Dateline: March 10/11, 2018
Green Green Green Green!
Well, this certainly is a great way to start to the season. And no, I’m not referring to the new transmission, the new headlight, the new front fascia, or the new front splitter that we have purchased in the past three weeks. Body work and mechanical issues aside, scR motorsports and Risi Competizione have hit (pun intended, read on below) the ground running in 2018 and seem to have settled into a rhythm right out of the gate. By collecting 40 of the 46 available points for the entire weekend at the Circuit of the Americas, we find ourselves at the top of the 458 Challenge leaderboard as we prepare for Round 2 at Laguna Seca in May.
No, Anna. We finished first. Not second.
For those of you who followed us last year, you might remember the trials, tribulations, and ultimate success that COTA provided for us in 2017. As a recap:
“Back when the track was first paved about five years ago, I had the opportunity to drive it in a variety of different cars in a variety of different events. While all of my experience there was in street cars, coming into the event I had a pretty darn good idea of where the track went left and where the track went right. Unfortunately, since my last time there in 2015, certain sections of the track had fallen into poor repair. This in effect made certain sections of the track (like the exit of the high-speed carousel) more like a Supercross track than the billiard-table-smooth racing surface I recalled.”
…and then there was the weather…
“Who decided to schedule a race in Austin, Texas in September? Humans really should not be allowed to participate in ANY outdoor activity in Austin, Texas in September. This explicitly includes activities where you have to wear three layers of fireproof clothing, put on head sock, put your now-socked head in a helmet, and then strap yourself into a racecar with a marginal air conditioning system whose only design purpose is to overheat the engine while in operation. No joke on that one.”
Another great Scott Foley action shot from 2017.
In spite of these minor inconveniences, on Friday we qualified 6th, finished 3rd, and set the second-fastest race lap (2:18.0), and on Saturday we qualified 9th, finished 1st, and managed to set the fastest race lap (2:16.1). And I got to sign Hero Cards. It was a weekend to remember, and one we hoped to build on heading into 2018.
Coming off of a successful test day earlier in the month, we were confident that mechanically the car was 100% ready to go. During our shakedown runs we managed a 2:16.3, only a couple of tenths off of our 2017 best, but suspected there was much more time left in the car (and driver). With Austin’s March weather being substantially less oppressive than September, the cooler temperatures themselves were expected to help the lap times plummet.
Anna, James, and Rick out of breath after walking to the top of Turn 1.
On the flip side, our Thursday-night track walk confirmed that the track surface was clearly no better than it had been in 2017. A new heave at the entry of Turn 2 required a modified line coming down the hill, doing nothing good for lap times. And the high-speed carousel? It was like driving off a cliff at 100 mph. Because we were basically driving off a cliff at 100 mph.
Thursday Test Day
During our Thursday open test day, the car (and driver) were amazingly consistent. A series of adjustments were made, new lines were attempted, and we fell into a decent rhythm. The car was repeatedly putting down mid-2:15’s; however, traffic was dense, and it became increasingly difficult to find enough open track to string together 20 consecutive corners for a timed lap. At the end of the third session we found ourselves at the top of the 458 lap chart with a 2:15.4, but again suspected that there was more in store.
Friday Test Day
The good news is that Friday brought with it lower lap times (a best of 2:14.8) and another trip to the top of the 458 lap chart. The bad news is that Friday brought with it a new headlight, a new front fascia, and a new front splitter. In case you’re wondering, that’s a lot of expense for 0.6 seconds. Read on.
Heading out on Friday morning, we spent the first few laps circling around on old tires just to get things up to temperature. We then changed up to a set of stickers (decoder ring: new tires) and headed out into the aforementioned dense traffic to put down a flier. At least, that was the plan. A mock qualifying, if you will.
Heading into the Esses, I caught up to a pair of 458s that were substantially off the pace. Since Turn 3 is a really, really bad place to pass in practice, I checked up and followed them through Turns 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 before making my move to the inside heading up into Turn 9. As both of the slower cars moved to the right (presumably to let me by), I leaned on the gas and drove by them on the inside, leaving plenty of room to the right for them to track out on their own and continue their lap.
And then the driver of car 208 moved randomly to the left. And now I have a new headlight, a new front fa$cia, and a new front $plitter.
This repair transcended Hello Kitty.
It turns out that, in fact, she never saw me at all. Or the blue (passing) flag being displayed. At least, that’s what she shared with me afterwards. Her seemingly random movement to the left was truly just that. I later learned that this was her first race, and that she was promoting herself as “Representing Woman [sic] World Wide by being the First Female out Of Canada to Receive a IMSA Licence [sic] Through Ferrari!” but unfortunately her social media hashtag #IShowUpIGoBoom suddenly had a new meaning. Boom, indeed.
Her car fared MUCH worse than ours – the broken rear crossmember, compromised suspension, and substantial body damage her car sustained ended her weekend immediately (although, curiously, she was seen walking around the paddock for the rest of the weekend in a driving suit taking selfies). The Risi crew, on the other hand, wasted no time in getting #234 dressed and once again ready for action. In spite of the drama, we made it back on track for the final session and ended our test day again at the top of the lap chart, setting a personal best that was eight tenths of a second in front of our next closest competitor.
Back like nothing ever happened (except we still need some white paint).
This part is easy. With a 2:15.0 in qualifying we were sitting on the pole, three tenths of a second faster than the car sitting next to us on the grid. Starting on the front row is NEVER a bad thing.
Rolling down the front straight for the start of the race, we KILLED the rest of the field at the green flag and had a multi-car-length advantage going into Turn 1. That advantage continued through the Esses and continued to grow as we ran down the back straight. And then people got all stupid.
