Red Flag Winds at Big Willow

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Usually at the track a red flag means a total track shutdown, stop and wait for instructions to return to the paddock. Although we did not have that red flag, we did have lots of red flag warnings for the wind at Willow Springs. Although we were very lucky and had cool temperatures in the 80s for the last weekend of the summer, we did have winds to contend with.

Although many club members were taking advantage of the Coronado Speed Festival vintage races, many of us left the comfort of coastal San Diego and headed out to the high desert. It was overcast as we left Dieter’s with my 911SC on the trailer but cleared as we headed inland and met up with the Duncan’s 996 for the caravan north. We did hit some traffic on the 215 but still made good time to the track.

After checking in at the track and getting our garage, we started to unload. Soon our accommodations for the weekend arrived as Bill Ibbetson and Ethan Dahlkamp rolled in with their toy-haulers. We set them up surrounding the garage to make a wind break and that turned out to be an excellent decision. Mark Rondeau arrived with his SC, followed by Cathy Young’s Carrera and Jasmine Tripodi with her “new” Cayman to shake down.

The track was busy through the afternoon as the drivers arrived and unloaded, but as evening was starting to fall it was much quieter since there were only a few who were staying overnight. Mark was handling the grill for dinner, and with music piped out over the speakers we had an enjoyable evening before turning in for an early start on Saturday. Mark, Ethan and I were in Ethan’s trailer with Steve and Bill trying to avoid the snoring in Bill’s trailer.

Saturday morning went quickly as we helped with tech, went through registration with Robert Baizer, and then headed over to the drivers meeting with Jack Miller, where we reviewed the flags and passing zones and Robert made the student-instructor pairings. I was to work with Kevin Easton and his Jaguar S Type R. This was his first time at the track with this car, but had previous track experience.

Steve was up first and we were using the Contour camera mounts that he had set up. One was attached to the rear view mirror to give us the wide view forward, the next camera was on the roll cage behind the driver to see the cockpit and G2X, and the last was attached to the rear window and facing back. There would be no shortage of video, unless we forgot to set them up before the run session as we did for Steve’s first session. It was a short session and he was in early to set tire pressures and check the car out.

I was up next with my student and we strapped in and headed out. We started slowly with the yellow flag laps and then slowly increased the pace until we had dropped down to 1:41 for the final laps of the session. We were using up the Nitto NT01 tires with 235 front and 255 rears, and although well used, they still had fair grip. I was mid-pack for the first session as Michael Brown (1:33) and Frank Powell (1:36) were leading the pack, and Jim Hicks was going very quickly in his Spec944 at 1:39.46.

After my session it was a quick turnaround and I was back out in my student’s Jaguar. It was a supercharged V8 motor and had lots of power, but there was still a lot of weight to move around, especially in the corners. He started slowly but continued to improve his line, and times slowly dropped, with his best at 1:58.26. He did well with the traffic and point-bys and was having more and more fun until the checkered flag dropped.

While I was busy with my student, Steve was already busy with some other car problems. The Duncan’s 996 was having some electrical gremlins and missed the session. Ethan discovered his Boxster was running lean, now that he had installed an air-fuel ratio gauge in the cockpit. Now he had to figure out how to correct the problem. They had fixed several intake leaks before the event and this could be a symptom of another leak, or it could be a chronic problem only noted since they were measuring it in the cockpit.

Steve was able to get out and run his session with Cathy Young along for the ride, but was limited by the old tires and was stuck in the 1:40’s. Sohaib Kureshi was doing a test and tune and was the only driver under 1:30 with a 1:29.16, followed by Jack Miller, Larry Bittner and Steve Eguina, all in the 1:32’s. Mark Rondeau had a good wiggle in turn 3 after he had passed Steve, but was a little off-line for his turn-in.

I was up next with my student again as we headed onto the track. It was an uneventful session as I missed most of the traffic by coming out a little late, and we circulated most of the time by ourselves. My best time was down to 1:40.75, with Philip Strong and Neil Heimburge also in the 1:40s. Michael Brown had the Smurf 911 running well and was down to 1:34.98 to lead the group.

Kevin was up again in his Jaguar after a quick change in the pits and we headed out again. It was a slow steady progress as he worked the heavy car around the track. The supercharged engine had a lot of grunt on the long straights, but the weight was most noticeable in the corners with his stock suspension. With traffic and point-bys most of his laps were over 2:00, but when he did have a clear track his best lap was 1:54.96.

