Saturday, April 21
The first CECA event of the year is at Pueblo Motorsports Park. I’ve only been there twice, and I think the last time was back in 2012. So it’s long past due for a visit. The day after I popped my check in the mail I received an email saying that the event would be cancelled if they didn’t receive eight more entries. Turns out they got twenty.
The hitch in the plan is variable spring weather along the Front Range. A week ago, the forecast was for a high in the upper fifties with snow and rain in the morning. Well, I figured, if it was going to get near sixty, any snow would melt as soon as it hit the ground. And although I’ve never run laps in proper rain, I’m up for it. Wet conditions would mean my street tires might be an advantage rather than a detriment.
CECA fees are a bit higher than a typical open lapping day, but there is one big advantage: entries are by the car rather than the driver. That means we can have Michael drive a session or two at no additional cost. So I put his name on the entry form as second driver and told him to plan on spending the entire day with me.
The fly in that ointment is that he went to a concert last night and didn’t get home until 2:30. It’s a two hour drive to the track, and we needed to be there before the start of the 8:00 drivers meeting, so I told him we’d leave no later than 5:30. He said he’d set his alarm for 4:45 and be ready to go. There were no signs of life downstairs so I woke him up with a question: “Are you coming with me?”
I had the car all packed up last night, so even with him getting a few extra minutes of sleep we were on the road by our desired time. At 5:30 we backed out of the garage and into a snow storm. I don’t normally drive the car in the rain, unless it’s unavoidable. Snow is out of the question. I’m not running track tires, but they’re summer tires and not made for snow. But we’ve had warm weather for a while, and the snow will melt as soon as it hits the ground, right? Right? That’s what I kept telling myself.
The Elise is neither quiet nor comfortable, but as Michael had only a couple of hours of sleep he was unconscious almost immediately. It was probably just as well. It was a bit of a white-knuckle drive much of the way. I’m not a big fan of driving the Elise in the dark, as it sits so low. Add the snow (even if it was melting right away) and visibility was bad – very difficult to see the lane markings, and the spray from other cars didn’t help. Add to that, there was a fair amount of standing water on the road; I hydroplaned occasionally.
Visibility improved once I got out of the city, and traffic thinned out a bit. At speed, the snow doesn’t really hit the windshield, so the snow didn’t look to be too heavy. Until I passed the occasional street lamp, when it looked far too much like blizzard conditions for my taste. The test of the weather would be at Monument Hill, which is notorious for bad weather. On the approach, it looked like the snow was starting to stick to the shoulders of the road. Because the snow flew over the car, I didn’t often need to use the windshield wipers. By now a line of slushy snow had accumulated underneath the wiper.
The weather seemed to be clearing as we went farther south. Just as snow had been stacking up under the wiper, it has been accreting on the nose of the car. Near Fountain, a big slab of it came loose and splattered on the windshield. But the worst of it was over, and the snow had turned to light rain. Even so, I couldn’t help but wonder if the conditions had caused enough people to bail out that we would cancel.
When we arrived at the track it looked like a fairly sparse crowd, but at least we weren’t the only ones who braved the conditions. We gathered in the “VIP” room. I use the term loosely. It’s air-conditioned, which I’m sure is welcome in summer. But there’s no heat. At least it was dry, and out of the wind.
When we first pulled into the facility, I saw an orange car on a trailer. From a distance, it might have been Ryan’s Exige, but he doesn’t trailer his car. Turns out it was a Viper, not a Lotus. In fact, it was a Viper TA, which doesn’t stand for “Trans Am” but for “Time Attack”. It’s an 8.4 liter V10 that pumps out 640bhp. I understand they were available in two colors: orange or black.
And it turns out Ryan recently bought a trailer, so he now trailers his car. We parked side-by-side and rather than lay out our things on a tarp on the wet ground, we stashed our stuff in his trailer.
He mentioned that he recently had a problem with one of his fuel injectors and hoped he had it fixed. This proved to be a bit of foreshadowing.
After our tech inspection, we went back to the VIP room for the drivers meeting. We still had some waiting to do, so spent the time visiting. I took a look at the entry list and saw 28 cars listed. Turns out it was somewhat less, as some people didn’t brave the weather after all.
