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Re: Knox 2011


  • Knox Mountain Hill Climb 2011

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    Well that as a very interesting and exhilerating event.

    As soon as you pull in to the pits you know you are getting involved in something special.
    Trailers, campers and racecars sitting between nice shady trees at the base of a huge grey rockface.
    You're almost stepping back in time (and the number of vintage racers certainly help that aura).

    But the atmosphere is something you'll have to experience for yourselves, here's some details on the racing :-)

    Firstly, the hill is WAY steeper than you think if you've only watched the videos. Mike and I visited Knox a full month before the event to ride our bikes up it and get an idea for the terrain. I'm glad we did. Even though I went up to watch in 2007, the surface of the track can only really be experienced by being on it. Friday before the race we biked up it three times and also walked the course with Uncle Joe which was a big help. Joe described bumps and conditions of the surface that literally were invisible on the walk but came alive when you drove the track. (Bumps at the start gate and also after 4 for example). Most corners and crests are completely blind, especially in the FF. Unlike an autocross, as soon as cars were in the hot-pits (pre-grid) I could feel my nerves starting to tingle. When the first car launched up the hill I thought "Am I really doing this?!".

    The first thing I noticed as the cars started their trek up the hill was how teeny tiny they looked vs the backdrop of the mountain. -eep. Ok time to focus, help Mike get settled in and ready to go to the line. The hot-pit to staging proceedure was more complex for us than others because the fiberglass nose of the FF is too low for the grassy pit area. This means every time we made our way to pre-run inspection (which takes place every single run) the co-driver had to follow with the nose and put it on as we got onto the tarmac. In ideal conditions I think the flow through the hot-pit is pretty quick, but this weekend with all the crashes it was "hurry up and wait" over and over again. As a driver you psych yourself up, visualize the hill, get settled in the car only to find our you're gonna sit and bake in the sun for 30min while a crumpled car is pulled down the hill. There's a test of mental strength here as well, and it's not only when you're on the hill.

    To help you along however, there are 83 other racers around, pretty much all of which are ready with a welcome smile and helpful hand when needed. While at an autox you might hope a competitor spins or cones, at Knox you're hoping for everyone to have a clean run (if not a fast one). A number of others here mentioned that Knox is a race against yourself as much even more so than it is against your competitors. I see where they are coming from. The risks of significant error are such that 10/10ths at knox mean alot more than 10/10ths at Pitt Meadows or even Packwood. But you do have competitors at Knox let's not forget. The difference perhaps being who can get closer to that 100% without going beyond. 95% may well beat 90% remember. For me, a competitor's time, whether at autox or a hillclimb is a benchmark and nothing more. It tells me x time is possible in y car. And if the class vehicles are close enough and I know my car, I therefore know where I "could" be if I was smooth, precise and in control. I then adjust accordingly to get there and beyond. My personal goal for the weekend was a sub 2minute run. I knew the record time was in the 1:55-54 range, but until my first run I wasn't sure just how hard a push that sort of time was going to be in our car. 90%, 95%, 99%? Let's see.

    I was tense on my first run. How do I know? When the safety guy checked my helmet strap he had to physically lever my head upwards to get at it! He patted the top of my helmet, smiled and said "relax". Best advice he could have offered. At the line I seemed to wait for a small eternity, blipping the throttle in the way I always do to prepare for a run. Out of the corner of my eye I'm watching the dozens of spectators for a moment, giving me thumbs up, cheers and smiles. "hey there's my girlfriend! and my brother waving frantically" a smile crosses my lips and I'm back home in the racecar again. The light changes and with another blip I'm off in a cacophany of sound and sights and stimulus like you wouldn't believe. I honestly found that first run slightly overwhelming as I tried to take everything (too much) in at once. A hill I biked in 25min was about to flash by in just a tick over 2.

    I swear I drove that first run on autopilot with a gentle "do not go off" soundtrack playing in my head. The FF however is setup so beautifully she never even hinted at biting. (I must be going too slow!). I think my first time was a 2:03 or something. Hey not too shabby afterall. I recalled Daryl O'Young answering Joe's question at a VCMC meeting saying how his racecar felt quite workable as it approached the limit at high speeds. The FF felt right at home and despite the longer duration g-loads on my body the overall feel was not too far off an autox. I made plenty of mistakes on that run (largely not trusting the grip) but as I reached the top and the birds were chirping in the cool breeze I sat and played it in my mind. There is something magical about the top of knox after a run. A sort of deep-down peace - the mountain capitulating to your triumph - this time. Some new sensations I had discovered: when you pass 80mph the wind tries to lift your helmet off your shoulders, braking uphill works really really well (before the crest). The initial "mysteries" were gone, the bumps Joe promised were where they should be, the car felt perfect, grip is grip whether at 40mph or 80mph and it didn't do anything I didn't already know it would do -ok, let's treat this like a proper solo event next run. SMOOTHNESS, PRECISION and CONTROL.

    For all of my subsequent runs the experience slowed down in my mind. I treated the hill like a lumpy slalom course, looked way ahead and watched the stimulus reduce to workable levels. In fact, the elements approached so slowly (in my mind) that as long as I focused on SPC I could put the car exactly where I wanted it quite frequently. Of course I still made mistakes (shifting in particular), but by actively targeting those mistakes and focusing on fixing them rather than "pushing hard" I knew I could shave time. When I cracked the 1:55 mark I remember saying to Joe at the top (before finding out my time) "That was a really clean run, slow, but clean". Then I saw my time at the bottom and it dawned on me. That was a really clean run and it was fast but it felt slow. Hey, I'm on to something here isn't this what we tell people in Velocity school?

    I am oversimplifying a bit.
    There is another element here that autox does not contain. -The Chicken Muscle.
    Yep you read that right. I learned about it from a fellow named George Bowland, you might have heard the name, he's pretty quick. 1:42:x and such. After his first or second run he came over and told us his Chicken Muscle was causing him to lift in X corner. GB...chicken muscle? fear? WHAT? He just said it out loud. And then it dawned on me. Everybody (sane) is afraid to some degree. There is a courage portion to this exercise that will significantly impact that last key part of elapsed time. Aha. Here comes a taste of V2 thinking. On my fastest saturday run the car was perfectly planted, piles of grip, no lock-ups, wonderful, safe. To find the time I know is there I need not only to drive SPC, I need to do it a bit closer to the limit. As close as I comfortably can get. SP and the edge of C if you will.

    My fastest run was much more of a dance. I could feel the tires nudging the edge of the tarmac, running over individual pieces of gravel that frequent that outer edge. Still SPC, but now the car was ever so slightly floating underneath me. Mentally my aim was still "Drive Clean, Fix Mistakes" but I added the elements of "Don't lift in 2 if you enter correctly", "Don't lift between 3b and 4...if your line is right", "same for 4->5", "Go a bit deeper into 7 and use the steepness before the crest to your advantage to reduce speed". I focused on line and position and when my brain gave the ok signal -stapled my foot to the floor. I was still braking a bit too early in a few turns, blew my 3-4 shift in 6 and got on the gas a bit late in some sections. But I broke the class record. Now I have a new benchmark. A 1:53:262 is possible, with some mistakes. I wonder what I or someone else can do when they correct those? What other mistakes will I make on that run? This I think is part of the fun of hillclimb. The pursuit of the Yoda run.

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