Sunday, June 28, 2009

Running with Renegades

Thus far I've been primarily doing SCCA Autocross events. Their season is slowing down. There are only 3 more events in their season, and only one per month. One of my concerns had been that with that long of a break, perhaps I would get rusty. So I started looking around for other autocross events. The BMW club had one today, but they fill up instantaneously... and registration was closed. However Renegade Miata Club had one for Saturday (yesterday). After an email confirmed that there were some open spots, I packed up my trailer and headed off to Devens.

Their events run somewhat differenlty. They seem to take an additional hour to hour and a half to get going. The course they set up is longer and takes longer to set up. We only got 1 course walk as opposed to the 3 or 4 possible at an SCCA event. However with fewer participants we managed to get in 6 runs a piece on a course twice as long. The net effect was that the event was more track time but less of an organized framework to facilitate competition. My oppinion is that these events are good fun, practice and training, but won't really satisfy those who need a competitive fix unless they happen to own a Miata.

The course was a lot of fun. My first time through, I realized that I really wasn't used to driving an autocross that long. The adrenaline quivers were getting to me a bit at the end of the run... but in subsequent runs my stamina improved so it wasn't really a problem... The course was very fun, and included some interesting elements I hadn't seen before at SCCA events.

There was the chicago-box on a corner which drove some folks nuts (but I figured it out on the course walk due to my Evolotion school training! Woot!). There was also an element that was a series of gates that created a what can only be called as a squiggle in the line you had to drive.... and the visual effect was a veritable sea of cones. There was also a series of 3 tubes that were paralell to the runway, but in fact were just a visual distraction. if you got set up ahead of time and pointed your car right, you actually could drive a straight line through them. This in itself was also a trick because the speed put on in that straight had to be carefully controlled to make the turn at the end and get into the subsequent slalom properly.

On my first run, I was a bit tentative due to the single course walk, and I caught a cone somewhere along the way. On my second run, I started much faster, but true to my recent form, this quickly led me to overdrive a subsequent element, and I had to work real hard, almost stopping to make sure I ran over a cone rather than go off course on the entry to the first slalom. Amazingly, I recovered and got back into the slalom well after that and the rest of the run was reasonable, but that mistake cost me a couple seconds and a cone at least. My third run was awesome... it was clearly going to be a freak run where I completely out did myself... except I spun on the very last offset... Even with the spin, I beat my time from the first run... crap crap crap! My best run of the morning was the second one at 130.941 +1 cone. I was near the middle of th 32 drivers in the first heat.

The first afternoon run was relatively sane, except I once again screwed up the entrance to the first slalom, and didn't drive the chicago box particularly well. I also took the turn comming off the cross way too slow and I got way behind on the offsets at the end of the course. The sea of cones and several elements went well, but the time was a disappointing 133.185, and yet again... +1 cone.

The second afternoon run was better. The only things I screwed up were the offsetts, but I managed to be at least a little bit late on every single one of them. When I drove by the scoring tent, they called my time as 130.669... clean. I was psyched. But when I looked at the board a few minutes later... +1 cone... *sigh* a late cone call... Other drivers had been improving their times I was now in danger of falling into the bottom third of the heat.

One more run. I knew that every run had had at least one major mistake in it, and a cone. Eliminating either one would be a huge improvement. Both would be ideal. I ran over the course in my head. I reminded my self over and over again... "clean, controled, but don't let up" I remembered the NER novice/intermediate school and how I spun at the end of a very good run, after pshching myself up at the beginning. I remembered the May 30 event where I backed off too much because I spun at the end of morning runs. I reminded myself of my repeated problems entering the first slalom, I reminded myself to aim at the outside of the offset and cut in. I reminded myself that the second to last offset is tighter than the one before it, I reminded myself to gun it out of the back slalom into the decreasing radius sweeper, but not to over-do it so I could set up for the offset that followed. I reminded myself to relax and drive the course... At the starting line I just worked on staying calm, and remembering to shift.

For the first time since the EVO school where we got 20 runs at the same course, I managed a run with no major errors. I got into the slalom well, I remembered *not* to congratulate myself (which often leads to a scre up on the next element). I exited the slalom under control and did the offsets correctly and dove into the sea of cones, giving it up just at the end to prepare for the chicago box. I got wide left did the best pass through chicago box I had all day, and dove right into the offset slalom with just a tiny mental note that that went well. I exited the offset slalom and mashed the accelerator into the turn off the crossway, but just a tap of the brakes to stay in control before I turned into the sweeper and then light to no throttle through the next turn and into the offsets... perhaps I could have gone faster, but I wasn't really slow either, and I drove the offsets correctly, which allowed me to get on the acellerator into the big sweeper in the back... That got me into the optional slalom at speeds somewhat higher than I intended and I had to back off, but I managed to get off the accellerator slowly and not send myself into a spin. At the exit I managed to tap the brakes just briefly and get the car inside the cone of the next gate... I took the next sweeper too wide, probably driving too much distance, but I let the speed come off a bit and got set up properly for the 3 tube straightaway on the home stretch, where I got full on the acellerator again, but let off in time to get set up properly for the first offset. I cut in nicely and remembered that the next one was sharp, and that I really didn't want to repeat the previous spin. I probably laid off a little too much but I kept it under control and got set up for the last offset correctly. I dove through the final offset and gunned it to the finish. I couldn't recal any cones, and my mistakes were all minor.... It had to be a good run if only I really was clean. That was the crux... I waited as I passed the anouncer and he called out

"129.092.... .... .... CLEAN!"

That was my best time, it was clean and I had shaved over 3.5 seconds off my best time. I was giddy the entire rest of the event. I was in such a good mood that I didn't care if anyone beat my time, or about competition with anyone... I had beat myself. I had conquered the mess I was making of the course and put in a respectable run. My best event so far without question.

One of the difficulties of running with a new club is that all my statistics to measure how well I did are relative to how the SCCA runs events. The class designations and the number and types of competitors is completely different. At SCCA events there are generally 10 formula cars or so... (2 A mod, 2-3 B mod 2-3 Fmod, and randomly something else modified...) There were none at this event. The top machines at this event were probably ASP or Super-Stock level cars. Probably the top vehicle was the Porsche Gt3 RS ... But the best yardstick I could find was Mikhael El-Bayeh who won SSM last week with a time of 62.206 and a pax ranking of 35/93.
Other competitors present at both events included Ben Wagstaff and Mark Monnar, and Oleg Rekutin.

Mikhael's time in this event was 125.471, so we can figure that if he drove at a similar level (who knows... either day might have been a bad or good day, but it's all I've got), the course was 2.02 times longer than the last SCCA event based on his times. The same calculation for the other three drivers leads to 1.99 and 1.88 and 1.96 for an average of 1.96. So this course was almost twice as long as the last one. Based on that, I can imagine that my time divided by 1.96 is a reasonable interpretation of how my times compare to my previous SCCA event, and so I plugged the result into the previous event to examine how well I did.

The result is I finally made it into the middle of the pack! My raw time was equivalent to the 47th percentile and the SS pax, which probably best represents my relative skill best of any stat was 53rd percentile... My first above average result. Obviously there's still room for improvement, and I've discovered Recently that Russ's Hoosiers put about 3 inches more in total tire rubber on the track (tire width), so when I switch to Hoosiers I expect to get traction boost from that if nothing else... Shaving the next few seconds off will be much harder. But my time was equivalent to a 3rd place SSM finish in the previous event, and off the second place mark by 3 tenths of a second yet again. If I can improve my consistency and keep putting in solid runs, there is a good chance that I might clean up enough of the little mistakes and pick up some hardware before the end of the year... ...if.

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