Banking On It
Ryan, in the white AP2, is gridded two spots ahead of me. He’s a great guy; he even lent me an air gauge earlier, but right now I want nothing in the world more than to see his headlights receding in my mirrors. It’s nothing personal; he was two seconds faster than me last session, and that makes him a target. Fortunately, the pregrid is rearranged between sessions to put the faster cars toward the front; I’m starting this lap in position number eight, with around twelve cars behind me.
My car feels pretty good, all things considered; on the advice of an autocrossing acquaintance I’ve removed the rear sway bar and otherwise left it untouched. Rear grip is phenomenal, but proper unwinding on corner exit is a little difficult in the slowest turns. My MX-5 bar, 60% softer than stock, arrived late Friday, leaving no time to mount it before the event. I’m wingless, resulting in some pretty noticeable lift over 100mph, but what’s really holding me back is unfamiliarity with the car’s behavior in very high speed corners. It doesn’t feel like it will take the bank faster than 100mph. I’m going to have to believe that 115 is possible, and commit to it.
Ryan knows he’s my target, too. Out of the track merge he’s right on the bumper of the car in front of him, staying glued right through the braking zone and into turn 3. I’m held up by the E90 M3 in front of me; turns 3 and 4 are agonizingly slow. The BMW’s courteous enough to wave me by on the short straight, and I blitz through 5 and 6 just in time to see Ryan charging away through the chicane. I’m caught in traffic again between 12 and 20; I get the point-by as I rise onto the banking, and after a blind charge around 1 and 2 fully 15mph and a lane higher than my first session (thanks Armando!), I have the white car back in my sights. There’s just an E36 M3 between us.
The M3 is struggling; he’s all over the track, wagging his tail through three and four, somehow staying fairly close to Ryan. I get inside on 6, but he won’t point by. He brakes through the second half of the chicane; I’m not expecting it and my car slews violently as I try to brake and find the line into the hairpin simultaneously. He pulls a car length on me down the bridge straight, but I get it back under braking for 12, a 40mph right demarcated with some serious kerbing. I cheat the line in 13, riding high on the kerb and running out two wheels over the exit rumble strip; trying to get a right-side point-by going into the critical multi-apex left leading back to the banking. Something catches my peripheral vision- I’m black-flagged. MOTHERF***ER.
The M3 and I roll into the hot pit in tandem; it turns out he’s been black flagged for a blend line violation way back at the beginning of the lap. I wasn’t flagged at all. At this point I start screaming curse words into my helmet as a dozen cars rip by three wide around the bank- the backmarkers. I’m going to have to pass ALL of them to get a clean lap.
I’m still cursing steadily as we drop into 3. A Mustang with hideous altezza lights starts braking at least a hundred yards early, and despite me sticking my nose alongside his driver’s door in 4, he doesn’t wave me by until after 6. There are a 911 Turbo and an NSX behind me somewhere, too- I know they’re closing the gap, and I’m going to have to let them by. I need to get past the rest of the backmarkers before I’m forced to lift for them.
I clear two slow cars on the bridge straight, and hold the faster cars off until the banking, where I can let them by without lifting. It doesn’t help, though; Fernando, in his NT01-shod LBP AP2, has caught up to me. I pull a small lead by low-apexing turn 2 and maintain it through 3 and 4, although it almost costs me a wing mirror from cheating so close to the tire barrier. It’s no good; he’s got me in 6, and we’re rapidly catching a 350Z.
The Z lets Fernando by, but I have to hang inches off his bumper all the way from the bridge to the banking before he runs out high and I cut underneath him for the pass.
I’m running out of time in the session now; the stint in the hot pits really cost me. I have maybe two hot laps left, but I’m clear of traffic. My target today is a 2:10 lap; my first session was a ghastly 2:16 best. Time to put up or shut up.
Afterward, the debriefing is agony, waiting for the printer to spit out results.
It’s a 2:07.
I’m fourth in class with two sessions to go. I’m only going to be able to run one more; it’s my grandmother’s birthday, and my family will literally eviscerate me if I’m not back in San Diego by 5pm.
Then, disaster; an Integra throws a rod on the oval and oils down the fastest part of the track. Speed Ventures has run a solid, professional event thus far, and the cleanup is handled quickly and efficiently, but the damage is done. By the time it’s clear, I have to leave.
I run in Street, a class aimed at cars modified on a budget. A minimum weight of 2850lbs, damper cost capped at $2500, and heavy aero restriction ensure that you can be competitive without breaking the bank. In fact, Street and Stock classes tend to run similar times, as few people take advantage of the allowance for R-compounds in Street. Modified takes it to the next level, with a profusion of enormous wings, race tires, gutted interiors, and amazing suspension packages. The Modified cars are what all tracked S2000s want to be when they grow up. Stock is, well, mostly stock. For the complete breakdown, see the Challenge Rules; if you still have questions, the Racing and Competition Forum here on S2ki hosts an active and informative discussion about the series.
As it turns out, a 2:07 is good enough for fifth in a class of eight, a full ten seconds slower than the leader. Mike, in his white CR, laid down an absolutely smoking 1:57.23 for first in Street; Mike, in Modified, was the fastest S2000 of the day, and ran a 1:54.49. Chris took top honors in Stock with a 2:02.80. It’s safe to say that I have quite a lot to learn.
There are many things for me to take away from this event. It’s a great group of people; the sense of camaraderie in the pits is palpable. The other participants seem to want me to get faster every bit as much as I do. Many of them are instructors; it shows in the quality of the advice they dispense. At Chuckwalla, I need to focus on finding the right apex when transitioning from fast to slow sections- I was often early in the 3-4 complex and in 9. I also need to brake later and harder- I was allowing myself too much delay between throttle and brake, and sacrificing maximum braking to focus on nailing downshifts, especially the tricky descent from redline in 5th to mid-2nd for turn 3. I refuse to skip gears, and it’s costing me time.
Traffic cost me a lot of laps as well. I chose to run in a low-intermediate group with point-by passing only, as I’m new to the venue and considerably less experienced than many of the other entrants. The point-by requirement may hinder my times slightly, but it’s safer, both for me and for those around me. As I gain experience, I should be able to move up to groups with open passing; in the meanwhile it’s just part of learning to drive competitively.
I’m more excited about the S2K Challenge than I’ve been about anything since buying the car itself. For someone who’s a devout autocrosser, it’s a revelation- the added element of competition makes this far more appealing than a normal trackday. Autocross is the ultimate mental challenge, but nothing is more viscerally satisfying than hunting down your competitors on track. I’m absolutely hooked; the 28 days until Chuckwalla can’t pass fast enough.
Author’s Note: As always, a big thank you to my sponsors: Infinite Motion, C2racers.com, and Speed Ventures. This wouldn’t be possible without you.
Photos courtesy of Gavin Rennie (Turboviper)