Sandpanther (sandpanther) wrote,

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Adventures In Autocross - Slippin' and Slidin'

I had wanted to wear one of my "gloat hats" (read: one of the ones I got autographed in Wales) to the event today, since I know there are a few WRC fans there. Unfortunately, it rained overnight, and when I got up, it looked just iffy enough that I decided to err on the side of caution. Probably just as well, since about fifteen minutes after I got there, the heavens opened up, and I ended up doing my Wet and Bedraggled Sandpanther imitation. (Oh wait. Maybe that was too real-life an "imitation".) At any rate, I was just as glad right then that I hadn't brought one of the "gloat hats".

In all that deluge, I helped set up course, since it looked like things were running behind. I did just enough to help, but not enough to feel like I could in good conscience claim that I did my work for the day. (I later proved to regret this.)

This course was very tight and twisty. When I first walked it, it had two "freestyle" slaloms. This meant that you got to choose which side to start into the slalom on, rather than having the pointer cones dictate it for you. This course also (for the first time, I believe) had two parts that as I was walking and looking at the line, I stopped, backed up, and revised my assessment of the line. That was kind of unusual. The second time I did that was the second freestyle slalom. Later on, they added pointers for that slalom, and it turned out that my second try had been the most efficient. At least that reaffirmed my conviction that I have a good sense for the most efficient driving line.

I was in the first run group, and by the time we got started the course had dried out not at all. There was standing water all over the place. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the course was entirely under standing water, with frequent spots of deeper water.

I hate driving in the wet. I have an absolute terror of it. Almost all of my driving experience has been in rear-wheel drive vehicles, with a large part of my formative driving years being done in a light pickup. Just to compound the problem, the stock tires my current car came with were absolute horrors in the rain. So my first lap around was VERY conservative. Disgustingly so, actually -- an 86.211. (The first car through did a 74.something. Though it was a WRX, so I didn't expect to match it -- just (hopefully) not lag that far behind it.) There's a cool guy in a Civic Si who runs in my class, and he turned in a 74.something on his first run. I had a goal. He mentioned that he ran the entire course in first. Hmm... That might be something to try, since it really was not a high-speed course, and particularly not with all the wet.

The second run I discovered something interesting: I have a terror of sliding in the theoretical, but I really like it in the practical. Yeah, so I'm not the most logical of people. Go figure. That run I upped the pace a lot, and so was risking losing traction a lot. The cool thing was, just about every time it felt like I was losing it, I went with the slide, and it got me pointed where I wanted. Hm, that was kinda fun. Wanna to more of that!

I ran the whole thing in first for the second run. It worked, though I was just about redlining through some sections of the course. Still, I got nearly a 6 second improvement: 80.487. Oh, I would have, if I hadn't hit a cone. D'oh!

The third run I was planning on doing a lot like the second run, maybe just try to induce a few more slides -- just for the fun of it. It went pretty well for most of it, then I got a little too clever. Noticing that the tach was red-lining, I decided to shift up. There was just one problem: this course was perfect for left-foot braking, and I had been using it extensively. On the one hand, I'm proud that I'm getting to the point where I don't really notice when I'm using my left foot on the brake. On the other hand, it's much easier to shift up if one's left foot is depressing the clutch, rather than the brake.

I went to shift, and all of a sudden the car lurched as it slowed down abruptly. After a confused instant of "huh?" I realized what had happened. Unfortunately, I had also somehow managed to knock the car out of gear (since I had been about to shift, see...) So I suddenly found myself with a very agitated car sitting in neutral. Oh well, so much for that run.

I decided not to try and force it back into first, and just dropped it into second. Of course, I had dropped a lot of revs in the whole mess as well, so it was kind of sluggish in second. Oh, and of course that was long enough to bring me up to the next turn. I wallowed around it, spending a moment trying to see if I could drop the car back into first. I gave up on that attempt, and just completed the course without any further fuss. Or acceleration. Feh.

Given all the problems in that one section, you can imagine my surprise when I found that I still posted my best time of the day: 79.029! If I hadn't screwed up, I probably would have managed to wring another two or three seconds off of my time. Before the run, I had joked with the Si driver that if I shaved 6 seconds off of my time, I might give him a run for his money. I was joking. I think if I hadn't bunged that last run, I might have gotten within about two seconds of his first time. Not great, but still, it shows some progress on my part. I still can't say that I'm competative, but at least I'm starting to get within striking distance.

It's frustrating; I seem to have hit this wall that I really don't feel I'm getting beyond. I need to attack a lot harder from the outset. If you give me eight or nine runs on the course, I can get competative. But I need to learn how to turn my eigth run into my third one. I have a tendancy in new situations (in any aspect of my life, not just driving) to hold back at first and just observe, and try to figure out what is going on. I think this is really biting me in autocross. If I get some warm-up time, I can go. But autocrossing does not allow a lot of time for warm-ups. It's an interesting challenge.

My group ran fairly conservative. I didn't see any interesting spin outs, though I did hear about a lot of cone-munching. The second group had some nice backwards action, though. Then the third run group came up.

Aki-Sue would be proud of my run group, as we had 44 cars in it. The run group I worked, though, had 68!! They overflowed Grid A, and kept on going straight into Grid B. The run group after them had to grid up off in the hinterlands. It was positively insane.

By this point in time the weather had decided to clear up. Of course, it didn't do it before the group started, oh no. It did it steadily throughout the group until at the end it was a lovely, bright sunny day. I hadn't bothered putting sunscreen on since it was overcast (and not overcast in a "mwahaha, I will still burn you, foolish human!" kind of way.) The group must have taken over an hour and a half, probably longer. It just never quit. I began to feel a sunburn coming on. I began to wish I had one of my gloat hats with me, just for the happy thought value. (I did at least have a cap with me. It came in handy for keeping the rain out of my eyes, as well as keeping some of the sun off me.)

There was a lot of sliding action in that group, at least. And a fair amount of conage. For some reason they had a run of about fifteen cars that kept nailing one of the cones at the start. It was really strange hearing someone call a cone on a car that was straight in front of me, going through the first turn. (I was at workstation 1.) They also had a lot of duplicate numbers, though presumably they were in different classes. Still, it was a pain since you couldn't just call "one on #2", since there were two #2's. This unfortunately led to me calling an RX-8 an RX-7. Large amounts of geekly embarassment were slightly assuaged by everyone else also calling it an RX-7. The guy in the trailer scolded us for calling it wrong -- and then proceeded to do it himself! Mwahaha! Blonde revenge!

I have no idea when the next event is. It will be the first one of the regular season, probably sometime in January. I have to count up the number of events I did this year and see if I still qualify for Novice or not. I think that unfortunately, I do not. If I hadn't gone to this event I would have. Oh well. This might give me an excuse to get a second set of rims, since I will be able to change some stuff around on my tires. My brake rotars are warping (again), so I'm pondering upgrading my brakes while I'm at it. It occurs to me that if I do, I'll end up in a different class. *shrug* We'll see what happens. In the meantime, I figure I might as well get in as much left-foot braking practice as I can, since trashing the pads and rotars will presently become irrelevent.

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