I do not mind telling you that on the first lap I was speechless, at the second lap I wondered if I was in over my head, then on the third lap I was starting to settle in. On the fourth lap I started moving on pace and the flow of the track began to be real. As Enzo says on page 157 of The art of racing in the rain (author Garth Stein) 'There is nothing more to tell about that trip because nothing could possibly be more incredible than those few hot laps … I intellectualized that I would enjoy being in a race car. Until that moment I didn’t know. How could anyone know until he sits in a car at race speed and takes turns at the limits of adhesion, brake a hair from lockup, the engine begging for the redline?’ My weakness of the first couple of laps faded and I was smiling and giggling inside the car. For weeks I had been intellectualizing – as Enzo describes – what it would be like to drive WGI, one of my 'must drive' tracks. This was my first real stint, just over an hour of driving, and I had some slow laps but still got a number in the 2:33 minute range – which I am happy about. In fact, I was enjoying my first stint so much that I missed the signal to pit at the end of my shift. Eight times! In the pits we have always joked about pulling a 'Pacione' as one of our drivers, who shall remain nameless, would often ignore the pit board for a lap or two. I suddenly gained infamy with this move of missing the signal eight times – but I swear I was looking! Needless to say, a bigger, neon pit board has been ordered. Maybe even high tech stuff like radios could be part of our gear! Our car finished 29th on Friday and we had started with a six lap penalty due to the high value of the car. We ran 111 laps versus the leaders 119 – not bad at all. John has also decided to remove some of the upgrades that had been done to the car to lower the overall value for upcoming races – starting even would be nice!
As team captain and my friend, John, wanted me to have the experience of seeing the Green Flag drop. The concern that I had, as I also wanted to see it drop while I was behind the wheel, was that there was the potential for a lot of bumping at the Green Flag as everyone – even with attrition there were still well over eighty cars on track – would be jockeying for position. Concerns were set aside as John talked me into it, I went out to start Saturday's race. We did our laps behind the pace car, I saw it pull in, I waited until I saw the green flag which meant that the car beside me got the drop on me as he obviously hit the gas before I did. Was I not looking in the right place or did I just not have have the same reflexes as a younger driver? Regardless, I was in third gear, about 5000 RPM, so when I finally did react the Miata took off. Much to my surprise, I actually passed a couple of cars before Turn One. And then a couple more. I cannot say I was not passed too, but my newfound knowledge of the track coupled with effectively using my track reference points was working and I was enjoying myself already. There was no bumping or contact – just great racing. My teammates have noticed that I am too much of a gentleman racer – I give ground when I should be holding my position. Losing ground is something that with seat time I will work on but I will never cease to be a gentleman. If you watch the video (at the end of the article) you may wonder why I closed the gap on the much faster Neon that wanted to pass on my inside – and you may be thinking that is not the move of a gentleman racer. I was signalling a point by on the outside – trying to reach past the window netting to indicate to them – but they could not see my signal. There is no sense in holding up a podium contender.
Passing in one, through the Esses, braking later and lighter through the bus stop, feathering the gas through Five, down the Chute through Six and into the Boot (Seven) where the Miata could pass on the inside or outside, wherever an opening was left. Taking the inside line on Eight, on the red line in third at Nine, and taking Turn 10 flat in fourth. Ralph had spent a lot of time the night before talking me around the track and it was incredibly beneficial – but I need more track time at WGI before I can take the final turn at the speed that Ralph indicated was possible. I was close and took a good two seconds off of my best time from Friday, plus I was far more consistent. Maybe when I get back to WGI I can make Turn Eleven happen at speed.
About two thirds of the way into my stint I saw two Miatas ahead of me into Turn One and the Esses. The game was on. My own race within a race had begun again. My recollection may not be as good as footage from a GoPro, but I recall getting by both of them only to have my path blocked by a slower car. This allowed #86 to get by and then we went back and forth for what seemed like a dozen laps. I am sure it was only three or four, but we exchanged the lead a few times. Coming through the boot we had lots of time to gesture about the need for more power, as our twin Miatas were straining in third gear to just make it up the hill let alone pass the other. We had a classic battle between black and white! I do know that I just got by and saw myself putting some space between us when the Pit Board was out telling me to pit. Sigh! I could not repeat what I did the day before (not see the pit board) so, without giving up the lead until pit entry, I gave a big thumbs up to the unknown driver of #86 (It was Dave Tidman) and headed to the pits for gas and the driver swap. What an absolute blast! #86 pitted a lap or two later and I rushed down pit lane, asking everyone where the black Miata pitted. I think they may have thought I was out on an angry vendetta as I probably looked somewhat in disarray after my stint in the car. I finally found them at the complete opposite end of pit row. Thumbs up were not enough as Dave and I gave each other a big hug – he'd enjoyed the battle as much as I had.