|Before we get into the first Chevette race of the day, I need to tell you a little bit about the car I'm driving.|
|Jim Graham owns two Chevettes, #78 and #79. Jim drives the Red "Fast-78". Over the years, the #79 second car has been shared by several different colleagues from Graham Ryan Consulting Ltd, each taking turns with the driving.|
|The points earned over the season by the various drivers
of #79 were credited to the car and scored as a single entry
(listing several names) under #79. However, in my previous
experiences at the Western Canadian Ice Race Championship weekend, I've
usually been treated as an entirely new entry with no history. As
a result, I've typically been forced to start the first Chevette Class
race from the very back of the grid.
That really wasn't such a big problem before because, with the usual system of inverting the starting grid of the Chevette races, the fastest cars started from the back of the grid. So I'd be starting back with the fastest cars and would have to make my way up through the pack like everyone else.
I'm not complaining and I do understand why the organisers preferred to grid me, an unknown driver, right at the back. But strangely in the Rubber Class races, go figure, I was usually gridded midfield according to the car's point standing in that class.
This year, since this was my 5th appearance at the Western Canadian Ice Race Championship event, I was no longer treated as a complete unknown. For a welcome change, I was permitted to start the first Chevette race gridded according to the car's current position in the season's points standings. Yes!
But this time for safety reasons, due to the poor visibility conditions, it was decided to start the Chevette Class races by inverting only the top six positions. That means the points leader starts from 6th on the grid, and whoever is currently 6th in the points gets to start from pole position. Everyone 7th and back starts the race ranked in order down to the current last place car starting from last on the grid. Starting from the very back would have been a major handicap.
|In each of the previous events this season, #79 was piloted
exclusively by Don Pohl. Don had a very successful season and
was ranked 7th in the 2002 Chevette Series standings going
into this weekend. That meant I would be gridded 7th
for the first Chevette race today. I was quite happy about that
because it's right up the grid, starting with the fastest cars.
It's been my experience that there's never any point at all in trying to formulate strategies and plans before the start of a race, because all the best laid plans always go straight out the window the moment the flag drops to signal the start of a race...
|One of the top-six drivers, Steve Flewwelling,
couldn't make it to this year's event in Lac La Biche. Due to
Steve's absence from the starting grid, everyone else was moved up one
spot to fill the gap. That raised me to 6th in the
But since the top 6 positions are inverted for the Chevette starts, this put me on POLE POSITION!!!
|To reduce the chances of a big pileup in the first two corners, the Chevette races were started with the lead car already on the straightaway (at number 1 on the map above). The rest of the 18 cars are snaking in single file back around the zig-zag and along the pits straight.|
|Coming out this weekend I had fully expected to be starting from the
back of the grid again. It was quite a shock to find myself right
at the front instead!
Had I known this was going to happen, I would have mounted the video camera facing rearward.
Okay, so it's not quite Formula One. But I'll tell ya. My heart was really pounding at this moment.
After everyone is gridded properly, the flagman walks to the side of the track, climbs up on the snowbank, the flag drops...
... and "It's GO, GO, GO!"
|It's a huge advantage to be starting up front because I can actually
SEE where I'm going. How novel. However, there is
also a disadvantage to starting first.
Our last look at the track was in the morning practice session, when the ice was extremely slick. Since then the Studded Class have run their first race and chewed up the ice again.
We don't get a reconnaissance warmup lap before our Chevette race. They just line us up and drop the flag. So on the first lap of the race, we aren't certain of how much traction we'll find. It's actually easier to be following someone else on the first lap, as then you have some warning of what's ahead.
Since I'm leading the train, it's up to me to gamble on how fast I dare enter the corners. If I'm too aggressive I'll slide too deep under braking and everyone will pass me. Or if I'm too conservative on my corner entry and brake too early, everyone will come diving up the inside to steal the corner from me.
I think I nailed this one exactly right. You can tell there's lots of traction available from the way the car heels over in the turn.
|This is the 3rd gear left-right kink on the back straight.
It's trickier than it looks because, although the entry is deceptively easy and can be taken quite fast, the following right hander is a bit tighter. It's easy to get suckered into doing this part too fast and then end up sliding wide on the exit of the right-hander.
|Still hesitant because of how slick the ice was here during our morning
practice session, I give a little confidence lift off the throttle.
I really should have stayed full on the gas. The track is enormously wide here, and there is plenty of traction at the moment.
But lucky for me, everyone behind me is buried in a blinding curtain of blowing snow and they're unable to profit from my hesitation.
|Brake and downshift to second gear for the first of two
left-handers at the end of the back straight.
This one is intimidating because of the speed at which it's approached. But it's not really as tight as it looks.
The track widens out on the exit and there is plenty of room to drift the car all the way out to the far snowbank. But I'm still unsure of the traction here, so I leave a healthy safety margin between me and the snowbank on the exit.
The organisers gave me a vote of confidence by allowing me to start at the front of the grid. After that, it would have been extremely embarrassing to plow off into a snowbank somewhere on this first lap.
|This is the second part of the double left-hander. This turn
is critical as it leads into the Esses.
If you come off the previous left-hander with a lot of speed on, it's very tempting to come barrelling straight into this one carrying the same speed. But this turn is tighter and it's important not to drift too far right on the exit here, as that screws up the approach into the following right-hand bend.
But if you back off too much trying to head the car to the left, someone else may very well come barrelling in behind you and T-bone you as turn in late.
|This series of corners has to be driven together as one string, not
looking at the immediately upcoming corner, but concentrating on getting
a good trajectory into the one that follows after that.
I did not do a particularly good job of that on this lap.
|This is the final left-hander, leading onto the pits straight.
The pit entrance is straight ahead in this view.
On the video clip, note the significant increase in speed on this first racing lap as compared to this morning's practice session. Right now the ice is tractionised from the previous Studded race, whereas at the end of this morning's practice the ice was extremely slick.
The Studded cars have already carved a rut in the ice at this corner. I would prefer to hug the left snowbank all the way around this corner in order to set up properly for the right turn that follows immediately after the finish line. But the rut upsets my line and I run wide of the apex.
|Because I ran wide of the apex, I'm also wide at the exit.
Colin Lolacher in the Black #3, who started right behind me and has been hounding me all through the first lap, tries to take advantage of my mistake.
He makes a little feint down my left side, then decides not to risk it. But he did manage to distract me for a moment.
As we cross the finish line to end the first lap, my line into this right-hand corner isn't quite right. I really should have gone much deeper on the left before turning in.
|As a consequence of turning in too early, I now have to slow more
than I wanted to get my car over to the right edge of the track.
It's important to sacrifice a little speed in this right-hander to set up a faster line into the critical left turn that's coming up, as it leads onto the long straight.
But because I'm slow right here, it allows Colin to have another look at passing me on the left.
|I take a quick glance in my side mirror to ensure that Colin hasn't
stuck his nose in the way before I turn into the left hander.
This corner is fast, and again you can tell by the way the car is leaning that there is a fair amount of grip available here.
That's one complete lap of the track, and I'm still in the lead!
It was not a particularly tidy lap, but it's just about the only opportunity to show you what one full unobstructed lap looks like.