Road Atlanta June 2021

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Road Atlanta always contains teachable moments for me and this year is no exception. Even if some of the lessons may be self inflicted.

944 Spec Paddock at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta

But my big takeaway from this weekend is that my car has a freakin tall fifth gear.

Driving with a Tall 5th and Why It’s a Handicap

Let’s emphasize self inflicted on this one. My car has always lacked something in 5th gear and under the ‘advice’ of those around me I have been assured on numerous occasions there is, ‘no way you have a tall fifth gear’ under the assumption that my lap times would be lower.

On a side note, if you don’t race 944’s and are wondering what the hell I am talking about, the 944 has 2 final drive options available. A ‘short’ or sports fifth gear and a ‘tall’ or highway fifth gear. The difference being a shorter gear ratio for the ‘short’ fifth that yields improved acceleration at high speeds. And the ‘tall’ gear is designed for fuel economy and cruising. So in effect, my car cruises when I shift to 5th gear where my competitors are gaining several additional mph down long straights. Could this be where my mysterious missing second is on certain tracks? Probably.

I’ve driven this way for years. Managed a couple track records and driven my absolute ass off taking podiums where I am driving with a distinct handicap. Makes me wonder about the results I didn’t get in the past. Regardless, I’m installing a short 5th in the gear box before the next event. This will most likely become a distinct advantage for me as I have been forced to find time where others haven’t.

Tall Fifth Comparison

The back straight at Road Atlanta is an easy place to highlight the 5th gear differences. The following video shows me exiting turn 7 in the draft of the car ahead. I pull out of the draft to pass and shortly after we both shift to 5th. At this point the difference between the tall and short 5th gear becomes clearly noticeable. I am not only unable to initiate the pass but suddenly lose several car lengths before the braking zone.

Race 1

Although the tall 5th would handicap me throughout the weekend, that didn’t mean there weren’t races to win. (or try to at least) I had a great start in race one going from p5 to almost p1 due to p1 missing a shift. I was able to drive around the side of the backed up p3 car and pull along p1 before he found his gearing. I was already getting pushed in the grass so I eased off by turn one as I wasn’t quite sure p1 knew I was on the inside. You know the quote, ‘You can’t win a race in the first turn but you can lose it.’

So I settled into a comfortable p4 early as it became quite apparent I would not be chasing the top three down. And that’s when the # xxx put the pressure on and passed me for p4. We had quite a battle for the remainder of the race. His car running a power advantage made for some great and creative racing. (you can see my frustration at 12:30 in the video) But I was able to keep the pressure up the remainder of the race and ultimately recapture 4th with one lap to go.

On a side note p2 passed under yellow during the race and was disqualified. Moving my finish position to 3rd overall.

Lanier National Speedway

Before I dive into race 2, I need to mention Lanier National Speedway. Lanier is an oval asphalt track directly across the street from Road Atlanta. They host circle track and drift events and most importantly, karting after dark.

The karts are a blast and the track is made of moveable plastic barriers. Unlike most karting, this is not a fixed track and it is reconfigured after track events making for a unique karting experience every time.

Race 2

The karts were awesome, the pulled muscle in my lower back was not. I skipped the early qualifying session and set about town buying back remedies and ice’d my lower back the entire morning.

It helped enough to get me in the car albeit starting in last place.

I drove a great race forgetting about my back pain in the process. Working my way up aggressively from last to 2nd. Then, on the last lap a miata threw a bumper under my front right wheel and I lost steering for a few crucial seconds entering the esses. (13:20) This was all p3 needed to pass and by the time the bumper dislodged well after the esses it was too late to regain position and I finished the race in 3rd.

Lessons Learned

Like I said, Road Atlanta always finds a way to teach me something. I’ve had some of my best and worst track experiences here and my big takeaway from this weekend is to trust my knowledge and my gut. Advice from others can be great but sometimes it may not tell the whole story and as a result I have spent years driving with a distinct handicap. Moving forward I plan to rely on the wealth of knowledge and experience I have accumulated and trust myself to find out how fast I can truly go.

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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