And, for the foreseeable future, Nebraska is also the home to the SCCA Solo Nationals, which is where I spent most of the second week of September.
The car arrived on site on Monday, and Shawn turned it over to the capable hands of Billy Brooks and Greg McCance to figure out why there was a persistent drip from the front passenger side axle. The Mfactory front differential had been a difficult install, and I suspected that there may have been a resulting issue with the axle seal. However, the two of them could not get the axle out in order to see what was going on. Since there hadn't been enough of a loss of diff oil to register on the dipstick, it was decided to just drive the car as it was.
Wednesday morning came way too early for my liking, as I'd spent most of the previous evening getting ready. My suitcase had been packed with the car, so I didn't need to do laundry and the like, but I still had to decide what I was bringing with me as my carry-on. Ninety minutes of sleep also wasn't a good idea, but I was too anxious over the whole trip to go to sleep. I left the house around 4:20, and after some side trips, parking, the shuttle bus ride and "re"printing my boarding passes, I got to security around 5:00. I was through security around 5:02. Gotta love BWI at god-awful hours.
I spent a miserable hour or so at St. Louis waiting for the second leg of my flight. I was pretty much bored out of my skull the entire time, to the point that I paid $5 for an hour of WiFi time, just so I could at least do something. Oh, and on both flights, I found myself unable to fall asleep until the descent had begun. Major suckage, which continued with the rental car pickup -- bright yellow Aveo with a bent rim. Joy.
An hour drive to the site, and all was well through MM399. Between MM399 and MM395, it started misting, then a light rain, and by the time I'd driven down 48th to the turnoff for the site, it was a downpour. WTF? It had been sunny in Omaha! The rain stopped shortly after I arrived, even as I parked the rental near the WRX and started looking for people. It wasn't hard to find anyone; it was actually hard to walk more than five feet and not get hailed by someone asking, "Did you just get here?" Why, yes, I just arrived 3 minutes ago.
I got through registration (thanks, Connie, for the rulebook!), and said hello to John Thomas (who was driving his FP Datsun) and Steve Mieritz (who was driving, of all things, an SS Z06), the latter whom I hadn't seen in years! I puttered around for a while then was told in no uncertain terms that the car "needed to be teched." When I deigned to ask why it hadn't been teched in the 2+ days it had been on the site, I got yelled at.
So, once competition was done for the day on the West course, we waited (impatiently, I might add) for the abomination known as the CP parade to finish (some people didn't know to avert their eyes.... I hear their sight is just now returning! :o ), then I did a quick course walk so I had an idea of what I was going to be driving the next day. I was still too tired to really process it much, but I also needed to get over to the awards ceremony to help Rupert Berrington with photographs. I figured I was clean enough to be presentable, and jetted off to downtown Lincoln.
I was dying of hunger by the end of it all, and ended up getting to the hotel with nothing to eat until the next morning when I grabbed some disgusting roller-grill things at the local convenience store. I really wanted to walk the course at least twice in the morning, now that I had a few hours of sleep, but I was still in pseudozombie mode, and I didn't really pick up on important stuff during my walks.
Chris Cline had jumped into my car for Nationals, since his other ride offers consisted of FWD, FWD and more FWD. Considering he's been driving an STX E36 BMW the last two years, he wasn't exactly looking for a FWD Civic or CRX. He'd called me on Monday to discuss driving the WRX, and we come to an amenable agreement for the ride. He didn't get a chance to drive it besides taking it up the road for a fill-up with 100 octane, so his first real experience was the first run. Pat followed up with a decent run that would have had him deep in the trophies, except as is too normal for him, he'd coned.
The next run, Chris was a bit faster, and Pat tried to tone things down just to get a clean run in. I don't know what he did, but the resulting time was slow. It was clean though, and that was a start.
Then third runs.... Chris went a bit faster -- good. Pat started off great, then about two-thirds of the way through the course, through the showcase turn...
I just turned around and started to walk away, then I remembered I should warn Chris not to even think about going to the grid spot. Sure enough, Pat needed.... "time" to decompress. I felt bad, but I couldn't dwell on it. I needed to start thinking about my runs.
I got one walkthrough during the break between heats two and three, and then I waited through the slightly-less-than-a-billion STS first drivers before I got to run. There were merely three of us in ESPL -- me, defending ESPL champion Lorien Feighner, and Hilary Anderson in McCance's car -- which meant it was "win or go home" in terms of trophies and tire contingency. Just a tiny bit of pressure.
My first run was all over the place. I don't think having my last autocross attempt be an RX8 on A3S03s was a good idea. Still, it was a tick faster than Feighner's first run (less than a tenth), even if it was a lot slower than I would have liked. My second run, I pushed it a bit harder through the opening offsets, and up into the showcase. I thought I might have coned coming out of the big sweeper, but nothing was called, and I'm glad I resisted the urge to glance in the mirrors.
