Monday, October 6, 2014

0.051 seconds

Last Sunday was the season finale event for the New England Region of the SCCA. This event is essentially 3 events in one. In the morning, we get 3 runs, these 3 runs count as the 9th and final event of the year. This decides the class championships for the year. The champions and the top 10 in season PAX then get to compete for the Stirling Moss championship.  The winner of the Stirling Moss championship gets the their name engraved on the 1959 Nürburgring trophy that Sir Stirling Moss donated to the New England Region chapter. Making it onto that trophy is the top honor in the region, and a sort of local racing immortality. The New England Region is very lucky to have this way of honoring it's top drivers. Those who don't qualify get to participate in the other afternoon event a 3 run non-points fun event.

For the second year in a row, I started the finale with a theoretical chance at getting my name on the trophy. Last year I was slower than my nearest competitor, Jonathan Leith (aka. Leafy), but had ridden a wave of points from early in the season before his car was fully working. I lost, and in many ways, it is a good thing I did. Had I won, I might well have become complacent.

This year I got off to an abysmal start, loosing 3 out of the first 4 events.  Much like the end of last year, Leafy was driving faster than me. This year it was me staging the comeback. I worked hard on my driving, focusing on seat time and attending the Evo School in July. I beat Leafy in events 5 and 6, lost by 0.330 in event 7 and won event 8. This is about 1000 times more fun than riding a lead gained by virtue of your competitor not having a working car.

Unfortunately, my early season win, and the win in event 5 had come on days when national champion or soon-to-be national champion drivers had entered the class, and so I did not get first place on those days. Although our head to head record was tied Leafy had a points lead of 4 points, and the ability to win tie breaks by virtue of more first place finishes. I needed to gain 5 points, which can only happen with me in first, and him in 3rd or less, or me in 2nd and him in 5th or less. As the event neared, only Leafy and myself were signed up. A 2 driver class would leave me with no chance of winning at all.

With that in mind, I invited Ryan Field to drive in my car, so that there would be at least one other driver with a decent chance of beating Leafy. Ryan is actually a faster driver than I am by a good margin, so beating him was pretty unlikely, but a small chance is better than no chance. Soon after Ryan registered, Derick Sivret, also a very fast driver registered in Leafy's car.  This would be a sensible points move by Leafy, now I have to beat 2 top flight drivers to win.

As a concequence, I entered the finale again with a faint hope of winning. The points situation was just too far against me. The season had been virtually lost early on and I was proud to have made it this close to begin with. My main reasonable goal was to beat Leafy, and at least be able to say I won 5/9 events vs him.

My first run was a flop. I didn't take quite the right line, and then spun when I tried to correct with a quick tap of the brake, but I got underway quickly and worked the rest of the course as a practice run. I wasn't worried, because I knew exactly how to fix what I did wrong. I didn't really pay attention to the other drivers, and on my second run I laid down a nice 50.649. Now that I had a real time I checked the other drivers times, I found that Ryan had coned every run, and I heard by word of mouth that Derek had only one clear run that was a 50.4xx, Leafy had no raw times better than 51 seconds!   I was in 3rd, and only needed to gain around 2 tenths to win first place and the season trophy. It was the dream scenario! Holy crap.

Driving up to the line for the final run I recalled last year when I was trying to make up almost 3 seconds to beat Derek in a similar points situation. 3 seconds was hopeless, I drove hard but lost it near the end of the run. I knew I had to NOT over-drive this run and spin. That would be a horrible way to finish. But I also had to go faster. I was really nervous. Choking and going really slow would suck too. So I took a deep breath, and focused on getting the cameras working. At the line I decided to focus on improving my line near the tower to improve my entry to the taxiway. That should get me the 1/4 second or so I needed if I just ran the rest like I did before.

I improved my line and got a much nicer entry to the taxiway as planned. The taxiway and the first half of the runway went well, much as they had on the previous runs. All I had left was the big cut back across the taxiway and then the offsets to the finish. Perhaps it was because I saw so many novices screw up the cutback in the morning, and perhaps it was because some part of me recalled the end of the race in the previous season where I almost spun on the last bit turn. For whatever reason, I over broke just a little for the cutback. But this sort of mistake is not a tragedy. It's much, much better than braking too late and I belayed the excess traction conferred by the slower speed into a good exit from the element and made a great run to the finish where I hit the rev limiter. To the best of my knowledge it was a clean run...

The time...


Wow! It was CLOSE! When I got back to the paddock it was a dive for the phones, to check And the result...

Derek's time turned out to be....


I was 0.051 seconds short of winning the season championship and gaining entry to the Moss competition.

0.051 seconds... less than the blink of an eye...

Yet I was not unhappy. Here I was, nearly surviving the onslaught of two very fast drivers, and beating Leafy a second in both of the last 2 events. It's true, I don't get the jacket that says class winner on it, but a jacket is just a jacket. 0.051 sec is a tiny differential, and that's all that stands between me and being a class champion. My driving has improved drastically this year. Basically I'm there... the difference is tiny.

Next season should be very interesting... Hopefully both Leafy and I will up our game, and some of the national champions who visit the class will start coming up short.

And finally, congratulations to Dave White who won the Sterling Moss Trophy this year. Dave is a National Champion in Street Modified, and one of our fastest drivers. Now he has his slice of local immortality too. Here's a picture of him holding up the trophy...