Friday, August 10, 2012

The Big Show

The SCCA Solo Nationals registration closes today at 11:59PM, Central time. 1139 entries are recorded as I write this, just 61 shy of the 1200 entry cap. Unbelievable. 29 are registered in ESP alone, up from a mere 23 last year.

I just hope I can trophy again. :)

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Great Escape

Just got the word that I'm being allowed to take a few days off to go to the SCCA Solo Nationals (and drive my car home).

Now, to figure out this spastic hesitation and random no-start situation!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Beneath the Glass Ceiling

Saturday morning came too soon. After two full days of excitement and action, my legs were aching, and I had bruises all over from getting banged around in ill-fitting roller coaster harnesses and from the late night karting. I really just wanted to sleep in, but I needed to get to the site and change tires and walk the course and do the hardship runs.

I knew the gates opened at 6:30, and I'd told McCance I'd be there when the gates opened, so I was rolling out of the hotel at 6 to get gas and some water on the way. When I arrived, there was already a line to get in, including several others who, for better reasons than mine, didn't make the Friday portion. Eventually, I made it up to the gate, flashed my hard card and then McCance shows up, asking for a ride over to the paddock. He'd left his ride (a beautiful Harley) on site because of the rain, so I guess he just got dropped off at the gate to wait for my arrival.

We got the tires changed, the car cleared out and walked the course twice each side before learning that they were doing a "split" for the hardship runs. Half of the drivers would work while the others took their two runs, and then we'd switch. I was with the first twelve, so Greg went out to work. My first run, on the left, was ugly, a mid 31s run after I parked it to avoid a cone at the finish. The gate at the end of the course was super tight, and I'd underestimated just how much so it was. Slowing down before the finish netted me a mid 29s run on the right, which was reasonable, if not respectable for a first run and green course.

In the midst of this, I was talking with Shawn Alexander, and I discovered the real reason why McCance switched rides. Another ESP driver, Dave Heinrich, had just installed headers on his Boss 302 Mustang, but didn't have time to get the car tuned before the event. Knowing that he could drive my car, Greg had offered up his seat in Shawn's Mustang to Dave so that Dave could stay in class. Shawn found out about the change when he arrived on site on Friday. Knowing the background, I felt a lot better it.

Greg's hardship runs were barely better than mine, as he double-coned a decent run and then had a respectable showing on the opposite side. His cones made it so that he would be the second driver in the upcoming heat, which was probably to his advantage.
Junior makes notes prior to his runs : "Step 1: Destroy the WRX. Step 2: Destroy the Talon."
I was paired up with Mike "Junior" Johnson for my first set of regular runs in heat two. Sam Krauss -- NO RELATION -- was leading with Shawn in second. Charles Moss and Dave were ahead of me in the standings, but, like McCance, were second drivers.

I've never finished ahead of Junior, and I was a little annoyed by him jumping into ESP despite having the SSP Corvette on site. I know SSP didn't have a class, so I don't exactly blame him for not wanting to run in the bump class. Still, I was surprised after our four runs to only be 0.08s behind him, and outright beating him on the right side course. In fact, after my runs, I was fourth, though I figured I'd be moved down at least one position after Greg's runs. I had left a lot on the left course, as I'd driven distracted on my last run due to the oil pressure gauge reading lower than usual; at least I think it was lower than usual. It didn't work at all at the DC ProSolo, and I don't remember looking at it during Packwood.
McCance in my car for the first time since Toledo Pro 2009

Greg checked the oil level before his runs, and it was fine, so he jumped in and immediately shot up to 2nd in the standings, merely 0.032s behind Sam. He was satisfied with the car's setup, so we didn't change anything, and my single driver plan of "set the pressures 2psi low and don't mess with them" worked for both of us.

Because of the "restructuring" of the event schedule, we weren't sure if we'd have to run again in the afternoon, but it turned out that they only got through shift B (my work assignment) before calling it a day. We wouldn't be first off in the morning -- a good thing, as green as Toledo's concrete can be -- and depending on how the Challenge worked out, it could be an early end to Sunday. 

