Project Grocery Getter hits the track: St. Pete race report

K-PAX Racing's turned an off-the-line Volvo C30 into a world-beating race car in 60 days. Driver Robb Holland's giving us weekly race reports on Project Grocery Getter. First race: St. Petersburg. —Ed.

With apologies to Douglas Adams "I love deadlines, I especially love the Audi R15 type whooshing sound they make as they fly by." I had planned on getting this post out after the rice, so that everyone following our Project Grocery Getter could get the results straight away.

As you can tell, that did not happen. Sunday night post race I ended up getting drunk sick and I woke up Monday morning with the worst hangover cold that I've had for a long time. So sorry this is coming to up a bit late. I'm sure you guys understand.

I always forget how much of an emotional rollercoaster pro racing can be, especially the season opener. Yeah I said emotional rollercoaster and no you didn't mistakenly click through to Oprah's website or something. Mr. Hardigree has been riding a bit lately for my excessive use of tired clichés (a two-minute minor penalty rather than a five-minute major) but in this case I'll take a bit of grief as I can't think of a more appropriate way to explain it.

Obviously for the guys at the shop, the 60+ days of non stop thrashing leading up to this weekend were a totally draining way to lead into the season. Mainly because the guys that build the cars are also the guys that go on the road to crew them as well. Four back-to-back 70-hour work weeks then load the cars, hop in the rig for the two day drive to Florida, five 15+ hour days crewing at the race then hop back in the rig for the two day drive back to our home base in Denver, CO. My boys ROCK!

Project Grocery Getter hits the track: St. Pete race report

Us drivers have an easier time. We show up the day after everything is loaded-in with our rock star sunglasses and movie star girlfriends (ok, that's only Dario, but the rest of us can try to play off of his success), sign a few autographs, schmooze a few sponsors, hop in our cars for a few hours and then jet out before the first car is loaded back on the trailers. On the surface it is just that easy.

Oakley just sent me their sweet new Inmate shades, I didn't have the hottie girlfriend with me for this race but I plan on having that rectified before Long Beach, I signed a bunch of autographs, had a blast chatting with all the execs from Volvo in attendance, and even managed to squeeze in a few laps in the racecar. But that doesn't even begin to come close to describing the insanity of my weekend.

Just before we headed out to St. Pete the team decided to do one more quick test to sort through a couple of smallish issues we were having. The plan was to do a couple dozen quick laps, make some adjustments and then hit the road. Sounds like a great plan, except coming in on the very last lap we experienced a completely freak mechanical failure that resulted in the car having to be brought back to the shop and the crew. That was supposed to have the day off, just come in for a short twelve hour day to get the car ready to go.

To make matters more interesting, complications from that cause us to miss the first practice session on Friday. At the pro-level, track time is king. We only get two 30-minute practice sessions to learn the track and get the car set up. Then a 15-minute qualifying session and then the two races. Total track time for the weekend = less than 3 hours.

Project Grocery Getter hits the track: St. Pete race report

In addition, this being the first race of the year and on a street course on less, the chance of the session being "red flagged" (stopped and possibly cut short) is extremely high. By the time we got things completely sorted out I had had a grand total of three timed laps in practice compared to most of the other drivers that were at 20 plus laps. That makes things tough, but it's why they pay me minimum wage the big bucks.

Qualifying was another adventure in and of itself. The Pirelli slicks we are now running this season need to be aggressively warmed up to get them up to operating temperatures quickly. One of the ways to do this is to brake very hard several times. It was while doing one of these hard braking efforts that I discovered that my ABS went AWOL.

If you'll remember back a few posts, I was asked why we didn't just disconnect the ABS system as real drivers didn't need such assistance. Well I am perfectly fine without ABS but when you disconnect the ABS system in a stock car you not only lose the anti-lock features but also the proportioning abilities the ABS system normally handles.

This means that brake pressure is distributed front to rear equally and so as the weight transfers to the front of the car under braking, the rear tires will lock up. To make matters worse the stock vacuum assist on the Volvo is awesome but is designed to work in conjunction with the ABS system. With that system non-operational it was impossible to get any feel for what the brakes were doing. Kinda important when you're heading towards a concrete wall at 120mph.

