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Formula Drift Seattle Recap

Category : Events

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(Special thanks to Chris Campbell for the photos in this post.)

Evergreen Speedway is probably my favorite track in the Formula D schedule, so I was looking forward to heading out to round 5. Evergreen demands the fastest speeds, in drift, of any other track I’ve ever driven on, so every run is exciting and challenging. Since my car will be staying out west for the remainder of the season, extra preparation was necessary in terms of maintenance and packing spares. In addition to the maintenance, I adjusted the alignment and suspension to what we ended up with last year at Seattle. Other than that and repairs to the rear crash bar, there were no changes to the car after round 4.

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After arriving to the track on Thursday, we cleaned up the car and unpacked in preparation for the 4-hour paid practice session. The plan in practice was to get comfortable with the track again for qualifying the next day but keep the car clean and free of damage. The practice session was a bit frustrating. At first, I couldn’t find a good reference point for coming off the bank. It’s hard to see the outer course line in the power alley while speeding through the bank, so it’s difficult to know when to back off the throttle.

After several runs, I had a good feel where to come off, but since the practice was held in the evening, the sun was starting to come down and obstructing my view. There’s basically about a second of blindness coming into the power alley where the sun is in your eyes, so I was just guessing at where the outer course line was located until I was out of the sun and able to see it. It didn’t help that the starter was sending cars rapidly, which was keeping a lot of smoke on the track and making it dangerous with cars spinning out and stopping on the track. I got through practice and had a clear idea of what I needed to improve for Friday to get a good qualifying run.

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On Friday, I had a great practice session, worked my way up high on the bank wall, and really nailed the course on my last two runs. With the sun directly overhead and extra banners/course markers added at the end of the bank, it was much easier to find reference points to use. I was feeling confident for qualifying. In my first qualifying run, I initiated into the bank and everything felt good, but as I started to come off the bank, it felt like the track had lost a lot of grip. My car washed out wider than normal, and I was just trying to hold on to it and not hit the wall. I managed to keep it together, but I dropped my left rear tire over the off-course line, which was a big deduction. The rest of the run was decent, and I scored a 76.5.

At the end of the first round of qualifying, I was sitting in 17th place, just barely missing the cutoff to lock myself into the first 16 spots. Therefore, I would need to make a second run. On the next run, I tried to do the same thing but backed off a little early coming off the bank to avoid going wide like my first run. It wasn’t an amazing run but was clean with no mistakes. I scored 83, which placed me in 22nd position after everyone had finished their second runs. I would be going against Chris Forsberg in Top 32.

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After watching videos of some of my runs and thinking about the behavior of the car, I was questioning whether the differential was locking properly. It just seemed like it was going to rev limiter a bit too easy and overall just didn’t feel stable on the bank. We jacked the car up and tried to spin the rear wheels in opposite directions. While there was some resistance, it felt like it was way easier than it should be, although we had no way to tell how it was actually locking under torque. We decided to stick with it unless it got worse and try to make the car feel more natural on the bank with suspension adjustments.

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Since we would be battling one of the fastest cars, the plan was just to add as much grip to the car as I could stand without straightening on the bank. Throughout Friday night practice and Saturday Top 32 practice, we continuously made changes to make the car faster. We adjusted the camber, toe, tire pressures, and ended up removing the rear sway bar. The car was pretty difficult to drive on the bank at this point because it was right on the edge of straightening, but we had to do that to have a chance at keeping up with Forsberg.

In the top 32 battle, I was following first. Forsberg rolled off the line, and I tried to time my acceleration to be able to keep up with him when he went full throttle. We got to full throttle at about the same time, but of course, he made a car length gap toward the end of the straight as we initiated due to the power difference. I tried to initiate as late as possible to keep the gap to a minimum. I followed him relatively well and maintained the gap with no mistakes except for a bit of a correction around the last clipping point.

The second run was pretty straightforward. I just did my best, entered as fast as possible, had a slight correction on entry but didn’t straighten, tapped the wall coming off the bank, and completed the run. It was probably one of my better lead runs of the weekend, so I was happy with that. However, Forsberg was able to follow pretty well, so he got the win.

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Overall, it was a good weekend. I drove well, and I was happy with the team being able to adjust the car to get it near its limit. I’m looking forward to Texas as it’s a flat track, and low power should not be as big of a handicap.