The ESP grid on Sunday morning was, as Brian Burdette put it, "a familiar sight."
AWD pwns the competition at a ProSolo
Also familiar was the fact that the Talon didn't show up until moments before grid was about to DSQ Sam's first runs. While the rest of us speculated whether the car had spontaneously combusted in paddock, Sam said they had just been running late. Pat likes to point out that the Talon did break at the Dover SuperShootout without even turning a wheel, so maybe the truth was somewhere in the middle, who knows.

Sam started off by dropping 0.3s on the left, while McCance slowed down. Knowing how Sam choked at the NJ ProSolo last year, I was kind of hoping for the same deal this time around, so I tried to give McCance some encouragement. Instead, he coned a beaut of a 28.054 that would have moved him into the lead. Fortunately, Sam was busy taking a red light on the right side. They crossed over for the final two runs, and McCance grabbed 0.3s on his right side, but Sam dropped to a 28.0 of his own, extending his lead. One run left, and if McCance could match or exceed his previous run, but clean, he still had a chance.
He backed off on the run, just enough that he couldn't catch Sam. He knew it too. Was it the cone on the previous run? Were the tires overheated? Who knows. Sam coned a wicked 27.7 on the right, leaving McCance 0.287s off the pace with second drivers, including me, to go.

I wasn't nervous, I wasn't anxious at all, and that should have been my first warning sign that I wasn't going to do what I needed to do. I had been pretty meh about the competition all weekend, despite my best attempts to get amped for it. Yeah, I walked the courses, watched the fast guys from other classes (especially Super Stock; what a battle!!), and I still just sat in the car before pulling to the line and didn't think about how to improve. Oh, I knew what I needed to do. But unlike some past events, where I'd literally sit and visualize how to do it, I just sat there and stared over the hood of the car. I just wasn't mentally in the game.

Starting off on the left -- my bad side -- I had a good launch, and immediately dropped almost 0.2 from the start. It helps not having cold tires. I swapped sides, and dropped less than a tenth. Back over to the left, and I just went into full-on stupid mode by being too tentative going through the Chicago box before the sweeper, and then got late through the offsets coming back. No improvement, and meanwhile, both Charles and Dave had gotten by me, even if I had taken advantage of Junior's inability to go faster.

One last shot on the right, with nothing to lose.
Another 0.2s improvement, enough to bump me ahead of Shawn and stay in fifth spot.

Overall, the car handled and launched great (we were launching around 5K again, like at Packwood). My 60fts were solidly 1.8s, while McCance had a few 1.7s (keep in mind that these aren't necessarily equivalent to Packwood, since the measurements to the 60ft mark may not be precise). With the higher launch RPM, I wasn't having issues off the line, and McCance adapted to the lack of launch control on my car very quickly. The Competition Clutch seemed to bear no ill effects from Packwood's miscues on the launch, and I don't believe either of us thought the car couldn't do the job.

We waited in impound for over an hour before results finally came out, showing the final breakdown. Grady told us that only Sam was being kept, so the sad procession to paddock commenced, and we changed tires and I loaded all of my crap into the car. I went to grab a BBQ sandwich before hitting the road, and while waiting in line, Howard Duncan was announcing the Super Challenge qualifiers.

Mark Daddio was the top qualifier, and Sam was merely 22nd. It's funny that with a similar margin of victory to what I had at Packwood, Sam was so far back, but we had a lot fewer classes at Packwood, where I qualified 11th. So, Howard reaches the end of the list, then says, "It sounds like Marc Pfannenschmidt's left, so that moves Greg McCance into the 32nd qualifier spot."

I must have rolled my eyes so hard they almost popped out of my head. Seriously? He was the 33rd qualifier -- and they had to have known that when results came out -- and we were released from impound. Awesome. I got my sandwich and stalked to the trailer, where I told Sandi Brown that it was a shame McCance was told he wasn't being held and so we left impound and already changed tires. She glared at me and asked, "Well, is he running?" I was incredulous. I repeated that we'd already packed the car, and I was ready to leave, and she just said, "Well, if he isn't running, let me know so I can let someone else in."

