This past weekend I took a drive down south just under 8 hours with Joe to attend the PNB in White Pine, Tennessee. The event as a whole saw a number of changes this year. They decided to go with a 4 day format to allow for people to get some sleep at night. They offered the 24 hours of practice from 6am Thursday through 6am Friday but with how the track was watered it was closer to 18 hours of available track time. Final entry count was down considerably this year with 595 entries consisting of 280 drivers. This compared to last years 895 entries and 426 drivers. So in reality 146 people less than last year. I attribute the majority of that to the extra day as it adds an extra vacation day as well as an extra hotel night and many just can’t do that. I want to briefly discuss my thoughts on this years race before going into my results.
When I think of the PNB there are a number of things that come to mind.
-The biggest Air (highest and furthest) of any race.
-24 hours of practice, Close to 24 hours of qualifying. You have to schedule your sleep and it’s a true test of man and machine.
-Biggest of big track with 45-50+ second lap times.
-Majority of the jumps being wood
These things are synonymous with the PNB in my eyes. This year they decided to change a lot of that. They went with a majority of dirt jumps. The lap times were under 40 seconds as they removed a lane from the very back of the track. There were no huge jumps and no wall this year. Also with the extra day, while it was nice to get sleep it also too away some of the strategy and the true test this event had been known to be. Also they for some reason decided to water at 4am after we decided to come back at 3:30 to get some final practice. So the track was closed from 4-5:30 with no advance warning. So I was a bit disappointed with how things went this year in those regards.
In the end though the event still went well and this year saw more top drivers and competition in attendance than ever before. I chose to run my standard 5 classes for this event and compete for the Iron Man award. I ran my Nitro buggy and truggy, electric buggy and truggy, and 4×4 Short Course truck. The first qualifiers this year were a 10 minute qualifier and the 2nd and 3rd qualifier were 5 minute races. Overall they took your top 2 of 3 qual points and any tiebreaker was all 3 rounds combined.
Qualifying for me wasn’t my best results i’ve ever accomplished. While I was able to TQ Etruggy and Short Course I would be mediocre in my primary 3 classes. In nitro truggy my primary struggle was just feeling like I didn’t have enough acceleration. Come main time I decided to open up my throttle end point a bit further and that fixed the issue. In the buggy classes I would have decent runs but in reality I just wasn’t feeling at one with the track and was making a few to many mistakes. Overall I would qualify 5th in Ebuggy, 7th in Nitro buggy, and 8th in Nitro truggy.
Main day would be a long day! We fortunately were able to sleep in a little even though they started mains at 6am. We would arrive to the track a bit after 9am and would finish the day a little after 1am Monday morning. The first main up was actually the Pro Nitro buggy main. They did this to ensure there were still many people there and that they would be able to sit in the stands and enjoy the show! I though this was a great idea and it worked well in my opinion. The grip level was the highest it’s been and I had chosen to run AKA SSLW double downs. They felt pretty good overall and my car was overall good though it was a little to soft on the shock oils which resulted in a bit to much roll at times when I had lots of grip. I would remain with the lead pack at the start which was the goal. I was able to pick off a driver here and there as they crashed and for most of the 30 minute main found myself battling it out for the 4-6 positions. On lap 15 I briefly got by a bunch as they crashed and moved into 2nd for 3 laps before giving it up and falling back to 5th. The battle for 2-5 was very strong for the mid part of the race. On lap 25 I moved into 4th and got into a battle with Cavalieri. He was faster than I was for the most part but was making mistakes and on lap 37 I got by him in the pits into 3rd place. My pit guys Matt on the gun and Jared on the pickup were super fast and gained me a position and I held him off for the remainder of the 45 laps to take the top 3 podium spot! Not bad from 7th on the grid and the level of competition!
After that I had to marshal, race, marshal, race, marshal, break, race, marshal. It was a busy schedule with triple A’s on tap for the E-classes. Next was Etruggy followed by 4×4 SC. Both races were pretty straight forward victories for me. In short course I was able to get down to a 40.8 lap time which I did 3 times during the run. This was about 2 seconds off the top 1/8th times so I was pretty happy with that. In Ebuggy A1 I held position and again moved up upon others crashing. By the 12th lap I found myself in 2nd and on good pace but I started to get a bit nervous and lost some smoothness. Cavalieri caught back up to me and put a hard pass on me after the back double and as I crashed he kept going which demoted me to 3rd but still a pretty solid A1.
