[UPDATE] SRT Takes on One Lap of America.
May 12th: Competition day Seven
Heading into the final day of the One Lap of America, Marco and John were cautiously optimistic. “We don’t have the championship clinched, so we still need a good showing on the Tire Rack’s skidpad” says Hammer. “But, Marco is a chassis engineer and dynamics testing is what he does for a living. He should do well.”
The final event is a dry skidpad where each vehicle is tested for its maximum grip level. Teh team has now put nearly 4,000 miles of hard driving on their sticky rubber so all bets are off as to what G forces can be found.
In the end, the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 clicked off a .98 G in one direction, .94 in the other to average a .96 G. That’s nearly 1.0G lateral load in an all-wheel-drive SUV that’s just subjected the same set of tires to numerous hard laps for the past eight days. The next closest class competitor only pulled a .88 G, giving Team SRT the advantage and the class victory in the 2012 One Lap of America.
“I’m very pleased with the performance of the Jeep SRT8” said Marco. “It has been an honor to demonstrate what this vehicle is capable of, especially against such difficult competition.”
After 8 days of racing, the finish was incredibly close. Team SRT had 4,500 points, just five points ahead of the second-place finisher in class. Chalk up another win in SRTs cap.
May 11th: Competition Day Six
“All we have to do is stay ahead of 2nd place” Marco said this morning. Easier said than done.
Session 1 showed this would be a tough fight. The SRT trailed by 3 seconds with the brake pedal getting spongy. Hammer and Marco bled the brakes to ensure top performance in the final, critical, afternoon track session. Turns out, competitors were having brake issues as well.
Marco strapped on his helmet and ran as hard as he could, improving by nearly 3.5 seconds over his morning session. Now, it was up to the other team to run. Based on a manually operated stopwatch, the 2 teams were nearly dead even. They packed up, heading toward South Bend without knowing who won the crucial session.
An hour down the road, Marco looked at his iPhone & shouted “we beat them! Whoa, we beat them by just 1/10th of a second!” In an incredible turn of events, despite having less power on a track that rewards it, the SRT team came through with a win. As the team gears up for the final event, the dry skidpad at Tire Rack headquarters, SRT holds the lead in class by 15 points. “If we finish 3rd or better, we clinch the win,” Hammer calculated.
If you’re near South Bend, you can watch the finale of the Tire Rack One Lap of America presented by Grassroots Motorsports Magazine in person. The first car on track is scheduled for 9am, Saturday 5/12.
May 10th: Competition Day Five
You always hear guys say “there’s never too much horsepower.” Generally, we agree. But what if the vehicle you’re racing against has more? You have to pull on your driving gloves and make something happen. Today, Team SRT just did that.
First order of the day was to set a goal, drive hard and widen the diatance between the 2nd place team. Marco set the pace from his first lap and held the lead through both road course sessions, taking the fastest time in class. Competitors may have a top-speed advantage, but Marco drove the SRT faster through the corners for a quicker lap time. The man can drive.
Finally, the teams lined up at Brainerd’s NHRA drag strip for some head to head action. With Hammer behind the wheel, the SRT finished second in class.
With just 15 points separating Team SRT from 2nd place, it’s turning into an epic battle. “Tomorrow I have to bring my A Game” says Marco. And it’s down to one of the most competitive tracks in the country: Road America.
The One Lap of America then travels back to South Bend for the final event. Tire Rack's dry skidpad sure to use up what Pirellis are left on the Jeep.
May 9th: Competition Day Five
“It’s like an entire race season in 8 days.” That’s how one of the competitors described One Lap of America today. And like most sporting seasons, the championship is earned over time. Today, the SRT team got that much closer to a victory.
“After 5 days of racing, 5 days of chipping away at the leader’s points, we did it. We took over the top spot in our class today” said an enthusiastic John Hammer. “But barely, our competition is just a handful of points behind and they’re gunning for us.” Still, racers want to be chased, instead of doing the chasing.
From an engineering standpoint, SRT’s Marco Diniz knows why the Grand Cherokee SRT8 is performing the way it is. “The 4 tires are all that keep the SRT in contact with the road and ours are showing signs of wear. We’ll rotate them at Brainerd Thursday morning.”
But first, sleep. Because after the strong showing in Nebraska, the guys traveled more than 600 miles to get to the next track in Minnesota.
While the SRT team took satisfaction in a good day, there was a reminder at the track of how dangerous motorsports can be. The team from New Jersey Motorsports Park crashed their car on course causing serious damage. Their race is done, but luckily no one was injured.
May 8th: Competition Day Four.
Racing is full of ups & downs, and today was exactly that for the SRT team. At High Plains Raceway, about an hour outside Denver, Colorado, Marco and John worked as to be crew chiefs, drivers and mechanics.
The Jeep SRT8 itself is holding up well. The only maintenance needed so far has been a quick bleed of the brakes and a tire rotation. That last one is key. “Tire management is going to be crucial for this event,” says Marco. Even though the SRT was lightened by removing most of of the interior, it still weighs in at over over two tons. Hustle it around the racetrack is using up the big sticky Pirellis in rapid fashion. One Lap rules require that each vehicle completes the event on just one set of tires.
