The End of a Driving Slump - James Clay

It comes as no surprise to a lot of my friends that the last month+ has been a little tense for me. On the surface, being the owner of a team in a new series is always a little intense for a while - compound that normal circumstance with the additional pressure of a 3 race run in 4 weekends - little room for error.

Now add the non-standard stuff that piles right on top. First Watkins Glen. Great weekend for us, all except the results. I have kept my mouth mostly shut, since running it at this point does nothing positive.

But without any shadow of a doubt, we had a couple of podiums in the bag in NY and an error by "not our personnel" yanked it out of our grasp. We managed a couple of top 10s out of it, but no one on Team BimmerWorld was happy. Seeing the TV show didn't make us any happier since in the Watkins situation, we were unfortunately severely aware and without being asked, a few folks felt inclined to theorize that we were clueless. Final word to all the blog readers - we know the rules and unfortunately make every effort to follow them... Anyway, this has been on my mind as a secondary stress point - or tertiary or wherever it falls - I am losing count.

First and foremost on my mind - my personal time behind the wheel has been a major disappointment for a few races. Others rely on me to get a job done and while I feel my strongest and maybe more unique skill is setup and I have been knocking that out, I can wheel the car and usually do so to a good finish. Our team doesn't work as hard as they do to watch cars go around track - they invest a supreme amount of effort and the payoff is a result - a good one. My co-driver has been a standout in his first-stint efforts, putting the 80 on pole once before this past weekend, otherwise typically close to the front, and then handing me a solid car.

Cue the designated hitter. Not for setup or tuning, but to bring home the finish - the final result of all that work. The season has been a little rocky, full of bad things happening to good people as my friend Jim Robinson of DTOM Racing fame would say - in a weak moment when he was being nice.

R1 - Daytona - strong start leading to strong finish, P5 headed up, SLAMMED in the back on a restart by a car that lost its braking ability...end of race
R2 - Homestead - strong start, first timing tower error puts us back, making up ground, hit and spun, recover, ANOTHER timing tower error makes us look silly, still manage a decent top 10
R3 - Barber - a little short to be a great track, but we can put down one lap, which DW does, putting us on the pole. A setup experiment we attempted plays out awesome in qualifying,poorly in the race, car fades, P6 finish. Still decent with the footnote - "for what it was"
R4 - VIR - Home track, cars progressing, an insanely stupid move by a new driver in the faster GS class puts me in the wall with major damage before the weekend even really starts. Find a spare car, awesome race strategy, salvage a 6th. Good result *for what it was...

Starting to see a trend? Well you're not alone. Too many footnotes.

R5 - Lime Rock - hitters slump has set in. Everything else going well, but I can't make anything happen when I strap in the CTC cars. Wildly frustrating and I won't know why until Mid Ohio, but in the meantime, I have a good race going headed for a higher top 10 (still fails to meet my expectations because there are no footnotes this time) and I force an issue in braking, cut a tire, lose a lap. Poor finish at the start of a 3 race stretch, James is grumpy.
R6 - Watkins - enough said on the obvious. The good news for me is I am driving well enough, but something still isn't right and while we seem to be headed for a top 5 before disaster strikes, still not up to expectations.

So now we are facing round 7. Why do bad things happen to good people? Keep in mind that by the law of averages, for every Jimmy Johnson that is having a horseshoe stuck season, there is one of us filling in as James Clay, taking the licks, not getting the finishes. And the more it happens, the worse it is. Thus the mid-season slump.

So it's Mid Ohio time. I get good sleep. I put away the normal BimmerWorld work early on Wednesday, and I focus on racing. I have spent a week pouring through data and I have asked our engineer Wayne to do the same thing, and we think we have found something. I approach the weekend like nothing has been amiss and plan to win the race. This is the test of positive thinking and hard work. Study hard but not too hard. Recognize mistakes but don't dwell on them. Focus on winning without putting too much pressure to get there. A driver's ego is a fragile thing and I have done this routine before, but not for myself.

The cars are good off the trailer. Minimum setup work required - instead we work on specific qualifying and race setups. I am also on out of the trailer. Take the positive reinforcement, study data but don't dwell. Learn and move forward. It is all working and by race time, we are ready to win. David goes out and kills it. I get the car in P2 but we lose a few out of the pits. Our strategy puts us at the back of the field to work up, but unfortunately for me, the traffic Seth cleared as single cars after the restart has now bunched behind the slower of the group and now instead of passing one at a time, I get caught up big having to work a group of 5 that is fanning out in all the braking zones. We move up, go for a final fuel stop under green, and keep working. Another yellow, we have passed more cars, some in front of us pit. More laps and Seth is leading, I am P3 and
working hard to get around a VW who is about as wide under braking where I have the advantage as the group of 5 I worked through earlier. Another caution, my gap behind is lost and a restart with the GS cars (who are slower on the back half) and the fading grip in T1 take their toll and I lose a spot to finish P4.

End result - team wrapped up the 3 race rush leading the points, the 80 car doesn't reach its potential once again due to an outside variable but this time that means one away from a podium. And more importantly to me, my slump is over! It has been a discouraging time and unrewarded efforts were getting old, but no one makes positive progress by burying their head in the sand. It is good to be back!

The reward - this blog entry was written entirely in my time waiting in line for the next coaster at Cedar Point. Next time I am looking for a top step for the effort.

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