Sunday was not as successful a day as Saturday had been.
On Sunday the course was run in a counter-clockwise direction, opposite to the direction used on Saturday. So it was effectively a whole new track. In the morning practice session the first lap was run, as normal, under full-course yellow flags to give everyone a chance to safely check out the new track. When the green flags came out on the next lap to signal the start of serious practice, my car made it down the length of the main straight at speed only once before the engine abruptly quit. After that, the engine would start and run for a few seconds only and then promptly quit again.
I was forced to wait out the entire practice session, stranded, until the car could be towed back to the pits. We had the carburetor apart and reassembled several times before finally discovering that a small internal component had loosened enough to affect the carb's float level. It ran perfectly fine after we tightened that. However, the problem was only diagnosed and corrected after the first Chevette race was run without me. The only bonus was that since I completely missed the first race, I fully expected to be put in pole position for the second race. That would be an enormous advantage.
The scariest part is the start of the races. The Chevette races, gridded two by two, always began from a standing start. That, in itself, isn't such a bad thing because this way you only get to use half the length of the front straightaway to build up speed. Thus you arrive at the first corner 'relatively' slowly, after which the field tends to spread out.
But the Rubber class races, with a 35 car field, and with a much greater diversity in vehicle types (FWD/RWD), had rolling starts led by a pace car. The pace car would peel off into the pits and the pole sitter then had to lead the pack at a reasonable pace until the green flag dropped. After that, 35 cars at full-throttle would funnel into the first corner at +110 km/h. And the worst part was that we were almost completely BLIND!
Each car was required to have a roof-mounted rear-facing white light. In this shot you can see just how bright the light is on the Saab ahead of Jim's Chevette. The yellow VW Scirocco is just turning into one of the slower corners. Blowing snow wasn't much of a problem in the slow corners.
But on the straightaways the visibility was greatly reduced. The next photo shows the main straight, just a few seconds further down the track from the previous shot. At this point, even the relatively slow Chevettes easily attained a speed of 110 km/h before having to brake for the next corner.
The Saab, with brake lights already on, is visible only because Jim is not following directly in his slipstream. But the yellow Scirocco [marked with an arrow] is almost invisible. Such is the view when only two cars are ahead of you. Just imagine what this is like when you're running in the middle of a 35 car pack!
On the starts, there is so much snow swirling up that you're lucky if you can keep close enough to spot the marker lights of the cars ahead. You cannot back off the throttle, otherwise ten cars instantly pass you. But you have no idea where you are on the track. You just follow the tail lights in front of you. Then you assume that the guy you're following must in turn be following someone else ahead of him, who's following someone else, etc. And you pray that the whole train isn't driving off a cliff or something.
Jim tells me that the big round device on the dashboard of his car is an engine tachometer. I think a much more useful instrument would be a compass!
You only know you've reached the corner when the light ahead of you starts turning. If you're really lucky, you won't turn in too early and run up the inside snowbank, or you won't turn in too late and drift wide to run up the outside snowbank. All too frequently [since the slowest cars always start up front], someone up ahead has already spun or stuffed it and you only find out about it when the immobile car suddenly appears out of the blowing snow, stopped sideways and blocking the track immediately in front of you.
At this point you hope you'll have room, time, and traction enough to suddenly change course to the left or right. But it takes a considerable length of time for the lookout in the crow's nest to initially spot the iceberg dead ahead, then to signal the captain, who orders the engine full astern and the helm put hard over, and after all that the ship still doesn't respond, because we're driving at speed on glare ice after all... More often than not though, you find yourself tightly hemmed in left and right by other cars with nowhere to go, and everyone ends up in a heap.
The starts were completely INSANE! It gives me a whole new perspective on how CRAZY it is for Formula One races to start in the rain! The reduced traction is NOT the problem at all. That's all GREAT fun because it serves to separate the good drivers from the bad. But the total lack of visibility merely separates the insanely lucky from those who have any sense of self-preservation.
I was more than a little leery about starting Sunday's second race from the pole. In fact, I was downright worried. It hadn't escaped my attention that my car was extremely well camouflaged in it's WHITE paint scheme! Now, without sufficient practice, I was supposed to lead a pack of Extremely AGGRESSIVE drivers into the first turn. And I had better not make any mistakes!!
Luckily none of that happened. Since I hadn't even started in Sunday's first race, I wasn't listed on the scoring sheets and therefore I wasn't included on the pre-grid list for the second race. So they made me start dead last again. Bummer!
