If you've been following along, you got your first ever taste of wheel-to-wheel action on ice last week – and in that first event things didn't go so well. We delivered a mediocre performance and, sadly, saw others deliver some damaged bodywork. Things would improve, though. In this, the fourth installment of An Introduction to Ice Racing, we'll cover rounds two and three of the AMEC 2010 season, show you how we fared at both, and again give you plenty of in-car (and on-car) footage to demonstrate just how much fun you can have on ice – without studs.
Round 2 - Close racing at Lake Algonquin in Wells, NY
Wells, NY is a common destination for the AMEC crew, and it would be the location of round two of the 2010 season. Lake Algonquin is a good sized one, over a mile in length, but of late only the ice in and around a small inlet to the south has been thick enough, and that's where this week's short course had been carved out. It was an overcast day and there was plenty of heavy snow about, providing relatively grippy conditions. Just six four-wheel-drive cars showed up to race, half the number last week, but there were 17 SL2 competitors, meaning it'd still be a very packed course out there.
This week I was very sure to pull that ABS fuse, disabling the circuitry that gave me so much trouble braking last week. The improvement was noticeable, with much better feel and performance offered by the whoa pedal.
Heat race #1
Despite not finishing the previous heat race, the collision-related disqualifications from that round and a few no-shows meant I was starting in second place this time, outside of the #70 white Mitsubishi Evo. He'd maintain the lead on the start and hold me off for about two minutes before I finally got him on the outside exiting the first turn. I took the lead and tried to extend it, but soon found myself getting into lurid drifts where I was literally sliding the car backward through the turns. These were far from intentional, seemingly caused by my driving a bit defensively -- braking a bit late and taking a tight line, leaving my front wheels on grippier ice than the rears.
About five minutes in I'd misjudge a line going into a slow left-hander and brush the nose of the car against the snowbank at the apex. The WRX spun around and buried itself, knocking over a cone, tossing off one of the magnetic number panels, and sitting prostrate in a very unsafe location. I'd get it started again and rejoin the race in third, but hitting the cone meant a black flag, a stop and go penalty, which dropped me back to fourth behind the white Evo again. That's where I'd finish.
First heat result: fourth out of six SL4 competitors.
Heat race #2
Again I lined up outside the #70, but this time on the second row. Ahead were the blue #97 Subaru STI (which was showing fresh battle-scars from the crash in the last round) and the red #65 Subaru Legacy driven by last season's champion. Those two took off at the start, leaving me to dice with the Evo again. This time he'd keep ahead and pull a bit of a lead on me by the time we began to see traffic, less than half-way through the event. Passing lapped cars would take all my concentration for the remainder of the race, but I would at least get by the #65, who hit a cone and had to serve a penalty.
Second heat result: third.
Heat race #3
The sun was getting a little low in the sky at the beginning of our third heat; short winter days meaning the club has to keep things moving to get done while there's still sunlight. A bit of drama as one of the modified cars briefly caught fire while pulling into the pits, but that was quickly out, the ice cleaned up, and we were ready to roll again. Four of the day's street-legal starters skipped the last event, including the lower three SL4 finishers from heat 2, meaning there was a bit more room to run. Run we did.
I started in third, inside the second row, and did my best to keep up with the lead cars, the white #70 Mitsubishi and blue #97 STI. A little over five minutes in the Evo got blocked by a slower car and I took the advantage to sneak by into second, then went chasing after the STI. I'd get close enough to put a bit of pressure on him, then he makes a mistake in the second turn of the course, a half-spin that would slow him enough for me to get into the lead – just in time to run into a sea of SL2 cars. As I weaved through traffic the white Mitsubishi was hot on my tail, and though I'd hold him off for nearly 10 minutes, about 16 minutes into the race I'd run wide and over a snowbank. I scrambled to get the car back on track, but the damage was done. The Evo drifted on by – and the yawning hood scoop of that blue STI appeared in my mirrors.
I would later catch up with the Evo again and, as I was trying to find a way by on the last lap, the STI instead found a way by me, relegating me back to third place again. Not exactly how I wanted to end the race – and the day – but each heat was more fun than the one before, and that's about all you can ask for.
Third heat result: third.
Round 3 - Low visibility at Tupper Lake, NY
This would be the first round in a double-header weekend at Tupper Lake, a beautiful area about ten miles west of Lake Placid, NY. It's the second biggest lake that AMEC regularly runs at (second only to Lake George) and given its latitude tends to deliver the combination of low temperatures and thick ice that makes an ice racer weak in the knees. Despite that, we unfortunately found ourselves with another small, tight circuit, well under a mile in length and, with temperatures hovering at around -12F that morning, conditions were less than ideal.
And that's not just due to comfort constraints. With virtually no wind and low temperatures the ice dust was very fine, light, dry crystals that just hung in the air, creating incredibly poor visibility. After one lap the cars running studded Menard tires were lost in a cloud, and even the street-legal cars coughed up a big enough shroud to make charging down the straight something of an act of faith. Plus, the cold temperatures seemed to make for extremely hard ice and light, loose snow, so grip was even lower than usual.
I started the first race lined up outside the blue #97 STI that I'd finished behind the weekend before in Wells – the #70 Evo didn't make the trip to Tupper – and had a decent enough start. I didn't have a chance of jumping the STI into turn one, but slotted into second, went a little wide, and on by went the black #71 WRX wagon in hot pursuit of #97. In the next right-hander I again ran wide, leaving room on the inside as I passed the #97, but was surprised to learn just how little grip there was off-line. The Menard-shot cars hadn't run out this far and the layer of light, fluffy snow on top just made things worse. My car plowed straight off the course. I charged over a little snowbank, dodged a cone, and came back just in time to watch the #76 silver Impreza RS go by, putting me into last place.
First to last on lap one, and it wouldn't get better. From the back of the pack the visibility was nil on the two short straights, especially heading into the sun on the front straight, so I found myself lifting off the gas far earlier than I needed. I just wasn't confident charging into the cloud at full-bore, so I hung back and slid around at the back while the other competitors diced up front. The potential for a big wreck seemed high, and I was really hoping to drive my car the 2.5 hours back home at the end of the day.
I took things easy for the other two heats, but Stephen Clare in the black #71 WRX wagon was having a lot more fun up front, and kindly allowed the use his in-car footage here, which we'll include since it's generally a lot more exciting than mine. All three heats were won by the #73 Mazda 323 GTX. a lightweight, AWD hatchback that was perfectly suited for these conditions – and quite ably piloted, too.
Me, I'd finish all three heat races in fifth place, last in SL4, and decided to go ahead and skip the second day up at Tupper. I'd learn on this day that ice racing is a lot more fun when you can see where you're going.
And now for something completely different
So, two more rounds down. The action at Algonquin was a definite high, with close battles and an incredibly fun course. Meanwhile the races at Tupper were more of a low – but nobody said racing was all about highs.
Next week we'll be ditching the wheel-to-wheel stuff for a different sort of ice-bound motorsport: a winter track day. In Quebec there is a motorsports complex called Mecaglisse that is something of a Disneyland for gear heads. Regardless of season there's something fun going on there: during the summer a number of motorcycle and rally schools can be found, but this time of year the focus turns to winter driving, with a 2.5km circuit covered in ice and bounded by snowbanks.
We made the trip up north (way up north) to check it out, and will have a full report in the next installment.