The stock braking system in the stock Volvo C30 is fantastic and the engineers at K-PAX Racing are some of the best around. However, we have taken and modified so many systems in the car that are designed to be integrated with each other that somewhere along the line we removed or modified something that the system is not happy about (I told them not to remove the cup holders).

Project Grocery Getter hits the track: St. Pete race report

When you start pushing these cars to their limits on race weekend is when these type of issues start rearing their heads. That is why I'm always cautious about going nuts with the aftermarket gear on my street cars, especially from venders that I don't know. I can't tell you how often I get offers for free gear to test or use on my car that I turn down because I'm not 100% sure how much effort they have put into testing to make sure that their stuff will work with my car.

The cool thing in all of this is watching our guys go to work to try to sort things through. These guys are off the charts smart. In addition, resident Stop Tech Brakes braniac, Steve Ruiz, spent a while huddled with our guys throwing out ideas to try to help us even though our issues had nothing to do with his product.

After all of the drama leading up to the main event, the races themselves were kind of anti-climatic, with one small exception. With our ABS issues still plaguing us, I couldn't mount a big charge to the front of the field as I had hoped for. In the first race we started P11 made up a few places at the start and then slotted in around P8 where there was some space run on my own so I didn't have to push my brakes too hard.

Just as I was settling into a rhythm and thinking that I was going to get through the race without needing to lean on my brakes too hard, I come around turn 8, a blind 60 mph corner leading on to the high speed back straight, to find the entire road blocked with cars. Brett Sandberg had managed to put his car into the wall at the exit of the corner and as we were all running within a few seconds of each other, the corner workers had not had time to put out the yellow flag to warn us of the incident.

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With the road blocked and no where to go I looked for the biggest gap that would give me the most distance to stop before hitting anything. This turned out to be a space between the Honda of Shea Holbrook and the wall, just slightly narrower then my car. Draining all of the luck out of my rabbits foot, horseshoe, and four leaf clover, I put a mirror on Shae, a mirror on the wall, and, at 60 mph with no ABS,….. came to a stop with my front bumper resting on Sandberg's totaled car. Total damage done to Project Grocery Getter? A light scratch in the front bumper cover. Definitely the Code Brown moment of the weekend. (What can Brown do for you?)

When one of the flag girls asked me after the race if I was scared, I said no when she asked me why I said "Because Volvo"

I lost a couple of positions extricating myself from that mess and rejoined the field in P9. With the caution period for removing the cars from the track lasting a couple dozen laps, by the time we went green again we only had a few laps remaining so I was content with bringing home our girl in P9 for a top ten finish in her maiden outing!

Race two was far less eventful but far more rewarding. World Challenge starts every race from a standing start, which is pretty bad ass if you ask me. Obviously, 50 cars (GT, GTS, and TC) all heading into turn one at the same time is just insanity. Which I guess means that I'm insane because over the years I've gotten pretty good at them. This time was no exception as I got a blinder of a start and gained 9 positions, good enough to win the Hole Shot award for most positions gained at the start.

From there I managed to battle towards the front of the TC field (still no ABS) in fifth place until, on the last lap, with only a few corners to go both GT and GTS traffic held me up allowing the Honda, that had been chasing me the whole race, to get by me, pushing me back to P6 at the finish.

Although we plan, and expect, to be battling at the front of the field for podium spots, to debut a new car that was built in 60 days with two top ten finishes is pretty satisfying. The glitches we experienced are not unusual and I'm confident that we'll have the sorted out before the next race in Long Beach two weeks from now. Hope to see you then.


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Robb Holland is a professional racecar driver with K-PAX Racing and 3Zero3 Motorsports. When he is not racing in World Challenge, Holland works as a performance driving instructor and owns a travel company that takes US clients over to Europe to drive the Nurburgring. You can follow him on his Facebook page.

Images courtesy KPAX Racing/MCWPhotography