Sebring SCCA blog

December 6, 2013

    This weekend was a learning experience with great results for me with Old Dogs Racing at Sebring International Raceway. I was fortunate enough to be there racing this weekend because Old Dogs supplied me with great equipment to run with the best in the Mazda Miata class on late notice by me. This weekend there were sixty plus drivers in each of the two classes that I was entered in (ITS, Spec Miata) and a number of the best in the nation’s drivers were competing in it. Going down to Sebring, my new driver Coach Chris Vallee from Speed Syndicate, had helped me decide that my main goal over the whole weekend was to work on my blipping skills (“Heel and Toe”. When as you downshift you match the rev’s of the engine by quickly tapping the throttle while braking with one foot). In the past, I have just road the clutch longer before engaging it instead of blipping. I was told that in the bigger cars, you have to blip for many reasons, so why not practice it and start using it as the normal way I drive. On my first practice session, I did not think it would be easy to do and when I tried it, it felt really awkward and unnatural. I would lock up the brakes while trying to do it my first day of practice until I started to really finesse it with thanks to Chris.On Saturday (race day 1) I decided to stay on old tires for the qualifying for the Spec Miata race, since we had developed our set up based on old tires. The team and I had agreed upon a strategy for qualifying. Out of a pack of three, whoever was the fastest would lead the bump draft. The plan kind of worked. I ended up pulling away from them setting the second fastest laps by myself for most of the session until the last couple of laps putting me in sixth setting a 2:39.1. Then for the ITS qualifying, as we lined up on grid to qualify for the ITS race, it started to sprinkle consistently and knowing myself, I grew a grin as it slowly turned into rain. Then when I got onto the track, I noticed that it started to sprinkle just enough to get you loose and that it rained at different parts of the track each lap. All of the other cars were just putting around the track cautiously while I was busy whipping out laps that put me in third place for most of the session! Traffic was everywhere and I was blowing by people, pulling outside passes, inside passes, left and right, here and there! I knew I could do this through experience (Karting skills) and by being quick to adapt to the changing (and improving) track conditions. Then finally on the last lap, I blazed by the checkered line with the fastest lap for qualifying by 1.5 seconds with all the odds against me, car class wise, out of 60+ cars.Now for the first race…Spec Miata, the track has now dried up perfectly and I’m starting 6th. My driver coach Chris, had reminded me that I’m in a little bit of an underpowered car, so it’s not likely that I will be able to pull an outside move into turn one and to not pass on the first lap into the Hairpin. So at the start going into turn one, I tried to pull an outside pass and just before going halfway into the corner I realized that it would not have been a beneficial move. So I pulled back into 4th place. Then I had the opportunity to pass two people going into the hairpin, though I remembered what Chris had told me and stayed conservative and did not pass. On the same lap I had another opportunity to pass going into turn 9 so I went to the inside and he did as well taking away that opportunity. Now I’ve decided to set him up for turn 14 (first corner in the S’s) and by the time we get there, I move to the inside to pass! We both locked up our brakes blowing the turn, but I was still able to pull off the pass taking 3rd place! Next was 2nd place. Slowly but surely I caught up to him each lap until sadly… The checkered flag had flew with me right behind him. Still, a podium finish in a big huge field at Sebring and I got down to a 2:38.7!On Sunday (race day 2), we had no practice sessions, only races. We slapped on better used tires and I decided I was going to use this race as a “learning” race It was raining when we reached grid, which would come to my advantage. I knew heading into this race that I was sitting on pole position in front of ITA, ITS and ITR (which are three car classes above mine) when I was in a Spec Miata. So now we started the race, me and this ITR class car start going at. He had ALL the straightaway power in the world though I knew I was a better driver in the rain and corners. So I tried to take advantage of that by passing him in every corner then nicely blocking him on every straight! One time I passed him on the outside of turn one. Then all of the sudden the track was quickly drying and I knew that that was my only alley. I was still able to keep up with the ITR though it was difficult. We must have passed each other six or seven times on the first lap. Eventually the other higher class cars were catching back up - now if only I could keep this podium spot is what I thought. With three laps to go a dreaded caution came out to bunch the field and with the track drying out, I knew the bigger cars were going to be able to outrun me on the restart with one lap to go. I head into turn one and the 1st place ITR blocked me on the inside of turn 1, so I try to pass him on the outside! *BAM! I found the cars limit! I pushed the car so hard that I whipped it around (there you go Uncle Keith)! ON THE LAST LAP TOO! I got passed by eighteen cars. Undeterred, I made my seven passes on the last lap and got back to 14th as the checkered flag flew! That race was a lot of fun even thought I didn’t get the podium finish.The next race is the second Spec Miata race. Apparently they did not start the race by finishing position in the first race, they do it by qualifying position for both races. So, I’m starting sixth again. So now the green flag is about to drop… GREEN, GREEN, GREEN!!! We took off like a bat out of h*&(! Going into turn one, I try to see if I can pull off that outside pass one more time. Nope, so I pulled back again into 5th. Anytime I tried to pass 4th or 3rd place, they would try to run me off the track. By about lap two to three, I passed 4th place and was on a mission for 3rd . That is when I noticed the clutch started to slip so I was losing power. Now 5th place was catching back up to me and I was only able to hold him off for about four laps or so then he got by me. Fortunately, out of 60 cars and a slipping clutch we held on to finish in 5th. There was one more race to go, but with the slipping clutch and not sure what else it might be affecting, I decided not to race the car in the last race to save the equipment and avoid any further damage. In the end, I had a very successful weekend, accomplished what I needed to accomplish and better! I can’t thank Old Dogs Racing enough for giving me a fantastic running car, Rossini Engines, Jeff and Mike our mechanics for keeping the wheels on while I drive and of course K&M Logistics and Spirit Bands for their financial support and my awesome driver coach Chris Vallee at Speed Syndicate! It is off to Road Atlanta this Friday to drive a four hour enduro with Drive Gear in their BMW Spec E30 Series car in Santa’s Toy Run in the NASA series. Yes, I’m going to drive four hours straight in a race. Most have told me I am crazy to try and go that long – I cant wait for the challenge!Also a big thank you to my fans for following me. I love hearing from you. You can follow me on Facebook at Ethan Low Racing, on Twitter @ethanlow40 and on my website, ethanlowracing.com

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