Ride onboard with me during my Pole lap from this past weekend. Overall very happy with the lap. I went to initial throttle a little early in T6, which hurt my exit speed by 1 tenth according to the data. But was fortunate enough to nab Pole anyway!
This past weekend was one for the record books….
During the 2019 Thompson Majors we managed to pick up Pole and Two race wins.
We’ve seen these results in Majors races in the past, and even a runoffs win in 2015. But this one was special for us.
If you read my Lime Rock article, you’ll know that we took a mystery bottom end engine from a parts car and plunked an East Street head on top. We did the install ourselves, chased some electrical gremlins but came out on top with much success at Lime Rock.
This time, the set up and alignment was the biggest unknown.
Now having possession over our car full time, it was time to learn the wrench turning side of alignments- and quick!
My Dad and I put the car on the scales and chased ourselves in circles for days adjusting ride heights, cross weights, camber, caster and toe. And if you’ve ever scaled a car before, you know involved this process can get!!
Finally, we think we got it right.
At the track…
Friday was test day. The schedule was very tight. We had a total of 8 sessions during the day. This was a lot considering the 90 degree, humid weather. We had a few objectives for the day, most importantly making sure the setup/alignment was on par.
I tell you, I’ve never driven such a great handling Spec Miata in my life!
Makes me wish we did our own set up all along….Anyhoo…
Lastly, we scrubbed in a set of sticker tires during the final test session to use for the Sunday race.
Saturday Morning Qualifying
Being group 1, it meant we had to be at the track bright and early in the morning. It also meant that the secondary Qualifying session later in the day probably wouldn’t be faster, so that THIS was the Qualifying that counted.
We went back and forth on a tire strategy but decided to save our best rubber for later in the weekend. We bolted up a mismatched set between all of the best used tires we had and hoped for the best.
I threw in a good time fairly early on in the session before catching up to lapped traffic, a 1:22.748. Good enough for Pole….For now….
With competitors Ralle Rookey and Nick Leverone only 2 tenths behind, more work was to be done! Especially since my Qualifying lap thus far was a little reserved and I knew I had more in the tank. In hindsight I should have hung it out more now knowing it may be the only lap I’d get.
The question then was to try and find a gap and stay out on track, or come in the pit lane to try and find a better one. My Dad (and crew chief) called me in with a gap in mind but I stayed out because I thought I could make one work on my next lap.
Sure enough, it turned out to be the right decision.
I was able to secure pole with a 1.22.690, while Ralle Rookey continued his threat later on in the session clicking another tenth off of his time. This was despite a pretty significant mistake in Turn 6, where I picked up initial throttle too soon, delaying my full throttle and exit speed. But I rode it up the banking towards the wall and hung on!
Saturday Afternoon Qualifying
The grid for the first race would be set by fastest time in EITHER Qualifying session.
This session was basically a throw away because the heat of the day had set onto the track and we knew we wouldn’t improve our time. I went out anyway with a setup change just to see what it did to the car. I didn’t like it, but at least now we knew! I pitted early after witnessing some rather desperate driving from other competitors considering the low significance of the session….
Saturday Afternoon Race 1
The drama began right after leaving the grid as the splitter put me on the outside instead of the inside, meaning all that hard work to earn Pole position would essentially mean a 2nd place start for the race. Thanks to radio communication and the quick action of my Dad (crew chief) we got permission from the race director to take back P1 and start on the inside. Phew.
The race itself was fairly straight forward.
I spent the majority of the race earning myself a 2 second lead by about the 3/4ths distance. Ralle Rookey was putting in some solid laps so I had to work pretty hard to make sure to maintain the gap. Some laps he gained a tenth on me, some laps I gained a tenth on him.
Full course yellow.
My lead would be erased, and I’d have to keep Ralle in my mirrors on the restart as it was probably going to be a green, white, checkered.
But that restart never came, as the incident was severe enough that we followed the pace car around for 3 more laps, ending under yellow flag conditions.
Not exactly the way I wanted to win, but I’ll take it.
Sunday Morning Race 2
You guessed it! Another pace lap, another pace lap full of drama.
The lights were still on in the pace car and the corner workers were still holding up double yellows as we made our way through the last couple turns, supposedly to take the green flag.
It sure looked to me like there was not going to be a start.
That was odd though, because we were the second race group on a split start, and the first group took the green.
The pace car, still with its lights on, pulled in the pits. This left me with a tough decision to make. Do I follow the pace car into pit lane (per the rules as the lights were on) or stay out and hope the lights were on by mistake, and that they MEANT to turn them off and go green.
Green it was.
But hey, at least this time I didn’t get a reprimand from chief steward for following the pace car too closely….?? So all and all, I’ll call the pace lap a win.
During the trip down to Turn 1 after the green, I had Ralle Rookey almost a half car length in front of me on my outside. This meant I would have to challenge the brake zone quite a bit considering Ralle knew it may be his only chance to get around me. I locked the brakes up briefly, modulated the brake, didn’t flat spot the tire and kept the lead.
After that, it was head down and time to crank out some quick, solid, mistake free laps.
Laps 3-9 were within a tenth of each other, lapping at 1:23.1 until we caught lapped traffic.
By this point, Ralle was in P2 and only about 1 second behind. He was close enough that if I had the pick set on me by a lapped car, I could very well lose the lead. Thankfully, with a blend of luck and some careful traffic negotiation, I was able to stay out in front.
The middle part of the race dragged on seemingly forever as I prematurely hoped for the white flag every time by start/finish. It was a long, long race mentally because I had a good lead, but not so good that I could relax and ease up a bit.
I was one mistake away from losing it all.
With only a handful of laps to go, and seemingly endless traffic with no change in the gap between us, Ralle got held up BADLY by a Mustang coming onto the long front stretch.
Not only did Ralle completely lose his run onto the front straight in order to get in front of the Mustang, the high horsepower, lapped car RE-PASSED him, un-lapping himself only to hold Ralle up immediately AGAIN in Turn 1. That sucks.
Quite possibly the best thing to watch unfold in your mirrors if you’re me at this point 🙂
For whatever reason that’s the way the cards were dealt and I found myself with a 5+ second lead now with only 2 laps to go, which made things a bit easier on me. However, I still had to stay focused and bring it home.
Bring it home I did, to complete our hat trick weekend with another race WIN!
Keith Goring, Susan Dixon, Tamara Morrison
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
From 2006 Skip Barber National Champion to 2015 Spec Miata SCCA Runoffs Champion, and with the 2008 IMSA Lites title in between, I’ve been in the racing scene for quite some time. I’ve been fortunate to race against (and beat sometimes) the best drivers in the world currently racing in various top level motorsports.
I’m very passionate about the art/science of performance driving and want to share that passion with you.
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