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

 

 

 

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  "Holy Mother of...!," exclaimed driver Steven R. Rochlin while sliding sideways at well into three digit speeds for approximately 150 feet down NHMS' back straight between T2 and T3. "It was the most spectacular slide I have ever seen," said one of the workers at the event. Those statements are only a small hint to the major movie-like drama-come-true story that you are about to read.

It all started with a big bang... 

...and the universe expanded from a primordial dense/hot condition and subsequently formed into planets and stars. Hmmm, perhaps we should hit the fast-forward button a little bit until we reach September 5, 2008. Ok, let us try this again.

It all started on warm and sunny Friday with a Test & Tune day at NHMS. All around great guy engineer Glenn Philips of GTP Motorsports and i was preparing the car for the upcoming September 6 & 7 SCCA NER races. Between the two of us, we worked on aero adjustment, tire temperatures/pressure, shock adjustments and tire alignment until the car felt hooked up. Lap times were very promising and so the Formula 2000 open wheel winged chariot was ready for the races.

 

Qualification, Saturday September 6

As expected, the rain fell as the aftermath from a recent hurricane blew through New Hampshire. The skies opened up the night before and subsided as the clouds covered the sky. When it was time to line up to the false grid, the track was damp yet drying. The clouds were ominous and threatening to release their vapors onto the track. The drama began as was not 100 percent sure which setup would be best. Take a chance and go with dry slicks, or play it safe and go Hoosier wets? Add to that, which settings of the sway/anti-roll and brake bias would be best? Should i change the shock setting a bit to be slightly softer? Hmmm...

My engineer and i agreed it was best to play it safe and qualify on Hoosier rains. We discussed various between settings on the car for such an environment and quickly went to work for what was felt to be an optimum setup given the conditions. Those who came off the track before us said the tarmac was still slippery. A small handful of drivers took a chance and felt slicks would be best. Having driven NHMS in damp condition, i can attest to the evil and unforgiving nature of using slicks when damp. As luck would have it, the driving line was dry by lap three of qualification and so slicks were indeed the way to go. Still, i drove the car hard and searched for damp sections to keep the tires cool so as not to cook them. Even with my efforts, the tires showed the abuse given yet qualified a solid third for the upcoming race.

 

The Race

Hours after qualification the track was dry yet the dark clouds were still threatening. Everyone chose slicks and out we went to race. One factor i have not shared with you, yet is very important, was that i needed to win both races this weekend while another driver needed to finish third or worse. The reasoning is that mechanical problems this year had cost me dearly in the points. As such, maximum points were needed to earn first place within the driver's championship.

The green flag fell and off we went for the 18 lap race at NHMS in chicane-chicane configuration. By T3 i had sped past both Formula Ford's that qualified on slicks and went on my way to building a lead. Those watching the race said i had a nearly 30 second advantage over the entire field by lap 10. And then wouldn't you know it, a very slow drizzle began to fall. This was fine as it helped to cool the tires and i had good grip, yet was being cautious as had a good lead and no need to spin the car off the track. At lap 16 the rain began to fall and so greatly slowed down my pace. As if there was not enough drama, someone upstairs decided to throw some more into the mix. On the very last lap at the very last turn (T12) the rear tires stepped out and so spun 180 degrees. Was able to get her back on track and finish first in classification and thereby earning the maximum points that were needed. Add to that, the other driver who was leading in points finished third, and so the game was on and was still mathematically 'alive' to come from a large deficit and earn SCCA's NER driver's championship!

 

Qualification, Saturday September 6

The sun and warmth came through and this is the conditions that the car was solidly tuned for! Add to that, we were running the NASCAR T1/T2 oval and chicane configuration. This is where the winged Formula 2000 really flies provided your right foot stays firmly planted on the loud pedal through the oval to achieve the 125mph+ speed. (FYI: the best NASCAR 'Car Of Tomorrow' only reaches speeds of around 100mph during the same turn). Like other qualification sessions, i go light on the fuel and run about 6 to 8 laps total, thereby saving the tires for the race. While my best time was over two seconds faster than the nearest competitor, the drama continued as during technical inspection my rear wing was measured 1cm too high per SCCA rules. As such, my qualification time was thrown out. Not only did i have to fix the situation on the car, went from staring on pole position to beginning the race at the back of the grid.