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Formula Drift New Jersey Recap

Category : Events

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As always, it was nice to go back to Wall Stadium this year since it’s the closest track to where I live. It’s not my favorite track layout on the FD circuit, but it does provide a welcome break from the expense of traveling, and it’s nice to only be an hour away from my shop if anything needs to be fixed on the car. The course layout at wall was changed this year in the infield, which cut out the crossover in the middle of the track. While there was a lot of discussion on the change and everyone had their opinion on it, I honestly didn’t think it was a big deal. The bank and transition from the bank to the flat part of the track is the most difficult aspect at Wall Stadium. Whatever the course is on the infield doesn’t matter so much to me.

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While I qualified in Top 32 last year and put up a decent fight against JR in tandem, I felt like I really struggled on this track last year because I couldn’t drift high on the bank. Since I started out driving on flat tracks and never really had much experience on big banked turns, it’s always been a weak point for me. And the bank at Wall is probably one of the steepest and sharpest banks that you’ll find, so it really exaggerates that weak point. I felt that with a year of learning under my belt, I should be able to come to Wall this time and drive the course properly. Unfortunately, on Thursday practice, I realized that I was still struggling with driving the bank. I was taking a mid-line on the bank the whole day, and while I was solid on the rest of the course, I really needed to be able to drive all the way up to the wall on the first turn.

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I was disappointed after Thursday practice and knew I would have to improve significantly for Friday if I wanted to qualify solidly in Top 32 and have a shot at winning in tandem. I reviewed a lot of my video footage and video of other drivers to see what I was doing wrong. I figured out the proper reference points I should use when entering the bank and for knowing when to get back on throttle. In Friday morning practice, as soon as I tried using these new reference points, I immediately started to ride the bank wall properly. I was really excited that I corrected my mistakes, and I did about 10 laps in a row in practice where I was high on the bank.

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Having figured out the proper way to drive the track, I was feeling confident for qualifying. In my first run, I initiated into the bank and was on a good line near the wall. However, I got a bit too greedy and tried to get as close to the wall as possible coming off the bank. Unfortunately, I tapped the wall, which straightened the car for a second and also cause me to hit the inner clipping point coming off the bank. I was pretty sure that would give me a zero score, but I completed the run just in case. The judges did, in fact, give a zero score for my first run, so I would have to rely on my second run to make it into Top 32.

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On my second run, I drove much more cautiously to make sure I wouldn’t get another zero. It wasn’t a super exciting run, but I was on the correct line and did mostly everything the judges were asking. I ended up qualifying in 25th place, and I would be going against Conrad Grunewald in Top 32 tandem.

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I knew Grunewald would be a challenge because he was one of the fastest cars I had seen in practice, and he makes a ton of smoke. Due to the location of the transitions on this track, it can be very difficult to see when you’re following a car that makes a lot of smoke. In addition to that, Grunewald had won this event a couple of years ago, so he definitely had a lot of confidence and knowledge of the track.

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In Friday night practice and Saturday Top 32 practice, we just worked on adding grip to the car so that we could keep up with Grunewald. The tough thing about the Wall track and many banked tracks with a lower power car is that you have a lot of grip on the bank, which forces you to set up the car loose so you don’t understeer. However, when you drop onto the flat section, the car is super slow because you’ve set it up to be loose for the bank. So the challenge is to find a balance, basically make it have as much grip as possible but still loose enough not to straighten out on the bank.

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We went through many iterations of suspension and alignment changes to add grip to the car, but I felt like we could still add more by the time practice was over. We didn’t want to take a big risk and change the car with no practice time, so we made a few more small changes and hoped it would be fast enough to keep up with Grunewald.

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In Top 32 tandem, I followed Conrad first. He rolled off the line slow and accelerated hard about halfway down the straight. I appreciated that he didn’t drag race me to the first corner, but his approach was actually hurting me because I needed to get more speed initiating into the bank. So my entry into the bank wasn’t the best, but I managed to stay within a car length behind him. My car still didn’t have quite enough grip to keep up, so while I was able to stay relatively close to him throughout the run, I had to drive with less angle to keep up.

