Saturday, September 30, 2006

Saturday morning practice session, Road Atlanta

It's 08:50, Saturday morning, and we've just finished the mandatory photo meeting (well, mandatory for anyone with a photo vest). The entire ALMS field is on the track for AM practice. We'll have the Panoz Racing Series on the grid at 09:30 - 10:15, then some fancy-pants pace car rides... then at 10:45 we begin gearing up.

I'll be suiting up for both trackside and pit shooting today, only the second time (the first was Sebring this year) that I've done work in the "hot" pits. It's incredibly exciting, and some of the most fun I've had in my life. Well, next to the quick ride I got in the GT3 RSR Porsche, that is.

In qualifying yesterday, Audi did NOT get the pole - that went to Nic Minassian in a dark blue, lightning-quick Zytek. The Audis will probably play their usual game of start fast and finish faster - it's not a question of which team will win; only which of the two Audis. My money's on McNish & Company.

Yesterday was quite a blast - especially if you're Mylia. She met with the owners and drivers of several SPEED World Challenge GT teams and they've agreed to do interviews with her for some features she's going to write - could anything ever be that cool? You'll get to read it here first :) We also scored some neat free swag from both Autosport Design Aston Martin and Bob Woodhouse's Viper team. Both teams in SPEED GT were great to hang out with, and I'm looking forward to Mylia's write-up.

Bummer of the week: My old bud Lonnie with Flying Lizard Motorsports is no longer with the team. Lonnie was one of the first guys on a team in ALMS to really show me around and make me feel welcome. I haven't heard from him, or seen him here... Only heard from a team member that he parted ways with the team not long ago. I hope he's back at the track, soon.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A ride in a Le Mans-winning Porsche!

"I am Jorg Bergmeister!!! Well, not entirely. OK, I'm not."

No, I'm not -- but that didn't stop me from getting a ride in the #31 Petersen/White Lightning Porsche 911 GT3 RSR today! ALMS decided to invite "select members of the media" (that being me and two other lucky blokes) to each have a hot lap around Road Atlanta, riding with owner/driver Mike Petersen.

After nearly an hour-long wait (the time it took to get corner officials back to their spots after lunch), the three of us each got a turn in the bolted-in passenger seat as the car took to the course at speed. This was my first time doing a complete lap at Road Atlanta on the track itself (I've walked the entire 2.54-mile infield inside and out, but never driven the actual course), and it was quite a definite "hot lap" to boot. I've watched these cars run at this track for years, and have run the course in Infogrames' Le Mans 24 Hours game on the PS2 a few hundred times -- (note: LM24 is exceptionally cool in that it features Road Atlanta in both Short Course and Grand Prix formats, and the rendering is dead-on accurate) but this was my first run on the tarmac itself.


The car accelerates just like my '96 Neon, only a hell of a lot faster. It brakes like my Neon, only a hundred times quicker. It corners like... hell, who am I kidding - this thing's a pure racing car. Not just any racing car, but the Porsche that's been damn near unstoppable anywhere it's raced in the last 3-4 years.

I would've loved to have gotten behind the wheel and run the ass off of it myself, but somehow I doubt Mr. Petersen would've approved. Nevertheless, he's quite a damn good driver, and he hustled the car around the 2.54 miles quicker than I could have. Probably. ;)

Mylia almost got a ride in the car too, but it turned out they only had time for the first three of us. I had told her, when we were waiting to find out if she'd get a run, "if you pee your pants, I promise I won't laugh." Well, not much, anyway. I'm quite sure that all three of us were quite experienced when it comes to high speed driving - though I'll never make for a good passenger.

Honestly, though, I found it almost relaxing. I was in the car with the guy who owns it and drives it for a living, was wearing proper safety gear -- it wasn't my first time wearing a racing suit and helmet, but it was my first time wearing a HANS device. I've seriously got to get one of these things for Mylia [grins]. It was impossible for me to move my head very far forward or back, and side-to-side motion was set at just the right limit.

Of course, because it was my first time wearing the device, and I couldn't move my head the way I normally do, I managed to bonk my helmet against the upper roll bar above the door. That had to look even less graceful than it really was.

It felt great to get back into a race car, even if I was sitting on the wrong side of the thing. The Porsche is so balanced and just so "right" on the track, I could easily imagine driving one myself. Competetively. Plus, with their durability, there's no wonder why there's so damn many of them in racing.

The pics Mylia shot of me getting suited-up and ready to run are right here.

I don't have any video available yet (I don't have a proper cable to get it from the Sony camcorder onto my notebook - and apparently nobody else does at the moment), but for now the pics are at least some prima facie evidence of the thrill ride. Just... keep in mind that the suit isn't form fitting, and the camera adds like 50 lbs!

If anyone's got skill getting good video captures from an old Sony Hi8 Handycam, drop me a line?

Anyway, back to the racing for me. More later...

Road Atlanta logs, Wednesday/Thursday...

Or, more specifically, Braselton, GA. I arrived at Road Atlanta promptly at 0630 this morning, some 2 hours and 44 minutes after leaving friends in Charlotte. 205 miles in 2:44 was about as much as I really wanted to push on a sleep deficit and a possibly leaking left outer CV boot. Must check on that...

South Carolina has cheap gas: $1.93 for regular is the norm, not the exception. I filled up the white Neon for $2.23, 93 octane Shell gas. Wow. I know the gas price drop is only momentary, and there's any number of conspiracy theories out there surrounding it, I'm not complaining this week: My gas budget was calculated over a month ago at $3.30/gallon, so I might just get home without being completely broke! (Wait, no, that means I might be able to afford an extra t-shirt...)

Elsewhere, I'm encouraged to hear that Richard Hammond is on the mend. For anyone who's been under a rock for the past week, the Top Gear presenter and host took a devil of a crash while attempting to break the UK land speed record. I wish him a speedy and complete recovery.

The downside to splitting the trip between two nights this time? My sleep schedule's turned upside down, and I'm currently awake for the past 27 hours. Wednesday is just a testing day at the track, but a testing day at Road Atlanta beats a "super" day working back in DC. Once I was South of Richmond, there was simply no traffic to speak of... and very little in the way of speed enforcement. Some speed limits I'd expected to still see at 70 in NC and SC had dropped to 60, for some reason, but it didn't affect the 80-MPH flow of traffic much.

Not only did I average about 74.5 MPH throughout the trip, but notched 37.8 MPG, owing in no small part to pulling a draft off of whomever I could. Minivans and lowered SUVs are excellent for this; 18-wheelers, not so great.