Yes, there was an autocross just last week. And yet, there was yet another one today. This one was down a little north of Monterey -- some 120 miles south of here -- so I wasn't too sure if I was going to go down for it or not. I had originally been planning on not going, but started wavering after the last autocross, where several people had cheerfully asked me if I was going to be at the next one. Then my roomie expressed interest, and I bowed to the inevitable.
Not that bowing to the inevitable was such a terrible thought. I knew the drive down would be gorgeous, depending on which route I took. And I've been kind of missing the days when at the drop of a hat, I would do madcap drives all over everywhere to any destination that caught my fancy.
That decided, at about 9 AM, we headed down the coast. The weather was clear and threatened to be pleasantly warm in SF, which meant just about anywhere else in the state it would likely be sweltering. Happily, the weather remained more in the pleasant realms. The drive down was as pleasant as I had hoped, and we even managed to sneak through before too much traffic had built up over Hwy. 17.
Getting into the town that the autocross was taking place at -- Marina -- we grabbed lunch, the stopped at a local gas station to grab more air for the tires. As I was about to finish, one of the people who I had worked the course with last autocross pulled in, presumably also to get air. I smiled and waved at him. He more or less ignored me. (Last week he was the more antisocial of the two people I was working with. Today he persisted in being relatively anti-social, so I shall refer to him as Anti-social Boy from here on.) I finished up my tires, then went to the bathroom. When I came out, I noticed a silver WRX pulled up next to my car. To my not-entire surprise, the car was owned by my buddy, Leo. Yay! And two autocrossers stopping at the same gas station for air probably meant we were getting close.
We headed off down the road. We manage to find the place with relatively little trouble -- though we did have a couple of instances of Ack, turn! Here. NOW!! Arriving, we found that there was absolutely no parking. The entire event was crowded into a space smaller by one-third to one-half than what I'm used to. The venue is part of a local airport, and apparently has a surface that makes many types of tires scream like a banshee, even when they still had pleanty of grip. They also squealed like a banshee when someone spun out, which someone did promptly upon our arrival. (The two events were unrelated, I assure you.)
This time I was happy because, due to the way the event rotations work, I got to have my work group before my run group. I was hoping to use that as an opportunity to get familiar with the course. Alas, it was not to be. I ended up being... Well, I didn't entirely get what the name of the position was. But basically what I would do is write peoples' times up on a bunch of paper tacked to the side of the trailer. This is a pretty nifty thing. And it's really cool that I know about it -- now. I also now know what to do in the position, which is good. (Though when I first got assigned it, I wasn't too sure what I was doing, and nearly was A Very Unhappy Blonde because people were being singularly unhelpful in explaining it.)
Work group finished up, and off I went to get my car lined up on grid. I managed not to run over Anti-social Boy, who had lined up in the lane next to mine, and then proceeded to stand in the way. He seemed to be really good at it, since he persisted in doing this just about every time I moved my car. Grr.
While hanging out on grid, someone came up and introduced himself. (And wouldn't it be cool if I remembered his name? At least I remember what car he drives, and -- given that -- should be able to look up his name when the times are posted.) Turns out he is the guy in charge of novices, and thought that maybe since I seemed to be new and he didn't know me, maybe he should come tell me about, well, novice stuff. Spiff! I knew they were helping out the newbies at the beginning of the year, but I didn't know if they were still doing it. Turns out they are. And now I know how to find out about it better. High with the niftiness!
Today's course was a lot shorter than the last one. It featured a series of decreasing-diameter, linked turns, a cross-over (where the course crossed over itself), and an annoying sparsity of cones marking out the course. Doing the course walk-through, I was figuring that keeping track of where I was supposed to go would be a huge hassle. I made it a personal goal to get at least one non-DNF run.
The top time of the day was a 43.something. Most people seemed to be running somewhere in the mid-50's. There were a few 60's, but I didn't see one time over 70, not even from people who spun out.
