Decisions for 2020 – Back to Basics

The plan for 2020 is to get a lot more track time. I need to work on my technique. Over the last two years with my GTB1, I have only been driving practice sessions, and races. I am looking to see if I can find the holy grail, a completely race ready car that is streetable, probably too much to ask. I want to be able to drive down to Harris Hill, COTA, Driveway, MSR Houston, or Cresson do DE’s or work with an instructor, then drop off the car to do an arrive/drive for long distance races. I want something that has a clear class definition with all of the sanctioning bodies (SCCA, NASA, WRL, AER). Additionally, I am interested in learning the racecraft associated with running in a Spec class. The GTB1 class I have been running with in PCA is a modified class, and can feel a bit like an arms race.

So far my research has led me to two possible choices, which have similar price points, and are philosophically aligned to my goals: Spec MX-5, and Spec E46. Both have reasonable price points both in terms of the up-front cost, and TCO. Both are well defined, with lots of cars on the market. So part of the decision will be build vs buy. I am leaning toward my previous approach which was to buy something proven.

Along side the desire to go Spec racing, and have a streetable track car, I am also going to pursue renting a seat in a couple different classes within the SRO, or possibly even the upcoming Creventic 24hour race here in Austin. There seem to be a number of seats available in TC, TCR, or GT4 cars. I am interested in learning how to drive a touring car, there might be a good opportunity for this, more to come on this topic at a later date.

The GT4 program that Danny, and I were planning is not going to happen, we could not close the funding gap, which was significant. Here are a few stats on what we were able to accomplish between Jun, and Oct of this year. We prospected over 125 opportunities, of that number we disqualified 35 (with the goal of: “get to no, fast”). We closed contracts with 10 partners, and have an additional 3 contracts pending, we progressed 17 deals into contract/negotiation, and built a number of very strong partnerships along the way. These partnership will bear fruit over the course of 2020.

Our goal was a 1-2% conversation rate on 1000 opportunities, at just slightly over 10% of the total opportunities prospected our conversion rate was 12.5%, not too bad. The real challenge was prioritization. I have a full-time job, a start-up, a family, racing, and my health. Adding the sponsorship/partnership activity on top of all that was very challenging from a time management perspective. I am happy with what we accomplished, and learned a lot about the business side of motorsports. I plan to continue down a more focused path for 2020.

Keeping Focused, and Balanced

Family, work, racing, not necessarily always in that order, very hard to keep everything in balance. Over the last few weeks, I have prioritized getting ready for Road America, my race there is coming up over the Labor Day weekend, really looking forward to it. It’s been pretty tough to put it at the top of the list with all of the other responsibilities, and other activities I have going.

I had the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on this topic with Ross Bentley on his incredible speed secrets podcast this week.

Work has become increasingly demanding requiring more frequent travel, the partnership, sponsorship component of preparing for 2020 is a significant time investment, and the startup is gaining real traction with some exciting opportunities on the horizon. The near constant question I get is “when do you sleep?” Everything is a compromise.

I start by taking care of myself first, having a routine is the thing that helps me most, I guess I am a creature of habit, but breakfast, and training is how I start my day, when I am running, cycling, or swimming, I am able to organize my thoughts, and build a game plan for the day, it helps me get prepared, and regulates my mood, and anxiety level.

I have to focus on work through out the day, once I am home in the late afternoon, I make an effort to turn off technology, and spend time with my family, playing with the boys, making dinner, I love that we always sit down to have dinner together, and getting everybody ready for bed. Once the boys are in bed, I am able to have dedicated time for the startup, partnership, and work in the sim. On the weekends, time with my family is the priority, there are few opportunities during the afternoon, and evening to make progress on the startup, or work in on Road America.

Here is my method for working in iRacing, I am a big fan of data, so Virtual Racing School is a huge asset, I have a subscription that allows me to look at all of the data packs, and compare my times, with their excellent analytical tools. Additionally, I work with David Murry, and his webinars, he has a turn by turn breakdown of Road America that is incredibly detailed. I attempt to use the same approach for working in the sim, as I use when actually at the track, I take notes, look at video, and data, and then create a checklist of items to work on. This approach helps me feel prepared, and confident coming into the weekend. In addition to all of this preparation I have made it a goal for the season to work with a coach each weekend. I will be working with David on Friday, and Tom O’Gorman on Saturday.

A quick update on the partnership, and startup front, I was able to spend some time this week with Joe Speed from ADLink Technology, he has graciously offer the use of one of the NVIDIA Jetson Xavier DevKits, and Amit Goel from NVIDIA’s embedded team sent over a carrier, this is really going to accelerate the development of the models that we are running in the car.

#soufiyard

As usual things are pretty busy, was able to take a small break, and get to the track this last Friday night. Edge Addicts runs an awesome event called COTA Under the Lights that starts at 3pm, and runs until 11pm. It got dark around 9pm, and both Danny, and I were able to get a session in the dark, turn 7 is epic. We made some good memories!

My old computer died, need one to get ready for Road America. So I finally decided to upgrade, got some pretty good kit, makes for a nice workstation, and looks rad with blinkenlights too.

I have always been a big fan of AMD, went with a Threadripper 2, and a newer NVIDIA card, I usually try to buy the previous generation, or mid-level spec, and give myself room to upgrade. This machine has 32-core, and 32GB of memory with a 2070RTX. I can expand up to 128GB of memory, and add another 2070 in the future if I decide to do some more development outside of the cloud.

