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Doernbecher Dash

25/26 September 2004

Having run just three race week-ends by the end of September, and with only two races to go, it was pretty clear there was no way I could even qualify for either the CP or RS championships. Since those last two races were only a week apart and I just didn't feel like I had the energy to do both, plus the fact that I would be running the enduro at PIR in just a few weeks, I decided that my last regular season race would be down in Portland.


Pictures from this event

Friday

The whole family was going on this trip, so we loaded up the trailer and the truck and left about 3 in the afternoon. Traffic was what I'd call "average bad" for a Friday afternoon, but we were cruising in the carpool lane and therefore avoided most of it. I say "most" because there was a fair stretch of freeway on southbound I-5 where all the lanes were crawling along. Of course, there was no obvious reason why.

We arrived at the track a little before 7pm and unloaded the car from the trailer. (Can't unhook the truck until the car's out of the trailer.) The plan was to get the car prepped for the morning, go through tech, and then set up our paddock space (tarp, canopy, chairs, etc.) in the morning. Unfortunately for the plan, the usually-quick registration process at PIR took forever because of the guy in front of me who hadn't in any way pre-registered... by the time he'd filled out the forms for two run groups, filled out another form because of his non-Conference license, gotten his tech forms, and then (of course) paid by credit card, it was too dark for me to setup the car.

Since there wasn't much else I could do with the car, we locked everything up for the night, took my driver's gear by Tech (ah, the joys of having had an annual inspection done on the car itself), and headed off to dinner and bed.

Saturday

The weather forecast for the day was hot and sunny, but it was a cold and foggy morning that greeted us as we arrived at the track a bit before 8am. My first session wasn't until 9, so I had plenty of time to finish Friday evening's plan of setting up our paddock area, swapping to dry tires, and generally getting the car ready for the day.

With a new set of brake pads to bed, I didn't mind the track conditions as they helped remind me to take things easy during Group 1's practice session. Unfortunately, the track was crawling with a bunch of cars I hadn't seen before and most of them appeared to be of the freaky-fast variety. With me driving at only 70% of normal, I found myself with the unpleasant experience of cars going by me at significantly higher closing speeds than what I'm used to... normally, even the fastest cars are only about 30-40MPH faster on the straights.

Aside from needing to really keep my eyes on my mirrors, I had a couple other "entertaining" moments during the session: The first happened when I came upon a line of oil in the apex of Turn 11. Turn 11 is a fast right-hander just before the front straight. While there's a lot of runoff room here, it's all grass (and wet grass, that morning), which tends to actually accelerate a sliding car toward the inevitable wall. The back of the car immediately started coming around to outrace the front towards track out, but some judicious counter-steering and heavy use of the throttle (front-drive car, remember) eventually straightened me out before I got fully off-track. The second moment came near the end of the session, when I started to push the new pads a bit. As I braked for the chicane at the end of the front straight. Which is when I found out that they hadn't been bedded enough yet and had no real "bite" for hard braking, resulting in one of my occasional "turn the wheel and hope for the best" moments. Thankfully, the tires were nice & warm and this car has great balance, so it all worked out in the end. It would seem the weather wasn't the only thing foggy that morning!

I pushed the car harder a little later in the Group 5 practice, but still kept it pretty tame.

During the long break before my first qualifying session in the afternoon, the sun finally made its appearance and warmed the day up comfortably. Eric, Hal, and I got together to talk about the enduro, but basically it was just a lazy time to hang out and socialize.

Since there was a reasonable expectation that Sunday morning—and therefore the qualifying sessions—was going to be cold and foggy again, I decided to push hard in the Group 1's first qualifying session. I think I must have been going through Turns 7 & 8 better than I had in the past, because I was going about 7MPH faster in the brake zone for Turn 10 (end of the back straight, the fastest part of PIR) than I ever had before. I also experienced brake fade in this car for the first time ever. This was likely due to the higher speeds I was seeing, in conjunction to using Performance Friction street pads. Yes, street pads. I spent most of the last two years playing with different brands and compounds and these had always worked fine in the past. Now, though, I guess I'm going fast enough that they're no longer up to the task.

