2003 Oscoda ProSolo

After much toil, blood, tears, and money, we finally got the car back together and went off to the wide open spaces of Oscoda

This time, we had fresh hubs, a proper OEM axle, and a battery on the fritz - well, if everything worked, it wouldn't be an SM car now, would it?

Did you know the Daytime Running Lights are an integral part of a DSM's charging system? Neither did I. Turns out if you pull the DRL fuse, the alternator becomes unregulated and will overcharge the battery. I know this because I pulled the DRL fuse (in an attempt to save battery power, oh, the irony) and overcharged the battery. It swelled up like a watermelon, stopping just short of exploding. Yay!

Anyway, we showed up at Oscoda with a running car, the new shock calibration installed (I took advantage of the axle-related downtime to rebuild the front shocks with the latest package from Bilstein) new tires, and with high hopes that the car would actually survive the event for once.

Results, on the other hand, were projected to be a little... iffy. For one, I still had not completed a single real run in dry conditions with the car in perfect working order this season. As such, I really had no idea of how the car was likely to handle. Secondly, Bob Tunnell and his Uber M3 had turned up to run with us. This is the car - and the driver - that has dominated every single class is has ever entered. The car is sorted and Bob (being a multiple National and Pro Champion and all) is no slouch either. And thirdly, the course was pretty much all transitions (including a nasty stretch at the end of the first straight that required two quick transitions under braking) and Bob's M3 is a transition-hammering monster.

None of this boded particularly well for our chances. At this event, on this surface, with this course, against these drivers, I really needed a car perfectly tuned and a driver confident in the setup. Instead, I had a car that had broken in every single outing so far this season, an untried, unproven setup, and a driver feeling more morbid curiosity than confidence and bravado.

What's more, the points situation was getting dire. Your best two events of your first three entered count for points, and realistically speaking, you need a minimum of one win and one second to have a realistic chance of taking the overall with a win at the Finale. With my first event gone (with a 4th) that meant I needed at least 2cd place to keep my hopes of a repeat Championship alive.

And then it rained.

More accurately, it started spitting just before our first heat ran. By the time I pulled to the line, the concrete was distinctly damp, and was rapidly getting worse. Brand-new Hoosiers have the slightest suggestion of tread on them, and testing has shown that they make a pretty good intermediate tire in these conditions, and what with me running at the start of the heat, I was going to get the driest runs of anybody. AWD, do your stuff!

The car was handling a little bit off, with a bit of corner-entry push, but who cares when you're the only car who can put power down? I ended the heat on top of the standings by a reasonable margin.

Then the rain got worse - much worse. So bad, in fact, that the whole event slowed way down due to timing problems and cars spinning, to the point where our second Saturday heat was cancelled and moved to Sunday AM instead.

Sunday came, and the track was still very wet. So wet that nobody could improve on their times. Two heats gone, and I'm in the lead! Maybe my luck was turning?

Nope. Right after our heat, the sun came out, and by the time we lined up for the third and final heat, the course was bone dry and hot.

This was actually the worst thing that could happen, bar something breaking on the car. If it had been dry all weekend, then I would have had an opportunity in the previous 8 runs to feel the car out, learn where the grip was, and really lean on it in the last heat. But with the two wet heats, I was going to have to do all my adapting to the new dry setup in 4 runs. In other words, I was going to have to be perfect right out of the gate.

That didn't happen. By the last run, I was starting to get a feel for it and the car was coming to me, but by that time Bob had done his usual pair of scorchers and blew us all into the weeds. I actually coned my fastest run, but that didn't matter really, as Bob was in a whole 'nother time zone.

Had I not coned, it would have been a 3rd. As it was, I finished 4th. Bleah.

There was, however, some good news:

Firstly, the car made it all the way through a Pro without breaking. At this point, that's a freaking victory.

And secondly, the new shock calibration was really, really good. I was able to back off the compression, there was no jack-hammering under braking any more, and all the pitchiness was gone. Instead, the car was turning in like a sonofabitch (to the point I was nearly creaming entry cones) and was slaloming much better than it ever has before. It's much more stable, less bound up, and is just much, much better to drive.

Interestingly, even though we added rebound to the fronts, the total rebound force is still WAY less than we've ever run before - much more front spring, much less front shock, and the car is completely transformed - for the better. All this "work it out from first principles" stuff seems to really work. Also interesting is that the lack of rebound adjustability does not hurt us in the slightest. It seems that adjusting shocks by the numbers works better than by the butt-dyno. We've got more to come on the shock tuning front, but first I have to install some new equipment to make use of a new technique that Claude taught us.

In any case, our Pro season has pretty much tanked now, but at least things are starting to look up on the performance and reliability fronts. Perhaps that'll pay off at the Peru National Tour