2000 Harrisburg ProSolo

(As originally posted to the Talon Digest)

This past weekend, we went to Harrisburg, PA, for the last ProSolo of the season before the Finale in September. This event marks the switchover from concentrating on the 12-run, same-course Pro format, to spending time working on the 3-run, different course each day Nationals format. And as the ProSolo series only counts your best 2 of your first 3 events for points, it didn't mean anything from a points perspective. You might think this'd be reason to coast a little, relax, and have some fun, but I've been knocking on the door of my first ProSolo win all season (including 2 events with a margin of victory of less than half a tenth) so I wanted this one BAD.

Harrisburg is the only Pro event run on pavement, instead of concrete. It has less grip to start with, but as the weekend wears on and the rubber goes down, the track gets faster and faster. But the pavement also breaks up a little, and these marbles collect off-line, and pumhish any deviation from the consensus line in the turns with big slides. There's also lots of off-camber sections and big, nasty bumps. The weather also plays a big part ~ the event is held at the Farm Show Complex, down by the river, and it's either freezing cold, blisteringly hot and humid, or raining torrents - and it can change from one to the other in a heartbeat.

The course layout was - for a change - wide open. A long straight feeding into a set of tight wiggles, that fed into a long 270 degree, multi-radius sweeper, that dumped rather abruptly into a long, fast slalom, that in turn fed a very tight left-right offset into the finish lights. My first impression was that most of the course was going to be taken flat-out or with little lifts, but it turned out to need much more patience and precision than the course walks suggested. Less balls and more brains.

Street Modified had its biggest turnout to date, with 9 cars: Myself, Ian McFetridge in his new 16G/PMS 2G, Kent Rafferty in his Supra, Karl Witt in his Camaro (and his co-driver Jocelyn), a turbocharged Impressa, a Starion, and another built Camaro. This class is growing faster than any other SCCA class, and with the car variety and freedom to modify, it's easy to see why. Fedja and Brian also showed up, running Fedja's car in ESP.

I did my usual 2 practice starts on Friday night. I've got this little game going with myself where I take exactly one start on each side, and see if I can set the record that holds at the end of the practice start session. ProSolo for practice starts puts the finish timers out 60' from the start, but because their equipment doesn't do reaction time the time you get is really a drag strip 60' plus your reaction time (minus .500). I set down a 1.79 on the left (on bare pavement!), and redlighted the right. Ian got down to about a 1.85 on the right, but nobody got closer than a tenth on the left, and all those were DSMs. Whoohoo! Big tires (275 40R17 Kumhos) and the fast-spooling T28/28 makes for great launches!

Saturday AM, hot and HUMID. I put down some reasonable times that are on pace. My fast run on the left (29.7) has a cone, but I'm in the ballpark, and not too worried. I'm about 4 tenths off Kent, with Karl left to run. Karl's left side is nothing spectacular, but he puts down a BLAZING 28.7 on the right, when the car gets loose on him in all the right spots and he howls through the finish turns. Ruh roh! The first heat ends with Karl leading, then Kent and me. Ian has redlighted both his right side runs, but looks good otherwise.

Then it starts raining. Normally, rain is good for an AWD, but once runs are on the books in the dry, if you're not leading then you need it to STAY dry - and I'm not leading! But true to Harrisburg form, the sun comes out, and soon we're back to hot and humid.

Saturday PM. I pull a little bit of time out of the right (a mid 29), but I can't get a left side to save my life. There's something about the left that's throwing the car off and I'm sliding around like an idiot. I'm still sitting on a 30.1 from the morning, and I'm NOT a happy camper. Kent improves a little too, and Karl makes a small improvement on the left (but he can't back up his right side screamer) The day ends with Karl leading Kent by 2 tenths, and me 8 tenths back of Kent. Ian has a right side time now, and is in 4th. If it's wet tomorrow morning, I'm hosed, and the radio is calling for rain all day Sunday...

That night I study the data from the logger, and find some places for improvement. Most notably, I'm not on the gas hard enough in the slalom, and I'm on the gas too early in the sweeper - at least on the right. The left is a total mess, with a different screwup in a different spot each time.

Sunday AM. It's wet, but drying. By the time we run, it's dry, but cool. Intercooler weather! My first run is on the left, on cold tires. I try a bunch of stuff that the data suggested, and nothing works - no grip. So on the right, I revert back to plan A, and concentrate on being tight on the cones, off the gas in the right spots, and hard on the gas in the right ones. The car slithers around in a couple of spots, but the run feels good ~ and it's a 29.0. Houston, we are back in the ball game!

Two more runs to go. I'm on the right, in the stage lane, working out the math. A 28.5 wins it, even with that stupid 30.1 on the left, as Karl and Kent aren't improving, and the announcement of my 29.0 has them visibly worried. I'm coming for you boys! I scream through the run, the car pushes a little in the sweeper but I catch it and keep on the hammer. And it's a 28.8! In the stage lane on the left, I'm chanting "29.6 to win. 29.6 to win" and I watch Karl launch the car and spin in the very first turn. This is it!

The car launches, and I flying down the straight into the offsets before the sweeper. I hear screaming tires to my right, and I know that Ian has just spun, so he won't be a threat (he'd been getting steadily faster) As I pull out of the sweeper, hard on the gas, I get a little wide into the marbles and the front end heads for New Jersey - and recovering seems to take weeks. OK, so it won't be a 28 - it's still good, it's still good! Into the entry to the slalom, I'm a little off line thanks to the previous slide, and the big bump lurking there totally upsets the car, and it's a Chinese fire drill keeping the car off the cones. OK, it won't be a low 29 ~ it's still good, it's still good! But then thanks to the time wasted getting the car under control, I miss the brake point and pinch off the finish - and that's fatal. It's a low 31.


We end up Karl, then Kent 2 tenths back, and then me 2 tenths back, and then Ian 8 tenths back of me. The good news is that Karl, Kent, and me all qualify for the Show - where we are all promptly eliminated in the first round, along with Fedja, who finished 2cd in ESP.


Ahh, well. There is at least a moral victory here - I'm the fastest DSM on the right, which provides an opportunity for a little friendly smack-talking with Fedja and Brian. However, that 30 second left side time gives them some ammo too, so I get as good as I give. Both Brian and Fedja are looking good to be top-5 at Nationals this year in ESP, which is an accomplishment.

So, now there's a little over 2 months to Nationals. The car isn't scaring me any more, which means it's time to make it go faster. I've got two months to prep the car, get as much seat time and development time in as possible, and build the most killer DSM autocross car ever built (and have the driver ready!) With this being the first year Street Modified is running at Nationals, there's going to be lots of media attention (I hear my car made Grassroots Motorsports again) and I really really want to be the first SM National Champion. And it seems from my performance to date that that's not a pipe dream - it's a very real possibility. Time to get to work.