Wednesday, September 30, 2009

(91) Complicationalness

The championship points, as they stand, are pretty complicated. With a double-header coming up on the 10th of October, it's going to be very important to be on top of my game. Here's the top 5 points standings:

1st: 1450
2nd: 1434
3rd Greg Evans: 1392
4th: 1380
5th: 1290

Looks pretty simple at first, right? Guess again! We're dropping 1 race. With dropped races the points look like this (worst finish dropped). Everyone keeps their places:

1st: 1350 (-150)
2nd: 1300 (-134)
3rd Greg Evans: 1250 (-142)
4th: 1220 (-160)
5th: 1156 (-134)

So, the good news is, my position is more secure and the gap back to 4th is larger (30 points instead of 12). The bad news is, it's going to be harder to catch up to 2nd. 1st, 4th and 5th are all Group B racers. 2nd is my rival in A Group. So the only result I have direct control over is 2nd's.

Now we get into the "what ifs". Since next weekend is a double header, that's going to attract more racers. It's possible that someone might show up that's faster than my rival and I. That would be very bad, because we usually place near each other - so that 1st and 2nd 20 point difference is critical (200 points for 1st, 180 for 2nd, 170 for 3rd).

Pretty much, if I'm going to take away 2nd in the championship, I'm going to have to finish 1st in each race and beat my rival by 2 positions. If we both finish in the top 5 with neither of us claiming the win, I'm going to have to beat him by 3 positions each race. That's a lot of luck to call on in one day. But I'll call Lady Luck anyway and keep calling even if I get a busy signal. And no, you can't have her phone number.

Meanwhile, on the defensive side, 4th is down 30 points on me after the drop. If 4th wins both of his races and I finish 2nd in both of mine, I will move back to 4th. If I finish 3rd in one of my races, and 4th wins one of his, we will be tied. At that point I would have to outplace him by only one position to keep 3rd, obviously. Pretty straightforward. Do not let him gain 30 points! I think I can manage that, but I only have control of my own races, not his (unless I set up some spike strips).

Even though they're not directly vying for the championship, 4th and 1st have been battling pretty fiercely in their races. Even though 1st takes the victory more often than not, 4th has still outplaced 1st three times in the past 8 races. 4th's worst finish is 4th, and 1st's worst finish is 5th. But, 4th has won only 1 race, and 1st has won 4. 1sts' average finish position is 2nd, and 4th's average is 3rd.

Trying to see the future is hard, but based on our records, I'd say it's very likely that I'll keep my podium.

That's good, because my head hurts now.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

(90) Thunderstruck

I woke up at 5:50 this morning to the sound of "boooooooooom". At first I thought, "what? Another shuttle landing?" Then I saw the flashes, and I realized it was thunder and lightning. We don't get that much here in California.

"Oh boy" I thought, "I'm going to learn to race in the wet today!"

Not an entirely accurate assumption, as it would turn out.

On the way to the race track we crossed the Martinez/Benicia bridge. On our right, the mothballs were getting pounded by lightning strikes, one after another.

Sure enough, the track was wet when we got there. So much for my "warm weather" theory. The lightning was done, and it was only sprinkling a little bit. There was no standing water but there was enough to drastically change the grip level. We proceeded to get a crash course in wet racing from our coaches. I'll go into it in a little more detail in a later "Driving" chapter, but for right now know that our primary goal was to find 2 things:

1. Dirty or abrasive track.

2. Dry track.

It's a lot easier than it first looks.

Finding dry track is simple. Dry track is gray or brown, wet track is black. Finding dirty track is a bit harder, and requires some knowledge of where the rubber "marbles" (or "clag" as the great Mr. Hobbs says) builds up. To know exactly where the clag builds up you must run in the dry. So you can imagine the dismay of a racing driver when he turns up at a new track and it's soping wet!

So, armed with my new knowledge of water fighting, we headed out into the first session on National Reverse equipped with full-wet rain tires.

My first wet session ever!

During the session, I notice 3 things:

1. The brakes work remarkably well.

2. The kart hates going around corners. I estimate a 50% loss in sideways traction. It. Will. Not. Turn!

3. You need to rotate the kart a good deal in order to avoid terminal understeer. See Laguna on the first lap in the video...

