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

 

 

 

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  Stepping back a few days before this event, my Thursday test session and first of the season car shakedown at NHMS (formerly NHIS) was a resounding success! The car had undergone the normal off-season maintenance and various tweaks at GTP Motorsports. The car was now in prime shape, while my driving and tuning her at the track yielded a phenomenal 1.5 seconds per lap faster time than my best lap in the NHMS chicane-chicane configuration during 2007! Much of this is due to the various servicing, yet will also admit that in 2007 i was being a bit on the conservative side and now it was time to really dig deep and get on with the program at hand.

Arriving in Pocono International Raceway, there was much to learn as i have never driven this track so was totally new to the ways in attacking this race surface and where the best and the riskiest passing opportunities were located. Other than a video or two online and seeing a track map, this was a new ballgame to be conquered and i was ready for the challenge.

Pocono SCCA Track MapRacing at Pocono in the Formula 2000 / Formula Continental car is, quite frankly, a boring track with nothing of any major challenge as compared to more technical tracks. As seen on the map, you basically drive clockwise (at 140+ mph) headed to turn 1 and then have a few turns until you enter the Long Pond Straight to again achieve triple-digit speeds. Brake again for the brief bus stop chicane and off you go at full throttle until turn 1.

Without going into too much detail, it was basically down to getting a good exit speed onto the long straight bits and doing your best within the infield section with knowing when to brake/turn in and the apexes. If you make a mistake, there is plenty of run-off room that would cause little to no damage to your car. Of course knowing where, how much (full or trail), and how late one can brake when doing 140+ mph is a good thing. For those unfamiliar with the term 'trail braking', it means to braking while turning toward the apex of a corner. This technique is best if one is to achieve the fastest overall lap time. Turn 1 at Pocono is a great example of where you can easily pull this technique off to keep as much speed as possible while turning and slowing down the car in preparation for the tighter counter-clockwise turn 2.  

 

Qualification

In a word, belch! One lap to warm up the tires and get my first on-track look/feel of the tarmac surface and where the surface changes. Another lap to get up to some resemblance of speed and hope to understand the rhythm of it all. On lap three (or four) one driver threw his car off the track and so all cars were black flagged and had to get off the track and line up at pit in/out while they removed the offending car. About five minutes passed before we were once again released on to the track and had a mere six more hot laps to get to know the track, the braking points and have a lap with good qualification time.

Virtually every racer who is reading this knows what type of result is to be expected from this, and it aint good folks! While online videos and studying tracks maps are good, there is no video game to try and 'drive' the track and so there was no truly interactive way for me to know what to expect. Results in qualification was a dismal 11 out of 18 overall, with being last in my car's classification as SCCA has a few different classification of cars on the track during the same qualification session and race. Lap time was a sluggish 1:48:959. i left the track still being halfway clueless about how to fully attack and so just dusted off my driving shoes, did a bolt check in the pits and hoped the race would be more promising. Naturally i downloaded the car's telemetry and studied the data acquired during qualification before the race only a few hours away.

 

First Race

Here was another chance to get to know the track and i used every moment and opportunity to do so. The first half of the 12 lap (or 30 minute time limit) race was spent getting up to speed per se, where halfway through i was hard-charging the field and passing a few cars. This included being side-by-side with another Formula Continental all the way through the bust stop chicane as i was catching up to him before it, matched him during it, and was not willing to simply let this passing opportunity go by. i took the inside (right) line on entry which is the inside line when exiting and came away passing the other car. My car felt great, well-balanced and very controllable. The end result was starting in 11th overall and finishing 8th overall with a best lap time of 1:41.699. So my trusty Rat Shack gonk-u-lator says that is a reduction of lap time of 7.260 seconds as compared to qualification. If i had achieved this time during qualification it would have placed me in a solid second position versus a lousy 11th. Well, there is always tomorrow's race. That evening and the next morning i studied the car's telemetry from the data acquired during race 1 and made mental notes of where lap times could further be reduced.

That evening i did contact SCCA officials (RE) about there being absolutely no number markers on the wall before turn 1. You see, during the end of long straights most tracks have decreasing number signs at set intervals so you can use them as a permanent (during that event) marking to adjust the point at which you begin turning/braking. While the track folks were amazed that they were missing, as they are usually there, it was up to SCCA to have them placed. Sadly, on day two there were still no markings. Therefore i found a nice large and obvious tire marking on the left side wall that at least gave me some idea as to timing my next actions in the car to make the turn. There were proper marking for the back straight bus stop chicane, so that helped for that on-track sequence.

