Dennis Healy: My 2018 Journey to the SCCA Solo National Championship

October 4, 2018 4:17 pm

By: DENNIS HEALY

STEEDA EQUIPPED 2015 MUSTANG PLACES 2ND AT SCCA SOLO NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP COMPETING AGAINST GM FACTORY PERFORMANCE DRIVING TEAM.

It’s been a few weeks since getting back from Lincoln, NE for the SCCA CAM Invitational and SCCA Solo National Championship events, but my mind and body are only now returning to some semblance of normalcy. What a year it was!

Prior to competing of course, one must first start the journey from home. For me, that consisted of a 1650 mile haul. In my racecar. Without cruise control. Or A/C. Needless to say, I didn’t arrive fresh and ready to go by the time I rolled onto the site early Friday evening! Of course, not being my first rodeo (this is the 10th time I’ve attended), and having a LOT of time on the road to create a mental inventory and checklist of things to do, the car was unpacked and ready to go with daylight to spare. Sometimes just getting here feels like a competition in and of itself, so arriving relatively unscathed was a cause for celebration sharing a few beers with my co-driver, Jim Boller.

Saturday morning kicked off the first day of competition in the SCCA CAM Invitational. 2018 marked the 5th time this event has been held, and the first time a waiting list was necessary as (100) competitors across (3) classes gathered from all over the country to fight for the win. Jim and I assumed our position amongst the (49) CAM-C entrants in grid, and bolted on the big BFGoodrich rubber for class competition, as conditions were sunny, warm and grippy at the “concrete beach” of Lincoln Airpark. After (3) morning runs, the battle was tight throughout. I slotted myself comfortably into 4th spot with a time of 38.366, just 0.014 back from 3rd and 0.148 out of the top spot. In the afternoon, the leader and I both came out of the box on our first runs with times that bested our morning effort, while others near the top could not match their times.

Lincoln has a unique surface that can cause degraded grip due to OPR (other people’s rubber) and seam sealer build-up on tires, and the increased heat of the afternoon accelerated this issue. With a fast, clean run of 38.212 already in the books, I really went for it on my final one – and while the data showed that I was definitely ahead by a few tenths halfway through, missing the brakes (twice!) in a heavy braking zone and plowing through a cone wall ended any chance of leapfrogging the leader and retaining my title from last season. When the dust settled and top runs from the morning and afternoon combined, I ended up with a time of 76.578, good enough for 2nd, 0.192 ahead of 3rd and 0.363 behind the winner, Brandon Porambo (GT350R).

Sunday morning wiped the slate clean, as all competitors were given an additional (3) runs in hopes that a fast effort would be quick enough to qualify for one of the (16) spots in the Challenge. A crisp morning in the 50s welcomed us, and a quick glance at the weather forecast and radar imagery prior to starting was enough to convince me that a tire change to Bridgestone was warranted, should conditions degrade (since no tire changes were permitted once competition began).

Fastest run from the weekend:

During qualifying, the surface remained dry, and I actually found a faster time (38.037), to slot myself into the 3rd qualifying position, 0.036 behind 2nd and 0.062 from 1st. Immediately before the Challenge bracket commenced, the heavens opened up and wet conditions persisted throughout. Times were a good 5-6 seconds slower, and the challenge became a battle of consistency and adapting to changing conditions. With times that were at/near the top in each round, I continued to advance through the bracket, all the way into the final. However, an ill-timed slalom coupled with a blown braking zone was enough time given back to end up on the wrong end of the match-up, and I had to settle once again for the 2nd spot behind another GT350R driver, Chris Cox.

With the weekend of competition behind me, the biggest event of the year had finally arrived; it was time to go for broke at the 45th annual SCCA Solo National Championship! This year’s event set a record, with (1400) entrants across (76) classes registered. Greeting us in CAM-C was a field of (48) drivers, including many from the weekend and top-tier entrants from the GM Performance driving team, as well as former champions from several other classes. The battle was going to be ruthless, no doubt. Excitement built at the chance to start on the West course, as it was wide open and hinted at the chance to run some of it in 3rd gear with several butt-puckering, thread-the-needle elements.

Day #1 Run:

Little did any of us know that there would be a big surprise waiting for us Tuesday morning – Mother Nature decided to get in on the action, and torment us with torrential rain that would not let up during our entire run group. So much for high speeds – all of us struggled for grip, and each run became a battle of attrition to stop bleeding time as both front and back ends of the car would alternate between under- and oversteer. Of course, having cut my teeth for over a decade on the frequently wet courses of the Pacific Northwest, I wasn’t phased by the conditions – that is, until I quickly found out on my first run that even the Bridgestone reaches an unhappy place and can’t evacuate several inches of standing water EVERYWHERE. As luck would have it though, a local friend and fellow Mustang driver from another class (James Paulson) had an excellent torrential weather Michelin tire setup that he leant me, and both Jim and I found immense time (8 and 4 seconds, respectively) on our 2nd runs to put ourselves near the top – well, Jim did anyway.

I’d have been leading, if not for a massive spin through the finish, taking out a cone in the process! In even worse conditions on my 3rd run, I managed to keep the front end pointed straight, slowing down by a few tenths (but remaining clean), with a time of 74.177 to put myself into – you guessed it – 2nd spot, 0.326 ahead of 3rd but a discouraging 0.804 behind the leader, GM driver Shaun Bailey in a 2019 2.0T Camaro. Jim also managed to put himself solidly into the trophies, holding down the 8th spot. It goes without saying, but having wider tires and more power definitely didn’t help on a day like this.

These pictures say a thousand words about the conditions:

Moving along to the second day, conditions had improved substantially by the time our run group was up. While a little on the cooler side, there was no rain falling and the surface was dry – a stark contrast to what we endured previously. My first run of 69.700 was the fastest in class out of the box, and put me atop the overall standings. However, fighting to find the right line led to less than ideal exits on a number of key high-speed elements that were essential to get right to find fast times, and I slipped back to the all-too-familiar 2nd spot by the time competition had completed, sandwiched between GM’s top drivers (Bailey and Alexander Doss), while Jim confirmed his great driving from the first day to finish up with a trophy in the 13th position.

Day #2 Run:

Much improved conditions:

Dennis Healy’s 2018 SCCA Championship Tour Results

Crows Landing Pro Solo: 1st
California CAM Challenge: 2nd
Packwood Championship Tour: 2nd
Packwood Pro Solo: 2nd
CAM Invitational: 2nd
CAM Invitational CAM-C Challenge: 2nd
Solo National Championships: 2nd

So there we have it. A hard-fought battle against car and drivers alike throughout the season reached its zenith in a thrilling conclusion. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the key role Steeda played in ensuring success this year – whether it was a part from their comprehensive catalog to help improve grip, to alleviate an unexpected issue with blow-by, or to just be a sounding board for setup ideas, Dario, Glen, Brandon, Scott and the rest of the crew could always be counted on to come through when I needed them most, and I’m proud to call myself a part of the team.

As exciting as 2018 was, plans have already been set in motion to make 2019 even bigger and better. More power, less weight, and an expanded schedule to include some Optima Ultimate Street Association events are just a taste of what’s to come.

 

Dennis Healy’s Steeda Upgrades: