While it snowed a foot at Stowe Mountain Resort for opening day, I drove South through the storm down to sleepy little Lakeville, CT and the fabled Lime Rock Park. Arrived at the track 1t 7:30 and helped my old college roommate Josh unload this:
A 1980-something BMW Spec-E30. I would be driving this for 10 hrs with Josh, a guy from FoxNews and the editor of Jalopnik. My racing experience prior to this was two Skip Barber Racing Schools at Summit Point WV about 10 years ago. Period. I was apprehensive to say the least. I've watched many a race at Lime Rock and the track while short is not known for being forgiving of mistakes. Legend has it that because it was built shortly after the disaster at LeMans which claimed the lives of some 75 spectators, spectator safety was paramount in it's design. Driver safety, not so much. My goal was only to not destroy the car or ruin anyone else's day. In fact I was not even so sure I wanted to race at all. I only committed to "testing" during qualifying and to decide after that.
I watched some qualifying and then I went for a checkout ride with Mario a driving instructor ho was driving the 42 car an E30 that had two seats. Holy Crap! It's fast. Even on street tires it gripped. It didn't make me feel a lot better about getting out there, but it was soon my turn. Josh had already qualified the car in 3rd with a 1:04.77 lap. I strapped in and pulled out of the paddock in 3rd gear (couldn't find 1st). Through the pits, matted the throttle and into turn one. Check mirrors, move over, repeat. I felt like a stone in the middle of a river with a tide of cars going by on both sides. Start finding the rhythm for the Esses and floor it down no name straight. Braking way out in front of the Uphill. I can see that everyone else is barely touching the brakes at all, but the wall of Armco is demanding that I brake hard. Crest the hill still in 3rd and slow again for West Bend. Now down the terrifying Downhill which leads onto the Sam Posey Straight shift into 4th as I enter the straight, and keep checking the mirrors. Braking at the first sign #6 at an indicated 115 mph. Grab 3rd and go around again. I turned about 10 laps and then brought it in to the pits. Everything still attached. I'm not sure, but I MAYBE turned a 1:20.
Travis started the race behind the wheel and settled in for what should have been about a 2hr stint.
The 318ti that you can see there tried to pass everyone in the first corner and then this happened.
I don't think that any contact was made and everyone continued. Travis settled in for the battle of the BMWs.
The #99 E36 was quite fast, and there was a Miata being driven by some kind of SCCA Champion that was the only car sort of hanging with him. Our car was in a scrum of E30s racing nose to tail for a good hour or so. Travis misjudged a move with one of the other E30s and got the car stuck in the tirewall at turn one. His stint ended like this.
We spent about 15 minutes unbending sheet metal ziptieing bumper remains and also fixing the alignment since contact with the wall had added a few degrees of toe. We then sent out FoxNews guy. I'm not sure how long he was out , but after say 30 minutes he came into the pits with massive vibration and they figured I might as well go in so I suited back up and jumped in as they changed out the flat-spotted right front tire.
This time I pulled out of the paddock in first gear. Rowed through the gears into turn one and it was on! Checking the mirrors again and again and again. Unfortunately Travis had lost the left side mirror on the tire wall. I could really have used that. I was still a stone in the river, but now these guys were racing. I'd see the 99 in my mirrors or the red Miata and get right the F out of the way. Whoa, this car still has a vibration. I considered radioing in about it as I could barely even see the braking point signs. I decided to just stay out and see what I could do with it. When the green Audi that looked so slow and was taking really poor lines through the Esses came up behind I thought maybe I could hold him off. No. He passed me like Lewis Hamilton passing Max Chilton. As I started to feel more comfortable the tide slowed but kept coming. What's that up ahead? A car and I'm getting closer to it! I was reeling in the Lexus. As I vibrated down the straight he used his horsepower advantage to stay ahead of me. Somewhere in the Esses I overtook him and never looked back. I kept trying to find a little more time and mostly tried not to crash into the 99 car or the Miata as they lapped me over and over again. Finally it started to get dark and they blackflagged the race. Phew! Didn't break it. I think my fastest lap was about a 1:17. Josh says "OK, you only have to find 12 seconds tomorrow".
At dinner it was decided that I'd take the first stint in the morning. I wasn't entirely keen on this idea as the prospect of being passed by 21 cars simultaneously into turn one on the restart was not appealing at all, but OK, I'm game.
I woke up at about 4AM with the beginnings of a migraine headache. Drank some water and went back to bed. Got up and took a shower still not feeling good. Drove to Josh's hotel and we stopped for breakfast on the way to the track. I could not eat more than a few bites. No way am I taking the first stint. We got to the track where it was a balmy 14 degrees and Josh suited up for the first stint. I on the other hand put on my sunglasses, and sat in the car listening to Backspin, trying to rally and hoping the Excederin I had taken would work. Uh-oh, run for the bathroom, don't take make and throw up on my only shoes. Great. Back to the car.
