Finally a real racing driver!
At the end of the 2004 season, I decided that I wanted to go racing. A little over two years later, I was finally
able to put all the pieces together, and MAN was it worth it! Right at the beginning, I have to thank Jim Christian,
without whom my weekend would not have gone anywhere near as smoothly - his help was invaluable! Thanks also to Bill
Lamkin for being my pit guy and general mentor the entire weekend. Lastly, I must mention Al Pizzato for selflessly
trailing behind me on the way home after a mystery tire blowout. Thanks Al! Racing really isn't complete without the
fantastic people that make it so fun to be a part of.
Preparation for the three day Driver's School/Regional started about two months beforehand, jumping through all the
various hoops required to get your novice license - a physical, passport photos, mailing in all the paperwork, getting
the appropriate patches and stickers and so on. Also, I made sure to have the car in 100% tip-top shape, spare tires,
bodywork etc, to make sure I'd be able to finish the school.
Friday - Clasroom
Friday started early, loading up the car and all the bits. The only difficulty was finding a way to get my spare nose
in the trailer with the car, something I'd never tried before. After that, it was off for the easy 4-hour drive to La
After getting unloaded and generally sorted out, I managed to get the car's annual tech taken care of before starting
the classroom portion of the school at around 7:00. For those who don't know, this consists primarily of education on flags, race
procedures, and some safety rules, followed by some racing theory. As well, they help familiarize you with the process
of registering etc, since it's a bit more involved than what you go through at a solo. The primary goal is to make sure you're going to
be a safe person to race with. We wrapped things up at about 11:00, and I headed to the hotel to sleep (yeah right!)
Saturday - School
Saturday started bright and early. I showed up at about 6:00 to put the last of the stickers from Annie on the car,
and generally go through my checklist one more time to make sure everything was kosher. At 7:00, we met the
instructors at start/finish, and drove/walked the track a few times in trucks, identifying such salient points as
turn in points, surface changes, bumps, and so on. Mostly, this was just an upsized version of the solo2 course
walking I've been doing for 6+ years now!
There were only four people in the school, making for some comically small closed wheel and open wheel run groups -
two instructors and two students in each group! Besides me, there was a fellow named Patrick in a FM getting his
license that weekend.
Our first session out, our first three laps were under yellow, driving behind the instructors. Fun to finally be out
on track with a bunch of other formula cars, instead of a bunch of big sedans! After they threw the green, I
immediately passed our instructor - in a DSR versus a FF, this wasn't too hard. Mostly I was hoping to get some good
laps in to try and learn the track some, and behind his car, I felt that would have been tough. After a few laps,
I slowed and let everybody by, to try and work some on being behind, passing, and so on. The whole session, I felt
very rough and ragged - not having been in the car for months will do that!
After 20 minutes, the session was over, and we had a brief discussion with the instructors. They felt both Patrick
and I looked good, but both of us felt like we'd driven like our hair was on fire! Best laptime was in the 54 second
The second session went better. By the 3rd lap out, I convinced myself to remain flat on the gas until the big hump
just before turn 3, which was pretty thrilling. Trusting the car as it turns in and takes a set at 100+ miles per
hour is certainly a new experience! I think high speed for the weekend on the Stack was about 125? Got down into the 53's. At the exit of the chicane, I did manage to put two wheels
off at one point, and I was able to get it back on without any trouble.
Handling-wise, the car was completely predictable.
A bit of understeer in the middle-speed chicane corners, that might have simply been driver induced. I could not get out
of the final turn 7 (onto the straight) as well as some of the cars, but I also don't know how much of that was driver
as well. For certain, the high wing angle (3 of 4 notches) was slowing me at the end of the straight. However, fighting
the car's setup was the last thing I wanted to be doing at the school!
Patrick was still getting used to racing on four wheels
again (he's been a champion in sidecars, karts, and about a zillion other things!), and I managed to lap him near
the end of the session, and he and I had a great 1.5 laps dicing eachother as I tried to figure out how on earth
to safely pass somebody. Takes some getting used to...sheesh! I managed to get by going into 4, but left the door
open on 5 (not sure if I should move over or not), and he got back by. I was finally able to pass him for good the
next lap going into turn 3, as he ran wide on entry.
MAN, THIS is what the racing is all about, what unbelievable fun!
Our third session was in the afternoon, and was to help give us some practice starts. With only two cars, this
perhaps wasn't the best education one could hope for! Patrick and I traded pole starts, which essentially considered
of me running away when the green flag fell - the horsepower difference between the cars was just too big. As a result,
I felt pretty nervous about starting the race on Sunday, since neither of us had really gotten a chance to practice a
realistic start. With the third practice start, we ran a mock 7-lap race, and I saw a 52.8 on the dash. Improvement!
The only drama of the entire day was a CV boot that tore, spraying grease around the underbody of the car. After
driving around La Junta a few times, I was able to find a suitable replacement and rebuild and reinstall the CV. God
I love how easy it is to fix things on race cars!
Saturday - Graduation!
Sometimes little things really end up being important to you. At the end of the day, they held a small graduation
ceremony for those of us in the school, with everybody gathered around. We even got to spray champagne on eachother,
the instructors, and the ground. Felt great to be welcomed into the group! Based on my driving during the day,
they agreed to waive my second school, so...EEP...I'd be racing Sunday! Walking to the registration trailer to pay
my extra $55 for the race sure was a emotion filled trek. Finally, after years, I get to go racing!
The car was pretty much 100% as far as maintenance, check tires, chain, gas, and go. Rock Solid.
Sunday - PDX
Paradoxically, Sunday started with me instructing novice drivers at the PDX. Since I've been part of the solo2 and
Time Trials crowd for many years now, they asked me to be one of the instructors. It sure was great to have familiar
faces like the Barclays, Al, Josh, and others there in the midst of the club racers, of whom I know hardly any, yet.
