Monday, April 20, 2009

(71) The first of many recordings

Here's the full onboard video of the race from Saturday.

The cut isn't as refined as I would've liked, but I had to make some compromises to remove the sound troubles.

When you see me duck my head on the first few laps, I'm not trying to make myself more aerodynamic, I'm trying to deny 3rd from drafting.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

(70) The 3rd 2nd

Excuse me for not updating yesterday, I was trying to get the onboard video to work right but the technical difficulties continue, but I'll get it sorted eventually.

Anyway, yesterday's race went quite well. For starters, the morning sessions were pointing me at a pole qualifier, since I was topping the time sheets by about a tenth. I pushed too hard in qualifying, however, and ended up starting in 3rd.

The polesitter kept us on a brisk pace to the green, which countered my supreme low-end starting ability. I kept pace, however, just off the leader's bumper into turn 1, where I checked up after outbraking 2nd to avoid hitting him. 1st and 2nd gained on me on the way to turn 2, but I salvaged a run through 2a, 2b and 2c and outbraked 2nd into turn 3. I held the place for the rest of the race, losing 3 seconds to 1st at the checkered, and a comfortable lead over 3rd. I set the fastest lap of the race at 55.3 seconds.

If my math is right, I should be second place in the championship going into round 3.

I felt a little inconsistent towards the end of the race, and I think it's because I got excited that I was catching 1st a little bit. I had a few slides but nothing too bad. No dropped wheels, but a couple of moments where I used absolutely all of the rumble strip.

I'm really happy with my progression this year. I feel like I've improved a lot.

I should have a full onboard view for you guys as soon as I sort out the troubles. I'm having some audio problems.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

(69) Level 3

I really think I got to that next level today. I could really read what the tires were saying to me, I felt like I had total control and confidence in what the kart could do. I put together a number of laps that impressed the instructors.

I signed up to do a special practice session, which would mean I got 7 sessions with the track almost completely to myself, save one other student. The result of that is, I'm beat. Professional racing drivers have been known to be defeated by running a kart for an hour in one day. I got about one and a half hours in the kart today. When I consider that I'm basically doing a carrier takeoff, sideways, every 10 seconds for a period of 12 to 15 minutes on average, and I do that 7 times in a day, while thinking about braking points, steering smoothness, throttle application and braking pressure, I'm pretty happy with myself. At 3 Gees, my head, plus my helmet, weighs about 45 pounds to the side.

The upshot of all that hard work is I'm tons quicker. Getting to run with our instructor in the wild proved incredibly enlightening. My fastest lap of the day was a 55.5, which netted me 2nd fastest of the day. I was 2nd behind a friend of another competitor who was just there for the day, who hadn't driven in anger in about 10 years or so. To see him hop in the kart and not only be quick right out of the gate after that long, but also fastest of the bunch, was really cool to see.

I feel like I've gone to a new level. I can't wait for Saturday.

You probably forgot that I had the helmet camera, hmm? Well, I got a video, I tried to shoot another session but I guess I didn't hit the button properly and it didn't shoot. This was taken before I had a few revelations and I can see a lot wrong with it...

Bring on the race.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

(68) Short and long term

Next week I have my second practice session on the 16th. It's a normal session in the morning and then they're doing an extended session in the afternoon to get more up close and personal on the track with the instructors. Normally the instructors sit at various corners to watch us and make notes. Instead, this time they'll drive with us and take turns following us and leading us.

I haven't really ever seen the instructors on track at high speed before. Sure we've done lead-follows before, but they're never at full race speeds. Still fast, but not as fast as possible. It'll be interesting to see exactly what they're doing different. It's a good thing I'll be testing my helmet camera because then I'll be able to review not only myself, but then directly compare with the instructor in front of me.

The camera is mounted and ready to go. That sticky stuff on the mount isn't coming off any time soon.

That covers the short term, now for the long term.

There's not a whole lot of information on the internet about racing. Which is odd because there seems to be plenty of racing fans and also people more involved than that.

I've been able to scrounge together enough monetary numbers that now I think I have a pretty good idea of how to go, where to go, who to ask for money, and who to give it to. This is my plan so far.

I start in NASA club racing, which is just about all a normal person can reasonably afford. A cheap class, racing someone else's car, for a full year will probably be in the range of $15 to $20 thousand dollars without crash damage, probably about $20 to $25 grand with spills, maybe 30 grand or so with test/practice days (free testing at Infineon costs $500 bucks, then whatever the team charges for transport and set up). It goes up from there. An expensive class, such as Pro Formula Mazda, will be in the $100,000 to $150,000 range. That's bigtime money, and for that much I really should be looking higher up the food chain. SCCA would probably be a cheaper alternative with your Formula 500s and your Formula Vees / Formula Firsts, but NASA has that professional aspirant stigma about it, even if it is less recognised.

After a year or maybe two in club racing, it's time to start looking up. Assuming I could get the money from a sponsor, or I somehow start to earn enough to support myself, I'd start looking at the Koni Challenge ST class. This is probably the grayest area, but the numbers I've been able to find are in the $80,000 to $150,000 per year. The ST class is good because it's on TV, which is the main attraction for sponsors. ST is basically your bog standard touring car. Minis, Cobalts, Acuras, Golfs, you get the idea. Boxes, mostly. To race in the Koni Challenge you absolutely must have prior experience, which I will get from club racing.

