Monday, March 27, 2017

Looking Back at 2016

2016 was a pretty good year. It started a bit shaky, first with a spectacular spin into the grass at my first renegade event where I learned that the stuff on the edges of the runway has a lot of gravel and very little stopping friction. Next, in my first SCCA event I didn't drive well and worse yet I blew sound, and was disqualified from my afternoon runs. The result was my worst finish in many (5+) years despite the brand new set of 10.5" wheels. For the next event I did sound testing comparing various exhaust tips and made changes to ensure I was well within sound limits going forward. In SCCA event 2 I got all my runs, but the result was a race that (other than my previous race) would have been my worst showing in 2 or 3 years. It was a very uninspiring start, but the season is long. I tweaked some sway bar settings, did some more events, and got used to the new larger wheel setup, and began to have some success.

By SCCA event 4 I had it sorted, and made a 15th in pax finish (Brian Levesque took my car to 6th in pax that day as well out of 139 drivers). From there, I fiddled just a tad with suspension, Got my first FTD ever at a BMW event, and a 2FTD behind an "EM" lotus 7 with a wing and a v8 engine at an NE-SVT event... and then went off to nationals. There I got a very mediocre result (described in the last post), much of which was due to my inexperience at that level and driving that was worse than my average. The year finished out with my first ever NER top 10 finish, and another 15th in pax at the last points event. The points for SSM class for 2016 had been locked up some time ago due to some folks dropping out of the class and spotty participation by others. Not the way I wanted to win my first regional jacket, but wishes can't always come true.

With the "championship" for the season being substantially participation based, I was very keen to put up a good showing in the Stirling Moss Driver of the Year competition that it qualified me for. In my mind, the season points championship would be a "real" championship if I did well there, and a "fake" participation award if I didn't do well in the Moss. The Moss was more or less the hinge for the meaning of my jacket. The question at hand... can I race with the class champions, or would I just be straggling along in the back of the pack?

The format of the Moss is meant to require drivers to both drive fast, and drive consistently fast. In the morning you get points for speed, and in the afternoon you get points for consistency with respect to your morning time. NER is a Jumbo region, that takes home 6-8 national trophies every year. I did not expect to come out on top, ahead of all of our national champions, but the key idea was to do well, and be significantly nearer the top than the bottom among the 30 regional class winners participating.

After 3 morning runs, rumor had it that I was the 10th fastest pax time of the 30 drivers who had earned the right to participate in the Moss... so by SCCA trophy standards for individual classes, that's the very last trophy spot. I could have been a place or two higher if I hadn't coned on my final run of the morning. It was a good, not totally embarrassing result, but nothing to brag about either. Furthermore if I didn't do well in the afternoon, It wouldn't be hard to slide back into the back half of the pack. I wanted something better than that!

Because of the consistency emphasis of the afternoon, cones are death. You simply have to run clean. I figured at least a few of the 9 folks ahead of me would hit cones, so the best way to move up was to drive hard, but be ultra focused on not hitting cones. Clean runs and an awareness of whether the run was going well or not were the goal. With cold tires for the first run, I knew it was going to be a difficult first run to try to get close to my morning time on warm tires, even though the air temps and pavement temps were up. I knew I would need to push it... I did and I succeed in getting a time 0.4s slower than my morning run. -0.4 was likely to take me further from winning the whole thing, but was clean and probably good enough to keep me moving up a little bit.

On the second run, I did a poor job of the first big sweeping turn and knew I was slow, and that nothing would matter unless I made up the lost time, so my only thought was "Go, GO, GO!!" I drove as hard as I knew how and I might have been close to making up the lost time (thanks to the warmer conditions), but then I had a slight problem with the angle of my approach to the tight pinch on the runway, and had to back off slightly to ensure I didn't hit a cone. The result... another almost identical time, also -0.4s off my morning time. With two 0.4s differentials my chances for a win were thin, and would rely entirely on nailing the final run within 0.1s, and even then it would be an outside chance. On the third run, my tires were fully warm and i was having a good well sorted run through the taxiway, possibly slightly ahead of my target time, but once again, I didn't set up properly for the pinch and had to work quite hard not to hit a cone. I knew I had lost a bucket of time, but that was behind me and I did the only thing there was to do: Focus on getting back ahead of the cones, and finishing strong. The result was another run time -0.4 under my morning time, but clean again.

As I finished, I figured I had likely moved up a place or two, having heard of some folks ahead of hitting cones, but unless something crazy happened, I did not suspect I had a winning result. They keep the results secret till the ceremony at the end, so I packed up and headed over. During the pack up I heard that one of our top drivers had accidentally gone a lot too fast, so that provided me with some further hope, but It's NER... and one person messing up will not get you the championship. Guaranteed there will be several folks who were fast and didn't mess up. It's just too big a region for lucky wins. Within classes lucky stuff can happen, but in cross class competition, only top drivers having a good day win at NER SCCA events. I had a pretty good day, but my driving can still improve.

They announced the top 3, with Bob Davis taking the repeat win and Dave Gott almost making it with a record breaking consistency score. I was not very surprised that I wasn't on the podium, though part of me had dared to hope for 3rd. After the photos and congratulations, I got a look at the result sheet... 4th place! I was only one spot off the podium. In relation to my previous achievements, THAT is a result I can be proud of. I eclipsed several people who normally do much better than me, even though they didn't hit cones. I will have to work very hard to do that again. Fourth of thirty is not a winner, but it's also not a bad showing. Also 22nd of 104 in season pax is fairly decent, Thus I feel that the failure of my competitors to put together a solid season is not necessarily definitional in my 2016 season championship. It's not inconceivable that I might have won anyway (except if PJ had remained to run panda all year... but he's an alien, and panda is a multi national champion car, so this doesn't bother me... Ok it does bother me, but not too much :) ).

So, while there is still sort of an astrisk next to my season points championship for 2016 in my head, I also don't feel like I need to hide the jacket or mumble when it's mentioned either.

What I do need to do is win again! And the expectation is that Leafy is back, with a new motor in his turbo'ed miata... THAT should be interesting, and fun to compete against!

And this year... the car will have more power, but more about that in the next post.