Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stacked Odds

I haven't been to Toledo in four years. After the National Tour in 2005, when I was all but begged to drive Joel Fehrman's STi in SM but declined in order to drive my beloved Camaro in FS, I haven't been back. That Tour event, I finished midpack on the strength of my Sunday runs, after having had no chance whatsoever of a good, dry run on Saturday. You see, I spun on my only dry run, yet the course workers still barely had time to finish setting up cones from the guy ahead of me. If I hadn't spun, I would have gotten a rerun, which would have been rained out. In other words, I couldn't win.

For four years, I've avoided Toledo, because of that, because of the feeling that I literally can't win there. The best ProSolo finish I've ever had in FS was in Toledo, 0.302 behind Jason Burns, but it still wasn't good enough for a Super Challenge berth. I got a fifth place STS finish in Corey Ridgick's Subaru, but marred his front fascia enough from a cone hit that I thought I was going to have to pay for a new one. :( No, Toledo is no friend of mine.

I really don't know what I was thinking when I signed up for this. I'd already decided I wasn't going to the ProSolo Finale because I can't win L2 against Annie Bauer on her FSP index, and I doubt I can come close enough to even make the Ladies Challenge. However, it turns out that FSP isn't the only seriously borked index out there.

Upon arrival at the event site, I found the spot reserved for me by Billy Brooks, and started to unload my car. Practice starts were going on, but I wasn't interested, as I didn't really want to change tires, and I already knew the site was super flat.

Mike Shields and Chris Franson were among those doing practice starts; they were in Mike's Championship-winning DSP BMW. After Chris took some starts, Mike goes to take a few as well, and promptly has a catastrophic failure of the transmission. The next hour or so is taken up with a discussion of who they can get rides with. Despite Kevin Henry having an open seat in his E30 BMW, neither Mike nor Chris want anything to do with the E30 chassis (which is evidently tippier than their E36, which was bicycling last year at the Toledo Pro), so Mike ends up in Nathan Whipple's DSP Integra Type R, and Chris ends up in my car. This is a good thing for me, though, as it gives me a good driver in my car to compare to, plus it ensures that I won't bail on Sunday if Saturday isn't going well.

The site closes at 8PM, so I check into my hotel, then touch base with Sean O'Gorman for dinner plans. We meet at the world's slowest Chili's, in Maumee, and eventually, I make it back to the hotel for sleep. I hit the snooze alarm at least three times before I get a phone call that permanently wakes me up; it's Justin Rest asking how to get to the event site. I do the best I can with giving him directions, then get ready to go out myself.

Dark skies are threatening when I get to the site, and before long, the rain begins. I grab my rain tires from Ian Baker's trailer, and change tires -- few things are more miserable than changing tires in the rain. I have my rain jacket, but not my rain pants, so in short order, my too-long jeans are soaked from top to bottom. I am not happy about this, but there isn't much I can do, since all of my clothes are at the hotel. I don't bother walking the course in the rain, but instead focus on getting the car ready to go since I'm in group 2. Pretty much as soon as I'm done, Mike and Chris roll in, and Chris feels bad that he didn't help with the tire changing. I figure he and Mike had plenty to drink about with the broken transmission, so tell him it was no big deal.

So, my first runs are in the serious wet. It's no longer raining by the time L2 runs at the beginning of group two, but it's still very wet out. The rest of the class is either on Hoosier dirt stockers or A6s. I'm the only one on the radial wets. I think the way the conditions were at this point, I had the best tires. It was too wet for A6s, but too dry for the dirt stockers. It was no suprise that I was in the lead after the first session, with Denise Kugler in second.

After impound, I changed the tires to the brand-spanking-new A6s for Chris, since the rain had stopped, and the course was getting drier by the minute. I told him how to launch it, as well as any other little nit-picky things I could think of, and then reported to my impound assignment. He drove it fairly well, sitting in fifth after the morning runs.
heading into the saturday afternoon runs, photo by paul magee

The fact that the afternoon runs were dry made both Denise and I comment on the similarities to DC. I was hoping that Sunday morning wouldn't be the same half wet/half dry combination, but I wouldn't have been surprised if it was. I dropped some serious time, as did everyone, and when the results came out, I was somewhat shocked to find myself in second place, with Denise in third. I was behind someone I'd only met on Friday night at dinner, named Beth Smith. She was driving an FM F500. I knew I'd given up some time on my second two afternoon runs, since I'd been called for cones on the first two, but I didn't think I'd sat back so much that I'd be an indexed second behind the leader. I was somewhat perturbed.
photo by Jen Croy

Chris didn't improve much in the afternoon. He redlit away a 27.4 run, which would have had him about five spots higher in the standings, and he was wildly different from run-to-run in his 60ft times. Launches were owning him. He slipped from fifth down to ninth with the afternoon runs.
photo by Jen Croy

It was about that point that I realized that the FM index could be partly to blame for my position. As I walked up to the results to look at 60-ft times, I came upon Allen Kugler and David Newman, who were both frustrated with being deep in the R1 standings. Allen was pointing out that Darrin DiSimo was an indexed second behind the slowest FM driver, while I was the same behind Beth. I don't think I can remember ever seeing Allen as agitated as he was at that point. I told him that I'd backed off for my second two runs, so as to get clean runs on both sides, but he wouldn't hear of it. With all of R1 struggling against the FM drivers, it seemed that maybe it wasn't my driving that was the major issue at all.

