I would be making my eighth consecutive appearance. Sean and Eric would be along to play with their Zetek and FSCCA cars in FA. Dan would also attend with his venerable Swift FF.
Kathy and I drove up Saturday, thru the remnants of hurricane Ivan. The only problems we encountered were a couple of mudslides that blocked a lane on the Pennsylvania turnpike. We arrived just in time to make registration. We got some spaces for the group in the traditional DSR paddock area. The area was a bit muddy and the grass was beaten down from previous water flows. The guys in the nearby RennWerks space said there had been a couple of feet of standing water in the spaces earlier in the week. At least there was no forecast for significant rain for the week. Sean and Eric would arrive Sunday and Dan on Tuesday.
Sunday was for visiting around. Many of the big, 34 car, DSR field were running the practice day on Sunday. Matt DiRenzo had injured his motor and had sent it off with Woody to Cleveland for a quick rebuild. The large DSR/CSR practice sessions were visually spectacular to watch. Lots of very pretty and very fast cars.
My preparation for the Runoffs was minimal. Frank Malone and I had engineered a solution to the chronic loosening rear suspension pickup point. (It held!) I had cobbled together a rear diffuser for the Cheetah (which was a big challenge given the location of the suspension link). I was only moderately hopeful the “prototype” (read crude) diffuser would work or hold together. My engine was new/fresh last season. It really could have used a freshening. Hasty lent me one of his built R1’s to take along just in case. I did have new tires.
There were 15 new competitors in DSR with new cars and fast motors and 13 of the aerodynamically superior Stohr cars. My goal going in was to finish in the top 20. The weather was beautiful (warm and sunny) all week. Very untypical for Mid Ohio.
Monday’s practice session was a pleasant surprise. I was consistently turning laps in the 1:29 range. My best lap last year was in the race and was only a 1:30.1 with qualifying laps in the 1:31- 1:32 area. The track surface on the concrete strips had been redone and perhaps had more grip, or perhaps the diffuser was working. Anyway, I ended up 15th fastest. The front running Stohrs, Spead and Maloy were destroying the lap record. I was just beginning to remember my shift sequences and braking points. Things were looking up. Kathy returned from her shopping expedition to Columbus with P.F. Chang take-out and we had a very pleasant picnic.
Tuesday’s qualifier had us out with the S2000 cars and the HUGE 55 car group caused problems. It was impossible to get a clean lap and there were many cars off course. One S2000 hit me in the keyhole, Tom Becker (paddock next door neighbor) and a couple of others. Tom testified at the steward hearing. I have never been to the Runoffs without being leaned on by a S2000. The session ended early when a couple of cars got together blocking T13. I went a bit faster, but sunk to 20th fastest. My new ebay laptop refused to recognize its serial port, so I was unable to download data. . Kathy again returned with a picnic for us all. Good food, weather, and company. It doesn’t get much better.
Wednesday’s qualifying had us with the S2000s again, but this time they started us in order of previous qualifying times. This significantly reduced the traffic problems. I went a bit faster again (0.2 seconds) but dropped to 22nd fastest. This is not the way it should be! During the session got hit in the helmet with a big (judging from the impact) rock. After the session was over, found another rock had pieced the stainless steel screen in front of my radiator. It was about 1 inch in diameter, but didn’t thankfully put a hole in the radiator. I was beginning to figure out how to do T1
Thursday’s qualifying had the DSRs alone. It would be the best opportunity to improve although it was mid-afternoon and relatively hot at 86 degrees. I ran a couple of careful laps to get the tires and brakes up to temperature. As I approached T1, a flagger was jumping up and down with the “oil” flag. Someone had holed their motor and left a wide strip of oil/water on line all the way thru the keyhole. They obviously had a dry sump, since the volume of dropped fluids was HUGE. I, as most of the others, came to the pits. There would be no fast laps possible. Sean watched his Icard for a while until the lap times started to come down (a few guys were still circulating). I went out for a couple more laps, but the racing line was still unusable. My time was 0.4 seconds slower than the previous session and I dropped to 25th fastest. I should have made my second lap a flyer. Oh well. Kathy and I had dinner at Brant’s Bistro on 4Th Street in Mansfield. It is first rate.
Thursday night bought the annual SportsRacer party. It was held under the canopy of the RennWerks tractor-trailer. Kathy had done the bulk of the shopping for the party along with Nancy Urso. The POAFs from Florida (despite pending hurricane Jeanne) arrived with grill and keg of premium (Great Lakes) beer. Racer Parts Wholesale, Radical South, Stohr Racing cars, RennWerks, SportsRacer,net Forum, and Yamaha (via Hasty) provided a large assortment of door prizes. Everyone who attended the party got something. Racers, via ballots distributed by Bob Urso, voted Pat Prince as the DSR Sportsman of the year. (Person who contributed the most to the class over the year.) He made a nice speech. The annual DSR Manufacturer of the Year trophy was awarded to Lee Stohr. Nice acceptance speech, also. About 150 people attended party and the beer got consumed quickly, but there was a backup supply.
