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Jim Swanson Memorial XI

18/19 August 2007

A trouble-free week-end in Seattle a couple weeks earlier had me confident of finally having a good outing at Portland with the M3... but I'd felt that way before. A strangely-rare opportunity to race against Lou Greenberg's 1995 M3 (essentially the same engine/intake/exhaust modifications as me, but still with the original body panels) had me even more motivated to avoid any mechanical issues so that we could "play."


Video from this event

Friday

I'd been experiencing some overflow spray from the differential for some time and took a quick look at seeing what I could do about it. "Quick" was not going to be the word to describe what was going to be necessary to resolve the problem, though, as it was soon obvious that dropping the diff and tapping it were going to be required in order to attach a catch tank or something. Guess I was going to keep spraying a little Red Line on anyone foolish enough to get right behind me this week-end!

After managing to get everything loaded into the truck and onto the trailer in about an hour, I didn't hit the road until 2:30, which I thought was still early enough in order to make it down to Portland by a reasonable time. First, though, I was going to have to negotiate the construction zones on 405 in Kirkland: Cruising along at a respectable 60MPH or so, I went over some HUGE bump that bounced me and everything else all over Creation. Noticing that a couple of my rain tires had been bounced loose, and not wanting them to depart the trailer so early in the trip, I pulled off at a convenient bus stop and tightened them back up. A couple miles later, I hit the beginning of a rolling traffic jam that wouldn't let up until south of Olympia. It was so bad, I only averaged 30MPH for the first 80 miles of the drive.

In Auburn, I had to pull off again when I noticed that two of the car's tiedown straps had worked their way loose. While I was doing that, I noticed (again) that the left taillight on the trailer has some sort of short in it, as it wasn't working (again). I even got rained on several times, which ordinarily is more of a hassle than a problem even with the open trailer, but the weather report hadn't indicated rain for the tow, so I hadn't prepared for it and several things got wet and/or dirty that wouldn't have otherwise.

I eventually made it to PIR a little after 7pm, slightly more than 4.5 hours after I'd left. Despite the later-than-intended arrival, I managed to find spots for Eric and myself, setup my paddock area, and even made it through registration and tech before they closed up shop around 8pm. A quick dinner and in bed by a sensible 10:30, only to have my annoying motel neighbors return from partying and carry on until almost 4am. (See? No matter what I do, something always keeps me from sleeping during race week-ends.)

Saturday

When I returned to the track on Saturday morning, I only had 4 items on my mental list of things to do before the day got going: Check tire pressures, torque the lug bolts, clean the windows because of the rain, and put my tech sticker on the dash. Of the four, only one could prevent me from going on track, so guess which one I forgot? Luckily enough, I'd gotten to pre-grid early enough that I was able to head back to the paddock, unstrap myself and get out, find the sticker, get it mounted, get strapped back in and head back to pre-grid before we were released for Group 4's first practice session. Okay, so maybe the PIR gremlins were hovering, but they hadn't struck (yet?). My lap timer wasn't reporting during the session, so I didn't know what my pace was (learned later that I'd had a best of only 1'29.813") but I could tell I was really slow. Not only was I having a hard time with the "new" chicane (only ever driven it briefly during practice for last fall's attempt at a first race with the M3, even though it's been there since 2005), I couldn't even make my mind up which gears to use in the 10/11/12 complex. After the session, I also discovered why I'd been smelling fuel the whole time: Back when I'd filled up the fuel cell at home before heading south, I'd apparently forgotten to replace the cap. Duh.

Despite discovering how little lateral grip there is in the concrete-paved chicane when I failed to rev-match a 3–2 downshift and got more than a bit sideways, I felt more comfortable and confident during practice for Group 1, although my best time was only a 1'28.303" and still far too slow: Considering the non-chicane times I'd posted back in May, themselves a little off where this car should be with that configuration, I expected to be running times in the area of 1'25". I seemed to be going a bit faster in several sections of the track, but I was just generally not happy with my performance. Still, I guess this is why they call these sessions "practice," and that's certainly what I needed.

