Track time on the Autoweek America AdventureSun, 30 Oct 2011 00:00:00 -0700
There is not a whole lot of stuff to see between southern Oregon and way-northern California, other than the beauty and majesty of terrain carved by volcanic action thousands of years ago. Mount Shasta is a stunning reminder of how insignificant and powerless we really are.
That power might have shifted with a trip to Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, Calif. In a straight shot from Redding--where the cool Sun Dial Bridge is centerpiece for that city's outdoor education and recreation area--to Willows, we had time to think about what the strategy would be for this next mission on the Autoweek America Adventure.
First, what it was: An autocross. This is a good way to get the juices flowing but not too much. Don't want these wanna-be racers doing something less-than reasonable and smart on the track. More importantly, don't want the racers among us to get too competitive.
Yeah, good luck with that. A quick and purpose-built autocross track is part of the expansive and impressive Thunderhill facility, a private track that books between 305 and 315 track days a year; it seems to have the formula down right. Fact is, while we were there, a three-day vintage-car event was taking place on the Big Boy Track. And they were serious: Among the group of racers was Lyn St. James, who was piloting a 1976 Formula Atlantic car and smiling all the way.
All of the Autoweek America Adventure racers found themselves a good perch from which to watch. They did not have a chance to walk this track, and watching was the next best thing as other competitors--in Dodge Chargers and Challengers, rental Ford Mustangs, Volkswagens and Hyundais--took to the course. Sure, there was smack being talked in the stands.
Graham Rahal wanted to see what young Conor Daly would do in the Audi R8 GT. Now this is a beast: V10 power, all-wheel drive with a perhaps-longer-than-necessary wheelbase for this autocross track but wonderful for the open road. Young Conor went on his first recon lap--something every competitor was given--and then set the pace: 18.957 seconds, and the gauntlet was thrown down.
Speed and experience
Team Honey Badger would send its "ringer" when the time was right; Tommy Kendall was content to watch the young bucks lock horns and paw at the dirt. There is a time and a place for everything, and if there's one thing Mr. Kendall has learned, it's that patience is a virtue.
Rahal went out in a Nissan GT-R. The car looks good on him and he seems to smile every time he gets in it. If there was a car built for such an event, this is it. His sprightly run: 18.633 seconds. Boom! Head shot! Conor down!
Kendall let other competitors get ahead of him (a strategy to allow more tire rubber to be put down before his run). He finally eased to the start line. There was, however, necessary preparation before. We removed everything from the trunk--all of the luggage, all of the spare stuff including computer bags and assorted detritus that finds its way in a car during a seven-day, cross-country junket. Hey, we had to try to make this Mercedes-Benz AMG S63 as light as it could be! But wait, there's more as the preparation also included "riding sheikh style" with the windows down, the hip-hop music cranked up and the driver seat laid waaaaay back. Talk about intimidating the young pups.
All TK did was to drop a smoking-fast 18.963-second run--a respectable third place overall and just six one-thousands of a second slower than the Audi and Conor Daly.
Off to wine country
We loaded all the stuff back in to our whip--we now call her Christine--and beat it over the mountains into the glorious and beautiful Sonoma Valley. This time of year, when the vines are mottled with yellows and greens and reds, it makes this a magic moment for Northern California visitors. And we saw that first hand at our end waypoint of the St. Francis Vineyard in Santa Rosa.
Tomorrow looks tempting and it has a lot of competitors trying to guess what the next missions might include. We are achingly close to Infineon Raceway. Hopes spring that we will have a chance to put some more laps on at a big track. We could head south through San Francisco, down toward Monterey and Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. We could bounce to the central valley, too, and rummage around in Gold Rush country and hit some spectacular roads along the way. Who knows? We will see when the day is done. For now, the Autoweek America Adventure awaits.
Look for us at:
-- @Autoweek Racing
-- Autoweek America Adventure
By Dutch Mandel