Friday, April 14, 2006

None Shall Pass

“You're looking good out there, Yak. If you want to go out solo next time, I think you're ready.” Said George, my instructor today.

“Ok, I can do that.” I say.

“In fact, if you'd like to go out in yellow group, just to see how it feels, that would work” says George

In my last two sessions in blue run group, I have not been passed by anyone. In fact, I lapped some folks. MSR Cresson is good to me today.

“Sure, that sounds good to me”. I say, hoping it really does. Yellow group is a whole 'nother game. The drivers are faster, everyone is solo, save the odd check ride. The cars are faster too. Gone are the daily drivers (the non-sports cars, anyway) and weird hobbyist cars. Yellow is the domain of the Italians and Germans and Loti. And now, one more Corvette. I’m smiling more now.

“Ok, I'll be here in the pits, with helmet, if you want to come in and pick me up. Have fun and be safe!” says George.

It's the end of the day, and I justify to myself that yellow will be better since my tire carrier friend (no way to carry four track wheels in a ‘Vette, so I have to depend on my friends) is running in yellow, and if I run there too, he doesn't have to wait until after blue to pack up and hit the road. There is the off chance that I'll meet up with him on track, which would be bad. One of us would have to give way, and the tale would follow both of us back to Austin.

An hour later, I'm lined up in the grid, blue sticker on my windshield, in yellow run group. There's nothing but racecars here, and everyone has a seat harness. Sticky tires. Turbochargers. Superchargers. Wings. Stickers. Flux Capacitors. My car is blue, I tell myself. Blue FTW! Faster. Intimidating. Oh, yes. With my head in the right place, I give the thumbs up to the grid marshal.

I head out onto the track, goosing and oversteering to heat the tires a bit and give the crowd a bit of a show. And it's fun. Last run of the day, the sun is setting and it's been a good weekend so far.

Warm up lap done, I head into the serpentine trailing a Minicooper S. I'm still on him at the end of it, so he obligingly pulls offline and gives me the fast line onto the main straight. He points, and I pass! Woot! Passing in yellow! I rock! How the hell did I do that? But it was a mini, half my horsepower. He was prolly conserving at the end of the day, like a sane person would. He'll catch me in the next sequence, I bet.

I'm actually going faster now than I have before, so I have to upshift and then back down to third for the first turn, a long sweeper right. I heel-toe down just so, and the car has narry a wobble going into full throttle as I hit the apex fashionably late and blast up the next straight, trailing a red RX8. Hell. He's very fast, I know. Never pass him. His license plate says ZM ZOOM, ferchrissakes. If it's written on a license plate, it must be true.

Yet as we enter the back sequence, I note that I'm carrying a good bit more speed into the turns then he is, and coming out of the boot hill turn, I'm filling up his mirrors. Next straight, he pulls off line and I take the pass. Holy crap! And what’s more I remain ahead of him as we make another lap. Doing good. I like this Yellow group so far!

Heading into Ricochet, I'm following a silver Porsche GT-3, and that is surely the end of passing. The porsche has my same power to weight, but is lighter. He'll dance through the serpentine, then kick in that terrible noisy Italian motor and be gone. Yet, as I set up for the Ricochet, I see him getting closer and closer. He hit the apex right, but wasn't on the power enough, or had not enough torque or my line was better. I catch him at wagon wheel and I see him tap his mirror. He knows I’m here, and will let me go by next straight. Excellent!

In the main straight, he's up for the drag race. Despite the point, I hear him punch it as I come out of the turn. The blue car roars in defiance and outrage. He gave the point, and now wants to race? He's on the outside, I'm a car width and a half inside as we have to set up for the first turn. Heel-toe downshift; if I miss this, he's gone, but I don't. We rocket towards the apex of the turn called “big bend” with the throttle on the floor. The GT-3 is fading back, back, not having the horsies to keep up. Now, I have to survive this turn...

I feel half my left tires off the edge of the asphalt at track out. Not off, not off... Flat out and on the straight, faster than I have ever been going on this section of track.

I know it now: I'm invincible today. None shall pass! I relax and smile, and turn the best times of the weekend, on the last session of the day.

I never saw my friend, at least not going anywhere. I passed his car sitting still in the middle of one of the straights. I missed seeing it, but he spun twice around and confused the computer something awful. Messages including (but not limited to) “Service Active Handling” and “Service Shock Absorbers” and “Check Engine”, “Clean out Driver's Shorts” were displayed on his dashboard information console.

I come back into the pits at the end of the session, to congratulations and surprise from my instructor. I tell him that if you drive with the good drivers, you get better, and he agrees. I can sign up for yellow at TWS in March, which will be a hoot. I can't wait.


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