The first qualifying session for Group 4 started off pretty crowded, even though I'd made an effort to get to pre-grid early enough to start up front. Although Lou and a few other cars pulled away from me pretty quickly, I was finally able to get a clear lap and was pushing hard on the back straight when the exhaust note changed suddenly, getting a lot louder and rather buzzy. These are classic symptoms of a broken exhaust, which is only rarely damaging to other systems, but I sort-of panicked and actually took the car out of gear initially! My brain finally turned back on and I settled down to head back to the paddock, but not before first pretty much parking it in Turn 12 and messing up one of Eric's hotlaps, who'd caught up to me as I'd lost power. Then, just to make things interesting, I just slightly exceeded the pit lane speed limit by going 70 in a 35MPH zone. Oops.

I think part of the problem was that I was worried I'd split the fancy, custom exhaust header which, as Steve Matchett would say, is a "rather expensive piece of kit." Back in my paddock space, the headers thankfully looked just fine, as did the exhaust as I moved toward the rear of the car until I got to roughly the middle. There, I found a 1" by 5" strip of exhaust pipe that had split and blown itself away from the rest of the pipe. Closer inspection revealed that this area had been damaged at some time in the past and rewelded, with the metal next to welds having cracked. The different expansion and contraction rates of the welds versus the original metal meant that the "blowout" was inevitable, and I guess I'm lucky that it didn't happen during a race, but I was still left with the vexing problem of what to do. I don't own any welding equipment, I didn't know anyone that did (and brought it to the track), and I don't know how to weld even if I had the equipment. A few seconds of pondering and I decided my best bet was to start pestering the people that show up with big car transporters, so I bee-lined to the Miller Racing Team transporter (you might remember them from some of the enduro reports) to throw myself on their charity. Not only was Dean Miller willing to help out, he was actually getting ready to do some other welding. Synchronicity!

Dean took a long look at the situation and decided he'd get much better results if I first removed the center section so he could clean it up and weld it in the trailer. After borrowing some tools (try finding metric tools in the toolboxes of a team that runs American cars!) to remove the 6 hex bolts that attached the pipe to the other two parts, I squirmed under the car to get after it, only to find that the top two pair of bolts weren't going to be "user accessible" without dropping the whole exhaust system first. Okay, Plan B it is, then, which was going to be tough with the car only about a foot above the ground, and the target area a few inches lower than that.

After spending quite a while doing his best to grind the old welds off, Dean came out from under the car to get the MIG gear ready, when disaster struck: He was fiddling with the hose to remove a tangle when the gas cylinder toppled over. I was almost able to save it, getting close enough to brush my fingertips on it as it went past, but it fell over and broke the regulator. Definitely a problem, but made worse when Dean noticed that, after he dropped it to investigate the regulator, the gun had landed on the trigger and spooled out all the wire. Okay, so now we're outta gas and outta wire, and Group 1's qualifying session is comin' up fast. After a quick think, I ran over to the TC Motorsports hauler and yes! found another MIG welder. I dragged it back to Dean could get going as soon as possible, but he ran out of time before he himself had to get ready for the session. Still uncertain that a fix was even going to be possible, I'd now effectively lost my second qualifying session of the day as well as another chance to figure out where my pace had gone.

It wasn't long after Dean returned from qualifying that he'd gotten the exhaust welded back together, but with multiple warnings that there was no guarantee the metal around the new welds wouldn't crack as it had before. (I imagine this was a case of a skilled person dissatisfied with their results under difficult conditions trying to set expectations.) Frankly, though, and I told this to Dean, any additional track time was going to be an improvement over the way things had stood earlier, when I'd been facing the prospect of an "oh-fer" in three attempts at running Portland with the M3. (That this would've been the third time I'd had to leave on the Saturday of a race week-end made it that much more potentially painful.) So, in the end, I decided to just pretend there was no problem and hope for the best, while adding this item to my ever-present list of "stuff to fix before the next race."

