Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bye Bye Maybes

In several previous posts I have pondered the state of my build and the state of my driving in relation to the ultimate autocross competition, the SCCA Solo Nationals. Those speculations were a matter of finding someone who HAD been to nationals, supposing that maybe they drove as well locally as at nationals, and maybe they were on good tires, or hadn't just screwed with their setup the night before, and maybe, I could drive in 3 runs as fast as I do in 6 or 8... etc.. maybe, maybe, maybe.

But now, this year I don't need to engage in the maybe's. I finally fulfilled a dream and managed to get me and my car out to Lincoln Nebraska for SCCA Solo Nationals (with the invaluable assistance of my co-driver Bob Lang! Thanks Bob!). So now, rather than say "maybe I would have placed..." I can now say firmly that I *did* place 10th of 17 competitors in SSM and slightly over 50% in the overall PAX rankings. These are now facts, not suppositions.



Obviously, when I dreamed the dream of going to nationals I hoped to say something slightly better than that. The problem is 1305 other competitors also had a dream they were trying to fulfill too... :). But it was a first time, and firsts are always  learning experiences. Things I learned include:
  • 1306 is a LOT of competitors, the sheer scale of the event is incredible. Acres of cool cars to see!
  • 5 days straight of walking around on concrete in the sun poses a significant hydration challenge, which requires more attention and care than a single day of autocross. 
  • Driving while dehydrated is not a good strategy. My driving on the first day was fighting a hang-over-like dehydration headache, and I didn't realize the nature of the problem until just before first runs. I sucked down a full bottle of water after each run and by my third run I started to feel better, but even so, what seemed fast to me simply wasn't fast at all.
  • One has to be careful about over-excitement... on my very first run I went off course because I had planned so carefully how to be sure to stay ahead of a turn that I had wonderful amounts of grip (and probably not quite enough speed), and so it seemed natural to use that grip... and I turned harder and cut inside of a cone I didn't need to. I made the course harder for no good reason at all!.
  • I REALLY need to solve the fuel starve problem in my car. I fuel starved on my first run on the practice course on Wed, and this then made me second guess turn after turn all weekend long. On the second day I wound up running an at elast 20lbs extra gasoline to avoid fuel starve in the huge long left handed sweepers. So remove that gas, and save 9lbs on an Aluminum tank... an easy -30lbs, and fewer distractions.
  • Concrete is grippy, but only a tenth of a G more at most (race capture showed readings in the upper 1.6G ranges a few times), and then only when you can get yourself to trust it that much further.
  • Experience matters. Bob got it done better than I did, and brought in a 7th place finish out of 17, which was more or less my best case target for the event.
  • There is certainly a capability gap in the current prep level of my car. It's happened before that some of our local Aliens have hopped in my car and shaved 2 seconds off vs my times on a 60 second course. Thus far in my car bob and I have split 2 and 2 for who drives faster, so starting from Bob's time, and giving him .5 for one spot he feels he messed up on his final run the first day, we get about an 8 second gap, shaving 4 seconds for alien level driving, this leaves about 4 seconds, across 2 60 second courses to make up. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that 2 of the top 3 PAX times for the *entire* event were in my class... the third being Billy Davis in CSP... for a second straight year.
  • Billy Davis is just amazing... he set top pax for the entire event, with a car that was running on only 3 out of 4 cylinders on the first day... This also suggests that maybe there's  even more than 2 seconds/60 to be gained via driving... but probably I'll never get THAT good.
  • OPR (other people's rubber that sticks to your tires) is a huge issue. I WILL have a portable generator to run a multi tool for removing OPR next time I go to nationals. Any other method of removing it is just insanity.

All in all, it was a fabulous experience, and I want to do it again, if for no other reason than to prove I can do better than 10th of 17... I'm pretty sure I can, but you haven't done it until you've done it. The cars that took home trophies were all max built cars with excellent drivers, and 6th was a McLaren MP-12C. In it's present form I suspect my car can catch the McLaren given an "A-list" driver in my car and the same driver in the McLaren, but to trophy would take exceptional skill.

But for now...  I have gained some experience and we can hope to learn from it for next time.

The car pushed a little, which I noticed on the last run of the last event before Nationals as well. Also, Bob noted that it seems like his FP TR6 had more ultimate grip, so I'm probably going to try some minor tweaks to soften the front slightly and add more camber in the rear... Even on concrete there was at least 3/4 of an inch of excess fender clearance, so I needn't worry too much about softening things slightly...

No comments: