03/04 February 2007
The Steal, The Spin & The Skin of My Teeth!
One Weekend, Three races!! - MOTORSPORTS RANCH *HOUSTON
It's a long story but I won't bore you too much. The short version is that Rege was going out of town and couldn't take Eric to his second roadrace weekend. Then a few days before the race, Eric had baseball practice he just could not miss so Wednesday night found Rege and I at the shop prepping one car (the 33, which used to be the 03, which is the only Legacy car I've driven and I happened to scored a win in August of last year) for the duty of turning both ways. Time was short as work has been just slam busy so I did the basics and left the details to the Saturday morning thrash at the track. Some quick FLASH email traffic netted me the Alien (Gary, building a CMC car) and Nick (who spanked us all in pax the previous weekend at TAMSCC) as crew for the weekend.
Saturday morning had the team pulling into the track before 7am and setting up our paddock spot. A quick trip through tech and then the car got on the scales and we got the corners about where they should be and then aligned the car. I was on the track at 0845 and got a whopping one lap of all-green track before folks (we were in the SpecMiata and Spec7 group) started finding the ever-present mud (foreshadowing) that perimetered nearly the entire 2.4 miles of the curvy ribbon of asphalt. I tried to link the corners and pick up on where I should be when, but with the multitude of yellows and wreckers it was mostly a waste of fuel. Qualifying was an hour or so later and we got another whole ONE clean lap and then mazdas began getting sucked into the quagmires. The times were utterly useless for everyone but I managed to qualify second.
Gary giving me some last-minute advice (or a sea bass recipe...I forget).
THE STEAL - Saturday, Race 1: We form up with Kirby in the lead and a 7replica next to him on the front row and Jay next to me and the rest behind us. I got a good start and as the 7replica took off (much faster car), I snuck past Kirby and took the AL (Alison Legacy) lead into T1 and the carousel. I was leading the race and trying to learn the track at the same time and arrived behind a Spec7 getting back on the track. Kirby was RIGHT behind me throughout the first lap and most all the second. He stepped next to me in braking for the last corner and I let him take the line. We ran down the front straight side by side and then I got inline with him for the carousel and followed him for the next 5 or so laps. Sometimes he could pull off a second or so lead and then I'd reel him back in bit by bit. I noticed that he could get INTO a fast corner better than me and had better high-speed grip (due to all the other AL cars having sway bars which my car does not have at this time as they are not legal in the circle track series). Being softer sprung in the rear, I could get ON the gas a bit faster so I was better coming out of the corners and could pull a bit (a small bit) down the straights. We caught some local yellows but the rest of the track we pedalled as fast as we could and moved through some slower traffic with me pushing the little car as hard as I could to not let him get another car between us. By following him (he did the races here last year and did testing the day before this) for these laps I learned the track much faster and our lap times were almost identical. The second to last lap I stayed very close as he would pull a tiny bit on a fast corner and I'd make it up on the brakes or on the next exit. Going into the tight turn before the front straight to begin the last lap we caught some traffic and Kirby was forced to the inside. I hung back and went wide and got on the gas very early and walked by him on the straight since he couldn't get on the gas till he was through the corner. I ran that lap as fast as I could and protected the brake zones like a mama bear. We caught more traffic at the last corner and I kept to the inside and scooted to the waiting checker flags! A win, stolen or not, is still a win!
After the race we all got together and chatted and it was really nice. All the AL guys ran clean races and Jay kept third to grab the final podium spot.
A nice shot of Jay's VERY CLEAN Legacy.
THE SPIN - Saturday, Race 2: So we begin the second race late in the afternoon in our finishing order so I have the pole. We grid up and take the warm-up lap and form up as we head into the tight corner before the front straight. I'm on the inside for the first corner (a left that leads into the right-turn carousel) and get a decent start and lead into T1. And the first lap. Kirby is all over my back with Jay all over his. I am running quick and clean while pushing the little car as fast as she'll go. Lap 2. Deep in the braking zone I try going just a bit deeper (after turning the fan on while going down the straight) and as the car is not fully settled, I spin. Kirby spins to avoid me and we both end up just barely off the track and scrambling to keep the cars from getting stuck. We rejoin after the AL cars pass and we both are instantly pushing hard. I am learning the track more and more and have good chances to evaluate the chassis. At one point I pass Kirby with a great launch off a slow corner but them blow it by pulling the shifter from 3rd back into 2nd! I never let the clutch all the way out as I could feel the shifter was in the wrong spot but I lost my momentum and Kirby got back by. ARGH. I just wanted this race to be over. We were mucked in traffic the last three laps and had the joy of other cars who were running alone totally screw up five guys who were all running nose to tail. Why those morons can't move over and let the race through is beyond me. Idiots. Kirby got by a guy in front of him the moment I got by the guy in front of me on the same straight as we moved closer to the lead. Another AL car spun in front of me setting up for the front straight (got it on the in-car vid!) and I kept my head down and drove my heart out. Alas, it was not meant to be. The starter gave us the '1' signal and Kirby was a bit too far behind Jay to do anything and I had a mazdadork(tm) in front of me who held me up in the brake zones and corners but that had a bit more power than I did so I was stuck. The checked flew for Jay then Kirby and then me. A podium is nice, but not when you spin the win (or, at least, the chance to win) away. Argh. The biggest problem was some mud got into the front rims and threw the balance WAY off. It shook like the devil once I got into 4th gear and stopping distances were noticeably lengthened. Thankfully with some washing, it was back to normal and the car was fine in that department the next day. Still...a spin. From me! I've never solo spun the ITA car, either AS I've driven, my S2, the rally car, etc. I've BEEN spun (hit)...but this was a first. Hopefully the last too! :-)
Wes getting his car around the curves.