Before starting, I was feeling kind of eh. Like, not terribly focused on driving. I really just wanted to hang out and enjoy the nice weather. I decided, what the heck, since I'm there I might as well just go out and have fun. Since I tend to run about 20-30 seconds slower than everyone else, I figured that I would be running in the high 70's, low 80's. A time in the high 60's would be my pipe dream.
The guy running the grid was not Turbo this time. I think he was the same person who tech'ed my car last time, but I'm not sure. Either way, he was really nice. He would chat with folks when they were waiting to go up to the starting line. The guy signaling cars to start was also pretty cool.
The first lap went by a lot faster than I expected. I spent the first half of the course worrying about where the course was going. Before I knew it, I was running through the linked, decreasing-radius turns. Those ones... I dunno, I kind of like them. There's just something about trying to keep the balance without spinning out that seems kind of fun.
My first time - 62.141 - surprised me somewhat. It was a time that almost makes it look like I know what I'm doing. Almost. I came off the finish shaking and hyped on adrenaline. Looks like I found my focus.
I pulled back on grid -- and managed to miss running over Anti-social Boy, who was standing in the way -- and hung out with my roomie until it was the next time for me to run. The nice guy running the grid asked me how my time was. The nice guy waving the start flag asked me how my time was. I was pleased. I was ready to take on the next lap. I even had a couple of faint ideas on how to improve my time. My goal was to take two seconds off.
Heading out on my second lap, I somehow managed to get up to speed a lot faster before heading into the first turn. I hadn't realized that I was slower on the first lap until I suddenly was ready to shift up a lot earlier than before. I wish I could say that did a lot of good, since I then promptly creamed a cone. It made a very satisfying *crunch* when I ran it heartlessly down.
The second lap, I felt a lot more confident about running the course, and it showed. The time was a 60.950, plus one. Sadly, the plus one put it lower than the first time. Oh well.
The third lap was interesting. It was my best lap. It was also the closest I have ever felt to spinning out in my car. Much tires wailing like a banshee was had. And so was my best time for the day: 58.747. All things considered, not too bad.
The fourth lap I was a lot slower on. I think I was getting tired, and I think nearly spinning out on the previous lap had shaken my confidence a bit. After the first sweeper, I knew I was a lot slower. Happily, I don't know everything, and I was only .155 slower. I was rather impressed, given that I felt I had been a lot slower on that lap.
Afterward, we threw the stuff back in the car, and headed out. The highlights of heading out: practice for driving the Japanese speed limit (the speed limit leaving was an enforced 15 MPH -- and there was a guy there watching you!), nearly running over a bird that would not leave its fresh road-kill guts, the incident with the car wash (the less said about that, the better), and passing yet more places advertising deep fried artichokes. I'm not really sure what out of that whole list scared me more.
We headed up to Santa Cruz for dinner at a Greek restaurant that taeriel had introduced me to. Mmm, tatziki! I had intended to stop off at Maryanne's to pick up some ice cream, but ended up being way too stuffed to even think about it. All that tatziki sitting there, I couldn't let it go to waste!
A couple of random thoughts for the day:
While the skydivers had really pretty parachutes, I think I would have been a lot happier if they weren't landing that near the course. Not that "that' near" was really that near. But I kept having visions of a stray gust of wind landing a pretty parachute right in front of a car going Really Darn Fast. It was not a pretty mental image.
I actually paid some attention to tires this time. Other people's tires, that is. I had thought that people running in the stock class couldn't swap their tires, but it turns out they can. Turbo had mentioned that several people in my class were running slicks, so I took a look. Yup, sure enough, they are. Guy-in-charge-of-novices-whose-car-but-n
But one other thing about the tires that I noticed was how much the sticky tires pick up gravel. It was really clear and obvious once I looked. It was also interesting watching the different ways people tried to get the gunk off of their tires. This site is located practically on the beach, so gravel was actually an issue.
Did I mention how scary I find the thought of deep-fried artichokes? Good.
Hm, that's about all I can think of for the moment. All in all, it was a good day. I'm really glad I went down. But now, I'm ready for a nap.
Former Santa Cruz residents may want to read the end, for nostalgic value.