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On my lead run, I just did my normal qualifying style run, which ended up being pretty good. I think Grunewald was expecting me to be slower, so he gave me a bit too much gap on initiation and didn’t quite catch up to me as soon as he should have. As a result, the judges called a one-more-time. We didn’t change tires but just lowered pressures a bit for more grip.

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My next follow run was about the same. It was tough to initiate behind Grunewald because he would launch slow and then speed up, whereas I needed to be full throttle all the way to the first turn to have enough speed to get high on the wall. The rest of the run was about the same as the first. I still wasn’t fast enough and had to drive with less angle to stay in proximity. My lead run was fairly good, but this time Conrad knew what to expect and he did a much better job following me. He got the win.

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While it was a tough loss to take, I really felt like I made progress with my driving from last year to this year. I’m really looking forward to coming back to wall next year with the new knowledge and experience at this track.

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Formula Drift Florida Recap

Category : Events

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PBIR was a great track for me last year, so I was excited to go down to Florida and see if I can have another good performance. There was a lot of work done to the car in the few weeks between rounds two and three in order to get the rear of the car repaired after the crash in Atlanta. Luckily, we were able to get the car back together and all the maintenance done with plenty of time to spare. The Palm Beach track was modified this year by extending the main outer clipping zone on the left-hand turn to go completely around the outer edge of the track. This made it a bit more challenging to drive since you have to carry more speed into the outer zone, but it wasn’t a huge difference from the previous year. Another change to the track was that the initiation point was moved earlier on the straight, which made it more difficult for low-power cars, like mine, to get up to proper speed to stay wide on the first turn.

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My first few laps in Thursday practice were a bit shaky getting used to the new layout, but I soon figured it out and started working on refining my line to the judges’ guidelines. As usual, on Friday there was one short practice session before qualifying. I was driving really well in this session and putting the car right on the main outer clipping zone. My spotter was telling me that my runs are perfect and to just work on getting more angle and smoke, if possible. We felt that we could qualify in the top 5 if I could pull off another run like what I was doing toward the end of the practice session.

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In my first qualifying run, I was a bit too careful going into the main left corner outer clipping zone. I didn’t carry quite enough speed and ended up leaving the outer clipping zone too early. While it was still a good run, scoring 76.3, it wasn’t nearly as good as how I was driving in practice. It was a bit diappointing, but at the same time, I was relieved to be locked into the top 16 in the first round of qualifying.

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With qualifying completed, I learned that I would be going against Forrest Wang again in Top 32, same as Atlanta. In Friday night practice, I started working on my follow runs, but unfortunately it began to rain midway through practice. Parts of the track were wet, and parts were dry, making for dangerous conditions on a high speed track. To avoid any damage, we decided to park the car early.

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In Saturday Top 32 practice, I continued to focus on my follow runs, but I didn’t get to run with Forrest at all in practice. I knew how fast he was on the straight from having battled him in Atlanta, so that wasn’t too much of a concern. And my spotter was giving me good information on how he was doing on the rest of the track.

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During the Top 32 battle, I led first and did a solid read run with no mistakes. I was told that Forrest had a decent follow but wasn’t too close to me. My spotter was warning me that Forrest slows more than other people in the middle of the main outer zone. So on my chase run, I tried to follow him to the best of my ability but gave him a bit of room in the outer zone so as not to get bogged down behind him. After a long wait, the judges decided on a one-more-time.

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We didn’t change tires but decided to drop pressures a bit so I can close the gap on Forrest more easily. Once again, my lead run was solid and Forrest did a slightly better job chasing than the first set of runs. I didn’t want to do a run that was “good enough” and leave it up to the judges to decide the winner. On my follow run, I decided to risk it and try to get as close to Forrest as possible to make it clear that I should get the win. We initiated with a bit of a gap, and as we transitioned into the main left-hand corner, I closed the gap completely and was right on his door. Unfortunately, he was going a little slower than I expected through that corner, and I couldn’t keep the car from bogging in fourth gear. The car gripped up and caused me to straighten for a second. Forrest got the win due to that mistake.

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Even though we went out in the top 32, I’m happy with the team’s performance and my driving. It was the best I have qualified this year, and I was the closest I have been to advancing on to top 16.

