It’s The Disappointment That Makes Racing Worthwhile. At least that’s what I wrote last year.
By those standards, this was a very worthwhile weekend. The Sunday-race start you see above, which saw me jump from 37th to about 27th by Turn Two, was as good as it got. The rest was a catalogue of mistakes, failures, and bizarre circumstance.
It was foggy, raining, and slightly below freezing when I took “Black Betty”, our V6-powered RX-7, out for the start of Saturday’s race. We had qualified ninth in an eighty-car field, but that was deceiving; the weather had been so bad on Friday that most of the field hadn’t even taken a qualifying lap. There was a brand-new Corvette, a V8-engined E92 M3. Plus a fresh-build E46 M3 behind us. Although we’d registered six drivers for the race, one of them had missed his flight and two of them were sick. That left us with:
* Bark, who had no experience racing in these conditions.
* Travis, whom we needed to set fast laps in the long middle stints.
I’d driven us from Ohio to the Glen the previous night; we got in at 2:15AM and I didn’t sleep a wink. I was already so tired my eyeballs were bouncing in their skulls. Oh well.
There was also the matter of tires. We have a wonderful arrangement with Yokohama that provides us with two different kinds of tires: an Advan that kicks ass in the dry but is not great for racing in the rain, and an Advan that kicks ass in wet conditions at the expense of dry grip. Due to a misleading weather forecast, we had the dry tires on. It was going to be a great start.
At the green flag I went from ninth to fifth by Turn Two. You can see me run up to the Corvette in this video taken by some nutjob who just drove up the outside and got whacked out onto the curb. Serious balls on that dude, but I should point out that it’s an enduro, not a sprint. 🙂
After Turn Two, I got super sideways going up the Esses in fifth gear. I had to fall back and let the competition pass me. I fell down to 22nd or thereabouts as the rain just kept falling. Every time I tried to push the car a bit and check traction I was rewarded with a vicious twitch as Betty tried to hit the blue-painted guardrails ass-first. Four other cars hit the gravel or the wall during my stint, a great reminder not to push it too far. After about ninety minutes there was enough dry pavement for me to take back about ten of the places I’d lost. My best lap time was a not-great 2:16.2. What can I say? After almost two hours I was beat up from the feet up. The track was dry by the time I pitted, I just couldn’t take advantage of it.
Travis got in and immediately ran in the high 2:15s, then the low 2:15, then a stunning 2:14.2. But there was a problem. I’d been braking the car early for the “Bus Stop” at the top of the long, fast hill that makes Watkins Glen kind of America’s answer to Spa, but Travis was running full throttle another 300 feet and under those circumstances the brakes didn’t work. When Sam Smith agreed to be roused from his Zika-coma, he reported the same problem. We brought the car in for a lengthy repair, then sent Bark out to make sure the car was okay. He reported that it was behaving, but when yet another car hit the wall and brought out the double-yellow we called it a day.
I took the start again for Day 2. We began the race 37th, with seven hours of sleep under my belt but all sorts of leg pain from yesterday’s ridiculousness. At the start I brought us immediately up ten places and started running 2:15s. A Miata oiled the track right ahead of me, causing Betty to lose her fucking mind in the fast corners and also incentivizing three other cars to hit the guardrails in the first few laps afterwards. During the double-yellows we came in for a quick refuel — but our pit crew wasn’t on the radio and didn’t show up. We went from 8th place to 35th over the course of a nine-minute stop. I went back out and drove the car until the next dude hit the wall. My fast lap was 2:15.0.
Travis, true to form, scorched me with a 2:14.8 in his stint, but the brake problems that plagued him came right back despite our fixes. I wish we had data so I could see
a) how he got those 0.2 seconds
b) why he kills Betty’s brakes
Maybe the answer to those two questions is the same? Not wanting Travis to be the tenth or eleventh car to crunch a guardrail this weekend, we called him back in and retired from the race.
After a brief lunch at “Mr. Chicken” and a short tour of Seneca Lake, we headed home. It was a weekend to forget, as they say in Formula One. But we can take comfort in the fact that nobody was injured and the car wasn’t damaged in any way. We had a few glorious moments: I completely humiliated that V8 M3 during my Sunday stint and I was able to occasionally hassle the race leaders, while Travis had just a brilliant Saturday drive. We also learned a lot about what we need to avoid doing if we’re going to get any more trophies in AER.
Our next race as a team will be in July at New Jersey Motorsports Park, although Bark and I will be doing something really neat at Laguna Seca between now and then. Sam is doing something even cooler than what we’re doing and I wish I could tell you about it, but I can’t — SAM’S GOING PRO RACING DON’T TELL ANYBODY SSSSHHHH — and I will also be running NASA in the interim. Last but not least, my son will make his SCCA debut in early June.
So we’re going to look forward to that race, and stop looking back at this one. And my sincere thanks to the blue Miata team, shown below with Betty; they fueled my RX-7 when our pit crew didn’t show up!