Thursday, July 12, 2012

Best Times Yet...

The national tour has come and gone, but the NER season continues.  Going into Points Event #6, I was 1 point in the lead for season points. I had had several days on which I had been close to Don in his CRX before, but the only day I beat him head to head was the first race of the season and, on that day his car puked power steering fluid in the grid half way through the race and his sway-bar was maladjusted. Yet another win by reliability rather than speed.

Don's been gaining on me ever since, only hampered by the appearance of super-star drivers at the tour, and his inability to make an event early in the season. This event was a put-up or shut up day, and as you can see in my progress chart below I put in what was arguably my best performance ever...

Here's some stats...
  • 5 runs, 3rd run fastest.
  • In the top 30 raw times of 166 cars
  • 70th percentile in pax
  • 78th percentile using the SS pax which is closer to my car's actual level
  • Still consistently 2% slower than Russ... but now my tires are older by a few runs than his. 
  • 92.3 season pax score, locking in a minimum season score of over 457, more than 7 points ahead of last year, and enough to break into the top 50 season pax scores based on last year.
And the result... 3rd place. Brian Kuehl took first and Don Kuehl took second, so Now I am 1 point behind Don in the standings... I did my best but they brought out a secret weapon... they got a wing. And it helped. The car is actually eligible for SMF class which has a much softer PAX, and Brian's time was good enough for 3rd place among all drivers if he had raced as SMF instead of SSM. Don would have been 10th. I had one of my best days, but so did they.

Frustratingly, they, with thier big-budget for improvements found a stupendous deal on the wing too. Me with the tiny budget can't find one under $1000, and nothing over half the allowed wing area under $2000. They got theirs for... wel lets just say a lot less. Apparently the last of it's kind too. Figures.

However, I did my best, got a good time and made em put on their new tires for the second half of the day... so I'm satisfied. Can't be disappointed with that.

So what am I to do about it... Well, keep working on my setup, and keep driving. I have an appointment for a corner balance at Kaizen Tuning next tuesday, and then there's this thing lurking in my basement waiting for me to find some time to finish it...

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...