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Formula Drift Atlanta Recap

Category : Events

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After a decent start to the season, qualifying for Top 32 in my first visit to Long Beach, I was looking forward to going to Atlanta. I drove in Atlanta in 2012, so it was nice returning to a track where I’ve competed before. Unfortunately, things didn’t get off to a good start on Thursday. My car arrived to the track just as practice was starting, and we were in a hurry to get everything unloaded and prepare the car to go out on track because I wanted to get as much practice as possible. I finally made it on track about 20 minutes into the session. I guess I wasn’t in the right mindset to drive after rushing to get stuff ready. On my first lap, I was following and decided it was a good idea to drive through a bunch of smoke on the last turn of the track. I ended up going too wide and into the grass tapping the wall on the exit. It wasn’t that hard of a hit, and I kept the front of the car out of the wall, but the rear got pretty bent up. Since it was all cosmetic and didn’t damage any suspension parts, I just kept driving.

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I got better throughout the practice session and was feeling relatively comfortable. I was just working on getting a more aggressive flick into the first turn, getting closer on the outside clipping zones at the top of the hill, and trying to make some more smoke.

On Friday, there was another practice session before qualifying. I tried to run the first two practice laps as if they were mock qualifying runs, but they turned out shaky. I was running well by the end of practice but wasn’t feeling too confident on throwing down a perfect run right off the bat.

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Qualifying came around. We raised the tire pressures a bit since the track seemed grippier as the sun went down. The first run was looking pretty good, but I was struggling to stay sideways in some spots since the track had even more grip than I anticipated. As I was coming out of the horseshoe, I shifted up to fourth gear. Unfortunately, lifting off the throttle to make the shift caused me to straighten for a second, which gave me a zero score for the first run. The second run was pretty similar to the first except I made the upshift clean and completed the course. I got a 72.4 for the second run, which put me in 21st place.

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I would be going against Forrest Wang in top 32. In Friday night top 32 practice, I was noticing it was getting harder to disengage the clutch. I had installed a new master cylinder before this event, and it seemed like it wasn’t bled completely. I drove through it since it was a short practice and managed to put down a few decent runs.

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On Saturday morning, we bled the clutch, and it was feeling a lot better. In top 32 practice, my crew helped me line up with Forrest on the grid so I could practice following him. Forrest was running consistent and pretty quick. I rolled off the line at the same time as him in practice, and he got 1-2 car lengths on me by the initiation point, so I knew I would have to jump the start in top 32 to keep up. Due to a lot of breakdowns and track sweeping, I only got a few runs in that practice session, so it wasn’t too helpful.

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In top 32, Forrest and I were waiting on grid for our turn to run, and about one battle before ours, it started drizzling. By the time we were on the line to run, my windshield was covered with drops, but it didn’t seem like it would be wet enough to affect grip significantly. I would be following first, so I jumped the light a split second before Forrest left. Things got weird, and he hadn’t passed me halfway down the straight, so I had to breathe the throttle a bit to let him go by. He initiated a bit too late and ended up going way wide on the first inner clip and almost going off track. I initiated normally and was on the clip properly, but I had to wait for him to get going because he slowed down significantly to keep from going off track. By the time he got going again, I was going way too slow and couldn’t light up the tires in fourth gear to make it up the hill. I had to straighten and re-initiate.

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I thought I would have a big advantage at this point since Forrest made a significant mistake and caused me to straighten. When we lined up for the second run, Forrest gave me a hand signal that he washed out wide, so I was feeling even more confident that it was an obvious mistake, and I should have the advantage. My lead run was normal, nothing exciting but no mistakes. From what I was told, Forrest was a little way back most of the run except closing in at the horseshoe.

I thought I should have the win, or at least a one more time since I didn’t know how Forrest did following me. We waited for what seemed like five minutes to get the decision, and they gave Forrest the win.

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We protested the decision and went to talk to the judges. Basically, they were saying that Forrest was good on the first clip and washed out a little wide, so it wasn’t that big of a mistake, and I should have been able to follow. After watching the replay, we confirmed that Forrest was actually way off the clip. But they said there was enough gap between us that I should have been able to adjust and not lose drift. After going back and forth with the judges and Ryan for about 20 minutes, it was clear that the arguing was pointless. So we packed up and watched the rest of the show. I’m happy with the progress we have made from last year. I was able to qualify solidly in the top 32 this time and put up a good fight in tandem competition.

