Its Hard To Go Home - James Clay

VIR. The beautifully paved track nestled in the rolling hills of Southern VA. A real track from back in the day - not a conjured road course like so many new tracks. Rhythm, flow, speed, staffed with good friends, and its just 2 hours from the BimmerWorld HQ. Our home track is a good one. This is the most anticipated weekend on our schedule all season, and for some reason it could hardly be going worse.

Test day is a day to ...test. Not bang up equipment - test. Not make low percentage moves - test. There is a saying in racing - "you can't win practice". But you can test. So we showed up to VIR with some new work on the cars. To test.

As expected, we don't bat 1,000 and not all of our stuff was working as we wanted. Most but not all, so it was time to change back to our tried and true. Because we were testing. Making laps and learning. Not taking stupid chances. We had done some crafty camera work on the last session on the 81 car, but we decided to send my car out as well to verify our thoughts - it was going to take a long time to set the cars up again, so we would otherwise sit out and we wanted to make sure we learned as much as possible.

Everything was going well. I had a setup problem and it was behaving as expected. If we COULDN'T solve it and we had to deal with it, we were making progress on making it drivable.

Our cars exit turn 4 and are flat on the throttle all the way to turn 10 - there is a short straight between the flat esses and the uphill esses - both sections of connected transitional turns that are generally considered one-car wide. I have more laps at VIR than any other track I drive - about 8 years worth. I have gone two wide through the uphill esses before and it is a wild ride at 100+ MPH, each car has to give enough room to co-exist, go at least 2 wheels through the dirt at the apexes, and at the end it is a loser because it is not as fast as tucking in and waiting until the top when things aren't so tight to pass.

So on a test day, this is not something to do. Last lap of a race - maybe. Fighting for a position with a car in class - maybe. On a TEST DAY? NO.

We are on track with a mix of ST cars in our class and the faster GS cars. The ST cars are generally a bit less powerful, but about 5-600# lighter on average - that means that they mix very well on track for some great racing. Similar braking ability, similar corner speeds, and the GS cars pass our ST cars on the straights where it is safer and they don't get frustrated - they just drive by. And if not, our lighter ST cars are as quick in the turns so it doesn't hold them up.

So realizing that this is a TEST DAY, I exited the flat esses with two GS cars a bit behind me. In this straight section, they can pass, but as we enter the uphill esses I am flat on the gas and even the best GS car has to lift a bit to check their speed - remember we are about the same speed in the turns.

So at the tail end of the straight, a nameless Porsche pops out with good closing speed but not in a position to make any sort of reasonable move - ie he wouldn't be beside me and certainly not in front of me by the time the track tightened up in the uphill esses. Fair enough - I do that when I am in a fast car too. Show the nose, see what happens. But if the car being overtaken doesn't slow, then I do the right thing and tuck in.

So of the two GS cars, the Porsche pulls out, the other Camaro stays put. I am watching this happen in the rearview and think I am pretty safe, this is a test day, no one in the world would try to dive bomb me into the esses. But JUST IN CASE, as we turn left into the esses I don't head to the apex - I leave room so we can go two wide and let this optimistic fellow figure out that he is in the middle of a non-productive effort.

After that, I am not really sure what happened. I turn left, but I am not so sure that WE turned left - tricky since that is where the track goes. Or maybe we did turn left and the side of my car looked like the apex to hit when turning right. Whatever happened, the Porsche was not beside me, did NOT play it any sort of safe and freaked out or whatever and hit me around the LR wheel, sending me 180, then traveling backwards at about 100MPH, where I rode for about 200', praying a lot, thinking about how bad this was going to hurt and what the chances were for some serious pain or permanent personal damage.

I was insanely lucky. The car hit the tirewall backwards, square, flattened the back up to the rear tires, continued to absorb the energy as the nose went straight up in the air, spun 180 on the tail on the ground and then landed on the other side of the wall. Pretty funny in retrospect video where I am chattering on the radio before the car lands with 1)its totaled, 2)that ...... ..... that just hit me on a TEST DAY, and 3)Dave go call RRT and get a car here to race tomorrow. All in about a 10 second span.

I get out of the car after the track is cold and it is safe to walk around (you can't just get out with other cars going 100+, looking at you, and potentially driving where they are looking). I survey the damage, hear that the other driver is OK, then spend about the next 15 minutes lurking around the Porsche in anticipation of a conversation with any reasonable explanation of what happened. I didn't get it.

Sooooo - test day down, car down. Dave called the RRT guys who weren't running their car this weekend and we strike a deal - car to arrive at 6AM. Our guys put in a Herculean effort to get the car teched, swapped over to our car number so we can score points in it for the weekend, and get it on track by 8:40AM.

