It’s amazing the things you see when behind the wheel of a race car that you’re driving at half speed — the shapes of the clouds over the Rockies as you head down a back straight,
the bald patch on the flank of a jackrabbit that happens to scurry across High Plains Drifter as you approach, or even a corner worker taking a drink of water and beginning a silent coughing fit when some goes down the wrong tube. These observations and a full-size helping of helpless embarrassment were my companions during Saturday’s race. O Fortune, how your fickle whims do tug at the hearts of men!
Of course, the race of which I write is a bit ahead of the starting point. Each year, just a few short weeks from the June Sprints is the highlight of the Colorado Region season, the
Freedom Sprints. This year it was part of the BF Goodrich (wrote SCCA a) Super (big check) Tour, adding even more incentive for out-of-state folks to come and play.
Friday: Something wicked this way comes
Moving from the lush Kettle Bottoms to the windswept High Plains is always a bit of a shock to the system. A 25% reduction in horsepower, downforce, and cooling always makes
for an interesting first few laps of the track. The first few hotlaps are a combination of “Boy, these tires must be dead,” “Is there something broken on the car,” “uh-oh, I think the motor is going soft,” followed by a gradual realization that the only thing missing is a quarter of the air pressure that I grew accustomed to in Elkhart Lake.
I arrived at the track Friday morning to find a paddock already fairly full, and as a result, could not get one of the coveted end-of-row spots to avoid being paddocked in the gravel. I
dutifully found a spot, making sure the trailer would shade us from the afternoon sun, and began to set up shop. With very high temps (90+), and mild winds for the weekend, we once
again set up our Holliday Canopy, which once again was really a godsend for staying comfortable. New 15 gallon water jugs provided plenty of weight to keep it locked into place.
The big change for this weekend was to see how the new 4-piston calipers would work on the rear-end of the car. As before with the pedal change we more-or-less set the bias in the shop using Carroll Smith’s method for ensuring there’s just a hair more brake pressure at the front to start with. As it is, I think I only moved the bias perhaps 2 turns forwards total
from that initial setting.
Initial and persistent impressions throughout the weekend was that the pedal was generally more consistent, and there was a lot more bite from the whole system. I was comfortably braking later than ever before, by perhaps a car length or two. Things continue to improve on the brake front with the car, though with the occasional step backwards, as we’ll see.
I ran an opening session and a second one during the afternoon, to try and get my “eye” back in at the track. Things seemed to be going pretty well, and I was getting back up to speed finding the spots again where I can find the extra bits of time. The first session I tried to run some of the tires that had been overheated at Miller, since they still had plenty of rubber on them. No such luck, as the best I could do was a very oversteery :45. For the second session, with fresher tires from Sprints, I was in the 41’s for the most part, about
which I was pretty happy, since clean laps were hard to come by.
Interestingly, Paul Leonard came by with his neww durometer, and we measured each tire set. The “Good” tires were all in the 45-55 range, and the dead/overheated set was all the way up in the 75+ range. It must definitely be said that you can hurt tires by overheating them, it would appear!
After the second session, I happened to notice that the shear block at the rear of the left rear control arm had shifted upwards – turns out the bolt holding the rear of the shear block had broken in half, and just one bolt was holding the rear leg of the lower wishbone in place! I searched around paddock for a replacement bolt, once again finding help at the trailer of
Front Range Motorsports, and spent the rest of the day getting to and repairing the bolt.
The other interesting note of the day was, of course, the debut of the new Alain Clarinval-designed Speads sports racer being driven by none other than erstwhile DSR, Pro Atlantic, and World Challenge driver Steve Ott. During the morning before I began running, I I timed a few random laps in the :40 and :41 range, and thought that there might be a race in store for us.
Saturday: Just make it quick
I will say this: At least he didn’t make it suffer. On something like lap 4 of the first practice session on Saturday, that being the first officially AMB timed session, Steve put down a
1:37.8x, thus pulling an Ol’ Yeller on my old High Plains Raceway overall track record (not held by Ken Petrie as reported on SCCA.com) of 1:40.1 by a healthy margin. It would be the fastest lap of the weekend, but Steve still dabbled in the :38’s and :39’s for the rest of the weekend, whereas I never did better than a mid :40.