Gary made some calls and pulled some family strings (Clan Robertson, Aye) and got us a table at Casa Del Lizabeth. Now, if you have never eaten there...well....you just have not lived. The appetizers were to die for, the main course made me delirious and the dessert was heavenly. I slept the sleep of a tired boy with waaaaay too much good food in me. Gary is a regular there but to Nick and I it was absolutely incredible.
SUNDAY finds us again at the track early for our one qualifying session. I warm up the car and try to stay out of the way of the faster cars and keep my nose clean. We had made a few small chassis changes and the car was feeling good. I never really blitzed a lap, rather I just tested the car and looked for small nuances in the track to exploit during the race. During the races I was so focused on the other cars that the track was not entirely clear to me. Sure, I knew where it went and the basics, but the small things still escaped me (the subtle off camber of some braking zones, the curbs that I could use and the ones I needed to avoid, the runoff areas to exploit and the times to hold off) and I used this as a 'scouting mission' of sorts.
Todd's checkerboarded Allison.
While waiting for the 1pm race my crew (Nick and Gary) both do the usual post-session and pre-session checklist that have kept me ready for every session for the weekend. They did a fantastic job and I would not have done nearly as well without their help. Huge thanks to them!!!
Left to right: Jay (88), Kirby (10) and me (33) going into the final corner before the front straight.
The Skin of My Teeth - Sunday's Race: First off, some bad news. The video camera quit as I was leaving the pits and I didn't get in-car footage of this race. The times again went to Kirby with me on the front row next to him. I got a great start and moved into the lead for T1 and held it for the first lap. On the second lap Jay passed Kirby for second and you could have thrown a blanket over the five AL cars for the next few minutes. Kirby turns up the wick and gets back by Jay and then passes me too. Being a 40 minute race, I don't fight too much, however I DO fight to keep up with him to try to stay in striking distance. Jay is hanging close to us too. Then, a few things happen really quickly. First off Kirby and I catch some traffic going into the last turn on the track at about the 10 minute mark. Second off, going INTO that corner the brake pedal went a bit further down than normal. I knew I had trouble. I was extremely close to Kirby and the traffic and I went wide (partially because of the brakes and partially to setup the best exit) and as Kirby struggled to maintain grip to pass the traffic on the inside the back end began to come around. I stabbed the gas and aimed for his rear bumper as he spun to the inside of the corner and I carried that exit speed past the traffic down the straight. The lead was mine now, but I knew Kirby would be fighting to come back and I still had Jay close by. I ran two very hard laps pumping the brakes before each heavy braking zone and put some distance on Jay and he seemed to back off just a bit. I slowed a bit and began to run the tight section without brakes at all just by lifting a bit early. I kept up a pretty quick pace, but I was conserving the car as much as possible. Gary was talking to me on the radio and keeping me in the loop of the action and with not too much time to go the two race leader SpecMiatas were closing in on me. As we went into the final corner of the track I stepped to the outside and let them pass together (I didn't want to muck up THEIR race as they were nose-to-tail and I'm not an idiot) and then tucked in behind them for the front straight. As Gary was calling to me that 'Kirby is coming up fast' we passed under the starter as he held up the '1' finger indicating this was the final lap. I could see Kirby about 5 lengths back and I cranked up the wick all the way. I used every inch of that track and every tidbit I had learned to keep in front of him on the second and third straights. I kept a small cushion in between us until the final corner when I caught a slower car. I made a move to the inside as the traffic went to the outside and Kirby had nowhere to go. He tucked in very close but I came out of the corner very hard and we crossed the finish line with Kirby less than a car-length behind me. Eeked that one out by the skin of my teeth! Jay held onto the final podium spot as we all headed to the paddock after the cool-down lap.
Kirby's Allison Legacy #10.
All of us AL guys talked over the race and got our trophies. With two wins and a third I was feeling pretty good especially on a roadcourse with no sway bars! I'm not sure what the rest of the season holds, but HUGE THANKS to Rege for letting me take the car, and HUGE THANKS to Gary and Nick for keeping my wheels on, air in the tires, fuel in the cell, oil in the sump (and sooo much more) and perpetually tightening that loose nut behind the wheel. Also, kudos to Nick for all the pics and vids he shot (and the pics on this page!).
No clue what I am racing or where I am racing next, but stay tuned...