"Amusingly," upon my return with the repaired car I learned that Eric's muffler had blown itself apart in the same session, so I wasn't the only one making additional noise at the cost of horsepower. I eventually got timing sheets for the day and learned my best lap in the abbreviated qualifying session for Group 4 was a 1'28.515", putting me 15th overall and 6th (last) in class.

Sunday

For the second night in a row, no kidding, the buttheads in the room next to mine came home from somewhere and proceeded to talk, laugh, and generally carry on with no concern for their fellow motel guests. (In fact, the number of times this kind of noise issue has happened at this particular motel has led me to conclude that the minor cost savings over the alternative just aren't worth it.) This time, though, my natural inclination to being overly polite was buried under frustration and lack of sleep, so it wasn't long before I reached up with one hand and smacked our shared wall. I didn't think I'd hit it that hard, but my room and, one assumes, theirs reverberated like a small bomb had gone off. A couple minutes of subdued talking was followed by blissful silence. Ahhh.

After speaking with Colin earlier in the week about what would probably happen to the pressure plate springs, I decided to go ahead and attempt to adjust the clutch pedal stop in order to see if I could improve access to reverse and first gear especially, but also third. The first two were causing me all kinds of trouble, keeping me from shifting into gear on a regular basis, and third was hanging up a bit on downshifts, leading to my grinding the shift occasionally. Several minutes upside-down in the tight confines of the footwell with no discernible progress led to me giving up on the idea, due in no small part to the fact that I could work around the problem, quite literally, by pushing the clutch pedal a little to the left of the stop. It was a little awkward, but seemed like it would work as a temporary measure for the remainder of the week-end. (You can hear me grind into third a few times in the videos, but I get better at it as I go along.)

A damp track and a conclusion that, after everything that'd happened, I was unlikely to make any real progress in Group 4's second qualifying session led me to decide that I would sit out the session. Later on I concluded that, duh, I could've at least gone out and practiced a corner or two. Ah well. Final results showed me still starting 15th overall, but I was no longer last in class: Pat Aylward had upgraded from Novice the day before and would be starting a new-to-him 944 Turbo at the back of the grid.

Having chatted with Lou off and on all week-end, we spent some time discussing the problems I was having getting through the chicane. It seemed like I was either carrying WAY too much speed into the second part of the chicane or overslowing the car in the first part. Either way, and discounting any mistakes I might be making elsewhere, the chicane was simply killing my laptimes. Lou's suggestion was a combination of a slightly different line on entry, as well as transiting the whole thing in third gear rather than second, the gear I'd always used with the old (tighter) chicane. This makes a little more sense in Lou's car than in mine, as he uses a 3.73:1 rear end while I have a 3.46 (he'll have slightly greater effective torque on acceleration), but I decided to try out these changes in Group 1's second qualifying session.

Sure enough, making these changes saw me drop a second off my earlier times and generally have a lot more fun, as I was no longer stressing about how awkward I felt in the chicane. (Ultimately, though, I think I need to slow things down a little more on entry, use second gear, and get back on the power sooner for me to really "get" this chicane.) I think I could've gone faster still, but I caught up with a group of slower cars about halfway through the session and, rather than mixing it up with them and possibly messing up their qualifying, I decided to lag back so that I'd get at least another good, clear lap. For some reason, though, and despite backing way, way off (I was running 1'33"s), I was still only 4 car-lengths behind them after several laps. Bowing to the inevitable, I took back off after them and wormed my way through. I did rather annoyingly spend about half a lap stuck behind a Pro3 car whose owner, who shall remain nameless, was either so hung up on turning a lap that he didn't see me or just decided that he was going to do what he needed and I could figure out what to do about it. Yes, I could just wait until we get to a straight and blow by him (which is what I did) or I could simply force the issue, but it seems to me that a little consideration for our fellow drivers during qualifying would go a long way toward minimizing some of the "can't get a clear lap" bitching I hear all the time.

