Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – May 13-15, 2011

I left home at 6:14 AM on Thursday, expecting to reach Mid-Ohio around 5 PM. Registration would be open until 8 PM, so I could take it easy en route and still not be late. It felt great to be on the road at last. It had been a hectic week, preparing for the trip and taking care of a number of other issues at the same time.

When I had the technical inspection down the week before, the mechasnic had told me that the right rear wheel bearing had a tiny amount of free play, but it would be OK. But when I checked on Tuesday while inspecting the brakes, I found that it was wobbling by at least one, if not two, millimetres. That would be unlikely to survive 600 kms of track driving, if even half of that. So I arranged for the mechanic to replace the bearing the day before departure. I had to keep all fingers crossed that he wouldn’t encounter a major problem along the way. I could have attempted it myself, but Murphy’s Law being what it is, I would have had some kind of major problem and run out of time. So I paid for peace of mind and last-minute convenience. As it turned out, the job was completed without a hitch. However, I noticed a small vibration on the back straight at Mid-Ohio and sure enough, the right front wheel bearing was a little loose. So I tightened it over the lunch break and it was all good again.

Thursday the weather was clear, cool and sunny all the way through the border crossing and past Syracuse. It started to cloud over a bit near Buffalo, but it stayed dry. As I got closer to Cleveland, the temperature went up to 30 C and it was humid. Just south of the city the skies opened in a deluge, including hail – which I missed. I pulled into a rest area to use the facilities and by the time I left there, the rain had all but stopped. However, a few miles north of Ashland, the three lanes of traffic on I 71 came to a complete stop. I was stationery for 10-15 minutes; then a little movement; then more parking. At one point a Porsche Cayenne pulling a red enclosed trailer with Porsche logos (Shultz from Utica, NY) pulled alongside and we chatted for a few minutes. They were on their way to Indianapolis for an historic event.

Traffic finally got moving and as I approached Ashland, there was a large fluorescent pink diamond-shaped warning sign on the left side saying “Accident Ahead”. A few hundred metres down the road were two more similar signs saying “Right Lane Closed”. So of course the traffic bunched up while people emptied the right lane. But the right lane was not closed, so the congestion was unnecessary! As a result of all of this I lost an hour, but still had time to arrive with a margin of safety. A little while later, I saw a sign for Mid-Ohio saying to take the next right exit. I had been using Mapquest directions, but I figured a little local knowledge couldn’t hurt, so I took the exit. A bad mistake. I followed the signs – which promised 23 miles to the track – for at least 23 miles, until I ran out of signs. At that point I was somewhere in the greater Mansfield area, south of Highway 30, without a map. I wandered around for a while until I saw signs that should get me back to the Interstate and they did – about where I started! I had lost close to another hour.

Just before getting onto the highway, I heard a loud metallic bang from behind and I thought I’d lost a ramp off the trailer. So I pulled over and checked the ramps and they were OK. A few minutes later, a family passed me on the Interstate and pointed to the right side of the trailer. I stopped again and found that the front right trailer tire was completely shredded! I phoned the club registrar to let her know that I might not make it by 8 o’clock, because by now it was 7. But I changed the tire in 5 minutes, followed Mapquest’s directions and got to Mid-Ohio at 7:35 – over 13 hours since leaving home.

I found a place to park; unloaded the car and went through tech inspection, finally registering around 8 o’clock. I was happy to have parked near three nice guys from Cincinatti, named Fred (944), Lee (Cayman S) and Chip (Z06). We shot the breeze for a few minutes, getting to know each other a bit, and then I headed for the hotel. By the time I found it and checked in, I was plenty tired and hit the bed – hard.

After a solid but too short sleep, I got started early Friday morning with my usual track day routine – an Egg McMuffin and a coffee. Having already registered and gone through tech, all I had to do was check the fuel level and tire pressures and re-torque the wheels, before the Drivers Meeting at 7:35. I asked the meeting’s chair – Frank – for an instructor to show me the line and they assigned me a nice younger man named Rick. His father Dick (!) is also an instructor with a silver ’77 911 S. We chatted a few times and found a few things somewhat in common, such as his wife being from Newfoundland. Rick came with me on the first stint and did a great job of showing me the line, the braking zones and the turning points. From then on it was easy to remember his tips and use them as the basis for improving my smoothness and speed.

