Enjoy the Track Featuring Driver Steven R. Rochlin -- Formula Continental and Ferrari 308GTS QV

 

 

 

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  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.

New Hampshire International Speedway (NHIS)But 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 surface.

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 26th

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, now 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 were recorded.

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!

 

The Race

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 subtle changes.

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

 

 

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