At this year’s NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires, Time Trial 5 was the closest of all Time Trial competition in 2019. The top three finishers were separated by a total of just .112 seconds, and first and second were separated by just .048 seconds. What’s more, the top five all were within .500 seconds of one another. It was that close.

Samed Rizvi finished first with a 1:36.474, followed by Team John Wallace Racing with a 1:36.522 and then Robert Porter with a 1:36.586. Rizvi and Wallace drive Honda S2000s. Porter drives a BMW E36 M3.

We wanted to learn more about how Time Trial drivers get the most from themselves and their cars, so we’re introducing a new series called “Time Trial Techniques.” The series will attempt to discover tips and tricks from some of the fastest drivers in NASA — what they’ll share, anyway — and publish them for other drivers to learn from.

To kick off the series, we thought the three drivers who fought so hard in TT5 and the 2019 Championships would be a good place to start. We caught up with them to find out more.

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First up is Samed Rizvi, who won the TT5 Championship at Mid-Ohio.

Samed Rizvi

When you go out for a TT session, what is your approach?

I approach every TT session with maximum effort. A lot of drivers try to time their “kill session” when they think there will be perfect temperatures and conditions. I’ve found that the fastest times are not always found in textbook conditions. There are variables like lapped traffic, mechanical issues, weather, flags and other things that can happen during a session that can diminish the opportunity to strike in any given session.

Because of this, I approach every timed session with maximum effort and on good tires. I had one event where there was no anticipated precipitation, and it rained every session after the first Saturday session, which ended up being the fastest session. Some drivers weren’t on their “good” tires, waiting for better conditions later and that session ended up being the fastest one of the day.

There is limited opportunity to attack in TT, and you never know what will happen throughout a weekend. I treat every timed session as the “kill session,” because there is no knowing how the rest of the weekend will play out due to things completely out of your control.

My approach to every individual session is to drive with a high degree of discipline. In TT, there are normally 4-7 laps to execute, and every single one counts. The two main things I do is visualize what I want to do before I go out as much as possible, and second is to continually coach myself turn by turn. This means asking myself in every braking zone if I could have carried any more speed, asking in every turn if I could have increased my cornering speed, and asking myself on every exit if I could’ve been on throttle sooner and making the appropriate adjustments turn by turn and lap by lap. I call this driving with your brain and not with your gut and I think it has been the key to my success.

Does your approach change as the temperatures change throughout the day?

Session to session I don’t change much as temperatures change. All the TT drivers in the class are running in the same sessions and are exposed to the same temperature variations. We are not allowed to change anything on the cars throughout the day that would change horsepower, so other than tire pressures, I don’t generally adjust anything.

Above is Samed Rizvi at the 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires setting the TT5 lap record and securing the TT5 Championship.

What are the small things you can do throughout the day to maximize the car?

I run MCS double adjustable shocks and Karcepts sway bars on the car. I have a lot of adjustability, but once the car was dialed in, I did not adjust much throughout the season. I monitor tire pressures throughout the day, but avoid making changes to sway bar and suspension settings. I try to drive around any issues I feel on track rather than trying to chase settings. I spent a considerable amount of time dialing in the car and getting it where I wanted it, so I avoid making any setup changes to it at the track. There is a limited amount of time at the track during a TT weekend, so I try not to risk getting it wrong with setup changes and wasting a timed session. The adjustments I make are mostly to my driving to get the car to do what I want it to do.

How do you keep tabs on your competition?

I don’t really keep tabs, per se, on the competition other than watching their times on RaceHero during the weekend. I run a build thread and share my notes with all my competitors. I also offer coaching, data and video to everyone in the class and anyone else who asks. I think TT5 in NASA Mid-Atlantic is the largest and most competitive in the country. After every weekend, we all share our data so we all know what each other is doing. We also have a great ST5/TT5 group chat with NASA Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, and Northeast drivers. In between making fun of each other, we share what we are doing with our cars and answer questions. We all share everything so there is no need to really tabs on anyone.

What role did car construction play in your success in this year’s championships?

My car’s construction played a really big role in my success. Mechanical failures during race weekends are a major distraction and take time away from focusing on driving. Because of this, I thoroughly inspect my car and run a strict maintenance schedule.

To avoid failures, I replace things well before they are due. Every bolt is looked at, hubs are inspected, rubber boots are checked, and any problems are addressed every single weekend without exception. I’ve never had a DNF because of this, and other than a few cracked rotors, I’ve never had a mechanical failure at the track.

