Redemption Friday

Although, I’m not that pleased with the final result, I was pretty happy with the way the day turned out.

First off, BIG thanks to Team Neon driver Mike O and ex-codriver Chris Franson for walking the Left course with me the night before we ran. I think I had the course fairly well figured out before this, but they gave me invaluable information about the surface conditions – where there was grip and where it was slippery. They had run on the course on Thurday and so their insights were invaluable. Without their advice, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to hammer the car through certain sections on my first run.

Friday morning, I realized that I had forgotten to put the Terrible Towel in the car the day before. I corrected this problem, and was that much more confident that I would do well.

Looking at the standings from Thursday, I was pretty close to the trophies, but I also had a log jam of folks right behind, so it wasn’t going to be easy to move up. On the other hand, I felt the course favored the Miata over the MR2, so there was reason to be somewhat optimistic.

I decided to skip the morning coursewalk, which I almost never do, in favor of a little more sleep, and a decent breakfast. I felt I knew the course fairly well, and all I really wanted to see was where the edge of the sand was, which I could do on the walk between heats 2 and 3.

Although the weather report called for temperatures in the mid-70’s, it never really seemed to warm up, until the sun came out after we ran. I think it was in the mid-60’s during heat 4 – I ran in a sweatshirt until my 3rd run.

First run, I pushed the car right away much harder than I had on the other course. David’s car is much more stable than my car, and it seems to like a little rougher treatment, plus the grip seemed quite good despite the low temperatures. I got through the first set of offsets pretty well (in fact, better than I would all day), then came the big decreasing radius sweeper in the middle of the course. I was too conservative here, and didn’t carry very good exit speed into the 4 cones slalom. I was surprised at how much grip there was in the braking zone for the following 180, but despite slowing down too much, I got behind the exit cone as planned and into the throttle early for the high speed offsets. Rode the limiter for a second or so into the brake zone before the slalom in at the bottom of the course. Overbraked for this corner, and lost some time, as the grip was very good. I managed to get the car slowed down for the tight turn at the end of the short slalom, but ran right over the apex cone when I turned into the big offset slalom. This sections was fun and fast, although it required some throttle modulation as the cones were offset and unevenly spaced. Since I had killed a cone already, I decided to try the tight part of the slalom with just a lift rather than hitting the brakes, and much to my surprise, it worked. I got back on the gas way too slowly in the left to the finish.

I thought the run was ok, with some clear areas for improvement. The car seemed to be sticking great, so I was confident I could drop some time. Because of the new grid arrangement, you can’t really hear the other times in class while you are between runs, unless you turn on the radio. I generally don’t worry about that while I am running, so it didn’t bother me much.

Second run, I overdid it in the first offset section and almost missed the entrance to the big sweeper. Got into the sand and had to brake about 50 feet earlier than I wanted to – this killed quite a bit of momentum although consequently I had a better line and exit speed heading for the first slalom. I did the rest of the course fairly well and was pleasantly surprised with the time improvement. I felt I lost at least a second with the mistake I made in the early part of the course. I hadn’t heard anyone break into the 52’s yet, but I felt they were in reach.

Last run, I managed to get through the early offsets ok – not great, but not as bad as the second run. Did the sweeper better and the sections following. Coming down the big offset section, I was on the limiter quite a bit more than in previous runs, so things were looking good. Got my visual lock on the slalom cone, hit the brakes, and turned into the corner. Everything seemed great for a split second, the car rotated, was pointing the right way and I started feeding throttle in. Suddenly, the car starter to slide wide, and I got a very sick feeling in my stomach as I slid past the target cone. I was several car widths on the right side of the slalom cone, rather than tucked in on the left where the line was. I had run a little deep and gotten into the sand – at this point I probably would have just punted the run but this is Nationals, so I stayed in the gas and tried to get the car back on line. Somehow, the car found enough grip to clear the first cone (although at an angle I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy). I managed to flat foot the slalom despite the bad entry and did the tight turn into the long offset better than I had all day. In the offsets, I just threw caution to the wind and ran as tight to the cones as I could, and stayed in the gas. I also macho-manned the last corner before the finish, and was pleasantly surprised with a two tenths improvement over run 2. (This turned out to be critical, as Jerry Jenkins was on course just behind me and would have caught me for 10th place if I had stood on run 2.)

I wasn’t sure where I finished until I saw the final results.  I was actually quite surprised that no one managed to break into the 52s, as I really thought there probably another second in my car if I had cleaned up my mistakes.  In impound I compared times with the other Miata guys and I was quite happy to learn I was the fastest Miata.

I ended up in 10th, with the final trophy.  I know the car was capable of winning, so I’m not thrilled with the result at all, but considering the first day stupidity, Friday was a victory of sorts.  Surprisingly, the two day result left me closer to the front than I ever managed in the CS at Nationals.

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