Last Chance At The Glen

Watkins Glen International logoThis past weekend Bruce, Jay and I raced the ‘Last Chance at The Glen’, a 4-hour endurance race at historic Watkins Glen International. The race used the 3.4 mile “long” track configuration. It was the first time at The Glen for both Bruce and I. For me it would also be the first time driving Bruce’s #80 Ford Mustang.

The racing was only on Sunday, as there was a school on Saturday. We left Ottawa Saturday morning, stopping near Syracuse for a late lunch. The Finger Lakes area of New York State is magnificent the the fall – still lakes and lush forests of green, red and gold on the rolling hills. We arrived at the gate at 5:30PM, but we were not allowed to enter until we were registered. As the registration did not open until 7:00pm, we parked the RV, truck and trailer next to registration and started the BBQ for dinner. Registration took some time while we applied for a 1-day SCCA license (based on our CASC-OR licenses)

It was completely dark when we finally parked in the paddock, and we did not have time (or light) for a track walk. Our first experience would be on the hot track Sunday.

Bruce took his Mustang out for Qualifying the next morning. We intended to do a drivers change half way through the 60-minute session, but the session was black-flagged due to tire wall damage before we could swap. The session clock eventually ran out. This meant that I did not have a chance to drive the track before the race.

Bruce's Mustang at Calabogie.
Bruce’s Mustang at Calabogie. Photo & Copyright by Richard Coburn (coburnphotography.ca).

We had a quick lunch, topped up the 80-litre fuel cell, checked the other fluids and changed to another set of tires. We decided that I would start the race. The logic was that at least I would have the pace lap to see the track before I had to race.

On false gird, we elected to start last (44th) instead of our qualifying position of 37th. Jay explained this to the grid marshal, “It’s his first time at the track and first time in the car.”

The grid marshal replied, “Are you really sure that’s the best strategy?”

The grid was unusual. Of 44 starters, 32 were Mazda Miatas. They were like a pack of mosquitoes to the bigger Mustang. They were quick, nimble, and they were everywhere. While the Mustang had big-ass acceleration (about 400hp at the wheels), the Miatas owned the corners like a pimp.

Watkins Glen track map
Watkins Glen track map

I had watched two laps of the track on YouTube, and studied the track map next to registration, so I knew the left and right of the track, I was surprised to really experience the elevation changes, especially the hill rising steeply through The Essess.

At the start, I stayed back to follow the other cars for two laps before I started moving up. It took me until the fourth lap before I could reliably find fifth gear, which is really an overdrive gear. It provided no more acceleration, but it dropped the revs and the fuel consumption.

I was able to use the straight-line speed of the Mustang to pull off a few of the Miatas, but there were others that eventually started lapping the Mustang. I let them through rather than fight corner after corner in a car and at a track with which I was unfamiliar. Sometimes, I lagged back on purpose so that they could pull away.

There were many full-course yellows during the 4-hour race. The first one came around half way through my stint. When we came around for the restart I thought I should just give’r. I was feeling more comfortable with the car. I used the 400hp to pass four Miatas down the front straight. It was awesome. I lost one position on the run up the hill through The Esses, but got it back again on the back straight.

I love the bus-stop. But never felt I was near the limit for the following carousel, although I could use the shoot down to the boot to gain some speed. I also know that I lost a lot of time in turn-9 and 10 where the boot rejoins the NASCAR circuit. I never quite figured out those two corners in the Mustang. The camber and runoff made me cautious with the big, torquey V8 engine.

Near the end of my stint, I began to hear a noise in the front of the car. I grew more and more worried, so I came in to the pits. It turns out it was a known steering noise, and was nothing to be concerned about. I went back out, but I had lost a few positions.

I came in after about 75 minutes during the second full-course yellow. Fueling the huge tank and a driver change took 8 minutes; Bruce was the second driver. He drove his full session without incident, but had three full-course yellows.

Our second pit stop took much less time than the first, as there was more fuel in the tank due to the yellow flag periods. Jay took the final stint.

Jay had a good race, really mixing up with the Miatas, but came into the pits for 2 extra pit stops. The first time was because he was confused by the American blue flag (which has a diagonal yellow stripe); this was clarified by one of the pit marshals. The second time was because the interior mirror fell off and was sliding around the floor. As the Miatas were everywhere and sometimes hard to see, he elected to come in an have the mirror put back on with a few metres of racers tape.

Jay took the checkered flag at the end of the 4 hours. He also set the fastest time, 2:17.903 and had many other laps close to that time. My best lap was 4.7 seconds slower, and my laps were not consistent. Overall, we finished 29th of 44, after starting dead last.

With the extra pit stops and novice drivers, we were never in contention for any trophies. We were also the only car in our class, so there was no one to directly compete against.

Over all, we had an awesome time. Myself, I learned so much from the dual challenges of a new car and a new track. It was a relaxed weekend with no issues, which was a nice treat at the track.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.