After our stop in Missouri , Danny and I continued to the real purpose behind our trip: attending the Pro Solo Finale and Solo Nationals in Topeka, KS. We were confident we were bringing a great car in the Evo, and some pretty decent talent that could get the most out of the car.
First up was the Pro Solo Finale on September 12th and 13th. The weather was wet for all of our competition runs and we really had very little time in the car in those conditions so neither of us knew what to expect. Friday's morning runs were not timed due to some equipment issues the SCCA was having (will they ever get these fixed???) so we used them as practice to see if we would need to make any changes to the car. After the runs, Danny and I decided that the car was way too loose for us to drive it fast in the wet, so we adjusted the rear sway bar and hoped for the best for the afternoon runs.
I went out first and managed to put down a pretty good time on the left, but only a mediocre time on the right; the car was awesome. Max Hayter, driving a Subaru WRX STi managed a better right side run than me and wound up leading after Friday by .203 seconds ahead of me in 2nd place. Danny, we came to find out, was one hell of a driver in the rain and was sitting in 3rd, just .027 seconds behind me!!!
Seeing how I was pretty much out of the points contention for the year-end win in class, I had intended on using the Pro Finale as a test and tune to try to dial in the Evo's suspension to the surface at Heartland Park, however, with the rain that was proving futile. When we got back to the hotel Friday night, I began looking at the possible scenarios for me to actually win the points competition. Coming in I only had 32 points, while two of my competitors (Corey Ridgick and Rick Jung) had the maximum 40 points and Max had 36. To win, I would have to beat them all and I would need someone to finish between myself and Corey and Rick. As I looked at the day's results (Max 1st, me 2nd, Corey 5th and Rick 7th) I realized that there was a chance I could pull it off; all I had to do was get in front of Max and hope he could stay in front of Corey and Richard.
Saturday morning came around and I was feeling pretty good. Max and I were lined up next to each other so we relied on our co-drivers and the announcers to tell us what the other was doing. My first run was on the right side and the car got loose so the run wasn't very fast. My left side run was 33.520 which was the fastest time on either side so far for the class; Max did not improve his time on the right. After we'd each had one run on each side, Max was leading my by .100 seconds.
With 3rd runs coming up I knew I needed a good run on the right side to keep the pressure on Max, and this is where I lost the event and the championship. We have been experiencing shifting issues with Danny's Evo since the very first Pro Solo this year. When the car is in the higher RPM range it will not shift into second gear. We spoke to some other Evo drivers througout the year with about 75% of them saying they experienced the same thing. Not having the time to chase down the problem, we decided that short shifting was a viable option and we had employed that option succesfully all year...until my final run on the right side of the Finale. I'm not really sure what happened; I short shifted as I had been doing for the whole event but this time the shift failed. Maybe the tires were spinning and the RPMs were higher than I thought, I'm not really sure. At any rate, it took my 4 attempts (and I estimate coasting ~100 feet) before I could get the car to go into second gear. My time of 33.664 was my best by far, but would it be enough? Max had run a 33.485 on the left, which was the new fast time in class.
With each of us having one run left, I was now in the lead by just .067 seconds. My final left side run was new fast time in the class at 33.408, but Max also found time and layed down a 33.469 giving him a combined best from each side of 66.964 to my 67.072, giving him the event win by .118 seconds and enough points to take the year-end championship as well. Corey would finish in fourth for the event and take second place in the year-end battle by one single point over me. It was a hard fought battle, but I'm certain that if I had managed to get the car to shift into second gear on the first try on my final right side run, it would have been at least .119 seconds faster. Such is life and this game we call autocross.
We had no competition on Sunday and Monday, although we did run the test and tune course on Sunday since it was dry. Monday we walked the courses for the Solo Nationals, then had a good dinner and headed back to the hotel. I was nervous, but I think I always am when it comes to Nationals. This year was the first year I've competed in STU when I was not picked to win or mentioned as a possible winner and to me that was a blessing. There were 37 competitors in STU this year; we ran the east course first on Tuesday. I coned my first run, but cleaned up my second and third runs to finish with a 43.954 which was good for 6th plac, .602 seconds behind the leader. Danny's best time was a 44.884 which put him 21st in class. When we got back to the hotel and started analyzing the MaxQ data (GPS data logger), Danny noticed that even though my overall time was better than his, he was consistently driving one corner of the course faster than me. Further examination showed us that Danny's lowest speed in this corner was 30.6mph, while mine dropped to a dismal 21.8 on my fastest run! Additionally, the data showed that Danny was ~.800 faster than me in just this one section alone; had we been able to analyze that data between runs, I might have been able to find most of that .800.
Wednesday's west course was cone intensive and so I thought there was a chance I could still capture my first Solo National Championship, especially if the leaders got into cone trouble early and then had to try to protect. This was my ninth Solo Nationals and I've won 6 trophies in my previous eight attempts, including 2nd and 5th place finises; I wasn't here for another trophy, I was here for a champion's jacket and for that reason alone I was dangerous. I was either going to move up or WAY down if I coned out; either way I wasn't leaving anything on the table. I went out on my first run and out down the fastest raw time, but had a cone attached to it. My second run was .200 slower than my first, and while they originally announced that it was dirty, ended up being clean. In order to get ahead of the leader, I would need to run a 39.8 on my last run, and since my first run was a bit sloppy, I felt that the time was definitely there. Unfourtunately, I tried just a litte bit too hard and ended up coning my last run as well. As it turns out, my position did not change and I finished in the 6th trophy spot, .679 seconds from the leader. Danny also coned his 1st and 3rd runs, and nearly spun on his second run, which, while clean, was not fast; he wound up 29th at his first Solo Nationals.
While I did not get the resutls I had hoped for, I had an outstanding time this year at Nationals. Danny is a fantastic co-driver and he provided me with a great car to compete in. We've become pretty good friends over the last two years and I hope our friendship will continue to grow as we move forward to 2009. As of right now we're not sure what we'll be competing in next year. Three options were discussed during the 18 hour drive home from Kansas: (1) stay in STU and try to make the car a little bit better, (2) prepare the Evo for BSP, or (3) sell the Evo and buy a Shelby GT Mustang to compete in F-Stock (FS). The first two have their advantages like we already have the car and its pretty good handling wise. On the flip-side there won't be much competition in STU or BSP for us locally and when I'm not being pushed I tend to get lax. FS doesn't have this issue as it is chock full of national competitors including the current FS National Champion and runner-up; downside is that we'd have to buy and prep another car.
As soon as we decide what we are going to do, I'll write about it here.