Road Atlanta PCA Club Race
March 31-April 2, 2006
Sprint and Enduro Race Report

DRAFT

Sprint

I hadn’t been having a lot of luck at the recent club races. In December, I spun out at Roebling Road and somehow the transmission got stuck in fourth gear. I was about twenty five minutes into a forty minute race and I decided to just call it quits. My prior outing was last year’s Road Atlanta race and I went off track then, too. That time, the kill switch flipped and I lost about two minutes - just over a full lap - trying to get that sorted out. I decided to try and take it easy this time and to just have two good races.

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this sequence shows me passing two cars in turn 1. thanks to Chris Brady

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It snowed a bit at last year’s event and the conditions were sub-optimal for practices, but things cleared up for the race. Going into it this year, I decided to invest in rain tires. I opted for the Hoosier Road Racing Wets which are the current consensus favorite amongst those in the know. They cost about $800 and I was going to mount them on wheels that I already had, but then I needed to buy two more for $200, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say that the wets cost me about a grand.

It rained for Friday’s practice sessions so I got to try out the wets. I did pretty well, but I didn’t want to take too many risks. Saturday morning’s warm-up session was wet, but it looked dry enough for Qualifying to put on the drys. I was very happy to Qualify first in my group, and very surprised that the hot-shoe in our class was six seconds off pace. He told me later that he made a strategic error and left his wets on for that session. Tire choice is extremely important, as that put him about 22 places behind me, and he should have been in front.

There were eight in our group for the Sprint race, but I only knew a few of them. The hot shoe is a Floridian named Mark Nasarallah and he has a very fast car. He is also a very good driver and he has been getting a lot of track time lately, racing in SCCA as well as PCA. He also bought a cup car, and he would have left the 944 at home had it not been for some mechanical trouble with the new ride. I’ve raced with Mark before, at Road Atlanta and Barber Motorsports Park and he’s always been very tough. He’s a super nice guy and we get along well.

Lee Davis made some major bucks by selling a marketing firm. He lives over in the Country Club of the South subdivision, belongs to the club, and just bought a brand spankin’ new 997 Cup to augment his 944. For the street, he drives a Carerra GT for kicks. Caroline and I met him a few years ago at Barber at a DE when he was just learning about sports car racing. He bought a nicely set-up car from Stan Padgett, and he parked near us in the pits. Caroline was still driving then, pregnant with Ben, and she was proud to be doing better than Lee. Caroline has since taken a break from racing – that was her last event, but Lee has been getting loads of experience. Besides many PCA races including Sebring this year, Lee also races in the NASA series. He’s gotten to be quite good to the point where he and I are fairly even.

I was very happy to have out-qualified each of these guys, plus the five other folks in the “H” class. My plan for the race was to keep in front of Lee and try and keep a good enough pace to keep Mark from catching up. Prayers were also considered, but I can’t seem to focus there for long enough during a race.

About fifteen minutes into the thirty minute race, I got distracted with traffic in front and behind after turn five and into turn six. Between six and seven, a white 914 approached me on the inside. I had the turn and I assumed he’d take me after the apex. Unfortunately, he thought differently and tried to sneak through earlier than I’d expected. The result was that he tapped me in the apex of turn seven. His left front corner contacted my right rear corner. The PCA rules state that racers should immediately come into the pits after any contact whatsoever and sort things out with the steward. At that point, your race is basically over. If you’re found at fault, you can’t race any more that weekend, so the Sunday Enduro would be missed, and you also get a 13/13 penalty. If you get one of these, you’re on probation. If you’re found at fault again for one more incident within a thirteen month period, a thirteen month suspension will apply. If you’re not at fault, you can go out and finish the race, if it hasn’t already ended, and you’re free to participate in the rest of the event. The rules state that you’re automatically at fault if you don’t come in; however, I did not understand that nuance.

After the incident, the white 914 was in front of me. I followed him around for a couple of laps before he sped away. I was waiting to see if he would go in, or if we were Black Flagged. Often, when the corner workers see contact, they’ll flag you to come in if you don’t do it on your own. Could it be that the contact was so minor that it would be overlooked? Maybe the corner workers didn’t see it. Maybe the other guy was going to let sleeping dogs lie and hope that it went undetected, too. I decided to stay out and keep my head in the game.

I was still in front of Lee but later in the race we swapped places a few times. This allowed Mark to catch up. Fighting for position is always slower than running clean laps. I was running behind a car from a lower class for several laps and I decided to try and pass him in turn seven late in the race. I blew the turn and got two wheels off, and Lee and Mark steamed by. In the end, it was Mark, Lee, and then me. 

On the way into the pits, I saw the white 914 in the Black Flag station. Was he directed into that area? They didn’t point me over so I proceeded up to the pits where I was directed to the scales. After quite a wait for other cars, I was weighed and passed. A scrutineer asked about the dent in my car and I explained that I thought it was there from a previous event. It looked like I was getting away when I saw the 914 out of the corner of my eye. The driver was out of his car and he approached me. Uh oh. He said I couldn’t go away because we were involved in an incident. Arrgh! I still don’t know if he fessed up on his own or if somebody else caught this, but I think there’s a good chance we would have avoided a lot of hassle if he’d kept his mouth shut.

