The Thrill of Victory, and The Agony of Defeat
Gainesville, GA – The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. That perfectly describes my last couple of outings in the K-PAX Volvo S60. Since the ghostly electrical troubles at St. Petersburg, our No. 6 Volvo had been on the comeback trail with three good runs peaking with our win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The S60s are fast, and getting better, but so is the competition.
We rolled into Detroit feeling pretty good about our chances. We had won there the last time Pirelli World Challenge GT had visited, about four years ago, and it seemed to me that the tight, low-grip Belle Isle street circuit would suit our all-wheel drive Volvos. In practice and qualifying, I was right, but just barely. We got pole by a tenth over Cadillac. Front-row starting was critical on the narrow front straight.
On the morning of the race, I woke with a sour stomach and low on energy. I skipped the autograph session, which I always enjoy and always attend, to nap in the driver’s room on the K-PAX truck. It did not bother me or slow me down in qualifying that morning, but I was a little concerned about the hour-long race. It’s a busy and physical track. Bumpy and almost always cornering, it’s the kind of race track I love to attack. Takes me back to my autocross roots. Pure car control. But I figured there would be yellows; I just didn’t count on being the first one.
When the red lights blinked off, I dropped the clutch home to rocket into the lead with a patented K-PAX AWD four-Pirellis smokin’ start. The car leaped into the air, shuddered about five or 10 feet forward, and that was it. Turns out an improperly built driveshaft yoke from a normally reliable supplier had twisted in half, succumbing to the immovable all-wheel driven slicks and the irresistible 500 plus pounds of turbo Volvo torque. There we were, trapped like a rat, staring into the rear view mirror. And in that mirror, I saw quite a display of amazing quick-reaction swerves, while I pulled the shifter and tried a couple more gears, but only heard a rattling sound, with no motion. I felt like a lost little puppy stuck in the middle of a busy freeway. Like a duck in a carnival shooting gallery. Like a 12-point buck on the first day of hunting season. Almost everyone managed to avoid my stationary Volvo, but the further back you go, the faster they are going when they get to me, and the less time they have to react. Sadly for us and for them, a couple guys hit us hard, but they are not to blame. New competition director Geoff Carter of WC Vision is leading the way to add new safety measures to warn drivers of a stopped or slow car, which is what we’ve always done any other time a stopped or slow car is on the track during any session. Impressively, they had new procedures in place for the second Detroit race the very next day. And I had another car! K-PAX Racing had stayed up all night turning two cars into one, and we were back in business. Thanks to the built-in safety of Volvo and K-PAX, I was fine and my tummy felt good again, too. We had to start last due to no track time, but were quickest in the warmup (did not switch transponder yet, so it sadly did not show up on the time sheets) and ready to go. On the start for Sunday’s race, a Viper ahead jumped early and stopped right in the path that I had chosen to pass everyone, ha. Then, after a couple careful heavy-traffic laps, we lost the power steering, and it was all I could do to hang on for ninth. But, teammate Alex Figge ran a strong third in the No. 9 S60, the high-point for K-PAX and Volvo.
Next up is Mosport…uh, I mean…Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, just east of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Under new ownership, the race track is the same, but there have been many very nice upgrades, like a high-class entry tunnel to replace the prison-escape models of the last forty years or so, and huge paved paddock areas. This high-speed sweeping old-school men-were-men track-of-danger is a favorite of many Pirelli World Challenge drivers. Touring Car and Spec B will be there too, but in their own race. I much prefer that, though the high closing speeds provide lots of excitement for the fans. The ones that like lots of near-crashes, that is. Which is most of us, yes? I prefer watching them to living them out. My K-PAX Volvo is in GT class, and we race with GTS. Less dangerous, I think, but harder to pass, as the GTS cars are not all that much slower. We will need a little help to get by between turns one and two, two and three, and three and four. The proper way to get lapped is to lift a little early for the brake zone, make it easy for the faster car to get through, then follow them through the corner single file so you still get a good exit. Turn two at CTMP (these new sponsors are welcome, but the multisyllabic names can be quite a mouthful) is a thrill every lap. The corner is entered over a crest, and our racecars get light for a while. The feeling is insecure and scary when the road ahead is still out of sight, which it is for what seems like a long time. The seat of the pants does a quick calculation that says the grip is not enough to hold the road when it does come in to view, but there really is, because there it is nicely banked, and because the car lands as the crest ends, and there is actually a lot of stick. The brain must beat back the fear the seat of the pants has generated, and yet there is still a sigh of relief from the heart every time the car stays on the road and completes this long, long corner. That, and right after that the brain sends out some frustration messages saying “Darnit, we slowed too much.” Not harmonious. In turn two at CTMP, the survival instinct must be suppressed. Sat upon. Suffocated under a pillow.
I expect we will do well there with the K-PAX Volvos. The guys that have been running well are weighed down with lots of rewards lead, and our cars are handling and stopping better than earlier in the season. Or maybe it just looks that way because of the extra ballast on those we’re racing. I had my all-time best qualifier here in a K-PAX Volvo a couple years ago, too. Last year I only got to watch, as cars were scare and it was time to get Alex in one. This year we’re gonna tag-team WCGT, so stand back, people. Our Volvos have historically been good in the high-speed corner entries, like turn eight. I recall holding off Eric Curran’s Corvette one year, and Ron Fellows’ in another, and Jason Daskalos’ Viper in yet another…though they all eventually got by. Hmmm, maybe it will be tougher than I expect. You never know in World Challenge, so don’t miss it. If you can’t get out to CTMP, watch all the action from the weekend live online at world-challengetv.com.