There was an astonishing amount of carnage in that race. Cars were crashing together and spinning out everywhere. They even had to bring out the pace car twice during the short race while stranded cars were pulled out of the snow banks from particularly dangerous spots.
For the few laps that were run under green flags, I couldn't make any progress at all. Every time I passed someone, someone else would hit me and knock me back down again. I remember passing only two cars successfully from my dead-last starting position. Yet somehow I finished 13th, presumably only as a result of the numerous retirements.
After that race, the Clerk of the Course gave us all a stern lecture to get a grip on ourselves and calm down. And several drivers, me included, were penalised two positions for [allegedly!!!] passing under yellow flag conditions. So I was scored as finishing 15th, dead last amongst the cars still running at the finish.
As a result of my poor finish in the second race I was allowed to start the third race from much nearer the front of the grid, for a change. And after the first corner, to my stunned amazement, I suddenly found myself IN THE LEAD!
But that lasted for all of about five seconds. The series leader [who had started this race from the last row!!] passed me for the lead before we had even finished half of the first lap, and then he pulled steadily away!!! The guy is simply amazing. His name is Jay Esterer. Jay races Sprint Cars in the summer. In the winters, he previously ran a 300 horsepower winged Audi Quattro in the Unlimited-Stud ice-race class before switching to [and dominating] the highly competitive Chevette class. This guy is so good that I couldn't help but suspect his car must somehow be illegal. Except I knew that couldn't be the case. Because, although I wasn't doing nearly as well as Jay, I was fortunate enough to be driving Jay's equally prepared back-up car!
I was still firmly in second place behind Jay, closely followed by another six cars. It stayed like that for a couple of laps before the guy two cars behind me got impatient. He tried late-braking into one of the fast corners, came up the inside way too hot, and punted me off into the deep snow that collects on the outside edge of the turns. I nearly bogged down completely in the deep snow during which time four cars passed me and I dropped to 6th place.
The guy that hit me was immediately black-flagged, temporarily promoting me back into 5th place. But a daring outside pass by Matt Atkins, one of my team mates in the fleet of cars entered by Graham Consulting Services, dropped me back down again to 6th place.
I almost managed to stay alongside Matt into the following corner but, during the drag race to the corner as I shifted up from second gear, the engine suddenly lost all power and I immediately suspected the carburetor had gone south again. If I hadn't been so utterly convinced that it was another carburetor glitch I would probably have diagnosed the real problem much sooner. As it turns out, I had inadvertently shifted from 2nd gear directly into 5th. By the time I had all that sorted out, Matt had decisively completed the pass on me and I finished the race in 6th place.
Those two out of three races were only good enough for 17th place in the overall points for the day, but I'm convinced I would have been higher up in the standings had I been able to run the first race. If, if, if only...
All in all it was a most successful weekend. I didn't do anything to embarrass myself, other than flying the flag for us Easterners [I'm from Ottawa] in the Western Canadian Championship, and other than wearing that goofy hat in public, and... Well most importantly, I didn't trash Jay's spare car. I very much hope they will invite me back again next year!
Check out the website of the Northern Alberta Sports Car Club for the ice-race results of the Chevette Class. Results are also listed for the Rubber class in which I shared the same car with Malcolm Carter for alternating races. Our combined results are listed under my [somewhat mangled] name, Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff.
Before moving to Alberta, Jim Graham was the overall points Ice-Racing Champion of the Motorsport Club of Ottawa. After his move to Alberta, he co-drove the 1996 Championship winning car in the Rubber class of the Northern Alberta Sports Car Club.
Jim Graham runs his own business specialising in accident investigations. The logo across the top of his windshield reads, "Accident Reconstruction Engineering". To aid in his research of vehicle impacts, Jim's race car is instrumented with accelerometers and data recording equipment. The in-car camera's time-display is later used to synchronise any significant "events" with their corresponding data read-outs. Without getting into too many details, let's just say that there was a lot of data collected on this particular weekend! Have a look at Jim Graham's website Graham Consulting Services and follow the link to the "Ice-Racing Project" for some more pictures of last season's events.
Thank you, thank you, Jim for inviting me out to Edmonton and organising this Excellent Adventure!
Also many thanks to Kevin Gibson for finding a helmet for me on such short notice.
And a thousand thanks to Jay Esterer for his generosity in entrusting his precious spare car to some completely unknown yahoo Easterner.
Hey, don't go away yet! You still have to look at the in-car video clip and the comments on the next page...