Sandpanther (sandpanther) wrote,

Adventures In Autocross: Been a While

It's been a while since my last autocross post. I haven't stopped autocrossing, I just stopped having the ability to post anything about it! But today I have a functioning computer, Internet access, and even free time. Like, wow. So...

Today's event was at Gravel Gate Fields, so called because the surface tends to disintegrate, hucking up chunks of gravel everywhere. Today it seemed particularly bad. One part of the course inspired several people to comment that maybe it would have been better to have brought rally tires to the event, it was so bad.

Anyway, since I have more free time than rhylar, I'll describe the course.

As usual, it started with a 90 degree turn, to the right this time, then across the start timing beam, followed by a crossover loop consisting of three left turns. The course went straight for a bit, then did a lane change (aka, a Chicago box) left followed by a tight left, then a wide right-hander into a left-right S-series. From there, there was a 5-cone slalom that had a 90 degree turn around the second slalom cone. Then a 90 degree right followed by a short straight, then a 90 degree left and 90 degree right into a short straight across the finish timing beam.

The course twisted a lot, but was wide enough to be very fast. Most of the corners could be managed just by setting up the line correctly and maybe lifting.

I'm not sure what TTOD was, but the best time I saw was a 49.something. There weren't a lot of times down into the 49's, with most of them being in the mid 50's.

Watching the runs beforehand, I noticed that I lot of people ran over this one cone right before the initial timing light. (Which, unfortunately, does count.) I vowed not to do that. I reminded myself several times. So of course the first thing I did was run over that stupid cone. Feh. That annoyed me, and ended up being a good thing. I was so irritated with myself for screwing things up so early in that I totally tromped on the accelerator. My intial time -- a 57.6something didn't impress me that much, even though it felt pretty good.

By the time the second run came around I was still feeling irked about the first run, and turned in a 56.4something. Hm. That run actually felt pretty good. I don't know why I was so pleased with that run, but I was. (Still am. I'm sure that will change. Feh.)

I lost focus by the last run, and only managed a 56.7-ish. Oh well.

One thing I did notice was that on a couple of parts of the course I would hit the accelerator and the engine would suddenly rev like it was encountering no resistance. The car was going okay, and I wasn't sliding, but it felt like one of the tires was just spinning. Not sure why. Would like to work out why, since I'm sure it's hard on the tires.

I did time slips for my work group. It's rather intriguing watching some of the reactions of the drivers after they finish their runs. Most of them are pretty bland. Some of them are happy. (Those are the cool ones.) A fair number of them are grumpy. One guy actively scares me, ever since the time he came through shouting about how bad his run was, nearly ran me over, then zoomed off faster than he should have been going on grid and nearly hit another car in the process. He scared me again this time, though not by his lovely display of self-control. For this course, the finish beam was about mid-way down a short straight. The straight ended in a 90 degree right-left combination. In order for the person doing time slips to both be on the correct side of the car to hand the driver their slip and to see the timing clock, they had to stand in a direct line with the finish straight. Not the end of the run-off, but the straight that the cars came roaring down, trying to squeeze the last hundreths of seconds out of their time. The straight that they came onto after a turn -- a turn that caused a fair number of cars to get upset and start to lose control on. In order to see the clock I had to turn 90 degrees to the left of this straigh, so I couldn't see the cars coming down it. Combine this with people who I know are fairly short-tempered and didn't shut it down until they were almost directly in front of me, and it made for a fairly harrowing work session.

Since we were short-handed, I also worked the next group. There were only two real points of interest. The first was a Cadillac who was obviously there for his first time. His first run looked like a Sunday afternoon drive (and I don't mean and autocrossing Sunday afternoon.) I think someone plonked the driver in their car for a ride, since on the next run he managed to shave off 10 seconds simply by accelerating to above residential street speeds. It was somewhat amusing to note that on this second run the Caddy did manage to beat a Vette that ran not long after him. Of course, the Vette spun on course then stalled, so it's not exactly a fair comparison...

The other interesting bit involved a black NSX. On his first run through I caught a glimpse of what I thought was a red light tracking back and forth across the front. Holy shades of Knight Rider, Batman! I watched more carefully on his next run. Sure enough, he had a light in the front tracking like on KITT, and his licence plate read "KITT KAR". I, uh... am quite amazed. I mean, that's really kinda cool, in a totally fanish way. Of course this is also an $85,000 car we are talking about! Fanishness is cool, but... oh my word, it's an NSX!!!

Anyway... We got finished in plenty of time for fun runs. My first fun run was my worst time of day. That's a little odd, since usually I do a lot better on fun runs. My second run was a little bit faster, but still not my best. On my third run, someone asked me for a ride. (Actually, he asked me to "show him how it's done." I told him I'd be a lot more likely to show him how not to do it.) He actually had an interesting suggestion for dealing with the Chicago box. See, the entry to the box happened to be on a piece of particularly degraded tarmac. We were running in the afternoon group, and the passage of all the cars from the morning had torn out so much of the pavement that there was a huge streak of gravel on the outside part of the course there. Naturally, everyone avoided that part like the plague. At Gravel Gate more than anywhere else, you go where everyone else has gone, no matter how much better you think your line is. And on that part of the course, there was no doubt as to where everyone else had gone.

Well, this guy who rode with me said that when he was driving, he didn't even lift for the box. Impossible, I thought. Everyone braked at that point. Or rather, everyone who did not DNF braked there. He said to keep to the right, and at a particular point, the entrance would just appear. Based on previous experience with Chicago boxes, I expected something like that should hold true, so I gave it a go. Damned if he wasn't right. When I got to a certain point, the way through just opened up, and through I went. Of course, habit from the previous runs had me hit the brakes before that. But it's a thought for later.

That run still wasn't my best for the day, but it was my best fun run. My passenger said it was a really good run, and that there were a couple of parts that I nailed better than he did. *baffled look* He also suggested that the reason for the sudden engine revs is because I had a wheel off the ground. *scritch, scritch* It didn't feel like I had a wheel off the ground. On the other hand, I don't know that I've ever had a wheel off the ground before, so I'm not sure I would know what it felt like. His theory does sound consistent with the physical evidence, though. Ever single turn I experienced the problem in was a right-hander. The left front tire (which would have been the most loaded) shows more wear than the right front. Previous to the even they were about the same. If the right front were in the air, it would be free to spin, while the left front would be taking the full brunt of the engine's power and would be slipping. And it did feel like at least one of the tires was slipping. I dunno. Maybe I can have someone spot for me at some point. Oh, and I didn't get it in the spots where I usually did on the run with a passenger. So maybe he has a point?

I really, REALLY want to get a video camera so I can start taping my runs.

Not much else for the day. Yet again I had several people tell me I had really good runs. Yet again I wonder why, if I had such good runs, my times aren't closer to the front runners in my class. It confuses me greatly.

Y'know what else confuses me greatly? That it's not Sunday. Autocrosses are usually on Sundays, and it's just boggling me that I still have another day of weekend left.

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