The two cars sitting in second and third decided to attempt a Banzai pass going into Turn 12 from about, oh, 300 feet back. Fortunately I saw this coming and didn’t pull directly into their path. Both blew through the braking zone and continued to go off the far side of the track, forcing me to check up and avoid the carnage that would have ensued had I stayed on my line. Both re-entered the track in front of me, although both had violated the track limits established by the Race Director earlier that morning. The driver of car 246 quickly realized his error and immediately pointed me back by, but the driver of car 224 continued on in first place as if nothing had ever happened.
Neither one of them was able to stay on track…
It took five laps, but we got back by 224 under braking at the end of the back straight and proceeded to pull away slowly. The only little bit of real drama occurred on lap 11 when I radioed to the crew letting them know that the battery light was flickering on and off. They casually suggested that I turn off my headlights (“James, turn off your damn headlights!”), which I dutifully did. Along with the main power. Turns out that both switches are next to one another, and if you’re swatting in that general direction in the middle of Turn 1, you might hit both inadvertently. My bad.
Future note to self: don’t hit the BIG RED ONE on the left during a race.
As I fumbled to turn the car back on, 224 passed on the outside going downhill into the Esses. Fortunately, the car fired right back up and we lost very little time, but we were now back in second place. Until 224 spun less than 30 seconds later in Turn 8, that is. The screen shot below from the in-car video tells the story better than words.
This could have ended much worse than it did!
Without any more pressure from behind, we crossed the finish line first with a gap of over seven seconds to the next car. Along the way we led the most laps and turned in the fastest race lap. And the champagne never tasted so sweet (although it still tastes pretty poor).
Moments before the champagne shower took place.
Following Saturday’s race, I spent a good deal of time complaining to Rick about how poorly the car was handling. After he shot back, “You mean the car that won and set the fastest race lap?” or something like that, we put our heads together and went looking for more time, because there was clearly something left on the table for Sunday. At least, that’s what we thought.
After going through the setup with a fine-tooth comb, Rick thought he had unearthed a bit more speed. And indeed he had. In Sunday morning’s qualifying session, we laid down a pair of laps in the 2:13’s – a 2:13.7 and a 2:13.9. Another personal best and another pole position? Not exactly, as 246 nipped us by 0.094 second for the inside first row. But the car was fast and the car was consistent, and starting on the front row is NEVER a bad thing. Perfect for race day.
(Note for the racers in the audience: the predictive lap data indicated that a 2:12.77 was out there somewhere, but we never put that together. Next time!)
Rolling down the front straight for the start of the race, we KILLED the rest of the field at the green flag and had a multi-car-length advantage going into Turn 1. Oh wait, that was Saturday. Sunday’s start was nearly equally good, but 246 also got a great jump on the field. Side-by-side into Turn 1, we fell in behind him heading down the hill and the two of us began to distance ourselves from the field. By lap 7 we were nearly a full straightaway ahead of 224 in third place. And then the double yellows came out to bunch up the field.
Circling the track behind the pace car, we knew that it was going to be a three-lap shootout to the checkered flag. And not just with 246 in the front, but with 224 and 203 in the rear. When the course went green again, we locked onto the rear bumper of 246 and filled his mirrors for a full lap before making “our move.”
“Our move” consisted of a perfectly-executed Turn 11 and winning the drag race down the back straight. He wasn’t willing to give up easily, however, and we ran side-by-side through Turns 12 and 13. Exiting Turn 13, we continued door-to-door. Which was great racing and all until 246 decided to run us off the inside of the track and through the dirt. Which, in case you are wondering, is not the fast line.
Turn 13 with one lap to go. No, the fast line is not in the dirt.
After a small lift of the accelerator pedal to avoid contact, I focused on making up the lost time, hoping to make a last-lap pass for the win. At the same time, we now needed to fend off the two cars directly behind that were interested in nothing more than watching me slow down as a result of the off-track excursion. We needed to follow up “our move” with “a better move.”
Carrying great speed through the Esses (I have really learned to love the Esses), we caught back up to 246 and by Turn 9 were again sitting on his rear bumper. Cresting Turn 10 and heading towards Turn 11, we began to pull alongside 246, knowing that this would be the last opportunity to get in front before the checkered flag. He would have none of it, though, and drove his car straight across our bow, effectively cutting us off and forcing an evasive maneuver to avoid hitting the large orange concrete suspension-breaking-thing found at the apex. I again lifted early to avoid contact.
Turn 11 on the final lap. On a different day, it might have resulted in a pass for the win.
Now, on another day I may have very well defended my turf and forced my way through the gap that I considered to be partially mine. But having just replaced the right-front headlight, front fascia, and front splitter two days before, I lifted, let him pass, and crossed the finish line in second place. Which doesn’t exactly suck, but wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for.
The only consolation was that the Race Director issued a warning to the driver of car 246 for Unsportsmanlike Conduct following the race due to his failure to give me racing room where merited. Which didn’t change the race results, but is a small moral victory. Oh, that and I poured an entire bottle of champagne down his back during the podium ceremony which sounds completely sophomoric now but in the moment seemed like the right thing to do. Don’t judge me.
Yes, I poured the entire champagne bottle down his Nomex suit. Nope, I’m not proud.
All About The Championship
During the debrief, Rick laid it out just right: two podiums (one a win), one pole, and two fastest race laps. Grabbed the most points, and we don’t have anything (additional) to repair or replace before Laguna Seca. While we didn’t run the table, that’s the kind of performance championships are made of. And that’s our goal this season. With only eight races total in our series, we need to make every one count. We’re off to a great start, and hope for more of the same in May.
See you at the track!