Monday, July 2, 2012


So the Northeast National Tour has come and gone. The event was amazing, well run and the courses were a lot of fun. It was great to meet and talk to top drivers and even better to see them work their magic on the course. The weather was perfect too, but it's funny how in racing everything is colored by your results.

Despite the perfect conditions, excellent event organization and fun courses, I will always think back on my first national tour and sigh. My results were not so good. I was 7th of 10 (Elena Rosa didn't show for our class after all, so we had 10 not 11). The winner by 5 total seconds was Jake Namer, and in some ways, justice was served in that effort was rewarded. 

The final results more or less sorted the cars by level of preparation. Jake is fully prepared for the SSM class, he came out on top. The Honda CRX, and the Panda are both maximized for SM and SMF... not quite as fast, but also SM class cars. The turbo miata with custom suspension is pretty close to maxed out for SSM, but perhaps missing a few details such as a wing...

Those cars were the lead pack (with Jake well ahead of the rest).

I was the leader of the under-prepared cars, I've got a few go-slightly-faster mods on a car that starts ah a high level, but I need another 50% in horsepower, and an LSD to be competitive at a minimum.  Then came Bill, in his Corvette, which although powered enough for the class hasn't really put time into suspension improvements as far as I'm aware. Then came David, my co-driver who is still fairly new to the sport, and driving my under-prepared car. DFL went to another corvette, with even more power, probably even less suspension. That car also drag races, and the two sports are more or less diametrically opposed, and so that car is probably the least well prepared (for this sport).

Of course the driver also mattered, and I don't think there were any upsets in terms of skill vs placement with the possible exception of Jenna. The year I started racing she was struggling in SSM (in the Panda), and the complete novice in the lotus even beat her once (that's me). This time she ripped off a fabulous second run the second day securing 3rd place. However, she's married to the owner of the SM national champ car, and has been to multiple nationals and tour events, so maybe it's not so surprising... She gets more seat time and has better car.

None of the above is why I'm disappointed however. The disappointment stems from the fact that I KNOW I could have done better. My second run on the second day will haunt me forever. I launched well, with just a tad of wheel spin, ran it up onto the cams and shifted just in time for the first offset. On that and the next two offsets, I hit them with a pretty good line, and got a small amount of inside wheel-spin exiting the second and third.. The slalom at the end of the first runway I made a nice entry at good speed, and ran the whole thing fast but smooth. I was still ahead of the cones at the end and made a perfect accelerating exit.

The turn onto the taxiway was perfect. I can't imagine anyway to improve it. I found myself lined up and in perfect position for the taxiway. This allowed me to floor the accelerator all the way through the taxiway, and I bounced off the rev limiter 2-3 times before a beautiful break and turn. The back half of the course went very well. I was in the groove and the only mistake was not quite getting on the throttle soon enough out of the big sweeper, but I still got on it and stayed on it until the final runway. Everything was feeling awesome. I was killing it and I knew it.

That's where things went terribly wrong. I missed my breaking point for the turn onto the home stretch. I broke too late, got into the marbles, and slid right through the back of the cone wall. I was off course. I know that that run would have shaved at least 1.5-2 seconds off of my time, there were a bunch of places where I was slightly late or slow on the throttle on my first run... Two seconds would have put me in 3rd for the day, 2.8 seconds would have earned me a trophy for both days... Crap.

My last run, I just couldn't get my head back in the game and got late on several turns, the errors started to build up, and then I hit cones, at which point I just cooled it off, and finished the course without trying very hard. At that point I was simply trying not to hit more cones and cause a delay for the event. The result was only a half second slower than my first run... (before time was added for the 3 cones I hit) which tells you how bad my first run was.

The silver lining is that I KNOW that I'm not just imagining that I was driving fast. I worked the taxiway while Brian Connors, and Pat Salerno ran their runs. They are legendary national class drivers, driving an elise in SS. Neither of them hit the rev limiter on the taxiway. Pat sounded like he was almost there on his final run, but not quite.

My car is probably 75lbs lighter, 10 more horsepower, and switches over the variable lift & timing 500 RPM earlier, so I have a slight advantage. The good news is I was using that advantage. I just blew near the end, and that's disappointing.

Next time...


Wiley said...

One thing that has helped me immensely in my driving (although I still have plenty of distance to go) is to stop worrying about beating other people, and start looking at more objective measurements. Run data logging. Am I generating higher consistent corner G-Force? Am I consistently able to generate better braking force?

Concentrate on driving the line WELL, smoothly, and you'll find that speed becomes easier as the course "opens up" for you.

Watch your PAX ranking at each event. As that gets better, you can be assured that you're improving, even if the other people in your class are also improving.

Take instructors or other qualified excellent drivers with you. I've learned a TON from having Todd Kean (who is consistently faster than me) along for some of my runs. Last year it helped me cut the gap from 2 seconds per run down at the start of the ST season, down to .5 seconds per run by the last event of the year. Todd, Brian Levesque, Dave White or PJ all do a good job of analyzing a run in-car and giving good feedback.

Talk to some of the other SM/SSM/Prepared guys in the club. A lot of them know a ton about car setup and how to make cars faster. It may be different information than you expect to hear, but if it's suspension tweaks and such, it may allow you to experiment at an event without spending a lot of money, and you may find it gets you some gains.

Finally, drive as much as you can. The top folks in our club race with multiple clubs, almost every weekend. I KNOW that's one reason why I'm behind the people I'm behind, I only do 8-10 events per year, and seat time counts for a LOT.

Those are my "Pro-tips." :) Enjoy as you will!

Gus Heck said...

Hey Wily :) thanks for the advice. I am doing many of those things already. Went to the renegade event before the tour and had both Brian and PJ drive the car, They pointed out issues with the car and with me :). The disappointment comes from having *almost* done it right.

I'm making slighty more events than you (10-12 a year), but probably much like you there's also a strong desire not to abandon my spouse too often.

I definitely mostly measure against myself... see my spreadsheet ( I'll be omitting the tour results since they are not at all comparable with the 3 runs only and the entirely different field. I'll possibly be starting a national level page for those results and any other tour/national events I (eventually) do in the future.