August 24, 2006
Source: AudiBMW.com Racing
I am sitting at home in Harrisburg, PA Monday, August 21, 2006 and feeling a little uneasy. For the last few weeks I have had but one thought on my mind: finishing under the infamous 2:00 minute mark.
This past weekend was the 55th running of the Duryea Hillclimb in Reading, PA. I had previously run the event back in the mid-nineties in a 1995 Mustang Cobra R. That was, in fact, my very first hillclimb and I can still recall being somewhat uncomfortable throughout the event.
My experience leading up to that day had been ten years of autocross and at least a dozen track events. Like many less experienced drivers I thought the fast way through any course was driving with more ambition than talent. A hillclimb, I would come to find out over the years, is no place to have this kind of immature attitude! One of my partners favorite sayings (trees dont move) pretty much sums it up. The risk at a hillclimb is far greater than at most other motorsport events. Wood posts placed 50 feet apart with a 1 inch steel cable draped between them are not designed to stop a 3100 lb car (traveling far in excess of 100 mph) from plummeting down a cliff.
For this years run everything came together perfectly on Saturday morning. The forecast for the next few days was in the mid 80s and sunny (not that rain would discourage an Audi driver). The #06 AudiBMW.com Racing Audi was better prepared than it has been for the 2 years that we have owned the car.
A sub-frame bolt had been broken two weeks earlier at another event and the fuel pedal assembly needed a complete rebuild. Those repairs complete, however, the biggest change to the car came from a complete recalibration of the Motec engine management. For this I had called the HP master, Alistair Oag, from www.InterprepTuning.com.
Alistair was one of the original developers of the #06 car back in 2000 and just has an amazing gift when it comes to VW and Audi race performance. I feel he and I make a great team, Over our history I am typically the one asking for more boost and he always convinces me that less heat and durability is the way to go. Inevitably we end up somewhere in the middle, which is what makes us a great team. Our race motor has benefited as well having been driven hard for over 70 hours with no issues whatsoever.
The suspension was also setup nearly perfect. The last few years I have really gotten an education on how triple adjustable shocks work and how drastically the proper setup can affect lap times. The #06 Audi S4 came off the trailer ready for to make history.
For this race we were also planning a new goody a Bullet Cam. The camera arrived by UPS late Friday afternoon meaning that installation at the shop would be out of the question. Our research had led us to the new 580 line camera from www.datatoys.com. We read all the instructions on the drive to the event on Saturday morning and by 8:15 am had begun installation in the pits. My wife, Tonya, actually completed the installation while I was away at the 8:30 mandatory drivers meeting.
With the announcement Group 1 to staging I complete one last visual check of the car, slide over the roll bar and into the tight confines of the race seat and get ready to do what we came for!
Twist the main power on, flip up the ignition switch and depress the black rubber starter button. Maybe its just in my head but since the tuning by Alistair the car sounds even better at idle. Engage the clutch and let the car ease into line. Approximately 15 race cars of all types and pedigrees stand between the wide, yellow RS4 fenders and the start line. Cars leave the line every 30 seconds, so within several minutes I am within a few cars of the start.
Just relax, take a deep breath. This is the first run of the weekend!
Will the braking into the first turn feel stable and secure? Will the left hand turn-in, to turn one bite and not push? Well the rear 18 inch Hoosier A6s contain the power of the Audi 2.7 Twin Turbo motor while easing into the throttle during turn-out? All these questions and probably hundreds more swirling in my head will be answered in just a few seconds.
The stage light changes from red to yellow. In about 10 seconds the green will be shinning bright. Depress the accelerator, 4500 shows on the Motec ADL, drop the clutch and the cars launches forward violent and hard. Shift to second which feels quick and smooth. Turn 1, brake hard, very stable. Trail brake during initial turn-in, no understeer. Nice! Start to unwind and lay down power in only the way all-wheel drive can. A little over-steer now, but with a slight modulation of the throttle the Hoosiers bite hard. Two minutes later the finish line goes by in a blur.
