Dateline: September 9/10, 2000
This race report is going to be fun to write…team scR is finally cresting the learning curve, and boy, does it feel great! Once again, we had a weekend filled with firsts, only this time we were not collecting parts falling off the car. However, before we get into this weekend’s activities a big overdue THANKS goes out to all of the guys and gals who have been hanging with us in the pits all season long. Come rain or shine, the crew this season has been putting their best wrench forward – I have never had the opportunity to drive a better prepared car. Next time you’re at the track, stop by and pat the “behind the scenes” people on the back. Without them, scR would be struggling to stay on course – they really are number one!
So, without further ado (and to plagiarize a common racing tag line), “Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, Hang On.”
Setting the Scene
Mid-Ohio must be one of my favorite tracks – having raced there six times in 1997 followed by a season of National Competition in 1998 capped by a 13th place finish at the Runoffs that year, the circuit has always treated us well. Fast, technical, and smooth, the track has all of the elements of a world-class venue. Large, open paddock spaces surrounded by park-like landscaping make for a fantastic fan and spectator facility as well. I just love this place.
Pulling into the registration area and picking up the entrant list, Tom and I stared at our competition with eyes open wide – 22 cars were registered in ITA, and another 21 in ITS (one class faster than ITA). Short of our experience at the Runoffs back in 1998, this was stacking up to be our single biggest race…ever. The icing on the cake was that right behind us was Mark Rushbrook, bring with him his newly-completed #21 Black-Gold and Ouch-It-Hurts-Fluorescent-Yellow 1995 SC2. The ITA field just grew to 23.
Saturday Morning Practice
As we made our way to the grid the early morning dew continued to cling, making the track damp, the grass wet and the visibility limited. Since I had not been back to Mid-Ohio since October of 1998, I was expecting to spend the first few laps finding my way back around the course…’easy does it’ was the team strategy.
The ten-minute session ended about as quickly as it started, limiting our track exposure. Our lap times reflected quite clearly the driver’s reservations and the track’s conditions, yet the car performed flawlessly. Adding to the excitement was a successful maiden voyage of Mark’s #21 – no new squeaks, rattles, or noises to report! Both of us would need to step up the pace once the track dried out, but having confidence in the machinery would go a long, long way toward lowering the lap times. Bring on the Hondas!
Saturday Morning Qualifying
Unfortunately, we did not arrive to the qualifying grid in time to start from the front of the pack. Consequently, over the first three laps we passed what seemed like all 22 cars – where was the open track? While running around the other ITA and ITS cars was certainly entertaining, it was not the best way to set a hot qualifying time. We needed to find an open section of track and exploit it!
By lap four the traffic had subsided and we began to run. And run. And run. Every lap past the start/finish line Pat would shout the ever-decreasing times into his headset. We were taking off full seconds almost every lap, and continued to do so until the checkered flag flew. Pulling down the pit lane and taking tire temps we were confident that we had secured a decent starting position, but knew there was more in store…the car wanted to go faster yet.
When the grid was posted, the cheers in celebration from our pits could be heard across the paddock. For the third time this season, team scR had captured the pole position! While this was quite an accomplishment in and of itself, we had qualified 4th overall, in front of 18 ITS cars. In fact, there were two ITS cars directly behind us…our next closest ITA competitor was back in 7th. This was going to be exciting.
As the crew diligently prepared the car for the seven-lap qualifying race, Mark and I developed our pre-race strategies. Being surrounded by ITS competitors would prove to be challenging for the #34 car, as most would have a significant horsepower advantage at the start. Getting clear of the traffic was paramount, but we certainly couldn’t plan to make any passes before turn 1. Mark, on the other hand was facing just the opposite situation. Having qualified 7th, he was surrounded by six ITA competitors – three in front and three behind. We both knew that a clean run through the pack was critical – #21 to gain position and #34 to maintain position.
Saturday Afternoon Qualifying Race
Cut to the chase: gridded two-by-two as the field came through the carousel at 6,000 RPM, the #34 car somehow managed to get one HELL of a run on the ITS Datsun 240Z gridded directly in front of us. Four cylinders rule! Consequently, when the green flag flew there was a significant decision to be made:
- a) lift off the throttle to avoid a collision
- b) aw heck – hit him!
- c) attempt to pass on the outside
As we used to say in college during multiple choice exams, “the correct answer is always C!” Without as much as a wiggle on the throttle we dove to the right of the Datsun, running the passenger side tires up and over the track curbing. Of course, as soon as we were beside him, the curbing turned into grass. Cool – two off and side by side approaching turn 1! With the right foot on the floor we pulled past the Datsun in the grass and tucked in front of him as the bridge approached. A small challenge from the ITS pole-sitting BMW 325i was held off as we ran through the corner, finding ourselves in the overall lead entering the chicane. Yahoo!
On the back straight, an ITS Triumph TR8 with a really big motor shot by the inside as we ran down into turn six, but apparently it went to his head as he continued on to spin exiting turn 7. Again, the overall lead was ours as we sped through Thunder Valley and approached the start/finish line. One lap down, five to go!
By lap 2, the ITS BMW 325i managed to catch back up to our Saturn. We drafted him down the back straight, putting even more distance between us and the second place ITA Mazda RX-7. For the remaining four laps we drove just hard enough to stay in front of the ITS traffic behind us – there was no point in driving over the edge while racing cars in another class. While the ITS Datsun eventually caught back up and passed us on the last lap (after failing miserably to do so two laps earlier in an event that nearly took us both out), our first place ITA finishing position had been secured, locking in our pole-position start for the Sunday morning regional race.