Now I had to go to medical, file a report, tell my story to another scrut, and pray that they wouldn’t find me at fault. Luckily, I was exonerated, but I did get disqualified (DQ’d). Not only did I miss out on a nice crystal Peach trophy for third, but I also lost out on having that race count toward the two race minimum for maintaining a license. It’s still early in the year, so I can run at Barber or Roebling, or even Daytona, but I really didn’t want to travel to many more events. Atleast the DQ made the first to third place slip-up late in the race less frustrating. Imagine if I had come in first and then got DQ’d – then I’d really be upset!

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(misc shots from the race weekend)

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Enduro

I’d only raced one other Enduro, at Barber Motorsports Park in June of 2004. Because of all the carnage that weekend – there were about twenty 13/13 penalties issued - there was no PCA race there in 2005. I did well enough in the sprint that weekend, but I didn’t fare so well in the Enduro. In PCA racing, an Enduro is a race that lasts sixty or more often ninety minutes. There is always a mandatory 5 minute pit stop, where drivers can be changed and fuel can be added. Other activities can occur during the pit stop, and it can last for longer than five minutes, but a driver is penalized if he spends less than 5 minutes in the pits. One driver usually drives the entire race, but you’ll see some friends and family sharing cars. I’ve always thought that this would be a fun and interesting opportunity for Caroline and me to spend a weekend – maybe when the kids are older.

I’d never spent more than thirty minutes behind the wheel on the track in a single session. If you’ve never done it, you probably don’t understand how mentally and physically challenging it is to drive a race car. Barber is a particularly challenging track as there are many turns and few opportunities to relax. If I remember correctly, its twelve turns in 2.3 miles, compared to Road Atlanta’s 12 turns in 3.4 miles. Mental toughness is required as you navigate the course and share the track with the other drivers, passing cars and being passed. It goes without saying that mistakes can be costly. Physically, arms can tire after many sharp turns in car with power steering disabled to gain 2 horsepower. More taxing, though, is the heat. Drivers in full race suits are subjected to ninety degree heat sans air conditioning. Many folks invest in equipment to combat the heat such as “cool shirts” which route cool water through a series of tubes sewn onto a fireproof racing shirt. Unfortunately, I have not purchased any such gear.

At Barber, I had every intention of running a full, great race. In the first thirty minutes, I’d already spun, lost control, or spent some time off track three times. I knew that I was making too many mistakes and things would just get worse if I stayed out. I pulled into the pits atleast fifteen minutes earlier than expected, planning to call it a weekend. Cal Calamari stopped me on the way in to chat. He’s a scrutineer from the Boston area. I explained the situation and he reminded me that I couldn’t come back out if I went up into the parking lot. However, if I stayed in the hot pits, I could go out again if I felt more comfortable. I pulled over and hung out for about thirty minutes before going out again. As it turned out, there were only three cars in my class that day and I came in second – beating the other guy by one lap. I’m still not sure if he had mechanical problems or other issues which caused him to run less than a full race. Even though I ran a better race during the Saturday sprint, I came in third out of four drivers.

The Enduro at Road Atlanta was the first ever for PCA at that track. My plan was to pay the extra $100 to participate in the Enduro for a few reasons. First, it was an inexpensive track day. Second, if I finished the race, it would count as my second race of the year and I’d meet my PCA Club Racing requirement of racing twice in the year. Because of family obligations, I’m scaling back on track activities and the prospect of meeting the license obligation early in the season was very attractive. Third, I could run 30/30/30 again, spending as much time in the pits as I wanted, and just enjoy the track time.

Little did I know that I would do so well. After thirty minutes, I was a bit taxed mentally, but not to the point of making serious mistakes. I decided to stay out. At forty five minutes, I knew I was going to be just fine. I kept repeating to myself “I just ran a marathon – I can do this!! I’d yell out that phrase, sometimes injecting curse words. I decided to pull in after about fifty-five minutes. I had paid the Motorwerks guys to help me in the pits with fuel and they did a great job. However, I think they could have done a better job getting me out closer to the five minute minimum. As far as I can tell, I was in the pits for almost a minute longer than necessary. I take responsibility, though, as I’d prepared them for the probability that I would relax in the pits and they spent more time helping me to relax than helping me get out in exactly five minutes.

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(I like the top on as it shows how I take turn 10a over the rumble strips. I like to do the same with 10b, which makes it a slightly strighter line through that left / right combo)

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I felt great coming out of the pits, feeling very fresh and knowing that I only had a short time left before the end of the race. I kept a fast pace and wondered how Lee was fairing. After several laps, I saw another guy in my class, TR Reese, and I tried to catch him. There were a couple of slower cars in the way and it was tough to get by. I almost caught him by the end of the race, but I couldn’t quite get there. I needed a few more laps. Mark came in first, Lee second, TR third, and I was left with fourth. This was much better than I’d anticipated, but I was very disappointed to miss out on another Peach trophy, this time due to a poor pit strategy. There’s always next year!