While I was out with my student, Steve found we had finished the Nittos and swapped in another set of used tires. With the better grip, he improved his best time to 1:38.31, even with a passenger. But the rest of Red had also picked up the pace, and Mike Avitt was closer to Sohaib Kureshi’s 1:29.85 as he turned a 1:31.59 in his CC14 GT3, with David Quesnel next at 1:32.13. David’s car was sporting new graphics and was hardly recognizable as a CC12 912. Glenn Marlin was back running again and had his CC13 993 down to 1:34.11, just ahead of Ethan’s CC11 Boxster at 1:34.54.

I had newer tires for my session, but after only a few laps I had some starvation in turn 2 as the gas was running low in the long sweepers. I came in early to top off, and rather than rushing back for just a few laps, I took a break before my student’s session. It turned out to be an exciting one. As we were coming down the back straight before turn 7, we saw the Duncan 996 coming up quickly. Jad hoped the gremlins were fixed and was doing a checkout run. Kevin pointed him by, and as he pulled alongside to pass his hood blew up over his wind shield, blocking his vision. I had Kevin stay back in case there was any debris, and hoped Jad could see enough to find his way back to the pits. He was able to finish driving through turns 8 and 9 and headed in. Apparently, the hood pins were missed and until he ran into the turbulence from our car it stayed down. Kevin was able to continue on, but after another couple of laps he had a warning light and found his temp gauge was up in the red zone. I had him slow and shift into top gear, and as he circulated the temperature quickly dropped down into the normal zone before we brought it back into the pits. No damage noted, but running high revs in the mid-day heat was too much for the cooling system, so he decided to take it easy for the rest of the day.

Back in the pits we were able to see the damage to the 996 and it was extensive. Not only was the hood done and the windshield but the roof was also beaten down onto the cage and broke many of the spot welds. Jim Duncan said it was time for the carbon fiber roof and hood to make lemonade out of his lemons. Back in the trailer at the compound it was time for lunch, as Cathy had prepared another great meal, and we were able to enjoy the AC in the trailer.

Over lunch the winds started picking up more, and between the wind and heat the times dropped off some. Steve did pick up the pace slightly, even with Jasmine along as a passenger. He was down to 1:37.97 and nobody was below 1:30. Bill Ibbetson had also dropped off his pace as he was using up his older tires and was stuck at 1:38.01. Steve had a good chase of Bill towards the end of the session and had a couple of interesting moments at the top of the Omega with lots of countersteer.

Roland Schmidt was going quickly in his CC16 911 and was running 1:33.77, just behind Jack Miller’s new (to him) Lotus at 1:33.62. With new aero appendages and paint it looked quite different than the plain black Lotus he ran before. Robert Baizer was still running the matching black Lotus and turned a 1:37.27 without the extra aero advantages.

I was up next but with the heat and the wind I was stuck at a 1:40.19. Philip Strong had picked up the pace in his new CC11 996 and found it was a little different from his previous C4S. I was again out with very little traffic and nothing exciting on the video.

After my session I had a break, as my student was taking the afternoon off. I was able to rest in the pits and was sitting out of the wind when I noted what I thought was a cloud blowing by. But it had been blue sky all weekend, and as I looked closer, it was not a cloud but the top of a dust devil that was heading for the track. As it blew by the trailer there was a large gust and then it slowly wandered around the track area near turn 8 where it raised havoc. Steve was following Steve Eguina through turn 8 when the dust devil blew the GT2 to the outside and off at turn 8. My session in the wind was uneventful but still very interesting as the wind did move around some, and I was still stuck at 1:40.

The rest of the afternoon went smoothly but times were still slower with the warmer temperatures and the winds, although there were no more dust devils. Others were not as lucky, as Jasmine looped her Cayman coming down the Omega and ended up off the track. This also led to a radiator leak and her day was done early. Her good news was that she was able to get more coolant, and at the end of the day, Steve was able to pressurize the system and find the leaking hose, reattach it, and have her ready for Sunday. While Steve was busy in the garage checking cars and making repairs, Mark and Bill were getting the grill and dinner ready. It was steaks and potatoes as we suffered through our camping experience. The rest of the group ended up in Lancaster at the Black Angus, but I don’t think their steaks were any better than the ones Mark was grilling.

The evening temperatures were comfortable but the wind continued through the evening and on into the night. We had turned in early and were ready as Sunday dawned bright and sunny. The winds had almost stopped for the morning and it was cooler.