I didn't want to make the decision for him, and if I stayed in the trailer another moment, I was going to say something I'd probably regret, so I walked out, looking for McCance, and he was actually walking towards the trailer. I told him that he would be allowed to run, if he wanted. He balked -- as he is prone to do -- but ultimately decided to do it. I poked my head into the trailer to tell Sandi, then we went back to the car, and starting throwing stuff out, bolted the tires back up and put it in impound. Meanwhile, Sam drives by and says, "I told you to leave my backup car!" a reference to how he jumped into my car for the Challenge at DC.
McCance vs. Fenter, a blast from the STX past
So, in the end, the Challenge was pretty anticlimatic for my car. The pairing was versus Chris Fenter, who'd destroyed CS, and when McCance referred to him as "The Machine," I had to wonder if he'd already psyched himself out. They pull to the line, indicated their readiness, Fenter leaves and then McCance redlights with a whopping 0.375. He hadn't redlit all weekend, and in fact had pretty conservative lights during competition. Again, my car doesn't even complete a full round at a Toledo Pro Challenge in the hands of Greg McCance. But, in consolation, Chris Fenter does go all the way to the final round, where he ultimately loses to Jason Burns. And, probably more importantly, I was still able to drive my car home.

We change tires once more, put all my accessory crap back in the car again, and then it was time to head home. The car decided to start with its "random no start" stuff again on the way back, so it's currently buried in the driveway until I have time to take it to IAG for diagnosis (and for when they have time to diagnose it, considering they are swamped with work). Fred thinks it might be a fuel pump on the way out, which would be awesome (NOT), considering I've done a fuel pump in both Camaros in the past year already. I guess it could be an epidemic; is the Lightning next?

Depending on when the car gets looked at, diagnosed and fixed, I could be done for a while. It also depends on how this meeting with my principal goes on Monday and whether or not he'll let me go to Nationals. I found a good substitute (not my #1 choice, but still a very good one) yesterday, so I have my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Broken Glass

After coming back from Packwood, I needed to replace my turbo. Since I run ESP, that means I can't do anything cool and upgrade it, so another stock TD04 it was.
A little worse for wear
This is why it's important to not just pop the hood at every gas stop, but to actually look at things. The air filter had come off, and with the MODE Racing heat shield "box" around it (as opposed to a metal shield that just blocks it off from the engine), the detachment wasn't immediately noticeable. It likely happened sometime between the Pro itself and the 120K service. But that was enough to have things severely damage the turbo.

With that replaced, I decided to drive the WRX to hockey on Monday and Tuesday, just to get reacclimated to the Competition Clutch feel and the power band of the car. Ever since I switched to autocrossing the Camaro, I've devoutly believed that a familiarity with a car helps with being able to get the most out of it, so I try to make sure I am not in "Camaro mode" if I'm getting ready to compete with the WRX.

In this case, this was both a blessing, but almost a curse.

Tuesday night, coming home from a tough short-benched scrimmage where our white team pulled out a win, I was feeling good. Adrenaline flowing, Arlington guys giving me props for the WRX on my way out of Ballston, and I just wanted to romp on the throttle something fierce.

So, I gave in when I got to the entrance ramp from Glebe onto I-66. 5K RPM, second, 5K RPM, third, 4K RPM, pop!

That did not sound good. The check engine light is flashing. I pull off and get out the Cobb AccessPort to try to figure out what's wrong. It comes up showing a cylinder 2 misfire. I clear the codes, wait ten seconds and restart the car. It's definitely acting like it's running on three cylinders. If I didn't know any better, I'd say it had just popped a spark plug wire -- my 2.5RS did that once -- but the WRX has coil packs. I pop the hood and look around with my meager flashlight and don't see anything that stands out.

I start the car up and let it idle again. It's running terribly rough, but as long as I don't give it any gas, it's not throwing a code. Weird. At 11:30PM on a Tuesday, I really don't have a lot of choice except to wake people up, and I just don't want to do that. So, I plot a slow, slow, slow course home, where I barely crack 30mph. It was one of the longest drives home of my life.

The next morning, I text McCance to find out which side cylinder 2 is, so that I know where to start looking. When he says, "Driver's front," that means I have to pull the battery, but the offender is right there. And once I do pull the battery, it's super obvious what's wrong.
may as well be a popped spark plug wire
A small plastic "bump" that the connector clips over was missing from the coil pack. So, I call up IAG, and they have some extra coil packs around, and I drive up there to get one. They actually give me two, just to be sure, and three hours later -- gotta love mid-day construction -- I'm home. I install the coil pack, and the car starts up, running fine.

I hurriedly pack and say goodbye to Pat, since he wasn't going to be able to make the Toledo trip this year. It was time to get to Cedar Point....