The car felt great! Not perfect, but I feel confident that the sub 2:00 mark is actually obtainable. Timing and scoring shows 123.7 seconds not bad for the first run of the weekend. We adjust the car by softening the front rebound and firming up the rear compression which will help the car shift more weight to the rear to correct the over-steer.
I know I need to accelerate harder out of the corners. I would rather have this to work on than under-steer. Many pro-drivers (and especially those familiar with Audi) say that pushing is just something that you have to live with in a front engine, all-wheel drive car. The #4 and the #04 Istook S4s seem to support this unwanted trait. Fortunately the #06 car can be set up to have that o-so-sweet throttle controlled over-steer.
Group 1, line up for your second run comes across the speakers. The car feels better than ever. The course is starting to seem as familiar as a daily drive. The sun is shining and the tarmac is heating up. The time has come to suck it up, keep my foot dead in it and accomplish the job at hand.
After crossing the finish I now reflect back on the run. The car was more neutral. I was more confident. The run was attacked with a purpose, but was it enough to be in the ELITE sub two minute club? There have been less than twenty sub two minutes runs in Duryeas 55 year history. There has never been another ITE class car near this mark. In fact, the organizers of the event are researching if a car on DOT tires has ever run under two minutes. What we can be sure of is that there has never been a 3150 lb, four door sedan to reach this milestone time. A quick glance at the class records reveals that most of the cars in the sub two minute club are Formula Cars and a few high powered tube frame cars with slicks.
Standing at timing and scoring I scan down through the time sheet. ITE Car #06 119.8 seconds. YES! I quickly ask a fellow competitor to confirm my finding to avoid the potential embarrassment of reading off somebody elses time!
Walking back to the car I receive several hand shakes and thumbs up from fellow competitors. Soon I hook up with Vince Gladfelter and Geoff Craig. When I started autocrossing back in 1985 these guys were two of the best drivers in the series. They let me into the inner circle and we have been great friends ever since. For years they both preached to me that I had to slow down to go faster. I give both of them a lot of credit for sticking with me and helping me to become a much better driver.
You can see Vince standing next to his BMW 2002ti that I sometimes co-drive with him and Geoff standing next to his incredibly well-sorted Fiat X/19. Peter Bower, another long time autocrosser, sits next to his Datsun 510 which he drives like its stolen.
We proceed to the back of the Audi and ceremoniously remove the vinyl question mark at the end of the Under 2:00? decal. I really enjoyed having those guys there; racing is all about friends in the end.
The rest of the weekend went perfect. We had three runs on Saturday and four runs on Sunday. I did back up my first sub two minute run two other times on Sunday with a weekend best at 119.5. We had no mechanical issues whatsoever. The AudiBMW.com Racing #06 Audi S4 is stronger and more consistent than ever. I have a lot of gratitude for my partner Todd (for help in the pre-race prep), George at datatoys for the camera and resulting video and my wife Tonya (Pit Babe) who has been a tremendous help all season long. She not only handles all the registration paperwork and trip planning but is quite mechanically inclined.
So after such a stellar weekend why am I still uneasy? For the first time in my 21 years of racing I dont feel that I used everything a race car had to give. By the end of a weekend I felt pretty confident that I had had a large enough set to give the car everything it had. Looking back this did not actually occur.
Did I get weak because I went under 2 minutes too early in the weekend? Did I give it up on the approach to turn 6 (nicknamed OH SHIT for obvious reasons)? Does the complete and utter lack of run offs at Duryea scare me? How about cresting over a blind hill at over 100 mph not knowing if a turkey or deer (both of which were seen on course over the weekend) would be on the other side?
The #06 Audi is amazing. Again, I would like to thank Audi and everyone involved in building this car a lot of credit. Not only is it the most intense excitement that I have ever experienced, but this past weekend it has showed me that it still has some excitement that I have not been man enough to find. But remember this, I DID GO UNDER 2 MINUTES!
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