Remember, i need to earn maximum points and count on another driver finishing third or lower to achieve the driver's championship. This was a major downward turn of event, yet one not impossible to overcome. Naturally i fixed the rear wing situation, passed technical inspection and got everything ready for the final NER race of the season. At this point, was getting just a bit annoyed with the constant comedy/tragedy turn of events to get the job done. Of course one never says "What else could possibly go wrong," as this may set the stage for something unexpected to occur in a way you never hope, or perhaps possibly even imagine.

 

The Race

My close friends reminded me to stay calm and focused during the race. While the results meant the difference between winning or being 'first loser' in the Driver's Championship, it was my job to get the most out of every brake zone, carry as much speed as possible from the apex outward and manage traffic as best as achievable. Arriving on the starting grid and positioning myself towards the rear part of the grid, a few of the workers heard about the wing drama and you could tell they were looking forward to seeing me safely work my way through the field in hopes of winning the race. Adding to this mix was that another driver in a top-shelf modernized Formula 2000 car joined this race. For those unfamiliar, my F2000 has the old Pinto engine, older narrow suspension and older aero package (to name a few of the changes between my car and the newer ones). Of course driving skill will beat a faster car, yet this was someone who i had not driven with and so was not sure of their race capabilities.

New Hampshire International Speedway (NHIS)At the five minutes to go whistle i took a deep breath and mentally prepared for the task at hand. Stay focused, keep calm, let the race come to you as there are many laps to accomplish the goal. Then one of the starting grid workers came and told me the race was going to be cut short from 18 to 15 laps. So that meant three less laps to achieve my goal. The drama continued and got worse by the moment! Shortly thereafter i started the engine and eventually we were on our way around for the reconnaissance lap. Noted that at T9 there was Kitty Litter that must have cleaned up an earlier oil spill, so if you went wide there it would cause the car to lose grip and slide into the dirt and probably put me out of the race. The remainder of the tracked looked normal.

The green flag waived and i took the oval wide and fast, thereby going past many cars to the point of being in the third position by T3! Wholly goodness of luck, this was great! Within less than a lap i got by the only car between myself and the leading modern F2000 car/driver and was catching up to him. Was attacking the brake zones and hitting the apexes with purpose, as finishing second was not an option. By the fourth lap i was right on his rear wing and noted his driving line, where and by how much he was braking, plus where my advantages could be fully exploited.

Like in Formula 1, catching up to a driver and passing them are two completely different things. His pace was very fast, his driving was impressive, and with each turn i was hounding him. One lap i attempted to stay more towards the the inside of the oval and did get closer to him, yet he took a middle line at T3 and I could not pass. Add to that, the modern Zetec engine seemed to have an advantage in power coming out of turns versus my Pinto. This same Zetec advantage showed its worth going out of T12 on to the front straight. Was doing my best to rile the driver ahead of me into a mistake by choosing slightly different lines, subtle yet purposeful movements so my car 'flashed' in his side view mirrors, etc. Around lap 11 he had a very brief moment at T3 where his front right tire locked up and while trying to exploit that i was able to get my front right tire equal to his rear left as we were entering the bowl (T6). While he did tend to brake slightly earlier than myself, there was simply not enough of a gain or physical space to pull off a pass and so i backed off. Due to my line being a bit off, that cost me some time.

Naturally, there was now more reason to push harder as was hoping he would continue to have grip problems during braking and needed to be in the best position as possible to take advantage of this possible continued situation. Alas, his brake situation was just a blip, yet was once again right behind him and ready to take advantage of any small error within his driving, or if his car experienced a brief problem. He was not 'driving' my car, which is a term used when you are so close that the driver ahead of you is figuratively driving your car. Instead, i was doing my best to, figuratively-speaking, 'push' him into a mistake.

On lap 12 my rear tires were losing their grip potential while going through T1 to T2 (the NASCAR oval) plus at T12, with a brief rear step out in the oval and some slide at T12. Made a sway/anti-roll bar adjustment and yet there was still a moment in the oval where the rear end stepped out and i caught the car quickly and kept on my way. During lap 13 it still felt a bit loose in the rear and then came lap 14, during which one of the corner workers said something along the lines of "It was the most spectacular slide I have ever seen."

