AutoMatters: The Joy of Motorsports
By Jan. R. Wagner
Sunday was to be the next event in our Sports Car Club of America, San Diego Region’s autocross series where drivers compete against each other, one-at-a-time against the clock, on relatively low speed, temporary road courses marked by traffic cones. Typically we get four timed runs. Only our best run counts.
My 2011 Ford Mustang GT competes in the F Stock class. Few performance modifications are allowed, the major exception being super-sticky tires. Hoosier A6 autocross tires are the stickiest so they are the tires of choice. They are strictly intended for on-track competition use, so we do not drive to the track on them. Three of us drive F Stock Mustangs, all on Hoosiers.
So far this year, one of my fellow competitors has had three first-place finishes and the other has had two. I have had none. In an effort to turn things around, a few events ago I got a new set of Hoosiers. That should have made the difference but it did not.
Preparation for my day began the afternoon before, as I loaded up my Mustang with its Ford Racing wheels and Hoosier autocross tires, tire-changing tools, helmet and other stuff.
Early the next morning, while eating breakfast, I turned on the TV to watch the start of the Silverstone Formula 1® race. Felipe Massa drives one of the two team cars for Ferrari. In three F1
®race weekends, he’s crashed four times. For the sake of his career, he needed a turnaround.
Massa gridded well back in the field, yet when the cars began to race Massa forcefully passed several, including his teammate. His turnaround had begun. That made an impression upon me.
At the autocross, I changed my wheels and tires and prepared to take my first run. I theorized that the reason my new Hoosiers had not helped me recently was because I was overdriving my car – something that is all too easy to do in a high-powered (412 hp) Mustang GT. I decided to focus on driving less aggressively, so that my Hoosiers would not break traction. That meant not mashing the gas pedal and lighting up the rear tires in the straights, and no sideways drifting around the tight turns. I was third in our running order, so I would see how my competitors did before I ran.
I executed my plan and made what felt like a very slow run. However, our three times told a different story. Incredibly, after our first of four runs, I was marginally in the lead.
After our second runs I improved slightly, but one of my competitors rose to the challenge and squeezed past me. After making his third run, my other competitor also slipped past me. I was now in third place but, as the track announcer said, the three of us were separated by less than half a second.
As I approached the starting line for my third run, I smiled and told the starter that I knew I could do better – and I believed that. I had learned where I could go faster and where I needed to continue to take it easy. Now was the time to feed in a little more throttle in the fast parts, and go a little deeper and faster into the tight turns.
The result? After my third run I had our field covered by over half a second. I returned to my place in grid for my final run.
First, each of my competitors took their final run. Nervously I watched for their times – and then it was over. They had been unable to beat my third run’s time.
Then something strange happened. Despite having the win locked up, I felt a need to prove that my third run’s time had not been a lucky fluke. I drove even harder on my fourth run and further improved upon my time, thereby beating my nearest competitor by just shy of a second. In autocross, that’s a big time difference.
Ecstatic, I slapped the roof of my car. That is the joy of motorsports.
Afterwards, my competitors asked me what I’d changed on my car. In response, I pointed to my head.
Even though he’ll never know it, in part I owe a debt of gratitude to the example set earlier that morning by Felipe Massa. Thank you!
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Copyright © 2013 by Jan Wagner – #287