First off, this is going to be brief. I'm really tired, and I realize that I can't remember too much.
This time my roommie decided to try running as well. So I got to pretend that I knew what I was doing. Heh. Fortunately, we were in the afternoon run groups, so we didn't have to arrive at the crack of dawn.
It turns out that the event was running really, really late. I anticipated that we would get there at the tail end of run group 4, just before the break and the afternoon course walk. Turns out we got there at the tail end of run group 2. I was running in group 6, which meant that we had a nice long while of enjoying the glorious San Francisco summer weather* that a day at Candlestick can afford.
(* For those of you local to the area, keep laughing. For those of you not, I offer a quote by Mark Twain: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." He wasn't kidding, it's freezing here. The fog settles in so heavily that it's misting hard and you almost wonder if it isn't actually raining, and we don't see the sun for weeks. And it's a damp cold that seeps into your bones and never seems to quite go away, no matter what you try.
Candlestick Park -- yes, I know it's supposed to be called 3Com now; I refuse -- is notorious for getting fogged in, with a cold wind on top of that. Today was no exception.)
We took our time registering and getting our cars tech'ed, since we had the time. The guy who was doing the tech inspection was cool. I explained to him that this was my second time running, and he was very nice. He explained what he was looking for, and then gave some advice on the course. He said that it was very long and fast, and you didn't need to brake for most of the corners, but there was one at the end that you had to brake early for or you would go straight. Straight = off course = hitting cones and lost time = bad. Got it.
We wandered over to where we usually watch the course from. Annoyingly, the nice concrete barriers that are usually there were not present today. This deprived us of our favorite seats. Not our favorite viewing location, just the stuff we could sit on. The view of the course was unaffected. Still, it wasn't such a good thing.
We missed most of run group 3 while messing around with getting registered and getting the cars tech'ed. Run group 4 for some mysterious reason had a horrible attraction to cones. At one point the announcer stated "the only car that has a clean run so far is the one at the starting line!" It being first runs still, the one at the starter hadn't run the course yet. Everyone had pegged cones.
One car even managed to wipe out several right in front of us. If I had been a little brighter about it, I would have a really groovy Quicktime clip of a WRX totally spinning out and sliding backwards, since he did it right in front of us, and I had my digicam in my hand. Sadly, I didn't think about it until afterwards. Oh well, it was still really cool to watch.
That run group finished up relatively quickly, and we went to walk the course. Because of the late start, we only had 15 minutes to walk the course. It's about a mile long, so we had to boogie to get through it all. Going through it, I could see what the tech guy had meant. It did look like most of the time you could just lift off the throttle and coast and you'd be fine. The last turn, though, no. And the beginning section looked like it had a bunch of spots where it looked like it would be easy to lose track of the course. I vowed to watch carefully when folks went through the next run group, and see if I could use their experience to memorize that part of the course.
After the last autocross, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I did, and how I could improve. One of the areas that struck me was that I had a lot of trouble reading the course. This threw me off, since I wasn't setting up for the turns properly, and was just reacting to what was directly ahead of me. That is never good. It also gave a knock to my confidence levels, and I didn't push that hard for half the course last time, since I was always worried that I would go off-course. The main goal I had for this time was to work on focusing ahead, and learning how to read the course.
The course walk completed, I hung out for a few minutes before moving my car onto grid. I decided to hang out on the grid, just in case they needed the car moved or anything. While hanging out, I was pleased to recognize Leo, the cool guy who gave me a ride in his WRX last time. He recognized me (even though it had been a couple of months), and we chatted for a while. There were a couple of other people who were there for the first time, so I didn't feel quite so dorky not knowing anything. I still felt really, really nervous. Good nervous, but still. I spent a while hanging out, watching the cars, working on trying to learn the section of the course that I was worried about, and reminding myself of my goals, and focusing on what to do to try and achieve them.
