Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Flagging Autobahn (05/14)

Per my own request, I worked Corner 6 of the South Loop all day both days.  It is a difficult corner leading onto a passing straight: a fun and instructive place to watch.  And you can get to it on access roads in your own car.  Which means you don't need to stuff yourself, clown-car fashion, into a 10-passenger van carrying 18 workers to their corner stations.

SATURDAY: As always, most of the day was devoted to high speed autocross.  Hotshoe and his neighbor and I had a boring day.  This is a good thing if you're working a corner.  Except that this time, there were no well-driven Nissan GT-R's to relieve the boredom.  Hotshoe and his neighbor had to leave early, having seen only one spin.  A Corvette HSAX-er stuffed his car into the tire wall at Turn 1, with serious damage to the car but not himself.  I heard third-hand (or more) that he said his brakes failed.  More plausibly, he boiled his brake fluid (with similar feel at the pedal).  It's not hard to boil your brakes in a three-lap practice run on the South Loop.

"Mike" replaced them at the end of the day for the wheel-to-wheel races.  He autocrosses his Gen. 1 Ford Focus smoothly and fast.  The last two races were "all skates," one for cars with fenders and one without.  Not long into the first one, an engine went ka-BLAM-O! in our corner.  Complete with a spectacular oil fire (which went out quickly) and a 2-foot slick 200 feet long from the approach to the apex.  The car snap-spun in its own oil and looped into the infield with its nose pointing at the apex. The next three cars into the corner slid off course.  The excitement, recovery, and cleanup shut down the course for a half hour.  The open-wheelers then got a few laps, and we all called it a day.

The day's-end excitement was a classic blew-his-engine-and-spun-in-his-own-oil.  These are a lot more colorful and enjoyable on TV than when you're responsible for corner safety.  And it was a day too long for an ancien.  We were on our corners by 8:30 a.m. and got in after 7:00.  The average temperature was in the low 50's with a stiff breeze.  "Are those your driving gloves?"  "No, they're my winter gloves."

From this picture we learn that the part number of a Porsche 944 oil sump begins with 944.101.xxx...  I was told that
the car's oil pump "blew up," and we did find a fragment of bushing and shaft that looked oil-pumpish.  But we also
found fragments of red-painted aluminum casting that said "sump" to me.  So I'm thinking that this owner/driver
will be writing a check to rebuild the engine's bottom end, not just for a new oil pump.  This fragment now sits on
my desk at home as reminder of the axiom that a race car is a bottomless pit into which you pour money.

SUNDAY: Again as customary the day was devoted to wheel-to-wheel racing.  My club allows many classes but only six Race Groups, with practice and qualifying in the morning and a half-hour race for each group in the afternoon.  The wind was down, the car-count was low, and the drivers were on their best behavior.  It was an easy and enjoyable day for a corner-flagger.  One of the race staff managers, who has flagged corners for decades, assigned himself to me.  So I was able to watch and learn from the best.

He told me he's been on-corner at every one of Blackhawk Farm's stations when it was hit by a race car.  This came up as we mused about the safest place to locate a worker station.  Ideally, a corner station has a clear view up and down track and is located on the inside of the corner, before the apex. That's where an errant car is least likely to come to rest.  Autobahn South 6 is located, unusually, on the outside of the corner.

"You had a car into 3 at Blackhawk?  I've flagged there, and spun there once myself.  Nobody hits the flag stand at 3.  It's well before the apex.  The 'action' occurs well after the station."

"That's almost always true.  But not if you blow the line in Turn 2."

"Who gets out of shape in 2?  It's a soft dog-leg and even fast cars don't have to treat it as a corner--just place the car properly to set up for 3."

"Well, this guy blew Turn 2.  Somehow he got off track, and came right down the grass on driver's right to our station."

The highlight of the day, for me, was helping a wheel-to-wheel driver get better.  This is heady stuff for a former HSAX-er of middling skills.  His car was an Improved Touring Honda CRX.  He was crowding a downshift and late braking into corner-entry, and his line was sketchy too.  I happened to run into him in the paddock at lunchtime.

"How's it going?  Having fun?"

"Yeah, but I'm struggling with 6."

"We're flagging at 6, and watched you.  Why don't you try backing the corner up?  Get the downshift done in a straight line, then you can focus on the line and your braking.  Not busy with three things at once."

"I tried that, but it felt slower.  Maybe I'll try it again."

He did, in the race, when he had a half hour to experiment with the corner.  His line improved and he got smoother.  By the end of the race, he was getting the power down sooner at the apex.  I smiled, not only for him but for me: I had just returned from the Dragon, where I was charging corners and messing them up.  We all know that smooth is fast, and to back a corner up.  But we all forget.  Unless we're good and have a lot of wheel-to-wheel seat time.

Above and below: not just old, but Old School--John Saccameno's Alfa GTA/GTV.  Black numbers in white roundels.
Period-correct Panasport wheels.  John says the color is not Ferrari's Fly Yellow, but it's close enough for me.

Above and below: another of my faves, Saccameno's paddock buddy's Datsun 240 Z.  Car's engine has a great sound
on track.  Their motto (painted on the rear of the cars) is "Dusty, Not Rusty."

Four truckloads of Corvettes, with a sprinkling of Camaros, rolled into ACC on Sunday.  Apparently there was to be
a big press event on Monday.  We had some fun speculating about General Motors's insurance arrangements and cost
for this gig.  Doubtless it was safety-flagged by the youngsters who work full-time for ACC.  I wonder if they get
hazardous duty pay?

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