Next up was the Nitro truggy main. Again they chose to run us earlier in the program to have more people there to watch the show. I was starting a pretty disappointing 8th in this one as usually this is my best class. My NT48.3 felt good in the warmup laps though and I was hoping to make a run for the top. I did as I had done in every main so far and kept it clean to start and stayed with the lead pack as much as possible. I moved up one position at a time and by lap 21 I made the pass on teammate Joe into 3rd place. It took me a little while to get my groove and the top two had pretty much gotten away and there wasn’t much chance for me to catch up without them giving some of it back. So I just held a strong 3rd position and did my best to run consistent laps. I was able to put in a stretch of 10 consecutive 38 second laps between my last pitstops and come home with another 3rd place podium!
Next we ran through the A2’s of the electric portion of the program. In Etruggy and Short Course I was able to complete the victory in the A2’s and take home the checkered flag. In Short course I was able to improve the fast lap down to a 40.59 so I was pretty happy with that!
Ebuggy A2 came next and this was one of the best races of my life with the level of competition here. Starting on the 5 position I quickly moved by Joe into 4th on the inverted whoops section and put major pressure on Cav and got by him on the first lap as well and into 3rd coming across the line for the first time. By lap 3 I had managed to take the lead and I just pulled away from the field. My AKA SSLW Double Downs were easy to drive and the conditions were perfect for them. I had 99.214% consistency for the race with 14 of my 16 laps being 38’s. I came home with the win which set up a 3 way battle in A3 for the overall victory.
So Ebuggy A3 would finish out the event this year at just after 1am. I had another solid start and moved into 3rd by lap 3. Maifield from pole was taking off in this one so it was between me and Phend for the overall it seemed. I was able to catch up to him as he made a mistake and on lap 7 I overshot the back double a bit and even though I landed on the binders I don’t use a lot of braking force and unfortunately I landed into Phend sending him tumbling. I immediately stopped and while Phend landed on his tires here came Joe and after that mayhem ensued over the next jump and Phend flew off the track and Joe went out way wide and I tried to dodge them and slithered by into 2nd which I would hold until the end of the race and the 1st and 2nd finish would give me 1st overall in the class!
Overall the results on main day were very good. 2 x TQ, 3 x Victory, 2 x 3rd place. Met quite a few new people and was able to do my best all weekend!
Next up is Silver State so long as Child #4 doesn’t decide to come late. 🙂
This past week I travel across the pacific to Xiamen, China, which is just inside of Taiwan on the Chinese eastern coast. This was the same venue that held the 2017 IFMAR Worlds for 1/10th EP however the layout was reconstructed to full size and felt good sized in the 33-35 second a lap range. Upon arrival on Thursday early AM (Around 2am to the hotel), I expected a relaxing Thursday to get acclimated. But I found out that there was practice if the rain held off. Supposedly there had been open practice since maybe Sunday and some had been there since then, although Wednesday was rained out. Well we arrived to the track shortly after 7am on Thursday and I got my car ready and glued up a set of tires and got a battery pack in with my ebuggy. I prepared my Nitro after that but the rains came and washed away the rest of the day. We went out and had a nice dinner and I got to try some new foods (which was a daily theme!)
Friday morning brought nicer weather and 3 rounds of controlled practice were on tap and they would take your fastest 3 consecutive laps from any of the rounds to seed into the qualifiers on Saturday. I was pretty set on sticking with AKA Impacts in SSLW compound throughout the day, though I did try some double downs as well to compare. The grip was a bit inconsistent to start as they had originally sugar watered the track but the rains took some of it away. Also on Friday there were some wetter sections of the track and then drier. So you would be a bit loose in the dry then hit a wet patch and have a bit higher grip. The track had some natural bumps in it from the rolling process I assume, nothing extreme by any means but you could really see the suspension work on the front straight for instance. I watched my teammate Jonathan Yeung’s car go down the straight and saw how awesome it soaked up the bumps and just in general how good his car looked on the track. I went over to them after the run to investigate.
Turns out they had been doing a lot of testing at home on rougher tracks and had come up with a pretty unique set-up to what I had been driving. I decided to go with it and spent the entire time between rounds copying their set-up to give it a try. It was extremely soft on the bench. It felt probably 200-300 cst lighter than anything I would ever run. But I wanted to give it a try and I was pretty surprised. While it was really soft with (4×1.9 + 4×1.4) pistons (They actually had 4×2.0 vs. the 1.9 I went with even) It surprisingly stayed very level and while it did transfer a lot of weight to the rear and squatted, it was still able to hold it’s direction and not dump/loop out in corner exits. Now as the grip started to come up through qualifying and into the main this set-up got to soft for me and I elected to go back to my standard shock set-up for the main though I primarily kept their geometries of the rest of the set-up. Overall I think their set-up is something I absolutely want to try more on looser and bumpier track, though I think I would need some revisions for medium grip and for sure for higher. But still it was fun to try something new and be successful with it. In the end of practice I was able to be the top seed into qualifications in both Nitro and E-buggy.