Enter Round 2 of my fun weekend as I start my morning session to feel out the temporary #80 on loan from the RRT Collection. It isn't uncommon for us to have some fun on the team. Bill Heumann donated a bottle of Satan's Blood or some similarly-named substance that is 10% hot sauce and 90% death in a bottle. This was last year and it travels in the truck for the off nights if someone wants to play the "how much can you eat" game. And over the year of use, a little of this stuff has apparently gotten on the outside of the bottle. Enough so that at this point, when you touch the bottle you had better remember it and not touch anything else personal and of value for the next couple of days, lest a strong burning feeling wash over that part of your body - very similar to the feeling currently in my ears.

As my ears get hotter, I get hotter. Joke gone wrong. Not funny. Hot sauce on the earbuds - really??? I struggle through some laps. Its getting hotter and hotter. Another car has a similar fate to ours of yesterday, black flag brings all the cars into the pits at about the right time - my ears are on fire. I am going to find someone to kill... As I sit in the pits, we talk about setup and make some changes to get the car more under us. Whew - my ears are getting better! So I spend most of my 10 minutes in the pits thinking who is the culprit. We go back out at the tail end of the session to feel out the changes and the heat on the earial area comes on again, strong.

I get out of the car, we have a direction on what we want to do to make it work, time to diagnose my main issue of ear pain. Sitting in the trailer the most sore ear is starting to have some wetness (goo, so I will spare the rest of the details). Anyway, I decide that this was a damaged ear form yesterday's wreck - banging my head around in the seat's side ears jostled my earbuds in the inner ear and tore the skin - or I tore it pulling them out. So I go off to get some neosporine with pain relief to solve the issue.

Session 2, I start again to get a quick read on our car work before handing the car over to Dave. I can hardly hear anything because of static in the radios, but whatever - quick in and out. Only this time, the ear heat starts immediately, and the right one is INSANE. Our engineer Wayne asks me how the car is doing. I think I say "ear, ear". I am going through the yesterday referenced uphill esses at 120MPH, one hand on the steering wheel guiding the car, the other wrapped around my helmet chinpiece pulling it away from my right ear because relieving the pressure seems to make the pain momentarily bearable. I get into the pitlane, stall the car, start a couple of sentences and stop because I can't focus on anything but my ears, and bail out of the car. I scramble to get my helmet off - WHEW!!!

Dave gets in the car, does a few laps and we are content enough. At the end of the session, we need to do a practice driver change in the new car - simulated race stop. Dave flies into the pits, stops, gets out, I get in, strap the belts hook up the radio, and I am off - after I am released by my car chief Josh. Mouth moving, no words. At this point, the radios are so bad I can't hear anything - and I could only deal with putting my left earbud in. I get a visual waive-off and head to our transporter with the car - session over. About halfway there, my left ear which was previously the minor irritation is now heating up. WHAT IS GOING ON???

The drivers download after every session - first talking to each other, then Wayne to go over the car issues and how we are going to make them better. After this, and some complaints from me on the whole ear situation, Dave pipes up. This was his first time in the new car - and the scoundrel with the hotsauce apparently got him too! And then we think - radio issue, earbud issue - really? Does a speaker get hot? It would take a whole lot of energy to make it happen. We hook up my helmet to the car, turn on the radio, start to talk to activate the speaker and in a few minutes it is almost too hot to touch.

BINGO. No hot sauce. No prank. The stupid wiring harness has literally taken my earbud speaker, turned it into a little micro-heater, and it is literally burning the insides of our ears! And with the limited schedule and time we had in the cars, there was no time to take off a helmet, test, play around and decide. Besides with years and years of experience I (and anyone else I have asked) have never heard of this happening. But it is my lucky weekend, so it all falls in line.

Qualifying at 5:25. Dave gets in our car, lays down slowish lap after slowish lap. After he gets out he tells me how he has almost died several times accomplishing this utterly unimpressive result. Now that is not a dig on Dave - he is an awesome co-driver and he puts down the laps in qualifying and is rock solid. Last race at Barber he put it on the pole. So if he can't do it, I believe him. We have a theory, based on running our club enduro car and it all makes sense - not enough rear swaybar, which is also the only setup difference with the #81 car. Not sure if it will get us to the front, but it is the plan we have and the only one, so it is the one we will go with.

Bill and Seth have been performing solidly and have a good chance in tomorrow's race. I am hoping after our changes tomorrow we will be on the same page - time will tell.

What a weekend so far and it isn't even Saturday. Its good to be back to our home track...

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