Monday, March 16, 2009

NASA Time Trial #2: MSR Cresson

Time trial event #2 was last weekend, at Motorsports Ranch in Cresson, Texas.

I almost didn't make the event due to the transmission not being in the car.

My test drive was off the dyno and onto my trailer, or about 12 feet. I then took the car from New Branufels to Cresson (just south of Ft. Worth), off loaded it, and went to sleep. Luckily, since I had friends at the event, I didn't have to sleep in the truck. John D'Andrea, Josh Konkle and Jim Bernstein were there to represent the Austin Spin Doctors. John has an RV, and invited me to stay there for the weekend. Woohoo!

It was a rainy drive up, mostly at night. I got the car off the dyno with all the new parts installed at 1700. New Braunfels is five hours away from Dallas. I made it into Cresson at around 2300. In the rain. The track was soaking, and deep mud was present in all the runoff areas.

Morning looked a bit better, with only a light mist falling, and 38 degree temps. It would be slick, but not awful.

I elected to miss the first session, as I had no rain tires, and it was still actually raining. I let the other guys go dry the track, while I installed my race seat and got ready. I noted that one of my new headers was not tightened down sufficiently, so I jacked up the car, crawled under and tightened things up. I got my chance to get on track, and drive the car for the first time since getting a new transmission, a tune, a lighter flywheel and headers. In the rain.

30 more horsepower doesn't sound like a great deal, but in the rain on dry weather tires, it's enough to spin the car with just a breath of throttle. Rain is a wonderful teaching tool. You have to be smooth with everything. Acceleration, braking, coming off the brake, steering, everything. In NASA time trial rules, if you rotate the car more than 90 degrees, or put four wheels off the track, your times do not count for that session. More than a third of the field of folks went off in that session or the next. It was a spin monkey party.

The first thing I noted about the car was the noise. Headers are loud. I can hear everything I do with the throttle now, and it revs FAST because of the lighter rotating assembly (the Fidanza flywheel). The clutch is also new, and locks up instantly when engaged. The gears shift like silk. I had not realized how bad the other transmission had gotten. I paid special attention to my shifts over the weekend, as I want this one to last.

I didn't turn very good times on Saturday, but Sunday was supposed to be sunny, so I contented myself with what I got. 1:42 was my best, around a 1.7 mile track.

Let me describe Cresson a little: It's run either as a 1.7 mile track, or a 3.1 mile track. In rainy weather, they don't open up the big section, and the 1.7 is used. The track is well designed, and folds back on itself twice. A track map is here:
we ran counter clockwise.

Cresson is often described as a technical track. That's a racing term that means if you fuck up one turn, you mess up your speed on the following straight. It's also a patience track. In general, all the turns are late apex, and the more you learn to wait and don't cheat the turn, the better you will do there. It's a superb track for learning, and it's short. Llighter, more maneuverable cars have an advantage. It's also hard on brakes. Much harder than TWS, for example. I broke a rotor on Saturday, even in the wet conditions.

Sunday dawned dry and low humidity. The wind helped dry the track fast, and the temps were 10 degrees warmer. A perfect day for a drive.

Josh was on fire. The BF Goodrich R1 Cobalt Friction SS TC was in perfect shape. Josh went from a Corvette to the Cobalt because of tire expenses, and he is happy as can be, chasing down cars he has no business catching. He's in the Time Trial C division, and is faster than many TTB and TTA drivers. Being run down by a Cobalt is worse, somehow, than anything else. A miata looks like a purpose built race car. A Cobalt.... Looks like it ought to be parked on campus with Mardi Gras beads on the mirror. But Jesus, the thing is fast. He was running 1:28 in the early going, and getting faster every lap.

The fast crew came out in force too. Time Trial U (TTU) is where the big boys play. ACR Vipers, cammed and modded Corvettes, boosted Evos, and so forth. They were hitting 1:22 or so. Very, very fast. John and I were hanging back, relearning the track. I think I turned a 1:34, and was disatisfied.

The problem was, the car felt very slippery. It was like it was still in the rain. Then I figured out how to use it. The extra horsepower allowed me to do some tricks that I was not able to manage before, like kicking the back end out and then catching the car with throttle.

Session three of four saw me lined up in front of Josh. He passed me immediately, and then I had a great rabbit to chase. I stuck my foot to the floor, and ended up 0.015 behind him. Striking distance. It also put me as the fastest TTA driver at the event. 1:27. Not bad, but not great.

Session four started, and I lined up in front of Josh, thinking I would let him go by like before, and chase him again. However, I took off. I don't know what the difference was, but I was flying. I chased down Theresa Halford in her C6Z06. I could catch her in the turns, but she had 500+ HP at the wheels to my 380, so I lost her on the straights. This was good, since all I wanted was a rabbit to chase, and clean track.

The twistiest section of the course is called Rattlesnake. It's a switchback built on one of two hills in the course. A 90 degree right hander leads into it, followed by a sharp left at the top of the hill. Since the right hand turn is at the end of a long straight, the practice is to trail brake into it, then accelerate up the hill, brake and downshift at the top, and turn left. I came in to the right hand turn WAY too fast. I braked down, but it was not enough. Somehow, the car held on, but as I was coming in too fast, the top of the hill came up before I was ready for it. I turned the car left, forcing the slide UP the hill, straightened the wheel, waited until the nose was pointed where I needed it to go, and hammered the gas. I looked over at the corner worker station, into wide eyes. They were reaching for the debris flag, certain that I was gone, hoping I was not going to hit their sandbaged position. The tires grabbed and I made it around. I later found out that John had been doing that all weekend! On purpose. Wow.

I don't think I could do that again if I tried for a week. I ended up shaving two seconds off, ending the weekend with a time of 1:25. The fastest cars (in any division) were turning 1:19s. I feel pretty good about that, and think that I'm well positioned to continue on to the rest of the year in this car in this trim. The horsepower is right, the tires are right, and my head is right enough.

I stayed one second ahead of John, all weekend. This is like a running joke between John and me. I don't know why, but for some reason, no matter how fast I go, he's right there. One second back. I'm honored to have the running mates I do in this game.

Next event is April, and back to TWS. Looking forward to it.


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