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. Race three: Miller Motorsports Park, a little late. —Ed.
Sometimes even the most awesome job in the world is still just a job. This was one of those times.
For those of you who have been following this series from the beginning, our struggles to get all of the kinks worked out of our Volvo C30 World Challenge Touring Car (AKA Project Grocery Getter) have been well documented. From testing through the first three races we've had problems with (in no particular order) brakes, steering, power, and suspension.
I knew what I was signing up for when I signed on with K-PAX Racing. As good as this team is and as good as the Volvo platform is, on any new car build (especially a car that has not had a huge market for performance upgrades until now) there is always a period of
breaking shit development that has to occur before the car is competitive.
Now we've shown flashes of speed at St. Pete and Long Beach but it's been due more to luck (being able to lay down a clean lap before something went wrong) or circumstance (my prior experience running the Long Beach circuit) then truly having everything all sorted out. However, the guys back at the K-PAX Racing shop have been putting in 60+ hour workweeks since the start of the season in order to get the C30 working properly.
K-PAX Racing and Volvo dominated at Miller Motorsports Park. My teammate lead the first practice session and I lead the second and we were hoping to lock out the front row for Volvo and force the Hondas and VWs — our main competition in the manufactures championship — to battle it out for the remaining points.
I did have one small issue during the first practice session, when I broke a tranny mount and had to cut the session short. My team said the failure was probably due to me trying to do my best Bill Caswell, two wheel, Rally Mexico imitation, while going through the Attitudes on the backside of the track. I said I was actually trying to imitate the TWR 850 wagon BTCC car, not Bill.
With everything going so well, why am I griping about this just being a job? Well to start off with, the morning I was due to catch my flight to SLC for the race I woke up feeling a bit off. Normally I try to confine my late night adventures to days ending with the letter "y" so this isn't entirely unusual.
But as this was a race week I was off and in bed by 10 pm so something was definitely amiss. Turns out I had picked the perfect time to come down with the flu. To add insult to injury, after a basically sub-tropical winter, traditional Rocky Mountain Spring weather decided to make a return, with freezing temps and, wait for it… snow.
With a "normal" job I'd of called in sick, taken a few days off, and sat on the couch watching
Oprah Tivo'ed Aussie V8 SuperCar races. However, the occupation of racecar driver doesn't give you that option. If there is a race, you race. Period. (Because racecar driver?). As I was sitting on pre-grid, in 30-degree weather, in a racecar with no front windows and no heater, with the flu I thought, man there is nothing worse than this. As it turns out there is…
First, qualifying got snowed out. Yup, no misprint. It was snowed out. I've been racing for more than a few years and this was a first for me, but more amazing it was a first for my teammate Randy Pobst who has been racing just slightly longer than I have.
The fact that qualifying was called off was even more of a bummer for Randy in the Volvo S60 GT car with Volvo's awesome AWD system underneath him, I'm pretty sure he would have lapped the field during qualifying. I would have loved to see that time sheet:
Qualifying - Randy Pobst +1 Lap.
With Qualifying snowed out the starting grid was set based on drivers points meaning I would start 4th. Not starting on the front row as hoped but not far off and I've been getting really strong starts with these new Pirelli tires this year, so I still had hopes of being able to pick up a few spots on the run down to Turn 1.
The start of the race played out just as I'd hoped and I was able to get around the VW of Devin Cates on the initial launch. However, a bit further down the track Randy's GT car had a driveline issue and didn't move when the red lights went out and unfortunately one of the GTS cars didn't see Randy's car stalled and got a close up of Randy's trunk at 70 mph. Not as bad as the Aussie V8 crash last week, but still pretty catastrophic for the S60. Good thing it's a Volvo, right?
The resulting crash scattered all of the cars coming up from behind and I had to head off into the dirt to avoid several dozen tons of steel heading off in random directions. While coming back onto the track I felt the diff bind up oddly but didn't think much of it and as I came out of the starting scrum in 2nd place heading into turn 1, my thoughts were more focused on chasing down P1 than anything else.
Also looking in my mirror Lawson Aschenbach, the polesitter and championship leader was mired in 5th place. If the race stayed this way and I could pick off the leader I would get a huge boost in the standings. Things were looking good. So I thought at the time.
After several laps under yellow to clean up the mess from the start, the green flag flew and I could resume my pursuit of the first place car of Zitza… except I couldn't. I had been faster than Zitza throughout the weekend and had expected to be able to run him down for the lead in fairly short order, but as we completed lap 8 the opposite was occurring and he was pulling away from me by a fairly good amount. Turns out that earlier feeling I got from the diff was the internal plates jamming and refusing to lock up under acceleration, effectively giving me a one wheel drive car! No bueno.
This is the part where it becomes just a job. 35 degrees, the flu, broken racecar and 20 laps of racing to go. At that point all I wanted to do was call it good and head home. But without that option available I just had to put my head down and keep racing, spending the rest of the race doing my best impression of a rolling chicane while fending off the Honda of Aschenbach and the Mazda of Meyers. With 2 to go I got caught up in some of the back marker GTS traffic and had to cede both positions to those guys and ended up in 6th.
Tough day for me at the office. But for the team, all was not lost as my teammate was able to move up from his 5th place starting position and get past Zitza with a few laps to go and hold him off for the win! As tough as the weekend was for me the fact that K-PAX Racing was able to bring home Volvo's first pro Touring Car win ever in the US made things a bit more bearable.
Ok now that you guys have suffered through my pity party, the good news is that we have a racecar! We still have some small issues we need to sort through, but as far as we can tell our major issues are behind us and we can actually focus on taking the fight to the frontrunners.
We are also heading to Mosport International Raceway in Canada for our last two races before our 9-week mid-season break. Mosport is an old school, strap on your big set and bring your A game track. 100mph, blind corners with no run off. Just awesome. It's also a track at which I happen to hold the lap record. So with a good racecar, our awesome StopTech brakes working at their full potential, and two races at my favorite racetrack, I'm really looking to close out the first half of the season on a strong note. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.
- Project Grocery Getter hits the track: St. Pete race report
- Project Grocery Getter his the track: Long Beach race report
- How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part One
- How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part Two
- How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part Three
- How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part Four
- How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part Five
- How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part Six
- How To Turn A Grocery Getter Into A World Beater In 60 Days: Part Seven
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 of K-PAX racing/MCWPhotography.