attended my first Club Race this last weekend at Road Atlanta. It was held
by the Peachstate Region of the Porsche Club of America and it provides
an opportunity for club members such as myself to come out and compete
on a world class facility like Road Atlanta.
Friday was fairly uneventful, getting the cars ready, testing setups and generally getting acclimated. The team needed to get to know one another, get used to how the Crew Chief, Bob Sanderson, worked and just take a little time to gel. I spent a lot of time changing tires, running errands etc. Also, took some time to talk to other racers about the track and setups and other miscellaneous matters.
Towards the end of the day I started dealing more with my car and my own race. The first experience was going through technical inspection for the first time. I had read the rulebook over and over and I felt the car was prepared to the utmost of the rules in regard to safety but there was still that nagging anxiety that something would not be right, that I had forgotten something that would not allow me to race. Well, all that anxiety was for nothing and the car passed with flying colors. I received my logbook and off I went to the rookie orientation meeting. The stewards of the race, Dick Lane and Bruce Boeder took lots of time to let us rookies (some of whom were not rookies in the strict sense like myself, but rather, new to PCA racing) know what was expected of us throughout the weekend. We went over flags and how the practice starts and fun race would work and the details of the whole weekend.
After the meeting was over I proceeded back to the paddock to do a few last minutes things to the car to be ready for my first day of driving. I then hit the sack pretty early in order to get a good nights rest. It was difficult to sleep, however, as I was replaying the track over and over in my mind and rehashing what I wanted to do the next day.
6:30 AM came pretty quickly once I finally got to sleep. There was a lot of work to do! My first session was pretty early and as I got ready to go out, I went over what I wanted to do with my crew chief and the other racers. The track was cold and it was important I didnít do anything stupid this first time out. I got on the track and starting getting into a groove. However, the car just felt weird. It was nothing like I remembered it the last time out. I had been continually struggling with understeer since I had changed my suspension setup and for the first time ever, the car seemed really biased towards oversteer. It was a strange sensation and an little unnerving because the rear end started to slide quite a bit in the esses. I really knew there was something wrong when I went through turn 12. The car was leaning massively. I took it easy the rest of the session and the times reflect that. Best time of the session was 1:52:263. I was pretty disappointed, but hopeful there was something we could do about that time. The fastest I had been at Road Atlanta was a 1:51:80 in January of this year.
I got back to the pits and discussed with my crew chief and new engineer (James Bricken) about how the car felt. I told them it seemed really loose and that I thought it was weird. We started talking about sway bar changes and tire temps and pressures. We went about a course of action but I decided to give the car a once-over in the front. I am glad I did. The front sway bar link had come off of the sway bar meaning there was no effective rate. No wonder the rear felt loose! Apparently the hardware on the link was somewhat defective, it was not tightening down before it reached the end of its adjustment. James and another friend, Bob Bausum, fashioned a shim out of a hose clamp and I was back in business. We kept everything else the same and looked forward to session 2 to see what happened.
practice session was much better. The rear end was much more behaved and
the car was more neutral. There were no incidents and I set a personal
best of 1:49:789! The third practice session was fraught. I was pushing
too hard, made many mistakes, and certainly didnít have my head in the
game. At the entrance to turn 3 I overcooked it and went off into the dirt.
This necessitated a trip to the black flag station in the pits and basically
cut the session short for me. It was an important lesson in that you cannot
force things too much. You need to be a little more smooth and let things
flow a little more naturally. Faster times will follow if you donít try
to push too hard.
After a little
time and some great BBQ (provided by the crew chiefs father) it was time
for the practice starts. To be honest, this was what I was most anxious
about. How would I react? What would others do? The starts were not as
bad as I expected and I ended up getting a position or two. The only bad
thing was I got over anxious on the start leading to the fun race and as
I crested the hill to turn 12, I noticed that people were not going as
fast as I thought they would. I smoked the rear tires and flatspotted my
good set of tires. A switch to my backup set of Kumhos would be needed
as it felt like I was in a logging truck on the back stretch. I was anxious
because I didnít know how this would affect my setup and qualifying was
There I was, sitting on the grid waiting to start the first qualifying session of my life. I convinced myself that there was nothing to prove, this was my first race and I should just go out and set good consistent laps and do the best I could do. I was quite surprised by the result. Even after a mechanical problem ended the session early, I was able to set a personal best of 1:48:570! I was quite happy with the result and my fears about the tires were unfounded as they felt great other than a little more understeer, which I found I could drive around.
It ended up
being a very nice day all the way around. The team had done well with two
team members qualifying on pole (Hank Cohn and Scott Freedman) and I had
qualified in mid-pack where I had hoped to. The evening social was next
and so we went over to chow down on some wings and relax awhile. I ended
up winning a Yokohama Motorsports jacket in the raffle! Pretty darn cool.
After the social I headed home and went to bed quite early.
I slowly starting
climbing up by passing one competitor in a 944S2, then set my sights on
a blue 911 just ahead. I got a good run out of T7 and out-braked him into
10a but completely missed the shift and he re-passed on the outside and
I lost another position on top of that! That was quite a lesson. I eventually
got back on pace and turned up the wick a bit. I eventually caught the
911 on the back stretch and later out braked a D class 911 into turn one
for another position. I eventually gained 6 positions and ended up 29th
overall and 15th in class. The sight of the checkered flag was a welcome
one. I didnít want to make a mistake late in the race and ruin all the
hard work. Once I passed the start/finish line I was flooded with a sense
of relief and accomplishment that is even now hard to describe.
After the last race there was the awards ceremony. Iím sure everyone wanted to win the set of Hoosier race tires. I know I did! They ran through the class winners and notable mentions when I was surprised to find out that I had been voted Rookie of the Race! I was amazed and very gratified. It was the icing on a very nice cake.