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

 

 

 

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  This was my maiden voyage into having an open wheel, spec car as a regular track weapon. Have attended the Skippy 3-day course, yet that is a different experience than actually having a more capable open wheel car that you have to maintain and fix. The car was setup for a previous NHIS event that never occurred due to a late snowstorm, so my deepest thanks goes out to Glenn of GTP Motorsports for fitting me in his busy schedule to help re-gear the tranny for Watkins Glen International (WGI) and show me other bits. There is a mechanical learning curve and various safety precautions, of course, before one would dare place their life in a vehicle about to enter the track at proper speeds.

Arriving the night before the event, unloading the car was straightforward. Due to the car being extremely low to the ground with proper race rubber, decided it was best to get a set of transport wheels from R-Sport, as these motorcycle-type rims/tires bring the car up about 4 inches and makes life much easier to load and unload the car versus using extremely long pieces of wood as enhanced-length ramps for the enclosed trailer. Once the proper tires were on the car and easily passed tech inspection it was time for my first outing... almost.

Watkins Glen International (WGI)WGI is perhaps best remembered an an ex-Formula 1 track back in the day, as this very long 3.4 mile course allows one to reach very high speeds. It is a flowing course with many blind apexes and of course COMSCC used 'the boot.' The 'added' boot involves some appreciable elevation changes while blind apexes abound throughout the course so being familiar with the track has advantages. Unlike the shorter NASCAR version, the addition of the boot makes for a much more interesting, enhanced skill level course in my opinion.

Besides the usual nerves and jitters as one considers this new season, new car, and other circumstances... Sure the brakes were bled, yet missed bleeding the clutch and so can only blame myself for missing the first session. After only a few minutes the car was ready for the second session and the plan was to simply get comfortable in the car at basic speed. Many thanks go out to all the members of COMSCC who were kind enough to help belt me in, as there is extremely little room in the car and one usually needs a hand at belting in the 6-point harness. Being extremely familiar with Watkins Glenn International after many days in my tintop, found myself going a bit slower to simply become familiar with the pedals and shifter. Naturally the brakes and acceleration is leagues better than the Ferrari, as it should be given the power-to-weight ratio. Alas, no lap times recorded on the first day as I forgot to setup the beacon.

Basically, it was a really nice sunny 60F day and was first trying to learn the steering input/output and brakes before truly applying hard use of the Loud Pedal (accelerator). My usual tintop braking at the 400-foot board on the back straight did not apply, as i found that well past the 200-foot mark when going around 140 mph was sufficient (am being vague about exact braking point so as to not alert my future competition). Also of note is that my good habit of using the clutch for upshifts in the tintop is now a bad habit that needed to be broken! With the Hewland LD200 four speed gear box in the Van Diemen chassis Formula Continental one need not use a clutch for upshifts, as a very fast release of the accelerator followed by nicking the shifter to the next higher gear is all that is required. My usual technique for downshifting was fine.

By the last session of the day, after only 60 minutes of on-track time, my comfort level was coming around as have driven open wheels cars previously. Still, the main plan for this event was to bring the car home in the same way it left the trailer. There was no need to try at achieving the bleeding edge of performance, as there will be many more events in 2007.

To keeps expenses down, was camping out at the track and had a great time with many of the COMSCC members. This is one of my favorite clubs as the comradery, with many members always willing to help others, is superb. In fact one of the members was kind enough to allow me to stay with his buddies within his well-appointed enclosed trailer. This was great news as that evening the winds were strong and the rain fell until about 4am.

Fortunately for day 2 the rain stopped and we were greeted with an nearly as warm, if a bit overcast day at WGI. At COMSCC events, the second day is for you to get a baseline lap time, hand in your time card, and then later that day line up for your official timed run of three hot laps.  With the timing beacon all set to go, my best laps the first session were a relatively slow 2:17 on the long course. As there is data in my laptop from a professional driver, the fact is this car can do around 2:00. No worries as this was my second day in the car and was still just feeling things out. Also of note is that the COMSCC event was the very first event for WGI in 2007, so there was no rubber on the track after many months of winter snow plus the overcast skies and cool weather did not play well for ultimate grip.

During the second session, at around 10:30am, it was time to stop being overly cautious and use basic caution. Braking later and harder allowed to drop my lap times while also getting on full throttle earlier allowed for faster overall speeds to be achieved. There was thrill and excitement mixed with amazement in having an incredibly capable car around me doing what a proper track car rightly should. Was still getting nowhere near the limits of the car's potential, yet getting closer to the 'zone' felt right. There is a great joy in the feeling of carrying more speed through the turns, with subsequent higher exist speeds until the next inputs are required.

Lap times dropped dramatically, with around 2:09 being the norm. Later in the afternoon came the three timed hot laps and my best effort was still a slow, cautious 2:08.73. To put this in perspective, a very experienced, really hot shoe driver in a more powerful FSCCA open wheel car did the club track record lap that day of 2:02:30. My old tintop did 2:27 on a very good day. For those curious, and to be fair, will simply say other cars at the event and their lap times included an Ultima GTR (2:09.33), Porsche 911 Turbo (2:12.54), Subaru Impreza WRX (2:12.87), Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (2:15.81), and for the zoom-zoomers of course there were quite a few Mazda Miatas (2:24.79).

Obviously the Van Dieman chassis Formula Continental, as prepared by GTP Motorsports, is an extremely capable package that far exceeds that of the other car i have spent many a track day learning the usual skills. Last and most certainly not least I'd like to thank my wife for understanding, or at least putting up with my track habit. This year, 2007, looks to be filled with may events. This being my very first event of the season with the F2000, it came and went with no major problems and many smiles. The goal of rolling the car back into the trailer the same way she came out was achieved. My deepest appreciation goes out to everyone who assisted me before, during, and after the event. Alas, my old video system could not handle the brutal nature of the open wheel car, so no video with the new car is available. Feel free to see the video section for what a basic lap in the tintop of WGI looks like. As always...

Enjoy the Track,

Steven R. Rochlin

 

 

 

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