Friday, April 17, 2009

Rain Dance

It's a NASA event weekend, and it's raining. It will be raining when we take to the track Saturday. It's supposed to dry up on Sunday, and we'll be able to get some decent times.

This event is odd, in that it's only six driving sessions, as opposed to eight. The reason is that we have an enduro race Saturday afternoon. I'm not in it, but it's going to rob me of two run sessions.

By way of compensation, we score double points for driving in this event. So really, only one lap from one session will count, all weekend. That means there is literally no points-based reason to drive in the rain, when it's going to dry up on Sunday. Worst case, it doesn't dry up, and we have to run wet sessions to make SOME time so we can make points.

I am trying like hell to get to the track, in order to drive in the rain. I'll drive overnight if I have to, in order to do this. Why?

Driving a racecar in the rain is like nothing else, and we get precious little practice doing it. I take every opportunity to do it.

You drive with your fingertips, in the rain. The slightest movements of the wheel or the pedals makes a large impact on the car. You can go just as fast as in the dry, on the straights. It takes longer to get there of course, and takes longer to slow down. It feels even more like dancing than driving in the dry, because the car moves so much more from incidental water and puddles.

Rain makes you smoother, or rather punishes you if you are not. It requires even more concentration and focus to race in the wet, and you emerge from the car more tired than normal, even though you were going much slower. Every input is smooth. Braking is slow and easy. Acceleration out of corners is measured and careful. Steering input is firm, but ramps up and down slowly. Even corrections have to be made carefully, or you will make the situation worse.

You drive a different line in the rain, in general. You make the straights longer, both to maximize speed there and to buy you more time to brake. All that yellow paint on the curbing is slick too, like ice. In the heat of Texas, that paint is generally sticky. Using such a line also gets you out of the standard line, which on most tracks is coated in rubber. In the dry, the race line is sticky and good, but in the wet, it's slick and treacherous. You want to cross it going straight and not under braking, lest you slide.

When you lose the car in the rain, it slides for days. There's no stopping it, and even less steering then normal in a slide. Grass, in particular, is very slick when wet, and the car digs muddy furrows under each wheel in a big off. However, since the speeds are generally low, real damage is rare. It just gets REALLY dirty.

You have plenty of time to think about what went wrong, as you slide. It takes more time for the tow trucks to get to you too, and you can't get out of the car, so you sit and replay what happened while it's still fresh, so you can learn.

I drove Road Atlanta in the rain. The back straight gets puddles in it that you hit at over 100. The car skips across them, hydroplaning momentarily, like a rock hurled across a pond. It feels like it's skipping, too.

Oddly enough, even many hardcore drivers don't like to race in the rain. They do it, but have to be so careful that they compromise too much and are slow. There are a few, those raised in icy climates mostly, who do it well. Dirt track guys also run in the rain well, since they are used to going sideways. I understand the open wheel guys the best. Those poor souls have to run without a windshield, down in the spray from everyone else. Their visibility is so bad that it's like driving in fog.

I love it. It's hard as hell, and I'm not great at it, but the smoothness it brings is welcome. I used to be tense when I ran in the rain. Now, I just take it slow and try to get smoother and take my time with the dance.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Street Testing and Knee

I've been driving the repaired blue car to work for the last couple of weeks. It's well behaved on the street, but loud. I am spending more time in 6th gear than usual because I don't want to spook the folks around me. It accelerates very fast, and is a joy to drive, except in one case.

Speedbumps suck. The headers are the lowest thing on the car. The car is lowered and properly corner weighted, so it's about an inch lower than stock. The upshot is that I can't drive over anything. I didn't realize how annoying that would be, but it's pretty annoying. I have to plot my course through parking lots and up and down driveways VERY carefully. High centering with all the weight on my new exhaust system is a no-no.

It smells different. No cats means it smells like cars did when I was a kid. It's almost sweet.

I managed to damage my right knee. I must have done it while working on the car, and spending time on the hard surface in my shop, but I can't remember when. It puffed up like a cantaloupe. I iced it, and took ibuprofin and even took a day off work to let it bear weight again, and it was working well again.

Then, I took a fall at work. Tripped, caught myself with my right leg... And set a bomb off in my knee. It puffed up again, so, well, fuck. It also hurt, quite a lot.

Going in for MRI on Tuesday. Have to get to the bottom of this before next track event, which is the 18th of this month. I will run in that event, if I have to drag myself by my lips. Going too well now to stop!

Until then, as little moving about as I can manage, and I'll try to get Sheri to bring me beers. That will present a challenge.