Because Groups 1 & 5 were at opposite ends of the schedule this week-end, I had more than 2 hours before Group 5 qualifying. After a long delay in getting results from earlier in the day, I finally got the results for the Group 5 practice and Group 1 qualifying shortly before it was time to qualify for Group 5. While the good news might have been I was carrying good speed into Turn 10, the bad news was much worse: I was way, way slow. I was showing 3/4 in class, about 0.8" behind Guy AND my previous best time at PIR (not to mention 2.5 seconds off Mike's new time!), and only 29/53 overall, with 10 cars not running the session, almost all of which were potentially-faster "SPx" cars (SPO, SPM, SPU).

With that delightful information in hand, I went out for Group 5 qualifying, fully expecting that I was going to qualify for crap. But, you know, what the hell... I can only do what I can, right?

I got on it as hard as I had in Group 1, and things felt really good overall, but I'd felt the same during Group 1's first qualifying and look how that'd turned out. Still, I felt I was carrying more speed into the corners, getting on the gas sooner, and just generally felt pretty comfortable. If there was any doubt, I could tell I was comfortable and relaxed when I had several "unexpected handling" moments and calmly dealt with them before continuing as if nothing had happened.

I'd had a sort-of running battle with an RS-classed RX-7 and an ITS 240Z from the beginning of the session and realized I was having a lot of fun, just pushing hard and playing with the other two guys. Eventually, I just said "what the hell," deciding to enjoy the experience and not worry about where I was going to qualify.

When the results for Group 5's Saturday qualifying were posted... well! What a surprise! I had qualified 5/20 in class, 18/57 overall, just behind two other RS cars, one of which I'd outqualified in Group 1 that morning and the other that I've beaten in RS races a couple times. And this in a class where my car is more than 200 pounds overweight! All my laps but one were slower than in Group 1's session, but that one was a healthy 1.1 seconds faster than my Group 1 time... musta been one helluva lap. :) It was also the fastest time I'd run at PIR with the chicane by about 4/10s of a second. On the other hand, there were eight Group 5 cars that didn't run the session, including two cars from RS, so Sunday's qualifying was likely to see the starting grid change. Still, for now, I was showing up on the qualifying sheet WAY closer to cars I'm not usually anywhere near. Even if it wasn't likely to last (barring weather changes, Sunday's times are always better than Saturday's), it was a pretty nice feeling.

Unfortunately, things were about to get a little complicated: After the session, I took a look at the front pads that had been new that morning... uh-oh. (The stock brake bias setting on an Integra means that rear pads last a season or more, so I never check 'em mid-season.) I was already down to about half the material remaining, which was a pretty good indication that I wasn't going to make it through two more qualifying sessions and the two races. So, not only were the street pads no longer up to the task of slowing me down, but they were shredding themselves in the process. That was a little disappointing (those puppies are so cheap compared to real race pads), but the really bad news was that I had figured a brand-new set of pads would be plenty for one week-end and so hadn't brought any extras with me.

So I grabbed my credit card and trotted over to Vendor's Row (which, from our now-standard paddock space up on the grass, was just a minute or so away) to see if Andy of Armadillo Racing had anything I could use. Turns out, though, that he only brings pads for the more-common cars at Conference races (Mazdas and BMWs, mainly), so I checked out Competition Motorsports. It was touch-and-go for a second, but he eventually found a set of Hawk Blues for my car. Whew! $140 and about 20 minutes later and I had a new set of front pads on the car. I was a little bummed that I was going to have to use the second qualifying session for Group 1 to bed them in, but it figured to be foggy again the next morning, so it probably wouldn't be much of a loss.

Sunday

Sunday morning, of course, dawned clear and sunny, so I really did waste the session bedding the new pads. When I first started to lean on them, per the instructions, I thought I was going to go straight over the curbs and through the chicane at Turn 1, there was so little brake response; it was almost as if I had to break through a crust that had formed on them, though, because they had great bite after that.

Bedding procedure complete, I came off the track after only 5 or 6 laps and headed for the scales to get weighed. The steward weighs cars from a randomly selected class and that week-end it was C Production's turn. We all passed, of course, as Guy's car is the only one really close to its minimum weight.

Returning to my paddock and inspecting the pads showed a truly impressive amount of dust on the wheels, all the more impressive (and not in a good way) considering I'd only done a handful of laps. I couldn't wait to see what they were going to look like at the end of the day. :)

As I'd never run with Hawk Blues before, I took the opportunity in the second session for Group 5 to really test 'em out. Although they were working noticeably better than the PF street pads, I didn't improve on my time from Saturday. My Sunday's best was only 0.4" off it, though, and was still 0.8" faster than my second-best Saturday time.

