Racing 101 Day 2 Up at 5:30 for Day 2 of the Driver's School and getting "Out There". A look out the window shows a wet parking lot so it must have rained some more during the night. Breakfast at the motel. Stop on the way to the track to...
Racing 101 Day 2
Up at 5:30 for Day 2 of the Driver's School and getting "Out There". A look out the window shows a wet parking lot so it must have rained some more during the night.
Breakfast at the motel. Stop on the way to the track to buy gas for the pickup and fill up the two 5-gallon fuel cans for the SRF. Amoco super-duper is what is recommended by other SRF drivers so that is what I buy.
Drive in the gate at the track before 8. Get the tarp off the car and erect the canopy. No rain yet but it looks like more on the way. Just as we finish getting the canopy up the rain starts again. It rains lightly for about an hour and at about 40 degrees it is pretty uncomfortable.
Meeting at 9:00 at the pavilion to meet instructors, etc. The original plan was for the cars to be split into 3 groups. Group 1 was the slower classes with fenders, Group 2 the Formula and Sports Racing cars, and Group 3 the faster classes with fenders. The turnout is lower than expected so this is compressed into two groups - Cars with fenders in Group 1 and Open Wheel cars in Group 2. This will allow much more track time for everyone. I ask that if inspite of the change if I could be allowed to stay with the formula cars. Running in that big group of 40 or so cars looks like fun but after all, these guys are all new, the track is wet, and some of the GT cars and the AS Mustangs are pretty quick. I did not want to think about a 3000 lb steel bodied Mustang sliding into my 1600 lbs. of fiberglass. The Chief Instructor agrees and I am assigned to the instructor that has the formula cars under his wing. The instructor is Kurt Wullenweber, a longtime Formula Ford guy from Florida. He was born in the mid-west and got hooked on racing while attending midget racing with his dad.
Kurt's group of "novices" consists of myself, a nice race winning Formula Vee driven by the real driver's dad, and 4 Formula Fords. The quickest Ford is an old restored Hawke (I think) driven by Steve Shelton, Jr. Steve's dad is a former Atlantic driver and I think did some IMSA GTP endurance races. Nice kid. The next best car is a Lola 440 driven by a young guy who has done some Formula Renault racing in France. The other two cars were Crossles and not very well prepared cars. Both were driven by guys in their 30's, one of which has done some Skip Barber weekends. Both these guys mentioned brake and gearbox problems during the weekend. So, I am in a group of only 6 cars. At most tracks, Formula Fords are 10-15 seconds a lap faster than SRF's and Vees are about the same speed as SRF's. My only hope of staying with anyone in this group appears to be the Vee. The rain has stopped by this time and skies are clearing.
The drive around with instructor: Each instructor drives his students around in his street car for a few laps as most of us have never seen this track. Kurt drives one of those turbo-charged Merkur things. He takes three of us at a time for about 3 laps with some brief descriptions of the lines through the corners, etc. The Merkur is a good handling rather stable sedan. Too bad Ford chose to give it a name that most Americans could not spell or pronounce.
The track: Roebling Road is a 2 mile, 8 turn road course. It is located out in the boonies about 10 miles from Savannah. Actually it was built in the boonies in the 60's. Now it is near housing developments, churches, etc., as the area grows. No engines are allowed to run between 11 and 12 AM to appease the churches. This is not as bad as at Road Atlanta where a small church down the road took them to court and the settlement was a 2 1/2 hour period on Sunday morning when no engines can be run. It all seems rather strange to allow people to move next to a race track and then impose their demands on the track. SCCA has a 105 db sound limit anyway. These decisions mean that you can't run a relatively quiet race car miles away from a church but you could run a louder lawn blower, motorcycle, etc. on the street in front of the church. Ain't our legal system wonderful?
OK, back to the track itself. Roebling Road is a fast road circuit. The outright lap record is held by a Porsche 962 at 59 seconds which is over 120 MPH. The fast Spec Racer Fords run in the 1:21 range I am told. There are no real slow turns. This is not a point-and-squirt type of track but rather one of those where the turns sort of flow from one to another. The experienced drivers say that trying to go faster can result in slower times.
The front straight is long - 3/4 mile. Turn 8 is a fast right turn leading onto this straight. Kurt points out the marks along pit wall where people have lost it in turn 8, tried to catch the car, the tires grip and send the car right across the track into the pit wall. His advice - if you really lose it in this turn, just push down the brakes and clutch, get your thumbs out of the wheel and spin to the outside of the track. There is plenty of run-off in that direction.
Session 1: Our first 20 minute session begins right as the other group's 20 minutes session ends. One or two of the Fords have put on rain tires. I decided not to as we had been told that the yellow no passing flag would be out for this session with the possibility of it being lifted for a few laps on part of the track. The track is wet. The 6 of us get very spread out and I pretty much just drone around for about 10 laps. James got my lap time as 1:42 on the last couple of laps. Did not learn much this session except where the puddles are.