Unfortunately, that also meant that the likelihood of having a fun race this weekend was pretty well shot – not much one can do against a 2-3 second advantage. Adding injury to the insult of being well and truly outpaced was the discovery of a cracked left-front brake rotor after Q1. More frustrating was that while I am the owner of all the spare parts needed to replace the rotor, the hats and rotors were at the shop, and the bobbins needed to assemble it were at a machine shop in Fort Collins, being cut down to reduce the excess float.
By some magic luck, and the prodding of Amy (thank you baby!), I got ahold of the shop owner. That meant we could get all the parts and replace the rotor, but as it’s a 4-hour round trip to Fort Collins and back, it meant I wouldn’t be racing hard that day…and it also meant that Dad would get a chance to listen to all the Classic Country XM he wanted on the way there and back.
Despite drawing the short straw on being the guy to drive to Fort Collins and back, that did mean he didn’t have to watch the race, which is probably a fair trade, since it was
pretty painful. So as to get on track, in order to get my finish for Runoffs, I drilled out the crack per paddock lore (make a small hole at the base of the crack to stop it),
put it on the rear of the car, and asked to start from the back of the field.
Thus began and ended the most painful race of my short career – tottering along just off of idle behind the last-place S2, in order to make sure I’d keep my pace down and use the
brakes as little as possible. So it went, the two of us in relative lockstep, ambling along like a couple of wayward ducklings in tow of a carbon-fiber mother. It was during this race that
I noticed the odd things mentioned at the beginning of the story, and no doubt a dozen others while trying to keep my mind off of the race. Steve, and most of
the field lapped us twice before I pulled off on lap 13 and made a beeline for the anonymity of my trailer.
Fewer contrasts in an SCCA racing season are more stark than the euphoria of winning the sprints, and the frustration of being a multi-lapper at a middling national race. Ugh.
That thankfully over with, Dad arrived with brake rotor fixin’s in hand, so I quickly assembled everything, put the new rotors on, and we buttoned up the car and headed for dinner, where folks were busy enthusing at the pace of Steve’s race, and his new DSR and overall track records.
It must be said – congrats to Steve – he’s a helluva driver, and a nice guy to boot.
Sunday: Do it like Alonso
Sol got a head start on all of us Sunday, as I emerged from the RV to be greeted by a day already in the 80’s. The forecast was calling for near triple-digit temperatures, and only a few wispy clouds were managing to eke out an existence in the sky. The usually omnipresent wind which gives rise to the nickname “High Winds Raceway” had blown on to bluer skies, making for a sweltering day on the high plains.
For our morning practice session, I kept Saturday’s tires on the car and went out to run a few laps, and see how the new brakes would work. Historically, the Stohr floaters on the front of my car have caused horrible vibration after about 4-5 laps, as they warm up, an issue that several others have experienced. Having machined down the bobbins to provide around .010 of float, versus .050 or more, the hope was that the vibration would be fixed, per Wayne at Stohr.
Sure enough, with vented, floaters on all four corners of the car, the brakes were better than ever before. The pedal remained more constant even after the long sweeping corner 7, where traditionally I’ve had trouble with a long pedal. Such was the front bite that I had to put 1-2 clicks more bias on the back to keep from locking the front wheels.
Thus encouraged, I brought the car in and swapped over to my barely-scrubbed tires from Sprints, hoping to put in a good lap or two during qualy.
As it turns out, Steve definitely had the same idea, as he put the car first on grid, and then very smartly backed everybody up on the way out of pit road by doing about 10mph. It’s a good way to try and get one or two clear laps. I was far enough up the order that I was able to clear everybody on the opening lap. Both he and I turned our quick lap on lap 2, and came in at the same time, seeking to preserve the car and tires. He was on pole again, about 3 seconds clear of my 41-ish time.
Back to the trailer I went, and we stripped the body off the car to perform the usual routine of tires, fuel, chain, and so on. Looking at the chain, what do I notice but a large nut sitting
on the floor of the car, near the water pump. By some miracle of luck, the countershaft nut had come adrift, and the chain hadn’t so much as budged. I found the small retaining washer nearby, the folded part that keeps the nut from rotating neatly broken off at the fold. I suppose I’ve used that one enough times.