Group 1 race (CP)

I started on the outside of row 19, usually the kiss of death at Portland with the chicane, but manage to pull to the inside as we went down the front stretch and pass 3 cars on the run to Turn 1. I pulled to the inside of Bill Spornitz as we entered Turn 1 to get 3 cars behind Guy. I was followed by car #25, an SPU-classed BMW 2002 (although a really old car, a well-sorted one has a great power/weight ratio and can be surprisingly fast) that snuck by me going into Turn 7. I passed him back on the back straight, but then he got by me again going into Turn 12. Once we got onto the front straight, though, I passed him again.

As we came up on Turn 4 for our second lap, I was able to get alongside and then outbrake an SPM-classed Ford Capri. (He'd break down and/or simply run off and park it in Turn 4 later in the race.) There was now only one other car separating me from Guy. I snuck up the inside of the yellow CANUSA Equipment-sponsored RX-7 of Kim Fabbro that was right on Guy's tail as the three of us braked for Turn 12. I'm pretty sure Kim was so busy concentrating on Guy he forgot to keep me behind. I'm now only a car-length or so behind Guy as we tear down the front straight.

As we approached the brake zone for Turn 1, Guy took the fast but very non-defensive line out wide to the left, while I took more of a direct approach to the apex of the right-hand turn, which effectively put me up alongside Guy as we entered the corner. As we turned left for Turn 2, I was probably 2 feet off his bumper... when he got into a big wiggle under acceleration, allowing me to squeak by on the short run up to Turn 3. Time to go after the other CANUSA car and Jeff Wick's 325. (Okay, so they're both in a different class from me, but I felt pretty confident Guy wouldn't be able to catch me and I knew I wasn't going to catch Mike.)

Although the other RX-7 was a ways down the road, I gained some serious ground on Jeff and a white BMW 1602 (kind of an older version of the 2002) by the end of the back straight. Foolishly thinking that the 1602 was holding up Jeff and that's what allowed me to catch them so quickly, and wanting to get in a position to pass one or both of them going down the front straight to Turn 1, I kept a lot of momentum going from Turn 11 to 12, intending to get alongside Jeff as we went through the corner and then (surely!) I'd be able to outrun the 1602 down the straight.

What actually happened was that I didn't realize until it too late that they were going faster than I thought, with the result that I basically dive-bombed Jeff going into Turn 12. He didn't expect me to stick my nose into the apex so late (well, jeez, who would?) and had to give his car a good leftward twitch to keep my left fender from driving into his passenger door. We were mostly side-by-side as we exited the corner, but he was able to pull back in front of me as we ran down the straight.

He was able to pull even further away from me as we ran through the twisty sections of PIR on lap 4, got a good run down the back straight, and outbraked the 1602 going into Turn 10. As we got onto the front straight, I had the rather unnerving experience of seeing them both pull away from me. Draft or no, it's an uncommon 1602 that can hang with an E36 325 in a straight line! Not only that, he returned the favor to Jeff and outbraked him going into Turn 1.

While all this had been going on, Kim Fabbro's yellow RX-7 had quietly regained ground on me and harassed me all the way down the back straight, finally outbraking me for Turn 1 as we started lap 6. As we exited Turn 3 (the last part of the chicane) I found myself getting lapped by the eventual race winner in an SPO Camaro. And then by the second-place finisher in an SPO Monte Carlo in Turn 4. And then an SPO Grand Prix (see a trend here?) in Turn 5, the passing of which messed my entry up enough that ol' #25 (the BMW 2002) was able to repass me. Then it was my turn to lap someone, as I passed Scott Hanken's unexpectedly slow RX-2 (he'd finish 8 places ahead of me in the Group 5 race) under braking for Turn 7.

After most of another lap chasing down the 2002, I got lapped on the back straight by a couple more front-runners in the form of the eventual 1st- and 2nd-placed SPM cars of Tom Miller (read more about his Fiero in my enduro report) and Mac Russell, respectively. And then my first What the hell? moment of the day, as I was passed going into Turn 10 by... a yellow "CANUSA" RX-7! This was the other one, though, who had been well up the road from me for a few laps, so all I can think was that he must've gone into the pits for some reason and had returned behind me. Not for long, as it turned out.

