Sandpanther (sandpanther) wrote,

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Adventures in Autocross: Why Autocrossing Is Cool

Autocrossing is cool because I find cookies when I clean out the car! Mostly still fresh cookies, even.

Okay, so that's not the only reason autocrossing is cool.

Today was at Gravel Gate Fields again. When I left the house the day looked cool and drizzly. Usually this means that once I leave SF, it will be bright, warm, and sunny. I was wrong. It was cold and almost damp on the other side of the Bay. Given that GG Fields is straight across the Golden Gate, brr.

I've been really wiped out this week, between all the work insanity and the moving. I know I drive a lot slower when I'm tired (I don't seem to focus really well), so I figured that I wasn't going to do terribly well this time. I was thinking of skipping it, but decided to go anyway, since seat time is seat time. What's the worst thing that would happen, right?

Given the potential for damp and the lack of grip at Gravel Gate, I decided to run rain-type pressures for the tires: 40 front, around 38-40 or so in the back. I figured that trying to adjust for the tires being warm was pointless, since they really wouldn't get warm. More good for me, since the Azenis work best while cold.

The course for today: 90 degree right over start into what was basically an oversized skidpad into a five cone slalom. Said slalom had the third cone slightly off-set from the rest, cause the slalom to slant to the right. Then a 60 degree left, followed by a straight. This went into a left-right S-curve, then a 3-cone slalom, 60 degree left, 60 degree right, then finish.

I was running in the afternoon group, which meant that I really should have packed gravel tires. The surface was even more torn up this time than it was last event.

I got there early-ish, while the third run group was still running. I prepped the car (and discovered cookies!), then went to hang out. Workers for the fourth run group signed in. It looked like they were short-handed, so I volunteered to help. They needed an announcer and a time scorer. I've never done either position, so I volunteered for announcer. (For some odd reason, I figured that would be the easier position.)

Once I figured out how to turn the mic on, it went well enough. It took a while to get the hang of the announcing, but I think I managed not to make a complete fool of myself. It took me a while before things slowed down enough that I remembered to read off peoples' sponsors. *wince* Then again, not all announcers do anyway, so I don't feel so bad.

One of the fun announcements I got to make was that the afternoon run groups were combined. On the up side, no worries about scrambling for workers in short-staffed groups. On the down side, hello really long run groups. No worries about my tires overheating today, oh no. It'll take at least 20 minutes between each run!

My group was the second one to run for the afternoon. I tried to sign up to work for my work group, but the guy checking me off remembered that I had worked earlier (being the announcer seems to be easily noticed I guess), and he wouldn't give me an assignement. Given that we had one station that had at least six people at it, I guess it's okay. My compulsive over-working streak wasn't too pleased, but oh well.

After a couple of (cold!) hours, the first run group came to an end, and my group was up. I was set to run fairly early in the (huge!) group. Matt (he of the black RSX) asked me if he could bum a ride. I said sure.

Half of my first run was pretty good. I got up to the S-curves, but then Badness Happened. Earlier, while watching people run before it had become obvious that there were a lot of DNF's at the entrance to the second slalom. It seemed that people didn't notice the first cone of the slalom on time. I figured that if I treated the double-cones signifying the gate as the first cone of the slalom, that should get me into the right position. The only problem was, once I got to that part of the course, I couldn't spot the double cones. All I could see was a sea of cones for the S-curves. Finally I spotted a double-cone combination. It wasn't until I was almost on top of it before I reazlied that I was set up for the wrong side. Oops. I did have enough time to crank the wheel and run over the cones. Figuring that taking a couple of cones was better than a DNF, I ran them down. Then I flopped through the slalom like a dying fish. By the time I crossed the finish timing beam I had slowed down and was laughing (as was my passenger -- yes, I had a witness to all the stupidity!) I figured my scratch time would suck. It was a 50.318.

My goal for the day was to break 50. Admitted, there was a chance that stunt was called as a DNF -- and if it wasn't, then I had picked up a couple of cones. But it was a good sign for the future.

I caught a ride from Matt when he ran, so I could figure out where I screwed up with the slalom. It was very weird... I haven't caught a ride from anyone since my first autocross. And Matt's RSX is faster than my car. Matt is quite probably a better driver, too. It was nifty.

I figured out where I messed up the slalom. There were two sets of gate-markers. Bah.

The second run was kind of messed up from the beginning. I did the dumb "forget that the left foot is sitting on the brake not the clutch" trick when I tried to shift. Duh. Fortunately, I had forgotten about that by the time I hit the second slalom. This time I was wise to the two sets of gate markers. Unfortunately, I was so excited to spot where the course was that I forgot that the entrance to the slalom was a sharp curve. I went in full throttle. Ooops. The first cone went badly, and trying to go around the second cone resulted in a serious argument with the back end of the car. After a brief struggle I realized that the only logical option was to let the car have her own way. This is the secret to our relationship: I let her do whatever she wants. Fortunately, this did bring the car back under control. Unfortunately, it didn't do so until after I spun and stalled the car. When in a spin, always, always, always put in the clutch.

I think I got out of the way fast enough that they didn't have to red-flag the guy behind me. I was laughing like a loon when I picked up my time (a pathetic 61.484), since that's the first time I've spun.

I spent the long wait until my third run meditating on the course, and particularly thinking about how to handle that second slalom. After a wait, I went out for my third run. On a couple of spots I thought I was backing off more than I should have, but otherwise it felt like a pretty solid run. I managed the second slalom without incident, and looked at my time.


Woo-hoo!! From the grid, I could see rhylar giving me a thumbs up. I know the lady who was doing time slips, and she was grinning. She made like she was going to give me the time slip, then pulled it back, asking "You want this?" I yelped like a seal and made "gimme" motions. Life am good.

I pulled back onto grid, since today we got four runs. (This messed me up many times. But was very appreciated.) Ed (he of the blue Civic) came up and congratulated me. He said that I help top time in class. *dumbfounded* No way. Of course, most of GS hadn't run yet -- Ed hadn't, and Dave (of the red Starion) hadn't either. But one of the Mini-with-racing-slicks-that-always-kicks-my-butt had, and I had a second on him. Whoa. *happiness*

I figured that it wouldn't last, and it didn't. Ed's next time came in almost a second quicker than mine. Oh well. But there were still fourth runs to go.

The fourth run completed my set. From my previous runs I had a DNF, a spin, second fastest time in class... All that's missing is -- cones!! Going into the showcase corner, I winged a pair of cones. D'oh! So much for any hope of beating Ed's time. I think I lost focus after that, since coming out of the first slalom I managed to get onto a perfect line to not only take out the pointer cone for the next turn, but also a cone at the exit. Just to complete the set, I tapped another one somewhere near the finish. I got a 49.932... plus at least four cones. *wince*

Because of everything else, there were no fun runs. After everyone ran, Ed reported that I took second in class. *shock* Ed was very appologetic about winning. Heh. I'm pretty jazzed to have come in second -- and to have (for however briefly) led the class.

This is the first time I've had a decent result in my class when running against the top guys in my class. (I've won the class before, but there was only me and a guy who never comes running that day.) I can't wait to see the overall results, since my OT should be pretty good, and I should PAX really well.

I'm really pleased with my progress autocrossing. The last several events have been really good learning experiences. I've picked up a lot of confidence, and I have a lot better an idea on where to focus in order to go faster.

Autocross is cool. I am happy.

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