2000 Ft Myers ProSolo

(As originally posted to the Talon Digest

Well, the 2000 autocross season is upon us, we're running the brand new, turbo-friendly Street Modified class, and the car is back in one fully assembled piece. Time for the annual season opener, the ProSolo in Ft Myers, FL.

Last year, we drove down, did the race, and came right back. This year, we decided to spend a little time in Florida, and to hit the National Tour race in Meridian, Mississippi on the way home.

On Tuesday night, Feb 15, we loaded the gypsy caravan onto the rig. I took the rig to work Wednesday AM, and then left for Florida, 2100km away, right after work - and not without a certain amount of trepidation. Ol' Clunky, our '91 Suburban tow rig, has 149500 km and 9 Michigan winters on it, and is getting a little tired. It seems that every time we go out to play, something breaks on the tow truck.

Well, this time was no exception. At the very first fuel stop somewhere in Ohio, I came back from the cashier to find a puddle of coolant under the truck. A little frantic searching revealed a pinhole leak in the radiator - and a can of "Bars Leak" later I was back on the road.

The rest of the trip down was quiet and uneventful, done in absolutely spectacular weather. The South is a very good place to spend February.

At the track, we quickly met up with the rest of the class: Kent Rafferty, and his wife Karen, in their Supra Twin Turbo. Both Kent and Karen are excellent drivers (Kent was 3rd or 4th at Nationals last year) and Kent had been having some fun with his motor - boost controller, reworked ECU, and some other stuff - and was now making an easy 400HP at the wheels. Karl Witt, and his girlfriend Jocelyn, in Karl's late model Z28. As recently as the previous week, Karl's car had been in bits as he converted the car from automatic to manual, so I guessed he hadn't had much time to sort out the car yet - but then again, he's got a low 12 second timeslip on that car. And finally, newcomer Doug Quara, a local who had swapped a Japanese-spec motor into his Civic (and who was, unfortunately, on street tires).

Four cars, six drivers - and four of those drivers were National-level competitors. Not a bad start for a class that has only existed for two months.

The course is nearly identical to last years, with lots of room to put down power. And with the enormous grip of Kumhos on concrete, this is going to be fun.

At the end of the first heat, I've got the lead over Kent by .077-ish. Karen is a couple of tenths back, and Karl and Jocelyn (whose car was in little bitty bits a few days before, and so still has some bugs in it) are a bit further back.

The second heat, Kent pulls off a monster run that's dirty, but still pulls time out. With notice having been served, I go into total red mist mode. I pull a little time out of each side (but nothing major) and then redlight my last run of the heat. With nothing to lose, I try keeping my foot down through the first kink, and I'll be dammed if it doesn't stick. Aha! Kent doesn't repeat his monster, and I wind up behind him by like .044-ish.

The next morning, I slam out loaded for bear, and notice that the car seems to be pulling a lot harder... ...anyway, the run is sloppy, and I get lazy at the finish and clip a cone (bah, this run sucked) only to find that I'd pulled out like 7 tenths. Doh! Still not enough to match Kent's monster raw time, but it means that my "flat down the first straight" technique is making up a LOT of time. Not only that, but that run, if clean, would have put me well in the lead.

Kent sees the time (he told me later) and he realizes I'm coming after him, but he can't seem to repeat. I KNOW I've got him. All I have to do is put down a time...

The next run is absolutely killer. The car is pulling really REALLY hard, and I'm doing a much better (but still not perfect) job of driving it. Three turns from the finish, this is going to be a hot one...


I've heard this noise before. I've seen Fedja's car do this like a billion times. I've blown a boost hose off.

The car dies. I dribble through the finish section on momentum alone, and the time is only a couple of tenths slower than my fast time on that side. DAMMIT!

I call a mechanical, and find that it's the lower turbo-to-intercooler hose, the only steel prototype pipe still on the car. After a few minutes of wrestling with it, I replace the hose. By now, Kent is finished, and he's gone no faster. All I need is .044 and I've got my first Pro win!

Launch the car, get about 20m out of the lights, and KABOOM! Hose pops off again.

This time, no screwing around. I take a file and hacksaw and roughen up the pipe where the hose slips on. I also put about 2000ft-lbs of torque into the hose clamp.

One run for glory... launch... flat through the first kink, little lift, flat through the slalom, brake HARD for the turnaround, keep tight, roll in throttle, turbo spools up and...


The sound of Kent dodging a bullet.

Back in Impound, I fix the hose again, scoring the pipe even more, and this time double-clamping it. I also, on a hunch, turn the boost down - a lot. And then I discover that with the boost turned way, way down, that I'm making about 20lbs. Yikes! That means I was probably running in excess of 30lbs that morning - no wonder the car was pulling so hard, and no wonder it kept spitting off the hose!

But the drama is not yet over. You see, Karen has yet to run. She'd been a couple of tenths back all weekend, but never underestimate how much raw determination Karen is capable of summoning up. Sure 'nuff, badda bing, badda boom, Karen clicks off a fast pair that leaves Kent and myself doing the math in our heads - it's too close to call. I actually think she got both of us... And then the results: Kent, then me .044 back, and then Karen, .043 back from me.

Without a doubt, the closest, most nerve-wracking, most fun autocross I've ever run, and a spectacular debut for the class. If we keep doing this all season, SM is going to be an absolute riot to watch, and I'm going to finish the season a nervous wreck.

But wait - there's more! The top 3 SM cars qualified for the Challenge round, and it turns out that my first Challenge match up is with - Karen! With both of us being in the same class, the race will be runs heads-up, with no indexed dialin to compensate for different performance. But I've got a problem - I have no idea if the hose will stay on, and I've backed the boost down some (so the car is a little slower). What's more, I have a history of coning, and a cone in the Challenge is the kiss of death. So I decide to play it safe and conservative after the launch. I figure Karen watching my tailights vanish in the first few seconds will hype her up, and she'll probably cone.

She does.

With the nice, 2 second padding, I take it even easier on the next run - and Karen (with nothing to lose) rips off a fast one that actually makes up the time! But - lucky me - she cones again, and I advance to the next round.

In this round, I'm up against Danny Shields in a Neon. With our index being a little, uhh, enthusiastic, he's got a pretty big head start, and he clips me by a couple of tenths on both sides. Game over.

I spend the next few days on the beach.