I built the car to the maximum extent of the rules in the way I best saw fit. My build theory was to focus on the best braking and cornering components, run max power, and take whatever weight necessary to accommodate those things, and it worked. The P2 S2000 ran lower power and a lower weight and finished only .05 seconds behind me. The P3 E36 M3 ran decent power, midweight, and finished only .1 seconds behind. The top five were only .5 seconds apart and included an E36 M3, Toyota FRS, E46, and two S2000s. This really shows how well the NASA class rules work and why power-to-weight classing is the answer in equalizing competition

What role does car preparation play in your success, in general?

Car preparation is the key to success in any form of racing. People often make fun of me that I polish and wax my racecar like a show car. I am a firm believer that the outside appearance of someone’s car tells a lot about the level of preparation under the hood. Rarely do you see poorly kept cars on the podium. Other than my thorough maintenance and inspection schedule, I really try to focus on driving as much as possible. This involves reading racing literature, studying videos and data, listening to podcasts, and visualizing.

My goal was to win the National Championship since I started running the 2019 season and preparation began in the winter of 2018. In my professional life, I had a lot of time using simulators and recognized their benefits, but I never used them in the past for racing. I knew I would only be able to get to Mid-Ohio for practice once before Nationals so I decided to build a VR Sim rig for iRacing and it was immensely helpful in preparing for Nationals.

When I showed up to Mid-Ohio for a race a few before Nationals, my first lap ever on that track felt like I was there a hundred times already. I knew the VR rig was worth the investment. I broke the track record on my third practice session on scrubs, so I knew I had a good shot from there. I ended up winning both days that weekend and broke the track record by 1.8 seconds my first time at Mid-Ohio.

In additional to the sim, I studied the TTC podium drivers’ videos from the 2012 championships and studied the Racers360 track guides religiously. The track guides were enormously helpful and prior to studying them I was running low 1:40 lap times in iRacing in a stock MX-5 Global Cup car. After studying them, I was in the mid-36 range, which was what I ended up running in real life in my own car at the Nationals. The Global MX-5 cup car is very close a ST5/TT5 car and a great car to practice with in iRacing.

How did you choose your car for TT5 competition?

After doing HPDE in a ton of different cars throughout the years, I found the S2000 to be the best value in terms of speed, price, and reliability. The cars need very little to be track ready and are practically bulletproof on the track. You can take an S2000 with a good set of coilovers, wing, and Hoosiers and be competitive in TT5. Those mods are considered the S2000 starter pack. I have had over 50 cars throughout the years, ranging from nicer stuff like a Cayman and NSX down to track-rat Miatas and everything in between. I always found myself coming back to S2000s.

Next up is John Wallace, who finished second in TT5 at Mid-Ohio.

John Wallace

When you go out for a TT session, what is your approach?

I’m always trying to improve the car and driver, so every session I go out with the intention to either go faster or to experiment with different ways of getting around a corner so I can improve for my next session or event.

Does your approach change as the temperatures change throughout the day?

Yes. Being from Texas, I’m used to only having the first session to put in a great time. By midday, the temperatures are already hot enough that it takes a lot of driving improvement to compensate for the slower conditions. That was one thing I had to change when driving at Nationals. Usually my best laps are two and three, and I’m starting to overheat the tires by the end of lap four, but due to the weather and track surface at Mid-Ohio, I had the potential to set a fast lap at any time during the sessions.

What are the small things you can do throughout the day to maximize the car?

I hate having to work on my car at the track, or worse, having my car break while at the track. So I try to keep an eye on the car throughout the day by inspecting things like tire wear, brake wear, all my fluid levels. It’s also a mental thing when you go out in the next session knowing that you just looked over the brakes before you’re pushing the braking zone after a long straight.

John Wallace puts in his fast lap at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course during the 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires and takes home a second-place trophy in TT5.

How do you keep tabs on your competition?

Depends on how close the battle is. I usually focus on just myself and run the best lap I can, and even if I’m ahead, then I’m still trying to find more speed. But when there is really close competition, I’ve gone as far as mounting my phone where I can view live time for the whole class and see if I need to stay out or come in early.

What role did car construction play in your success in this year’s championships?

I’d say it played a big part. I’ve had an S2000 for a long time and it’s been a slow game of improving the car as I improve as a driver, and we have both come a long way since I first started.

What role does car preparation play in your success, in general?

It plays a huge part, both in extracting every bit of speed you can from the car, and more importantly, making sure the car will hold up to the abuse from the weekend. The fastest car still won’t win if it breaks during the testing day.