I arrived in Sandusky around 2:30AM, got into my mayfly-infested hotel room, and slept fitfully until 8. The lobby's breakfast area was packed, but I managed to construct a waffle/egg/sausage "sandwich" to take to the car. The hotel is only 5 or so minutes from Cedar Point, so leaving at 9:20 was kind of stupid, but I was antsy. I sat in the car for 10 minutes, then went up to the entrance gate to get my Fast Lane wristband, and then finally entered the park where I had to wait another 15 minutes before us non-resort-staying plebes were allowed in.

While I waited, I debated what I should go to first. The Top Thrill Dragster is always a good bet, because it's so fragile (to the point that Sean likes to call it the "Subaru ProSolo Experience"; ie., it's fast as hell, except when it breaks). But, if the Top Thrill Dragster is an ESP WRX, then Millenium Force is John Crouse's Camaro, because it's not too far behind. I opted to go to Millenium Force first, because I knew both of them required that I put my backpack in a locker, and the lockers near Millenium Force are a little less out of the way than those near Top Thrill Dragster.

So, since last year, they've changed the lockers -- for the better, I might add. They are now set up to take credit cards, and you plug in a code and so can open and close them repeatedly during the time period you choose. You can also extend the time period. It's much more convenient than the keys they had last year, so that once you reopened the locker, your rental was done.

Anyway, I got in the Fast Lane line for Millenium Force, and already I could tell this was a good idea. Fifteen minutes later, I'd completed my first ride, in the front seat, of course, and I headed up to Maverick. Fast Lane line, front seat, done in 20 minutes. Gemini, then Magnum XL200, within the first two hours, I'd ridden six coasters, all in the front seat, and within that time, I'd already dealt with a 30 minute rain delay. The Fast Lane wristband had cost me $65 (it's $120 for two, $165 for three and $50 each for four or more, up to ten), and it was completely worth it. Of course, I'd only paid $25 for admission since Megan Biddle cued me in on a "Christmas in July" promotion, but still, after this experience, I don't think I could go back to 2-3 hour waits in line for the front seat at Top Thrill Dragster when the longest I waited was 40 minutes.
I spied JohnV from the Magnum XL200!

Wicked Twister
In fact, I rode so much, and walked around so much, that by 8PM -- a full two hours before closing -- I was ready to sleep. I went back for a third round of Top Thrill Dragster, a fourth time on Power Tower, then over to Windseeker, while all the while thinking, "I need to grab a late dinner and go to sleep," but after leaving Windseeker, I wanted to ride Wicked Twister again.... well, I did, and I finally dragged myself towards the front gate, where I rode the carousel before I left.
my biggest regret was not riding it in the dark
I was disappointed I didn't get to ride Magnum XL200 or Millennium Force more, but Magnum was broken all day shortly after I rode it, and Millenium Force was broken most of the day, so I was glad I went there first. The Fast Lane pass helped so that when some of the prone-to-be-broken rides were up and running, I could get one them, rather than waiting for 90 minutes only to have it break again.

So, on the way back to the hotel, I hit the Thirsty Pony for dinner. They, too, had a "Christmas in July" special, of Great Lakes Christmas Ale! A pint was $5, so I went for that, with the cinnamon and sugar on the rim.
sooooo goooood.....
A delicious walleye sandwich later, I was ready to pass out. I was heading to the Glass City of Toledo in the morning to steadfastly ignore the fact that the Toledo ProSolo was starting on Friday. I had plans to go to the Toledo Museum of Art and the Toledo Zoo, and I was going to them, damnit, even if it cost me my first four runs.

But first, I was rudely awakened a good hour before I'd even planned to start hitting the snooze alarm. My phone trilled at me at 7:38AM, telling me insistently there was a text message. I cursed myself for forgetting to turn the damned thing to silent and looked. 

McCance. Wanting to know if I was still going to the Pro. I was tired, I was pissed that I was awake, and so I fought all of my instinctive urges and just texted back, "Yeah." I dropped the phone and threw the pillow over my eyes. 


I scowled at the offending electronic device. Reluctantly, I looked at it. McCance again. "Need a codriver?" I fought the intense urge to throw the phone across the room and debated how best to response without sounding like a total bitch. 