We continue to work on proposals for partnerships, hope to start closing the gap by the end of this month, will hopefully be able to share more soon on that front. Training has been going really well, stepped up to 4-days per week about a month ago, and have already dropped another 10Lbs.

Current Focus – GT4 2020

Over the past couple weeks I have been working on building a GT4 program with Danny Soufi for the 2020 season. We plan to run gt4america with support from Gradient Racing. I have been working together with Danny, Ashley, and many others on getting on sponsorship program together, thus far we have had really positive feedback. I can see a couple deals on the horizon, that will allow us to run a successful season. The sponsorship program we are structuring is unique in that we are including back-end marketing analytics integration with Segment. It is a ton of work, and challenging to keep everything balanced, with my day job, training routine, and family commitments. I am using HubSpot to keep track of all the deals, leads, set tasks, and follow-ups, and LinkedIn Sales Navigator to find, and interact with prospects.

I have also been continuing work on the startup, recently visited Detroit, and attended the excellent IPG local open house, was able to interact with their customers, and partners, and garner their support for my endeavors of commercializing. Very exciting to have them onboard as a partner, looking forward to our next steps.

The next race that I am preparing for is a little far away Road America over Labor Day, I was sitting first nationally in GTB1 after Mid-Ohio, but have slipped down to 3rd having not participated at Watkins Glen, and will likely drop back further with VIR this weekend. Going to stay focused on my training program, and preparation routine, the goal is to take the Triple Trofeo.

Continued Progress

As is always the case, I have a lot going on, here is the latest. I was able to get the trackNotes app into enough shape to do a quick pitch and demo, which resulted in some early interest. I am ready to get some more feedback, and will be opening it up for a couple Early Adopters, if you are interested, drop me a note in the comments, and will send you the details.

One of my other projects is based heavily on computer vision, I decided to have some fun with it, and test my skills. I now have all the bits to build a Donkey Car it should be a pretty fun little project where I can learn, set myself up for the next steps of doing more suspension analysis work. I am now doing an extensive amount of model training using distributed inception approach, leveraging multiple GPU’s with a pre-emptible Kubernetes node pool. Good cost/performance, and translates to all of the cloud providers: AWS, Google, and IBM.

I have been working really hard with Phil, and continue to work my way toward my health goals. I have achieved 125Lbs of weight lost since October of 2017. I decided to add OPTIFAST back into my diet as a post workout drink, the high protein works to increase muscle growth, and helps with the recovery from a hard workout.

On the funding front, I am exploring a couple equity free options, there is currently a contest open with Google Cloud, and SAP called Circular Economy which is focused on United Nations sustainable production, and consumption goals. I am working out the broader implications of my current research, and plan to apply. Another equity free option is the SBIR route, which I have discussed briefly before. I have received feedback on my application, and have decided to pursue one of the current open solicitations with the DOT.

After Action Report – Sebring

Overview: Sebring was incredible, the track is amazing, Gradient Racing is super professional, and David Murry went above, and beyond!

Goals and objectives: My goal for the weekend was to learn, progress, test my fitness, and prove to myself that I am capable of running in the top 5.

Analysis of outcomes: I was so happy to have worked with David Murry during the Test, and Tune day. He helped me work through the track, strategy, and confidence. He checked in over the course of the weekend, to see how things were going, debriefed with me on Saturday, and sent me a nice note on Sunday evening, what a professional, above, and beyond. I look forward to working with him again at Road Atlanta.

Analysis of the performance shown on critical tasks: I decided to run scrubbed tires for the practice sessions, which were about 2 seconds off the pace of the top 5, and around 4 seconds behind the top 2. The third practice session of the day served as qualifying, and my times set me up mid-pack, starting around P20. We decided to replace brake pads for the warm-up session, the replacement pads that I had in my spares kit, were a different manufacturer/compound (StopTech, rather than Pagid). We had a conversation about running stickers, or scrubs during the warm-up, and decided on just changing one thing at a time, going with just the new pads, and keeping the scrubs.

The car ran great during the warm-up session so we threw on the stickers for the first sprint race. At that point the car became erratic after the tires came in, I was not able to brake, or accelerate and the gearbox was not shifting correctly. I was able to finish but, lost 14 positions. Before the second sprint I checked with the experts Philip Surprenant and Andy Rivard (thank you both!) looked for Pagid pads that we replaced (sizes for the Trophy Kit were not available at the track), we cleaned off the wheel speed sensors, and torqued the center nuts. I ended up running the second race on scrubs, starting in P37. I was able to work my way up the field to P18, which put me into the top 10 in class.

We had a warmup before the Enduro on Sunday, and ran the new pads, with the new tires, and had no issues. I was able to put down the fastest lap overall during the warm-up session. For the Enduro the officials take the best lap time. between the two sprint races to set your position, I was able to start P18 overall. I immediately started working up the field, and ultimately ended up running P5, and 3rd in class. I was shunted in the right rear, which bent my outer, and broke 3 wheel studs.

Summary: I was able to accomplish my goals, of learning the track, my fitness level was excellent (thank you Phil Gephart) worked with a professional driver David Murry, and after some trouble in the sprint races, was able to achieve my goal of running in the top 5, during the Enduro.

Recommendations: Getting the right spares kit is crucial, changing pad manufacturer, and compound prior to the first sprint was a costly mistake, I need to stick with the same components throughout the weekend, and need to stock extra wheel studs with my spares. Post session work needs to include cleaning wheel speed sensors, and torque center nuts. Running stickers for the practice session will set me up to run in the front of the field.