Portland International Raceway

Portland, Oregon, USA
June 7 and 8

The weather on Friday for my tow down was simply scary: the Jeep's dashboard said it was more than 95 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the drive. While the Jeep's outside temperature gauge isn't exactly accurate, it's really not that far off. Sure enough, when I unpacked the trailer and set up my pits, drivers who had been at the track all day for the test-and-tune were complaining about the oppressive heat during the day; apparently, it had peaked around 103!

With my pit ready to go, I had some dinner and then got to bed early. The next day, I ran my first qualifying session with the old tires that came with the car when I purchased it. Tires are one of the most expensive parts of racing. For my car, tires cost about $165 per corner. I figure that a set of tires will last three or four race weekends, so I need to budget more than three thousand dollars per year for tires.

I had a single set of new tires mounted and ready to go, so I put them on for my second qualifying session. Setting them to the same pressures I had for my exhausted tires, I entered the track tentatively.

The difference between the new tires and the old tires was simply unbelievable! The front end didn't push at all in the back section of the track, and I was able to more aggressively enter corners. After lunch, the times were available; the new tires alone made me more than one second per lap faster. Best of all, they gave me a lot more confidence in the car, giving me much more predictable handling and better feel.

Hooray! I floated through the next qualifying sessions and bettered my time by about a quarter second.

The second qualifying session for my second race group didn't go too well. A driver blew his engine on the front straight, and the steward decided to black flag the session. I simply wasn't thinking, and proceeded to lap (with a handful of other cars) when I should have exited the track. My penalty was to sit out a few laps of the remaining qualifying session; I couldn't better my time. I decided to come in, and leave my time where it was.

On the downside, this was a chicane race. At Portland, the front straight features an optional chicane. It's a right-angle right-hand turn, followed by a 125-degree left turn, with a sweeping right. Some races are run without the chicane and some races are run with the chicane in. When the CART and American Le Mans races are at Portland, they're always run with the chicane.

The chicane makes sense for the bigger cars, since it slows them down as they can't continue in a straight line to use the whole front straight to continue accelerating. For club racers, the chicane seems like an inappropriate challenge. It wads us all up, and forces less experienced racers to fall back and avoid getting punted as everyone dives for the front.

The Group 1 race went off first. Unfortunately, there were no other C Production cars for me to play with. I held my own, running a great race without any bad mistakes.

While not as hot as it was Friday, Sunday wasn't exactly cool. I'm not sure how hot it was in the car (and I'm pretty sure that I don't want to know the exact temperature). But exiting the car, I was soaked and thirty. I couldn't remove my gloves quickly enough.

As usual, the Group 5 race was far more interesting, as the group always includes cars that are a near-match for my rig. I found myself stuck behind a Spec Mazda after the start, and the driver kept blocking my passing attempts. One area of that my driving which needs to significantly improve is handling defensive and offensive moves. I need to learn to pass aggressively (and make the pass stick), and I need to learn how to defend my own line so I'm not passed. While I felt it was inappropriate that the Mazda was blocking me (since the car isn't entered in my class, and should be preventing my competition with other cars in my own class) I learned a lot by trying to get a move in on it.

After patiently pressing, I finally coaxed an opening out of the Mazda driver and get the pass to it stick. Ahead of the Mazda were a couple of other slower cars, also out of my class. The drivers courteously pointed me by and I put them behind me.

But I had now caught a driver in a Nissan 240Z, who was two points ahead of me in the season standings. It took a little work, but I managed to pass him, too. Wahoo! I wouldn't know until the end of the race, but I should earn enough points to tie the Nissan driver and then hurtle myself towards the championship for the season. I started walking away from the Nissan and the other cars.

What a feeling. I tried to concentrate on my driving, but a funny thing happens in the car when you're concerned with your pace. Humans, it seems to me, are terrible judges of absolute pace. It's hard to count off seconds, for instance, without a watch. If one is excited, they'll anticipate time passing faster than it really does. Similarly, if one is bored or over-patient, they anticipate time passing slower than it actually does.

Apparently, even though I tried to drive within my comfort level and keep my position , I couldn't quite pace myself. About a lap after making it around the Nissan, I spun badly. I didn't hit anything, and was still rolling in the grass. But my off was enough to let the herd of cars I had worked so hard to pass get by me again. I lost my hard-earned positions!

I went back to work, but the race was nearly over. Worse yet, the fastest drivers were beginning to come up and lap me. I caught the car behind the 240Z just as the flag was dropped!

But, gosh, what a fun weekend. I was frustrated that I spun and lost my positions (and points), but I learned so much at the race this weekend that I have nothing to complain about. My car is very competitive, and I just need to learn to be meticulous about preparation and learn to use the suspension settings to get everything just right. I can't put off installing new tires; the improved feel is absolutely worth the expense. Learning to carefully focus and avoid spins wouldn't hurt, either!