Portland International Raceway
Portland, Oregon, USA
August 2 and 3
For Portland races, I try to leave Seattle on Friday around 2pm and make it to Portland by 6pm. At that time, I expect the track to be just opening. I should have an easy hunt for a paddock spot.
Unfortunately, August 1st was the height of SeaFair Weekend in Seattle, and traffic was just a nightmare. It took just less than two hours to make the drive from my home to Tacoma, and that trip normally takes half as long.
South of Olympia, traffic finally broke up and I started making some progress. Arriving at the track, I found that many o the pit slots were taken but found one for myself next to some friends. I got the car off the trailer, checked air in my tires and gave the car a once-over before heading for the hotel. It was past 8pm when I left the track.
On Saturday, the weather was a little cool but very clear. A layer of low clouds parked over the track and kept most of the sun away, but made for very humid driving.
This was my first weekend using a tire pyrometer, so I was quite eager to get some measurements. Taking temperatures myself isn't so easy and not quite accurate; I have to return to my pit, exit the car, grab the meter, and take the temperatures. This leaves me with somewhat inaccurate readings, as the tires have substantially cooled by the time I made it there.
I made some adjustments to my tire pressures based on the readings, and then went out for my next practice session. My self-evaluation in the car was very positive. I theorized that, after driving the tight and twisty course at Mission, the long and lingering curves of Portland's race track simply seemed very large and slow.
As a result, I felt very much "ahead" of the car. I thought I could anticipate everything the car was about to do, where I was on the track, and that my driving was going very well.
Sure enough, when I returned to the track on Sunday, I found that I had set a personal best qualifying time around 1 minute, 34 seconds. This made me happy, but I also felt a bit frustrated. While I was pleased with the fast time, I couldn't concretely identify any new technique or change I had made to my approach which resulted in the fast time.
The morning qualifying had me at or near my regular qualifying times; I couldn't reproduce the fast lap I had clicked off on Saturday. One important aspect of competitive driving is consistency, and knowing that I didn't have what it took bothered me. I also realized that I'd be near the front -- ninth, overall -- for the start of the Group 5 race where I run the ITS class.
The drivers in Group 5 have quite a reputation for banging and bashing, and being among the first few drivers in the train of more than 40 cars didn't exactly soothe me.
The race started abruptly, with no 5 minute warning given in grid. I had to pull on my safety equipment and set my camera in quite a rush. I took the star, and didn't take the first set of corners aggressively. That immediately cost me three or four positions, but I got through the first lap completely unscathed.
During the race, I followed Bill Shaw who is a good acquaintance and is one of the other instructors at the driving school. My car should be faster than his, and certainly shows it on the straightaway. I couldn't make a pass stick, though, as I slowed in the twisty parts of the track and Bill was going all-out.
I think truly great drivers are consistent because they can diagnose their own mistakes quickly and accurately, and I sometimes have a hard time doing this. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong or how I could catch Bill. But when I got home, the video tape made my blunders quite obvious.
To get any more progress, I think I'm going to need to focus on staying within the car. When Bill got ahead of me, my only focus was passing him instead of paying attention to my own driving. When I passed Bill, I immediately became conservative to avoid spinning. If I just drive my car, I'll be far better off.
I was still pleased with my overall results, and continue to get just a little more comfortable with the car after each race.
Unfortunately, my Group 1 race (where I run the C Production class) ended early. I completed about five laps before I heard that a turn worker had noticed my muffler dragging. To avoid further damage, I decided to quit and hit the hot pits. One of the mechanics from Kahn Team racing immediately jumped over the wall, jacked up my car, and tried to use safety wire to hold my muffler up inside the body.
After a few minutes at it, he decided he couldn't securely hold the tail pipe in place and advised me that I shouldn't race. I called it a day, and thanked him for the repair -- which got me through the paddock and back onto the trailer without any problem at all.
I can't wait until the next race, at Pacific Raceways. I really enjoy driving my home track, and with the subtle changes I've made to the car's setup, coupled with my growing confidence, I'm expecting some great results.