My goals for this time, for reference:
1. Work on trying to read the cone maze and get comfortable with where my path is going. Ideally, I wanted to be looking at the exit as I am entering a turn.
2. Have fun!! I know I don't drive well when I'm tense (unless I'm a particular type of pissed off, and even then, I am only driving aggressively, and am waaay too close to the edge of control), but I'm generally pleased with my performance when I'm just having fun. And anyway, isn't having fun what hobbies are about? Yeah.
3. Time-wise, get a best time in the low triple digits. This was a longer course than last time, with the best time I saw being a 77.something. Most people seemed to be averaging somewhere in the mid-80's. I figured that based on last time, I should be doing about 30 seconds off of that, or around 110 or so. If a miracle occurred, maybe I could manage to squeak just below 100. But really, that was more of a pipe dream than anything.
So finally it was my turn to run. I pulled up to the starter, and just kept running through my mind how I wanted to take the first series of turns. The starter whipped his flag down, and off I headed. The first two turns were okay, I got the inconvenience of shifting out of the way (*), then promptly felt like a dork for chickening and braking on the third turn. I could tell as soon as I got into the turn that I hadn't needed to brake, and reminded myself of what the tech guy had said. Don't brake, just let off the throttle, and it'll be fine.
(* Due to the number of turns, and how fast they come up, most autocrosses are done primarily in second gear. First is used to get you up to around the redline, then second takes care of the rest. The two courses I've run have both had one turn where I slow down enough to make it almost worth dropping back into first. Even then, I don't bother usually, since I figure it will take double-clutching -- preferably with heel-and-toe -- in order to do it in any way that will not make the transmission want to rise up and smite me. I'm not good enough at double-clutching to try it, so I eat the time loss for dropping a little too low in the powerband, in the interests of good driver/car (and driver/pocketbook) relations.
All of the preceding babble means that once you get high enough to shift out of first, the gearshift becomes one distraction that can happily be ignored.)
The tricky section flies by, and the next thing I know, I'm not hitting the brakes to slow for turns, and -- wonder of wonders -- I'm looking ahead and having no trouble reading the course whatsoever! How did that happen?
I was also surprised about this point to realize that I knew the course a lot better than I thought I did. I would be going along, and would suddenly remember "oh, that little curve that is banked uphill slightly in just the right direction is coming -- better hit it, since I know that I don't lose it in turns like that", or "that bit that looks tricky, but you can just cut a straight line across three turns if you line it up right is coming up. Then be ready to brake for a sharp right immediately after that" would just suddenly pop into my head. It was weird. All the stuff that I had told myself earlier that I would need to remember but thought for sure that I never would, somehow I did remember.
I finished out the course and managed not to wipe out any cones. Pulling up to where I would get my time written down, I looked at the clock. 104.541! Whoa, that was a LOT better than I expected. I pulled back into grid for my second run feeling reasonably pleased.
My goal for the next run was to shave 2 seconds off that time, and land in the 102.something range. Hanging out on grid, I tried thinking about where I could shave time off, and landed a huge blank. I couldn't remember anything about the run, beyond the fact that I had been looking further down the course. Okay, that's good, but how does that help me for next time? Frustrating, but I decide not to let it bother me. I'll just drive, and see what happens.
The second run is a total blur. I remember that at one point in the course I suddenly remembered that I had braked too early last time, and managed to brake a little later. It felt like I was going a little faster, but I don't know, maybe it's hard to tell. I cross the finish beam, and look up to see what my time was.
"Woo-HOO!" I shout. I feel like a dork. But a really, really happy dork. I shaved my 2 seconds off. I shaved some of their friends off, too. And I got a run below 100. Wow, my day was complete. All that, and I still had another run to go.
The third run I remembered not to shift before the first turn (which I did on the second run and it unsettled me, or unsettled the car, or maybe there really isn't a difference sometimes). The car and I had a minor spat trying to get around one turn where I said go here, and the car said "physics and I disagree". But it was a minor argument. And I creamed a cone. It made a lovely *crunch* as I heartlessly rode over it. It bothered me for an instant, since I was one turn off the end, and I'd had what felt like a decent, clean run up until that point. Oh well. I still had my under-100 time to gloat about. I pulled up to the guy writing down the times, and glanced over at the clock.