 

Second Race

The car was fine, no major tweaking or gear changing necessary and i decided to put on new tires versus using older, multi-heat cycled ones as employed during every previous part of this event. Now there was no excuse to get out there and give 'er a go. With the rolling start in 8th position i was hoping to launch the car and gain a place or two, yet that was not to be. Everyone seemed to simply hold their position until turn 3, where one of the driver's ahead of me spun in the middle of the track. So we all scrambled to not hit his car or lose time and get around this and continue forward with the race. The tires were gripping well for the first couple of laps and then on lap 4 the fronts were going off a bit, causing a good amount of under steer. This was especially true in turn 3, where i used every bit of the paved section to the last fraction of an inch. If this was last year, such a heart-pounding moment would have resulted in two to three turns of mental/emotional recovery (meaning slowing down a bit versus normal full-on time). This year is different as after the very close call i said to myself "reset" and continued to attack. The front tires came back to me a lap later.

Two laps later the rears starting playing the same slip-n-slide game! This time i was not patient and went for the anti-roll (sway) bar adjustment in the cockpit and gave her a good click in the appropriate direction and continued on. Ah yes, that's better. Before i forget, the new tires also seemed to cause either front or rear lock-up during brake events early in the race.

During the above times i was occasionally passing cars. Now we are at around lap 7 of 12 and i had caught up to a set of S2000 cars. We had a nice battle going between myself , a red, and a leading yellow S2000 (last, middle and front position respectively). Catching up to cars and passing them are two different things. So at turn 1 i passed the red S2000 and was stuck behind the now slowing me down yellow S2000. Tried to pass the yellow car yet basically held my position while defending the red car during the infield and back straight section. With the red car now behind me, my job was to try and pass the yellow car while keeping the red car from passing me.

Then we came back to turn 1 and the red car pulled the same move on me that i did to him a lap earlier. He passed me and was now stuck behind the yellow S2000. Once again we eventually came back around to turn 1 yet this time i was determined and went for it. The term 'went for it' is really three simple English words, yet can mean so very much in the scheme of things as applied to racing. You see, calculated risk is part of being a racecar driver and knowing the braking point of the leading yellow S2000 i decided to take the inside line and late brake both cars to pass! Yes, that means passing two cars in one turn, the fastest turn on the track (not counting the oval section).

So how did it go? Did i make it passing both cars or did the yellow car turn into mine or did some other situation happen and, well... Did you ever hear the story of how really bad things happen at 120 mph when open wheel cars touch during fast turns in a race? Well, knowing the yellow car tended to brake a bit early before turn 1 and he took it slightly wide, thereby leaving me enough room to squeeze my car in there. So if he kept the same line as always, if he braked slightly early as always, and if i could brake late and hard and hold the car on the track... Hmmm, a lot of if's there.

So i initially braked really late and kept very much to the inside line and not only passed both cars, i made it through by staying on the track and kept going. Now the red car was stuck behind the yellow one! Never saw the red S2000 anywhere close enough to pass me and so could drive a normal racing line without worrying about protecting my position (phew!). Now my job was to do my best to keep going and build up as much of a lead as possible while catching and passing other cars ahead of me.

Passed another car or two during the remainder of the race and the final result speaks for itself. Started 8th overall and finished 3rd, with earning 2nd in classification. So i came home with the knowledge from not knowing this track at all to finishing 2nd in classification and taking home this nice plaque for my efforts. With the tires being all over the map, and the brakes acting accordingly, my best lap time during the race was 1:41:681. Still faster than my best in race 1, yet not much real improvement. While this time is the second fastest of all drivers during this event, starting 8th and being held up means there was virtually no way to get to 2nd place overall, and so 3rd overall is quite a nice finish all in all. Second in class is better still, as this is where the amount of points earned for an event is scored. Loaded up the car, the tools and other bits and it was time to celebrate a job well done.

 

Appreciation And Thanks

Thanks go out to Glenn Philips at GTP Motorsports for preparing a great car and my super secret shock mechanic for working his magic. Immense appreciation to the Enjoy the Track's sponsors for showing their support. If you are reading this, please visit the Sponsors page and learn about each company's excellent products and services! They truly offer outstanding items you really should consider before making your next home audio purchase.

 As always, in the end what really matters is that we all...

Enjoy the Track,

Steven R. Rochlin

PS: Apologies for no video, as the Chasecam is acting up and being set off for servicing. Hope to offer video footage of the NHMS race in a few weeks.

 

 

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