Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen is the starting line for sports car racing in America. Grand Am, NASCAR and basically all other sanctioning bodies make annual pilgrimages to The Glen. It was the site of the first sports car/road race after WWII. A foot note to The Glen – when you are in the town of Watkins Glen, make a visit to the International Motor Racing Research Center. You’ll find a treasure trove of information about every aspect of our sport including some one-of-a-kind books and photographs from racing’s greatest moments.

For me, it was love at first touch. After the weekend at The Glen, I have a ready answer when anyone asks, ‘what’s your favorite track?’ Building speed out of Turn 1, uphill through the high speed S’s, down the back straight through the amazingly fast bus stop/chicane, through the carousel , on through the challenging and tight ‘boot’, flat out with a breath of the throttle through Turn 10 and again building speed through Turn 11 for momentum on the front straight. The talk among the drivers is that it is fun and, at first, intimidating.

My times quickly dropped and speeds came up as I learned the track. We are clear that the goal is to learn the Grand Am tracks in a momentum car so I can be ready to drive with Zach and compete for the Grand AM ST championship next year and we are making great progress toward our goal. Once again, Zach (Lutz) and Ryan (Eversley) were outstanding coaches – thanks guys! These two young professional race car drivers have been both generous and relentless in their coaching. Zach and I are very pleased with my progress.

We had a rain squall come through just before the race which passed in time for us to stay on dry tires. If Lime Rock was a new experience then Watkins Glen was the real experience. I started 12th and was in the thick of the race from the start. Over 19 laps I moved up several positions, got very fast in key points on the track and was turning in race laps as fast as the front 5 cars – 2:09’s.

I learned what it really means to race at this level, running very close with other Mustang Challenge cars, trading a little paint when it couldn’t be avoided, holding my own in traffic, looking for mistakes by other drivers while driving my own race lines. I learned a lot of race craft in very close quarters at very high speeds and learned so much about gaining position in a momentum car, which is very different than my old days in GT cars in SCCA, etc.

Winning is so much about being ‘fast in’ and ‘fast out’ of corners, building momentum, driving very close to the competitors and creating passing opportunities in key spots on the track. Patience is not my strong suit, maybe as all of you know, and the only way I’ve found to ‘wait’ is to Breath!

‘Fast in’ is my bogie. After several years of braking in the approach to turns, coming off the brake immediately, then rolling onto the throttle to full throttle at the apex if possible, I was coached to go slow in and fast out – which is fine in some cars and in some series. It won’t do in the Mustang and it won’t do in Grand Am. I am breaking this habit and replacing it with (very) high speed going into the corner, trail braking while turning in, often all the way to the apex, then back on the throttle as soon as possible. Braking at high speed while turning into the apex at first gave me some real pucker moments. I’m still not doing it consistently but I will be this coming weekend at Mid-Ohio! At The Glen, I did get there on several turns, especially the high speed bus stop/chicane on the back straight. That was at first a scary Turn and is now one of my favorite Turns. I started out braking at #5 and in the race was braking well after #4! Whew! Breathe!

Only two things can even come close to this, one doesn’t include clothes (sorry to embarrass Marty!) and the other is spending time with my son, Seth. This is as good as it gets! I thought I was hooked on racing until The Glen – now I’m beyond recovery. As Zach says, we’re addicted and we plan to stay that way!

We did very well until the 19th lap (out of 21). Coming out of Turn 7 the car pushed hard much like late in the race at Lime Rock, I took two off, scraped the guard rail and my race was over. No regrets, though, my pace of learning and what I now know about driving momentum cars at The Glen is priceless. Zach, Bob and John have the car back in top form and ready for Mid-Ohio.

John, Zach and I have talked through the set-up of the car and believe we can make a slight change to help prevent or diminish the late race under steer and I’ve learned how to react when it happens. I’m really excited about Mid-Ohio, where we will have several practice sessions to work on set up. It was only a short few months ago that I nothing but a broken down GT car in my garage (still there and for sale btw) and no racing on the horizon. Now I’m in the midst of racing the better part of the Mustang Challenge Series season! The law of attraction works!

I have to tell you all about one highlight of my race. Building speed through the last turn, Turn 11, as you come onto the front straight is critical. I’d been working on it each lap. Well, on one lap I had a little too much speed in very close traffic, touched the safer bearer at track out, as I ‘bounced’ back on the track fortunately was headed straight and at full throttle passed two cars on the front straight! Had to replace the mirror and the door panel, but was it worth it. As Jaime Eversley said – ‘you left your mark on Watkins Glen!’. I don’t ever need to do that again, trust me, but what a moment!

Compass 360 Racing News from The Glen:
Karl Thomson’s Compass 360 Racing Honda ST team proved their mettle and race intelligence with 1st and 2nd place finishes. Congratulations to Zach and Ryan for their second place finish and the same to David Thilenius and Lawson Aschenbach for their victory!

Bottom line, the Compass 360 Racing Team knows how to win. Outstanding drivers combined with superb race strategy make them hard to beat and has put them in position to win the ST series for a second year in a row.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Lime Rock Rocks!

Lime Rock was a great experience. Very short, very fast track! Challenging to understand, internalize and race but a ton of fun when you get it! A lot of very’s are needed to explain Lime Rock! It’s a 1.5 mile track contoured to follow the landscape of NW Connecticut. Fast, tight with a hard right hander up hill and a hard right hander on the other side going down. A ton of fun!

Zach and I were very pleased with the progress I made learning the track and getting into race. The normal practice day, usually on Thursday, was not available so we practiced and qualified on Friday and raced on Saturday. The pressure was on to learn the track very quickly and it went well. My times steadily dropped through the day on Friday and my best time was 26 laps into the race.

I took the checker flag, drove the car into the paddock and shut it off, whole and untouched, which is big at Lime Rock. I started 12th and finished 12th. After running off briefly in Turn 2 with about 10 minutes left, the toe on the front of the car went out by several degrees, which made the car very difficult to drive in the corners.

During the race, Zach coached on the radio and made a real difference in how well I ran. Overall it was a very fun and successful weekend. Now we need to put it all together, finish well and have all the progress show up in the finishing places.

While Marty and I were in the tower on the front straight watching the start of Zach’s Street Tuner race, Michael Lauterborn, a freelance writer from Connecticut interviewed Marty and I about our entry into Grand Am. Fun stuff! On the Compass360home page, the picture of us and a link to the story are 3-5 items down as you scroll the page: I’m so glad Marty was able to make at least one of the races. Makes the experience all that much more real when we are talking about it at home.

Good times and rock and roll with the boys (and one girl, Jamie Eversley) at Lutz Motorsports Industries and Compass 360 Racing!

On to Watkins Glen!!!!