How did you choose your car for TT5 competition?

I fell in love with my S2000 when I first got one back in 2009. Getting that car was the reason I did my first track day because I wanted to learn how to control the car. I’ve been in love with the car ever since, but it also happens to be a great car to compete with in this class.

What do you do during an event to plan and prepare for the next?

Not much, really. I try to keep notes on things so I remember to address them when I get home: setup changes, if I need to order brakes or tires before the next event, things like that.

Next up is Robert Porter, who finished third in TT5 at Mid-Ohio in his BMW E36 M3.

Robert Porter

When you go out for a TT session, what is your approach?

I never liked to be rushed, so I usually check the car over about 20 minutes before the session (tire pressure, fuel, safety gear, etc.). Then I usually head to grid 10 minutes prior to the session starting. When I get there, I usually turn on the lap timer and make sure all the data and video stuff is working correctly. After all that is good, I usually focus on what I want to do better (trail-brake better into Turn 2, less brake into Turn 9, turn in earlier to Turn 5 and use more curbing). I strap in at the five-minute mark, check all the data stuff again, double check all the safety stuff is right, take a few deep breaths to relax and then head out.

Once I’m on track, I push as hard as I can as soon as the green drops. Sometimes sessions are short, and I want to get into a rhythm as soon as possible. I never waste a lap. If I make a mistake on one turn, I will use that lap to try something different on another turn, and see if it makes up some time, but I never let off until the checkers drop. I think staying in the rhythm of pushing hard is important.

Does your approach change as the temperatures change throughout the day?

I really don’t change my approach. I know that in theory the faster times come when it’s cooler in the morning, but I actually like when the car is sliding around some, so the heat never bothered me. I think some people get too caught up in worrying about the temperature or weather conditions, and waste a session before it starts, because in their mind, they just assume it will be slower. That’s the wrong approach. I always think I can go faster. I have never put down a perfect lap.

What are the small things you can do throughout the day to maximize the car?

I’m probably the wrong person to ask about this. I really don’t touch the car much once I’m at the track. The most I do is play with tire pressures if I think I need to build heat in the tires faster. I only touched my shocks at the track once this year. I just adjust my driving to try and make the car do what I want. I realized early, when I was still learning, that 90 percent of the time the car’s bad handling was caused by my poor driving!

How do you keep tabs on your competition?

Honestly, I’m friends with most of my regional competitors and we all paddock together and hang out, so it’s really easy to keep tabs on them. The TT5 champ, Samed, and I run in the same region, so we see each other all the time and always share notes. The truth is Samed really helped me become a better driver, and I owe a lot of my success to him.

Even when we go out of region, we usually go as a group of at least four or five, and people I have met outside of my home region are so friendly that I usually leave with a few new friends. Social media is a great way to stay connected to those new out of town friends and stay up to date on their progress and success.

What role did car construction play in your success in this year’s Championships?

I will start this by saying that driving is the most important mod. I only did well this year because I improved myself as a driver. I spent the most money on seat time, and I have the results to prove it. Too many people get wrapped up in thinking that they need the best suspension, or the newest wing that reduces drag by .001, when really they could probably shave half a second by just getting the most out of their current setup.

With that out of the way … adding a wing and splitter to my car was the best thing I did this year to help me make that final leap. I actually added them right before Champs, and had never driven a car with aero before that weekend. Had I not done that, there is no way I could have been on the podium.

What role does car preparation play in your success, in general?

Prepping a car before an event, in my opinion, is one of the best things you can do to achieve success. If you have to fix something on the car, or make a bunch of changes at the track, all that does is distract you from driving your best. The only thing I want to do while I’m at the track is change tires, check fluids and pressures, and add fuel. Everything else should be done at home before the car gets loaded on the trailer. I do all my work myself — too cheap to pay someone and no sponsors — so I know it can be a hassle, but it’s better than losing track time, or not being focused.

How did you choose your car for TT5 competition?

I have had an E36 BMW in some shape or form since 2013. I used one to get me into autocross and take me through HPDE all the way into TT. I got lucky that the car is competitive in the class, and the general “best” setup has mostly been figured out. The S2000s I compete against are fast, so I wouldn’t mind driving one at some point, but for now I will stick with my tried-and-true E36.

Rob Porter chases TT5 Champion Samed Rizvi at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course during the 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires. Porter finished third in TT5.

Image courtesy of Downforce Media

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