Thursday, January 26, 2012

The silly season …

Housebound for the next couple of weeks, which is pretty much what all we have been doing for the past couple of weeks, it’s hard not to let the mind drift and where thoughts center on much sunnier days. Winter is never a good time for car enthusiasts and even though it’s a time for car shows and for wandering through showrooms, it’s still a poor substitute for getting back on the road. Perhaps I should just stay indoors, look out the window and take in the view of the mountains, a grab a warm drink.

The Escalade SUV is tolerable and lets us get about in slick and treacherous conditions but let’s face it, there’s little to get enthusiastic about when you are behind the wheel of something that weighs almost 6000lbs! And each time I take out the trash I pass through the garage, as seen in the photo above, and in doing so, I pass a bevy of cars and motorcycles anxiously waiting for Spring!

Pulling the latest issue (February, 2012) of Grassroots Motorsports from the mailbox always cheers me up – features and photos from track outings that look all too familiar. A column not too deep into the magazine promotes the 2012 running of “One Lap of America” where the proposed schedule includes a day at High Plains Raceway (HPR) to the east of Denver Colorado that is now our home track and where we will be spending several Friday afternoons as soon as the weather breaks and the conditions improve. I can almost hear the full-throttle roar of finally-tuned “cam-ie” engines resonating from the paddock!

But it wasn’t the promotional column that had me thinking as much as it was a column much deeper into the issue – Busted Knuckles – where writer Per Schroeder made the observation about this time of year being the “silly season” suggesting that this “describes the periods when governments aren’t in session, leaving the news media with little to cover” and of how “racers have coopted the phrase to describe the winter months between championship seasons, and the result is the same in both worlds: a lot of mental wheel spinning without any real progress.”  

As Schroeder describes the many activities that are likely to draw him back to his garage, he makes two very astute observations that are applicable to all enthusiasts. I am not a racer nor is it the intention of our family to become racers; a recreational weekend enjoyed at different locations around America is what had drawn us into this particular pastime. And yet, we were nearing levels where we were discussing what next to do to the car!

For Margo and me, the “mental intensity” associated with improving our skills on the track are proving applicable when it comes to our everyday driving. It remains as the very essence of why we have persevered with our track weekends and we have found out that we have become a lot more observant of our fellow drivers out on the highways. What is he “best way to leave” the highway should there be incidents – left, or right, as well as when to late-apex for clearer visibility of what lies ahead. Not to mention how well modern cars can brake and how maneuverable they have become – no signs of rolling over or spinning out at all! And all techniques we hadn’t known anything about before running under the ever-present, watchful instructors. And yet, after four years, we thought there was still more we could do and what was lacking with our car!

For the past four years, with the exception of a couple of weekends when we tried our hands behind the wheel of our Infiniti G37S coupe, we have relied upon our highly modified sixth generation Corvette. Consistently running with the number 116, it has become a familiar car at tracks from California to Colorado.  Equipped early in its track days with a Vortech supercharger and complemented with American Racing headers and long-pipes, bigger radiators by DeWitts as well as a custom A&A intercooler put together by Andy and the team at A&A Corvette Performance and now nicely tuned by the Mike and his team at Rocky Mountain Competitive Resources (RMCR) and with new shocks, alignment and set-up by Curt at Corvette Spa, close to home, here in Longmont Colorado, the big Vette is about ready to go. And yet, there’s just something missing and we have begun to question just how much more we need to do! The picture above is of the C6 Vette, number 116, alongside our C5 Vette.

In Grassroots Motorsports, columnist Schroeder’s two observations came down to “soul searching and honesty prevail here … looking forward involves thinking about what changes can be made to go faster” together with “not surprisingly, I want to make the car lighter, safer and better handling.” More than ample power was on tap with the C6 supercharged and tweaked Vette, but it was a little heavy and with the six-speed automatic there were times when even with the use the paddle shifter, it had a mind of its own and at speed left us wondering about our safety.

Right off the showroom floor, the big Vette handled surprisingly well but with the added weight, it did so at the expense of steering finesse and suspension disruptions. Often, and at just the wrong time as well and so, yes, in the words made famous by Colin Chapman (of Lotus fame), we needed to add less weight while attending to our safety.

There are other factors to be considered as well. We can no longer house our cars and motorcycles in the garage space that we have, as the picture above also depicted. The upshot of the congestion is that our SUV now lives outdoors and as it is the primary winter vehicle, there’s many a time spent dusting off the snow and spending the first twenty minutes or so freezing behind the wheel as everything comes up operational temperatures. Walking past the cars on battery trickle chargers knowing that we cannot use any of them in winter, all the while contemplating a frozen excursion has become the less talked about negative aspect of the silly season. No, it’s time to downsize and something has to go!

