Sunday, May 8, 2016

Track talk – yes, I am seeing red!

The calendar may say it’s springtime in the Rockies but we know better. Anyone who is a regular reader of posts to this blog may recall the post of May 30, 2013 So, I am shallow … when, all ready and prepared to depart Niwot, Colorado, for a weekend of track sessions at Willow Springs International Raceway – yes, the fastest track in the west – we awoke to an RV, trailer and little red Corvette buried under 8” of snow. This time, it’s the last days of April and it’s nowhere near 8” of snow and yet, somehow, it’s enough, already! Bring back the sunshine.

On the other hand it was only two weeks ago when a snow storm descended on us with little warning and while the early forecast were calling for just a few inches, the weather system proved to be stubborn and didn’t move out for a day. The 24 hour totals were surprising as shown below with the city next to us, Golden, scoring an amazing total and this is where, in summer, we used to ride the motorcycles for a coffee at the local Golden Starbucks. 

April has come and gone in amazingly short time. It has been the month of birthdays in our family as our granddaughter, the twin grandsons, and the daughter herself, all celebrate birthdays in the month of April. In one way, it’s a blessing as we can work our way through the calendar knowing we just have to be around at this time of year. It’s blessing too in the sense that I can sit down and write a lot of posts to my clients’ blogs without having to plan around travel days. 

But on the other hand, it’s one party after another and it’s not the kind of parties that bring a whole lot of pleasure apart from simply being there for the children. Just wait till they are in their teens and we can buy them real karts to go racing in. Well, from my perspective, hope springs eternal despite the looks our daughter gives us whenever we raise the subject.  I am cautioned not to refer to the twins, Aiden and Evan, by the names I have given them, Enzo and Riccardo, within earshot of our daughter but still, I harbor dreams and can see the first twins to ever turn laps at Spa as something to look forward to.

Unfortunately, I get the sense already that family genes may be working against them as already they look to be following in the steps of both of their parents and will likely pass six feet in their early teens where they will likely only just pass the height of our granddaughter. Ella is already is looking as though she is eyeing a spot on the local college volley ball team much to the delight of her father I expect.

Days spent trackside are very near and dear to us even as we took a hiatus for all of 2015 as Margo recovered from back surgery. The time off has certainly proved beneficial and she has fully recovered but now there are a series of MRIs already scheduled for her knees and it’s not looking all that good. On track, in a manual gearbox car (as is the case with our Z06), puts additional strain on her leg so already it’s looking like 2016 will only see limited track time for Margo.

We both realized a long time ago that track weekends were something we enjoyed doing together and on those occasions when either one of us or the other spent the weekend on track, it wasn’t as enjoyable for either of us as we had hoped going into that weekend. Not even with the RV, the company command center, on site did it make the occasion any better. So as we look at the calendar for 2016 unless we can both drive, we will simply let the dates slide. And if you are surprised to read that Margo did spend a weekend on track without sharing the car with me, then you may want to check out the post of November 14, 2010,The "big off" which turned out to be one of the very last outings of the supercharged C6 Corvette.

It is not just Margo’s knees that are contributing to downtime at the track as the Z06 needs new wheel-speed sensors, tires and most of the fluids replaced. While Margo has had problems with her right knee for some time with reoccurring painful incidents striking at inopportune times, of late it has been her left knee that has deteriorated fastest and it only just hit us that its deterioration coincides with her ongoing choice of cars – yes, the manual Mini Cooper S Roadster.  So here’s hoping that the cure is relatively painless and in no time, she will be back behind the wheel of the red Vette. 

If you are wondering about this photo it is of a business colleague and friend, Shawn. A resident of Dallas, Texas, he is often found outside Austin laying down quick laps on the Course of The Americas (COTA). Having spent a track day on the Nurburgring and done something a little better than a parade lap around Bathurst’s famous Mt Panorama circuit, the COTA is a definite entry on our bucket list. Along with Spa, of course, but that’s a different story altogether that will be the subject of a separate post later in the year. Shawn took delivery of his new Porsche GT3.

Was Shawn more than thrilled with his performance on the day? “I set a personal best lap time of 2:26.8 in my GT3!  I was faster than all but a McLaren 675 LT, and two gutted race cars - a Viper ACR and an 800hp GTR on slicks,” Shawn said in his email to me after he came off track. “I was faster than a Porsche Cup racer in his 991 GT3RS! Not bad for a hobbyist tracker, huh?” Enough said, Shawn. Having enjoyed driving both a Viper and a GTR, up until recently, for Shawn being in a new car, this wasn’t a bad outing and I am now looking forward to a time when we can be on track with Shawn. But isn’t that a Corvette just behind him? Seeing Porsches and Corvettes on track brings back so memories of many of my own outings on track. And talking afterwards to Shawn, the guy has so much respect for other marques (and yes, he pulled out his iPhone to confirm his fastest lap time) that I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him in a Corvette or a Viper or even a Nissan GTR!

By happenstance, our good friend from Sydney and a former high school buddy of mine who drops in for visits to Niwot whenever he comes to Colorado to ski, Dave sent pictures of his recent outing. Of the Porsche is way up there at the pointy end of the sport, Dave’s choice is somewhere in an entirely different space. Dave races in historicals and his choice of weapon is a Morris Cooper S to label it correctly. There’s no doubting Dave’s skill mind you and just looking at the picture of Mustang chasing Mini takes me back to the 1960s when similar Cooper S racecars actually won outright the Bathurst 500 as it was known before the metric system came to Australia.

