2001 Oscoda ProSolo

This race normally takes place in Harrisburg PA, on a big and slippery asphalt lot that is a nine hour drive away, but there is construction on that lot this year. Instead, it was moved to the old B52 alert pad in Oscoda, MI - a three hour drive to a beautiful concrete surface.

I like concrete and short drives.

Prior to this event, we had installed the new ShockTek remote reservoir doubles up front, and took them to the CENDIV in Peru to test. As detailed last week, we wound up breaking one by puncturing the line. I worked hard all week to get it fixed (and Micheal at ShockTek did yeoman service, teaching me how to rebuild shocks over the phone) but a cracked Shraeder valve in the reservoir failed when I was pressurizing it for final assembly, and we couldn't get the rebuild finished. So we put a single back on. We debated pulling the other double, and running two singles up front, but decided that we'd try them as they sat, and take the other single with us. If the mismatch turned out to be untunable, it only takes me 10 min a corner to swap shocks, so it could be done in the field.

But that's not all we did...

Previous to the Peru CENDIV, I did a shock travel test, and discovered that the silastos I had on there (the bump rubbers) were about a quarter inch too short to actually do anything - the tire would contact the wheelwell long before the silasto would come into play. Carrol Smith (in his books) recommends using a progressive (and tunable) silasto in the last half inch or so of suspension travel. If I did the same, I might be able to lower the car some, and let the extra spring rate of the silasto keep the tire off the wheelwell.

So I got ahold of a pair of nice and soft conical silastos, long enough to actually do something, and put them in along with the new shocks right before Peru. Gotta experiment! If you never try anything, you never learn anything.

Anyway, Friday AM we jaunted up the coast of Lake Huron to Oscoda and got unpacked. We did two practice starts early off to test the tree, and cut a 1.7 and a 1.8 60' time - easily the hardest launches of all the tin tops, and neck-and-neck with the Formula Fords. So far, so good.

The course was designed by Sam Strano, who is an ESP F-body guy. Long first straight (yay!) leading into a fast slalom, which fed into a REALLY fast sweeper, feeding into a nasty-tight, park-the-car pivot turn, feeding into another slalom, then a set of hard left/right offsets. I like these courses - simple enough to memorize and analyze, but still challenging enough to reward excellence of execution. Ft Myers was a course like this, and I liked Ft. Myers a lot. With us in dire need of a win like we do, this was looking pretty good.

Saturday AM, and the course is nice and sticky. We go out for our first runs - and the car is an undrivable PIG! It is pushing like a sonofabitch everywhere! And not just a little annoying push, the outside front tire is actually howling. Race tires are not supposed to squeal, and this one won't stop screaming. Normally, at this point I'd back off a little, but this race is too important, and I try forcing the dammed thing to go where I want it to. It almost works - my left side time is only 6 tenths off the lead (at a 30.6), but my right side stinks (31.8) I actually have a good one going on the right (despite the push) but my luck runs out in the last slalom and I miss a gate completely when the car just refuses to turn in.

I'm sitting in 3rd place. Karen Rafferty is leading in the Supra with 30.0s on both sides. Kent is second, with 30.2s. Aaron, in the Neon, is being his normal conehappy self, but is running 30.0s. Nobody else in the class is in the 30s.

Interestingly enough, the car is pushing on BOTH sides of the track, turning in each direction. This rules out the shock mismatch as the source of the push - what the blue hell is going on here?

So I jack up the car, and check the shock travel indicator - it is JAMMED hard up against the base of the silasto. Aha! Eureka! Off comes the shocks, off come the silastos, put it back together and 30 min later I have a silasto-less car.

Second heat, Saturday PM. 10 min before we start, the rain comes out, and the track is nice and wet. I'm running a good 2 to 3 seconds faster a side in the wet than the rest of the class, but with dry runs on the books (and with no chance to match the fast dry times in the wet, no matter how good an AWD car on rain tires is in the wet) this heat is just fun runs. The push seems fixed, but I can't tell for sure, because the car handles so differently in the wet that the comparison isn't valid. 5 min after the heat is over, the sun comes out, and 30 min later the track is dry. Couldn't we have called a coffee break or something? Can I protest the weather?

Ah well, there's 4 more runs tomorrow.

Sunday AM. It's go-for-broke time. I'm sitting in 3rd place. I'm driving a car that I have NO IDEA how it is going to handle, and I have no time to make any significant adjustments to the car during the heat. It's time to just shut up and drive.

My first run is on the right, and I pull a full 1.2 seconds out of my time with a 30.6. The obscene push is fixed. The car is still pushing a little, so it's hard to get it to rotate the way it normally does, but I can live with it. Over to the left, and it's a 30.1 Allright! Now we're getting somewhere! That's another half second. I'm now only 2 tenths off Kent total time. Back to the left, and I'm pushing REALLY hard trying to find time. The car gets a little too deep in the pivot turn - goddamn I wish we'd had dry runs last night - and the time is a slow 31.1. Back over to the right for the last run. There's a low 29 in the car for sure, all I have to do is find it. I hammer the slalom, and try carrying a ton more speed through the sweeper - and the car pushes wide and blows the entry to the pivot turn. With the red mist in full swing, I jam the car through the second slalom, slam it through the finish, and it's a 30.5 - good for a tenth, but not good enough.


Karen has pulled a tenth off each side, and is leading, with only Kent and Aaron left to go. Kent runs a clean 29.8, but then puts down a series of blistering runs, getting as low as 29.1 - but he cones them away. Then Aaron does it again, putting down a pair of mid-29s, and managing to keep them clean. He takes the win. I'm fourth, behind Kent.

Strictly speaking, that's the worst result at a Pro for us in a little over a year and a half, but it's hard to be upset. We successfully diagnosed a handling problem, learned a bunch of new stuff, confirmed some ideas we've had (a limited-slip front diff would pay big dividends, I bet) and managed to put down a competitive run despite having what amounted to less runs on the course than our competitors...

Ahhh, screw it. Of course I'm upset - I wanted the win here. But we didn't stop fighting and I didn't get discouraged. I'm happy with the drive, but not with the result.

The next Pro is in mid-August, so we've got two months to get ready. All the races between now and the Peru Pro (which includes the Peru Tour at the end of the month, the Divisional Championship, and a bunch of CENDIVs) - none of those matter. Those are all just test sessions and practice for the next Pro race, and then the National Championships in September. We're going to keep working and keep fighting, and win that race or die trying.

Back to the shop we go...