2003 SCCA Solo2 National Championship
And now... Nationals.
It's been 3 days of blissful downtime since the ProSolo Finale, and I've had a chance to go through the car, re-align it, check some stuff over, and basically get into a Zen-like state of oneness with the car.
I've walked both courses to the point where I can see them with my eyes closed, and I'm feeling good about the event to come.
This is important, because at every single Nationals that I have attended for the last 6 years, I manage to choke, and choke hard come the day of the event. After a while, this becomes a self-fulfilling sort of deal, and it is VERY important that I cure myself of this, and pronto.
So far, everything looks good, and I have a series of mental exercises that I've developed to help control my nerves, and they seem to be working well lately. Of course, the proof is in the pudding....
But then, we have another problem looming.
The weather forecast for Thurday - the day we run the North course - calls for intermittent rain.
Now you would think that the word "rain" would be a huge blessing for the only AWD car in the class, and under the right circumstances you'd be right. But getting those circumstances is going to be... interesting.
Hoosier does not make a DOT-approved rain tire that fits my car. Kumho's "dry" tire actually has quite a bit of tread, and makes for a fantastic rain tire - but it is slower in the dry, or in dry-ing conditions, than the Hoosier. Running Kumhos one day, and Hoosiers the next, means that we cannot claim contingency for EITHER company. The rain is supposed to be intermittent, and concrete dries out super fast. And finally, we only have one set of wheels.
This makes for a nerve-wracking decision.
I go over (perhaps "slink" over is a better word) to the Kumho truck, and they have a set of full-tread V700s in my size. Furthermore, they offer me a deal on them at $100 a tire, which is a great price. But because I only have a single set of wheels, once I make a decision to mount a set of tires, I'm stuck.
If it rains hard, or if it rains hard enough to keep standing water on the course, then the Kumho will be superior, and I will be untouchable - but then it needs to rain on Friday too, or I will have to switch back to Hoosiers in order to stay on pace, and then I'll forfeit the contingency.
But if it dries out to the point where the Kumho no longer provides an advantage, then again, AWD means I'm in the catbird seat. And if it really dries out, then we're back to the normal state of affairs.
I need it to be dry, or better yet, just wet enough so that it's slippery, but the Hoosiers still work. Any wetter than that, and the Hoosiers will hydroplane all over the place and the Kumhos will dominate.
Of course, if Hoosier made a wet tire and I had spare wheels, there'd be no problem at all... but wishin' ain't gonna make it so.
And as it turns out, the rain come Thursday morning really is intermittent. When it rains, it rains lightly - and then it stops, and the course starts to dry out - and then it starts raining lightly again. The whole time, the track surface is just wet enough to be on the cusp of when a Hoosier might stop working and the Kumho start.
The conditions are like this when I have to make a decision, and I decide to roll the dice and stay on the Hoosiers. If it rains any harder, I'm screwed. If it dries out a little, I'll be untouchable.
Given that I'm the first car out, what I want is for it to dry out, and then pour the second I cross the finish line, but I never get that lucky.
We line up in grid, and most of the field is on Kumhos. Bob is on Yokohamas, but he has a set of Hoosiers mounted and ready to go. It is raining very softly as I pull to the line - it had stopped for the last 20 min.
It is instantly clear that I am on the WRONG tires. It's just a little bit too wet for the Hoosiers, and I am sliding and skipping all over the place. In particular, I have a big tankslapper that I fight to a recovery, somehow managing not to hit anything in the process, but the final time is SLOW.
The Kumho cars are doing far better, and it's clear that if I'm going to save this, I'm going to have to drive the wheels off the thing, and maybe catch a dry spot in the weather. This is normally the point in the process where I start choking, but instead I knuckle down and start concentrating on what I have to do better.
For the second run, the rain has stopped, so at least the course is no wetter, and I do indeed drive the wheels off the thing. I make one big mistake that sends me wide in one corner, but everywhere else I'm right on the ragged edge, and I find over 2 seconds - still about 2 seconds back from the fast times on the Kumho cars, but we're moving in the right direction at least.
For the third run, I'm going to fix the one mistake, and then repeat everywhere else, and that should put me in good shape.
It almost works. I brake earlier for that turn, hit the apex correctly, and come roaring out of the exit WAY faster - and then the rear tires hydroplane and come loose. I fight the car back under control, but it has been a huge tankslapper and a cone in the process. The rest of the run was pretty good, but there's no recovery from that.
Meanwhile, Bob has switched from his Yokos to the Hoosiers, but he is 2 seconds slower than my second run, and I get some dignity back.
I'm in 17th. Ouch.
But strangely enough, I'm actually kind of happy. I didn't choke at all - in fact, given the conditions and the tires I was on, that second run was pretty good, and the third one was a flyer until the tires gave up. I kept my focus, kept my nerve, and drove as well as I could.
And then, just to prove that the universe has a sense of humour, the rain stops for good as we head off to Impound, and by the time we are released, the course is bone dry. ARRRRGH!
Then it's Friday, and Friday is a new day. It's dry, it's warm, and it's time to go to town.
Once again, I don't choke. I'm pushing hard, following my plan, and executing well. It's not the best drive of my career - I'm 6th place on the day, of 34 - and I know where I could have improved slightly, but I'm on pace and doing well.
It's not a Championship drive, but it is solid, pulling me up into 14th spot. That, as it turns out, is an improvement from last year where the weather was perfect on both days and I had no mitigating circumstances to point to. So I'm actually pretty happy, and oddly enough, I had fun too. It has been a while since I could say that.
Later on, I review that data logs, and assemble a best run from both days, and that number is good enough for third place. And while I don't want to get too deeply into the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" stuff, it's not too hard to imagine a rain tire putting me far enough ahead on Thursday to cling tenuously to the lead on Friday. Feh, screw it - if I had a Hoosier rain tire, or if I had gone with the Kumhos and to hell with the contingency money, I'd've won it.
But I didn't - so I didn't. And that's that.
As far as I'm concerned, I've exorcized the Nationals choke-monkey, and that's very good news indeed. But as God as my witness, I'll never lack rain tires again!
As it turns out, Hoosier is releasing a DOT-legal rain tire for next season, and I'm going to be near the front of the line - with a second set of wheels too. Consider that lesson learned!
You know something... I can't wait until next season.