Lap 9 saw me finally getting back within spitting distance of the 2002, until he went off under braking for Turn 6. The last I saw, he was heading for the tire wall in a spray of grass, but he must have managed to avoid the wall because his car was undamaged when I saw it in the paddock later.

Lap 11 saw me and a SPM Porsche 911 lap Scott Hanken again (now, that really is weird) as we went through Turn 1, with the 911 lapping me in Turn 4. As I went into Turn 6, the ex-Speedvision World Challenge Strictly BMW 325 of Andrew Newell just blew by me (like, "standing still" blew by me) by going around the outside of the corner. Considering cars like this would be class competition if I ran the Integra in the enduro... well, you can see the challenge. And you can imagine the expense of meeting that challenge.

Two laps later and I was getting lapped (2nd time) by the red SPO Monte Carlo as we neared the brake zone for Turn 1... which is about the most interesting thing that happened until lap 18, when the SPO Grand Prix that had lapped me earlier in the race passed me again as we entered the brake zone for Turn 1. Imagine my surprise as he turned in for the right-hander and I saw that the right side of his car, from the start of where the passenger door would be (it's a fiberglass silhouette body over a tube-frame chassis) all the way back was missing! Anna said he actually waved to the crowd in the chicane as he went by the grandstands!

(Later, I would find out that he'd had a "coming together" with Guy in Turn 10 or 11. He'd lost one piece of the body there and the rest came off in his slipstream in the ensuing laps. In fact, he'd spent some time parked in the grass outside Turn 11, so his passing of me actually meant he was unlapping himself. He finished 11 places behind me, in fact.)

My second What the hell? moment came when, a few corners later, I found myself rapidly hauling in the same 911 that had lapped me 7 laps previous, as well as the SportBMW-classed 325is of Will Diefenbach. I unlapped myself from the 911 in Turn 5 and then passed Will for overall position in Turn 7. I couldn't figure out why they were both going so slowly (and still don't know) but that's the first and last time I'm likely to pass Will with my Integra, so I can only assume he had some kind of mechanical problem.

I was passed by the race-winning SPO Camaro as we went down the the back straight on the next lap and stayed with him as we went through Turns 10-12 to regain the front straight. He was pulling away from me, of course, but I remember wondering why it wasn't happening more quickly... which is right about when we crossed the finish line to end the race. So, technically, I finished 2nd... on track, that is.

Group 5 race (RS)

By the time of Group 5's race it was after 5pm in late September and the sun was low in the southwestern sky, which meant we'd be staring into its glare exiting Turn 12 and (even more so) exiting Turn 3. And it was only going to get worse over the course of the 30-minute race.

I started on the outside of the track again and didn't have as good a start as in Group 1, but somehow didn't lose any positions as I got "frozen out" going through the Festival Turns. I couldn't force my way into the main stream of cars heading toward Turn 4 and there I was passed by Bruce Boyd's E Production Miata (running RS, so that was a pass for position), then by Justin Wade's Spec Miata (also running RS) in Turn 5, and then by Sean Hester's ITA RX-7 in Turn 8. I knew I was faster (I'd qualified 25th overall, while they'd started 35th, 29th, and 33rd, respectively), but I just couldn't seem to find a gap in traffic to pull into.

I was finally able to get some space as we ran down the back straight, repassed Sean early in the run, and then got alongside Justin's Miata in the brake zone for Turn 10. He was just able to stay in front of me going into the corner, so I tailed him through Turns 11 and 12 leading onto the front straight... where I found he had joined the back of a 3-car train of RS-classed Spec Miatas drafting each other down the straight for greater speed all 'round. My greater horsepower finally began to show itself right about the time they all decided to fan out to pass each other, so we were 4 cars wide crossing start/finish on the way to Turn 1's brake zone.

I left my braking way late—in fact, too late—and hadn't scrubbed enough speed by the time I needed to turn in for the apex. This led to a major understeer moment that undoubtedly forced the Miatas to avoid the Integra bulling its way through their midst (definitely not one of my finer moments) and resulted in two of the three pulling back in front of me as we went through Turn 2. (Pushing wide through the corner over my front wheels also vibrated the car enough that my rearview mirror went all cock-eyed. More on this later.) The third Miata pulled alongside me and we drove side-by-side all the way to Turn 7, when I finally completed a pass on one car that had begun as a pass on three cars, six corners earlier. Cripes.

