Monday, August 02, 2010

NASA TWS July 31-August 1

I'd been dreading this event. It was 103 in the shade both days. I really needed to go to the track. The job situation is bad. I might not be employed for much longer, and if I have to go job hunting, racing will have to go on hold for a while. Thus, every event is precious.

In that sort of heat, I get about four, perhaps five good laps before the water temps in the car go too high. That's ok, because the tires go greasy after four laps, melting like a pat of butter on a hot skillet.

I got to the track on Friday afternoon to set up and scrub in tires. Misty Cain runs the practice sessions on Friday. She was nice enough to let me on track for three laps to scrub tires so they could cool overnight and be ready for the Saturday sessions.

TWS clockwise is very fast. You get a big right sweeper turn to accelerate onto the front banked straight. You enter the straight at over 100 MPH. Terminal speed is 150 or so, for me. That's around 10 MPH faster than the other direction. You come off the front straight into the chicane complex, so the braking cycle into that last turn, turn 15, is profound. When you mash the brakes, you hold threshold braking for what seems like forever, hoping to get the car slowed down enough to make the first turn. Wile you're doing that, you have to manage the car across the transition from banking to flat ground. If you come across to steep, the car can bottom out or rebound from the suspension stops, and become unbalanced. If you hit the flat too early, you don't get the increased braking force from the transition that you need to turn efficiently.

Because of the heat, the first two sessions of the day would be the critical ones. After lunch, the track and cars would be too hot to turn really fast times. At least, that was the plan...

The first session on Saturday went well, except I forgot my transponder. No times for me, in the fastest session of the day. Strike one.

In the second session, as I was coming into the first turn off the straight, a front brake line let go, and my pedal went to the floor. I was still over 100 MPH. I pumped it as the track edge approached. Nothing. So, I concentrated on where to end up with the car as I went off track. TWS has drainage culverts in the infield, and you have to know where they are because the grass grows up and hides them. As I was eating grass seeds and bugs, I turned the car wide of a culvert on my left, and angled towards the oval track to bleed off some speed. Driving on slick tires over grass is very like driving on ice. You do a lot with the throttle and less with the brakes (good for me, since I was having no brakes just then). I managed to get back under control and drive back onto the course and limp back to the pits. I found out I had been turning a 1:55 lap, before I disqualified myself. That's a personal best for me at TWS, but it didn't count. Strike two.

I miss third session tracking down and repairing the brakes. John randomly has two spare brake lines, which was very lucky. There are none to be had in College Station, at all. One chance left. It's now the hottest time of the day.

I go out in fourth session, and turn a 1:56.3 I take first place with that, my fastest (and only) official time. The brake repairs hold.

Sunday morning, I have to change brake pads. The old ones are too thin to take the heat of the deep braking cycles we use at this track. I don't have time to bed them in.

We go out, and I take a late pass on Ken Orgeron in his BMW, going into that same turn at the end of the front straight. I try as hard as I can, but without proper bedding, the brakes just don't hold, and I slide into the grass, sideways, at over 100. I spin a bit and come to a disgusted halt, for about five seconds, and then get back on track. DQ again. My main competition, Josh Hilts, turns a 1:55, but has to ditch as well, so it doesn't count.

Second session, I got tied up in traffic and managed a 1:57.8, good enough for third place. The other drivers are upping their game. Josh and I are neck and neck, with his 1:56 from the second session holding as the fast time of the day. I also crack a rotor, and change it before third session.

Josh's girlfriend persuades me to run a third session, just to see what happens. It's the most fun of the day, as I get to start right behind Josh.

I push the guy mercilessly. I could of course just back off, get some distance and try to turn a good lap. However, it's more fun to push him and see if I can catch him. I'm much faster chasing then when I've got open track. We're flying. We quickly leave the rest of the field behind. I'm better in the turns, but Josh has less miles on his engine so is faster in the straight. I use every trick I know, including driving down the banking, to stay up and catch him on the straight. Eventually, Josh misses a shift going through turn 13 and I get past. I end up turning a 1:57.1, good enough for third place (and a tire).

As I'm getting loaded up, I note that the truck has a bulge in one tire the size of a softball. I change the truck tire, then have to rest for a few minutes from the heat. Not quite enough water, I guess.

The hottest event of the season is over, and I'm three tires in the black. Good results for the event I was looking forward to the least.