2023 Gridlife Midwest Festival Recap
Almost two weeks ago we went to Gingerman Raceway in South Haven Michigan for Gridlife's annual Midwest Festival! If you're not familiar with Gridlife they are a track racing organization that operates mostly in the Midwest and over the past few years have branched out to other areas of the country. They primarily host two types of events: club weekends and festivals. Club weekends are akin to most track weekends, a laidback nature with a focus on time attack, wheel to wheel racing and high performance driving events, or HPDE. The festival weekends are just that, a festival. It still has time attack, wheel to wheel racing and HPDE like a club weekend but there is also drifting, large racing vendor displays, food vendors, arcade gaming, and concert music. So needless to say festival weekends can get pretty hectic, and hectic it was!
One of our sponsored drivers, Luca Barberis, campaigns his Mitsubishi Evo 9 in the time attack Street class. Street class has grown increasingly more competitive over the past few years and has gotten to the point where every weekend there is very stiff competition to get on podium. Last season Luca took home 3rd place in the season championship but this year he's aiming for that top step. After a slew of upgrades and refinements in the off season he wanted to come out of the gate swinging with Midwest Festival being his first event. Unfortunately things rarely go to plan in racing and during the week before the event his turbo exploded on the dyno as the car was getting retuned on it's new ECU setup. Luckily he was able to source a replacement locally and they were able to finish getting the car tuned in time for the event!
And then the next disaster struck. Thursday during one of his practice sessions he had an off in one of the higher speed areas of the track. Luckily there was no serious body damage done to the car but his oil cooler (which was in his passenger wheel well) ended up getting punctured!
So around 9pm he called me to see if I had any spare coolers laying around. As luck may have it, I did. I took the brand new center mount setup that was mocked up on my Evo 8 and headed to the track. His first session the on Friday was first thing in the morning, so upon arriving to the track at 1am we immediately set about tearing off his old setup, cleaning the mounds of dirt out of the engine bay, and getting the new cooler setup all installed.
We got the car all buttoned up and leak checked in the morning. He was just able to make his first session in time and able to put down just a couple of flying laps but it was enough to get him into first for Street class with a 1:37.9! Although it was a practice session it's important to get a fast time on the board so you don't get grouped into a slower run group in the future which can make it much more difficult to lay down a clean lap when it matters.
Unfortunately the weekend had more issues in store for us, and the following day in the last qualifying session the car was running lean due to what we believed was a failed ethanol content sensor. Instead of telling the ECU it was at ~80% ethanol it was saying 0%. Luckily Haltech was on site and able to get the ECU to ignore the content sensor and manually set it to 80%. Despite missing the last qualifying session Luca had managed to hold onto second place in the class going into the final session, the podium sprint.
For 2023 Gridlife has changed the format of their time attack racing for festival events. There are 2-3 practice sessions followed by 3 qualifying sessions, and the last session is called podium sprint. For the podium sprint the top 5 drivers in the class are given 2 flying laps with no traffic to lay down the best lap they can. The final placement is determined by the finishing order in the podium sprint, and if you have an off you're DQ'd. So in other words, you have to drive as good as possible at that moment in time, doesn't sound like much pressure eh?
The top five were released in order from slowest to fastest, which meant Luca was second to last to go out, with fellow competitor and friend Joe Mielke who was in first, to go last. Watching all top 5 go around from turn 11, the last turn at Gingerman, and watching the live timing from my phone I saw each of them put down their 2 flying laps. The track conditions had gotten hotter and the track had even more rubber marbles on it from the continual drifting in prior drift sessions so nobody was expecting to set a better time than their qualifying time, they just had to do better than those around them at that time. The first three drivers to go out set good times and their order changed almost every lap so the podium could be anyone's. I watched Luca go out for his first hot lap, cross the finish line, and bam! A 1:37.2, his fastest lap of the weekend, and over 2 seconds faster than the next fastest driver, putting him in first.
And then misfortune struck again! Only a couple turns into his second lap the car cut power from an ECU safety kicking in, which scrubbed any chance of going faster. Down but not out, his first lap counted so he just needed to get the car home and then all that was left was to watch Joe run and see if he could beat Luca's time. After watching Joe cross the finish line for his second lap and seeing a 1:38.x it was over, Luca pulled it off to take home the win!
We couldn't have asked for a better result, and we're keen to see more of the same from Luca throughout the rest of the season. But the weekend wasn't over. Sunday was just HPDE and since I was there with the Civic and a ticket had popped up for sale, I decided to get some more seat time to get more validation done on some of our parts.
Unfortunately lady luck still had it out for me and wasn't done yet. I got the Civic all prepped to go out for the first session, it was a warm day but not as warm as the rest of the weekend was.
Got out on track, had a few laps done and as I came around turn 8 I had a bit of understeer going into 9 and collected up some cones that had gotten knocked onto the outer edge of the track. I pulled the car off track, checked for damage and was able to make it back out for one more lap. (I came to the event without a front bumper, although looking back on it I wish I did)
The skid plate had taken a beating from the cones but nothing too serious. I wasn't going to let that stroke of bad luck get me down though, I still had an entire day of tracking ahead of me! Got ready for the next session, and got out there again. The second session was going even better, less traffic, and despite the car being slower in the heat, it was responding well. Until I was about 4-5 laps in, trying to keep up with a C7 Corvette, and when downshifting into 11 I was greeted with a loud bang and crunching gravel sound upon shifting into 3rd gear. Lucky for me 11 is also where the pit entrance starts so I was able to swing the car off into the paddock.
I wasn't entirely sure what had happened or what had failed. I checked my mirrors to make sure I wasn't dropping oil on the track and pulled off to a parking spot briefly to do an external damage assessment in case it was an axle or wheel related failure that could potentially cause more damage if I kept driving, and luckily it wasn't, because my brakes were still smoldering hot since I wasn't able to give them a cooldown lap! Within seconds there was smoking billowing from the rear brakes, but our front brake kit seemed content to handle the heat without a complaint! So I quickly hopped back in the car to limp it around the paddock to get the brakes cool enough to park the car.
The entire time the car felt terrible to drive, lurching and continually making loose gravel in a blender noises. Ouch. I had figured I'd lost a gear in the trans since it's not too uncommon of a failure with this platform when you're making good torque like our development car is (a very responsive 300wtq!).
I came back the next day with a trailer and towed the car back to the shop, pulled the trans out and apart, and here's what I was greeted with.
3rd gear is gone, almost entirely gone! So what does this mean? Well clearly we should be exploring options for a stronger 3rd and 4th gear (since 4th is also known to fail)! Stay tuned, we're excited to get the ball rolling on this as we've had multiple inquiries over the past year about making stronger gears for these cars! Thanks for taking the time to read about our weekend. If you have any questions about getting into track driving, time attack or are looking for input on car setup don't hesitate to reach out to us with your questions at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or message us on our Facebook or Instagram pages!
- Austin and the Wunderladen team