I passed the second Miata as we went down the back straight and thought for sure it'd be the end of the third (Justin again) as I pulled inside for the lefthand Turn 10, but we went through there next to each other and he squeaked back in front as we entered the righthand Turn 11.

He got a better run out of Turn 12 than I did, so it took a while before I got going after him down the straight, which meant another outbraking move going into Turn 1, but again he was able to stick with me and pulled back in front as we transited Turn 2. I made a sort-of move going into Turn 4, but I wasn't close enough and knew it was never going to work. As we went through the twistier parts of the Portland track, though, I stayed closer to him than I had on the first two laps, which meant that I was able to pull out of the draft much earlier on the back straight. Finally, after all that effort, I was able to keep the position... which still put me one place back from where I'd started, class-wise.

Checking my totally misaligned mirror going down the front straight showed Jeff Wicks' RS-classed 325 coming up hard behind me, but I was keeping a close eye on the gap to the RS-classed Spec Miata of Taryn Sparacio. Taryn, Jeff, and I had started near each other and we were just now back in a position to fight each other for class position. Jeff and I were running a place back from where we should be, though, as the RS-class Spec Miata (yup, yet another) of Michael Conatore had gotten around all three of us during the first three laps. (Yes, there really are too many Spec Miatas running RS as a second class. Frickin' things are everywhere.) Jeff was still far enough behind me that I could spare some concentration to watch what was shaping up to be a good fight between Taryn and Michael.

Michael had a big lockup under braking for Turn 1, which let Taryn get close enough that they were side-by-side going through Turns 2 and 3. She then went around the outside of Turn 4 to get the position. She was able to stay in front of him as we came around to start lap 5, but he put his nose to the inside as they braked for Turn 1 and was able to repass her. In addition to using my horsepower on the straights, I had been steadily braking later to help in closing gap to the both of them, and this last move got me close enough to finally join their battle. It also made me decide that the understeer I'd been seeing since the start of the race was probably here to stay, and it was happening even though I usually trail-brake into corners like Turn 1 to help rotate the car.

As Michael exited the left-hand Turn 6 with Taryn hot on his tail, he tracked out way too wide and got out onto the grass. He tried to hold it together as he paralleled the track at only slightly-reduced speed, but the back end finally started to come around on him as we got to Turn 7. Taryn was already safely past as he came pirouetting onto the track surface just before the apex... and right in front of me. As I've mentioned in other race reports, the typical way to deal with a spinning car is to aim for it, as it will have spun somewhere else by the time you get to where it was. In this instance, though, I couldn't tell if he'd stop as soon as his tires hit the pavement or continue spinning right across the track, giving me a reasonably good chance of guessing wrong and then hitting him. The only thing I could do was get on the brakes to give myself a little more time to guess where he was going to end up. I was pretty comfortable that Jeff wouldn't pass me, as the Miata and my Integra filled up the width of the track, and I knew Jeff would have plenty of time to slow down enough to not hit either of us. Michael, of course, attempted to get his car going again as soon as he was pointed in just one direction, which meant that the narrow gap to the outside of the corner rapidly got narrower as I squirted past. Jeff got past, too, leaving us free to chase after Taryn who, of course, had taken the opportunity to put quite a gap on us.

Our two cars are both quite a bit faster (in a straight line, at least) than Taryn's Miata, and we both seemed to put aside our little battle while we concentrated on catching her again. I was getting some really good runs off of Turn 12 onto the front straight (a little better than Jeff, I'd say), which helped me to stay far enough in front that I could keep away from his greater horsepower (and WAY better torque) down the straight.

I experienced more understeer in Turn 7 on the following lap, to the point I almost ran wide on the exit, but managed to keep it off the sawtooth curbing. I have a hard time getting my entry to this corner right, though, so I'm not sure whether the car's handling or I'm mostly to blame. The effect of this, though, was that it allowed Jeff to close up enough to me that he was going to be able to draft me by the time we got to the front straight. Knowing that this was his best chance to get past me, I decided to pull to the inside as we came off Turn 12. Watching his in-car video later showed that it'd caught him off-guard, as I'd hoped, and broke the draft enough that I actually gained a couple car-lengths as we ran down to the first turn.

