Up at 3:30, everyone moved relatively quickly and loaded into the truck and chase car to head up the mountain for practice. A 30 minute delay due to misplaced truck keys had blood boiling early but was laughable once we arrived safely and on time on the mountain. The truck had been packed with tools the night before and the car loaded on the trailer, the only thing missing was food. So the first 5 hours of the day are spent in the cold halfway up Pikes Peak.. hungry.
The car fired right up and I took it out for the first run. We are practicing today on the middle section of the mountain which is entirely paved and has the steepest grade of all the course. The majority of the corners are very tight and the margins for error are slim to none. This is the first time I've driven it with the new turbocharger and I've never run these tires so it's all about learning and tuning. I get through the first pass without any serious problems but everything feels strange. The new turbo is a bit slower to deliver power than the old one but comes on significantly harder as expected. The anti-lag setting on our ECU is helping but not much. In addition, I'm dealing with a heavy dose of understeer which means the car won't turn as much as I want it to. So back down the mountain and I visit with my techs about the problems. We check the tire pressures we set last night and they are much higher due to the elevation and heat. A quick adjustment to the shock dampening rates as well and we give it another go. This time, I go equipped with a clipboard, laser thermometer and tire pressure gauge. I take the next run in a different driving style looking for speed and find the small changes we made have had a huge effect on handling. The car is responsive, the complete opposite of what it was previously. The car is much much faster but almost twitchy and unstable. When I reach the finish, I record tire temperatures and tire pressures with the tools I brought. They prove that our alignment settings are good, the tire pressures are still a bit high it seems though. From there, back down the mountain we discuss settings and decide to drop tire pressures again. This time, the car goes back towards slight understeer in tight corners and is still relatively twitchy. Back in service, we make an aligntment adjustment but by the time we get ready to take another run, they have sent the last group of cars up. So we have our baseline on the pavement, we know the settings that worked fairly well there. The goal for tomrrow is to run those on gravel up top and see if they are good there as well. The goal is not just compromise of speed between the two surfaces but stability and confidence on the gravel up top. Historically, I have always had a harder time up top and last year was the worst of it, losing easily half a minute due to poor setup. If we can make the car fast or easy up top, the rest should come together.
I haven't compared our times to those of our competitors as realistically the competition is too steep for us to expect a win or a podium. The goal for me is to help the team get the car as fast as it can be and on race day I'll drive it as fast as I can. If we do those two things, we have done everything we can with the tools at our disposal. But when it's all said and done, it's entirely up to the mountain what the end result is.