The Mighty Monster

We see it all too often in motorsports:  A team spends countless hours preparing a car, makes sure every single detail is perfect, executes the best race strategy possible and still comes up short despite their best efforts.  We see it almost weekly in the Sprint Cup Series with Kevin Harvick, and it managed to keep us out of victory lane last week in the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series race at Dover.  With the Summer Shootout starting tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I have to turn race strategy duties over to our trusty spotter, Peter Fisher.  This is the first time I’ll head into my “summer break” without a win, which is a little frustrating, but I can’t say I didn’t try, right?

All three of us (Nick, Peter, and myself) remember last year’s Dover race.  The car was dominant, to say the least, and Nick handily walked away with a win.  It was so good, in fact, that we stopped trying to “strategize” mid-way through the race and just pitted whenever we thought it would provide entertaining sim racing.  This year’s race was about 400 times more complex than last year’s, and we were all scrambling to keep up with what was going on.  We couldn’t use last year’s setup, it just wasn’t going to work with the new suspension/aero/tires, but we still struggled for the majority of the week finding a good feel in the car.  We were still working on the car on Monday, during which I discovered something from our previous setups that was locking the car’s suspension and preventing it from working properly.  It was way too late to take that out of the Dover car, but luckily that wasn’t in the car because we didn’t have time to remove it.

The initial part of the race went very smoothly, not much to write home about.  Just the typical message from Nick every few laps, “Snug in the center,” but I’ve essentially become immune to that after three years working with him.  Mike Conti had run away off of the start, putting the #05 at nearly a half-lap deficit at the first run’s mid-point.  It was around lap 30, when I was starting to think of how to salvage what was becoming a disaster, that Peter spoke up and said, “Heads up, Ray [Alfalla] is on his way back to you.”  I looked out at the track and saw the blue #2 on the outside of a train of cars, dropping like a rock.  I use Marcel Weimer’s “FIA Timing Monitor” during these races, and Ray’s laps were mid-23-second laps, while everyone else was mid-to-upper 22-second laps.  Anyone who has followed the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series for more than 47 minutes will know that’s an issue, so I started going back through Ray’s laps.  I noticed immediately that his car had “fallen off the cliff” and was losing time in bunches.  It wasn’t long before other cars started to follow suit, and over the next 10 laps the entire field started shuffling around.  Eventually, Conti’s rocket ship came back to Earth and we started making up ground.  Initially, our strategy was to pit every 40-45 laps for new tires, but when Nick had reduced the half-lap gap to just a straightaway, I decided to leave Nick on track and see how far we could really go before our car lost its giddy-up as well.  A caution on Lap 50 was a welcome relief, trapping some cars laps down and allowing us to get some new tires.

“His car had ‘fallen off the cliff’ and was losing time in bunches.”

The rest of the race was a moving target.  After the first run, I kept my eyes on two cars, the only ones that I saw as a threat:  Mike Conti and Joey Brown.  Ironically, two drivers who have worked with Gale Force Racing in the past!  After the first run, I had to keep reminding Nick to baby the tires, which is exactly what Conti and Brown appeared to be doing.  I gave Nick simple instructions:  “Do what Mike does.”  It was actually  really fun to watch, with all three cars employing a different strategy to get the most out of the tires over the longest time.  It was almost like a game of chicken, with each driver sitting back and waiting for another one to take off, and it seemed to me like everyone involved was really having fun with it.

Nick Leads

Nick leads Brian Schoenburg (#55), Tom Lewandowski (#16), Brad Davies (#11), and Matt Bussa (#34)

Whenever we run these NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze races, it’s crucial to have the next section of the race planned out before you ever get to it.  Whenever Nick is coming down pit road, I’m already looking at when the next pit stop will be, what adjustments could be needed, and what drivers I need to pay attention to during the next run.  Most of the time, things play out the way we expect. However, both Nick and I were caught completely off-guard by Conti’s strategy for the final green-flag run.  In the previous run, he had laid back early and jumped around mid-run, making his charge to the lead.  When the final run started, he took off immediately.  By the time I realized what was happening, it was far too late for Nick (and Joey Brown, who was running with us) to make a full-scale charge to run him down.  Mike had gotten too far out and if they took off to catch him, it could wreck their tires early and they’d eventually stall out and never catch him.  Instead, they both steadily ran a fast, but not blistering, pace and eventually caught and passed Mike.  With the fall of Goliath, it was left for Nick and Joey to battle it out to see who would win this one.  As I was packing up the notebook and jotting down the “final” notes for the race, Nick came across the radio with “Oh [crap]” and I looked up to see both he and Joey out of shape in Turn 4, with Joey spearing the pit wall and ending his race.  This brought out a final caution, and set up a late-race shootout with only one chance at a green flag finish.

“Embrace the future!  It’s here — and it’s incredibly realistic.”

We pitted, since there were almost 50 laps on the tires at that point and they were right on the end of their useful life.  Unsurprisingly, two cars stayed out to try and spoil the show, and spoil it they did.  As has become customary in this series, the leader of a late-race restart did not take off when the green was shown, but instead both cars on the front row decided not to go.  Nick got hit from behind by fellow GFR driver Matt Bussa and kicked up to the middle lane, while Conti jumped up to the high lane and passed the front row and took the lead.  Nick got stuck behind what was the front row, and contact between two cars triggered a big crash behind him, bringing out a caution and ending the race.  We finished the race in fourth.  Nothing to hang our heads about by any means, but enough to leave a sour taste after another instance of “games” on a late-race restart.

