Sunday, May 23, 2010

(109) All suited up

Since I'm going to be driving full size cars in the fall, I need a new suit.

Why? Don't I already have a suit?

Well, the thing is, karting gear is mostly designed to be skid resistant. The risk of fire is very small, and even if an engine blows up right next to your elbow it probably won't involve much fire. So as a result my gloves and suit are made of a type of rip-stop fabric and if I were to turn over onto my head and ejected at 40 MPH I'd be well protected from road rash (my shoes are fire shoes, however).

Fire suits are made from soft, delicate materials like nomex. These protect against fire very well, but if I were to slide along a road at a good clip they would get shredded to bits. Horses for courses.

Fire suits are also very expensive. My karting suit cost about $200. A three-layer SFI-approved and highly rated fire suit will be more like $1,500 to $2,000.

So I was pretty thrilled when I walked into the Infineon pro shop (Wine Country Motorsports) and saw a very nice Sparco three-layer suit in my size and on sale for $1,100.

This is what a professional photo would look like if you removed all the talent.

It's a Sparco X-light, and it's got some very impressive features.

Firstly, it's very light, as the name implies. It's only a little heavier than my karting suit. Some of the other suits I tried on were just plain uncomfortable. Very heavy and warm. This is the lightest and the coolest one I could find.

It's also SFI 3.2A/5 rated. What this means is, each layer of the suit will last ten seconds under direct flame. So, being a three-layer suit, I will have thirty seconds to escape the burning car. Add another layer of nomex underwear and I've then got forty seconds. Tons of time. To be SFI rated the suit must also self-extinguish in less than 2 seconds. Now that's just plain impressive.

The other cool part of the suit is the "X-cool" treatment that Sparco gives it. It's a chemical treatment that helps keep you cool. It also releases a fresh minty aroma so you don't smell too bad after a race. Ain't technology great?

This is the single most expensive piece of clothing I own. And it's expendable.

But hey, it's got my name on it.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

(108) Luggin'

I suppose I've been lucky so far. I've completed two seasons of karting without a mechanical mishap under my drivership. Generally, I'm rather fortunate, mechanically. Things always seem to work for me. Yes, the enduro last year was a large blow to our team. I wasn't expecting a repeat offense.

Today was rather confusing. The morning started off a little cool, like most mornings around the bay. In the first practice session the kart was working really well, and I a little less so. Six months off the beat will do that to you. I was second on the time sheets by two tenths and the coaches had a couple of small notes for me, nothing major.

It started to go down hill in the second session. I felt faster, I could tell I was using the kart better, more consistently, more delicately, in a finer manner. Getting closer to that limit. But the times went backwards. I lost two tenths, and I was dropping through the field.

Qualifying was again even worse. I made a mistake passing another driver and I ruined both of our laps by getting in way too hot and making him back off. Usually I stick to myself in qualifying, but another driver was close enough behind that backing off wasn't an option. Again I felt like I was getting to a finer point of car control, nailing the trail braking, carrying early, precise angle into the corners and making the kart work hard. The engines loved this perfect 75 degree weather and they had a good pop coming off the corners.

Despite my efforts, I landed in 6th spot, out of 12.

Something really just didn't add up. Some value that I wasn't accounting for. I had the school verify that timing and scoring was linked properly with my transponder in case I had been registering another driver's times. The transponder was linked perfectly.

After mulling it over on the drive home, I think I've narrowed it down to a couple things, or a combination of things.

Either my kart was setup and balanced in cooler weather, and the increase in heat, friction and the resulting high pressure was giving me less grip, or there was something else wrong mechanically, or the track was full of incompatible rubber that I was struggling on (unbeknownst to me, but I think I would've sensed that), or radioactive space particles were interfering with my brain synapses, causing me to think I was going faster than I actually was.

My money is on the space dust.

It started to creep into the back of my mind that today was not my day. I didn't let this thought get far.

I had a blazing start to the race. I went as soon as the flag man twitched. The rest of the field, from my point of view, didn't seem to scoot until the flag was all the way up. At the time, to me, this discrepancy felt like an eternity. In actuality is was probably about half of a tenth of a second.

I jinked to the outside immediately. In classic Evans style, I broadened the field to at least 3 wide going into turn 1. I had to check up, because it was a tight fit, and people were banging wheels and sliding. On the way down to the 2 complex, a driver tried to blast down the inside. Rule number one in passing. The car on the outside of the corner on the exit of a corner will get a better launch. I dispatched him from the outside into 2.

From there, I took it easy. The lead pack wasn't getting strung out, and I was keeping pace. I planned to wait for one of them to get it really wrong and then I would pounce in a spot that had a minimal impact on my total race time.

This charade continued until the end of lap 3. Suddenly, at the entrance to kramer (the corner after the long sweeper) I noticed a slight vibration from the left rear. I thought I had picked up a clot of clag from someone's tire. The vibration got worse through the next 3 corners. Finally, whatever it was really let go on the entry to the final start/finish hairpin, and the kart seemed to fall over and go all soft in the rear. I thought my wheel had fallen off. I looked quickly, and it was still there. I took the next corner, and it fell over again. I decided to give up and pit (one driver had already lost a wheel at about 50 MPH). On the way back I didn't push the kart at all, but because the left rear was broken, it slides around anyway. The field streamed by as I entered the pits.

It turns out that one of the wheel lug nuts had shorn off and taken the bolt with it. It's a wonder why the whole thing didn't just fly off at the earliest moment.

The mechanics took a very short time in replacing the hub and giving me a fresh tire. I headed back out onto the track, now 3 laps down.

The rest of the race was simply spent lapping, with a lot of looking over my shoulder to make sure the leader wouldn't catch me by the end.

I finished 9th, in the end. There was a pileup while I was in the pits, and there were a number of DNFs as a result.

Onabord footage from Round 4 of the Jim Russell karting series.

I re-watched the video about ten times, and I'm still not sure what I did to make the thing let go. I hopped a curb the lap before, but if it was that it stands to reason that it would've let go immediately after. I think the most likely explanation is that it was simply a defective bolt. Ever had a screw head just pop right off in your fingers? It's happened to me before.

Well, I'm not in a championship chase here, so I'm not as disappointed as I could be. I still finished the race. I guess that's all we can ever really ask for.

Sometimes, the space dust just doesn't go your way.