In any event, by the time I got past him I was basically out of time and so my last lap was still 0.3" off my best from earlier in the session, a 1'27.438". Still a couple seconds down from where I should be, but good enough to start 10th overall and next to Lou, with Stephen Guy in Eric's 968 one row behind in his first race after getting his Area license.

Group 4 race (ITE)

After my dismal, solitary attempt at qualifying for Group 4, I wasn't terribly crushed that I somehow (I was listening to the announcements and don't see how this could've happened) missed the 5-minute warning call by less than five seconds which, per the rules, sent me to the back of the whole grid. Between the exhaust issue (which seemed to be holding up) and my painfully obvious need to practice more with the chicane, I think I'd already subconsciously decided to treat the race as something of a wild-and-wooly practice session, so maybe this was Fate's way of ensuring I had the right attitude.

Starting in the back of a reasonably sized field meant that I was still accelerating off Turn 12 onto the straight when the green waved, which meant that I was able to carry that momentum off the corner and all the way down the straight. It seems to me that I should've also been able to pass a great many of the cars that had legitimately qualified at the back of the grid, especially with the speed I was carrying, but the reality was that a combination of a spread-out field and a bad choice to go to the inside meant I only passed 3 of them by the time we got to the braking zone for the chicane. Sticking with the inside line, I think I lost a chance at an AS Camaro as well as some momentum that I can't regain as easily as the V8-powered AS guys. I stayed tight to Mac Russell's spoiler, thinking I'd just follow him through whatever gaps he found, but he and the clutch of AS cars in front of us just pulled away from me exiting the chicane.

My second bad choice (in hindsight) was to immediately abandon my plan of following Mac through gaps in traffic, as the Camaro I hadn't passed going into the chicane left an enormous gap for Mac under braking for Turn 4 that I could have easily taken as well. I was then slightly cautious by not taking what was just barely an opportunity to stick my nose in as we turned left for Turn 6, but I probably wisely stayed tight to the silver #28 all the way down the back straight. I toyed with the idea of trying to get him under braking for the fast, left-hand Turn 10 at the end of the back straight, but I tucked back behind him as he chased an orange-and-black Mustang. He left me a big gap on the inside under braking for Turn 12 that was more of an opportunity than it would have been at Turn 6, but I ignored it and took the normal line through the corner. Strangely, I was able to out-drag him down the front straight, where I made yet another bad choice by tucking in tight to the Mustang as we braked for the chicane. If I had, instead, used my car's lighter weight and far superior braking to jog left as we braked, I would've definitely gotten in front of John Rissberger's blue Camaro and then, possibly, been in a position to take the inside of Turn 2 (the left turn in the middle of the chicane) away from the Mustang of Don Thieman. Still, this is one of the reasons why I have in-car video, as I watch these things over and over... supposedly so that I can learn from past mistakes, but more typically to marvel at all the mistakes I make in a race.

Anyway, John and I went through the chicane side-by-side, hard on the heels of Don's Mustang, until both V8's out-torqued me and pulled away down to Turn 4. While I stayed a car-length farther back from John than I should have, the opening I had seen with Doug Turner's silver #28 at Turn 6 was forefront in my mind and I quite easily put my car well to the inside when the blue Camaro pulled a bit wide to set up for the turn. Better brakes and less weight put me right on the Mustang's bumper as we slowed for the right-hand Turn 7, but Don was able to get better acceleration off the corner as we headed down the back straight. He didn't pull more than a car-length or so away from me, though, and what I'd seen in Turn 7 gave me the confidence to pull far left and comfortably out-brake him for Turn 10.

