The plan: Wait a year to become
familiar with the car, get plenty of seat time, and then set out for wheel
to wheel racing in 2008. Well, like most competition-minded adrenalin
junkies who love to be in the heat of battle those plans were cast off like
a worn out brake pad. With a mere five days of seat time within the F2000 /
Formula Continental i found myself strapped in and ready for my very first
SCCA qualification session.
before we get to that, let us step back 24 hours. It was open track day at
NHIS for members of SCCA. This was my first try at a roval, the combination
of an oval and road course. Due to having never driven on a NASCAR oval, my
only information was that from other drivers over the years about feeling
for the limits of tire grip as the added speed allows the aero down force to
assist in providing grip while also getting feeling for the advantages of a
banked surface. There is something about going well over 120mph and feeling
if i had left any speed/grip 'on the table' by slightly moving the steering
wheel towards the inside of the turn that was to be fully understood (the
bottom section of the track map). Of course i have experience in such things
in other situations, yet not within the confines of an oval. If the car
responded to my turning towards the inside of the corner, then i had more
grip and, therefore, was slower than what was possible. The ultimate goal is
to have zero tire traction remaining while at speed. To the uninitiated this
may seem like flirting with a knifes edge with survival being one side and
crashing into the wall and taking out a complete side of the car at well over 120mph being the
other. Well my friends, that is
because it is exactly what is needed for the lowest lap times.
During the Friday practice i allowed myself to build up
speed in the oval section, so as not to take out the entire right side of
the car due to going too fast, thereby going on the wrong side of the proverbial
knife's edge. While the car has never under steered,
for some reason during an early session she terminally under steered coming
up the hill (turn 7) and off i went to the right. Those who know this track
realize this is an ugly place to go off as the pot holes and uneven surface
meant my super low to the ground car basically surfboarded and there was
zero steering input ability until she was on a flatter surface where
steering response returned and could get back on to the proper track
Damage assessment included bending the main right side front
wing and a suspension bar that controls toe in. Fortunately i carry a
complete nose section ready to bolt on and had the spare suspension bit in
the trailer. The nose spare was easy to bolt on yet had to replace the
suspension bar and realign toe. My thanks go out to those who helped me
ensure a good basic alignment of the car as it was my first time having to
replace suspension bits.
The remainder of the open track day was used to continue my experimentation
of finding where the last few bits of speed could be accomplished through
the oval section and braking point at turn 3 due to carrying more speed out
of the roval versus my previous chicane/chicane days at NHIS. At the end of
the day i was satisfied with the progress made and called it a day.
Qualification, Saturday May
As smart money would have it, hired Glenn Philips of GTP
Motorsports as a member of my crew. Being my very first wheel to wheel race
versus time trials or driver education days, this made the most sense. While
it added to overall expenses, the investment in having a professional
crew member paid dividends. Glenn and i looked over the data from
the previous day's practice sessions and we found more time that could be
shaved off my lap times. Glenn gave me some pointers to try and carefully
eyed the car to be sure everything was ready to go.
Qualification was an interesting mix, as unlike open track
days at NHIS where point-bys, drivers pointing you to pass them is the norm,
passing is open game as is being passed without being pointed by. Also of
note is that towards the end of the session a car threw an impressive
quantity of oil from before turn 6 all the way to the braking point. Coming
down the hill towards turn 6 at full throttle i see the excellent SCCA flag staff
member waving the
debris flag fast and reduced my speed. A brief moment caused by the oil, a
lacking grip accordingly, and all was fine. Sadly, the debris took its toll as
two other cars were caught out, collected the oil, went off the track and
suffered damage. Tried another lap and realized that the debris would not
allow for faster lap times during qualification. It was best to come into
the pits with the car in one piece and hope for the best from the laps that
Downloading the data from the onboard acquisition system,
Glen and i eyed the information and he complimented me for making the
improvements that he suggested before the session. Seat of the pants feel is
good, yet cold-hearted computer data tells the truth of the matter. My best
lap was number 11, achieving a personal best time of 1:07.130. This earned
me 4th in class and 5th out of 15 cars in the group. If you have read my
previous blogs, a good friend i nickname Mr. Hot Shoe who drives a FSCCA car
qualified 0.111 seconds behind me. My first emotion was elation on how i was
faster than him followed by "Oh no, this is going to be ugly," as
Mr. Hot Shoe is a great guy and takes competition quite serious. By the way,
i later found out Mr. Hot Shoe has been in competition since 1965, though to
be fair the Formula Continental is a faster car than his FSCCA and my
driving times are not the fastest as i qualified third in a field of four
within my classification.
Still, the damage was done so to speak and there was my car
ready to grid for the race ahead of Mr. Hot Shoe and we must remember that my experience
was only a small handful of days in the open wheel car. As any longtime
racer knows, qualification is great, yet it is how you rank at the finish of
a race that matters. And this leads us to....
If i was allowed to describe the feeling before my freshmen,
first wheel to wheel race experience it would be "apprehension."
