Road Atlanta National II – 6/1/08

For those that have followed my racing hobby you’ll know that Road Atlanta (RA) has been a love hate relationship for the past several years.  In my first two attempts at national competition at RA I was leading the races by a very healthy margin, only to have transmission/clutch issues take me out of the race.  So this race weekend was nicknamed ‘unfinished business’ 😉

Since work and home life are very busy these days I was unable to make it down to RA for Friday testing, but with Ryan’s (VIP Crew Chief) help I was able to get packed up and make it down in the evening to get registered and setup in the paddock.  We got lucky (I think…or did we smell?) and got a prime location all by ourselves right next to the start/finish line.  The car was pretty much ready off the trailer, but Ryan made some last minute tweaks before we headed of to the hotel.

Saturday morning came and the weather was warm and muggy (~75F but felt 90ish).  With predictions of 90+ temps and bright sun in the afternoon the morning qualification session was surely the best time to put down a fast lap and call it a day.  So I strapped in, new Hoosier A6s all around…just enough gas for a few good laps and set sail.  The run group went out and did the normal warm up lap slow roll around the track, this allows us to warm up our tires and for anyone that wishes to make a charge early to get around while the rest of us get a good distance away from each other so a few clean laps can be had by all.  Or at least that is how it is supposed to work 😉   So I get a good jump down the hill toward the starting line and take the green, hauling the mail down the front straight, check the mirrors, nothing there, turn in to turn one and SMACK…on the throttle pull out up the hill…WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT????  Apparently there was a little GT3 car that had made a last minute charge and dive in to turn one, clobbered my right side and ripped off my valve stem instantly flattening my right rear tire.  Not the qualification I was hoping for 🙁  I slowly made my way around to the pits and parked the car so that Ryan could make it all better for the 2nd qual in the afternoon.

Ryan pulled the wheel/tire and checked all the suspension bits…all was good.  Hoosier didn’t have any spare As so I decided to run a sticker R compound on the right rear.  For those os you not familiar with this tires stuff… A6s are autocross soft compound tires and R6s are racing compound tires, both are near slicks with two little grooves, but the As normally can save you a second or more per lap when qualifing.

The plan for the second session was to get a solid lap without getting clobbered by anymore runaway invisible GT3 cars 😉  SCCA had determined that the other driver was at fault and pulled his morning qual time…so I stayed away from him just in case.  Since the other T2 cars hadn’t put down blistering times in the morning the door was still open for me… and on the 2nd lap I was able to sweak out a 1:43.6.

The T2 grid was set with me on pole, Jeff in his Lotus Exige at a 1:45.2 and John in his formerly National Championship Subaru STi with a 1:45.9

Race morning came and the weather looked pretty unpredictable.  It was overcast, but bright and smelled like rain (you know that smell, right?).  Ryan and I prep’d the car and hung out watching the weather.  It turns out our noses were right and it rained pretty steadily for several hours.  About thirty minutes before the race the sky cleared up and it began to dry.  Since I had AWD I knew what tires I was running…R6 race slicks…damp track be dammned.  Others had a more difficult choice to make as the track was still pretty wet and would be a handful.  I rolled to the grid as Ryan helped John in the Subi finish putting his car back together from a failed oil line the day before.

The race started at a slow pace as everyone was unsure of the wet conditions.  I choose not to launch off on a hell bent pace since I was already in front of the T2 group, maintaining that position was all that was required.  John in the AWD Subi made quick work of Jeff in the Lotus and was soon just behind me.  We ran several laps this way, pretty much follow the leader.  I was willing to do this as long as John wished…click off the laps and whenever it was time to go I was ready 🙂  I slowly increased the pace as the track dried out.  Ryan was on pit wall calling out the gap interval back to John and it seemed like he was dropping fast.  Wait I hadn’t taken off yet?  Ummm….apparently John had some more issues.  I continued on a fun yet safe pace with Ryan giving me a gap update once a lap.  At one point he called out that John was 1:34 behind…so I figured he must be right in front of me and soon after there he was.  I turned up the wick a bit and passed him on the back straight at a pretty good clip.  It was clear he was off pace as was the Lotus who apparently found oil in turn one and musta been wishing for and Evo as he spun multiple times (sorta like that commercial with the guy on ice).  Jeff was able to continue but at a reduced pace and I think I lapped him a couple times.  The race wasn’t as competitive as I would have liked, but the real battle was between me and the track anyway and this time I came away victorious…third time was the charm!

Big thanks to Ryan from VIP Garage for taking on Crew Chief responsibilities this weekend, you were an amazing help!  I really apprecaited the tune up AMS has put on this Evo, powerful and reliable even in the hot and humid Atlanta weather.  I can’t forget TRE as the 5-speed did exactly what it should everytime without any issues, wish I could have said that about the 6-speed Mitsubishi provided with the car.

Rob Hines winning the T3 race in a Honda S2000.

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