2006 Watkins Glen - "The Fates are Smiling!"
Today was a very good day for Kakashi Racing. It was one of those rare days where everything lined up and the Fates smiled upon us.
Yesterday was decisively not so. I had not raced at The Glen since 1992, so I took advantage of the Friday test day to not only re-acquaint myself with the track (it's changed a bunch in the last 14 years) but also to try and tune this sled so it would actually handle. We were successful in both regards, showing consistent times in the mid-120s, right there with Mark "Hot Shoe" Carpenter. The day even started out great with NYR actually allowing us to register for the event at the beginning of Friday! I was really looking forward to the race weekend.
Halfway through the night, I get awoken to noise that sounded like the A/C fan was making noise (another story); turned out it was POURING RAIN! Not just drizzle, mind you, but BUCKETLOADS of rain. I pulled up the computer and checked the forecast (something I had not done since the prior Wednesday when it said something like "partly cloudy" and saw that the weekend was shaping up to be pretty miserable. Saturday was expected to be pouring rain all day with possibly clearing by Sunday afternoon.
And we still don't have any decent rain tires.
We dragged ourselves to the track in the rain. We walked into the garage (one smart thing we did) in the rain. We drank coffee and ate breakfast - you guessed it - in the rain. We watched the rain. We watched the ITS cars - first group of the day - get POUNDED ON by rain. By the time the third group was up I had decided I was going to sit the first session out with the hopes that the mid-day forecast would give me a clearer idea of Sunday's weather (since I had no decent tires, I was seriously considering packing it up if the Sunday forecast stunk.) I loaned my full-tread Toyos to Joe DiMinno and watched him slosh around in the rain. I figured the ITA boys would get hammered in qualifying by the ITB/C cars and end up mid-pack.
Then we get the provisional results: Rick is on the pole in ITA with Joe - on my tires! - is fourth. I couldn't believe it. We sat around a bit more sulking and wringing our hands when Bob Smart comes up and says he's got two, and only two, Hoosier rains in my size. Then we get the mid-day forecast and there's a reasonable chance for decent weather for late morning Sunday...I made the command decision to buy the two Hoosiers (my credit card really hurts right now), run two of my Toyos on the back, and get a good qualifying time for Sunday (Joe was going to go with Toyos and some other tires on the back).
Ah, but the Fates weren't yet done with their practical jokes. During the lunch break there was a break in the rain, and by the time Group Two was on the track the winds had picked up and there was actually dry spots in the paddock! The track looked good, too - not great, but good - and G2 had a good session. I had my laptop computer and Internet access and I could see that were were in a lull, an "eye" within the rain squalls, but it appeared that there MIGHT be a chance we could get in a lap or two in the "dry" before the rains came. We decided to go dry and headed for the grid.
Yup, you guessed it: as soon as we got there it started to lightly sprinkle. By the time they gave us the five it was showering. And by the time we were "enjoying" lap one of our session it was pouring rain, and it only got harder from there. I was not the only one to make the dry choice, but my decision to skip the first session really cost me, and I was gridded 27th of 58 (?) cars. The top 4 or 5 were Spec Miata ex-pats, most likely on wet tires. Rick was gridded 5th, I believe, with Joe around 13th. We went to sleep with a light mist hanging over "The Gorgeous View Motel" (yet another story). Talk about hand-wringing...
Some time during the night, I woke up and slowly peeled back the window shades: the parking lot was drying and the skies looked almost clear! I knew that the day was going to be good.
Of course the paddock was awash with conversation and deal making. We all knew that the grid was a seemingly-randomized mish-mash of ITA, ITB, ITC, SSC, and Spec Miatas masquerading as an ITA car (SMMAAITAC). Everything pretty much recognized that the first lap was going to be either very fun or very painful. I saw deals being cut back and forth and Hot Shoe and I had coordinated working together to move forward through the field. Everyone stood around nervously on the grid, trying to relax while saying "hello" to both old friends and new grid-acquaintances. Then the call to order by the grid personnel; we all bolted ourselves into our respective mounts.