Sunday - Practice + Qualifying
After that, it was time to suit up and head out to grid for Practice 1.
I was pretty darn nervous, as this was my first session on track with an appreciable number of cars. Was I going to be a
complete goombah, or do OK? I switched to my backup set of front tires, since my others were pretty much shagged after the
bazillion laps I ran on Saturday. I was hoping they'd be OK. As it turned out, they were great - I did my best laptime
of the weekend, a 52.68, near the end of the session. The session itself was great fun, as I spent most of it trying
to track down a SuperVee, and never making much ground - we were both having a great time of it. I realized after the fact
that we'd both been passing cars consistently. I guess all that practice in rFactor has really paid off in getting by
cars in a controlled manner, and having a better feel for how your driving must change when you are in traffic. Sure
gives you an appreciation for how good the ALMS P1 and P2 guys are!
I also had my first experience being passed by Erik Larsen in his new West/Stohr. He simply drove straight by me on the
straightaway - man that car was fast! The only unfortunate event of the session was an S2000 going off in 7 and
colliding with big Jersey barrier. The car looked pretty well damaged. On the upside, I felt reassured with myself
that I did notice the yellows at the same time as everybody else, and we proceeded past the incident calmly.
Qualifying came next. In an effort to try and save
my tires, I only did a few laps, after seeing a good 52.77 on the dash. As it turns out, that was good enough for 5th,
in a group of cars separated by about half a second. I was hoping for an outstanding battle!
Once again, the car continued to be completely boring in terms of maintenance - check the chain, check the tires,
fill 'er up with gas, quick check under the bodywork, and go get a drink of water.
Sunday - Race
Finally, it was time to race! I was actually a lot
less nervous than I expected. For somebody who has in his history the habit of barfing from nervousness before every game he
I was not relishing the prospect of herking inside my helmet. Fortunately, no such worries. Having had some good time in
practice and qualifying, I was feeling pretty good. The car control learned at solo had me confident enough with my
control and speed, which left me plenty of thought to make sure I wasn't going to run into somebody. Only the start
had me nervous.
My qualifying had put me 5th, near a F1000, the SuperVee, and a quick FC and FE, respectively. As we got onto the straight
preparing for the green, the car ahead of me moved of line a hair, just enough to block my view of the start stand! Not knowing
really what to do, I decided to play it safe and simply listen, rather than try to find a way to see the green. Lesson learned
there...sheesh. Naturally, I got a bad start as a result. What I didn't count on was the 6th place car coming up and across my front
end. He underestimated how quickly I'd be accelerating once I did *actually* get on the gas, so I was forced to put two wheels into the dirt
on the inside. I backed out to ensure I wouldn't spin the car, so I dropped pretty much immediately to about 10th place. Dammit!
I was able to get back by two cars by getting under them into turn three, as they both ran wide. Up to 8th. I spent the next lap
(or two?) chasing down Patrick in the FM, and got by him again in T3, as he ran wide again. 7th. Maybe the Radical was just really good there?
I spent the whole rest of the race hunting down my instructor Charlie in the FSCCA. After I caught him, I was able to
get a run on him into turn 3, and outbraked him into T4, as he got caught behind a slower car. However, the slow car turned
in quite shallow, and blocked my exit into 5, forcing me to brake, and Charlie got back by both of us. I exited 5 right on
Charlie's tail. The backmarker stayed, oddly, right in the middle of the track. Charlie tried to go to the outside to
set up for 6, so I pulled into the inside, thinking I could out-accelerate both of them. The backmarker cut suddenly to the left,
so Charlie was forced to check up, and dove across the inside. I braked, and had to follow him into 6 and 7, and onto the front straight.
I was finally able to get up into his draft and pass between two and three. Talk about some adrenaline!
After that, I tried to chase down the next car, but simply ran out of laps to do it. I came home 6th, after starting 5th,
but had a helluva race chasing, racing, and passing people.
When's the next race?!
Having resisted the temptation to tinker with the car the whole weekend, I think there is definitely more speed
to be found in the setup, and definitely the driver. As a particular high point, I ran a few consecutive laps within
0.05 of eachother, 53.0's. Nice! However, I'm sure there is time to be found by refining my entry into 3, cleaning up the 4-5
chicane, and playing with some exit lines through 7 to see if I can get more speed through it onto the straight. I felt I could also
brake harder and later into 4, but felt a bit more at ease not starting that corner with the front tires on fire.
Setup-wise, I was conservative all weekend. 400/600 springs with 200# preload, and the rear bar on soft, and only about 1/8"
of rake. Wing at 3 of 4 notches. Definitely for next time, a touch more rake, and a touch less wing should help remove
some of the corner-exit understeer at mid-speed. As well, the front felt sort of..."squirmy" during the whole turn 5. I checked
the front tires, and the LF was getting that odd inside groove, so I'm not sure if the car was rolling too much, if I still
have too much camber, or if something else strange is going on. I believe
the wider wheels (8's/10's) should help support the tires a bit more (than the 6's/8's) and reduce some of that strange feeling,
or perhaps more roll stiffness is needed. Perhaps 650#
at the rear will help make the car a bit more neutral? Damping-wise, the car handled the bumps excellently, so the shocks
are feeling fantastic. Not sure I know enough to play with those for the time being? no complaints. Gearing, at 15/47 was
slightly too tall - I'll try 15/48 next time and see if there is still more headroom. I definitely wasn't using all of sixth
gear, although I can't recall for sure if I was even using it?
That's it for now...Next race at Sandia. Only one more race before I get my real regional license!