Monday, August 3, 2015

An As-Good-As-It-Gets Weekend

Olivier Beretta, 'tis said, cannot forgive Corvette Racing for firing him.  So he sticks it to GM whenever he can, which he
did again at Mid-Ohio to the Cadillac Division by continuing his points lead in the Pirelli World Challenge series.

I am too old and creaky and easily worn out to flag corners for my club for two days in a row.  So, with the wisdom of Solomon, I cut the baby in half.  On Saturday I watched the Pirelli World Challenge on my (large screen) desktop and on Sunday I worked for my club.

Watching road racing online is so much better than TV.  We lose most of the commercials.  The quality of the commentary is higher.  And we get the same well-directed camera coverage and angles.  At Mid-Ohio, one of the cameras was in the middle of Madness, at the bottom of the hill, which was my favorite viewing spot when I went to events there in the '60's and early '70's.  The effect on me was massively nostalgic.

The PWC GT's lap at 108 m.p.h., which is damned fast on the twisty Mid-Ohio course.  Between two classes, there were over 30 cars on track.  That's a lot for a 2.4 mile course.  The faster cars began lapping slower ones 20 minutes into a 50-minute race, but the driving was clean and full-course yellows were minimal.  It was a good race, and website viewing has its merits when the heat and humidity are high outside.

My "office" and associates on Sunday: the flag station at Blackhawk Farms' Turn 3.  This picture shows a Formula Atlantic
car getting a flat tow after his race was over.  He provided our only excitement of the day (and that's a good thing).  He
coasted to a stop at our station about 20 minutes into his 30-minute event.  He had lost a cylinder, and was very worried.
"Did you see any oil?"  We hadn't, and we all hoped it was a coil pack or something similarly cheap and easy to fix.

On Sunday I was on the road to Blackhawk Farms well before the sun came up and didn't get home until it was low in the sky.  Four hours of commuting and working from 8 to 5+ in the sun makes for exhaustion.  (Ambient temperature reached the low 90's, fortunately with a stiff breeze.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.)

But we had a lot of fun.  At a corner station, driving talent from sketchy at best to brilliant is on display.  (At BFR, Turn 3 has the best sight lines and is itself a difficult corner.)  You see odd cornering lines that shouldn't work, but do.  Watching races with other knowledgeable spectators is always a treat, and the gearhead talk when there's downtime is fun.  Club racing seems always to have a problem getting enough volunteers to adequately staff races.  I don't understand this.  If you can't afford to race, or if your skills are lacking (both, in my case), working a corner is the next best thing to being on track yourself.

And we saw some good racing.  Among the big-bores, a Mustang chased a big block Corvette for half an hour (my club's races are all that length).  The Mustang was never further back than 6 car lengths, and he stuck his nose in a couple of times.  It was glorious to watch them come through Turn 2, past our station at Turn 3 (a long carousel) and into 3A.  The Mustang's second and third gear ratios were very close, he wound the hell out his small block, and made up whatever distance was between them by the time they reached us.  On the two short straights, big block torque won the drag races.  In the end it prevailed, with an assist from at least one sketchy door-closing move.

In the last small-bore race of the day, a Honda CRX Si started at the back of the field and finished second.  Second!  Blackhawk is 2.0 miles around and you can't pass at all from Turn 3 through Turn 5 unless the driver ahead backs out of it and moves over to let you by.  So passing 20+ cars in a half hour, including some very well-driven Miatas, takes some doing.  It was a brilliant drive.  Extra props to the CRX for being one of the the noisiest, highest revving, car on the track.

Finally, a shout out to the drivers.  It was a very hot day to be encased in Nomex for 40-50 minutes, especially when the Red Mist descends.  "Our" driver's race ended at Turn 3 after only 20 minutes.  He was exhausted (we hydrated him).  He was worried (race-built engines are not cheap to repair).  It took him a lap or two to emerge from his own world, contained inside that helmet, to rejoin the wider one. He's a Weekend Warrior, aged about 50, as many club racers are.  He was driving a 1300 lb. car with 175 horsepower, wide sticky tires, and downforce.  These cars are thoroughbreds--they're only fast when they're close to the knife's edge.  If you think it's easy to be a club racer in a fast car, try it.  He remembered his manners, and thanked us volunteers for making the racing possible.  I wish I had remembered mine, and thanked him and his paddock-mates for the show they put on.

Three laps into his race, this car and driver were still right on the tail of the leading big-block C-4 Corvette.  We speculated
on his chances at our corner station.  "That's a big, heavy, car--he'll run out of brakes or tires or both" said I.  He didn't.
In June, I chatted with this driver in the paddock.  He's from mid-state Illinois and this is his first season.  In June he
finished second to a "real" Shelby Mustang GT 350 with a lot of beans in the hands of an experienced driver.  On
Sunday he finished second again in a very hard-fought duel.  It won't be long before he gets a win.

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