A fair-sized gap to Jack DeChristopher's square-but-zoomy Datsun 510 saw most of a lap go by before I was able to get past at about Turn 9 (basically the middle of the curved back "straight") with eventual co-Novice-of-the-Year Dave Haire and his 1993 Porsche RS America just visible as he neared the brake zone at Turn 10. By the time I caught up with Dave, I could see that he was just behind Eric's 968, with Ricki Mackin's AS Camaro (sister car to the #28) 3–4 car-lengths beyond. Getting past Dave was much easier than I had any expectation of it being, as he overcooked it under braking and straight-lined the chicane, forcing him to drive over and stop at the marshal waiting driver's left for just such possibilities. On the other hand, this meant I'd have to keep an eye on my mirrors for the very-fast Dave, who would no doubt be raring to catch back up to where he should've been in the first place. In the meantime, I went a-huntin' for Eric.

One lap later, I was about 500 feet behind Eric with Dave about the same distance behind me. While I was catching Eric, Dave was catching me much more quickly. The lap after that, Ricki had managed to maintain his gap to Eric, I was about 300 feet behind Eric, but Dave was still about 500 feet behind me. This is the lap that things would start getting interesting, as I was close enough to Eric to see that the #25 Camaro was starting to lock his brakes at Turns 4, 6, and 7. I had also shrunk the gap to Eric, but then a little "squirreliness" turning in for Turn 6 saw it grow again. Dave was slowly getting closer, but not enough to worry me... until we exited the slowest non-chicane portions of PIR onto the back straight, by which time he was only a car-length or two off my bumper. Going into the chicane at the start of the next lap, what had been a two-way battle between Eric and Ricki was now rather obviously becoming a 5-way fight. With my excellent timing, as ever, now was when I started having problems shifting into 3rd gear.

Due in no small part to my problems with the clutch, the next couple laps saw Eric and Ricki pull away a bit as Dave got right up behind me; not only did I clearly need to pay better attention to my shifts into and out of 3rd gear, but I was going to have to drive my mirrors a little bit to keep Dave behind. I spent the next couple of laps relying on my car's speed to exceed Dave's ability to catch me as we slowly caught back up to Eric. I was able to spare enough concentration to watch Eric really start pressuring Ricki, who was locking up the unloaded (inside tire when cornering) front tire pretty regularly. Whether their battle had slowed them down or Dave had decided to just run with me to catch them up, or both, I was only about 100 feet behind Eric at the end of the front straight on the next lap. I had carried some decent speed through Turn 12 and was able to pull away from Dave going down the front straight, and it's possible that a desire to make up lost ground is what led Dave to go sliding off under braking for Turn 6 later that lap. At this point, I was almost as close to Eric as he was to Ricki.

Without Dave hassling me in every corner, I was able to really watch the battle ahead of me as I caught them over the next three more laps. An entertaining battle it was, too, with them running bumper-to-bumper, going side-by-side in a few corners, locking up tires, and so on. Ricki's V8 has more torque and straightline speed, but Eric's got better brakes and handling.

I finally got close enough to Eric to draft him down the back straight. I pulled wide left to see about outbraking him for Turn 10, but realized that would be a silly thing to do and tucked back in behind, only to have the bejeezus scared out of me in the brake zone: Eric had earlier taken a wide line into Turn 6 and then gotten alongside Ricki exiting the corner, leading to a really tight run into Turn 7. This enabled Eric to make the pass, but of course he ran wide on exit due to the early apex and onto the nasty sawtooth curbing on exit, giving the torque of Ricki's Camaro a chance to just pull back into the lead. What Eric didn't realize was that the trip across the curb had confused his ABS computer enough to cause it to shut down AND transfer a lot of the brake bias to the rear and so, as he braked from somewhere around 130MPH with me about 10 feet behind, his right-rear tire locked up and snap-spun him into the concrete wall on our right.

Seeing a friend give the wall a pretty good smack, in a car I've driven several times myself, and close enough that there's a reasonable chance I'm also going to become part of the incident rattled me to the point that I couldn't seem to find a gear as I moved left to avoid Eric's car... because I had forgotten to push the clutch pedal in. It wasn't until I was into Turn 11 that I finally got it into gear, and not until Turn 12 that it was the right gear. I'd tried to keep an eye on the car as I went through this complex of corners, but my HANS device won't let me turn my head that far and it wasn't until I was getting onto the front straight that I could see Eric's car limping across the grass toward the pit entrance. So nothing catastrophically damaging, then, but clearly not good.

