Saturday, August 6, 2011

High Anxiety

You might want to make sure you've read part I and part II of the road trip first.

Looking across the site from Grid B. Yes, that's Annie Bauer's car at the lights.

I was pretty anxious to get to the site Saturday morning, which is odd, because I haven't been this excited to autocross in a long time. But this felt different. It was a completely different group of people than I usually run with, and so ridiculous drama wasn't a dark cloud over every aspect of the event. I had a simple work assignment -- starter -- so I wasn't stressing out over making sure things were being done correctly.

Well, to some extent. I hadn't worked start in five years, and for the first time in recent memory, the shot clock was functional. I needed to get into a rhythm for sending cars, but it only took a few pairings to do so.
When was the last time you saw this counting down?

There were only three run groups, so after shift A was done, there was about a 10-15 break so that shift A drivers could get out of impound and go to their work assignments. In the meantime, I found I had downtime... something I haven't had in a long time at any autocross, whether a local or a National event. I wandered around a bit, talked to some of the guys who'd just driven (like Andy Hollis) to get some pointers. Then I leisurely made sure the WRX had air in the tires, and put it in my grid spot.

I didn't have a crew person with me, so I decided to just start my pressures low and let them come up, rather than worry about checking them on my own between runs. It was cool -- mid 70s -- and so I went with 39psi up front and 35psi in the rear, figuring they'd come up to something close to what I wanted.
Getting ready for Saturday morning runs

Bump class 2 was the motley group of me (ESP), Ryan Otis (SS), Steve Barnes and James Shepherd (SS), Tom Kotzian and Allan Zacharda (SMF), Dustin Burns (F125) and John Burns (F125). I wasn't sure how the ESP index stacked up against SMF, SS or F125, but I was more just concerned with driving. To start, I was paired up with John Burns in his F125, so I knew I just needed to concentrate on my driving and not on the fact that the kart should be beating me all over the place out there.

I started off on the left, and a lazy 3500rpm launch saw a mid .8s reaction time and a 1.9s 60ft. But as I came in, Ron Bauer was announcing me as off course. I wasn't sure where I'd screwed up, and when Ann Hollis came over and asked if I needed anything, she couldn't say where the DNF was either. So, I chalked it up to just being too lackadaisical, and decided to try to figure it out on my next left run.

On the right, after another "safe" launch, I made a point of telling myself to trust the car through the right hander into the crossover straight. A bit of a lift, and I was flying into a three cone slalom, then the turnaround back to the crossover. The car was feeling good as I zipped into the finish slalom, and I posted a respectable time of 26.9.
Heading back around to the crossover on the right hand side. Photo by Andrew Howe.

Gearing up for my next left side run, Ron Bauer is really hyping up my trip from Maryland while being complimentary of my driving. I wasn't very impressed with my driving right then, and on the next launch, was pretty tentative while looking to see where my off may have been.

I see it right away. Where the three cone "slalom" was after the crossover straight, I'd straight-lined it instead of wiggling. I made it through there, around the backside, and then came flying into the slalom a little too quickly. The backend stepped out, I gathered it back up without hitting anything, and posted a time, which is all I wanted. It was only good for fifth in class when all was said and done.

The lunch break was pretty relaxing, and I talked with a variety of people I rarely see except for Nationals. Fast Mike Lillejord gave me a hard time for missing out on margaritas on Friday night, while others asked me what made me drive a street prepared car all the way out to Washington State. Some quality quotes came out of this :
  • "Wait, what? This isn't the Washington DC ProSolo? Crap."
  • "I'm putting the 'street' back in 'street prepared'!"
  • "I wanted first place ESP points to, you know, scare Strano."
  • [someone else, as I stand next to my WRX, checking pressures] : "Did you fly out?" [me, looking confused] "Uh, yeah. And the WRX was checked baggage."
To be honest, the ride out was smoother and more comfortable than when I drove the car out to Wendover in 2008. The Sparco Evo seat is much more supportive and forgiving than the stock seats. My only complaint with the Sparco is that it doesn't recline. Even with all of the Kartboy, TurnInConcepts and Whiteline drivetrain bushings, the noise, vibration and harshness of the ride is more than tolerable, unless I let it lug around 1500-1700rpm (rare). The softer Swift springs on the zzyzx/Koni coilovers, and the brand new Koni 8611 inserts were probably a better choice for a cross-country road trip than what I had been using too. My only real concern was the transmission, as even on my morning "reconnaissance" runs, the car was definitely making more power in the cool mountain air than it does normally in Maryland humidity.
Heading into the finish slalom on the left side course. Mount Rainier is hidden behind some clouds.

