2000 SCCA Peru National Tour

(As originally posted to the Talon Digest)

Over the 4th of July Weekend, we did a test session, followed by the National Tour event in Peru, Indiana, perhaps the best, fastest, grippiest autocross site in North America.

This weekend marks the end of the ProSolo season (well, except for the Pro Finale in September) and the start of the Nationals season. The big difference is in the format: ProSolo uses 12 runs on two side-by-side courses, spread over 2 days, with the total time being your best left side run added to your best right side run. The Nationals format uses two completely different courses (often, the Sunday course is the Saturday course run backwards) with only three runs each - your total time is your best run from each day (of 3!) added to each other. With the Pro format, you can have a bad first day, and (assuming good weather Sunday) still pull out a good result - in fact, that's almost my trademark - suck Saturday, rule Sunday. But with the Nationals format, you can't get away with that, as Sunday's course is completely different.

The trick with Nationals courses is going fast and clean quickly, and in the past, I have had trouble doing that. So I'm a little tired of doing really well at the Pro Finale, and then choking at the National Championship (Nationals format) two days later. This year, all I'm concentrating on from now 'till September is Nationals. It makes no difference if we are DFL on every event for the next two months, as long as I and the car are ready in Kansas.

So far, my main competition has been Kent Rafferty, in the Supra Twin Turbo. Every Pro race, we've been right on top of each other, as evenly matched as two cars could possibly be. However, I don't want to be evenly matched - I want to stomp his a$$! :) And furthermore, the slightly shorter and tighter Pro courses act as an equalizer. On the longer, more open Nationals courses, the extra power his Supra makes gives him a leg up, especially now that he's running more boost than he was three weeks ago in Harrisburg. And to add a further motivational factor, his wife Karen would be co-driving the car this weekend. Karen can drive, and she's nearly stolen wins from Kent on several occasions. When Karen is in the car, Kent pushes a lot harder, and he goes a lot faster.

So we had our work cut out for us - Kent with more power, a lot of motivation, on a course that didn't provide any advantages for me. In other words, a perfect test case for Nationals. Winning this weekend didn't matter. What mattered was keeping my head out of my ass, driving well as fast as I could, not choking, remaining calm and in control, and getting a feel for how much of a difference lies between myself and Kent in a straight-up fight, so that I could address that difference in the next two months.

Starting out, we did a test session on Thursday. We got in a little later than we'd like (thanks to an alternator fire in the tow vehicle on the way down) but we still managed to do an hour of skidpad work and almost 30 runs on a huge test course. We swept the shock settings, and found that the car feels a whole lot better and more responsive stiffened way up from where I had it previously. With the fronts on full stiff, and the rears on half-stiff, the car would slalom like an absolute bastard, but still seemed to put power down coming out of sweepers. By the end of the day, I was only a couple of tenths off the course record (set by an 84 'Vette) and my confidence level was WAY up. I also discovered that I couldn't do more than 2 runs back-to-back, or the temp gauge would start reading about 3/4 hot - anyone know what temp this corresponds to?

On Friday, they run a pair of little dinky practice courses, and we did 12 runs on them. I had about half a second on Kent on each course, but that's not at all representative, as the practice courses are tight, twisty, 19-second deals. Still, it feels better to beat him here than not. The high point of Friday was putting one of my friends from my G-Stock days in the passenger seat, and scaring the living hell out of him. It seems that the car is a little faster than it was two years ago...

Saturday, and the show is on. The course is huge, long, and FAST, including a "straight" (with a bunch of offsets) that everybody is trying to take flat out. I'm running the 255s today, and I'm going to run the 275s tomorrow, in order to get some back-to-back test data on the tires. My first run is OK, but I clip a cone in the first slalom, and I kinda wimp out in a couple of spots. It's a 44.0. Karen spins, and Kent turns a 43.5. The rest of the class is running 45+, so it's a 3-way fight. Most alarming though, is that I'm on the rev limiter in 2cd about 100m from the end of the "straight" - I'm getting a good six blips! But yet, that hard 180 turn is coming up so fast that I don't really have time to go to third and come out again. What I really need is about 500 more RPM out of the limiter, but with a stock ECU, I'm hosed.

The second run, I turn up the wick in a couple of spots, and overcook a couple of corners, pushing wide. It's clean though, and another 44.0. Karen runs a 43.6 (urk!) and Kent runs a 42.5 (Yikes!)

Normally, this is where I panic and choke, but we're not doing that anymore. I run through the last two runs, making note of what I did well, and where I sucked - and how to improve those sections. One of those sections is the "straight" where I'm breathing the throttle to make it through the offsets. With nothing left to lose, I resolve to take it flat out, at like 60 MPH.

Last run, and for once, my foot listens to me - we go down the straight flat out - and as reward, the car slides and gets all bent out of shape. The old DG would have backed down at this point, but the old DG doesn't win races either - so I kept my foot in it and kept on driving. The rest of the course flashes by, right up to the 90 into the finish. I carry tons more speed through that turn, and I end up on the gas and sliding directly at the cone in front of the finish lights. I manage to get most of the car past it, but the rear wheel runs over the base and it goes over. It's a 43.2 - and it probably would have been a high 42 had I not had the excitement in the straight section. Karen spins again, and Kent turns a 43.2 as well. So I'm sitting 3rd, a ways back from Kent, but I feel great - I'm driving better than I ever have before.

Sunday, and we're running the course backwards - except they chopped off the old start, so now the "straight" dumps directly into the finish, and they add a tight wiggle section to the new start. All day, people are spinning and clobbering cones in that fast offset. I've got the 275s on, so I'm hoping the limiter won't be a problem today. We run dead last, so we get to bake in the sun all day.

My first run, my sun-frazzled brain sees the rubber marks from the previous day turn off, and I brake and set up for the turn - except that there's no turn there! Dork! Stopping the car in the middle of the straight is not the fast way through. The rest of the run sucks too, and it's a completely ludicrous 45.2. Karen runs a 44.6, and Kent turns a 44.0, but he kills the Kenny cone in the straight. Once again, I work on not getting wound up, keeping calm, and concentrating on where things went well, and where things went bad. The next run is a screamer, and I try and see if I can take the "straight" flat out. I come around the offset, with the car skating, and the Kenny cone on the centerline of the car. I try lifting to bring the nose in, but no way am I going to make it, and with the car on the edge a sudden steering input or brake is going to turn me backwards - so I mash the gas and centerpunch the cone at over 65 MPH. It takes flight like a Tiger Woods chip shot, and I trip the lights with a 44.2. Karen runs a 44.6, and Kent turns a 43.8. We're back in the game!

Last run, and I let it all hang out - except for the offset in the "straight" where I tap the brakes to get the car to turn - and it's a 43.9, popping the limiter for the last 100m. Karen runs a 44.8, and so I steal second from her. Kent leaves the line knowing he's already won, and he opens up every stop he has, and runs a screaming 43.3.

I wind up 7 tenths down (raw time) Saturday, and 5 tenths down Sunday, so there's some room to improve there - time for more power, less weight, and better shocks! But I've got nothing to be ashamed of - I would have placed second in ESP and third in SS with that cone, and I kicked ol Roger's Corvette-shod buttocks on Sunday. But most importantly, I didn't freak out, get all psyched, and choke. In fact, I had a great time, and I drove better for it.

I want that jacket, and if this keeps up, I may get it yet.