2000 BFG CENDIV Series Flint, MI

(As originally posted to the Talon Digest)

9 July we did a CENDIV Divisional Series race, part of our ongoing quest to kick buttocks at Nationals. A 3-run, Nationals-format event.

Flint is just 100km up the road, so we got spared loading up the whole rig. Instead, we just threw the race tires, a jack, and some tools into the car, and drove up in the race car. Street legal race cars can be fun! However, the trade-off in effort savings and the price of a motel stay was getting up at 05:00 and 15 minutes of tire-changing frenzy trying to get teched and the course walked a couple of times before the 8:00 deadline.

The course was laid out by a CSP CRX driver, so it was tight, tight, tight. The event lot was the GM Metal Fab Plant parking lot - old, cracked, and horrendously bumpy asphalt with all the grip of goose shit. In other words, this was not going to be a fast course. Instead, it was likely to be a patience course, with the win going to the guy who made the fewest mistakes.

SM was scheduled to run last, so I got to watch ESP run. The big ol' Camaros and Mustangs were having a hell of a time, as there was just NO grip, and the big torque these cars make meant they just couldn't get any power down. Lots of big spins, wheelspin, and tail-out flattracking - and lots and lots of mashed, flattened, and punted cones.

Then, in the second heat, the skies opened up, and thus began a series of thunderstorms, followed by dry periods, that lasted all day. It would rain torrents, there would be lightning overhead (which necessitated putting the event on hold - normally we run in the rain, but lightning means we shut down) then it would stop, and the course would dry out for a while, then the rain would come again, and so on and so on.

It was getting pretty late by the time we hit grid, and it had just finished one of these torrential downpours. Normally, a slick surface covered in water means a pretty good day for an AWD car, but I'd been in drying conditions like this before. As the course dries out, the grip gets better and better and the cars get faster and faster; quite often there can be a substantial advantage only one car apart in the run order.

SM had 7 cars, but there was only one other competitor I was really worried about - Al Chan. Al has been driving for nearly 15 years, and he's a consistent top-10 (although never a Championship) at Nationals, in whatever he drives. When I first met him, he'd been driving an RX-7 in SS, but lately he's been running ESP Camaros. Today, he was driving the multi-National-championship Boreen Camaro. He had planned on running his own Firebird (he's trying to sell the car, and he figured SM would give it a little more exposure) but it broke, so he had hopped into an even faster car.

Al is this little Zen master kinda guy. He has more patience than an army of your typical Camaro drivers, and he has a gift for being able to make a run, analyze his performance, determine exactly what he did wrong, and then go out and not do that on his next run. I can't remember a time when Al didn't improve from run to run, and I'm working hard to emulate that skill myself, as it's a key to doing well at 3-run events. He excels at these short, tight, patience courses, to the point where I've never beaten him on a course of this type. In other words, AWD advantage or no, I've got my work cut out for me.

And he's running dead last in the run order, which in drying conditions is a huge advantage.

My first run is a voyage of discovery - the grip absolutely sucks. The car is slithering and sliding all over the place. This coupled to the tightness of the course means I'm having trouble getting spooled in all but two places (which may be more of a blessing than a curse, with the track so slick. Sometimes lag can act like traction control) In one of the places where I can get power down, I go flying into this tight right-hander, and there's two huge... not "bumps", that's too small a word - "drainage ditches" is more like it - right in the braking area. I try to brake through them, but the car is having nothing of it, and I go crashing through the cone wall on the outside of the turn. Somehow, I only get one, but I drag it with me for the rest of the run, which is a 49.2. Al's run is a high 51, so I'm actually leading with the cone.

My next run, I'm harder on the gas in a number of places, and the grip is noticeably MUCH better - there's much less sliding going on. However, drying or no, those bumps are still there, and I actually remember to brake early for them, and carry a fair bit of speed through the right-hander. I'm not yet sure that the grip is there yet to take the finish slalom flat out, so I breathe it a bit, and that turns out to be a good choice, as the tail steps out slightly through the lights. It's a 47.0, and clean. Al runs a 48.8, but clips a cone, so I've got a solid 4 second lead.

The course, though, is rapidly drying out. CSP cars are turning mid 45s, and a BSP Corvette turns a mid 46. Al and I look at each other, and we know it's a one-run race now. I go thundering out like the hammers of hell, pushing as hard as I dare, including a full-power blast through a slalom that the ESP cars were taking flat-out. It turns out that the lateral grip is there OK, but the braking grip hasn't come in yet - I lock the right front for a split second before the ABS kicks in, and I mash the last cone in the slalom. I keep right on pushing, hoping to be able to make up for the cone and the bobble that followed it, and I even make it through the finish slalom flat-out. It's a 46.1, but thanks to the cone it's no good to me. I'm standing on a 47.0

Al sees me hit the cone, and he knows a door has been opened. All he needs is a 46, and the win is his - and he's the very last car of the event to run. He runs on a fully-dry course - and turns in a 46.8, clean. The win is his. I'm second.

Overall though, it's hard not to be happy with the result. I kept my cool, didn't choke, and for the first time put in a better raw time than Al on a tight course. It's too bad about the cone, but with a drying course where the grip level changes every second, what can you do but go for it and try? And not only was I on the pace, I was setting it, so I feel pretty good about that.

All in all, I'm in good shape for the Shootout, which just so happens to be the next big race. See everyone there!