Redemption! Salvation! Hallelujah! Oh, how good it feels! In the last dispatch about the project car, I had to confess to managing only a time of 1.38 around the formidable "Big Track" at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, Calif.
But now, 1.28:34. Oh, yeah! You read right. One minute-twenty-eight-point-three-four seconds. The little S can hold its headlights high. It did it, it cracked the 1.30 barrier. The car has been absolved! Unfortunately, I wasn't behind the wheel.
No, in order to freeze the clock that quickly with an RS-bodied 911 pushed by a humble 2.7-liter mechanically fuel-injected motor, you have to turn to someone with a lot more experience at flinging race cars about the pavement. You have to turn to a pro, say, someone like Porsche Cup champion and current Ferrari driver Cort Wagner.
Teaming with fellow Porsche Cup winner Kevin Buckler and The Racer's Group team, Wagner returned to the American Le Mans Series where, in 1999, he captured the GT Class title. Wagner's resume goes on to list wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, pole position at Le Mans, the 1999 USRRC championship and, in 2002, the Grand-Am GT crown. Safe to say, I felt pretty confident handing Wagner the keys to the project car.
Luckily, the weekend I decided to jump back into cup racing after a 3-year hiatus corresponded with the Porsche Owners Club's annual running of the Tribute to Le Mans, a 4-hour day-into-night endurance race. This celebrated event, covered by SpeedChannel and the local news agencies, not only brings out some of the best Porsche club drivers from across the country, but it gathers a number of pro racers as well.
The Tribute weekend is a 3-day extravaganza with Friday practice sessions for the cup racers and night testing for the enduro runners. Saturday opens with more practice for both groups, a qualifying sprint for the next day's cup race and, at the 6 o'clock hour, the start of the demonic sunset-into-darkness contest.
Throughout Friday's practice sessions I was still stuck in the high 1.38s. On paper, the project car had the potential to run amidst the top contenders in its V3 classification, most of whom were running 90 sec. a lap. Although the Pirelli racing slicks were holding the car to the pavement like molasses, I was apparently using the right pedal too sparingly and the center one too much.
Mind you, the 1:38 at the Big Track is nothing to be ashamed of in certain class cars, but as the S was constructed with some of the best factory and aftermarket equipment available, an injustice was clearly being done.
To put my lap times into perspective, currently the fastest V3 car in the POC is an RSR-bodied 911 with a stock 3.2-liter Motronic motor. Owned and driven by Kevin Roush of GAS Motorsports in Upland, Calif., it holds a track record of 1.27:7. That is an 11-sec. difference. It doesn't look like much in print, but by the end of a 30-min. cup race, such a deficit would amount to the S being lapped...twice.
Clearly I was still wary of testing the car's limits. How deep could I carry speed into the corners, how forgiving were the Pirellis, how well would the high rear wing keep the back end in line with the front? Two ways to find out. Either take to the track and keep ratcheting up the speed until the car's lateral forces bettered the frictional grip of the tires, in which case I would be contemplating its thresholds from the gravel pit, or I could let someone else take the car out and do the same thing.