NCM with NASA Midsouth Oct 2020

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I find it hard to write an introduction for my latest trip to the National Corvette Museum so I will say this; I have always had a love hate relationship with this track and this weekend was particularly difficult.

Preparation

I always stress having a plan for a race weekend and this weekend was no exception. NCM is a complex 23 turn course in it’s full configuration with a mix of turns that don’t necessarily flow. This is pretty much a home track for the competition and one I don’t have a lot of experience at. Unfortunately, the track isn’t in iRacing so I moved on to plan b.

Without access to my favorite form of prep, I relied on other methods to prepare. Namely track videos and visualization. Starting two weeks out I spent a little time daily watching track videos and doing visualization exercises until I could close my eyes and ‘drive’ the track in my imagination. This takes a lot less time than one would think and left me feeling pretty confident going into weekend.

But I was Off Pace

The 2020 season, for all it’s oddness, has been a very successful one for me. Leaving me in the enviable position of having to simply start the last few races of the season to secure a third consecutive regional championship. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost the desire to podium though which is why I’m markedly frustrated about the lack of pace I had this weekend. I could understand being a few seconds off the front runners but a 5 second gap is a lifetime in racing and not something I’m used to.

There are lots of threads for me to pursue in this regard. Maybe the #901 motor is finally starting to slow down, maybe my suspension setup was not good for the track or maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I believed. But after setting or almost setting track records with the same car and setup throughout the season at other events, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. And as it turns out that didn’t matter much anyway.

Race 1: Downhill from Here

If you’ve raced long enough you know lap times don’t necessarily equal race wins. Sure they help but in a field of 50 plus cars traffic would definitely come into play. But not in the way I was planning as I was taken out by a fellow 944spec racer at turn 4 on lap 1.

Bringing to mind one of the many iterations of the saying,

‘You can’t win a race on lap one but you sure as hell can lose it.’ – every racer ever

I had a good start but was boxed to the inside at turn two. As I pulled out of the corner and moved along side a competitor, he turned into me causing his car to turn sideways in front of mine and myself to spin 180.

For a little perspective this was a part of the track where the other driver did not need to be. This was either a very late blocking attempt or the other driver didn’t know I was there. Either presents a unique set of circumstances but at the end of the day we are all friends and things happen.

The end result being that I was now dead last with flat spotted tires chasing down a field that was no where in sight. I put my head down and got back to the task at hand and closed the gap to the back of the pack with two laps to go.

944spec at National Corvette Museum 2020 (Race 1 with Driver: Chris Simmons) from driftopia on Vimeo.

For those that watched to the end I want to point out a couple of bad habits that often interfere with actively racing drivers. (I’m seeing this way too often)

This is done in two ways. First is simply getting in the way. If you are by yourself and have multiple cars of the same class attempting to pass while you are blocking. Get out of the way as you are inhibiting actual races and the loss of position to out of class cars will not affect your result.

Second, DO NOT under any circumstances start a cool down lap before you have crossed the start/finish line under checker. Especially with traffic. Aside from generally being viewed as a dick move, I believe it also shows a general lack of awareness of what’s going on.

A combination of the two prevented me from gaining a position back on the last two laps as although I was faster than the two cars in front, my 944 competitor is very well versed in race-craft and capitalized on the non spec racers in the group.

Race 2: A Little Hope

Race 2 was another 25 minute sprint that slowly transitioned to a rain race. The lead pack checked out early and fast leaving myself and a few others battling in the back with mixed traffic. What I noticed during this race is that as the rain intensified, the lap times of the front runners began increasing quicker than mine, slowly closing the time gap I experienced all weekend. This provides a few clues as to what is ailing my lap times at NCM but more importantly, as someone who is perpetually hard on himself, reaffirmed that I wasn’t completely outclassed and hadn’t forgotten how to drive fast.

Regardless, the race wasn’t long enough to change my placement any further so I drove a conservative final 2 laps and finished the best of the rest.

NCM 2020 Race 2 (Driver: Chris Simmons) from driftopia on Vimeo.

Race 3: Woohoo and Not Again

Remember how I said the track doesn’t have a flow? That’s not the case when the alternate bike configuration is run. By eliminating the sinkhole and uphill series to the front straight, lap times drop by 20+ seconds and NCM all of a sudden becomes a lot more fun. This is the configuration I would prefer as it allows for better wheel to wheel racing as well.

But that doesn’t mean this 40 minute race with over 70 cars of mixed class racing would be smooth. In fact, I expected a tough race as a majority of the cars would have at least 100 hp more than the 944spec.

And as the race progressed, a series of events unfolded that would eventually lead up to your’s truly getting smashed in the rear by an out of control and out of class Mustang during a rolling restart at turn one. Events unfolded as follows.

I lost a position at the start of the race that I quickly regained cruising in a comfortable 3rd place. Then an Acura Integra in the H2 class dropped oil on turn 5. I hit the oil but maintained control of the car. Two others in Spec Corvette weren’t so lucky and collided, leaving debris throughout the turn. As such the safety car was deployed and a 20 minute parade ensued as workers removed the cars and cleaned the corner.

This race intermission bunched up the whole 70+ car field in a very unfortunate order. Namely, a large number of high horsepower cars were now stacked up behind low horsepower cars for the restart. When the green flag dropped it was chaos. I slipped away early but was backed up into turn one when a Camaro locked up in front of me. I grabbed a lower gear to get a pull out of the corner when a CMC Mustang smacked the rear end of my 944. Leaving me facing the wrong direction for the second time this weekend through no fault of my own.

I was able to drive the car back to the paddock with nothing more than minor cosmetic damage while the other car’s front end, made of fiberglass, looked like it exploded. Upon viewing the video I was well established in the turn and it looks like the other driver’s attention may have been elsewhere as he hit my rear with quite a bit of speed.

NCM 2020 Race 3 (Chris Simmons) from driftopia on Vimeo.

Conclusion

This was not my weekend. Incidents happened in both races 1 and 3 that were 100 percent avoidable and unnecessary. Both drivers were assessed penalties but that doesn’t negate the fact that multiple races were affected. However, the weekend wasn’t a bust by any means as I still have a race worthy 944 Spec ready to secure another regional championship. And I really enjoyed driving the alternate configuration during race 3. Not only was it better for wheel to wheel action but NCM started exhibiting some much needed personality.

Chris Simmons By Chris Simmons

About the Author:

Chris Simmons

Chris Simmons is a race car driver, instructor, business owner and all around gearhead. His passion for motorsport started in the drifting community and progressed into wheel to wheel racing of all kinds. When off track Chris can be found training and working on a myriad of projects. After a hiatus from writing, he is back to share his passion, knowledge and experience in regard to motorsports on and off the track.

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