Don’t let the record drought fool you – Southern Californians really don’t like rain. If you don’t believe me, you only needed to take a quick stroll through the paddock at NASA SoCal’s first race of the 2015 season. Frustration was high that someone allowed rain to appear in the forecast.
Hell, in a place that only experiences rain a half dozen times a year, for many – we included – our rain setup was a choice between:
1) slicks or..
2) going home.
Scratch that second option. As long as the car was running, we were going to race.
The weekend started well with a dry track and temperatures in the low 50s – nice dense air for some extra horsepower. And after the epic struggle to get our car ready in time, it ran like a clock. Make that a loud, smelly, but fast clock.
After blowing out the cobwebs during practice, the rain appeared just in time for qualifying. Luckily it was a light rain, convincing even those with proper rain tires to stay with slicks in the quest for speed. We, and most of the competitors, kept our car on track, qualifying in 2nd place for the main race!
As luck would have it, conditions continued to worsen as we approached race time. The steady rain had us wondering how badly we’d regret our decision to race on slicks despite the now steady, moderate rain.
Testing conditions on the warm-up lap confirmed a typical rain characteristic – our cornering capability was substantially lower than in the dry while braking or acceleration traction suffered less so. Before we knew it, the green flag flew for our rolling start, with around 8 cars arriving at turn 1 at the same time. As would be the case for the rest of the race, chaos ensued. Fully aware of the limits of our tires, we hung back and watched. Before the first lap was completed several competitors spun off, cementing our strategy: worry less about passing and more about staying on track.
Though traction suffered greatly, we found that as long as we avoided standing water, the grip we did have was at least predictable. 35 minutes later, we slid our way to a 2nd in class finish.
Saturday also featured the banquet celebrating awards from the 2014 season. We were ecstatic to accept our trophy for 2nd place in the region – not bad for our rookie season with an untested car. Of course the competition for 2015 doesn’t seem to have relaxed any, so we’ll hopefully uncover some extra speed in the car as the season goes on.
Though Sunday started wet, clear skies were forecast for Day 2 of the race weekend. By the time of our first practice session, the track was dry and temps were again nice and low – a nice break from our last race weekend at Willow Springs where nearly 110-degree heat had our car noticeably down on power as we fought skyrocketing under-hood temps.
We gridded in the front row for Sunday’s feature race, this time excited to be focused on going as fast as possible in conditions for which our tires were actually designed. Maybe all of the offs during the race the day prior had reminded everyone of their limits as the race was surprisingly clean – no full-course yellow flags to slow things down. The car ran strong all race long, and lots of traffic ensured we enjoyed every minute of it. It was an excellent race to cap the weekend and put all our off-season struggles in context. Though our measure of the weekend extended much beyond simple race results, we were happy to grab another podium finish, allowing us to finish in the points for both of our races; key as we compete for the 2015 title.
Stay tuned as we turn our sights to Buttonwillow Raceway for our next race weekend – where we look to defend our track record and a couple 1st place finishes last year.