From my perspective, it seemed liked I was gridded back in Elmira. As we toured around the track on the warm up I LITERALLY could not get a glimpse of either Rick or the polesitter. There was one no-show in front of me so I was in 26th, outside on the 13th row, and it really seemed like I was left behind. I warmed up and tightened up for the start, and right as I came around T10 Matt gave me the "go, go, go!" on the radio, and I was off! The torque of the Nissan helped me gobble up two rows of ITB and ITC cars immediately, then I weaved my way through another two or three more. I managed to squeeze in between Paul Curran and the wall, and he gave me barely enough room (not too much, just right!) so I could squeeze through T1 somewhere around position 15 or 16. As we exited Turn One I nailed the throttle but found the pack was not accelerating as hard as I expected; I ended up nailing Chip VanSlyke in the rear bumper. It was a mish-mash as everyone moved - rather slowly, I must say, probably slowed up by slower ITB or ITC cars up front - two- and three-wide up the esses and down the back straight. I was doing my best Icky Shuffle trying to pick the car that was going to break the three-wide traffic jam and at some point, for some unknown reason, someone up front must have either braked or checked up halfway down the straight at the top of the esses because I suddenly found Chip's car quickly filling my windscreen again! I ended up nailing him AGAIN in the check-up and everyone got going again.
I passed a couple of cars in the Bus Stop, another one into the "ankle" of the boot, then as we went two-wide through there we encountered an ITB Golf that was sliding sideways to the traffic flow!!! I *just* missed the car, all the while praying he would not release the brakes and slide backwards. He didn't, and while I don't know what happened after I passed I must say he seemed to do a good job keeping it inside the turn. Whoever you are; THANK YOU. I scratched off a couple more into the toe, one or two into the heel, one more into the left hander afterwards, and one each in turns 10 and 11, and as I round that last turn and got onto the front straight I was AMAZED to find that I was in fourth place behind my buddy Joe DiMinno! Rick was in front, followed by a SMMAAITAC and Joe, then me! When I saw that, I simply could not believe it: I had passed 22 cars in the first lap.
After taking a few deep breaths down the front straight I tightened my shoulder straps for the goal ahead: catch Rick. He had done an excellent job getting clear of the cars in front of him and he enjoyed a hefty lead over Joe and the SMMAAITAC. By the end of lap two I had caught and passed both Joe and the SMMAAITAC and had a clear view of Rick. Right about then I don't know what happened exactly, but I got into this "zone" where I was mentally coaching myself like I do students, saying things like "smooth turn ins" and "look ahead" and "consistency, son!" and just started reeling him in slowly. I've always been a chaser, and during races I tend to allow myself to get sucked into corners that I wouldn't normally do on my own. Matt had done some damper and tire pressure adjustments to the car that really seemed to work; I felt like I could toss the car around and not worry about it biting me. I allowed myself to go into corners deeper under braking, carry more speed through the corners, and use that to carry much more speed on the straights. Matt was calling out times to me and I started out with the times I had done on Friday, then slightly better, then slightly better again. I pushed a little more and with 6 laps or so Rick was within reach. The final straw came when he caught some traffic at the top of the esses and lost momentum; I drafted up to him and passed him going into the Bus Stop Chicane.
Of course, at this point the job wasn't done, and Rick wasn't about to give up. He stalked me for about a lap or so when we came upon slower traffic, and I got the better end of those deals. As he mentioned above, he lost momentum due to traffic on one corner and came across some misfortune on another, and I was able to put three or four cars between us; then the full course caution came out during lap 10 for multiple incidents on course. We received the checkered flag at the end of lap 10 (one short of intended, no doubt 'cause there was no way they could clean up the track mess for a restart) and we finally came to the end of our odyssey. We made our way to impound and points beyond.
When the results were posted, we learned that we had beaten the existing ITA lap record by over 1-1/2 seconds!
I would like to mention, and not in passing, that I was impressed that everyone in the field did a great job of sorting ourselves out in those first few laps. Everyone did a marvelous job of keeping eyes on a swivel and looking for traffic. If anything, *I* was the bull in the china shop out there, and I'm greatly appreciative of the consideration given to me by my fellow competitors. I apologize to anyone I could possibly have offended in the process, especially Chip.
This one feels good; it was hard-fought. ITA is a hell of a class with a lot of talented drivers, and I'm glad to be a part of it. Today was really, really fun. - Greg
In-Car video, "From 26th to 4th in One Lap"