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What Almost Didn't Happen

copyright (c) 1994 by Terry Coates
  • A little disclaimer before we start. This race, to date, was the best race I'd ever been in. It was close, exciting, and clean. The article doesn't do it justice, but the in-car video shot from Tony Seuver's MR2 does. Hopefully the tape will be available through Club Rhino sometime in late 1996.

The IMSA / SCCA National race weekend, July 9-10, at Indianapolis Raceway Park promised to be one exciting time. The World Sport Cars, GTS, GTO, and GTU cars were all set up in the main paddock area leaving the rest of us out in the field, but we didn't care. We were there early on Thursday for a combined practice day and secured a good spot in the endless outer paddock.

We were testing to find out if the MR2 could compete at such a fast, horsepower-favoring track. A good lap time at IRP for the Sentra was a mid-1:55. Our best efforts couldn't get us anywhere near that time. After posting no better than 1:57.6 all day, we mounted up fresh tires for the last session. I pulled out all the stops, driving as hard as I ever had. We shaved another 0.3 seconds. Stunning. I was not happy.

Being a full 2 seconds off the pace, I began to ask around. Rob Jones in his new 240SX was at about the same range, but had nothing to compare against, having never raced the car here before. I asked some Spec Racer drivers how their times compared with the April race. They were about the same, some faster. I knew the track was a little slow, but this was ridiculous. Could we be that far off?

We had agreed before the day started that if the MR2 wasn't fast, we would withdraw from the race. Considering points and finances, it just wouldn't be worth running for a fourth-place finish. After looking at the entry list, however, we decided to stick it out. There weren't many entries and the track time could do no harm. We're still learning a lot about this car.

We roped off paddock space and left the MR2 there as we headed for home. Friday was an off day for our group so there was no point in sticking around when I could get work done at home. We returned Friday night and caught up with Rob Jones, trying to sneak his Sentra to IRP! Or so we thought, but in fact there was a good reason he had switched cars: The nose of his new 240SX was crushed by a truck on Friday en route to the track! Fortunately the damage was fixable, no one was hurt, and the "retired" race car was still nearly race-ready and just a few hours away.

Saturday's qualifying turned out to be a big surprise when we landed on the pole in SSB! The times were faster by about a second, but it was all track conditions--we hadn't changed a thing on the car. Tony Suever's MR2 landed second just eight hundredths of a second behind us, followed closely by the Sentras of Harry Manning, Rich Grunenwald, and Rob Jones.

Sunday dawned a clear day and the race looked to be exciting for SSB. On the start I held the lead with Tony close in tow. Rob was already working his way up to us while Harry dropped out with engine troubles on the first lap. For the first eight laps or so Tony and Rob traded second place several times. Rob's Sentra could pull the MR2 by several car lengths down the front straight but the Toyota's superior handling and brakes would provide Tony an opportunity to slip past most every lap.

The two of them constantly trading places slowed them both and allowed me to get a lead built up. After a few laps of this, Tony elected to stay behind Rob and the two began to close up on me. Just after mid-race, the fun began. Rob passed me down the front straight just before turn one. In turn three, he slid wide on the exit and touched the grass. I went right, to avoid getting slowed by him, and hit marbles which started a spin. I caught it, but Rob also recovered, which left Tony free to slip past me through turn four. From first to third in four turns!

But it was far from over. Tony passed Rob into the carousel and I also slipped by as Rob went wide. I got a good run onto the front straight and pulled slightly ahead of even with Tony into turn one. Two wide? Not good enough: Rob had gotten inside of me and made it three wide! I got alongside Rob coming out of turn two and eased past him exiting turn three. I held the lead until the end of that lap when I got sideways between the concrete walls that lead onto the front straight (I was a tad concerned for a moment). The scrubbing of speed allowed Rob past me again. On the next lap, I slid wide and sideways two times. I was still in second but holding up Tony. Rob was getting away. I waved Tony by with four laps to go, figuring on following him back up to Rob.

Half a lap later, Tony just touched the grass going into turn two. Despite a valiant effort, he couldn't save it. That left me three seconds adrift of Rob with less than four laps to go. I was making up ground when I noticed my trip odometer read "LASTLAP.5" (okay so it read mileage, but I knew to translate). It was time for the Roebling-approved bonsai charge. It worked, giving me a run on Rob into the carousel. He pinched the line, but I went inside anyway putting two wheels into the grass. I held the spot, and made the pass. The car slid sideways coming out of the turn, but once again, I didn't spin. I got a good run onto the front straight and Rob wasn't able to re-pass me before the checker. We finished 0.147 seconds apart. Tony's spin had left him fourth, behind Rich Grunenwald. An OVR sweep!

It's nice to win those, but just being in a race like that makes it worth being there. If you think that's a bunch of crap, let me demonstrate. Afterwards, in impound, I was talking to a Neon driver when someone came up behind me and bear-hugged me, lifting me off the ground. It was Rob and he was smiling ear-to-ear. As we re-lived the battle (as good battles are meant to be--though perhaps not accurately), Tony approached. I offered my hand and he grabbed it, using it to pull me into another bear-hug. The three of us stayed and talked for a good fifteen minutes after the other cars were gone from impound. We must've looked a little silly. The three boys and their toys.

For all the laps we ran together, for all the corners that we traversed two (or even three) abreast, and for all the passes that were made, there was only one incident of body contact. It was purely accidental and neither party was concerned about it. It is only too bad that every race we attend can't be filled with Robs and Tonies (is that the plural of "Tony"?). These are fast, clean racers.

Oh, and those IMSA races? I didn't even stick around to watch them. It might have been disappointing, after all.

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