After a shaky start and an interruption to clear a rolled Stock Car from the course(!), qualifying has gone better than I expected.
My main problem was a lack of course knowledge – a year is a long time to wait between visits, and driving at 20mph in a hire car can only tell you so much – so I find myself pretty much learning the bottom section again, which is far from ideal but pretty much inevitable.
At some 6 miles in length, the bottom section is actually half the course, so there’s twice as much to remember compared to the Middle and Upper sections. It also switches from asphalt to dirt after approximately 3 miles, so there’s a lot to get your head around.
My car’s fuelling issues have been sorted overnight and it feels much, much stronger all the way through the rev range. It certainly didn’t feel exactly slow beforehand, but it now has the grunt to spin the rear wheels in fifth gear on the dirt sections.
Finding a balance in the car is crucial on this section, but very hard to do. You want the car to work on both asphalt and dirt, which means compromising on tyre pressures, especially in those fat rear Pikes Peak Specials. After chatting with Leonard Arnold and Kevin Kidwell, we decide to run lower pressures in the rears (around 9psi, down from the 11psi we ran in the middle section practice session) so that it gets maximum bite on the dirt. The trade-off is plenty of tyre deflection on the pavement, which makes for a loose, squirmy ride into the corners.
As with our practice sessions earlier in the week, we have 3 hours running time, but as the section is long it takes more time to get the cars to the end, then have them return to the starting area. Add the time lost to the rolled Stock Car and we barely manage to get three runs, which really isn’t enough to refresh my memory.
Leonard and the crew decide to put some fresh rears on the car for the last two runs to give me the best possible traction on dirt, which gives me the confidence to push a bit harder than is strictly comfortable, and despite a few hairy moments manage to post a 5min12sec run. For a while we think that’s good enough for 3rd in class, but it eventually settles to 4th, which is one place better than last year. I’m pleased and relieved, especially as team-mate Paul Dallenbach puts in two strong runs to achieve 1st in class (and second only to Unlimited runner Monster Tajima) with a 4min51sec best. In a Dallenbach Racing tradition the crew pelt him with donuts as he returns to the paddock area. They also throw a few at me, reckoning ‘The Englishman’ has done a good job. I wish I’d got 3rd, but I’m less than 4secs shy, which I should be able to find. Whatever happens things will be very close in the Open-wheel class.
Now all that remains for the car and I to do is complete the 12.43-mile course on Sunday. I’ll be trying my hardest of course, but to be honest so long as I can get to the top I’ll take whatever time the mountain gives me. Wish me luck…
Preview (14/7/08) – Meaden vs the Mountain
Update1 (16/7/08) – Shakedown
Update2 (17/7/08) – Practice 1: MIDDLE SECTION
Update3 (18/7/08) – Practice 2: Top Section