Tuesday, April 12, 2011

First race!!

So now that I successfully passed Driver School, I registered and competed in my first race with San Francisco Region SCCA at Thunderhill Raceway this last weekend April 8-10.  It was a "Double Regional" race which means there were two races - one on Saturday and one on Sunday.  I registered for both and also registered for a second race in ITA on Saturday.  I figured I need all the practice that I can get so the extra race would help me practice.

I needed to successfully complete two races to get my provisional license signed off for my full license.  Did I do it? :)

I went up Thursday.  My fellow racer Cliff, had gone up early in the day and saved us some spots in the pits.  We had dinner on Thursday night and relaxed getting ready for Friday.  I went back to the Day's Inn to rest up and wait for John Dirkson to arrive.  Wound up staying awake longer than I should have talking with John and woke up way too early not being able to sleep wondering how Friday would play out.  Not a great start...

Friday was practice and qualifying for Saturday's race's.  Since I had signed up for both Spec Miata (SMT) and ITA, I did two practice and qualifying sessions for the Saturday races.  In Driver School, we only run the short track.  On this race weekend, we were running the full track.  The car performed well and was feeling good.  I kept checking tire pressures and managed to get them at 40 PSI.  I wasn't feeling that hot though.  I was beat.  I kept screwing up Turn 1 for reasons that I couldn't figure out.  Then it finally happened - I screwed up the turn badly and spun!

The spin...

Turn 1 at Thunderhill is a turn taken almost flat out in a Miata.  It is at the end of the main straight - so the fastest part of the track.   Check it out on the track map here: Thunderhill track map.

I got into turn one wrong which led me to exit the turn poorly.  I put all 4 wheels off at the exit and than ran alongside the track for a second and tried to get back on track gently w/o forcing the car back onto the asphalt.  I was doing OK for a moment or two and then it all went pear shaped. 

The car started spinning, I put two feet in on the clutch and brake and hung on for the ride as the car spun across track (thankfully nobody hit me as I crossed) and onto the inside grass between turn 1, 2 & 3.  There was grass flying everywhere.  I could barely see where I was going.  I just kept the brake and clutch down hoping to scrub speed and waited... 

Finally after what felt like an eternity, it stopped.  The sky was still up and the grass was still down so I knew I was right side up.  Beyond that, I had no clue where I was on track!  I saw a car go by and started driving on the grass toward where I had seen it and slowly got my bearings.  I looked for a safe place to get back on track where I wouldn't drag grass and dirt onto the racing line or get hit by a fast approaching car and eventually wound up at the entrance to turn 3 and started driving.

The car felt different at first. The tires were obviously slippery from being in the dirt and grass.  Although the steering wheel was straight, it felt like it took more effort to turn right.  Was it in my head or was there a problem?  I kept driving scrubbing my tires and trying to get my confidence back.  You know what they say about getting back on the horse that threw you?   Yep, I stayed out.  The first time approaching Turn 1, I was feeling uncomfortable but kept at it.  Eventually I was back at my prior speed and felt like I had shaken most of the spin out of my consciousness and decided to pit to check the car.

I jacked up the car and checked the nuts and bolts on the front suspension.  The A arms looked straight and nothing looked bent.  The tires looked OK and the wheels didn't show any bends so it looks like the car took the off w/o issue.

Now remember, this was just the first day.  What a start...

I kept at it with my pit mates, Cliff and John.  It was pretty tiring being out on track that much on Friday and Sat racing 2 classes.  My times improved over each practice and qualifying session but I was still near the back of the pack - which is to be expected from a new racer. 

By late Sat, I had finally figured out my issue with Turn 1.  I was taking the apex too early which was causing me to hit the exit point too early and pushing me off track.  I adjusted my line Sat and Sunday getting better but this is still a turn I'm going to need more work on.  I was doing reasonably well on the other turns and was catching people on 8 and through 2 and 3.  My confidence was coming back and I made big improvements in lap times by about 6 seconds.  So comparatively, I steadily sucked less as the weekend progressed. :)

The most shocking thing of the weekend was just how fast the experienced guys were.  They would catch up to us rookies toward the end of the session and lap us.  They came by like a freight train and were gone.  It was imperative to watch your mirrors and leave space for them to get by.  I would slow down on some spots just to let them by so that I wouldn't screw up their race.

Sunday's race was most memorable.  I had improved.  I started the race behind Cliff and was hoping to run a good race with him. I was keeping up for a few laps but then made a few mistakes which caused me to lose time.  Then I had a smaller spin in Turn 9 when I went in too hot and lost it.  My head bobbled side to side a bit and I felt my helmet hit the bar alongside my head.  Thankfully it was padded in SFI 45 padding so no harm to anything other than my pride.  I lost a few positions there and started clawing my way back.  I can't remember if I passed anyone after that but whatever, I had fun, I raced cleanly, I didn't have contact with anyone and I got my provisional license signed off which was the biggest goal of the weekend.

What a awesome time!

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