Josh drove a 90 minute stint or so before the car needed fuel and Travis got in. Josh set our fastest lap of the race at 1:04 flat. Halfway through Travis' stint I decided I had rallied enough to be able to drive the car next so I suited up and waited my turn. Out to pitlane and jump in.
OK, just need to find 12 seconds per lap. I've been thinking all night about where I will find my time. Mostly on the back half of the track which is faster scarier and less forgiving. So out I go. Brake a little later into Big Bend. Stay wide and don't pinch in on the double apex. Track out wide and sing over to lineup for the left hander. Throw it through the Righthander and race toward that wall of Armco at the Uphill. Leave it banging on the rev limiter as I approach, touch the brakes and turn in. You can take this way faster than seems possible. Saved one big slide that gave me newfound respect and had to work my way back up to it again. Do NOT want to smash Josh's car into that Armco at 90ish MPH. Make sure the wheel is straight as the car gets light going over the hill. Feel the back step out anyway and shift into fourth. Next up West Bend. As the fast cars overtake me I can see that they are barely slowing down at all. Some of them just do a "breath" to settle the car and don't even brake. Grow some balls Erik. Nope, hard on the brakes 100 feet before the turn - oh there goes another E30 past me. No time to worry about that, under the bridge and into the scariest turn of all the Downhill which leads onto the straight. I know you don't need to brake here, but I can't help dragging my brakes all the way down after seeing a HUGE accident here during an IMSA race in the 90's. After a while I am finally coming down this hill without braking. Touch the inside curb and track out. I still have tons of room. Must go faster. Get overtaken by 4 cars through the Downhill into the marbles. Holy Shit! Must go faster. 120 indicated into Big Bend now. The car has a predictive lap timer and I am mostly seeing negative numbers now. Unclech jaw. Unclench butthole. Loosen your fingers for a minute. There goes the 99 again.
Lap after lap, a little here and a little there. Just a breath into the Uphill. It's actually easier faster. Under the bridge and I still have the throttle on the mat. I realize I'm still on the gas coming down the hill. Touch the curb, track out and coming up to 1. I see the #60 car an E30 pull alongside for an overtake. The fast Miata suddenly appears from behind him, then the red/yellow 944. Uh-oh, we are 4 wide coming into one. I'm now braking regularly at the 4 but I decide to back out at the 6 and see what happens. They all spin and I drive through the smoke passing the stricken Porsche with my right tires in the grass. My first instinct is to lift and give them all a wave by since they are obviously faster than me, but then I'm like "screw you guys" and stop looking in the mirrors. The Miata and the Porsche get by after a few laps, but I never see the 60 car in my mirror again. Not until I start lapping him anyway.
Every 15 laps or so I am lapping the Lexus which has been battling one of the Audis all day. He is making his car pretty wide, and has plenty of power and I am getting more assertive. On my 3rd or 4th time lapping him I am coming into Big Bend and decide to follow the #901 Amtrack E36 past the Lexus and the Audi. He brakes a little earlier than I expected. Uh-oh, I am going to take out a "teammate". Brakes are locked, sliding, sliding, spinning into the mud. I stop half way around the turn looking up the straight away with my front wheels still on track. Nobody coming, mat it and get after those guys. A few laps later I am on them again and go right by. Now as the faster cars like the #89 E30 pass me I am jumping in a few inches behind their bumper and following as fast as I can. Not getting passed much anymore. More negative numbers on the lap timer. One more spin as I dive out of the way of the 99 car again. Looking at the timer I can see how just going off line to be passed once can cost me 2 or 3 seconds. "Car #1 Box in 10 laps" OK, keep pushing. Through West Bend with no brakes. Oh my God, almost hitting the slippery concrete on track out. But it holds. Full throttle as I'm hitting the apex of the Downhill. Watch my lines through Big Bend and the Esses. Car is getting looser. Maybe the tires are gone? Or maybe it's because without fuel the car is getting lighter. I'm getting wheelspin and sliding through the Esses. Just catch it and keep going. "Box in 5 laps". Push, push. "Box this lap". I radio in, "#1 car box this lap, the car is getting looser you might want to check the tires before it goes back out". This came off the car.
I undo the belts and get out of the car then help strap in FoxNews guy for the final stint (if we can make it on fuel). As I'm walking away from the Pit Josh says "Could you hear me on the radio?" I could not because of all the chatter withe the 901 cars overheating problems and other team chatter. "You were turning 1:07s" he says. "You found 10 seconds". Not bad for a rookie I guess. And I didn't break the car. Or puke in the borrowed helmet.
Our race ended a few laps later when the car went in the wall again and broke a control arm. That's racing for you.
edit: Just want to add that after talking to Josh at dinner last night I discovered that where I was leaving it on the rev limiter into the Uphill, he was shifting to 4th and then turning in with just a breath to settle. Maybe a second there? Certainly more time at West Bend too. I don't think I ever went balls out there.
Edited by epic - 11/23/14 at 9:12am