Friday, October 16, 2009

ALMS Laguna Seca

The end of the ALMS season is upon us. Last weekend the last race was held at Laguna Seca. It's one of the best tracks in north America.

The ALMS (American Le Mans Series) is one of the best sports car series in the world. It attracts quality drivers and there are several classes of cars on track at once, making for interesting racing. There are endurance events and sprint races.

This was a big year since Chevrolet retired from the GT1 class (there was no one left to race against) and entered the GT2 class with their Corvettes.

The dominant cars in GT2 are Porsche and Ferrari. The field is large, and the Corvette team would surely have some growing pains. However, they field a team of the best sports car drivers anywhere, so they were ahead of the game. They raced aggressively though they did not race the whole season, winning there first victory at Mosport in August.

Their opponents were not backing off though. In the final lap at Laguna those that watched the race saw some of the hardest racing ever between Jan Magnussen driving the Corvette and Joerg Bergmeister, driving the Flying Lizard Porsche. The race ended with Corvette coming in second after a big crash into the wall and the Porsche winning. There was much contact in that last lap, and a really good inside pass by the Corvette through the pit lane (which was disallowed). Thankfully, no one died.

In the next to last lap, the Porsche was using all available tactics to keep the Corvette from passing. Due to the superb driving by Bergmeister, it was working. Then, the Corvette executed a pass to the left of the Porsche, using the pit lane surface. That was ruled out by the stewards, and the Corvette was ordered to give the position back to the Porsche. Corvette did so, and then proceeded to drill the Porsche from behind going through turn 11 onto the final straight. The Porsche responded by squeezing the Corvette into the wall on the left, and subsequent to that, the Corvette spun across the track, impacting head on into the right wall.

There's forum posts galore about this, and the footage is available anywhere, and it's worth looking at. The question is not whether the drivers did the right or wrong thing; both have been penalized for next season. The question is when do you back off?

Most race drivers would never back off, I don't think. What we do is dangerous and everyone knows the risks. That last lap looked a lot like the Porsche putting the Corvette into the wall on purpose. Likewise, the Corvette likely hit the Porsche from behind to try to upset him through the last turn. Is it hard racing? What if the Corvette driver had died?

That's the real question I think. I don't believe I have the right to take a life on a racetrack, and for that reason, I'd like to think that had I been in that Porsche, I'd have backed off and let the faster car go.

I don't know though. What would you do?

It's a good question. John Steakly wrote "We are what we do when it counts." It's very true I think. We certainly know the character of both those drivers now, and how far they are willing to go for the win.

Look at it another way: What if the Porsche had backed off? Corvette wins after muscling their way to the front. Would the Porsche driver keep his ride? Would his career suffer? Overall, in racing, it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. Would he have been characterized as too soft? That's also a good question to ponder.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

End of Season

I missed the NASA Nationals.

We had just gotten back from a delightful trip to Cologne, and I just didn't have the money or energy to get the truck together, sacrifice a week of work, and go. The nature of my job is contract right now, and it would have cost a mint to go. Also, my friends were not going, for the most part. Josh blew up his car, and John was having back trouble, so was not going. I was going to have to sleep in the truck, and be a one man show, and I just failed.

Phooey. On to the next!

The last event of the season was held at Eagles Canyon Raceway, near Decatur, Texas. It's a 4.5 hour drive north for me, and well worth it. ECR is great.

Where MSR Cresson is draped across the top of a hill, ECR is strung across a valley between two ridges. So you come out of the hole and go back down twice per lap. It's characterized by long, long straights (short is just over 1300 feet longest is over 2000) and tight, double apex corners.

I had the best of all possible weekends: I got to drive it in the dry on Saturday, and in the wet on Sunday! It was very, very rainy this weekend.

The Saturday session was full of cars. We had a representative from Vorschlag automotive come up in TTA, and win it. He was driving a Mitsu that I should have protested. The problem with Evos is that they are all wheel drive, and to dyno them you need an AW dyno, which most sites don't have. Thus, you can cheat in TTA and get away with it. He was a full three seconds faster than the rest of the TTA field and none of us are novices. Ah, well, second place would have to do.

Then it rained. It's a great equalizer. There was standing water all over the track, and a river across it in two places. The braking zone into the last corner was a lake.

I came prepared with street tires, while John and the other TTA guys were praying for dry track late in the day.

It was not to be, as there was a misting rain all day that kept everything wet and getting wetter. The blue car on street tires easily carried the field. Many folks did one lap and pitted, just to get a time recorded for the day.

I've said it before, but driving in the rain is amazing. You have to literally put the car out of complete control on purpose so it won't do something unexpected. You slide into the corner, knowing the sideways motion will stop sometime, and you will be able to continue. You can go just as fast down the straights, you just have to brake more carefully. There are places where the pavement has more grip, and as yu find those, you use them. Some are small, no more than six inches wide, but you can feel them under your wheels. It was very, very fun. I ended up being just a few seconds slower in the rain than I was in the dry, and literally lost track of time while I was on track. The checkered flag was a surprise.

By the end of the day, John and I were the last two time trial drivers left. We had the track to ourselves. John was on fire. Even on slick tires, he drove very well. I don't think he beat my best lap, but he was closer than he's been in a long time. He is having back surgery this week, and I wish him all the best and a speedy recovery. We shook hands in the rain, and now await the scores for the season to be tallied. It's going to come down to him or me for the TTA Texas region.

I will go to Nats in 2010 or die trying. Racing is not about being selfish, though it might seem that way sometimes. It's about being focused and aware of the world and getting the right position in the field, on and off the track. I was out of position this year. Not again.