13,462 kilometers, 17.5 hours in the air, 3 flights, all up 25 hours of travel.
It’s quite a trip, and I was mad enough to make it twice in six weeks, to the third warm up and then to the worlds.
Chris Radisich had been to the first two warm up races, learned the track, and laid a solid foundation to be a front runner. Rad sent us detailed comments on what he learned, and encouraged me to attend the third one, which was a great event in its own right – only 25 racers, very relaxed and friendly, learned heaps. The track is quite technical, and we found: (a) the track was very changeable between practice and qualification, very affected by temperature, and (b) because of the layout, with few clean passing areas, and extended track call areas, race pace was going to be significantly slower than practice pace – this proved to be the case in both warm up and the actual worlds.
Thursday night September 29th the three of us arrived in Chicago with modest expectations and quite a lot of jetlag, but we did arrive early, so Paul and Gill were on the track learning their way around on Friday morning a full week before the start of racing. As usual the gutters were initially challenging, and along with most other racers, we sort of accepted that it was just not possible to be as quick on Red and White as on the other lanes – this assumption was to be challenged at the very end of the event…
The first two days of practice were gold, we had virtually unrestricted track access, with only the legendary Lee Gilbert and a handful of other American racers present. By Sunday the mass of European racers were pouring in, and ticket system practice meant you could get just four minutes on a lane every fifty minutes at best… As at the warm up, each evening our host Roger Schmitt organized a race for one class. This was super valuable time on the track under race conditions, but as we were yet to appreciate, these races would give us little notice of what the volatile relationship between glue, rubber, and temperature would be like in the actual event…
The Production Team race is the first of the four events and across the six practice days, most entrants spent a lot of time running the Prod cars and trying to get them to handle consistently. The JK X25 was the dominant choice, though many of the Latvian contingent ran the Mossetti. For us it was a steep learning curve, as we do not run the X25 regularly at home. Gill was teamed up with Theo Vanginderhuysen from Belgium, and Paul and I ran together. Paul’s superb skills at chassis flattening got us to the point where we had four good cars to choose between and eventually we opted for one of Paul’s X25’s.
Rad had emphasised how quickly you run out of time to explore options and make choices, and this proved so true. You arrive with a whole week of prep and practice time ahead, then the rate of time passing seems to accelerate and suddenly you are at race day – if you have not figured out in advance what chassis to run, what rubber to mount, what motors to use, how forward to mount your body etc, it’s too late on the day.
Come Saturday morning and its handout time for Production – at 8am you get a motor, two pairs of tires and two painted bodies, and you have sixteen four minute sessions to sort out the car and prepare to qualify. At this point it is far too late to still be learning the track… I knew from the warm up that the handout motors were likely to have too much brakes, so we ran the motor for over an hour before fitting it in our chosen chassis, meanwhile Paul did his usual immaculate job of cutting, mounting and reinforcing our bodies. Pop it on the track and oh shit, it stops on a dime, potentially awful to drive on Red and White. So we ran it on 4 volts almost all day on the bench and risked running it on the track for most of our practice sessions – would it loosen up enough to be drivable?
Qualification for Production is distance based, each driver has 30 seconds on Blue and your total distance determines your qualifying position. Its vital not to have an off – you drop at least a third of a lap and seriously compromise your chances. And the qualification distance is added to your race total to make up your final result. It’s nerve wracking stuff. Fifty nine teams, and we were about the fifteenth to qualify. Somehow I keep it on for 30 seconds and do a reasonable distance, but I feel I drove way too slowly… and then Paul does the same, no dropping it, and suddenly we are third top qualifier with 8.80 laps… How can that be when we drove like grannies? Surely all the fast experienced guys to follow us will do a much better job… Well after 50 teams we are still seventh qualifier, and after all fifty nine, we are twelfth qualifier. That means we are in the B main. Are we dreaming? This seems an impossibly good result. We retire for the evening expecting to get well thrashed the next day.
Production is 7.5 minutes on each lane, so each race takes an hour. Its late afternoon by the time the B main comes round. We have received a pep talk/coded warning from another racer in the B telling us to keep it clean (ie keep out of the way and don’t fuck up his chances) We decide I will drive the four gutters. Paul starts on Orange and off we go. The car is a dream to drive and by the time I get it, the brakes are just soft enough to survive 15 minutes on White and Red without an off. We have not been going all that quickly but our lack of offs means we are doing quite well. Hammer time. When I get back on to Purple and Black I find we can drive past most of the other teams, and pull away… I spend a hugely satisfying heat running beside Jan Zemlika from the Czech Republic and we keep it clean and both devour the rest of the field. Moment of amazement – this guy is ranked 13th in the world and we are keeping up…
Ends up Horky and Recek win the A main and are first overall, Jan Zemlika and Pavel Flasig who win the B are fifth, Chris Radisich and Casey Scott are sixth, and we are eighth overall, ahead of some huge names. Flabbergasted and delighted, Paul and I cannot quite believe this dream start to the Worlds.
Sadly, Gill and Theo experienced serious crash issues in their heat, and a terminally bent car – lady luck was not on their shoulder that day.
Inevitably it was downhill from there, we all did our best in Baby Euro, F1 and Big Euros, with progressively declining results… Track conditions were extremely challenging, as between classes the track was cleaned, not terribly well, and reglued, so your first scheduled class practices were run on a sticky glued up track with no rubber down, and these gave absolutely no indication of what the track would be like after a full day of practice had been completed. Tire selection could not be made until your last couple of practice runs, and then the track “rested” before qualification commenced, and depending on the air-conditioning, gripped up or loosened, dramatically. Consequently there were some very surprising outcomes from qualifying as many top names struggled to put a good fast lap together. We all were generally rubbish at qualifying under these conditions, and usually did better in our races.
A big part of the ISRA experience is meeting, or catching up again with racers from round the world. Mostly people are very friendly and helpful, (up to a point – they are not likely to tell you what rubber they are using – in fact we could write a book about the whole rubber issue. Another time)
Remember the reference to Red and White being slower? Well in the last event, ES24, we were treated to a display of why the top Czech Republic racers are in a class of their own.
Horky and Recek had won Production, Tonda Vojtik had won ES32, and Jaroslav Recek took out F1.
As the final of ES24 unfolded, it evolved into a Vojtik/Recek battle for first, and a tussle between Casey Scott and Olli Kantamaa for third. Horky was flying too, but a few laps back. What was utterly amazing to see, was how fast both Recek and Horky could get their cars around the outside of the two big variable radius sweepers on the outside of Red and White. With everything working perfectly, they were losing no time at all on these allegedly slower lanes that had been the undoing of many very capable racers. Recek won, gaining three world titles at Chicago – a pretty strong statement and (I think) his first worlds titles since returning to ISRA racing in 2012.
ES24 really showed us the extent of the technical gap between the top racers and us mere mortals – not only were their cars a lot faster around the corners, but they were totally used to driving them at ten tenths, where as we all significantly under drove both scales of Eurosports.
Chris Radisich had a good ISRA meeting, sixth in Production, made most of his semis, got lots of points and improved his ranking up to 21st. His driving ability remains undiminished – as we joked, he could win driving a night cart. And he was elected ISRA Chairman for the next three years. In typical Rad fashion we can expect him to cut through the crap and tidy things up.
ISRA 2017 is in Italy, at Piero Castricone’s home club in Sulmona – the track is up and running already. Just a year to get ready…