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
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.
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
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