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.

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