The run was minutely quicker than my first, and it would ultimately stand as my best, as I coned my third run in the opening offsets. Lorien slowed down on her second run, and coned her third as well. I would have a 0.295 lead going into day 2.
Some alcohol and foursquare with the Atlanta Region would ensue in the evening hours, and finally, I decided that sleep would be good. I think we might have made a run to Taco Bell for some kind of snackery, but OMG was I tired. I realized quickly that I had to spend pretty much all day in my grid, with Pat and Chris running first heat, me covering AS and GSL for SportsCar in the second heat, running third heat, sitting around for an hour in impound waiting for results during fourth heat, and then announcing during fifth heat. It made for a long day, but when I was done, I did get a walkthrough on the East Course before the foursquare began.
I started off the second day in a similar manner to the first, except one of my course walks was with Anthony Savini, a local who drives a supercharged Mini Cooper S in GS. He was leading GS by a scant 0.09 going into the second day, but he's also an Evolution instructor, and he went into instructor mode while we were walking. It was something I needed, with my addled sleep-deprived brain needing something to focus on during my driving.
Pat and Chris were well out of the trophies going into the second day, so they were both trying to salvage their respective prides with some decent times on the Feldpusch-designed course. Pat's third run was 0.4 behind local driver (and trophy winner) Brian Burdette, so I think he felt better about how he did. Chris didn't improve every run like he did on the first day, but he was driving the car harder, to the point that he actually coned his final run (which had his fastest raw time, unfortunately).
I got one walkthrough during the break, like before, and as Pat and I approached the start line, I asked Billy Brooks to join us. Pat decided to take offense at this, and walked away. So, even as Billy and I are walking, and Billy is telling me what he was doing in any particular area, I'm worried about how Pat is mad at me, so ultimately, I don't think my attempt at getting input from two people really helped. I would end up falling back on the advice Savini had given me during the morning walk.
My first run, I had a front row seat for Lorien's first cone of two. Seeing her cone made me relax -- probably a bit too much -- since I knew she wouldn't catch me on that run. Her time was a mid 60 second run, while mine was about 1.5 second slower, raw. It was a wake up call, but I was still hitting snooze, since with one look at the course and a driving pattern "set," I wasn't sure what I should do in order to rectify my sluggishness.
It didn't help that we had a huge delay before our next runs, due to two GP cars breaking, then an STS car breaking. Yikes. Multi-car breakage when you're driving an *SP WRX is a bit unnerving.
Fortunately, Lorien slowed down on her second run -- by a lot. She went almost a second slower on raw time, while I dropped 0.7. I was still in the lead, though I wouldn't say "comfortably." If she was even 0.3 off her initial raw time, she would be beating me -- that's how slow I was running.
The last run, I really don't know what I was doing to prepare. The lack of sleep and the anxiety of not having much in the way of downtime was starting to wear on me. I really couldn't think of a plan to go faster; this was the same situation I found myself in for the previous day. I knew I could go much faster, since Pat had run in the 59s. Hell, even Cline had a raw time in the mid-60s. Yet, I was sitting on a 61.2. I just was at a loss of what to do, and I felt it all slipping away when I pulled up to the line.
You can hear me cursing through the "wall-lom" about two thirds of the way through the course. I am so late on those elements, it's disgusting, and I know it. The funny thing is that in my mind, what I said was a lot louder, and a lot faster. Weird. The run was marginally faster than the second run, but either one was good enough for the win, as Lorien went even slower on her third run. More than an hour later, results were finally handed to us in impound (after having to fix an issue with Hilary's times), and I was declared the new champion.
Now for the "but" part. Pat ran 1.5 seconds faster than me on the East Course. 1.5. I can't remember the last time he legitimately drove 1.5 seconds faster than me when we were in the same car (I'm not counting the abortion called the WDCR Practice Event with me in his SE-R). Generally, we're pretty close, at least on raw time, and I was pretty flustered that he was so much quicker than me on both courses (raw time -- he had to sit on a run 0.2 slower than me on the West Course due to his conage).
I'm not sure if the issue is me still driving the car like a DS car, or what. I just know it's got to stop. I drove like crap at Toledo, and I drove like crap at Nationals. I didn't feel nearly as bad about my driving at the DC Pro, but I'm sure it could have been better there too.
So, I'm the newly crowned ESPL National Champion, thanks in huge part to IAG Performance, Vorshlag Motorsports, and Billy Brooks with MODERacing. As for next year, we'll see where the WRX goes from here.