Assuming I do well in the ST class, a GS class ride would be worth it if I can, again, get the money. There are almost no paid rides in Koni Challenge, because there are no factory teams. They are forbidden. GS is about twice as expensive as ST, but it's not twice as fast. In there I'd be looking for a Porsche GT3 Cup to drive, but there are also options available for Ford Mustang FR500Cs and BMW M3 E46s. There are some paid rides in the form of GS cars, but mostly they are reserved for returning Rolex drivers. Many "journeymen" drivers (not professional yet) will pay a premium of quite a few grand to race with the pro, since both ST and GS have two drivers per car (it's endurance racing, remember). I would probably be able to snag a paid ride for the second year if I did something stellar in my first year in GS.

If I do well in GS, the Rolex teams will take notice. Or I will make them take notice. Either way, in Rolex Grand Am GT, I'd be shooting for a paid ride for a quasi-factory team. Yes, there are plenty of lower down teams who don't pay the driver, but I don't think I would want to spend half a million dollars or more racing for a team that will be outclassed by someone earning money rather than spending it and in a faster car to boot. If no one will pay me in Rolex I will go back to Koni GS. I've heard reports of Rolex drivers earning about the same as ALMS drivers, maybe a little less. I'd probably be looking at a $100,000/yr paycheck from a top GT team or therabouts. Quite livable, and necessary to recoup my lost bucks from the trip.

As far as I'm concerned, Daytona Prototypes (the prototype class in Rolex) are skippable. I want to drive GT cars. I would drive a Prototype if that was my only option and I respect them and their drivers infinitely, and I know I would have an absolute blast doing it, but I like production cars best. In the American Le Mans series, almost everyone is paid now. Only the back markers pay for rides, because they are all independent and racing in the ALMS is expensive. You're looking at a 2 million dollar investment to start a GT team. So if a driver brings 1 or 2 million, you're golden. Again, I'd rather just go back to a paid ride in Rolex or even all the way back to Koni rather than pay for a ride in ALMS. Again because I would undoubtedly be uncompetitive.

When I first arrived at karting school, Ric, the instructor, said to me "whatever you do, make sure you're the biggest fish in the pond". I take this to mean, "if you have the choice between racing a small, cheap, slower series at the front, or racing a big, expensive, fast series at the back, choose the one you'll win at". I will do my best to stay out of the trap of overextending myself financially and talent wise.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, pay. In the ALMS, I can reasonably expect to be paid $100,000/yr to $150,000/yr with a GT team, depending on past performance. Once I'm more embedded and familiar to people, I can probably expect $250,000/yr to $300,000/yr. Big bucks. If I ever get into prototypes, and I intend to have at least one go in them, I have no idea what I'd be paid. Probably half a million, possibly over a million if I become a superstar. I've heard no reports on that. I'd wager the Audi drivers are paid quite a few millions, though.

So, in summary, I expect to take about 4-6 years to reach true paid professional status, and a capital outlay of a little more than half a million dollars to get me there. That's assuming everything goes smoothly.

This seemed insurmountable when I first worked it out. It took me about 15 seconds to shove that down, and another 15 seconds to become fully committed. I WILL become a professional. I WILL race in the American Le Mans. I WILL go to Le Mans. I WILL win.

Friday, April 3, 2009

(67) Gaining weight

My fitness routine is doing good for me. I'm biking about 4 times a week. I don't have a fancy mountain bike, I just use an old BMX bike, but it works fine for me. Racing driver fitness isn't a science, you just need endurance, and for that you can do pretty much anything as long as you do it for long periods. The only thing I won't do is run, since that can cause all kinds of problems in your legs.

Last race I could tell I was doing much better towards the end of the race. The races aren't long enough to get physically tired, but your mental performance drops off way before you start to feel it in your body.

The only problem with getting fit is weight. I'm naturally underweight and my body fat level is very low, so as I work out my weight goes up. Towards the beginning of my program it wasn't uncommon to put on over half of a pound in just a couple of days. Weight in karting is delicate. It's very easy to have too little weight for someone like me, and when that happens the kart gets very slippery and twitchy, and as a result slower in the corners, but obviously I'm faster on the straights. Adding about 40 pounds or so actually improves my laptimes and makes the kart much more consistent.

The other thing is that I was talking with a guy yesterday about racing and he said that one of the reasons why some drivers are faster is because they started doing dirt bike riding before they got into racing cars. You learn things from biking that you don't get on four wheels. And I can see where he's right because I used to do some dirt track riding on that old bike, over big jumps and things. Looking back, I can tell how that helped my balance and such. Gives you some perspective, and you need perspective to really understand something.

The next race is on the 18th. I ordered a helmet camera so you'll get to see the whole thing from my perspective. Video will be very useful for learning where I can go faster, too. Out there on the track it's hard to really critique yourself because you're focusing on other things (like saving your life). Watching a replay on a screen is much easier to see what's going wrong. Hindsight is always 20/20. Well, except for Formula One stewards, obviously.