Restart

The final restart was a mess…

In defiance of my common sense, I actually do surf through the iRacing forums fairly regularly; sometimes I’ll leave a post and then disappear with no interest in the response that it produces.  I see a lot of complaining about this new tire and how it doesn’t “fall off” over a run. This is true, to a point.  No, the tires often do not gradually lose speed over a run; however the version 4 tire could be made to do the same thing.  If you get a chance to talk to Nick sometime, ask him about when I ran Indianapolis in the Class B car and the car never lost any speed over a tire run.  That was on the v4 tire, by the way.  However, this new v5 tire has a performance “cliff,” which is seen in racing all over the world, from Formula 1 to NASCAR to Le Mans.  Every tire will, eventually, reach a point where it cannot provide the necessary forces to keep the car at speed and lap times will nosedive.  This race at Dover showed not only that this is a major (and realistic) feature of the new tire, but also that the tire cliff can be moved around in the tire’s life cycle.  We saw some cars that dropped off early, some that dropped off late, and that shows the car’s setup can be tailored for long-run endurance or a short-run sprint, whatever is necessary.  Yes, we are missing a big “feature” for this tire model, but I think this tire model is a huge step in the right direction.  It may be a step backwards, but sometimes a step backwards allows you to take two steps forwards.  Embrace the future!  It’s here — and it’s incredibly realistic.

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4 Comments

Oh no, what a horrible travesty that the other racers didn’t lay over for princess ottinger on the final restart. I watched the broadcast and maybe he shouldn’t have been shoving the leader down the straight before the leader decided to go when the green flag flew. This article is fabricating what actually happened. Tell him to grow up, cry baby.

Racer Tim
June 10th, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Easy there Mr. Morse

Yota408
June 10th, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Drama. 😀

Sandeep Banerjee
June 11th, 2014 at 8:12 am

Such a disappointing position from someone with the author’s level of intelligence – and sad, too, because I have a great deal of respect for the author and the organization he represents.

This had the potential to be an incredibly well-written article offering valuable, behind-the-scenes insight. Unfortunately, it lost credibility when the author decided to disingenuously discredit another valid and reasonable race strategy by referring negatively to it as a game! This, while using most of the article to explain in laborious detail all that went into his own strategy so that, in comparison, his straw man would appear to carry more weight.

Many things influence the outcome of a race. Sure, disappointment would be considered a fair emotion for the author. However, anyone watching the Belmont Stakes for more than five minutes this past weekend knows how ugly and petty post-race accusations can look – even if they have validity! Steve Coburn, the man who became the face of the most recent Triple Crown bid, soured his reputation in one single emotional, accusatory outburst.

To accuse the two drivers that opted for a chance at the win of playing games, as opposed to acknowledging the fact they were executing what they thought to be the best strategy possible, is an insult to the intelligence of any fan who has watched NASCAR for more than 47 minutes. Countless races in all divisions have been won by drivers using track position during a caution period as a winning strategy. Exaggerating, misrepresenting, or fabricating an opponent’s argument makes it easier to present your own position as reasonable.

Using this tactic taints what could have been an excellent piece of journalism and turns it into something more akin to propaganda. This renders any statement by the author suspect and requires the reader to question his motive – especially when, if the role was reversed, the author would likely have made the same call. I would go a step further and say had the author made the call for his driver to stay out and not pit, we might have seen a different outcome. There’s a good chance his team might have stolen the win from the car that was the fastest all day on fresh tires by forcing the Goliath (the author’s words) to either lose track position and pit. Alternatively, said Goliath might have attempted to outrun the author’s team at a time when the his team’s car was better than everyone else’s, late in a run.

I, like the author, also defy common sense sometimes. (By posting this, for example.) I work hard to avoid online debates of any kind. I’m airing my position here because I fight just as hard for my people as I expect them to fight for me. To me, one of the most important facets of a free society is journalistic integrity. The world is short on critical thinkers, people who think for themselves. A lot of folks will read this and take the author’s word as fact, not opinion. A legitimate race report would have been void of these inflammatory accusations.

One of the cars accused of spoiling the show happens to be sponsored by my company and co-sponsored by my clients. Further, the car’s driver is a young man I’m quite fond of, one who works just as hard as every other driver in that race. The driver of the #47 car goes hard for us every lap – not just in every race, but every lap he turns. I know in his heart he makes the best decisions he can to do his job, which is to represent us by being a competitor who never gives up. He was running well in the Top 10. With a late caution, his only chance of winning that race meant staying out there and going for it! I could not support him more, or his decision. I write this so he’ll know we go as hard for him as he goes for us, and we’re not afraid to make our feelings known. More importantly, if he’s ever in that position again, I’ll expect him to go for the win just like he did in this race!

It is the leader’s prerogative by the rules to start that race when and how he likes within the guidelines of the rulebook. The driver of the 57 car is also someone I admire and respect. His real-world driving accomplishments speak for themselves when determining his level of competence & integrity. Saying he did not go when the fact is that the author’s own teammate is the one that got into the back of the author’s driver. This single action, when it is the responsibility of the overtaking driver to cleanly pass the lead driver, is the direct cause of the last caution. It was that caution that removed any chance of the race being decided under green-flag conditions.

I think the author lost some peer respect with this article. If the finger-pointing was removed and the terminology changed to acknowledge the fact that it was well within his competitor’s right to stay out under caution, it might be better presented as an insider piece.

In closing, there will always be some bias in pieces like this, and that should not be an issue. The author is writing from his perspective. When you’re on a team, you’re going to articulate that team’s position, and most readers would find that completely reasonable. What makes it an issue is when the author uses the article to blame “specific” others for not meeting their own set objectives in a competitive event where no single factor determines the final finishing position.

Eddie Walczyk
June 12th, 2014 at 7:26 pm

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