2003 Peru National Tour

From Oscoda, off to Peru, Indiana, for the SCCA Peru National Tour.

This is an important race, because it is one of the few that we do that follows the 3-run-per-day format used at the National Championship. Pro races get a minimum of 12 runs, so there's plenty of time to adapt to the car, learn the course, and tweak the setup - at least, when it doesn't rain on a heat or two as has happened at every Pro race this year.

But Tours give you only three cracks at the course, and then you're done. You have to come out flying and keep the intensity level up every run - there's no margin for taking it easy or for error.

As we had practically no running time in dry conditions on our new setup, this event was going to be a real voyage of discovery, as I really had no clue as to what the car was going to do. All I really wanted from the weekend was 6 runs in the dry, with no weird weather issues or other strangeness.

Of course, minutes after we got the car unpacked on Friday, we got hit with a torrential thunderstorm, and the rain kept up all night - 11 inches of rain by the time the gate opened Saturday AM. Luckily, it stopped by the time the first car went on course, and the Peru surface dries freakishly quickly, so by the time our heat started the course had been hot and dry for some time.

The crowd in Street Modified was composed of the Usual Suspects, although there were the normal last-minute dropouts and Bob had a road race in Colorado so I wasn't going to have to beat my head against the Head Clone M3. The plan was to start aggressively, and then adapt to the setup as its characteristics revealed themselves, rather than trying to beat the entire world on the first run. In other words, the plan was to go exactly as fast as we had to, not to try and run down the A Mod cars. Build confidence and experience with the new setup FIRST, and then chase AM in Topeka.

The course was the usual Peru mix of fast and bumpy, which is good, because that maps well to Topeka. But unlike last year's course, which was brainless to the point of absurdity, this one was a little bit more technical - which was a good thing.

The first run was a 52.2, which was about what ESP had run a little earlier, but 2 seconds off the SS pace (where I figured the car should be running if everything was going well). The car was handling VERY well, turning in MUCH faster than it ever had, and showing more ultimate grip too. It was so much better than normal, that I actually found myself compensating for limits that the car no longer had - it appears I'm going to have to "unlearn" the car to a certain degree.

The second run was marginally faster, but was scored as an "off course" for some unknown reason. I'm positive I was on course for the entire run... but it's not like we get video replays so there's no way to know for sure.

The final run I concentrated on getting the power down more aggressively coming out of the back turn, and was rewarded with a 51.4, a second behind the Corvettes, but a second ahead of ESP, and a good seven tenths ahead of my nearest SM competitor. Not a Championship-calibre run by any stretch of the imagination, but the car was starting to come to me, and we were leading - meaning that the "go as fast as you need to" strategy was paying off.

Back at the hotel that night, I did a differential time analysis on the three runs, and was able to put together a 50.5 second run using the best bits of each pass - right on pace with SS. So things looked good.

Another 7 inches of rain that night, but the Peru course is on the high ground, so it wasn't flooded out, although some hotels closer to Kokomo were awash by morning.

Sunday's course was a repeat of Saturday's, with a couple of slower loops taken out, and the directions of all the slaloms reversed. Interestingly, a section right before the finish required you to throw the car down the hill at full song, crash over a HUGE bump, and wiggle quickly left under the brakes to set up a big 90 degree right hander into the finish. That bump was to prove a serious test of bravery and of shock tuning.

By the time our heat came up, it was HOT - to the tune of 97 degrees F - and the track temperature was even worse. It was so hot that I actually felt the tires start to get a little bit greasy (and a subsequent review of the data logs showed an average loss of 0.02 to 0.05 G of grip - can you believe that a driver can be sensitive enough to pick up on a change of 0.05G?) But even so, the car was still handling exceptionally well. The setup change from last year is overwhelmingly positive.

First run was a 42.6, on the ESP pace but 2 seconds back from SS. I was having a little trouble committing to the bump, but the car was soaking it up just fine. Second run was a 41.8, but I clipped a cone in the second slalom and so it got thrown out. And on the last run.... I charged into the bump at over 70kmh and the car soaked it up without getting the least bit upset. I was so surprised that I plumb forgot to get back on the gas after I got through it, and just coasted up the hill.... What the HELL did I do THAT for?

Anyway, the run was a 42.2, marginally faster than the first run, but far slower than what the car was actually capable of. Even so, it was right on the pace of the rest of my class, and with the 7 tenths lead from Saturday, that was enough to get the job done. Chalk up a win for the team, and toss in a pair of contingency tires from Hoosier.

Not a bad weekend.

Of course, to take home a jacket from Topeka, we're going to have to step it up a notch or two, but the car seems perfectly capable of running the times it needs to. So as long as the driver can come around in time, we should be in good shape. And the shock valving... wow! I had a parade of people coming up to me after the event wondering how the hell I could stay full throttle over that bump and not get all sideways. I think I'm on to the secret of setting up shocks.