So, around 12:45PM, we started up the second set of runs, and I'm back in the starter's chair, plugging along. There is certainly something sweet about being in that chair during particular pairings, such as Laurie Hyman (ASP GT-R) and Teresa Neidel-McKee (SSM RX7) or Stacey Molleker (BS GT500) and whichever S2000 he was paired up with at that point. Andy Hollis is a total machine at the lights, both in competition and in the challenge. Listening to guys give each other crap as they were staging (such as some of the STS guys) is pretty funny too.

Again, during shift B, I found myself very relaxed, and with plenty of time to take a quick jaunt through Packwood to put a couple of gallons of gas in the car. While there, some locals asked if I was doing "the rally" and everyone was very nice and supportive of what the SCCA is doing. In some ways, it reminded me of going to Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, and how it was a huge production for the SCCA to come to town and stage an event. The locals thought it was awesome I'd driven all the way from Maryland.

For the afternoon runs, I was paired up the the yellow Corvette of Steve Barnes. The karts had both had issues in the morning (Dustin's kart just wouldn't even run due to air in the fuel lines), and so were at the back, and Ryan Otis was paired with Tom Kotzian. Zacharda and James were in the second driver grid waiting for their turns. Like the morning, I was less concerned with who I was paired up with and more worried about what I needed to do. I knew I had a lot of time on the left side, and at least a few tenths on the right. So, starting on the right, I coned away a 0.6 improvement.
Stupid cone. Photo by Andrew Howe

I shrugged it off. The left side was where I really needed to improve. And as I pulled up to the stage lanes, I realized something.

My ProSolo nervous habits were back.

Pull up. Reverse. Ease up into the lights. Set the e-brake. Turn off the radio. A/C off. First gear. A/C off? First gear? Bring the revs up. Launch.

It was all back.

I tried not to let the realization throw me as I took off on my run. Thread the needle, get on it, ease up through the tighter-than-the-right-side section, hard on it into the slalom... whoa, whoa, get it slowed down, then back on it through the slalom into the finish.... now, breathe, and listen....

1.3 second improvement. Bauer was incredulous. I was smiling. The car felt awesome.

Radio on, back to the right side...


Overall, I would drop 2.5 seconds (0.8 on the right and 1.7 on the left) to move myself into second position heading into Sunday's runs. I was ecstatic, and I was loving how the WRX was feeling. Finally, after two years of ESP frustration, the car wasn't all pushy and irritating. I just needed to start trusting what it would do now. I had forgotten to tell myself to "trust the car" on my last right side run and actually tapped the brake before the right hander, so I knew I had time there. I also was leaving a lot of time at the lights. 0.6s on the tree and 1.9s for 60 ft times... I didn't want to push too much harder there, as that was a "I must drive this car home" kind of issue, but I knew the car had more in it.
I was the cutoff after Saturday.

Andy and I chatted with some people before heading out to dinner at Peter's Inn, and then I just found myself tired and not really wanting to push too hard on Saturday night, not with another 40 hour drive ahead of me starting the next evening. So, I laid down and eventually :facekindled: with my e-book while he went back over to Peter's Inn for Saturday night karaoke and Blue Spruce for some mingling with the rest of the autocross crowd.

Sunday saw people dropping time in the morning, a few tenths on each side. Classes were tightening up, and I knew if I was going to stay eligible for the Challenge, I needed to improve too.
Paired up with Ryan Otis for the Sunday morning runs

Unfortunately, I didn't improve at all on Sunday morning, while Tom Kotzian got half a second on the right side, and moved by me for second. I stayed in the trophies though, though a Hoosier tire for second would have been a nice souvenir for myself.

Brought this one back from Oregon for Pat

So, I helped out by working as starter during the Challenge rounds, and seeing how masters like Andy Hollis bowl their way from start to final round, then said my goodbyes, and headed off towards Yakima to come to rest near the Oregon/Idaho border (Ontario, Oregon) for the night.

In the end, I was pretty happy with how I did. Could I have gotten by Kotzian for second? Sure, if I had been anywhere close to home, I wouldn't have been as tentative at the lights, and just another 0.1s per side in the 60ft could have moved me up. Could I have caught Ryan? That's a tougher question. The WRX felt good, but I haven't competed with it since the NJ Pro, and it felt awful to me there. I know I wasn't driving it as well as I could have because I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall. I had a great time, and it was nice to know that autocross can still be fun, when I'm not on the periphery of drama queens and under the pressure of being a chief. It made the decision to go to the Northeast Divisionals when I got back a bit easier.

The next day, I had a decision to make. To Wendover or not to Wendover?

A new friend for Andrew Pallotta tagged along on the ride home.

To Be Concluded!

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