So, for the astute reader, how many lessons has Jake learned so far this weekend about lifing out parts?
Fortunately, the racing gods were yet again on my side, and a few hits of an impact later, and all was forgotten.
Onward to the most important part of the racing day: the pre-race nap. Check.
Nap thus completed, I hopped in the car for the race. Putting on the firesuit felt like putting on a pair of pajamas just out of the dryer, and the balaclava was unspeakably warm over my head. Turning on the pyrometer, just ambient air over the asphalt was 106*. Yeesh.
Fortunately, a tiny bit of cloud cover happened by as we sat on grid, and once moving, there wasn’t much trouble with the heat.
Steve and I dutifully lined up on the front row, with me on the outside in second, which is actually not a spot I’ve occupied at High Plains before, so that part was at least novel and a
little different. The green was a bit of a late one, and I got just the slightest bit of a jump on Steve, pulling a few feet to perhaps maybe 1/2 car length by the end of the front straight. My only hope for perhaps making some fun of the race to see if I could beat him around T1 and get the inside for Turn 2. No such luck. I braked as late as I could and even used a healthy dose of the T1 exit curbing just to keep it on the island, but he emerged from T1 about 2 car lengths ahead. We went through T2 fairly even, Steve having to catch a pretty good slide at the exit. However, the race ended at T3, where I had to lift a touch to keep the front from pushing wide, and, uh, Steve didn’t. That was an automatic 4 car lengths, and that’s all she wrote folks, thanks for coming, don’t forget to wave to the corner workers, tip your
waiters, and just say no to Uggs.
So, I was faced with two options – tool around the track quickly enough to stay in second place, keep from getting lapped for dignity’s sake, or keep pushing in case Steve made a mistake. I elected to take a page from one of my favorite drivers – Fernando Alonso – and take the never-say-die approach. So, I pushed as hard as I could the entire race, on the off chance that Steve might make another unforced error, of which he’d made a few that weekend. With the heat, I thought perhaps the new car might overheat, or if Steve made a bad enough off-track-excursion, perhaps I could sneak by and hold a win.
Unfortunately for me, such a thing did not come to pass, but I felt good about running a hard race, with :40 and :41 times appearing on my dash, despite the horrible heat. From my vantage point, I could tell that Steve backed off after about 4-5 laps, but at least I finished doing what I could. I caught lots of traffic the last few laps, but nevertheless, ended up just about 10 feet from lapping the third place finisher, and the only car besides Steve on the lead lap.
So, the final result is two wins for Steve in the Speads, as well as uncerimoniously stripping me of my overall and DSR lap records, but at least it’s two more finishes to my credit, and a reasonable race run with what I had to run with.
Despite being handed two pretty solid entries for the “L” column, some definite good out of the weekend, primarily the good progress on getting the brakes sorted on the car. Further, despite being a little warm on water (216-220) during the race, no overheating troubles. I’ll move to a 100% water mix for Miller in August just to be sure, and make sure I’ve got everything all sealed up with foam, since it’s sure to be hot there.
It must be said that the new Speads does look like it might have some potential to challenge the status quo in DSR. Bearing in mind that the best WF-1’s are certainly a few seconds quicker than I am, that puts the Speads right in the same ballpark. The wider car certainly makes room for much larger tunnels, though it remains to be seen if the car will get down the straights OK in thicker air or on longer tracks like Road America. High Plains, with its shortish straight and thin air, doesn’t tend to tell the whole story on car top speeds. Runoffs, as always, should be interesting, as I expect Bob, Richard, Steve, and company will come back to HPR in September with a Runoffs motor and probably a few more pounds off of what is right now a “pretty heavy” car.
As for us, next race is the Great Salt Race at Miller, which should be absolutely FILLED with DSR’s and F1000’s, as it’s the final weekend in the F1000 Pro Series, and with Chris, Sammy, and some of the California contingent of DSR’s coming out, it should be a ton of fun if the rumors of 15+ F1000’s and 5+ DSR’s come true.