LEFT LANE TIRE SMOKE BEDEVILS WILK IN ROUND ONE For a couple of days, Tim Wilkerson had been enjoying what felt like a successful and resurgent weekend in Englishtown, before cold hard reality slapped him in the opening round of eliminations on...
LEFT LANE TIRE SMOKE BEDEVILS WILK IN ROUND ONE
For a couple of days, Tim Wilkerson had been enjoying what felt like a successful and resurgent weekend in Englishtown, before cold hard reality slapped him in the opening round of eliminations on Sunday. After having qualified 4th, on the strength of two very good runs, Wilk had lane choice in the opening round but it was he who quickly became the poster boy for lane swaps, when it immediately became apparent that the left lane, seen as the better side through two days of qualifying, was no longer so forgiving.
Wilkerson's route to the 4th spot on the ladder was a seesaw affair, but the upswings were terrific and all signs pointed to serious progress being made by the LRS team. After making his best lap of the previous weekend on his final (losing) run in eliminations, Wilk felt he could hit the ground running with a better effort here and he was absolutely correct in that assumption. Straight out of the box, the LRS Shelby Mustang posted a 4.145 in the opening session, and that was good for two bonus points as the second-quickest lap in Q1. When Friday night's lap became a home-run hitter's paradise, Wilk took a shot at bigger glory but smoked the tires trying. That aborted run allowed him to slip into the No. 6 spot overnight.
On Saturday, the seesaw swung back up again as Wilk powered to an impressive 4.113 in the first session, and that run held up for the full allotment of the three bonus points awarded to the driver with the quickest time in every session. The five total bonus points were the most earned yet for the LRS driver, at any race in 2010. In the final session, although the seesaw swung back down it might be more accurate to say it stopped at dead-even, as Wilkerson was on another fine lap but lifted early after spotting some trouble after the burnout. All in all, the big runs in Q1 and Q3 gave everyone in the LRS camp reason to feel confident and excited heading into a Sunday morning round-one date with Jim Head, the lucky number 13 qualifier.
"I knew it in Joliet, that we were getting a real feel for what this car wants, and nothing I saw in qualifying here made me change my mind about that," Wilkerson said. "We put two great laps on the board, we had a third one that was just about as good but the driver doesn't like blowing things up when he doesn't have to, so I lifted early on that one, and we swung and missed once. That's not bad, and the number four spot was fine, too. We've been second, eighth, and fourth at the last three races, so we're doing something better there and that's encouraging.
"We might have gotten ourselves a little tripped up doing that, though. Both of our best runs were in the left lane, and over the course of those two days it seemed like most of the good runs were coming from over there, so I didn't think we really had any choice but to go over there on Sunday. The Top Fuel cars seemed to all have traction problems, no matter what lane they were in, so we didn't really learn anything from them, and if you then go over to the lane you didn't run very well in and lose the round, well then you're just a knucklehead. It seemed like a no brainer to us, that we should be on the left side."
Picking that left lane on Sunday, against Head, was made simpler by the fact Wilkerson also had the option of taking the first-pair slot, and he immediately grabbed it. The first pair has long been his favorite spot in the opening round line-up, since it forces both teams to take nothing more than an educated guess at the set-ups without the benefit of seeing any other cars go down the track. More often than not, the strategy pays off for the keen-tuning Wilkerson.
This time, Head was away first and he streaked to a clean 4.221 that was, in reality, probably a better run than the numbers indicated. Wilk, over in the left lane, spun the Goodyears at the 330 mark and coasted down the track to a disappointing defeat.
"Like I said, we'd run better in the left all weekend, and so had a lot of other people," Wilkerson stated. "Believe me, all the higher ranked cars were lined up on the left side in the staging lanes, so we weren't the only ones who felt that way, but when I spoke with (Tasca Racing crew chief) Chris Cunningham before the run I told him to pay attention to what I did out there, because the lane choice thing wasn't a sure deal. After we ran, you saw an awful lot of people moving over to the right lane, and I would've done that too if we would've been forced to take a later slot in the round.
"We usually live by going first, but this time it bit us a little. I'll still prefer being the first pair if it's on the table when I get my choice, and if we run one of the multi-car teams you almost have to take it so they don't have the chance to watch their teammates run ahead of them. You just roll the dice out here sometimes, and they came up snake-eyes today. I still see a lot of positive things in the data right now, and I can't help but think we're about to start reeling off some big races. We're running too well, overall, not to have some success."
The next chance for said success is coming right up, as the tour heads to Bristol next weekend, the third stop on the current four-race swing.