With a short break after VIR, I once again packed my race gear and headed for Mosport International Raceway. Upon arriving at Mosport, I went through registration and prepared to go on a “track walk.” No walking necessary. We had golf carts this time…unlike VIR where we had to endure over 2 hours of walking!! So, in between bump drafting golf carts down the straightaway, I was able to really study the track. The track looked absolutely awesome! Almost every corner was fast, blind, and had huge elevation changes. While not a technical track, it would truly be a test of bravery. With the track “walk” over, and registration done, it was time to hit the hotel in preparation for tomorrow’s sessions.
The weekend’s itinerary provided very limited seat time, which placed the emphasis on learning the track quickly. We had only one thirty minute practice session and one thirty minute qualifying session. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, it was raining and absolutely freezing. The cold weather made the rain even worse as it made it just about impossible to generate heat into the tires, especially the rears.
On a side note for those of you that saw the carnage that was VIR, penalties were announced during the drivers meeting. After reviewing video footage as well as on-board camera shots, Volkswagen penalized more than over 15 drivers. Points were deducted. Prize money was withheld. Starting grid positions were also “adjusted” for the start of this race. Fortunately, I was not penalized, which helped me greatly in overcoming my deficit in points.
As the first practice session approached, the rain came down in buckets! This was our first opportunity to experience TDI power in the wet, and on rain tires. I eased out onto the track and began experimenting with my line. While racing in the rain is difficult under the best conditions, at Mosport it is especially difficult. Since most of the quick corners enter over a crest, the car would prove to be extra loose. In addition, the concrete patches in nearly every corner would add a certain bit of drama as well. These patches were like ICE in the rain. Having driven other race cars in the rain, I knew the only thing to really accomplish in a rain practice is: FIND GRIP! So, with that in mind, I cruised around, not wanting to risk crash damage and definitely wanting to avoid the spinning cars. About half way through the session, I pulled in the garage as I felt I had sufficiently learned the wet line. No sense in tempting faith I thought. Despite coming in early and not pushing the car, I was 10th in practice. A great start to the weekend.
The rain stopped just before the end of our practice and held off during the other sessions for the Canadian Touring Series and MX-5 Cup. This meant the track might actually have been dry for qualifying. However, since there was no way to tell if the rain was going to hold off, the Volkswagen of America crew decided to leave the rain tires on the cars just in case. The rain stayed away and qualifying was in the dry but on rain tires.
There are a few important factors to consider regarding running rain tires in the dry. The first is heat. Rain tires are manufactured with a soft compound in order to produce grip…..lots of grip……while not overheating. In the dry, however, the tires were extremely easy to overheat. Another important factor regarding rain tires is tread squirm. Tread squirm causes the car to feel like it’s sliding when it really isn’t. This is caused by all the treads flexing. It is extremely difficult to feel confident in a car when it constantly feels like it is moving around underneath you. However, we all had to contend with the same condition. With this in mind, I took a strategy of doing two hot laps at a time, then 3-4 very slow laps to cool the tires. I then repeated this strategy. On my first run (and first time on this track in the dry), I felt like I had a decent lap. While I was able to pick up speed in my other runs, I was unable to find clear track or a drafting partner, and was only able to pick up a few tenths. I came into the pits at the end of the qualifying session expecting to be about 7th. I was told I was 2nd! That was great news considering I had gotten caught in traffic on my fastest lap. This meant I had the speed to contend for the win!
The actual pole sitter, Chris Castangna, had a four position penalty. This moved me up to pole for the second race in a row! Other drivers benefitted as well. In fact, the drivers who started 2nd and 3rd had qualified at the end of the top ten and were moved up due to penalties. This meant I would have a bit of a cushion between me and some of the faster cars. “I might actually be able to run away with this one,” I thought to myself. With that in my mind, I headed back to the hotel for some food and sleep.
We arrived on race day to a cold and overcast morning. Once again we were left to wonder what Mother Nature might have in store for us. As we climbed into ours cars and proceeded to the pregrid, the wondering was no longer necessary.
Drip…drip…drip…drip. The rain slowly started to fall on the windshields and the wipers began to do their thing. We rolled out for our formation lap, and the rain started coming down even harder. I tried desperately to heat up the tires by weaving back and forth somewhat conservatively.
I took my place on pole for the start. Suddenly, I realized that pole was both a blessing and a curse…..all at the same time. I was going to be the first one to experience the grip (or lack thereof) of slick tires…..through Turn One……in the wet!! Oh boy!! Bahbump…..bahbump…..bahbump…..bahbump. The heart was beating big time!! The lights went off, and I left the line with a flurry of wheel spin. A sigh of relief came over me for a brief moment as I actually got through Turn One. Everything seemed ok, just a bit on the slippy side. Now came Turn Two. I braked early just to be on the safe side. I turned in…and was pointed backwards instantly! I jammed on the brakes trying desperately to stop the car. How did I spin? How could I have spun? How could I have managed to get through Turn One but not Turn Two? I didn’t even feel the car get loose. I came to a stop facing the wall and turned the car around and tried to rejoin the fray. A double yellow came out so the field was packed up once again. Some how I was still fourth! How did that happen? Well, I later found out that 3rd place had spun in front of the field and had caused a huge wreck, and that second place had spun off the same place I did.
At least my race wasn’t going to be totally ruined. I lined up for the restart and tried like Fernando Alonso to get heat in those rear tires. The green was out and we all went slipping and sliding again. I was actually able to hang on to the lead pack. “I can get a podium out of this” I thought to myself. I was all over the next group of cars in the last three corners; I just needed to find a way past. Then it happened. The second place car spun right in front of me. I saw it coming and had already planned my escape route. I was able to drive around the accident by going off course. Unfortunately, this dropped me back to about 12th. It was now time to stop pushing and let the race come back to me. I saw people going off and spinning in front of me every where. As I started to get more comfortable, I realized I was in 5th and could see the lead pack again.
According to all the pit boards I had passed going past the start/finish line, there was still about 10 minutes left. I could still get a podium. I started to push. I got on 4th place’s bumper. Then…….”WHAT?!?!?!? You’ve got to be kidding?” The checkered was out! Why did the race end so early I wondered. Turns out that the Volkswagen officials were concerned about the combination of an increasingly wet track and slick tires. I’m sure the Volkswagen technicians had something to do with the decision as well considering they probably wanted to minimize their work load. The less carnage, the less repair work.
So, a 5th place finish considering the spin is a pretty solid points weekend. I know the EasyKart/Gunther Volkswagen Jetta TDI has the speed. We just need podium finishes. Look for me to do just that in Portland on July 25th.
Good Clean Fun Part 1
Good Clean Fun Part 2
Good Clean Fun Part 3
VW TDI Cup