The Mid-Ohio Region has a few different rules, such as passing in any straight, on either side; no tech inspection required after the first day; lights on in the rain, etc. The track is very fast from Keyhole to Turn 7, where I was reaching 190 km/h. Then it becomes very technical from Turn 7 to 11 where the line is critical. And both Keyhole and Carousel are very slow right-handers where patience is rewarded. I was getting lots of tire squeal in virtually all corners, partly because of the sealer they’ve put down and partly because the asphalt is quite polished from heavy use. During the lunch hour I found a replacement tire and wheel for the trailer at Tractor Supply Co., with help from people at Wal-Mart and Suburban RV centre, for $128. Solving that problem was a relief. I made it back in time for the afternoon stint which was going pretty well until heavy rains came with about 2-3 laps remaining. I stayed out on my street tires, but it was pretty miserable and slow, so I came in a lap or two early. Too bad I didn’t get a video of that one.

When I was changing the trailer wheel, I dropped the spare on my left hand and injured the second finger. It’s not broken, but it got quite swollen until I was able to ice it down in the evening. The car is performing very well and all temperatures and pressures are within spec. I’ve added fuel several times in a grassy area away from the paddock, continuing to mix 33% unleaded 109 with 91 octane Shell V-power. From my early review of the videos, my best lap time so far was 2:08, but I’m sure I can do better with growing confidence. We had beer and food supplied at 5 o’clock and I met several new people, including men from Ohio and Omaha, NB. There are several other guys here from Ontario, including Scott from Mantis Racing in Oakville. The hotel is aptly named the Comfort Inn Splash Harbor, since there’s a covered pool area within the centre of the U-shaped building – right outside my window. When I turned out the light for sleep, I heard the noise for maybe 30 seconds – I was gone!

For Saturday morning, the schedule indicated a tech line at 6:45 AM, so I got there early only to find out that it was meant for new arrivals only. I could have slept in! Through the course of the day, I had three really good stints, with improving speeds and times. For the first one we used the “Pro” track, i.e. without the chicane before Keyhole. That allows a much faster approach to Keyhole and a faster exit speed, which translates into a higher terminal speed at Turn 7. Fred told me he was following me into the Keyhole and saw my right front tire off the ground more than once at the exit! During one stint I clipped the end of the curbing at the apex of Turn 7 and got a bit of a jolt and at Turn 1 I trail braked a little too long and got a bit of high speed squirm, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Towards the end of the second stint, the speedometer quit working and I can’t find a quick fix, so I’ll have to estimate distances and speeds. Right after the third stint, the skies opened once again, with really heavy rain. But our day was done anyway, so nothing lost there. In the morning I had noticed a slight vibration on the back straight so I checked the front wheel bearings and found the right one a little loose. Before the third stint, I tightened it and it was fine after that. From my videos I think my best time was 2:02, but a friend of Fred’s said he timed me at 1:55, so I’ll have to check the videos again. Over lunch I met another nice guy named Mark from Columbus with a ’79 Turbo (930), also running street tires.

Sunday was a lost cause, due to bad weather. It was wet overnight and continued to drizzle all morning. A lot of people loaded up and left early since the forecast didn’t look very good. As a result, they combined run groups A & B for all DE driving, using Group B passing rules. I did part of a stint around 9:15 but it was very slow and not much fun, so I came in early. I walked up to the Keyhole and took some photos of a race group, but it continued to drizzle so I packed up and returned to the hotel. It was a fun event at a great track – I particularly liked the technical stuff between Turns 7 and 11, but I found both Keyhole and Carousel too slow to be enjoyable. However, I’m glad I went!

Video is available at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LnLNadgu2o

Photos are at:  http://s229.photobucket.com/albums/ee234/kilrwail/Mid-Ohio%2013-15%20May%202011/

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