Monday, April 4, 2016

Close Battles at the MLRC Rallycross

February 28th was the second round of the MLRC RallyCross Championship. Having done unbelievably well in the first event, the pressure was on and all three of us had our own battles to fight.

Having placed 1st in class in the first event, I was working hard to maintain my lead in the championship. That meant being faster than teams like the Stripping Technologies wagon, which now had a fresh set of Yokohama A034s and were determined as ever to beat us. 

After his 2nd place finish in the first event, Danil only wanted to edge out Mat Janiak to maintain his position. Danil said that whenever he tried to chase my times he would drive too hard and make crucial mistakes, so driving cautiously to just stay ahead of Mat was his strategy.

Herman wasn't trying to beat anyone specific - he got a very respectable 5th place in the first event, and was simply honing his skills and working on technique. Must have felt good not having a bullseye on his back, because after the first runs were through Herman was faster than both of us! In fact his first run was the 3rd fastest time overall, being just 8 tenths of a second behind Crazy Leo and 4 tenths behind Paul Stanczak!

I tried once more to be aggressive on the first run, which proved yet again that it wasn't the right strategy for me. On the fastest section of the course - the straight after the left-hand carrousel I got sucked into the snow bank. I downshifted to 1st and floored it, praying that the Yokohamas would dig us out and I wouldn't need a tow. I did get out eventually but not only did I loose time in the snowbank, I lost the opportunity to gain time on the fastest section of the course. Maybe with more experience I'll be able to drive flat out on the first run, but not now.

Danil ran a very impressive 1:26.10 on his first run, edging out Mat by 3 tenths. Now if only he could continue to run just ahead of Mat, he'd maintain his second place in the championship.

The cards were now reversed among us - Herman was in the lead, followed by Danil, and then myself. If I were to regain the lead, I had to focus on running clean, fast laps. I gave it my all on run two and did a 1:24.28 - much faster, but not fast enough as Dan from Stripping Tech was about 3 tenths faster than that. But to my relief, on his next run Dan pushed it a little too hard and stuffed the car into a snowbank, ruining his day.

I sat in with Herman to see what he was doing to be faster than me. What I saw was way too terrifying to try and copy - his approach was to go ridiculously fast on the straights and to bounce off snowbanks to slow down and make the corners without so much as lifting the loud pedal for a second. Places where I thought I was at the limit of traction, he was going 10km/h faster! His time was unbelievably good when he got it right. But I knew all too well what would happen if he got it wrong, so I decided not to copy that approach.

For his 3rd run, Danil asked Crazy Leo to sit in the car with him and give him a few pointers. With Leo's help, he shaved an unbelievable 6 seconds off his best time making that the best run our team has had all day. I couldn't let that fly and also asked Leo for help. He jumped into the passenger seat, and listening to his guidance I ran a nice fast, clean lap with only a few minor mistakes. I looked at the timer, and my jaw dropped - a 1:18.26. A run so fast, it would remain to be the fastest time of the day (in all classes)! I spoke to Tyler who was working the stop box, and he said: In all my years volunteering at the rallycrosses I have never been asked to double-check a run time until that lap. No one could believe it.

Danil asked me what I did that made it so fast and I may have told him (among other things) that I went flat out over the roughest section of the course (the place where the jump was in the first event). He took that advice a bit too literally, and even though he had a sloppy corner exit before that section, he welded the accelerator to the floor and went straight off course into the deep powdery snow. He was too far in to drive out on his own, which meant his day was over.

Herman too went a little too crazy on his last run, and went off the course not once but twice! And I managed to close the day with a conservative run that still left me with a healthy 6.39 second lead over the next person in our class. The sum of my runs was good for 1st in class and 3rd overall, which I was very pleased with. Meanwhile Danil and Herman's snowbank encounters left them in 8th and 15th in class respectively. Luckily the championship rules allow you to drop your worst event of the season, so the championship is still not over for them.

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