- 16 July 2014
Racing at Road Atlanta this past April, I began to understand the magnitude of the challenge I would face in my first F1600 season. Up until 2012, I raced dirt track mini sprint cars across the Midwest. Given that the field of drivers can significantly change from night to night on dirt, I knew that underestimating the ability of the weekend’s competition could be dangerous. Nonetheless, I arrived at the Wisko trailer that Thursday morning, ready to show the field how I could drive faster than them with only a few testing weekends under my belt. After dropping from P4 in Friday morning’s practice to P20 in Saturday’s qualifying, my overconfidence alarm began to ring quite loudly. It was time for a reality check.
I left Atlanta with a 3rd place qualifying effort and 7th place finish on Sunday, but more importantly, I left with a new take on what I had to work on if I wanted to contend for a victory this year. Although I left the red clay of Oklahoma’s dirt tracks with a strong “go for the gap” mentality when it came to race craft, the ability to learn an oval and set up a sprint car provided no advantage when it came to building speed at a new road course in a new type of car.
On a dirt oval, the greatest challenge lies in discovering the subtle nuances of each track, from the way the dirt evolves over the course of a night to potential ruts or a cushion that might force a new line as the night progresses. Once you learn the dirt of a new track, race craft becomes the key factor in staying competitive. With qualifying replacing heat races, race craft is only a winning asset if qualifying goes well on pavement. Of the six tracks we visit this year, Pittsburgh is the only one that I will have driven in person before the race weekend. I knew that learning the tracks would be one of my greatest challenges, but what I know now is that the real challenge of formula racing is learning a track quickly while differentiating driver-related difficulties from vehicular difficulties.
Driving six-wide into turn one at Watkins Glen, I knew that my early struggles were driver induced; I adjusted my line and could suddenly go 10 mph faster entering the corner. I struggled to find the draft throughout the weekend at VIR, but no matter what I did to alleviate the problem, the pack effortlessly pulled away; we had missed a piece of the setup. I still struggled to get a grasp on the balance of the driver/car relationship I had on dirt, but with a lot of work, it showed up at Mid-Ohio. With a little tweak in the setup and an adjusted line in a few turns, I went from a forgettable P13 in race 1 to a season-best P6 on Sunday.
Going into the last three weekends, I know that I still have a lot to learn about turning left and right. I also recognize that with a better approach to the time I spend on track, I now have a better chance of fighting up front rather than in the middle of the pack.
During the month between VIR and Mid-Ohio, I spent more days and nights working at a racetrack than I did at home or out with friends. That is mainly because I never went home and instead interned with Competition Suspension in Indianapolis! While at the tracks, I repeatedly noticed that even if the car wasn’t working perfectly, if the team worked and used their track time wisely, some degree of success was usually in order. When I would talk to people, I usually received some variation of the question “if you are going to MIT, then why are you spending your summer surrounded by corn fields at the dirt track?” but the same theme always popped up later in the conversation that the greatest problems are always in the simplest of details. I may not be the favorite going in, but if I keep putting the work in, I know the results will follow suit.
By Will Harvey, No. 24 WISKO Racing Mygale/Honda