- Russell Soto
Weather, tires and a gamble under the lights
We had originally thought that our limited budget this year would only be enough to let us participate in the Northeast Super Series only - but the late start to the season and the cancellation of one race early on means we found ourselves able to run a club race or two. So we opted to run a club race at OVRP.
The funny thing about OVRP is that most of the top drivers in the Northeast also tend to complete in its club series, so the competition at the club level is just as fierce as in the Super Series. The usual gang on racers would be present for this one, and it's nice to do a race, once in a while, where you are not so worried about points, championships, and whatever other pressure you may experience from a series as hard fought as the NESS.
Again, conditions at OVRP that day were damp, but not quite rainy. This is always good news for us because I tend to do very well in the rain, and it also acts as an equalizer that negates engine performance differences - we are all on more equal ground, and it's more about the chassis setup and driving technique. While everyone was worried about the greasy, low-grip conditions, we were actually quite happy to feel any rain drops.
However, we never really could hit upon the right setup for the conditions in time for qualy, so we had to settle for starting 4th and finishing 4th in the pre-final, as the conditions favored those who opted to keep their dry setups. In reality, it seemed it was anyone's guess, what the best way to setup the kart was.
By the time the final rolled around the track was declared wet. The races prior to ours were definitely wet races, but those of us who had smartphones with weather apps could see the rain clouds ("cells") moving out of the area...so there was reason to believe we'd be looking at a drying track.
Nick, my teammate and I reached the same conclusion. Glambing on dry weather tires would give us a great advantage when the track started drying during the race, and all indications were that it would do so. So everyone else mounted their wet tires and us PSL Northeast drivers were the only ones taking the gamble.
My teammate Adam Rylance had electrical issues with his Rotax, so I at the start I was able to quickly slot into 3rd and watch first and second pull out in the wet conditions. I was a little worried about the folks behind me that were running wet weather tires, but the softer MG Yellows and the kart being so pliable (we were running a wet setup with the dries) made me confident enough that I could push and trust my car control to keep things in check while the track dried.
If you've been following me before this year, you know that I spent two full days at Orlando Karting Center driving a Senior Rotax and a Senior ROK in the middle of a hurricane. That experience proved extremely valuable, as I was able to pull away from the guys behind, and gradually make up time on first and second - the gamble was working! If the weather kept its current trend, it would be an easy victory.
But...life is sometimes ironic. While we were begging for a wet race at the beginning of the day, we need anything but that right now. But rain is what we got, and it started to come down very significantly. The sudden change in conditions meant I had to be ultra smooth and delicate with hands and feet. The kart and Nick's setup also helped, and it gave me the confidence to turn fast laps on a very wet tracks, on slicks.
Later on I realized that my times were a full second faster than the guy behind me, and was in fact equal to the guys in front, in some laps faster - and I was the only one on slicks. At the time it was little consolation, because it would have been a sure victory if we had decided to run wets.
But as in New Hampshire, I realized that once again I was the talk of the night. All we could hear was people really blown away that I was running so fast on slick tires, and was able to manage a podium in those conditions. It's not normal for people to talk this way even long after the podium ceremony, and I'll take that as a victory in and of itself. My idol Ayrton Senna was known to be a great rain driver, and I'm happy to have proved to myself that I can make some special things happen when the rain comes.
We just need to be more careful when we do gamble LOL! ;)