Coming off fresh from a few
weeks off and having done a proper gear change, was ready for Lime Rock
Park. Only a week or so earlier this track hosted an American Le Mans series
event, so it was great to be here. This is also the scene of the crime, as
it were, where my first track laps were ever conducted thanks to my wife who
gave me a three day Skippy (Skip Barber) race training a few years
back. Arriving early to setup my pit area, one of the other guys commented
that Paul Newman's pit area was only a few feet away!
Rock Park is a small carousel, as it were, with lap times being under a
minute and has a nice rhythm to it. After the straight you basically do some
trail braking around Big Bend and and take the Left Hander to the Esses and
away you go to the uphill. Not much to go wrong other than the usual always
keep things straight and tidy at the top of the hill. After than the back of
the track bits are fairly easy other than keeping thing tidy to carry as
much speed down the hill and take the last right with as much speed as
possible through the front straight. Deceivingly simply really.
Set out with my first new set of tires since the beginning
of my love affair with the Formula Continental, therefore the grip was quite
good as they scrubbed in. The first few laps during morning qualification
were simply to get things up to temperature. Lap 4 was quite nice and did an
easy 58.6 and was feeling confident. Could tell where more speed could be
carry through. Yup, and that is when things went awry. Took a bit too much
speed through Big Bend during Lap 5 and the rear left tire got on the grass/gravel heading towards the
Left Hander and so continued a nice clockwise rear-end swing that threw me across the track and
into the right side tire barrier.
Needless to say, i was extremely upset with myself while
watching the other cars go by during the qualification session while also
taking a visual inventory of what was bent up while sitting in the car. The
officials towed the car to my pit area and broken bits included front left main wing element, rear left upper suspension, and bent aluminum rear wing mounting brackets. Had all spares but the aluminum brackets.
So with limited time until the race and no spare brackets was beginning to pack it in
while still fuming. Having drove three hours and spent hundreds of dollars
in entry fees and gas to only get five laps makes one not a happy camper. A
few moments later a few guys i never met came by my pits, looked at the
damage, asked if i had spares. They said things could be put together in
time for the race only two hours later. Hmmm...
One guy found someone who could straighten the rear brackets
while another worked on swapping the rear suspension bit as i did the
disassembly of the rear and front aero bits. As the clock was ticking and we
were getting things apart, was not quite sure if we would make it in time. Fortunately
there was plenty of new spares in my trailer and all tools needed were at
hand. As broken parts were being discarded and new parts were being
installed on the car i was not sure if we would make it in time. It would be
close, though there was now a real glimmer of hope!
It was amazing as everything fell into place both parts and
the right people at my pit at the right time. It was near chaos as the now
emptying toolbox also meant tools were all about the pit area floor in no
particular order. Once all the parts were on the car the rear tire alignment
was crucial and got things very close. It was now about 20 minutes before
the car needed to be on the false grid and had to do a basic 'it looks ok'
for the aero package. i was hot, thirsty, and covered in the usual
oils/fluids still in my now-filthy pit cloths. Quickly cleaned up and had to run to
the Tower to see where i qualified (was 6th out of 16 cars).
Put on my driving suit, belted in and made it to the grid with only minutes to spare.
Did i mention it was chaos? Now my race plans have changed from trying to
win outright or fight a good fight to simply winning my classification. You
see, SCCA runs various classifications within the same race, usually cars
which are nearly alike and have close to the same lap times. Instead of
being competitive within the whole race group, now my goal was to keep the
other Formula Continental car behind me to take the class win. His car, by
the way, was also suffering so it more a race of which driver and car could
make it through the race and finish ahead of the other crippled car.
Frankly, it was the single ugliest drive on the track with
unique aero and handling at various speeds and turns. Took a few laps to understand what she would do given various speeds, turns, driver input, etc.
Lap one was a super slow 1:10.4 and second lap was a nearly as slow 1:06.4.
On lap three (1:03.6) i was getting a good understanding of the car's new
setup and could also see the car that needed to remain behind me catching
up. Ok, it was time to take what knowledge i had of the car around me and do
whatever was necessary. During the twisties he was catching me a bit yet
during the straight and full throttle sections my car had much better speed.
After a few more laps i lost sight of him behind me. Some laps later the
fastest cars of the session began lapping me, so kept my lines clean and
gave point-bys and there was no way to fend off the front runners in the
less than optimal car. At one point two cars fighting for position caught up
to me at the end of the straight so i took a very wide line around Big Bend
so they could continue their fight without my slower car interfering.
Naturally it was the right thing to do and would hope if the situation was
reversed the same would happen to me. There was no reason for me to hold up
anyone else's race, just as giving proper race room on the tarmac is the
right thing to do.
Within a short time i saw the last lap board at Start/Finish
and was relieved that my goal to win my classification was at hand. So i
said to myself, "Ok Steven, now this is the last lap and you can't see
him in your sideview mirrors. There is no reason to take any chances and
just bring her home." Fought the good fight, kept her on the tarmac and came out
victorious by around 8 seconds. Not too shabby for only my second real wheel to wheel race.
Eventually getting back to my pit area after the race was
glad to show those who came to my aid my first place flag. Of course there
was still a dazzling array of tools covering my pit area. It was like a
hurricane came down on my toolbox and threw everything around. Add to that
the broken parts, fluids, and whatever else was needed to get the car
together in time. Took me hours to get everything neatly back into the
trailer! Frankly, would not have it any other way and am deeply grateful to
have had the opportunity to have made the race. Call it a blessing... a
miracle.... or whatever. It was one of those days at the track you:
a) shake your head wondering how you ever repaired the car in time
b) swear you must be one crazy guy for having a go at this sport
c) realize it was a hard-earned 1st place on many levels
d) was glad to show the guys who i never met before, they never asked for
money, i still don't know their names, yet was happy their selfless hard work paid off as i earned 1st place.
On the drive home i swore i was tired of this
track car stuff... only to wake up the next morning and eagerly await the next race event. (Does any of this make sense???)
Without a doubt it was the single most tedious day at the
track i have ever experienced! Was extremely happy to have taken the class
win, yet also a bit under whelmed that instead of truly racing, was
in a mode of preservation and defense. Whatever the case, the job at hand
was accomplished even if it was the single ugliest drive of my albeit
limited amateur and driver education 'career.'
While i now do have the Chasecam system, took it out of the
car while packing up when i felt there was no way to repair the car in time
for the race. Needles to say it never made it back on the car for the race,
as it was the least of my worries. Perhaps next race there will be video. As
always, in the end what really matters is that we all...
Enjoy the Track,
Steven R. Rochlin
PS: My guess is hundreds of dollars in broken parts and
time/effort to win this event. My SCCA trophy is a metal-lined plastic
coffee cup and a small checkered flag. Hey, this is not Formula 1 so no
huge silver trophies here. As basic a trophy as it is, am sure years from
now will cherish it as my first win... and one that took am amazing amount
of effort to achieve. It was truly earned on many levels.