As this was Michael’s first time, he had to take the ground school session for the novices. The red group was out first, which included me. While we were waiting for the drivers meeting to start, we watched them trying to dry the track, or at least the drag strip portion of it. They had the brushes out, and a blower. It had stopped raining, but our first red session would be under yellow flags because of the wet. For that first session, I didn’t bother setting up the cameras.
Michael’s first session was a “lead-follow” session. The idea is, all the novices line up behind the instructor car. After the first lap, the car immediately behind the instructor lets all the other cars pass then gets back in at the end of the queue. The process is repeated each lap until everybody has had a chance to follow right behind the instructor.
Because I was in the red group, Michael didn’t get to line up with the other green group cars on the grid. So he would be released after everybody did their first lap and he’d be at the end of the line. Unfortunately, three cars in the group were unable to keep up to the line, and because we enter the track down the pit lane, by the time we got on the track even this last group of three cars was well ahead of us. So I had to put my instructor hat on and try to tell him the line.
Eventually we caught the pack. But for some reason, a few of these drivers seemed unable or unwilling to follow the rules. Instead of just the lead novice letting the others pass, two or three cars did this each time. As a result, we made our way up to the instructor pretty quickly. After our one lap, we tried to go to the back, but a couple cars stayed behind us and after three more laps we were back to the front. That was good for Michael, as he got a couple of nice looks at where to put the car.
The weather seemed to be improving a bit, so for my next red session I took the top off the car and mounted the cameras in their usual places. The track was nice and dry now, and we could finally give it a proper go. In my previous visits to PMP, my personal best lap time was 2:01. By my fourth lap of this session I’d matched that and before the session ended, I’d broken the two minute barrier three times, logging a 1:57.67. I was happy with that, particularly given that I had a passenger.
About half way through the session, though, we saw Ryan parked on the side of the track. When we got back to the paddock we learned that he’d had a recurrence of his fuel injector problem. Sadly, his day was done.
It was now lunch time, so we returned to the VIP room. Michael and I got burgers and fries. Sitting there eating, I couldn’t help but notice that the rain had started up again. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but I’d left the top off the car. I was more interested in having a hot lunch than running out in the rain to put the top on the car. Luckily it didn’t rain hard or long, so neither the car interior nor the track got very wet.
Michael was pretty cold. Neither of us was properly dressed. We were expecting temperatures in the high fifties, but I don’t think it managed much more than fifty, and with the breeze it was fairly chilly. I couldn’t wear my sweater under my driving suit, so I wore my jacket over it. I was happy to put the top back on the car, and even ran the heater. So for the next red session, I went out solo while Michael tried to keep warm in the VIP room.
That third session was much fun. I managed seven laps in a row under two minutes. There was very little traffic by now, many people having given up. I only caught up to two cars, and those on the first two laps. If there were any faster cars on the track, we were separated by quite a bit as nobody passed me the whole time. In the end, I logged a new personal best lap of 1:54.56.
By now I was getting low on fuel. Because the paddock is inside the track, nobody can leave while a session is in progress. So, rather than pack up our stuff and wait in line to exit, we decided we’d run two or three more laps to pass the time. I called it a day at the end of three laps when I had a big moment. I didn’t spin it, but got quite a bit sideways.
Once we were packed up, the track was closed for a break and we were able to exit without having to wait.
Michael did a great job behind the wheel. There’s a lot to take in the first time you’re on the track. It’s easy to get focused on the road in front of you but you need to be check out the corner stations and have to be aware of your mirrors. He did watch his mirrors very well, but I’m not sure he was looking for the corner workers. That’s easy for me to do as passenger, so I wasn’t terribly concerned. If I thought he’d have missed something, I’d have let him know. I had the lap timer running, but not where he could see it. It’s natural to want to know how you’re doing, but I didn’t want another distraction for him.
Due to the blustery conditions, I ran all but one session with the top on. So the video is from the harness bar mount rather than my preferred location on top of the car. And I still haven’t figured out what I’m doing wrong with the lap timer – I seem to be disconnected from the OBD dongle, so no data. Hopefully I’ll get that issue wrestled to the ground soon.