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. This week they rack up their first win. —Ed.
I'm much better complaining then I am celebrating, because from the start of the season I've had no problem writing epic novels on all of the struggles we've had but now that we've tasted success I apparently have one of the most biblical case of writers block ever. Yes, you did read that right. Success.
Just over eight months to the day since Project Grocery Getter was green lighted, we won. OK, won maybe isn't quite the right word. We DOMINATED rounds seven and eight of the Pirelli World Challenge Championships at Mid Ohio.
You guys don't know how good it feels to say that. Up to this point we've shown flashes of speed but it's always been fleeting and tempered by the knowledge that it was just a brief downhill respite on the stupid long mountain we knew we still had left to climb. However, with a ten-week break in the season, the K-PAX Racing guys knew that this was their chance to take a big swing at getting PGG totally sorted and up to speed and boy did they.
Consider this, the ten weeks we had to work on PGG during the break, is two weeks longer than we had to build her in the first place. Those for you who've been following this series from the start, you know exactly how much these K-PAX Racing guys can get done in that period of time.
Going into the break we had a jumbo-sized list of issues we needed to deal with. At the very top of it was sorting through the ECU. I'm sure you guys have all dealt with issues with your computers crashing, freezing and well just randomly freaking out (or you have a Mac). You know how much that stuff drives you nuts? Well close your eyes and imagine you're in Canada at Mosport International Raceway one of your favorite tracks.
You hold the lap record here. It's a beautiful day, a perfect day for racing actually. You're sitting in pre-grid getting ready to go out on track after a season best fifth place qualifying effort. You're only 0:00.6 off of first knowing that you have a great shot at winning. Imagine that they call all of the cars to grid and the cars start to roll out taking their places along side the smokin' hot Canadian flag girls lining the grid.
Now image that your f#*^king car won't start and they make you go to pit lane where you have to take the green after the entire frikin' field goes past!
So now you see why the ECU programming was at the top of our list. In addition to the starting issues we also had some issues with the car going into a limp mode under certain full throttle conditions. With all of that in mind the team headed to our test track, High Plains Raceway (HPR), where we spent two days testing. The first day we spent trying to replicate the problems so we could record them with the computer we had strapped on board.
Once our engineers could see the problems in data they could get into the ECU code and see where the issues were. The goal was to strip as many lines of code out of the programming as we could for things that were vital in the streetcar but totally unnecessary in the racecar and could potentially cause issues. After that was accomplished, the team headed back to HPR where the second eight-hour test day was spent (in 100 degree weather) running laps with one of our engineers strapped into the passenger seat so that he could see any remaining issues and correct them in real time.
Not really sure how he managed to stare at the computer screen and write code while I was banging off curbs at 100mph without puking his guts out in my car but somehow he managed. Those guys are rockstars.
Anyways, eventually we got the ECU straightened out along with a few other issues and loaded everything up and headed for Mid Ohio. As much as the team was confident that the work we had done was a huge step forward, until you actually get out on track with the competition you really don't know exactly where you stand. To add a bit more pressure to the weekend acting Volvo VP of Marketing John Maloney and Volvo CFO Tim Fissinger decided to grace us with their presences along with members of the Volvo and C30 clubs. We decided not to disappoint.
In the first qualifying session of the weekend my teammate took the pole and I was starting just behind him on the second row having qualified 3rd. Knowing that standing starts that we do in the Pirelli World Challenge are one of my strong points I was really looking forward to a good race. However, the gods had other plans.
A massive crash at the start of the race between a stalled Camaro and a flying Mitsubishi caused havoc with the front of the TC field, boxing my teammate in and causing me to have to lift to get through the carnage. The result was that I only was able to retain 3rd place but behind the Honda of Championship leader Aschenbach and the VW of Ron Zitza.
On the restart, after the cleanup, I managed to get around Zitza and was closing in quickly on Aschenbach. Two laps later I was able to get around him going into a section of the track known as "Madness". Unfortunately as we were going over the crest of the hill, Aschenbach tapped my rear bumper, got me lose and was able to take the position back.
That really fired me up and after a second yellow, I got another run on Aschenbach and this time cleared him and got a gap. It was just enough to stay in front of him but Aschenbach hasn't won multiple pro championships for nothing. So I spent the remaining laps with a Honda firmly attached to my rear bumper. However, that was a close to me as he got and one last yellow sealed the deal.
Grocery Getter on the top step of the podium! Let me tell you there is no better smell in the world than sweat and champers (conversely there's no worse smell in the world than day old sweat and old champagne when you forget your race suit in the trailer overnight. Sorry guys). To top it off my teammate, former Champ Car driver Alex Figge was, able to bring home the first win for the new S60 car in GT. Volvo domination. The team was beyond pumped, Volvo suits were stocked, and all of the Volvo club guys were out of their minds. It was a good day. But the weekend wasn't over yet.
Qualifying for the second race was a disaster. Heavy rain overnight turned to light rain in the morning. Usually conditions I love but the rear wheel drive GST cars that run in the same qualifying session as us didn't share my enthusiasm. Unable to lay the power down on exit, most of the GST cars were substantially slower than the front wheel drive Touring Cars. Even leaving big gaps behind the GST cars didn't help and every one of my flying laps ended up being blocked by slower GST traffic. My final lap, which would have been quick enough for at least the front row, if not pole, was cut short when the red flag came out for a car that had rolled at the end of the back straight. All of this left me mired in 6th place, not the best place to start the race if you're looking to win.
But this was our weekend and on the start I did what I do best, moving up into 2nd place and on the bumper of my teammate by turn 5 of the first lap (a move which earned me the award for best standing start of the race)! From there it was Volvo C30's 1 - 2 the remainder of the race as I managed to fight off the challenges of the VW of Tristan Herbert and then later my old nemesis Aschenbach, setting a new Mid Ohio track record in the process!
It was almost the perfect weekend for the team. However on the last lap of the GT race, Alex got taken out by one of the Corvettes while leading, ending what would have been a 1st – 3rd place finish for the S60's in GT (and put Volvos on four steps of the podium). As it was, Randy Pobst, in the other S60, was able to get on to the podium in 3rd. Not to shabby for Volvo.
Now things get interesting. We've got great cars and with our strong finishes this weekend we are now only just 14 points behind Honda for the Manufacturers Championship with just 4 races to go. It's time for a big push to close that gap.
Stay tuned and watch what happens "When Volvo's Attack".
- Project Grocery Getter hits the track: St. Pete race report
- Project Grocery Getter his the track: Long Beach race report
- Project Grocery Getter his the track: Miller Motorsports Park 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.