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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.