Monday, April 16, 2012

SCCA Northwest Indiana Region Autocross

Today I had the opportunity to go to Gary, Indiana for the first Indiana Northwest Region SCCA autocross of the year at Majestic Star Casino. There, I met a whole host of colorful personalities who were fully willing to tell me stories of past autocross events as well as the ins-and-outs of camber and tread wears. 


The first session was spent on the sidelines, replacing hit cones to their original positions. I worked on turn three, where there was a “Chicago box,” or a big braking zone that requires a sharp left-handed turn. By watching first, I was able to identify other drivers’ weak points and areas on the course where I should pay attention. 


Then I finally took to the course. It was over with before I could realize what I had just done. All the while I went in and out of the slaloms, I heard the voice of my instructor that guided me during me a BMWCCA autocross school a year ago. It was eerie, but my skills came back through remembering that early experience. 


In successive rounds, I steadily showed improvement on my lap times. No thanks to my challenging class placement, however, I did not receive as much of a handicap as I thought I deserved. I was placed in A Street-Prepared, a class that allows for suspension upgrades, tire replacements including brake modifications. I was told that given my car had no mods whatsoever, surely, I deserved to be in D-Stock. But no, the rulebook clearly spelled out that all 2006-2010 BMW 325i/xi and 328i/xi models fell under A Street-Prepared despite being fully stock. I got a sense the SCCA has a slight aversion toward BMWs. What could justify such unfair judgement? A desire to keep the “rich” people out of SCCA events? Whatever the case, I found this ruling absurd. As a result I was put at a tremendous competitive disadvantage. Unlike my fellow novice competitors, I would not receive as generous a multiplier as they would, which explains my somewhat disappointing finish. 

Although this was my first autocross, I was expecting to excel beyond anyone’s imagination. And I did, but not the way I was expecting. I drove my four-wheel-drive Bimmer on the ragged edge and explored its large repertoire of capabilities. I pulled four-wheel powerslides almost every time I drove through the carousel that made the course loop back around. I was doing this intentionally so I could maximize the car’s grip threshold. But clearly not even this wasn’t sufficient. 

I didn’t realize I could check up on my lap times right after I made my run until my third-last run or so. By then, I had achieved an astonishing 50.7 seconds, for which I received a thumbs up from a timer. I began to improve only from there. My next run was a 49.1, then a slightly disappointing 49.8. I told myself “to gun for it” on my final run. I had to strike as perfect a balance as I could between outright power and precise control of my vehicle. 

For my last lap of the course I achieved my fastest time, 48.1 seconds. To contrast this, the overall event winner completed the course within 35 seconds or so. Yet where he had sticky race tires, I had nitrogen-filled, all-season run-flats. Shoot me. Considering this alone, I’d say I did remarkably well. And I was complimented by the event organizers who said things along the lines of, “Hey, you did pretty well out there,” or “This isn’t your first time is it?” Being told that you even roughly know what you’re doing is the most flattering praise a driver can receive. Hearing those said were among the most gratifying moments of the day. 

In the end, I felt cheated due to my A Street-Prepared classification. I didn’t receive the multiplier I felt I deserved because I lacked any mods whatsoever, and yet I was unfairly placed in a challenging class. Regardless of these setbacks, I placed fifth out of eight, earning me a tiny orange, foam cone as a trophy. It was only the novice class that the fifth-place finisher and up would receive a trophy. I felt the cone was somewhat of a pity trophy, but I’ll take this lesson forward: don’t expect to do well in any competitive car event with all-season tires! Also, the SCCA’s car classifications are a little wonky to say the least. I was in a class with an 1993 RX-7 with coilovers, upgraded brakes and tires. How this was fair, I know not! 

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