Just as exciting was the fact that Mark and the #21 car had managed to pick their way through traffic for the entire qualifying race, ending up 3rd in ITA when the checkered flag fell! While we had not anticipated both Saturns on the podium, it sure was a big lift for the whole team and a great testament to the hard work and preparation Mark had poured into his brand-new car. The race on Sunday couldn’t come soon enough for either of us.
Sunday Regional Race
Before we were even out of bed Sunday morning, Pat and Tom had The Weather Channel going.
“Hey look – they say it’s going to rain today.”
No problem – we were not going to let a little precipitation get in our way of our first victory lap! We headed to the track watching the skies intently, hoping that we would not have to sit on the fence for a tire decision.
Fortunately, the rains held off until well after our race, so we headed to the grid on the four best Hoosier 225’s in our arsenal. With 18 laps between us and the checkered flag, the butterflies were running rampant for the driver, crew, and fans. Let the games begin!
At the start of the race we did not get quite the jump that we enjoyed on Saturday, but we managed to hold our ground. Screaming down the front straight, through turn 1, zipping around the chicane, and down the back straight we were pleased to find ourselves still in the ITA lead, with a two-car buffer between us and the second place ITA contender. Having never run the #34 car for 18 laps at full race speeds, we were content to camp out on the bumper of the ITS Calais in front of us and make the car happy. Again, there was no sense in running the car ragged to battle for out-of-class positions.
For the first four laps, our strategy worked fine, but eventually the second place ITA RX-7, as well as Mark in his Saturn, began to advance. Running down the back straight on lap 5 the RX-7 made his move to the inside and passed us for the ITA lead. With 13 laps to go, we decided to breathe heavy on the back of his car, studying his moves while not racing him directly. We needed to be clean and fast – there was plenty of time to pass back for the lead.
Unfortunately, the RX-7 squeaked by the Calais on the following lap, buffering himself from our charge. Damn! Time to turn up the heat and get by the ITS traffic…
Stepping up the pace, we made our move on the Calais under braking in turn 6 – no issue. Once he tucked in behind us we had no problem running away through the esses and down through Thunder Valley. With our foot to the floor we began to reel off our fastest laps of the race as the RX-7 slowly came back to us. We were gaining over a second per lap, and planning our pass for the lead.
Two laps later we had caught the ITA race leader and were ready to put him back behind us. After a great run through the chicane, we pulled under his car going into the Keyhole and, touching doorhandles, drove side-by-side down the entire back straight at 110 MPH. As we were on the inside entering turn 6, we held off on braking until well after our normal braking zone to force the RX-7 to turn-in late and tuck in behind us. Apparently, his strategy was to try to outbrake us on the outside, as he locked up his right front wheel and slid straight off the line as we cleanly shot through the corner. He quickly gathered his car back up and came running back at the #34 Saturn, but could not make a significant charge before a (much needed) full-course yellow was displayed one lap later.
Following three laps of pace-car speeds the green flag flew again, signaling two laps to go. Team scR managed to maintain position at the restart, although it required holding off front-straight charges from both the RX-7 and the ITS Calais. As we ran down the back straight, the RX-7 went high, the Calais went low, and we shot down the middle of the track entering the braking zone for turn 6. The racing was so tight that the mirrors were empty…but cars were on both sides of us. We drove the middle of the track through turns 7 and 8 without seeing a single glimpse of our two challengers…where did they go?
Upon crossing the start/finish line Pat came across the radio, “The Calais took out the RX-7 going into turn 6 – you’re all alone in front!” So that explained it! With the one lap to go signal given, we cruised around the track quickly but carefully. The mirrors were empty – our first victory was 2.4 short miles away.
Bringing it Home
Four years of time, money, broken parts, and near misses came together all at once. Somehow, Pat and Tom both found a way to crawl into the passenger area of the car without firing the Halon system, and we began our first victory lap. With the checkered flag waving out the window we made our way around the track. It didn’t matter that there were not 100,000 cheering fans in the bleachers – just knowing that all of our hard work had finally paid off – at our favorite track – made the victory every bit as special.
We slowed to wave to my parents and Dana on the hill in the Keyhole, revved up the motor, and sped down the back straight. When we finally arrived at impound, we found the second place #21 car already in line, with Mark smiling from ear-to-ear. Who would have thought that a 1-2 podium finish for Saturn would happen this quickly? John Comeskey from SPS nearly needed Oxygen as he ran from car to car, ecstatic with the weekend’s results. Everyone won on Sunday.
Don’t Change That Channel!
Why mess with a good thing? Our next outing is scheduled for – you guessed it – Mid-Ohio on September 22-24. While we will take our time inspecting and maintaining the car for the event, we don’t want to alter a thing. The car worked so well that we don’t want it to change one bit. Our best race lap of a 1:46.9 ended up to be the second fastest lap by any ITA or ITS car that race (and more that 5 seconds per lap faster that in our SSC days), but we know that in order to run with the ARRC-winning CRX’s we need to shave off about another second…or more. Hopefully, without the pressure of knocking off that first win we can more clearly focus on that interval.
It’s time to see what #34 can really do. See you at the track!