2 posts tagged thunderhill
Six months ago, Mike Johnson from Stevenson Motorsports asked me that question. It was rite after he invited me out to test a Grand-Am Continental car and I was trying to decide what to do the following season. It was an honest question, but one I didn’t fully grasp until recently.
I’m by no means a professional racing driver and honestly have no ambitions to become one. I’ll make my money elsewhere and probably end up spending most of it in motorsport — and I’m ok with that. However, I do approach it as if it was my job, since I’m paying the bills.
My goal? I want to be the guy that gives your average-joe Pro nightmares. When they get beat or out qualified by me, they’ll know I’m the “paying” driver. And I’m not talking about being one of the guys (or girls!) in a car that beats them, I’m talking about being the driver in the car that beats them. Will I get there? Who the hell knows!
Everyone always says to have fun, which I can’t argue with. But, speaking for myself: I have fun when I win or at least have the chance to FIGHT to win.
The 2012 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona was a fantastic event. We didn’t get the result we were hoping for in our car, but all things considered it was a great learning experience and I was very happy with my own (selfish) performance. I did everything that was asked of me, made no mistakes, gave constructive feedback to the team (hopefully) and ran our target lap times in every session. We had a few close calls, and either due purely to luck or my own awesome instincts (lol!) we got through them unscathed. But hey, that’s got to be par for the course in a 24 hour race!
On the way home from Daytona I was pretty bummed. Not over our results, or the team, or the car, or even my performance. I was bummed because I felt that was honestly as good as I could have done, and it still wasn’t close to being good enough to compete with the guys at the front.
In the days following Daytona I had a “come to jesus” meeting with myself. That’s when I started to understand what he meant by “do you want to be a better driver or a better racer?”. If I was going to keep racing, I simply had to get better as a driver. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to toot my own horn.. but I’m pretty fucking fast for an amateur! But, not fast enough. That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to race again until I got faster. Not just a lucky flying lap faster, but a consistently better driver which would result in being faster in all situations.
The last physical thing I could think of that could improve my performance directly within my control was my vision. I barely passed a DMV drivers license renewal back in 2010 (scared yet?).. so I went and had lasik done. Now I’m 20/15 in both eyes… bionic vision FTMFW! My only advice is: when they offer you the valium, TAKE IT! Don’t try to iron man it.. people digging in your eye sockets just aint natural. :-)
While my eyes healed from lasik, I spent a solid 2 weeks looking back through all the data I’d collected since I started racing 12 months ago. Mainly trying to get a better idea at where I started and how I got to where I am now. I ended up finding a trend in my driving that was consistently costing me time (I’ll have some more posts dedicated to that soon). Luckily, I know 2 really nice guys who also happen to be fast as hell that could give me some additional advice: Johannes van Overbeek and Spencer Pumpelly. After picking their brains on the subject, I was confident I could fix the “hitch” in my driving. If I could fix the hitch, I’d be really close to reaching my goal and would be able to go racing again with the Big Dogs and maybe have a little fun. ;)
Now it’s time for the real work to begin.
Of course, it’s not just about going out and driving and looking at data. Running my race car is a pain in the ass! In order for the data and practice to mean anything at this point, the car always has to be in tip-top shape. That includes fresh brakes and tires at all times and having a strong motor. The motor in the car happened to blowup soon after I bought it, so it was refreshed while I was at Daytona. It also takes people with more mechanical knowledge and experience than myself to keep the car running, so I have to schedule all test time with my buddies at Jerry Woods Enterprises. They run a full-time Porsche restoration and race shop, so I can’t just call them on a Tuesday and say let’s go to the track on Thursday! Luckily Rich Walton over at JWE knows how I’m approaching this and has been going out of his way to help me run the car — thanks guys!
Now since Daytona I’ve only had the car out for 2 test days.
The first test day was at Sears Point on Feb 22 and was also the first time driving after having the lasik procedure done. Going from 20/50 w/ an astigmatism to 20/15 vision was going to be interesting! Luckily, after just a lap or 2 I was comfortable. The bionic vision made it more fun and maybe slightly easier to drive, but I’m not sure it ultimately made me faster. My fastest lap in the morning on fresh tires was a 1:39.7, about 12 laps later on the same set of tires Johannes ran a 1:39.3, and then about 10 laps after that I ran a 1:40.7. The track conditions were changing through out the day so it’s a little hard to compare driver to driver, but I was happy with the improvements I made. I was also able to get some really good data that showed exactly where my hitch was and that the rest of my driving was pretty damn good, if I do say so my damned self!
The second test day was at Thunderhill on March 3rd. Johannes happened to be there as well so I was really looking forward to working on my hitch and bringing the PAIN! I did 8-10 laps in the morning on old tires, only focusing on my hitch (basically over compensating for it and probably looking like a knucklehead out there!). Once I got my brain working rite and some rubber down on the track, I had the guys throw on new brake pads and a new set of slicks. My plan was to run 3 or 4 laps as hard as I could and then have Johannes go out and run some laps. Over lunch we’d compare the data and see how I was doing.
During the first hot lap on fresh tires I could tell I was driving better, the car was alive EVERYWHERE (in a good way!). Towards the end of the lap it was getting even better, so I knew the tires were coming up and lap #2 was going to be the money shot. Passing the finish line at the end of lap 1 I had a time of 1:48.7 come up on the dash, which is pretty fast for over the top of the Cyclone at Thunderhill! I was .5 sec up on the second lap when the transmission exploded exiting turn 3. It had been a little chunky ever since I bought the car, but it finally let go. :(
It sucked that Johannes wasn’t able to jump in the car before it let go, but I was able to compare my single hot lap to his laps the last time he drove the car at Thunderhill. Not perfect, obviously, because it was a different day, different set of tires, and I think the car is better setup now than it was before. Either way, it was all I had to go with. We basically ran the same lap time, so I’ve been excited about that. It’s hard to tell how much effect the setup/conditions have played, so I’m comfortable thinking I’ve improved a little but still not up to where I need to be.
Next test day will be March 22 at Thunderhill. Weather is looking a little dicey, but the transmission is fixed and Johannes will be there helping me. If we get some dry laps I’m hoping to consistently work on my hitch and that should bring the lap times closer to JvO… we’ll see!
I’ll be posting more detailed info on the “hitch” and my adventures in getting faster over the next few weeks. If you’re curious, stay tuned…