96.406. Plus a cone.
I do the math. Add a 2 second penalty for hitting a cone, and that still makes it my best time of the day. And it was under triple-digits. *GRIN*
As I'm pulling into a parking spot, the announcer announces that Leo is about to start. I watch to see what time he pulls down. He had been hoping to beat his last time by a second, and he does it. Yay!
My friends wander up, and I babble excitedly at them while I put all the junk back into my car. Turbo (the person who ran the grid last time I ran, and was really cool and encouraging) wanders up and asks how I did. I burble incoherently at him, and he gets the gist that I did better on each run. "Now you're turning into an autocrosser," he said. "You're getting better with each run." I persist in being pleased.
The run group after mine mostly went by while I re-packed the car. My roomie who was running pulled his car up on grid, and I hung out with him for a while, until they called for workers. I headed out to my post, which turned out to be forever far out there -- and was right next to one of the spots that I figured would have a lot of cone action, since the cars have to pass through what looks like a really narrow chicane, but really isn't if you get the line right. (Of course, if you get the line wrong, pop goes the cone.)
Course work was relatively dull. The two other people I was working with knew each other already, and mainly talked to each other. It was getting later in the day, and I think the temperature had dropped. At any rate, I was freezing. And tired. And somewhat hungry. There were some nice cars that went through, and a couple of Hachirokus. (Not that I'm excluding them from the "nice car" category, just pointing them out separately). There was one car that did a screamingly cool wipe out right in front of me -- sliding sideways and backwards and wiping out three cones in the process.
One entertaining point was one guy who got a re-run. He got a re-run because he pointed out that a cone was down (*). If a cone is down before a driver passes it -- i.e., someone else knocked it down, and the course workers didn't fix it), the driver stops, and points at the cone. They are then allowed a re-run.
(* Honestly, I don't understand how people do this. I am so focused on what I'm doing driving that I don't get how anyone can see that a cone is down before they get to it, much less stop in time to point at it.)
This occurred toward the end of the run group, so it wasn't that long before we see this guy again. First off, he spun out in one of the earlier corners. Then, when he passed my station, *pop* and that cone that he pointed out as down went flying. It jumped a good four feet into the air. He would have had a better time if he'd just left that cone alone and not done the re-run. Oh well.
That pretty much finished up the day. Oh, there was a Viper running. I'll be curious to see its times, when they're posted. I don't think they were that impressive. I suspect that car has too much power to put in a really good time. It has to keep throttled back a lot in order to not pick up too much speed, since the corners are so close together in autocross. (*)
(* Let me try and quantify it a bit when I say that the corners are close together. In about a mile, there were a total of about 21 turns that drivers had to respond to.)
There was no Evo VIII this time. :( Turbo, the person who ran it last time, was one of the event chairs, and so didn't run anything. We got to chatting about cars, and he offered (threatened?) to let me drive another of his cars. 400+ hp, RWD. On the one hand, DROOOOOOL. On the other hand, me drive a rear-driver with that much kick? I've never driven anything with that much power. And it's taken me years to try and excise rear-driving habits from my style (my current car being the first FWD I've ever driven with any regularity). I'd flop all over the course like an epileptic fish. 'Course, it'd probably be a lotta fun...
The next event is next Sunday. Since this event is well over 100 miles away, we will see if I go down for it or not. The one following that will be at the end of June, over at the Oakland Coliseum. That is a really cool venue. The pavement is smoother than at Candlestick, and is flatter. There isn't a problem with cars disappearing into a dip in the back 40 part of the course. (They really do that at Candlestick. Unless you watch closely and spot the little moving hump, it looks for all useful intents that the car has vanished.)