After the long break following the previous round at Vegas, it was finally time for the last round at Irwindale. As usual, Kareem and I flew in on Wednesday night, and we headed to the track early Thursday to get the car ready. Following an oil change and a quick alignment, I got on track right on time at 10am for practice. The course was modified slightly from the previous year such that it was necessary to ride the wall on the inner bank a little longer. Also, the infield section was tightened up as compared to last year, but it was basically the same layout that has been used for the last several years.
I had driven at Irwindale in ProAm events in 2009 and 2010, so I was comfortable with the track, although my car has 100hp more than it did back then. After one lap to feel the car out, I started clutch kicking into the bank and working on staying up against the wall. I drove safe into the inner bank to avoid damaging the car early on and just tried to find some good reference points to know how long to stay on the wall. At the end of Thursday practice, I was feeling comfortable with the big bank and ready to start attacking the inner bank.
On Friday morning, we made some alignment changes to make it easier to hold the car on the walls. As usual, I went out early for the one-hour practice before qualifying to try to get as many runs as possible. I started holding throttle longer and transitioning later to get high on the inner bank wall. Although I wasn’t consistently nailing the course, I had a few good runs towards the end of practice.
We were thinking that the track would gain grip later in the day for qualifying so we went up on air pressure to compensate. The strategy for qualifying was just to give 100% on both runs, and hopefully at least one would yield a high score. I took off for my first qualifying run, and I could feel that the car had a lot more grip compared to practice. I was able to floor it down the straight in second gear with no tire spin, unlike practice where I had to wait until third gear to go full throttle. I clutch kicked it hard into the bank and rode the wall relatively high with good angle. I went too wide on the start/finish clipping point, but I transitioned well into the inner bank and managed to drive the car right up to the wall towards the end of the outer zone. The run looked decent up to this point.
Throughout practice I was keeping the car in fourth gear all the way around the track to increase the tire speed/smoke towards the end and avoid mis-shifting. That was fine during the day when the track was slippery, but there was more grip in qualifying. So when I got on the throttle to pull away from the inner bank wall, it didn’t spin the tires like before. I tried to give it a clutch kick, but it wasn’t enough. I gripped up and ran over the second inner clipping point. At that point, I was just struggling to keep the tires spinning in fourth gear and ended up losing focus and spinning out on the last turn.
So with a zero on the first run, it would come down to the second run to try to make it in the show. On the second run, when I took off down the straight, the car was spinning tires in second and third gear, which made me drive a little more cautiously feeling that there was less grip. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t aggressive enough on this run, and once again, the car had more grip than what I was prepared for. I was too low on the banks and again struggled to light up the tires at the end of the course. With a score of 47, that wasn’t going to be enough to make it in to the top 32.
It was a disappointing way to end the season, but at least the car is still in one piece, and I can build on it for next season. I would have liked to have had some stronger performances this year, but I think I drove decent considering I was working with only one crew member the whole year, had no spotter, and couldn’t afford to damage the car. I know where I need to improve, so hopefully I can be more competitive next year.