Streets o’ Willow, October 4/5th

With only two rounds left in the West Coast Challenge season Sarah and I find ourselves tied for third in the points.

We get the news that we’ve secured Second place overall in the Superside America National Series which consists of only Formula 1 class sidecars and only a few choice major events on the 2008 schedule.  While we did not podium in these events, we did consistently finish every single race high enough in the standing order to rack up some serious points.  Not something our competitors could say who either DNS’s (did not start) or DNF’ed (did not finish) the Superside events.  As Sarah likes to say, “You gotta be in it to win it!”  and we always see the checkered flag.  So we find ourselves at Streets of Willow on an upbeat note.

It could not have been a more beautiful weekend.  It was nice for Willow Springs.  Not that much wind, and not horribly cold for this time of year.  All the regulars were out and we packed the grid for what was shaping up to be a good event.

This was the first time we’d been back to Streets since last season, and it’s Sarah’s favorite track since it takes horsepower out of the mix and it’s tight technical nature pits driver against driver on pure skill and crazy factor.  Given Sarah’s pechant for crazy and total disrespect for her own mortality this track brings out the best and/or worst in her.

Practice was going well, but there were a couple spots on the track that were driving Sarah nuts because I could tell she just was not carrying enough speed.  She was either on the brakes way too soon, or not on the gas soon enough or hard enough on exits.  So after batting her eyes at Wade she was able to talk him into taking us out for a tow-around for a session with Wade and Christine so we could pick up some speed, brake markers, and lines.

It’s at this point I’d like to mention that ‘Wade’ is Isle of Man TT roadracing legend Wade Boyd.  One of our first introductions to Wade was out at Reno-Fernley in 2006 where he and Christine went around the outside of us in a sharp left with smoke coming off the front and rear tires and Christine about two feet up in the air… for fun.

So Wade takes us out for a tow, and already I can feel us carrying more speed up through one around the top of two.  Sarah chops the throttle and slides the back end of the CSR around two and chases Wade around the bottom of three and up into four/five/six.  I can feel the tires on the CSR chattering happily to be running at such a nice pace.   Wade takes us on a nice in/out/in line through the high banked bowl that slingshots us out onto the back straight and pulls Sarah into the tricky turn ten blind chicane session about twice as fast as she’s ever gone before.  I get my right foot into the upright as we approach the left kink rumble strips and lift the chair wheel up and over the rumbles as we fly smoothly through the kink like we’re shot out of a cannon still on Wade’s line.  Four more laps and the speed continues to build as Wade and Christine up the pace each lap.  Sarah continues to drive harder and the CBR1000RR engine in the CSR starts to sing, tires start to howl, a symphony of speed and motion begins to play as we shave seconds off laps.

Here’s video from the session.

We’re ready to race.

Practice on Sunday is uneventful.  We actually take it easy and only do a few laps at a moderate pace just to shake down the CSR and warm ourselves up physically.  It’s a long wait from our practice sessions to our actual race around 3:30 in the afternoon.  Finally after quite some time our race is called, we suit up and roll out.  Sarah wastes no time putting on the speed even for the warm up lap.  We’re one of the first out on the track and she gets heat in the tires.  Due to our points lead we’re right up on the front row next to Rick Murray in his LCR.

The tension is high as the two board goes sideways, Sarah raises the revs, the one board is out, and then the flag drops.  Sarah gets the best launch of the season, and only Rick and Bill out pace us from the start.  Wade manages to catch up, and we’re in 3rd up the hill with John sneaking by on the inside around the top relegating us back to 4th.  The rig fishtails violently as I’m making my right left transition between the fast switchback of five and six.  I find myself suddenly going down the track backwards half out of the CSR one asscheek on the ground right leg and arm catscratching at the air. I use every ounce of strength I can muster to pull myself back in with my left arm which was the only thing holding me on at that point.

We do our best to stay on the pace of Rick/Bill/Wade but they are just blistering today.  We hold 4th place with two laps to go, and it looks like a lock.  So I think.  I look back and see Sean’s bright yellow F1 closing the gap on us fast, something has lit a fire under his ass.  He closes up on us going into the turn to esses and that’s when I screw up.  I bobble my timing on the left-right  transition and lift the chair wheel.  It’s nothing major but it’s just enough to spook Sarah and throw her off her drive.  Sean uses this to his advantage and sneaks by under us to drive onto the front straight.  Now we’re playing a game of catch-up as we pass by the white flag hot on Sean’s tail.  I know Sarah’s gameplan, she’s going to set him up and out drive him on the exit of the bowl on the back straight, or beat him on the brakes into the turn ten esses.

But we see a standing yellow flag before the bowl turn and in the distance, Rick’s LCR moving very slowly on the track along the back straight.  Passenger-math tells me unless Sarah can pull off some magic between ourselves and Rick in the next few seconds we’re hosed.  Sean sneaks by Rick with a hair-width to spare and we get hung up behind Rick with nowhere to go.  A perfect block, bye bye fourth place.  I express my displeasure at being relegated to 5th by venting on the bodywork, Sarah shakes her head as we cross the checkers.  But that’s racing, and any race you get that emotional about was a good one.  Last season we were jumping for joy when we finished a race, this season we’re pissed off at losing a position in the top five out of a full grid.  One point off third place in the championship into the last race of the season.

You’ve come a long way baby.


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