I finally caught back up to Taryn as we entered Turn 1 on lap 8, but I still wasn't close enough to do anything about it (I was about 5 car-lengths behind). Amusingly, we lapped a slower car as we went down the back straight, and I realized as I went by that it was driven by the owner of Competition Motorsports who'd sold me my brake pads the day before. (Nope, there's no justice in racing.) It was at the end of the back straight that Taryn caught up with Jon Bonforte's RS-classed Volkswagen Golf, followed by me and then Jeff. As if we hadn't had enough in-class battles so far, we were now in a four-car fight for position. Fun!

The efficacy of my new line off Turn 12 was mostly diminished by lap 10 (no, I don't know why I didn't start varying it, either), but the defensive line he was forcing me to take into Turn 1 was actually helping me to catch up to Jon & Taryn, as I was taking a much tighter line into the corner and shaving a few yards off the gap each time I did. It was on this lap that Jon seemed a little slow exiting Turn 4, which Taryn capitalized on by staying tight to the apex, getting to the inside of Turn 5 before Jon and completing the pass.

For me, my handling problems were starting to stack up, as I was seeing some oversteer in Turns 1, 4, and 5, as well as my recurring understeer in Turns 5 and 6. Yes, understeer and oversteer in Turn 5.

In any event, Jon seemed to maintain his slightly slower pace after the pass, which meant I got right up on him going down the back straight and through Turn 12. Jon's car has been tightened up so much that, as with a lot of front-engine, front-drive cars, he'd lift the inside rear tire every time he'd trail-brake into a corner. While you quickly get used to all the tire smoke that can generate, there was sometimes so much smoke that I couldn't tell if he'd made a mistake or not. There was so much smoke in Turn 12 on this lap that I stayed a little tight on the exit, thinking this was my chance to get past him as we went onto the front straight. He wasn't in any trouble, though, and that little Golf was getting off the corners surprisingly well.

I really wish I had some external video of the four of us heading down the front straight to start lap 11, as Jon pulled just right of Taryn, I pulled just right of Jon, and Jeff pulled just right of me... formation flying, "echelon right" down the front straight.

The four of us remained bumper-to-bumper at first, but Taryn started slowly pulling away from Jon as we went through Portland's "twisty bits" leading to the back straight. Taryn had pulled several car-lengths on Jon by the time we exited Turn 8 onto the straight and he decided for whatever reason to point me by. Now, my car's got a pretty decent top speed, but between the low torque of the engine (not much more than that of a Miata, actually) and my less-than-perfect exits out of some corners, it doesn't get up to that top speed as quickly as some folks might expect.

I drafted Jon down the straight, finally pulling out to go to the inside of Turn 10. I fully expected that he'd simply tuck in behind me, but I wanted to make sure to leave enough room for Jon to go wide through the corner, in case we ended up going through at the same time. After the race, I would find out that he expected me to get past him much more quickly than I did, so he turned for the apex with the expectation that I'd be farther ahead than I was. Instead, Jon found my car between him and the line he planned to take, which forced him to correct back to the right and onto the grass that separates the end of the back straight from the beginning of the front (at a 90-degree angle). Luckily, it didn't damage his car, although it was his fourth trip to the grass that week-end... the guys around him in the paddock had started calling him "Jon Deere." :)

As I came off Turn 12 (looking to my right to make sure Jon was okay), I could see Taryn even farther ahead than she had been on the back straight. Looking at the video again, I still can't figure out how it happened, but I completely ate up the gap going down the front straight, leaving me less than three car-lengths behind her as we entered Turn 1 on lap 12. Between her good driving and my handling problems, the gap was back up to 10 car-lengths or so by the back straight, and then back down to three again by Turn 1. I did a better job in the Festival Turns than I had the last lap and was able to draft her a little in the short chute down to the Turn 4. I popped out as we got close to the brake zone, just to get her attention, but I was too far back to even think of attempting a move down the inside.

This time, my "regular" understeer in Turn 6 forced me onto the "alligator teeth" curbing and almost off into the grass. Had I been thinking a little more clearly, I would've been adjusting my speed into the corner, as well as my line entering the corner, but... well, I wasn't thinking more clearly, so I didn't.

I was less than a car-length off her bumper as we entered Turn 1 on lap 14, drafted her again in the chute between Turns 3 & 4, and rather slowly (looking at the video) pulled out to attempt a move braking for Turn 4. Taryn then rather slowly pulled over to take away the inside line which, since it technically happened after I had moved to that line, could possibly be considered a blocking move. I say "technically" and "possibly" because both moves were so slowly executed and so closely timed that a blocking penalty would likely be a judgment call for the steward. Regardless, I highly doubt it was a purposeful block.

