Mike's Blog

Dodging cones

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.

The Washington DC Region SCCA autocross program is one of the largest in the country.  To deal with the demand for their events, a few years ago they switched to a "season subscription" registration process, whereby competitors register and pay for the entire season (seven events in 2008) in one fell swoop.  Season subscriptions are limited to the first 230 people who throw their $240 at the region via online registration once it opens. 

This year that was to happen on 13 January at 8pm local time.  It should be noted that in years past this process has been painfully difficult, mostly as a result of the registration provider's lack of a bona fide commercial internet line but also because of a lackluster and underpowered server combined of course with the mass frenzy of people trying to register at the same exact moment in time.  After all the grumbling last year we were assured that the problem was resolved, however without the need to exercise their "fix", most people noted and then forgot about it. 

Which brings us back to this year; at 8pm on January 13th, myself and 200-ish other eager participants logged on to the registration service and instantly brought the server to its knees.  After about 15 minutes or so the first few people managed to get through only to report via email to the regions Yahoo group that the site was reporting that registration was closed and then asking if they wanted to get on the waiting list.  Well, needless to say this spawned a torrent of emails to the group from frustrated participants, myself included.  A little over an hour into the ordeal I finally managed to get myself on the waiting list, but I feared that something was not right.  At about 10:15pm the region's Solo chairperson sent an email to the group saying that there was a technical issue with how the event was set up in the software and that everything would be reset and registration moved to the 20th at 8pm.

So last night, myself and 200 others subjected ourselves to this nightmare once more, after more assurances that everything would be better.  And once again, everything was the same.  This time, they did manage to set the event up properly but the process was excessively  S  L  O  W.  After about 82 minutes I finally managed to get a confirmation stating that my payment was received and that I was registered for the season: WOO HOO!

To put the time consumed during this process into perspective a little bit, allow me to provide you the following statistics:

  • 145 minutes = the time it took me to register for the season
  • 630 minutes = the time I'll be required to spend working at these events (7 events X 90 minutes)
  • 630 minutes = the time it will take me to drive to and from these events (7 events x 90 minutes)
  • 30 minutes = time I'll spend at DC events actually driving in competition this year (7 events X 4 runs X 1.07 minutes each[this is probably an over estimate])
  • $8 = cost per minute of seat time for DC events
  • 4.83 = the number of minutes I spent registering for each minute of seat time I'll get at these events 
  • 21 = the number of minutes I must work at the events for one minute of seat time
  • 21 = the number of minutes I spend traveling to and from the events for each minute of seat time competing at them

So to sum up, by the end of the DC regions season, I'll have spent (and I'm not a math major so please feel free to correct me) 4850% more time getting to, working at and registering for events than I will spend competing in them.  And that is only the DC region's events.  For the events my club, Autocrossers, Inc (AI) puts on I typically spend 8 or more hours at the event helping to put it on.  For the national level events, the travel time is MUCH more (10 hours to Toledo, OH and 19 hours to Topeka, KS, ONE WAY) and only for a single event. 

This is a crazy sport we partake in and the amount of time and effort for a few minutes of seat time is absolutely insane.  So why do we keep doing it you ask?  Come out to any one of the events on my schedule , take a ride with me or anyone else, and you will know the answer.

 

Well my 2007 Autocross season began back at the end of March.  Since then I've participated in four events put on by the Washington DC Region SCCA and have won two of the four.  On April 22nd I let a fellow BMW driver whose car was in the shop co-drive my M3 with me and he beat me by .019 seconds; it was the first time I'd been defeated in the DC region since I started running in the STU class in 2005.  On June 17th, I co-drove a 2006 Mitsubishi Evolution IX with its owner, Danny Kao and finished in second place, .199 seconds behind Dave MacDougal who has been chasing me for the past couple of years.  Danny Kao's Mitsubishi Evolution IX

With  STU gaining national status this year, the AWD cars (Subaru STIs and Mitsubishi Evos) are coming out of the woodwork and after having driven Danny's car one time I'd made up my mind that the M3's time in the class as a competitive car was over.  Danny offered to let me drive his car at the DC Pro Solo which took place this past weekend and I jumped at the offer, taking into consideration that Pro Solos have a drag strip start giving the AWD cars a distinct advantage of up to half a second in the first 60 feet.  Being only my second time in Danny's car (or any AWD car for that matter) I didn't expect too much but pressure was applied and I faltered.  I managed to hit cones on every right side run I had on Saturday; in fact, I hate the same 2 cones on all 4 runs and an additional 3 cones on my first run!  Come Sunday morning I needed a clean run on the right and I needed to find at least a half a second on the left course.  I lined up in the right lane for my first run and I hit two cones BUT, they were two different cones than I'd hit before so it was a step in the right direction I guess.   My left side runs were slower than my runs from Saturday and with only one run left on the right, I had to have a clean run.  I did manage to make it through the right side course without hitting any cones, but the run was about half a second slower than my raw times from Saturday.  Final result was that I wound up in 3rd place about 1.4 seconds behind the class winner.

Danny has graciously offered to let me continue co-driving with him for the remainder of the season and I am inclined to accept his offer.  We are finding that his car has a LOT of room for improvement and we are both eager to get started on that process right away.  I will still run my M3 at my club's (Autocrossers Inc ) events kind of as a benchmark for where Danny's car stands as far as time goes.  I think eventually we will eclipse the abilities of the M3 and never look back.

  

The 2007 Washington DC Region SCCA Solo season has come to an end.  I sold the M3 to a club racer in New York a few months back.  I was sorry to see it go, but the writing was on the wall in my opinion; it will continue its life as a competition vehicle, which is what Ron would have wanted.  Danny and I have brought the STU prepared 2006 Mitsubishi Evolution Lancer a looooong way from where it started the year.  Most of the horrible understeer is gone and the back end actually moves now when we want it to.  Its been a battle all year long for the STU title in the WDCR.   Going into the last event of the year I had only one win and a slew of seconds.  I'd been beaten by an M3 and another Evo all year since hopping into Danny's car.  It took us a while, but we finally got the car to where we could drive it hard and I had a lot of confidence going into the last event.  I was in 2nd place in points, 3 points behind the M3.  To win the championship I needed to win the event and the M3 had to finish 3rd or worse.  Two things contributed to the outcome: (1) the owner of the M3 confessed that the car was not legal (something I'd known for several months) and decided to drive a different car at the last event, and (2) Danny contacted the other Evo that had beaten me throughout the season and convinced him to come to the event.  In the end, I won by about a second and the M3 finished 4th, making me the 2007 WDCR Solo STU Champion.

Danny and I plan on running a full schedule next year including the WDCR and AI local events, several Pro Solos and the Solo National Championships in Topeka, KS.