With our race being on Saturday, we spent Friday watching races (Sean got punted on lap 1 in T8 but soldiered along with nose and wing$ dragging for 14th in FA; Eric did well with a 15th finish). I talked with the Hoosier engineers. My set of new race tires was the very soft R25s and I asked if they would be appropriate. Hoosier said they would be faster, but not to use them if the temperature on race day was more than 75 degrees. It was gonna be close, but the weather did promise to be a bit cooler. I went ahead and got them mounted. Getting them mounted was an adventure since one of them refused to hold air. They tried goop, reversing the tire on the rim and trimming away the rubber bits left from the mold. Nothing worked. Finally they selected another tire from their trailer and it sealed immediately. Interesting. Perhaps I have been bad-mouthing my wheels wrongly for years. Kathy and I had dinner at Sweeney’s Two on Route 42 (Lexington Ave.) in Mansfield. It was excellent.
RaceDay. It was coolish (65 degrees), overcast and spitting raindrops all morning. I was feeling very good about my tire choice, but was beginning to mentally prepare for mounting the dreaded rain tires. With the top 10 cars qualified with a second of each other, it could get very UGLY in the rain. Fortunately, the raindrops went away. It was Kathy’s birthday and she wanted me to win the race as her present. Fortunately for me, I had procured a backup gift.
Race. At the back of the pack, things were ragged. I got passed by a couple of cars before the green fell as the car in front of me failed to pickup the pace. The first turn was negotiated without a problem, but as I arrived at the top of “madness” there was a gaggle of cars sideways, etc near the apex. I had to nearly stop before threading thru on the inside. Got a slight bump on the rear. No harm. I was immediately locked in a group of like speed cars including Tom Roberson, Al Beasley, Sr., Mike Sirianni, Richard Colburn and Dave Watson. There was some shuffling of positions. My car seemed to be handling less well than in qualifying. Grip was lacking. Wrong tires? Hell, drive on. Having forgot to put the right connectors on the beacon, I was not able to see lap time. Got past Colburn and Beasley and got passed by Sirianni. Sirianni went off, passed me again, and went off again. Got past Robertson as he went off. Watson got past as we began to deal with some slower cars. It took a couple of laps, but I repassed.
Two more times lapped cars caused some shuffling. Watson was glued to my tail. My brake pedal went very LONG starting about lap 4. I had to start braking earlier in the keyhole and T7. Car was unstable in the T10 complex. Watson would close up in T11 and get his front wheel beside me entering T13. I was faster in T13 and could hold him off. He didn’t have the motor to challenge on the back straight. I was pedaling as fast as I could to keep him behind me. I looked up at the scoreboard and saw 13 laps completed; looked up again seemingly a few seconds later and saw 18 laps done. This race was flying. Mark Hoover got past me on the last lap. Damn. My 14th finish was a surprise considering my 25th starting position. Had the car’s handling felt better, I could have judged the race to be a success. When I saw my laps times after the race, I felt I had seriously under performed.
I had run DOZENS of laps at 1:29 in the many practice/qual sessions while is heavy traffic. I thought I would easily get another second or so in the race with softer and fresh tires.
My race times were very disappointing. My best lap was 1:30.24 and my average was 1:31. My unexpected slow times ate at me all the 10-hour drive home. Was the track somehow slower? No, the leaders set new records. Was I suddenly inept? Maybe.
I discovered when unloading the car from the trailer that the right front upright/bearing/spindle was VERY loose with more than an inch of free play. I was within a lap or so of losing the wheel again. (This happened at the Runoffs a couple of years ago and again at Sebring this season.) All parts at that corner were replaced again after Sebring. As the bearing/wheel loosens, the brake rotor presses the pad away from the rotor and the brake pedal travel gets “long.” This was happening after 4 or so laps into the race (not good for confidence going into T7 or the keyhole) but I didn’t have much time to think WHY. I just allowed a bit more margin for braking. The car handled like a PIG in T11 and was annoying vague in T13 and T1. It was quite scary at T10b under full throttle where the car gets a little air-borne over the rise.
Frank and I had managed to fix the loosening rear suspension (random toe-in) that I had suffered at Savannah and VIR this year. I have gotten lots of practice driving an ill handling car this season, BUT it has to stop before I kill myself! Kathy keeps saying it is time for a new car. YES.