While Marco was the fastest in class for the morning session, the tire wear had him slow the pace a bit in the afternoon to save that precious rubber. “Later this week, we go to a couple tracks notorious for using up tires” John notes. “Keeping a steady, but conservative pace is the key to winning.”
The bet paid off as the team is now just 5 points behind the class leader - a radical turbocharged 500+hp minivan. Just as important, they stretched their lead to 20 points over the third place team.
Wednesday sees the team in Hastings, Nebraska where Marco handles the road course while Hammer races the nimble autocross.
Want to watch in person? All One Lap events are open to the public. See the schedule at OneLapOfAmerica.com and cheer on the guys.
May 7th: Competition Day Three.
“There is no way a Jeep should do that.” A direct quote from a competitor in a German coupe today at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit in Oklahoma.
Everywhere the SRT team goes, responses are similar. People are surprised by the Grand Cherokee SRT8’s performance & presence.The team is constantly asked "Why would you want to race a Jeep?" The answer is easy “because it’s faster than your car," Marco and Hammer tell teh skeptics.
On top of its speed, the SRT is the perfect long distance partner, swallowing luggage, gear bags full of firesuits & helmets and even the “Danger Bike" - the folding bicycle used to get a first-hand look at the racetracks before each day of competition. Marco Diniz adds that the SRT8’s “Adaptive Damping Suspension makes it easy to soak up the bumps in the road on the highway, but gives you all the performance you could want on a racetrack.”
Today at Hallett, Diniz kept up the intensity he showed yesterday. During the morning session, he outpaced the rest of the Truck/SUV class taking top points. In the afternoon, he turned up the wick even more, but so did the other teams. The SRT took 2nd in that run, missing the victory by just 1/10th of a second. The guys are currently in 2nd place in their class - only 15 points and 8 seconds behind the leader.
May 6th: Competition Day Two
SRT engineer and veteran One Lap of America competitor Erich Heuschele called the team last night for a few words of motivation. “Dude, that’s slow,” said Erich in reference to the team's lap times from the prior day.
Want a driver to turn up the wick? Tell him he’s not trying hard enough. The words from Erich immediately hit home with Marco and Erich today outside Omaha, Nebraska. The morning session was good, but Marco admitted he left some time out on the track. In response, he and John made some adjustments. Turns out rotating tires and adjusting pressures were just the trick. In the afternoon Marco gained nearly 2 seconds a lap while running down his closest competitor, Matt Farrah of TheSmokingTire.com. The competition is phenomenal and there are some great drivers here, but this second day of competition was SRT’s turn to take charge.
Marco and John were excited to get out of the track early the day before. “We only got about 3 and a half hours of sleep last night. That’s a battle we’ll face all week - balancing the transit stages so we are fresh for track competition.”
In other classes, drivers are pushing hard and several spun out as they exceeded the limits of their tires. One team to watch for is the ambulance. the team converted an old ambulance with performance tires and a raging sound system to bring a tongue-in-cheek attitude to this years’ One Lap. They’re about the slowest thing out there, but they’re having a lot of fun.
Tonight, the guys drive to Oklahoma City and prepare for Monday at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit.
May 5th: Competition Day One
Marco and John spent tireless hours in preparation for the event. Hours were spent on perfecting the Grand Cherokee for competition. Numerous calls were spent booking rooms and planning for the trip. It's all worth it, as the two took to the open road and powered into the Tire Rack One Lap of America presented by Grassroots Motorsports Magazine.
Rookies to the event, the two were warned by several competitors - and Brock Yates JR the man running the show - to sleep whenever possible. As it turns out, the transplanted Viper chairs serve as a great place to catch a short nap. After several hours at the wheel, John elected to sleep for a few minutes, but Marco was too amped to rest. That’s fine because he drove in the first event.
Marco drove for the wet skidpad at Tire Rack headquarters and secured second place. At the South Bend Motor Speedway, John did the quarter mile oval finishing just 0.06 seconds behind the leader for another second place finish.
The team is now waiting in line for its session at Autobahn Country Club outside Joliet, Illinois. Marco is back in and a good showing is necessary as the finish sets the starting grid for tomorrow.
Several competitors have already experienced minor technical issues, but the SRT is perfroming flawlessly. Fully prepared for track competition, the Grand Cherokee has performed very well on public roads. That said, everyone has had a great attitude and is looking forward to day two of competition.
May 4th: Registration day and driver's meeting.
SRT engineer Marco Diniz and John Hammer were at the track before 8am, but registration seemed to take the entire day. But, with nearly 100 of the most diverse racing vehicles around, it takes a while to complete paperwork, tech inspections and a drivers’ meeting.
The team learned a lot this first day prior to competition. “Wow, it’s a really good bunch of people and all the cars are phenomenal,” said Marco.
The team was admitedly overwhelmed by the number of decals required. Next year, they will come prepared with a spray bottle of soapy water when applying this many stickers.
After scoping out the competition, Marco added “It’s not going to be a cakewalk.” The team met two of three other teams in their class - all have very well prepared vehicles and seasoned drivers. With the competition kicking off on Saturday, it's time to put game faces on.
The competition begins first thing in the morning. Marco goes first on the wet skid pad. John will take the helm at South Bend Motor Speedway, then Marco hops back in the driver's seat back in at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois.