I recently received an invitation from customer and friend Dan Cummings to co-drive his 2013 WRX at a Champaign County Sports Car Club autocross event. As Dan’s car is essentially a clone of the car which won the National Championship in my class last year, I wasted no time in accepting. I have been eager for the chance to drive a newer WRX in competition. I was thrilled to get to drive one with National-caliber preparation. While I certainly had great expectations for the car, my personal expectations were a little more reserved as I hadn’t autocrossed since I was thoroughly stomped at the aforementioned National Championship event nearly a year ago.
Being rusty and in an unfamiliar car, I was quite tentative at first. After two runs I found myself over 3 seconds behind Dan. I was starting to feel a little more confident by my 3rd run, however, and cut the deficit in half. I ran a similar scratch time on my 4th run but had hit a cone so I did not improve. Dan graciously allowed me to ride along with him on his 4th run. The extra weight slowed him down as he was about a half second slower than his previous best. I was able to observe, however, that he was pushing the car a lot harder in the turns. The BF Goodrich Rival tires on his WRX seemed much more tolerant of high slip angles than the Dunlop Star Specs I drove on last year. I had been reflexively backing off at the first sign the tires were starting to slide. From the passenger seat, the BFGs appeared to actually respond well to a more aggressive driving style.
On my 5th run I drove much more assertively, particularly in the long high-speed sweeper at the back of the course. When the front tires started to slide I kept in it instead of backing off. The car continued to grip and I was able to use a little more steering angle to adjust the line instead of having to lift the throttle. When the slip angle did exceed the point of maximum grip, the fall-off was gradual and the recovery quick. Compared the the Dunlops, which have a narrow window of slip, a steep drop off, and a long recovery, the BFG’s felt amazingly forgiving. I executed a perfect 2-1 downshift for the last hairpin, kept the car tight on the cones in the last slalom, braked early for the final tight right-left maneuver, and finished with a time that was 1.8 seconds faster than my previous best. It was enough to move me in front if Dan for the class lead by a little over a tenth of a second.
When I pulled back to the grid Dan joked “that’s the last time I let you ride with me!” He seemed a little surprised at my pace, and expressed some concern about his ability to eclipse my time. On his 5th run he was about a tenth of a second behind and had picked up two cone penalties. I could sense a bit of frustration in his demeanor when he got back to the pits. Dan has been focused all season on preparing for the upcoming 2013 SCCA Solo National Championships where he expects to compete for a high trophy position. Having had a similar goal last year, I could totally empathize with him. There were times along the way where I hadn’t performed as well as I expected at a local event and questioned my worthiness to even compete at Nationals. At this point, I really wanted to help Dan get ahead of me. I was thrilled with my time and pretty certain another run wasn’t likely to result in any improvement. I was also concerned about putting another hard run of wear-and-tear on Dan’s tires, the ones he intended to drive on at Nationals, for no good reason. For all those reasons, I opted not to take my 6th and final run. That allowed Dan some time to cool the tires and regain his composure before his last attempt. As I expected, he moved ahead of me with a clean run that was a little over 3/10ths of a second better than my best. He seemed relieved. I was a little bit too. I was glad he was finishing on a confident note. He will be off to the Championships in Lincoln soon with my co-driver from last year, Emanuel Martin.
At the end of the day, my second-in-class performance was good enough for a third overall out of 55 drivers on the PAX index. For comparison’s sake, I finished 36th out of 75 at this same event last year driving my own car. Needless to say, I was quite pleased. I learned a few things too. Firstly, I got a good sense of just how outclassed my car was last year. Secondly, I reaffirmed that I can be quite competitive if you put me in a competitive car; much more competitive than I showed all of last year. Thirdly, I think I found the next autocross tire I want to own. The forgiving nature of the BFG Rivals makes good-but-not great drivers like myself feel like heroes.
Check back soon to see how I rolled the confidence gained in this event into a strong finish at the Subaru Challenge Autocross!