Having never done wheel to wheel racing my biggest fear was in becoming a
rolling road block for others or, worse still, making a mistake that would
have inadvertently taken out another car. Taking myself out of a race is one
thing, hitting another car and costing someone their race (and money to fix
their car) is another. And so off to the races!
Blowing the start by being in too high a gear meant i was
immediately passed by a few cars. Early in the race i passed a few cars,
some passed me including a pass by me followed by not protecting the inside
line and having him pass me. Watching Formula 1, Le Mans, etc. over
the years may make one a great armchair quarterback, yet being in the heat
of battle and with little actual seat time experience in the heat of wheel-to-wheel
battle is another can of worms. To make a long story short we made some
changes to the car before the race and i felt some rear wheel hopping that
could have been flat spotting, yet was actually an aero problem 'fix' we did. Therefore the rear of the car had an unbalanced bounce akin to a
flat spot or unbalanced tire.
And with that said the loss of rear grip made for an
interesting handful during the race. Perhaps this is also why i suffered a
spin that caused me to use reverse gear for the first time. Having never
used reverse, it took me some time to realize a quite stiff spring in the
Hewland LD200 gearbox keeps one from inadvertently using that gear and so lost
nearly a full minute due to my driving error. As any racers will tell you, losing
a minute may as well be a lifetime during a short 20 lap race where lap
times average 1:08 or better. The results of finishing ninth out of a field
of twelve, third is classification out of four cars where one car DNF'd (did
not finish) was not a great result on one level and a great result on
another. She came home without damage and no one complained about my driving
them off the surface.
The Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda's.
Coulda finished higher, second in classification and perhaps
fifth or sixth overall if it were not for the spin plus all the debris one's
tires pick up from such an event. In hindsight we also shoulda used the
two-way communication i personally installed in the car before race season.
Being able to communicate to Glenn during the event would have probably made
me feel more relaxed while also receiving tips and pointers plus other data.
Why we did not use it is my own fault due to nerves and it being my first
race. Another factor few on the grid knew about was that if we woulda used
proper NHIS gears my lap times would have been about a second per lap faster. We discussed changing the gears after qualification yet
my being comfortable and familiar with the current gear set and shift points
caused me to
vote for leaving well enough alone. My feeling were that, being my first race
and all, changing gears would have possibly added more stress and perhaps
cost me more time than that could have been gained. While i rarely publish
nonpublic data for my competition, the fact is the gears within the LD200
were for Watkins Glenn International, which is a much faster track
and therefore requires a drastically different gear set. So changing
gears would have been a pronounced difference in shift locations versus
That night while re-living the race in my head other things
came to light. Being hard on myself meant even finishing third in
classification and though the car was not damaged during the race, nor
did any on-track circumstances cause anyone harm, was of little gratification.
The fact remains i had a spin that cost me big time (both figuratively and
literally). It was only while driving the next day to Calabogie
Motorsports Park for a two-day COMSCC time trial event did the
feeling of being happy with the results wash over me. There were many
lessons learned that will serve me well in the SCCA races to come.
Appreciation And Thanks
As always, thanks go out to Glenn of GTP Motorsports for helping guide me through the
circus and providing invaluable pointers that allowed me to shave an
appreciable amount of time off each lap. Add to that, Glenn also provided
mechanical expertise and maintenance tips plus assisting in getting
everything bolt checked and cleaned for the Calabogie Motorsports Park
COMSCC event less than 48 hours later.
My huge thanks goes out to others within my session. Have
heard various things about other guys on track with dive-bombing moves and
fender bumping at SCCA races. None of that occurred within the sessions i
experienced and, in fact, the opposite was true as one person actually gave me a nice
point by during the race! Every driver during qualification and the race allowed
each car proper road space and their pit/support staff were friendly and
helpful throughout the practice session and race day.
My deepest appreciation goes out to the everyone at SCCA.
From the charming woman at the registration booth, to the flag staff,
technical inspectors and all in-between. Being a hot day, SCCA provided
bottles of cool water after each on track event, something not done at other
events i have attended. Gigantic gratitude to the flag staff for their
excellent job and also for saving my arse by alerting me to the oil slick at
turn 6. My appreciation for all the folks who inspected my equipment/car
before and after the event. Everyone associated with SCCA was friendly,
helpful, very approachable and gave great tips plus thoroughly answered any
questions that arose.
They say you vote with your time and dollars, and so if you
are wondering if my vote is for attending another SCCA event... H$ll yes! In
fact am sending in a check for the mid-June Lime Rock Park event today. With
one race experience under my belt you can count on a better result... or at
least continue this multi-faceted experience in hopes of one day winning an
SCCA race. Hint to my competition, i love Lime Rock Park in the rain as it
separates the men who can properly control their package due to very
slippery conditions from the boys who lack smoothness.
Alas, my old video system could not handle the brutal nature
of the open wheel car and still waiting for the Chasecam setup to arrive. As
always, in the end what really matters is that we all...
Enjoy the Track,
Steven R. Rochlin