In any event, this would be the closest I could come to challenging for the position, as Jeff was going to be all over me from here on out. He had gotten close enough exiting Turn 8, in fact, that I drove down the center of the back straight: He could carry greater speed into Turn 10 or take the inside line, but not both. Without both, I was able to stay in front of him and get to the "5 minutes" board at start/finish to maintain my lead as we started lap 15.

I let a lapped RX-7 pass me down the inside of Turn 1, only to have a disconcertingly front-row view of his muffler and exhaust pipe hanging on for dear life. Visions of eating it through my windshield were actually reinforced after the race, when it dropped off his car in the paddock.

In any event, I did a really good job carrying speed through Turns 11 and 12 at the end of the lap (in fact, my line through 12 was perfect) and was hoping to put a little distance between Jeff and myself, only to come upon a three-way battle of ITC cars (including the Competition Motorsports Nissan from 8 laps earlier) as we got to Turn 1. It took until the back straight for Jeff and me to get through all three of them, returning us to our drafting games down the front straight.

I left my braking way, WAY too late for Turn 1, which completely messed up my line for Turn 2, as well as letting Jeff right back up on my back bumper going down to Turn 4. It was probably out of a fear he'd try to move to the inside of Turn 5, much as Taryn had done to Jon, that caused me to drive down the middle of the track between 4 and 5. That'd be a smart move to make, but I didn't then move back to the outside of the track to take a normal line into the corner, nor did I scrub a little more speed than usual before turning for the apex. The effect of all this was that the back end came around in a hurry as soon as I turned for the apex. I slightly overcorrected and found myself almost out of track and aiming straight for the wall when I got another shot of oversteer which, amusingly, actually helped point me back in the direction I wanted to go. Although it would've been a great time to sneak to the inside and past, I think Jeff was too fascinated (or just too much in fear for his car's paint job) to take the shot. The net effect was to increase the gap again, a little, giving me a chance to catch my breath through the remainder of the lap.

We both settled back down for lap 18, although I went way deep into Turn 1 again (overdid it letting a faster car by on the inside) and found that my oversteer problems actually helped rotate me for a good line through Turn 2.

Jeff was looking racy again as we went down the back straight that lap, so it was with mixed emotions that I saw the "Last Lap" sign as we started lap 19: Glad that this rather sloppy race of mine was almost over, worried that Jeff was really going to go for the position this lap. It was with this in mind that I took a defensive line into Turn 1 and, I'd like to think, also explains the truly bizarre lines I took through Turns 5, 6, and 7.

The move I'd been expecting came as we got onto the back straight... getting past me before or at Turn 10 was really the only chance he was going to have. He pulled out of the draft and we ran most of the way to Turn 10's brake zone door-to-door, with Jeff in the better position for the apex and me with the better angle for the speed we were carrying. Typically, the car in Jeff's position (assuming cars with roughly equal handling) only has to brake at the same time as the car in my position in order to win the corner. If I didn't want to lose the battle with only a couple corners to go, I was going to have to do something drastic. So I did. :)

With nothing to lose, or so a disinterested observer might be inclined to think, I waited to brake until more than 25 yards later than I usually do. Confronted with the realization that I was out of track, out of time, and probably out of talent, I turned for the apex and hoped the car (and front-wheel drive!) would pull me through the corner. Good "thinking," so far as it went, and historically a reasonable plan with this car, but with only one slight problem: I had fixated so much on the rapidly diminishing straight that I lost track of where the corner actually was, and when I turned for the apex I was about 4 feet too early. Instead of riding up on the gentle inside curb, as you do anytime it's not raining, I actually thumped up over the abrupt side of the curb and into the grass at over 90MPH.

Thankfully, the car came down flat on the far side and I was able to take a generally normal line for Turn 11. Jeff stayed hard on my tail, pulling out of the draft as we roared down the straight to the checkered flag, but I was still a car-length or two ahead as we took the checkered flag.

(Later that day, back home and putting the car away, I was astounded at how poorly I could see out the back... I couldn't see much of anything, the mirror was so out of whack. How I kept such a close eye on Jeff without noticing the position of the mirror is beyond me.)

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