It took me a bit more than three laps to reduce the huge gap that had developed to the Camaro, partially helped by our both getting lapped by the race-leading, GT1-classed Monte Carlo, since Ricki got passed under braking for Turn 4, while I got passed on the straight and didn't have to adjust my speed. By the time we hit the brake zone for the chicane a lap later, I was right up on the Camaro's bumper and, while I haven't got the torque (and maybe the horsepower) of the V8, I have brakes and handling equal to Eric's 968 but with more horsepower and torque. In theory, it wouldn't be long at all before I was able to make the pass.

I say "in theory" because, despite having the move done by the time we braked for the chicane on the following lap, my inability to get the car into 3rd gear meant that Ricki was able to squeak back by on the inside of Turn 1. He took a defensive line all the way down the back straight, forcing me wide right under braking for Turn 10, which was smart as I would've been able to outbrake him for the corner. Another problem shifting into 3rd meant that the gap increased temporarily, but I was able to get a good draft and finally pulled past as we approached Start/Finish. The extra speed I was carrying meant I got a little sideways turning in for the chicane, but a quick counter-steer prevented a spin and I took off after the red Camaro of Rob Rissberger.

I lapped Don Thieman in his orange-and-black Mustang at the beginning of the front straight on the following lap, right after I noticed that I'd basically run the whole race with my diff pump switched off. Oops. I caught up with Wayne Monahan and his spiffy Mitsubishi Evo as I exited Turn 12 on the following lap and in time to see him heading for the pit lane... Wayne's going to be hard to catch once he gets that thing sorted out. I could see Rob about halfway down the straight, which turned into "a couple car-lengths back" by the time I braked for the chicane. I'd also seen the "last lap" board when I went under the starter's tower, but I remained optimistic that I could catch and pass him before the end of the race.

I moved smartly aside for Dean Miller in Turn 6 that lap, even though there's a chance it cost me my chance at Rob: After all, if it weren't for Dean's work on Saturday, I wouldn't even be in a position to get out of his way on Sunday! :) I stayed close to Dean all the way through Turn 12, where he pulled out to pass Rob, so I was able to get a nice draft on Rob's Camaro as we passed under the checkered flag. With one more lap to the race I would've had him under braking somewhere, but it was only a position overall and not in class, so it doesn't really matter. (In fact, I didn't really pass anybody in class the whole race: Of the ITE cars in front of me, I went by Pat [first race in new car] at the start, Eric hit the wall, Wayne had his problems, and Dave never came back after his spin off track.)

Group 1 race (SPM)

Although, as discussed before, my qualifying times were not what they should be, I nevertheless found myself starting from the 5th row of the grid, next to Lou and behind some odd-looking but fast cars, such as an RX7-bodied "convertible" (actually an ex-Sports Racer) and a Volvo 740 Turbo sedan. For a change, the pace was quite reasonable for my car and its gearing, and I even got to make a nice progression through the power band to be in 3rd gear and accelerating when the green came out. Unfortunately for Lou, our mutual expectation of a door-to-door battle down to the chicane never materialized as he rather curiously decided to try a "rolling dragstrip" start for the first time, getting it very, very wrong. Luckily for him (and Stephen Guy running his first race as an Area driver, and in Eric's wounded-but-still-not-dead car, no less), there was no contact in the left column of the grid when Lou pretty much dropped anchor by nailing the brakes at the start. Meanwhile, I just tailed the cars in the row ahead (the RX7 of John Kendrew and a tube-framed, SPO Corvette run by Robert Hornbeck) down to the braking zone for the chicane.

