car wrapped up and ready for Mid-Ohio. By the end of the weekend it was clear that Street Modified had a real contender. He's been building pace ever since, with no signs of slowing down.
Chad McCurdy - 3023 Points
Chad is another newcomer to #Gridlife. He and his 2006 Evo IX MR have been battling with Graham all season. Though Graham somehow has found a way to win, Chad is always on his tail. An experienced autocrosser, Chad usually finds time on the track right away, and builds an early lead. In any given weekend, he and Graham will change positions on the run sheets at least a few times. Chad's built an incredible car, with the a built transmission from TRE, Wavetrac transfer case, and a 1.5 way rear diff. New for this year was a 2.2L 4G63 shortblock from BfastMotorWorx. A Driven Fabrication EFR7163 turbo kit make this car capable of producing a reliable 500whp. It would take some crazy circumstances for Chad to walk away with this seasons championship, but look for him to put all the pieces together for Round 5 and finally come away with his first win of the season.
Bradley Yonkers 2977 Points
A TrackBattle veteran, Brad had terrible luck in 2016. A blown motor in his Corvette at GMR Festival kept him sidelined for the entire season. The offseason saw a big change with the purchase of a Dinan E46 M3. Factory fitted with an ESSTuning 525hp Supercharger, he wasn't content to leave it alone. The Suspension consists of Motion Control Suspension 2-Way adjustable coilovers, and the transmission is an e36m3 5 speed. With all that power, safety was a huge concern. Brad had a rollbar fabricated by Redmist Automotive so that 6pt harnesses can be used. Aero is continuously evolving with a new GoodAero Raptor wing and custom Home Depot plywood splitter. Thoughtful weight reduction includes the removal of accessory electronics, sound deadening and installation of an OEM Carbon Fiber Roof. If things go well, Brad could be at the top of the podium for Round 5. October is boost season at GMR.
Matt DeReus - 2833 Points
Few people would disagree that if Matt added some horsepower to his E46 M3, the rest of the Street Modified class would have to settle for second place. More than anyone, Matt's been adding drivermod for years. Shaving seconds off his laptimes compared to 2016 with only making small changes to aero, it's clear that he's maximizing the potential of both car and driver. In the past few years, he's been running #Gridlife, competed in the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational, and managed to finish first in class in the 2017 One Lap of America (SSGT-1 SB - 14th overall). Using Motion Control Suspension 2-way shocks, Matt's managed to find time to stop at their shop the last couple of years before the start of Gridlife South. They must be doing something right, because he and his car manage to outperform every weekend. Being October in Michigan, round 5 may see some wet weather. If it does, "Bring your funderwear. It's Matt DeReus weather".
Charles "Spaz" Miller - 2317 Points
Spaz's first ever track day in his Evo VII was a nightmare scenario. After boiling the brakes, he "sent it" hard into a tire wall. A broken pelvis wasn't enough to keep him out of the race seat though. As soon as he was cleared to start driving again, he picked up his Evo IX and got back to work. His commitment to doing things the "right way" has positioned him at the top of championship standings in HPDE+. A member of the #Gridlife regulars and the RS Motors crew, Spaz and his Evo are an excellent example of how fast cars can be in the class. Adding Stance Suspension XR1s, and even more drivermod he's managed to separate himself from most of the field. He's definitely the heavy favorite going into Round 5. Lower track temperatures may help him finish at the top of the podium and best his existing class record putting an exclamation point on the end of a fantastic season.
Jackie Ding - 1977 Points
A former open-wheel competitor, Jackie joined the #Gridlife family at the Mid-Ohio season opener. On his time attack debut, he drove his stock and unprepped S2000 with no tire or brake upgrades to a 3rd place in class, behind a Lotus Elise and a modified 350Z. With the technical backing of BaoHouse Racing, he developed his car throughout the season, bringing in new upgrades for every event. The "stock-ish S2000" was turned into a daily-drivable track car with basic intake and exhaust, budget coilovers from a friend, upgraded brake pads and fluids, as well as eBay-sourced CR aero. Thanks to #TwerkTeamRacing’s excellent track-side support, he swept the entire HPDE+ class at Autobahn with the fastest overall time across the three layouts, while keeping himself on the podium for all the events so far this season. Excellent in front of the camera, Jackie's race recap videos are always good for a laugh.
Ron Spear - 1920 Points
Ron's first Time Attack was with Gridlife in the fall of 2016. He's always working on further developing both himself and his 2011 mustang GT. At Round 2 last year, he made it about 12 laps and snapped a rod destroying the engine. Since then, a new short block, long tube headers on it, and an exedy clutch have been installed. Because racing can get expensive, 2017 was a do or die season for him. He wanted to be in the hunt competitively if he was going to keep racing. At Gridlife Trackbattle Midwest Festival, he started the event running a 1:47.xx and ended with a 1:41.7 taking first place in HPDE+ overall by more than a second. Hoping for a repeat performance, Ron is looking to reset his record at Round 5 and come away with another event win.
Eric "Dewey" Dewitt - 1827 Points
In the pits, you can find Dewey on a pitbike riding all over the place. Wherever he is going is always Interrupted by pit stops to yell in my face in the most polite way possible. Dewey brings his energy, enthusiasm, and good vibes to every event. Starting this year in the SM class, he dropped down into HPDE+ for the remainder of the season. Because points down transfer between classes starting in HPDE+ to begin with would likely have put him neck and neck with Spaz for the championship. His build is simple, using a built EJ257 tuned by friend and fellow racer Graham Gaylord. Suspension is an old beat up set of Fortune Auto 500's in a spring rate and valving that he's yet to identify. Deleting the rear wing at Gingerman this year to shed some weight and helped down the straights but made stuff a bit sketchier at Road Atlanta through turn 12. In fact, shots of Dewey drifting through corners can be found in nearly all of the Gears and Gasoline's Gridlife Race Recap videos.