Was about 1.5 car lengths behind the Zetec F2000 car and as we entered the NASCAR T1 there was a Formula Ford we were lapping for the second time during the race. The Formula Ford driver kept a nice and constant wide-ish line and the Zetec car passed him on the inside. Sadly, with my now deteriorating rear grip, i briefly tried to follow yet the car felt otherwise and so took it wide and passed the Formula Ford on the right. This is where things get really interesting. (Sarcasm) Oh, like all the previous happenings during the weekend was just a Sunday walk in the park! 

Over the course of a day, tracks will get rolled up rubber on the outside section of the tarmac from race tires scrubbing off their outermost surface. We call them marbles, because they look a bit like marbles plus if you drive on them it also is like driving your car on marbles. And so yes, being forced to go wide out of NASCAR T2 due to the decreased rear grip of my car meant the car was now quickly getting to the back straight and directly into the marbles at 120mph. The steering went light and was very gentle with the steering and throttle input. Still, once my left side tires hit the clean tarmac the car did a staggeringly fast 90-degree counter-clockwise spin and was now traveling at nearly 100mph sideways down the track! CLUTCH AND BRAKE!!! We must also remember that a winged car loses all its down force when the wings are sideways.

To even try and fully describe what it feels like to slide at those speeds would be like trying to give complete details of the universe from the Big Bang to its present state. Basically, my first thought was this is going to turn out badly followed immediately by "Wow, it looks like i am sliding perfectly parallel close to the wall." Keep in mind i was facing the opposite direction so did not know for sure if this was all going to end with a very expensive 'bang'. Someone 'up there' must love me because as luck would have it the car did not hit anything and once the car was slowed down to the point i felt steering could once again be inputted i let off the brake and turned the wheel clockwise.

Seen above is what my data acquisition's left front tire speed detection device recorded during this situation. Am guessing the jagged lines were when the car was in the marbles and after 90mph you can easily guess the rest. Once the car was pointed back in the correct direction i drove onward, noted no one was behind me, and therefore did a few fast right/left moves to see if everything was ok while also looking at various suspension bits both front and the rears via the side view mirrors. By this time there was a mere 1.5 laps to go and was at the bowl and all seemed fine and so drove her carefully to a solid second place in the race (both overall and within my classification).

 

The Aftermath

After the race, i gladly shook the hand of the Zetec driver. This was the most exciting race in my, albeit brief, racing career. He said to me that he has never personally experienced a driver constantly so close on his tail during a race. My thoughts were that my goal was to pass you, and so was doing everything possible to safely and efficiently pass you! After all, in a sense he cost me the Driver's Championship. Well, there is always next year folks!

And yes, for the next hour or so quite a few people came up to me making comments about how "great" or "spectacular" or "amazing" the slide looked. As the driver of the car, my words and comments would be a bit different... from my point of view of course. In life, one's point of view of an event does indeed greatly change how one feels about a situation.  

Below is a lap by lap comparison between myself (left side) and the Zetec F2000 driver (right side), with the lap time difference colored for where i achieved a lower or higher lap time by comparison.

Click here to see this weekend's two race results (PDF).

 

Appreciation And Thanks

My deepest thanks and appreciation to everyone from the wonderful people at registration to the workers and tech folks within SCCA's NER for a great 2008 season! Without you, us lowly drivers would not have a safe and fun place to enjoy our motorcars. For it is your kindness and help that makes our racing sport that much more enjoyable. A special thanks goes out to my race engineer Glenn Philips at GTP Motorsports and my shock engineer, as without you guys the car would never have achieved the great speeds and handling that enabled me to win so many SCCA NER races this year.

My gratitude also extends to all my sponsors for showing their support so early in my racing career. If you are reading this, please visit the Sponsors page and learn about each company's excellent products and services! They truly offer outstanding audio/video/music products you really should consider before making your next home electronics purchase. As always, in the end what really matters is that we all...

Enjoy the Track,

Steven R. Rochlin

PS: Due to not needing to run the last event of the year at Lime Rock Park (LRP), i have earned SCCA's NAARC region Driver's Championship title.

 

 

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