Laguna was by far the wettest corner. Braking for Helipad was almost completely dry, and the hairpins and the two start/finish turns both had plenty of grip and I was able to drive them pretty normally after a semi-dry-line started forming. Tic-Tac-Toe (or Toe-Tac-Tic in this case) was pretty slippery, but you kind of had to take the punches on that one to get a good exit.

At the end of the session, my fastest time was a 1:00.560, a full half-second faster than anyone else. I guess I'm good in the wet! I really enjoyed applying the throttle based on wheelspin and not based on engine bogging.

Back in the pits, I had a gander at the tires and realized that they were cooked. Everyone's tires were ravaged. The treads were all blistered. We changed to slicks for the next session.

By the time qualifying rolled around, the track was very dry. I stole the pole in the last lap with a 55.411, a tenth ahead of 2nd.

As far as the race is concerned, flag to flag. It was really uneventful. I made a couple little mistakes, but overall I was smooth, bang on the limit and most importantly faster than 2nd. I could literally feel the intensity of 2nd to try and keep up with me. He was concentrating incredibly hard, and had me worried a couple times when I looked over my shoulder. During the race I also set fastest lap, a 54.531.

Round 8 helmet cam footage. Not a whole lot to see really... just open track. How it should be. :)

So, to recap:

* Fastest in all practice sessions, Thursday included.
* Pole position.
* Led all laps of the race and won, of course.
* Set fastest lap time of the race.

That's a clean sweep if I ever saw one!

As far as stats go, I also passed 20 hours in the seat of the kart today. Next month, I'll be passing the 1,000 mile mark.

If my math is right, I'm also now in 3rd for the championship. You couldn't ask for a better weekend.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

(89) You're going fast if you crash

Practice today went alright. The sessions started out a little inconsistent, but I pulled it together and started going fast. Fast enough to go off, see, look.

Off I go out of Laguna! See what happens when you go fast? I was killed!

No damage, at least.

Other than that it was pretty normal. I consulted with Jeff, one of the coaches, and he thinks the "stay under the radar until I'm more experienced" idea is a good one. He suggested a few different ways to go about it. Right now I'm leaning towards Formula Mazda in the SCCA, but Radical Sportscars and Spec Racer Fords were also high on the list there for me. The Radicals will probably prove too expensive, though. The idea is to do it on the cheap with a lot of track time. I'm kind of shying away from the idea of going from karts to tin top sports cars right away. I think I should drive something stiffer and more demanding while I learn to run on the big courses. So I'd be looking at a stiff open top sports racer or a Formula car.

Anyway, it should be warm on Saturday so the grip might be a little wonkey.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

(88) Under the radar

I've been a bit lazy in updating for the past couple of weeks. I'll catch you guys up, briefly.

I went to the Indy Grand Prix at the end of last month. The first race was the Indy Lights, where local guy JR Hildebrand won by a fair margin.

The next race was the F1 historics, which were pretty cool. They were all from the late 70's and early 80's. Andretti's Lotus was there, as was Prost's McLaren.

Then the Jim Russell F3 cars went out. In turn 2, one of the front runners spun, and a lot of the field plowed into him. That incident took out 7 cars I think.

Then the IndyCars. We were watching right at turn 9, the chicane, and we were aptly positioned to see Kanaan's late dive bomb on Castroneves. They made contact and Helio went high into the air. I'm amazed the suspension didn't break right then and there. It held out for a while and then broke into turn 1 and he spun off up the hill.

And today, I went up to Infineon again for an SCCA regional. I was talking to a driver in Spec Racer Ford, and he had a really interesting idea about my career: since I'm starting late, and since I have a lot still to learn, I shouldn't try to stand out a whole lot right at the moment. I should bide my time, get Formula car experience by doing something in SCCA, and stay under the radar until my skills are developed enough to then go out and do something like Skip Barber National and go in with a splash.

Something to think about.

Race 8 is on the 12th, next week. The points so far look like this:

1st: 1270
2nd: 1264
3rd: 1220
4th (me): 1192
5th: 1118

Mathematically I'm still in it, of course, but I think, with 3 races left, it's most realistic to be shooting for 3rd at this point. If the classes weren't combined into one championship I would be in second right now. A couple more wins would be nice right about now!

See ya next week!

Oh, one thing I forgot. Sorry if I got your hopes up with my coach Mike's Indy Lights ride. I misunderstood him. He'll be driving next year, if everything comes together.