For nearly a decade we have “babied” our other Corvette, a fiftieth anniversary, fifth generation, torch red Corvette Z06 hardtop. With very few miles on the odometer – just a tad over 12,000 – this is a car that is definitely lighter and equipped as it is off the showroom floor, possessing more than adequate suspension and brakes. We changed the tires a few months ago replacing the aging (and likely hardened) Goodyear tires with a set of new Bridgestone Potenza RE760 Sports. While not offering the same stickiness as the Toyo R888s that we had on the blue Vette, they should be a good choice to start out with. The fluids and oils will be changed to higher-spec equivalents to better handle the heat that comes with track sessions but all up, the C5 Z06 Vette should be able to provide us with a platform where we can continue to fine-tune our capabilities.

While there was never anything wrong with the C6 Z51 Vette, driving the automatic hadn’t provided either one of us with the level of control we wanted we have. It had been a deliberate decision to take the automatic to the track so that we could spend our first couple of years concentrating on the course layouts and working being consistent without worrying too much about technique and choice of gears – indeed, there have been occasions where Margo was more than quick enough to stay with her peers simply by staying in third gear for the entire lap – a circumstance I was to repeat on occasion. But letting the auto pull us out of corners was something we both agreed upon as something less than optimal. Yes, we were now looking for a lot more control over what we currently had and this became the deciding factor. Big blue, for all we love about, has become the “victim” and will have to go …

In the final post of 2008 to this blog “
Looking back on '08 I wrapped up the story by suggesting that perhaps it was time to think of taking the Z06 to the track. I thought maybe, as 2010 rolls around, maybe it would be time to change cars and prepare the C5 Z06 LS6 Vette. As for the coming year (2009) then perhaps it would be the last year that we would drive the C6 Supercharged LS2 ‘Vette. It was in that post of 2008 that I first mused on how the C6 Vette may not be the perfect car to use for learning but it will be the source of a lot of fun as we head back to the track!

Yes, we want to go faster and yes, we enjoy it. But even more importantly, we want to become better drivers and we enjoy the atmosphere and camaraderie of the race track. The C6 Vette has allowed us to progress admirably but for 2012, there will be a change. It will be more than likely that HPR will be the venue for the first outing – the circuit has been resurfaced and should prove an ideal place to launch the New Year. And from now on, this pursuit will continue but this time, it will be in the lesser-powered, “momentum car”– the C5 Z06 Vette!

Preparing the C5 Vette, tentatively numbered 161, ready will be relatively painless but getting the C6 Vette ready for sale will be another matter and already plans are in hand to return the car for a complete service – every nut and bolt checked so that mechanically, it will be all any other driver could want. We have also lined up a detailing shop to remove every stone chip and scrape and to apply a wax good enough to return it show room condition. Yes, the 2006 C6 Z51 Auto Vette, supercharged will be put up for sale this spring.

Of course, the garages will retain a certain amount of appeal for any enthusiast who passes by – alongside the motorcycle cruisers Margo and I continue to ride, and the big Escalade SUV there’s still the AWD Nissan GTR and the Viper SRT/10 roadster to choose from as we take to the mountains and carve out some canyons. Two Vettes had always been a little over the top but now the Nissan is Margo’s while the Viper is definitely shared. It’s still a tight squeeze but this will ensure that all cars are under the one roof as winters snow entombs us!

I have often thought we needed a Ford to round out the stable and had looked several times at replica Ford AC Cobra’s but with the Viper it’s somewhat redundant – one snake is enough. But should there come a time when a Ford GT (2003 – 2008) is offered at a reasonable price then that may complement the set but no, for the time being, I think we are just fine as we are! But perhaps thinking of what next to purchase when the garage is already full is another aspect of why this time of year is called the silly season. For surely, this represents “a
lot of mental wheel spinning without any real progress”.

If having the opportunity to take the C5 Z06 Vette to the track on warmer weekends materializes this year then that will be something to treasure and if the C6 Z51 Vette finds a new happy owner, then maybe the spinning wheels found traction after all. Ah, time to put the keyboard aside, head for a warm winter drink and stare out the window again – Spring has to be only a few weeks away and, with warmer weather, a man’s thoughts just have to turn to rides of fancy! And as sad as I am to admit it, I sure hope that big Vette finds a good home.