That's what I told Mike as we were getting ready to go to the track on Sunday morning. I was a little sore in the shoulders and hips, but I didn't care. I was going to drive the race car again today!!
In trying to diagnose the sputter the car developed on Saturday, it was decided that we'd throw all we could at the car and, hopefully, the issue would resolve. By the time Dennis arrived in the morning with a rotor, cap and wires, Mike had all the old stuff off and was ready for the replacement parts. Meanwhile, Chris was at the rear of the car taking apart the fuel filter in the gas tank. Feeling a little left out, I cleaned the windows and got the seat ready.
The call for the driver's meeting came. I filed into the driver's lounge with everyone else just like I always do, except I went to the back of the room behind the other drivers. When they asked for a show of hands of new drivers, I didn't put mine up. I was hoping no one would notice that I would be driving. I was only going to run the warm-up/practice session in the bracket group and there was no need for a fuss. Ya know, I've listened to the driver's meeting speech many, many times before, but this time I paid very close attention to all of the details.
The bracket group is the 2nd group out on the track in the morning after the driver's meeting. I was determined NOT to miss the start of the session this time, but somehow I did. I was already suited up when the 5 minute warning was announced. I got in the car and had a little trouble getting the belts buckled. By the time I got to the grid, everyone was gone! I knew I wasn't early, but I couldn't believe I was late! I later learned that the grid chief was making the 1st call only 5 minutes before the session was to go on track. I waited in grid at pit out because the entire field had just taken the green flag and I didn't want them to be chasing me into turn 1 with cold tires and brakes. That scenario had a high possibility of being very messy.
So I went out behind everyone and let them speed away while I got things warmed up. Mike gave me words of warning. "Do NOT go through turn 1 at speed the first time after you take the green flag." And I didn't. The car still had a little shimmy at full throttle on the front straight. As my helmet shimmied with the car, my eyes had trouble focusing on the orange cone on the wall for my brake zone. A few times I hit the brakes a little early so I would be able to make it through turn 1. I did get to race by myself for several laps before the faster racers caught me and began to pass. Speaking of passing, I did notice the "faster traffic approaching" flag several times during the session. Heck, I was surprised that I even noticed the flagging stations!
Being in traffic and being passed didn't bother me. Actually, I thought I handled all that rather well. Haven't you ever been in morning traffic with 17 other frantic drivers who would pass on the shoulder or blow through school zones and red lights just to make it to work on time?
As I ran down the front straight on the final lap and saw the checkered flag waving, I took a deep breath realizing that (1) I drove for an entire session; (2) I didn't go off track or damage the car; and (3) I didn't get passed by every driver that was on track with me. It was also great fun to wave to the corner workers from the driver's seat and thank them for the job they do. I've been out there to man the flags and know how important it is for them to be there.
Pulling up in the pit area, I couldn't wait to get out of the car and celebrate my mini victories. After debriefing with Mike & Chris, a few of the other drivers came up to find out that it was me in the car. I guess they didn't notice the blue "x" on the back of the car and thought it was the regular driver of the #02 Corvette, Dennis Gros, who runs the car in the yellow bracket. A few apologized for buzzing me so close in the turns, that they would have given more room if they had known it was me. The apologies weren't necessary. I didn't want to be treated any differently. When the times were posted for the practice session, I had one more little victory to celebrate - I wasn't the slowest one on the track! My fastest lap time was a 1:36.567 which placed me 17th out of 18 drivers.
In spite of the issues with the car on Saturday, which we cured, I felt the car ran great and would be fine for Dennis for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, the car developed a couple of new issues after practice on Sunday. The radiator cap leaked. We fixed that. We ran over a piece of debris and cut a tire. We fixed that. Ironically, the debris was our own radiator support bracket. When we went to the driver's lounge to see what it was and who was going to claim it, Dennis recognized the part. We quickly grabbed it and snuck back to our pit before anyone noticed! Then the transmission failed and refused to go in a forward gear and the car didn't make it off the grid for the feature race. Since they probably wouldn't let Dennis run backwards, we were done. Dennis was leading in the yellow group and should be able to recover over the next two races to retain his points lead.This whole weekend was the most fun I've had on 4 wheels in a LONG time! I can't thank Chris Wilken enough for the opportunity to drive his car and Denis Gros for sharing his ride time with me. I'm looking forward to the next practice day to get some more seat time and work on my lines, cornering and speed.
Still grinning from ear-to-ear!
View and order photos taken at the GBRS Event #4 - Jan. 6, 2008 from Poupart Photos!