Formula Drift Long Beach Recap

Category : Events

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I was pretty excited to start the 2013 season and especially to go to Long Beach for the first time since I missed this round in 2012. Unfortunately, there’s no Thursday practice at Long Beach, and I wouldn’t be allowed to drive at Media Day, so it was somewhat stressful having to learn the course in 1.5 hours of practice and qualify for top 32 on the same day. I flew in on Tuesday night to get the car through tech early and make sure there was time to fix any issues. The car didn’t get to the track until Wednesday night, so Wednesday was spent relaxing and checking out the track. The car went through tech inspection on Thursday morning without any issues, so we were set to go for Friday practice and qualifying.

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In my first lap on the track, I was surprised how much grip it had for a parking lot. I went a lot faster on my next few laps and started getting the rhythm of the course. I guess with everyone always talking about the walls and how scary the track is, I was kind of nervous about it, but it turned out to be a lot more straightforward than what I expected. The tough part was just having the right line and speed under the bridge to make it out to the main outer zone in front of the judges without any corrections or e-braking. There’s also a temptation to transition too early under the bridge, which messes up your line, so I worked on forcing myself to transition late. I kept it conservative in practice so I wouldn’t damage the car. I had no spare parts due to some shipping complications so I was focused on staying off the walls.

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At the end of practice, I was feeling pretty good about qualifying. The car’s grip/power/gearing was matched well for the track also, so I could floor it all the way from the first turn to the bridge, then lift for a second, then full throttle all the way to the hairpin, which was helping make some smoke and keep the speed up. It’s kind of fun when you’re at full throttle and all you have to worry about is steering! From my experience last year, I learned that I need to just run 100% in both qualifying runs and hope one of them is good enough. There’s no point in trying a conservative run.

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Waiting for my first run, I could see that Dennis Mertzanis just hit the tire wall in the run before mine, and maybe that got in my head a little, wondering if there was possibly something on the track. I ended up taking it a bit too easy into the first turn and didn’t make it out to the first wall, which probably hurt my score a lot. I concentrated on transitioning late under the bridge but actually did it too late. I had half the car outside of the groove but got on throttle and just barely missed the tire wall filling up the outer zone in front of the judges pretty well. I finished out the rest of the course with no problems. The crowd was into it because it looked like I was going to wreck, but it wasn’t what the judges were looking for, so I scored a 63.8.

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At the end of everyone’s first run, I think I was sitting around 20th, so I would have to make another run. On the second run, I just flicked it too hard under the bridge and basically stopped, trying not to spin. I tried to keep it going but couldn’t get the motor revved up fast enough to make it look fluid so pretty much straightened out in the middle of the course. Somehow, I scored slightly higher on that run with a 65, or at least that’s what I was told. At the end of the session, that put me in 28th. I would be going against Kenny Moen in top 32.

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That night, I got more comfortable with the track in the top 32 practice. Unfortunately, Moen had an issue with his car, so I didn’t get to practice with him, and I had no idea how fast he was. The practice went alright but seemed like everyone I followed was either ridiculously fast or so slow that I couldn’t follow them. There was a huge variance in speeds, and I didn’t get any decent follow runs.

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The next morning, there was another top 32 practice. It was overcast and was drizzling slightly. I had much less grip than the previous day, and we went down on air pressures a decent amount to get some grip back. I still didn’t get a chance to practice with Moen, so we were basically left to guess how much grip to put in the car. We left it at a medium level, hopefully fast enough to keep up but also loose enough not to straighten everywhere in case Moen was slower than I expected.

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I warmed up my tires for the top 32 run and noticed some brake fluid on the floor of the car leaking from the clutch master. So I was hoping we could hurry up a bit! We lined up at the light, and I left the line just a bit ahead of Moen. It was looking good halfway down the straight until we got into the next gear and he pulled about a car-length lead on me. At that point, I was just trying to catch up, but the car didn’t have enough grip to gain any ground, so he had a big lead on me the whole time. On my lead run, I knew I wouldn’t get a gap on him so I went slow and used more angle than usual to see if I could cause him to make a mistake. He almost straightened but managed to hold it together, and the judges gave him the win.

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Overall, the weekend wasn’t too bad. I was somewhat worried that I would be pretty rusty driving because I haven’t driven the car in about 6 months, but it all came back, and I had a blast!