2002 Topeka ProSolo

Life is funny.

We had signed up to go to the Topeka ProSolo - a new event, held in the spring, at the same site as the Championship race in the fall - but two weeks before the event I had to write a bigger than anticipated cheque to the IRS and all travel plans for the near future were cancelled. I had to withdraw from the race.

Two days before race day, I was looking at the entry list online, and doing a lot of cursing and swearing. I should be at this event! The car is running great, I'm driving well, and this is the same surface we run on for the final race (so anything we learned, setup-wise, would be directly applicable to the Championship) I'd be an idiot not to go. Besides, I've got a streak going, and you don't mess with a streak.

The crew chief sat down and worked out some numbers. Making the trip would cut into the tire budget, but a win would net me two tires from the Hoosier contingency programme and make up the difference. If I win, I get full points for the year (your best 2 of your first 3 events count), a pair of tires, and enough money to pay for the trip. Lose, and I have to nurse my current tires for a little while longer. So she told me to go, and she told me to win. The only catch was that she had to work the weekend, and so couldn't go with me. I'd be on my own.

Being married to your crew chief means you have to do what you're told. So in a whirlwind of activity, I packed up the rig and set off for Topeka.

It was a little strange being back in Topeka. I had been here, running in an event the morning of September 11 last year, and there were some ghosts lurking about the place. But still, life goes on, and I had a job to do. I unloaded, pulled out my setup notebook, and prepped the car: 150 less pounds of nitrogen in the shock canisters, turned the fronts down 1 click in compression, and set all 4 shocks to 1 1/2 turns full hard in rebound. Tires to 40 PSI, ride height down an inch from last year.

I elected not to do practice starts. TRE's transmission work is holding strong, but I wasn't going to risk driving 14 hours to get here only to break in practice starts. I know how to launch the car. I note that the start line seems slick - everybody else's practice start 60' times seem a couple tenths off.

Time to walk course. It's a variation of the course we used last year for the Finale, but tightened up a bit. A long launch straight, leading into a out turn a little less than 90 degrees, feeding into a 3-apex crossed over turnaround, that then jams into a pair of offset 90s and then the finish. There's all kinds of places to get power down, but there's also lots of bumps and patches. It's going to be fast and hairy.

I get a look at the entry list once registration is done. Grady Wood is here in his Civic - he's been off the pace somewhat so far this season, but is getting faster all the time. The Hyman single-turbo Supra is here, and Eric has Tommy Regan, the ex-CP driver co-driving. The Seligs have brought out their Supra too, and Peter Bodenstein (who bought Brian Fitzpatrick's 2G DSM) has come out as well. There's also a Camaro I don't know, and.... Jayzus, Bob Tunnell in a 2002 M3!

Bob is one of the top drivers in the sport, one of these guys who can work magic with mediocre equipment, and who is nearly invincible when in a well-prepped car - and he's running with us. Yikes!

But as it turns out, Bob is a little back-footed. He normally runs in SS against the Z06 Corvettes, but he's running with us this weekend because the sway bar he had ordered didn't arrive, and then thieves broke into his trailer at the hotel, and stole his multi-billion-dollar Fikse wheels with his fresh tires on them. He's on older tires, and he is a little distracted, so rather than waste an attempt at SS points he's going to hang with us. On paper, he's outclassed, but Bob in a Yugo would be a threat in any class. (Incidentally, if any of you in the Topeka area see someone with a 2002 M3 with Fiske wheels on it, could you drop me a line?)

Saturday AM. Dry and clear. I'm in a great mood, and I'm looking to kick some Supra booty. It's supposed to be dry and warm all weekend, so I decide to take the first 4 runs to do some experimenting, trying different approaches to different parts of the course. The car is AWESOME! The setup is exactly right. It's pulling like an SOB, it's rotating absolutely perfectly (and I can actually feel the back end for once) The only thing it's not doing well is braking - the ABS is throwing codes, and the brakes themselves are shot. There's no feedback, and I keep snatching the front wheels.

The times are on pace though, although I hit cones on my fast runs, and redlight (!!) my fastest run away. No biggie, I've got plenty of time to clean up.

Saturday PM. I've spent some time visualizing the course and my runs, and I have a little list of things to try. What's more, Brian Fitzpatrick (ex-DSMer) was working course when I was running, and points out something for me to try. It all works. Time starts pulling out by the fistful, I'm clean, and pretty soon I'm sitting on a 29.5 on the left, and a screaming 28.7 on the right. By comparison, the leader in SS (Z06 Corvettes) has a 29.4 and a 28.2. In my own class, Tommy has a pair of low 29s, and Eric has a pair of dirty 29.1s. I'm in the lead by 3 tenths or so. Bob is not having a good day, he's in the mid 29s, but he's dirty.

Sunday AM. Following this new procedure I've worked out, I've identified 2 more sections on course where I can improve, and I set out to execute that plan. I'm leading, but I'm going to have to pull out more time if I want to keep it.

First run is on the left, a 29.6 on cold tires, Back to the right, and it's a 29.2 - no help there. Right side again, and it's a 28.4 (!!) and then back to the left for a 29.1.

That's 7 tenths faster, and it nails the lead to the ground. I win!

It's a tremendous vindication. Street Modified has suffered from the curse of being too slow for the preparation level of the cars, and it has been burning me for quite some time. Well, not today. Today, SM drove on pace for where we should be, beating all the Street Prepared cars, and coming within two tenths a side of the awesome Z06es (with one of the best drivers in the country in it) Yeah, I'm crowing a little. So what?! I've been working a long time for this day. I think I've earned the right to crow a little.

But the day isn't over yet. There's still the Peavey Super Challenge, and the Honda Street Challenge to go.

In the Super Challenge, I make it through round 1, and then cut a 0.491 light, eliminating myself. In the Street Challenge, I've got a 6 tenths lead after the first run (and breaking out by 2 tenths, meaning I matched the SS winning time on the right!) when my honourable opponent (who has a 3 second head start in his STS Subaru) redlights. That's an automatic win for me, but I blast out on course anyway to have a little fun, and spin it HARD through the finish section when I try and see if I can take it without lifting. Whoohoo!

Wow, what a weekend. Full class series points, full Honda Street Challenge points, money from Honda, tires from Hoosier, a time that is finally on-pace for where the class should be, and the best drive of my career to date. I feel GREAT!

Big, big , HUGE thanks to Jon at TRE (whose transmission now has 36 stutterbox-clutchdrop launches on it with no problems) to Robert at Forced Performance (whose Big 28 turbo pulled a 3125lb single-turbo Supra!) to Hoosier Tom at Mid-Atlantic Motorsport (whose Quaife diffs have TOTALLY transformed the car) and to Chris Jewel at Clutchmasters (36 launches on that clutch too)

I'd also like to thank the DSMers who came out to watch, and introduced themselves to me. I hope you guys had a great time watching, and I'm sorry if I was a little distant - you kinda got me just before I was about to run, and my mind was on the race.

So the next thing on my plate is to see to those brakes. Time to go looking for a partner willing to help develop a kick-ass DSM braking system.