Qualifying day was met with the warmest temperatures of the week at around 78*F for a high. The track began to dry out more and started looser perhaps but got a slight groove in sections by the end of the day. Some jump faces also began to get some holes which made lining up for jumps more important. In Q1 of Nitro buggy I went out and put in a clean run that I was pleased with and thought would be able to hold up through qualifying. They were doing rocket round for some reason and so I was pretty secure in my Q1 time. For Q2 and Q3 I tried some other set-up changes as I felt I needed to keep thickening up my set-up with the grip coming up a little. I made a number of mistakes in my runs and wasn’t able to win out any of the final 2 runs but my Q1 time held up for the overall TQ. In E-buggy it was just pretty good all weekend. I copied a lot of the geometry changes from the Young’s set-up but left my standard 7-7-5 diffs and my 4×1.9 shock package on. I was able to take the front double double jump section as a triple single which may have got me .2-.5 second a lap when done cleanly as well. In the end I would TQ each run and take the overall TQ in Ebuggy as well.
Sunday was main days and being TQ in nitro buggy allowed me to be the only one to seed into the A-main directly with the rest of the field needing to navigate the ladder format. This put all of my racing at the end of the day which included triple E-buggy mains, a 10 minute solo practice session for Nitro and the 1 hour Nitro buggy final. One thing they had which was nice overall was they provided marshals from the factory to take care of those duties all weekend. So we didn’t have to marshal which was a blessing for main day for sure. The downside was they weren’t the best marshals and so not crashing was pretty paramount.
E-buggy A1 was up first and my EB48.4 kept doing what it had been doing. I quickly pulled away from the field doing my 3-1 front section and just put in a solid run. I had one crash mid race but already had amassed a nice lead and got the victory. The mains were only 5 minutes each so it was like a heads up qualifier in a way. In A2 less than an hour later it was much the same although this time the pack stayed a bit closer. Still I was able to run clean this time and win by around 7 seconds and take the championship.
Next I was given the opportunity for up to 10 minutes of free practice with my Nitro buggy as the rest of the guys had just finished their 30min semi-finals. I utilized the time just to be sure everything was running smoothly and that my Soft long wear impacts felt decent for the conditions. All things seemed good and so I pulled off after about 4 minutes. Then I decided to just go over my NB instead of run A3 of e-buggy to be sure I was ready for the hour long final.
The hour long final was the final race of the day. I would start on pole and at first just a few corners in I thought it should be a pretty straight forward affair as P2 crashed and fell to 4th. But Yusuke Suguira from Japan was pretty dialed in and within a few minutes had caught up to me. My strategy for the hour final was a clean run and drive within my limits. Also I realized pretty early on that I missed my tune slightly and it was a little lean so I also didn’t want to push harder than I had to for fear of heating up the engine even more. Well Yusuke tried to put a pass on me in the top right but ended up crashing me, so he waited and let me go and a few corners later he made a mistake. This gave me a slight cushion again but soon thereafter he caught back up. Again though he would make a mistake as soon as he got up to me. I knew he was driving harder than I so I just hoped my strategy would work by keeping it ‘slow and steady’ and hitting my marks. After the first stop I also knew I would be doing at least one less pit stop than he so I calculated those 6 seconds or so into my advantage. About halfway through the main he made a few extra mistakes and soon I was up to a 3/4 a lap lead or so with a couple of stops remaining. After the final pit stop I was about 25 seconds up and decided I wanted to try to put a lap on the field. So during that final stretch I picked up my pace and drove a bit harder. I made up time and soon was within 2 seconds of a lap with about 2 minutes to go and they elected to do a splash and go which gave me the lap lead and secured the victory.
Overall I had a great time at the event. I was very blessed to be able to go and attend and it’s pretty awesome to have a prize purse for the event. They paid the entire A-main and even the top 10 drivers from the China/Hong Kong/Taiwan region separately as well. This is a yearly event for them this time of year and hopefully I will be able to make it back to compete again next year.
Also a huge thank you to Tommy Fung and Kent Sung for the hospitality and to Jonathan and Carson Yeung for sharing their set-up that they have been working really hard on.
Next up it’s psycho time at the Psycho Nitro Blast. I have 5 cars to get prepared for the grueling, now 4 day event. Looking forward to it as always!