John "Woody" Rogers
John "Woody" Rogers
5/6/11 11:28 a.m.
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Tire Rack driver Chris Harvey pointed the Project STR Mazda MX-5 550 miles south to Blytheville, Arkansas, for the car's first SCCA Pro Solo event of 2011. Co-driver John Rogers was tending to One Lap of America event duties, so Chris was on his own to dial in the car and take on the solid 12-car Street Touring R field.

Chris put the Friday test-and-tune course to good use as he made adjustments for the unique and tricky concrete surface. The car was running our tried and true Dunlop Direzza Z1 Star Spec tires, KW Variant 3 coil-overs and Hotchkis anti-roll bars, and Chris tweaked the setup to remove some persistent oversteer he encountered. He made nice gains on the clock, and his confidence was high going into Saturday’s first heat competition.

On Saturday morning, longtime SCCA national-level Solo driver Darrin Disimo put down the fastest right-side time, while Chris followed with the quickest left-side time. Darrin’s co-driver and car owner, Dave Marcus, showed flashes of speed on par with the front runners, but cone troubles pushed him back in the running order.

After the first heat, officials made an announcement: All three heats would be run on Saturday due to the strong possibility of rain during the Sunday-morning final heat. That’s all the inspiration the STR drivers needed to push extra hard in the second heat in search of every bit of time they could find on course. Darrin came out swinging, putting down the quickest clean right-side run; however, he ran into cone troubles on the left. Chris answered with a half-second improvement on the right side, but then he ran into red light troubles on his final two runs, nixing any further gains. Once the math was done, Darrin held onto a solid .658-second lead heading into the third and final heat of the event. Dave Marcus had cleaned up his first-heat cone troubles to move into third, just four-tenths off Chris’s pace.

Tensions were high late Saturday afternoon, and some class-leading competitors were observed doing rain dances as the final-heat runs began. Others were using lots of bandwidth keeping one eye on the sky and another on the weather radar as rain clouds were building to the west. The course remained dry and fast until the STR competitors were directed to the starting line. The skies were dark when the Pro Solo starting lights came down on the class leaders.

Wipers came to life and lightning flickered in the distance as they rounded the halfway point, but both Chris and Darrin charged through the finish to find time on course; Chris had closed the overall gap by two-tenths. The drivers then switched sides, only to find the lightning closing in and the sprinkles turning into a steady drizzle. Once the drivers launched onto the course, it was clear that the concrete had lost some grip and no additional gains would be found. As Darrin and Chris crossed the finish line for a second time, the skies fully opened and soaked the course. There was no hope of improvement for the remaining two runs, and Darrin claimed the event win.

The weather at the Tire Rack headquarters in South Bend, Indiana, is finally turning as we head into May. This will allow for additional tire testing and suspension work as our search for additional speed continues. Our sights are set on the next major event for Project MX5, the 2011 Tire Rack SCCA Pro Solo and National Tour in Lincoln, Nebraska, over the Memorial Day weekend. Chris and John can’t wait to have another crack at the Pro Solo Finale and National Championship event site.

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