March 22, 2013
What's Better Than A Last Lap, Last Corner Pass For The Win?
what's better than that? Calling it, that's what.
Elliot Skeer, 18 year old second generation track rat form Colorado, radioed the CJ Wilson Racing pits as the white flag dropped on the Sebring Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup race telling them (cue Cole Trickle clips) how he was going to go low on the final corner...
And for that, Elliot, not being of legal drinking age yet, got to celebrate the top step of the podium with....sparking grape juice! Face Palm.
From the moment the cars rolled off the truck on the Monday before the race, Elliott's car had had some niggling issues. This meant he missed about 75% of practice and he only got an extended set of laps after an engine change. Those laps were enough to give him an idea of the set up that he wanted for qualifying.
Qualifying at Sebring is not as important as it can be at other venues due to the fact that drafting plays a significant part in the outcome of the race. It is possible to make up and lose multiple position in any one lap. Elliot qualified in P4 and finished in that position in race 1. He was happy with that based on the struggles the team had experienced up to that point, he also felt he had learned a lot that he could put into use for race 2, the following day.
Again, Elliott started in P4 but quickly picked up a position and settled in behind John Dean and the race one winner, Christian Syzmczak. Elliot now takes up the story:
On lap 12, I passed John down the front straight to see if we could pair up and go after Christian, with the idea of John following me through as and when I made my move. I soon noticed that Christian and I were pulling John through the corners, and basically our draft was keeping him in the race.
From the green flag, I was drawing a map of Sebring in my head and making notes about where I was stronger and where I was losing time to my competitors (12 laps can tell you a LOT about your competetion). The map had green in the corners and red down the straights, as I knew my MX-5 was fantastic through the corners but was struggling a little bit on the long straights. Using this colored map, I mentally ran through about 10 scenarios of the last lap from the point of starting it from all three positions. When, team boss, Jason [Saini] got on the radio to tell me that there were five laps left, I decided that in order to win this I needed to be P2 going on to the last lap and now I needed to select the best possible strategy starting from that position.
Knowing that my cornering was strong, but without the straight line speed advantage, I thought about trying a turn 1 pass and protecting the lead for the final lap. I soon ruled that out due to all of the major drafting zones which would leave me as a sitting duck going into T17. The next option was a move at the hairpin. I eliminated that idea for the same reason along with the added effect of letting John Dean back into the fight. At this point, there were about 3 laps to go, I had to make a decision so I could practice it on the second-to-last lap. I decided that if I could get enough of a run out of T16, I could draft all the way and pop out on the inside going into T17, which had been my best corner throughout the race.
On the penultimate lap, I did a practice run, but lifted and went to the outside as we entered T17 trying not to show my hand. We were basically playing poker at 122 mph going into the final corner. I felt like I was holding all the cards as we started the final lap. My main goal through the lap was to nail every shift, one miss and I would fall too far back. I managed to make every one precisely and knew I was that much closer to executing "the plan". I had a couple of brief moments where I second guessed myself before wiping those ideas from my mind.
Going into 16, which leads onto the very long back straight, I rolled as much speed in 3rd gear as possible and flat-shifted to 4th and 5th. Fat shifting basically means changing gear without lifting the throttle, just kicking the clutch. It is much faster but it is ultimately a lot harder on the car. It probably gave me an additional 300-500 rpm and the cool thing is that since the rpm builds, it's above the ideal shift point, it's almost like an extra boost of power since the engine is spinning faster than the driven wheels.
I had a great run on Christian, I went low and Christian soon went lower. I pulled alongside on the inside and I went as deep as dared and broke as late as I could for T17. Christian went a little deeper into the corner, so I let off the brake to match his position, and held the inside, grabbed the lead and held it all the way to the line.
As I crossed the line, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but soon exploded with joy with some pretty frantic arm movements and steering wheel beating. It was an incredibly satisfying win"