Without Lou or anybody else from the left column to worry about, I just had to make sure the Pro3 car of eventual class champion Jeff Van Lierop didn't sneak past me as we went through the chicane. I ran next to him all the way through Turn 4 and finally got him back behind me going through Turn 5, although he was on my bumper until I was able to out-power him down the back straight. The first 3 cars had gapped the field by Turn 7, with the next 5 (including me) in a tight group. The "RX7" and the Corvette had a good fight going and I think that helped me get a better run out of Turn 7 than either of them, leading me to the thought that I might somehow get by the Corvette going through Turn 8. They ended up running down the back straight side-by-side with me bouncing around just behind them, trying to figure out how to pass either one. The Corvette's torque saw him past the RX7, but I couldn't quite get alongside the RX7 as we went into Turn 10, nor again as we went into Turn 12. I thought, given how quickly I'd caught up to the RX7, that I'd be able to out-drag him down the straight, so I pulled out of his slipstream to go by, but did so way too early. Braking for the chicane again got me almost alongside but not close enough, and he quickly caught back up to fight the Corvette, leaving me about 2.5 seconds behind them to watch.

And that's where I sat for the next 3 laps, with the RX7 apparently getting alongside the Corvette under braking for Turn 12 and then pulling away down the front straight, followed by another 2.5 laps of the same, although I did go roaring by Eric Bitte's stricken Pro3 car on the short straight between the chicane and Turn 4. The rented Pro3 car of Dave Rankin was the first car I really passed, on the front straight the next lap. The RX7 had disappeared up the road at this point but I was still hanging relatively close to the Corvette, about 4 seconds ahead.

By now, 7 laps into the race, I was finally seeing Lou in the distance behind me and coming up fast.

I came out of Turn 12 at the end of that lap to see the RX7 just barely moving on the front straight. I must've passed him going at least 80MPH faster and probably much closer than I really should have, considering I had no idea what was wrong with him or his car. Meanwhile, it appeared Lou was now only about 5 seconds behind me as I went through the chicane... he was really "pouring on the coal" to catch back up!

And then, going into the brake zone for Turn 12 later that lap, I had a HUGE and, despite my shifting issues in the Group 4 race, totally unexpected problem downshifting from 4th to 3rd gear, a delay that cost me all my momentum as well as the rest of the gap to Lou. Despite having caught right up to me and with an opportunity to race me down the straight at the very least, if not just blow by me entirely, Lou did the (probably overly) gentlemanly thing and checked up until I got my shit sorted... but now the battle was on!

BMWs of this vintage are not exactly known for their slippery shapes, so Step 2 in "The Fight Against Lou" (Step 1 was not to screw up) was to "change lanes" going down the straight to break the draft he was getting. Reviewing the video later, the difference in our braking styles for the chicane was interesting, as he initially destroyed the small gap I'd managed to create by braking later, but I was able to get it back by getting off the brakes and back onto the power sooner; either way, we went through the chicane with the same car-length between us we'd had since exiting Turn 12. I spent that lap trying to drive my own race, although at a higher level, while still keeping an eye on Lou. Turn 4 of the next lap saw us catch up to a generally-slow Corvette that runs A Production in what I think is mostly street trim. I felt bad doing it but, with Lou hounding me the whole way, I thought it necessary to slightly force a pass on the inside of Turn 5. I waved a quick "thank you" to Bob, but I doubt he saw it as Lou was hot on my heels.

Lou is far more familiar with his car on the track that I am with mine, so I really looked forward to the straights where my slightly-faster car gave me a little breathing room: in the corners, Lou was dancing all over my rear bumper.

Coming down the chicane on the next lap, I saw a big cloud of tire smoke as Robert Hornbeck locked up the brakes in his Corvette and blew the chicane, pulling back onto the track just behind Lou. A lap later and I just about lost it in Turn 6, but I had a little "Michael Schumacher" luck (any problems he'd have during a race week-end always seemed to come during practice sessions, when it didn't matter) and it was in a section of the track where Lou didn't have any good options for getting around me. I was able to pass Toby Basiliko's SPU-classed BMW 2002 at the tail end of the back straight but I don't think Lou was able to get by until after the 10/11/12 complex.