Steve was up first and had an uneventful session with only a little traffic, with Ethan leading the session with a 1:33.96 in the cool air. And then it was my turn. With the cool, calm weather my tires were working well, and after the yellow flag laps I was able to pick up the pace and carry more speed through turn 8 and into turn 9 with a resultant greater top speed down the straight. My times began to drop into the 1:39 range, then 1:38s, and finally 1:37.26 on my last flying lap. Eric Monroe was having similar success, dropping his time from a best of 1:36.7 on Saturday to 1:32.24 in his CC14 996 to lead the session, just ahead of Mike Brown’s CC14 911.

Unfortunately that was my high point for the morning as far as times went. I was slower each session through the morning between the warming weather, rising winds, and tires that were losing grip. Steve also found the conditions in the morning to his liking, but his best session was the 8th, as he dropped his times with several laps at 1:36, including four in a row. Neil Heimburge was also picking up his pace in his 8th session, running a 1:38.69 and then a 1:39.17, but on the next lap he lost it in turn 8 and took an excursion through the gravel and into the hay bales before finally stopping in his Turbo.

With the Duncan 996 on the bench, several drivers felt their odds for TTOD had increased. Mike Avitt made his intentions known in the 8th session and turned a 1:30.73, a few seconds back was Jim Binford at 1:33.41, with David Quesnel, Ethan, Randy Gates, and Mark Rondeau all in the low 1:34’s. Just before lunch, people were picking up the pace, with Glenn Marlin at 1:32.17, Roland at 1:33.15, and DQ was down to 1:33.67.

Lunch was another Cathy Young special, and then it was time for the drivers meeting to review the timing procedures. Jack and Robert reminded us to be careful on our out lap but to keep the pace up for timed session.

The last practice session was just to check out tires, so I let Steve run and I skipped it to save the tires. We had decided not to put on a new set for this event, with the heat and scrubbing in the long sweepers, but to use up our better used tires instead. After running the practice session, though, Steve felt we needed to switch the front tires, so we put on another set for timed runs.

The wind was still blowing and it had warmed slowly through the day, so timed runs would not be under ideal conditions. They called the fastest drivers and sent out the first set of cars. Steve had planned to be in the second group and was a little late coming out after changing the front tires, but he did make it in time and his group, including Bill Ibbetson and Mark Rondeau, was flagged off. After the first two groups it was mostly over, as Mike Avitt’s CC14 GT3 took TTOD at 1:31.92. It was a dead heat as the next five drivers were all in the 1:32s! Roland took second in his CC16 911 at 1:32.06, followed by Jim Binford’s CC14 911 at 1:32.19 just nipping Glen Marlin’s CCC13 993 at 1:32.20, with Frank Powell’s CC12 911 at 1:32.43, and then Mark Rondeau’s CC09 911SC at 1:32.75. Mark had put on a new set of soft C71 Hankook Z214 tires and turned in a great time to take the BRI and 6th overall. Rounding out the top ten were Michael Brown at 1:33.28 in his CC14 911, Ethan Dahlkamp’s CC11 Boxster at 1:33.97, Robert Baizer’s Lotus in X at 1:34.35 and then Jerry Hoffman’s CC10 911 at 1:34.78.

After Steve’s group, it was my turn to take timed laps. After a short pause I was flagged off. The newer tires did have better grip with less understeer, and my first lap was a 1:38.74. I slowed slightly on the last lap and turned a 1:39.85, which ended up as 3rd place in CC09.

In 944Spec, Jim Hicks capped off a fast weekend with a 1:37.93 to beat Chuck Sharp’s 1:38.86, with Debby Sharp in 3rd. In CC06 Cathy Young turned a 1:46.66, and in CC05 William Ripka was best at 1:46.36. In CC08, Bill Ibbetson turned a 1:34.80 to take the class (and was also second in the BRI), followed by Chris MacDuff and Dennis Power in one of the larger classes. In CC10 it was Jerry Hoffman followed by Don Middleton at 1:35.98. In CC11 it was Ethan followed by Philip Strong at 1:38.18, and B. Craig at 1:39.26, with Daniel Carusillo at 1:40.70.

After the timed session it was time to pack up the trailer and head for home, looking forward to revenge (and hopefully better tires) at Chuckwalla in October, and then Buttonwillow in November, where we will also be having our Club Race. Check the website for details and plan to attend. They will both be great events.