2001 Petersburg ProSolo
Attending this event is always a bit of an issue, as it's a long way away (up hills that the tow truck doesn't particularly like), it's a small site, and it's on asphalt - bumpy, slippery, dirty asphalt. Most of our test sessions and major races occur on concrete, so the car is naturally set up to work better on concrete, and I get more practice driving on concrete. It seems like a small difference, but driving on the two surfaces is really night and day.
Historically, I do much better on concrete than I do on asphalt.
However, there's another wrinkle: the small size of the site means that the course winds up fairly tight and kinked. Last year's Petersburg course included a 400 degree turnaround section with a seriously pinched exit that required one to pretty well come to a dead stop as you left the corner. In a DSM, this was a first-gear section, and thanks to AWD, the DSMs were one of the few cars that did well here. The standing start and AWD gives us an advantage at the start line; last years' course had what amounted to two "starts" on it, for an even bigger advantage. If this happened again, it would be more than enough to overcome the fact that the car is way too stiffly sprung for the surface.
The way the points are awarded, you need a 1st and a 2cd to be able to win at the Finale and have enough points to prevent anyone from stealing the overall from you. Our major competition on the East coast is Kent Rafferty, in a Supra that has power up the yinyang. The next event after this - Oscoda - is flat, smooth concrete and a huge site that is sure to reward power. The best two of your first three events count for points. I already have a second place from Florida, which means I need to win one of the next two events to have a realistic shot at the overall, and if I skipped this event, the one following Oscoda is in Peru - more big concrete. If the course was at all like last years' we'd have an advantage over Kent, where we know we're at a disadvantage in Oscoda and Peru.
The one fly in the ointment is that "small" and "tight" with regards to courses normally means that small, light, FWD cars have an even bigger advantage over us than we'd have over the Supra. With Mark Allen (supercharged Type R) and Aaron Miller (2.4l Neon) in the area, we might just beat Kent to lose to the little cars.
In the end though, you have to make a decision, and we decided to go. Nobody wins championships sitting on the couch!
Saturday AM. It's hot and humid, and the course doesn't have the "second start" feature from last year. The turnaround is more open at the exit, and they added some tight stuff to the end. The section going out though is a (relatively) long flat-out section where we should be able to milk our start line advantage. Kent is here, as is both Aaron and Mark. Karl has missed the event with (reputed) transmission problems.
All of us have done work since Florida - Aaron has a new individual throttle body setup, and Mark has pulled all the weight out of his car that he could. What's more, Karen is co-driving with Kent, and when Karen drives, Kent pushes a lot harder so that his wife doesn't talk smack to him all the way back home if she beats him. :) Aaron's co-driver, Mark's co-driver, and two locals brings the field up to 9 cars, and I figure 5 of those 9 have a legit shot at winning.
First runs. I figure that the slick and bumpy surface is going to be a lot like running in the rain, so I soften the shocks some. Previously, "ill handling" when applied to this car has meant the rear end misbehaving, but with the new shocks in place it's feeling really good. I get a couple of solid times down, and we end the heat with Kent leading, me 2 tenths back, then Mark a tenth off me, then Aaron and Karen.
Saturday PM. Satisfied that the car isn't going to snap-spin on me, I go out and push really hard - and discover that the car doesn't want to turn in. Driven at 90%, it was fine, but at 100% it pushes like a sonofabitch in the transitions. Even so, I manage to pull a half second out of the left, and make a small improvement (of about a tenth) on the right. Kent matches me on the left, but on the right he puts down a couple of flyers, and winds up with a solid 8 tenths lead. Mark is third, about a tenth and a half back, and Aaron and Karen are breathing down his neck.
Sunday AM. It's overcast and cool. In an attempt to get the front of the car to react, I stiffen the front shocks. Kent goes out - and he's slow, way slower than he'd been the night before. The door is open! The car IS turning in better with the front shocks stiffer, but the nose is still sliding around way too much, and I'm not making any progress. My last run is on the right - where my slow time is. In order to catch him, I need 8 tenths.
I get 5. It's my best run, but we miss by three tenths. Karen puts down a couple of good ones, and leapfrogs Mark for third.
We qualify for the Big Show, and I make it to the second round before overcooking the turnaround on the right and getting eliminated.
So another second place - but we EARNED this one, and by beating Mark and Aaron we've pretty well eliminated them from the overall contention. In fact, at this point we're leading the East coast "division" in series points. This class has gotten a LOT faster this year... we're having to work our asses off to stay competitive.
So, we have one month before Oscoda. The front ShockTek double-adjustables will go on this weekend, and if they work anywhere at all as good as they have on the rear, we'll be in great shape. We also need a whole bagload more horsepower, and Forced Performance has something cooked up for us that should be here any day now. That gives us plenty of time to get the car sorted out - because Oscoda is do-or-die time.