Robert in the Corvette had kindly given our little battle some time to resolve itself, but he'd apparently gotten bored and passed Lou on the straight. He went by me on the inside of Turn 4, which put me out in the marbles and let Lou catch back up. (At the end of the day, he would very kindly and completely unnecessarily apologize for getting in the middle of our fight.) The three of us passed a Pro3 car in Turn 9 (basically the middle of the curved back "straight") before the Corvette pulled away from me down the front straight. Lou had dropped back a ways for some reason, which was good as I got tangled up with Michael Lord's RS-classed BMW 325 going through the chicane: I was going fast enough that I came close to clipping his rear bumper as he shot across on exit from Turn 3 to the left side of the track, because I'd sort-of thought about passing him on the left. I would've had to have been going a LOT faster than I was, though, along with some reason to think he'd be expecting me to do something high-risk like that, so it's a very good thing I didn't try it. After I got by him going into Turn 4, I then had him as a buffer to Lou and in an area of the track where it isn't easy to pass someone unless they're significantly slower and/or point you by.

After passing Dave Rankin again on the back straight, I checked my mirrors for Lou to realize that all this fiddling about with traffic meant I now had the biggest gap to him since his messed-up start, back up to probably 5 seconds or so. I got past a white Pro3 car (hey, aren't you guys supposed to have numbers on the back of the car, too?) and then caught Brad Greco's SPU Rabbit (damaged at the end of last season [video]) in the brake zone for Turn 10, getting by as we accelerated up the straight. It was only now, with more than 20 minutes of a 30-minute race gone, a gap developing, and traffic between us with more traffic ahead, that I started to feel confident I could keep Lou behind me.

Another half-lap saw me get in the middle of a Pro3 battle between Mike Olsen and... I dunno who, yet another white Pro3 car: Going into the slowest part of the track behind two battling cars that are just barely slower than me in this section and with Lou starting to shrink the gap again, I got a little aggressive and inserted myself between them going into Turn 4. I stayed there until I dove inside Mike in Turn 7, finally pushing my way past as we went through Turn 8 onto the back straight. Thankfully, it appeared that the gap between the two went back to where it'd been before I stuck my nose in, but now I had gotten two cars between Lou and myself! Hell, I could probably coast from here on in, as the "5 minutes" board had been shown to use a lap earlier... then I checked my mirrors and saw Lou had blown by both of them and was right back on my tail. So much for that 5-second gap!

I passed Ken Hill in the Pro3 car he'd borrowed-without-asking from his brother, who was out of town on business, and then my confidence in finishing ahead of Lou became no-confidence-at-all when I carried too much speed into the chicane. Forced to take a tighter line into Turn 2 (the middle of the right-left-right chicane) but foolishly still in 3rd gear, I'd not only lost momentum but was out of my power band, while Lou's shorter final drive gives him more effective torque exiting corners as it is. He pulled up to the inside and we ran mostly side-by-side (he was a little ahead of me) down to Turn 4, where I was able to pull back up even. We ran door-to-door all the way to Turn 5, where a little wiggle of my car on the inside (although, watching the video later, the car didn't change lines at all, which means Lou must have reacted to the movement of my steering wheel in his peripheral vision!) caused him to back out just that little bit; had he stayed with me, he would've had the advantage in Turn 6, and then it's anybody's guess what might have happened after that.

In any event, he tucked back in and chased me around for another lap (both of us getting lapped by overall leader Mac Russell) before making another half-attempt when I got loose again in Turn 6. I had an interesting moment going through Turn 12 that same lap, as the red Mustang of A Production winner Frank McKinnon was going slowly and taking a very odd line through the corner, causing me to slow way up and go around the outside. For whatever reason, though, Lou didn't pounce on this maybe-opportunity and stayed tucked in behind me (and I mean right behind me!) for our next and ultimately final lap around the track. My first real race with somebody in class (and closely matched on paper, too) and I'd somehow managed to come out on top. Yea!

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