We consider putting on the rain tires for the next session but my decision is to not do that unless it rains again. The track has dried considerably from the previous sessions although there are a couple of puddles right in the apex of 2 or 3 corners. No big deal, I rarely hit the apex anyway. Times are 1:38 for most laps. I was braking before the 5 marker into Turn 1. I discover that the Vees and Fords are invisible when right behind me. If they move over just a little then I can see the roll bar and part of the helmet but that is it. Later in the day I warn all the guys that I can not see them so make sure they get up alongside before I commit for the turn. All of them say they can't see either. Their mirrors are about the size of your palm. How in the world do the pros use the mirrors in cars that have big tires and wings back there?
Session 3: Session 3 is uneventful other than I "get with" a couple of the Fords this time. Other than the Hawke I can stay with the other Fords as I suspect they are having problems. The blue and white Crossle balks me badly in Turn 1. I think he has gearbox problems. The blue Lola is just not very fast anywhere on the track (yet) and the red Crossle seems to lift right in the middle of Turn 8 leading onto the front straight. Great fun as I am able to outbrake a couple of these guys going into 1 by holding off the braking till past the 5 marker. Times are now averaging 1:34.
Lunch Break: The skies have cleared and it is warming. Got a great cheeseburger for lunch at the pavilion. James is wanting to adjust something on the car. I say no, I'm not going fast enough yet to even evaluate the handling. Let's just adjust the mirrors. :)
Ran into an old friend that I had not seen in 15 years. He is a former NASCAR WC mechanic and now builds, maintains, and rents Mustangs for the SCCA's American Sedan class. He has a nice enclosed trailer with a big heater and invites us up to warm.
Next 20 minute session: Great fun finding myself able to stay with the Fords, all except the Hawke which is a well-prepared car and driven pretty quickly by the Shelton kid. Times are 1:30 on average. Lapped the Vee once and saw him in the distance as the session ended. Until this session I have only been using 4th and 5th gear and only about 5000 RPM. This is a school and I do want to minimize use and abuse of the car.
Session 5 - Confidence up. Pull off the grid behind Shelton with visions of staying with him this time. Nothing doing, he pulls away, the kid gets faster every session. The blue Lola follows me for one lap and passes on the front straight. I get close under braking but can't stay up. The red Crossle gets by the next lap but brakes early enough for turn 1 and I stay very close. I am able to stay right with him the entire lap. As we reach turn 8 we enter with me right on his tail and I'm thinking if I can stay this close, maybe I can out brake him into 1. I lose a length or two on the long straight and can't get under him but he suddenly slows between turn one and two. Missed shift? With my momentum I get up almost alongside after exiting turn two and will pass but... he has not seen me and moves back on line. I put two wheels in the dirt and back off to try again. This chase went on for 3 or 4 laps. I could close up at turn 8 and turn 1 but not get by. Finally I did manage to outbrake him into turn 1 (braked inside the 4 marker) and tried very hard to stay in front. It lasted for a lap and a half. On the exit of turn 4 (4th gear right turn) I ran out of talent. :) The tail slid out, I caught it, lost it again but this time along with trying to catch it I lifted the throttle, which I think is a big no-no in a Spec Racer. Round and around we go. My first thought is when you hear the thump it will be that Ford's nose being ripped off. As the car spun around I saw the red Lola with all 4 tires locked up. The next time around I saw the Ford spinning. Shortly after I came to a halt in the sand. The Crossle is stopped in the middle of the track and the Hawke is stopped behind him.
The session ends as the Lola needs a tow. When I get the car back to the paddock one of the first people I see is Kurt, my instructor. I have no idea of what to expect his reaction to be. He has a big grin on his face and says "that was great". What was great I'm not sure. :) James asks later if I knew my lap times. I said "oh, probably about 1:28's." The best lap was 1:24.9 with several in the 1:25's. I was shocked. I had picked up 5 seconds since the last session. I was now using 5500 RPM's and third gear in turn 5 but the "red mist" must account for a second or two. I thanked the Crossle guy for having and using enough skill to not hit me and I did not mention the fact that he had put me in the dirt earlier.
Session 6 - Put the competitive juices back in their box and tried to concentrate on getting the car on the right line through the turns. Lap speeds average about 1:30. Still turning in too quickly about half the time.
The day ended with a social event for everyone at the pavilion. Free beer of all things. Don't these folks know that we are the "wine and cheese" crowd? Chris hates beer. I drink about two swallows and James knocks back about 3 glasses (young males). We leave pretty soon with all wanting a shower and some seafood.
Not knowing much about Savannah we ask at the motel for a seafood place they would recommend. Actually I asked the bartender. He and some old drunk recommended the "Shell House" and gave directions. Only about a five minute drive.
The Shell House was packed. Waited for an hour for a table and were not thrilled with our dinner. Not our kind of place.
During dinner James asked when they use the chicane on the front straight. Chicane? What chicane? There is no chicane. Oh yes there is. Funny what you can't see when sitting in a very low car. Turns out the Indy Lite teams test here and don't like the speeds going into Turn 1 so they use the chicane.
Headed back to the Low Quality Inn and watched Chuck Norris kick, punch, flip, and throw about 5 drug peddlers on their backs before turning in for the night.