2002 SCCA National Championship
Run back-to-back with the ProSolo Finale is the SCCA Amateur National Championship event. It's a little like playing the final Stanley Cup game, and then two days later competing in the Olympics.
Nationals follows the National Tour format of two days, one course per day, three runs per course, with the best combined North and South course run determining the winner. The courses are long and complex, and often National Championships are decided by who makes the fewest mistakes, rather than by who goes the fastest as is typical at the Pro events.
So Monday morning we were back hard at it, walking the course and memorizing the lines we'd be taking.
A couple of other neat things happened in the little bit of downtime we got between the two events. The first was that I was interviewed by Speed Channel for their "High Rev Tuners" show. That's my first interview as the ProSolo Street Challenge / Street Modified Champion, and, well, my first TV interview ever. I thought it went pretty well, and I managed to work plugs for most of the sponsors into my song and dance. I don't know if they'll use the spot or not, but if they do, it'll air sometime in November.
The second unspeakably cool thing to happen is that I got to meet Carrol Smith. Yes, that Carrol Smith. He gave a little seminar on a few things he had noticed in his visit to our event, and then turned the floor open to design and engineering questions. I and Joe Cheng (designer of the Phantom AM car that has dominated for the past 5 years or so) pumped him pretty hard for ideas and opinions. How often do mere mortals get to have Carrol Smith consult on their car projects? Carrol seemed really impressed with a lot of what was going on, and was very gracious to us pack of rank amateurs.
I got a tremendous amount out of that seminar, and have a whole slew of ideas to try next year.
But ultimately, it was back to racing.
Street Modified ran the South Course on Tuesday, the North on Wednesday. The South Course started off with a series of tight, off camber sections, and then opened up to some elements more in line with what we had seen at the Tours this year. The North was all fast offsets, slaloms, and big sweepers, and looked to be very much in my idiom. So it was with great expectations and high hopes that we hit the courses on Tuesday morning.
All was not entirely sunshine and bluebirds though. I have a history of doing well at the Pro, and then... there's no other word for it... choking at Nationals. Only once in the 5 times I've run Nationals have I turned in a performance that didn't stink up the place, and the possibility of history repeating itself was weighing very heavily on my mind. By winning the Pro, I had already nailed the big prize, but I wanted to get rid of this final monkey I've been carrying on my back for quite a while.
As it turned out, the first three sections of the South course turned out to be every bit as difficult as I suspected. Not once in three runs did I get them right, although I did nail the back section pretty well. That the brakes were pretty much gone (and these three sections relied a lot on braking) didn't help my cause any, but ultimately the biggest problem was my performance. I was up as high as 5th at one point, but by the end of the day had dropped back to 12th, the last trophy spot. There were a lot of us crammed in there together, separated by hundredths of seconds (Fedja was just ahead of me, in 11th) so it wouldn't take much in the way of improvement to move up, but I was still sitting 1.3 seconds back from the lead.
Even so, I didn't feel all that terrible about the drive. Those sections had caused trouble with a lot of drivers, not just me, and while not my best performance ever, I wasn't doing too badly. Annoyed, but not disheartened. And besides, the North Course was more my speed - I'd be able to make it up on Wednesday.
When Wednesday came, I was in a good mood. I fully expected to get FTD in my class on this course, and while beating yesterday's leader by the 1.3 seconds I needed to pull off a win seemed like a bit of a stretch, I figured I'd give him a scare at least.
And then, disaster.
On my first run, I went charging into the first fast offset, and spun the car, HARD. I still don't know what happened. One instant, I had turned in on the apex of the corner, the next, it was like the back end of the car wasn't even there any more. I slid off into the gravel, scattering corner workers and cones in equal amounts.
For the rest of the run, once I got moving again, the rear did its level best to pass the front in every single corner, and I crossed the line seriously rattled.
Back in grid, I softened the rear compression, guessing that the bumpier North Course was unsettling the car, and then I did my best to try and visualize what happened, and work out a plan of attack for the next run.
That next run turned out to be tentative, unaggressive, and generally driven like the driver had just had the car snap-spin out from under him and he didn't know why. The shock change, or perhaps the warmer tires, tamed the nervousness of the car somewhat, but there was no changing the fact that I needed to be able to commit the car 100%, and I had driven more like 80%. The time was OK for a first run, but nowhere near the pace for second runs, and full light-years behind the class FTD at that point.
*cough* Is that a tickle in the back of my throat?
For my final run, I fixed a bunch of mistakes I had picked up on the second run, but I was still nowhere near the level of commitment I needed. I thought it might be faster - indeed, I fully expected to improve - but I didn't. The final run was slower, and I wound up 19th on 43 drivers.
This can be a brutal, brutal sport. Hero to Zero in 2 days.
Then Fedja broke his car, snapping a front hub and axle. He asked to use my car, and given that I owed him from last year (where he had lent me his when I shattered a front diff) I agreed. And he was faster than me. Not by any great amount, and he was slower than he had been in his own car, but it removed any hope I might have had of blaming the performance on the car.
Not my finest hour.
Afterwards, I pulled the data from the chassis logger, and discovered that things hadn't been all that bad. I had been faster than him in some sports, he faster than me in others, and that by combining our best segments we actually could have put down a pretty competitive time. But the bottom line was that I didn't drive anywhere near my true potential, and got beaten because of it.
Somedays you get the bear, otherdays, the bear gets you.
It's clear though that I need a lot more practice at the Amateur-style events if I ever want that Championship jacket, and it is equally clear that the car has a lot of development left to go.
At the end of the day though, this has been our best season ever, and taking the Pro championship sure helps take the edge off the disappointment from Nationals. There is always next year. We have a Championship to defend, and another one to take, and work on that effort starts as soon as we get back home.
Big thanks once again to everyone who helped bring us to this point, and we'll see you all next year!