By the time our family bought a television set, the popularity of Bathurst had grown to where it became a tradition to watch the five hour long marathon as cars pushed past 100mph. Today, the race is 1,000 kilometers and the V8 Supercars complete the race in less time than that. But my thoughts go back to my father who would cast a casual eye over the race and while not an active fan of the sport, it was surprising all the same to listen to him afterwards.

Yes, my father knew exactly the difficulties teams faced all those years – not to win or even place but just to finish. Reliability was always a consideration for the Hardie-Ferodo 500 as the cars were straight off the showroom floor with very little modification allowed. All the same, Mustangs chasing Minis became a staple and it was the famous Geoghegan brothers who, in younger brother, Big Pete, won four consecutive Bathurst races between 1966 and 1969 in a Ford Mustang!

Just as it was all those years ago it came as no surprise to see a photo of Dave hunched over his mini in the garage as this is exactly the image I retain from those pioneering days of the sixties, long before the event became a showcase for the red lion of the GM “Holden” versus the blue oval of the Ford “Falcon!” As referenced here in previous posts, when it comes to Mt Panorama, there’s only red or blue; there’s no beige on the mountain! For more, check out the post of December 25, 2011, Memories? Fuggedaboutit! and scroll down to the link for a promo for the upcoming race voiced by Russell Crowe -“How could a road built for Sunday drivers become the Mecca for Motorsport in Australia!” 

With the snow falling I still return to this promotional clip and get sucked in by the collage of video clips it includes always looking for film from the 1974 race where I stood alongside Forrest Elbow. Yes I have to say, that is when I was well and truly hooked by circuit racing and the video really captures the spirit of the Mountain. It was unfortunate that when good friends Brian and Jan joined us for a trip down under, violent bushfires blocked our path to the mountain so there’s always a next time. I really do want to see Brian experiencing skyline and the cutting for the first time – Laguna Seca may have the corkscrew, but the drop down the most famous mountain west of the great divide is even more jaw-dropping an experience and television doesn’t truly give the elevation shifts justice.

Then again, as racing has been very much the theme of this post, it’s hard to talk about Brian and Jan without some reference made to the recent heroics of grandson Colton Herta. On the flip side, including Shawn and Dave alongside Colton may not be all that fair but racing is for all generations and to see how quickly a sixteen year old is progressing up through the ranks of open wheel competition is mind blowing but well worth watching. Colton is now racing in the European F3 series (with three extra filler weekends helping out his team in the British F3 series).

To put it all in perspective, Colton is driving in both series for Carlin Motorsport – the same outfit that nurtured the early development of both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. I cannot image a better school for any prospective F1 driver and after the second half of last year where Colton won 4 of the last 8 races that gave him outright third place for the 2015 MSA Formula series. So how did he perform, recently?  Filling in for the team in a British F3 event, he wound up winning the third and final race of the weekend!

 On track that weekend had been difficult and a mixed blessing after a fashion – a crash in practice saw him start the first race from the back of the pack. He did manage to work his way up to mid field by the end and it didn’t look to promising for him to showcase his strengths in the next race. Again, starting far from the pole position, he worked hard to progress through the pack – so well, in fact that looking back at the first two events, he recorded the fastest lap in both of them.

Another big change from last year? He gets to wear his father’s number 98 on the car – dad Bryan Herta won a number of races in the CART series and is now a team owner in the Indy Racing League. Also, he now gets his own custom-designed racing helmet! But really, it’s all about the driving and Brian and Jan have just booked tickets to watch him compete in the European F3 event at Spa! Way to go, team (Colton) Herta and, as we all say around these parts, we just want to be Colton!

So how did Colton go in the third and final race of the weekend? With the fastest lap Colton was able to start that third and final race from the pole and that was all it took. It wasn’t without some nervous moments when red flags came out before the end of the race but Colton managed his car well enough to win! First of three race weekend in British F3 and already he has the fastest lap time and a win under his belt. Maybe it was the new helmet. Maybe it was carrying 98.

All I know for sure is that the winner’s trophies he is collecting are starting to mount up so much so, there’s little space to hold anything other than just those from winning! Next month? Looks like Brian and Jan are on their way to Europe to watch Colton at Spa - dreams of Spa still rattle around inside my brain so who knows, we may make it as well. Behind the wheel - perhaps it is time to check out the programs at RSR. 

Porsche versus Corvette and Mustang versus Mini, there is always friendly competition between rival marques. Whenever there are trophies to be won sometimes any friendship can be sorely tested. Nothing however takes away from the sheer fun that comes from successfully completing a session on track especially when you record your personal best and should that be the fasts lap of the day, priceless! The snow kept falling for all of the first day of driving to Southern California where business takes us with the start of May.

Hopefully though, it’s the last snowfall - as seen from our ground floor walk out - of the season and yes, sunshine will return. While the highway continues to beckon it’s really only with the sunshine breaking through that thoughts of times on track returns and who knows, if the family heals well enough and in time, the sound of the little red Corvette laying down laps will be heard once more. Yes, I am seeing red – Mini Coopers, Porsches and even the occasional Corvette (Colton, you need to make that red slash on your open wheeler a little brighter!) – but no, nothing that is stopping me from thinking that yes, there’s more track time coming.  And that’s no snow job!