Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Our 1-2 Finish at MLRC Rallycross

After spending a day at Crazy Leo's advanced driving school, we had so much newfound confidence that we started joking about taking first, second, and third place at the next MLRC rallycross. It would be a long shot though, as our NA AWD class at MLRC is full of very quick drivers who have beaten us numerous times in the past. It also didn't help that our Yokohama A034s were half-worn from the day at the school.

We brought out 2 sets of tires to choose from - a fresh set of Blizzaks that we prefer for ice, and the half-worn set of Yokohamas. We ultimately chose the Yokos because of the deep snow during the first few runs, which turned out to be the correct choice. Even half-worn, the tread blocks on the Yokos are much more aggressive than on the Blizzaks and do much better in the deep stuff. Even when we accidentally went 4 wheels off the track into the snowbank, we were able to power through it and get back on course without needing a tow.

We also disconnected both front and rear sway bars, per Leo's advice. On snow the car doesn't have enough lateral traction to lean enough to need a sway bar, but having a truly independent suspension helps with grip on rutted / uneven surfaces. This was good advice for sure.

The course started off as having deep snow, but after the first two runs or so the conditions became very challenging. At mid-day, the course had every winter surface imaginable - deep snow, polished ice, gravel, and slush. It was so bad that the fast left-hander at the back of the course Leo called the "Carrousel" had ice on corner entry, then gravel a couple meters later, then another patch of sheet ice, and another patch of gravel. Go in too hot, and you understeer straight off at corner entry. Catch one of the the patches of gravel mid-corner with too much lock, and you clip the apex. It was challenging, but very good fun managing such drastic differences in grip in one corner.

My first run was a very conservative 1:23. Danil ran a 1:24, followed by Herman with a 1:25. In hindsight, we should have pushed it a bit more on the first one. It is a risky move to take, not knowing the track conditions but had potential for big rewards as the track was much faster than that. I proved that on my next run, doing a 1:16 - a full 7 seconds faster! Meanwhile Crazy Leo didn't seem to hold anything back on his first run, doing an unbelievable 1:15!

By the end of the day a lot of the corners on the course had developed icy ruts leading to a high-risk - high-reward option. Catch the rut just right, and you ride it through the corner like you're on rails. Miss it or slip off, and you understeer off the track. One such corner was the last one coming up to the stop box. On his 5th run, Leo went too hot, missed the rut and planted his WRX so hard into the snowbank it took a pickup truck several attempts and a full 2 minutes to pull him out.

With Leo out, and looking at the times of the other competitors, I now seemingly had a chance at the overall podium! On the one hand, I had a comfortable lead in my class and had to drive cautiously so as not to go off track and loose it. But on the other, getting an overall win in a stock Impreza wagon seemed like a very exciting and attainable goal. In the end, I decided to drive cautiously so as not to risk loosing my lead. Surprisingly, my times didn't increase at all - it's true what they say "slow really is fast"!

Meanwhile Danil was fighting a battle of his own. He was about 3 seconds a lap behind me, but at some point we noticed his run times falling below that of the driver-to-beat in our class, Mat Janiak. This forced him to give up his otherwise overly aggressive driving style, and focus on not loosing the lead. From the passenger seat, I saw that his technique improved immensely. A cautious but determined driving style seemed to pay off. Not only did he manage to keep it on the track, but his times dropped by 2 seconds - from the 1:19s to the 1:17s.

Herman wasn't having the best of days. He was still coping with the ever-changing conditions, and struggling to find a smooth but fast driving style. One one run he tried adapting Danil's aggressive style and I think I counted us going 4 wheels off the course about 3 times. But what he lacked in experience, he more than made up with bravery on the jumps. I don't remember getting this much air in a vehicle ever! And by the end of the day, he did manage to reign in the Danil syndrome and began driving at 8/10ths the possible speed, but with flawless technique. When he gets the experience to speed up to 10/10ths with that technique, we'll all be in trouble!

We all finished our 5 runs, ecstatic that we didn't make any crucial mistakes. The class win was mine, followed by Danil in second. We almost began to pack up, exhausted from the close competition. But then we noticed the cars lining up again! Turned out we had time for a 6th run. Damn! The pressure was on yet again for both of us to run a clean lap - conservatively but quickly enough so as not to loose our lead.

We managed to do it - just. My time increased by over a second, which was still enough for 1st in class and 2nd overall. Meanwhile Danil ran his fastest time of the day on the last run. What we didn't know is that Mat also ran his fastest time on the last run - a full 4 seconds quicker than his previous run! In the end Danil still managed to edge him out by a mere 2 tenths of a second, and got 2nd in class. Herman placed 5th in class, which was very impressive considering it was his first time driving the MLRC track, and second time competing at a rallycross event. Not quite the 1-2-3 finish we were aiming for, but we were extremely happy with that outcome nonetheless.

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