"Isn't Shawn coming?" He'd signed up to drive with Detroit region Mustang driver, Shawn Alexander. I'd offered him my car, and he said he would stick with the Mustang to show he "wasn't a hack."

"He is. Just asking." I wanted to break something, I wanted to go back to sleep so badly. It took all of my self control to be nice and just say, "I already offered the car to you." I mean, I had, and it would be really catty of me to tell him "no" just because he woke me up. But on the same note, the whole thing made me feel weird. I didn't know why he was asking me if Shawn was still going to be there, because I knew that if someone had planned to drive my car and ditched me at the last second, I would be pretty offended. 

I shook it off, and since at that point, I couldn't fall back asleep easily, I just figured I'd get up and shower and head out to Toledo. 

I've been to the Museum a few times before, so I was really interested in the non-permanent collections, especially the Color Ignited exhibit. I spent probably two hours in the Ancient Civilizations room, and then moved into the Color Ignited room. The first piece to really catch my eye was Fred Wilson's Iago's Mirror.
Fred Wilson. Iago's Mirror. 2009

Okay, this picture doesn't do the piece justice. First of all, it's huge. Secondly, to see it in person is to see the bizarre reflection that it casts. If you know the story of Othello and the character of Iago, then the strange reflection cast by the "black" (actually a very, very dark purple) glass starts to make more sense. I'd seen the pictures of it on the TMA Facebook page, but like most art, I had no idea what it was going to be like when I actually saw it with my own eyes. 

But even that was nothing compared to two other pieces in the exhibit. 

Let me preface this by saying that I appreciate art. I am especially astounded by ancient art, where the techniques to create things of wondrous beauty were so basic, we can only wonder how it was done. I am amazed at the time and the creativity of painting and sculptors, as I don't have nearly the patience -- much less the talent -- to create the things they do. But rarely do works of art capture me and move me to tears by their extreme beauty. I can literally count on one hand the number of pieces that have had me just state in complete amazement after capturing my attention from across the room. King Tutankhamen's death mask was one of them -- and yes, after all these years, I still remember seeing that so clearly at the Smithsonian. 

There was not one, but two such pieces in the Color Ignited collection.
Twilight Powered by Electricity Makes for a Brilliant New Horizon by Andrew Erdos
I don't know why I even bothered taking a photo. It can't do this piece justice. It was just simply amazing. I saw it out of the corner of my eye while I was looking at the Fred Wilson, and despite how "epic" the mirror was, I had to look at this. 

But after walking around the backside of the room, there was something even more eye catching, and this one I really couldn't leave.
Fundamental Vortex 2 by Michael Estes Taylor
There were camera crews all around while I was there, filming for CBS Sunday Morning (not sure when it is going to air), but the one camera guy I talked to agreed with me -- this particular piece would be absolutely stunning under natural light. As it was, under the track lighting, the prism effect was very pronounced. It made me think of a cluster of quartz and citrine crystals.... I was just astounded by it. 

I actually bought the exhibit book, and even those professionally done photos don't do this exhibit justice. I can only hope that some of the pieces maintain a permanent place in the Glass Pavilion next door.

After I bought the book, I headed out for the Zoo, where I, of course, went to the reptile house for the chelonians, and then wandered some of the other areas just to see what they had.
Burmese brown tortoise
Tiny painted turtle
Redfooted tortoise
Sea jellies
Alligator snapping turtle
Wally the walleye, official mascot of the Toledo Walleye hockey club
After spending time in the aquarium building, I walked outside to wet pavement, and realized storms had moved in. I started to walk back to the car, but a quick burst of rain sent me running to the Aviary for 10-15 minutes. Then I headed over to the Airport for check-in and tech. It started raining again, so I skipped changing tires, and went to the hotel for check-in, then out to dinner with some of the Cleveland/Akron crowd. 
The view from my car in paddock at 6:15PM.
We finished off the evening by going to a karting place where we managed to almost get tossed -- well, some people did get thrown out, but Megan and I negotiated with the manager and so not everyone had to leave. Fortunately, most of the perpetrators of the spinning and assclownery had fled, so the rest of us finished our last two races with good, clean-as-you-can-do-it-in-Ohio racing. :)

The next morning would be the ProSolo, with the impromptu codriver...
He actually made the car look good. :)

To be continued....