I asked Doug Gill as the final group was entering impound if I could weigh my car, since I knew Greg had weighed his (since Billy Brooks was running it in SM) and I wanted to compare. He said to bring it in at the end of the cars that needed to be weighed, which I did. As Andrew Lieber's car cleared the scales, I helped push mine on. 3086lbs, with some really messed up corner weights (902/953 front and 649/584 rear). If I do the race seats (which I should), I can be close to McCance's 2912lbs.

Sunday morning was bright and clear, unlike the thunderstorms from twenty-four hours previous. I'd ridden to and from the hotel with Justin Rest, so I didn't need to do anything with my tires except get the pressures back up to par. I decided to walk the courses a few more times, just to reinforce a few things I needed to think about in order to maximize my times. I was still pretty confident that if I could get into the 27s, I could win; I was sitting on low-to-mid 28s at this point. I could pick out two areas on the courses that I knew would be huge time-gainers, and I decided to focus there.
photo by paul magee

Once group two runs came around, I went to implement my plan. The first two runs didn't go quite according to that idea, but the next two, yes! 27.7 on both sides! But, considering the cheering I was hearing from the FM camp, I knew she'd improved too. I had dropped nearly 1.5 seconds, but I had no idea how much she'd dropped, nor did I know how much of a different it would make. I went to impound to wait out my time, and once the results came, I was disgusted.

Martin Valent's footage shows parts of these runs (left side #1 and right side #2) from the outside of the car (fast forward to 8:13, which is when my car first appears).

1.4 seconds back. 1.4. Ridiculous. I was upset, and I didn't want to talk to Beth, because I knew it wasn't her fault that the index was so completely messed up, but I didn't want her to think I was mad at her. I knew I left time out there too, since Chris had run some raw times that were faster, and he was not familiar with the car. No, it wasn't until I made the mistake of pulling out my TI-83 and punching in Greg McCance's Saturday afternoon ESP times (which were good enough for the class lead at that point) and discovering that even Greg wouldn't be leading L2 that I wanted to just curl into a ball and cry.

I just can't win at Toledo. :(
the tape was gone by the end of my sunday runs; photo by paul magee

To add insult to injury, Brian Harmer told me to put my car in impound. I know it was an ugly laugh that I gave when I asked him if he was serious. Denise Kugler said the same thing. In any event, I needed to put my car back into grid, so it didn't stay impounded long.

Chris didn't improve on Sunday, coning away from faster left side times, and having sixty-foot times ranging from a car-best 1.7 to a terrible 2.1. He'd fall to 11th for the weekend. He put the car back into impound after ESP was released, on the off chance that I managed to make it to the Ladies Challenge.

It was for naught though. I was the ninth qualifier, and even if someone ahead of me had dropped out, I would have dropped too. There was no point in me trying to run against an impossible dial-in. On the other hand, it was a good thing my car was still in impound....

During Billy Brooks' runs in Greg McCance's car (Billy was running SM), I couldn't help but notice that it looked like the ABS wasn't working. It turns out that it wasn't working because there was serious left front wheel bearing failure possibly due to or maybe causing the axle nut on that side to back off.
that can't be good; photo by jen croy

After trying to fix it in impound, Greg gave up, and since I'd said he was welcome to drive my car in the Challenge, he came to ask me if he needed to do anything to drive my car, such as put his tires on it or whatever. I told him that he could run my tires if he wanted, but otherwise, he was good to go as soon as he put his numbers on.

So, Greg McCance ended up driving my diff-less wonder in the first round of the Hawk Super Challenge against Tony Savini, who is no slouch either.

Yep, he went off course after the slalom. He says he got his foot caught under the brake pedal. Oh well. I'd been looking forward to seeing what he could do with the car.

But, it meant I could leave early too. Billy, Jason and Greg helped me change tires and load the car, and I was gone by 4:15, and home around 11:45. Not the ending I wanted from this ProSolo, but Chris was able to push me a bit, and also was able to help me with some concrete setup. Greg was able to give a little feedback on the car, too. So, while I was horribly disappointed with the final results, I did get some information from the weekend.

Now I need to decide whether to drive all the way down to Moultrie, GA for the Southeast Divisionals against... no one. Or to stay close to home and run the DC points event on Sunday. Moultrie is concrete. DC is the same old-same old. I haven't decided yet.


  1. awww. sorry about toledo. -hugs-

    go again next year! you'll do better! with the amount of changes done to the car you said that you had to re-learn how to the drive it. so, don't focus too much on winning; just drive. maybe you'll notice something that you didn't notice before. then again i know nothing about autocrossing, and things probably aren't that simple. and you'll most likely ignore me, which is totally fine; not a lot of people listen to simple-minded stuff. just don't beat yourself up too much. it's not good.

    and good luck on sunday!!!

  2. lol, it's funny that i remarked to a few people about the attitude of a guy running FS in an F150 lightning (a pickup truck with a supercharger and factory suspension work). he was out there having a great time, on street tires, against some of the best drivers in autocross.

    and you have no idea how often i've heard the mantra "just drive." a lot of us long-time autocrossers remember a particular person, may he forever rest in peace, who used to tell us that all the time, though it usually had another work in between the "just" and "drive." ;)

    no, anton, your advice may be simple, but it's true. :)