Race Weekend With IMG: Totally Awesome
A few weekends ago I ran my first road course race event with IMG. I raced on ice before but never on a permanent race track. This post has my impressions of the weekend.
The motto of IMG is "Cars. Competition. Camaraderie.". I experienced the latter before I even got on track.
I arrived at the track about 5 minutes before the drivers meeting. In my book this is "on time" - since I normally instruct, and instructors are on track first, I simply lose my own track time but I still am able to attend the drivers meeting and meet my students before their sessions start.
Of course, getting to the track that late is not ideal, but I have more things to do than I have time for, and sometimes something has to give.
It is therefore that I fully expected to lose the morning practice session as I had to get the car ready. Would you believe that Charlie Greenhaus himself found me in the paddock, asked me what I needed, attached transponder to the car while I changed into fireproof everything and asked two guys who I did not even know beforehand to help me change tires on the car to rains? All of that happened and I would have been ready to go out in the first practice session on time... if my wheels fit the car.
After the car was ready and I was all belted in, I found out that the rear wheels were not clearing the trailing arms on the suspension! So I had to jump out of the car and change the rear wheels the second time.
After all of that I still got most of the practice time out of the first session.
I don't expect people to do my car prep for me, but is it unconditionally amazing when it happens? I think so.
Schedules typically involve compromises, in particular as far as which sessions are back to back to which other sessions. At this particular event the sessions were racing, advanced HPDE/TT and novice HPDE/TT in that order. This meant that racers could instruct, as they cannot come off track early in a race.
I believe this was done for the benefit of the chief instructor, who raced and had to hold the classroom sessions, but it also worked out great for me as I was in the race group.
IMG has a practice, qualifying, qualifying race and feature race every day they do sprint racing. Qualifying race starting positions are determined by qualifying session lap times and feature race positions are determined by finishing order of the qualifying race.
Having two races every day, while only offering 25% more sessions, increases the time spent racing by 100%. This is because racing in practice is silly and in qualifying silly and annoying.
I like the "qualifying race" label as well. It makes clear which race counts, and it is the last one each day. Qualifying race is a good time to try something different but safe - as long as there is no damage to the car, any lost ground can be potentially reclaimed in the feature race. Trying unsafe things in qualifying race on the other hand is pretty stupid.
No Contact Rule
AMEC has a no contact rule for street legal classes that I raced, which basically says you cannot hit other cars. IMG has the same philosophy and it is a very welcome change from the typical "rubbing is racing" and "it is a race incident" mentality common in other organizations.
For me, having the car in one piece at the end of each event is infinitely more important than passing someone, or more than one someone for that matter.
In organizations that permit "win or wreck" attitude, the drivers who can afford to rebuild or replace cars drive much more aggressively than drivers who can't. The former drivers know that the latter drivers will give them room to avoid contact. This penalizes cautious drivers and rewards aggressive drivers, furthering the divide. In a no contact environment, aggressive drivers have to be more careful and cautious drivers can be more aggressive. The field is more balanced and especially new drivers enjoy the event a lot more.
No Contact Rule Applied
In my first weekend I had not one but two instances of close calls. In the Saturday qualifying race I started from the back as I was technically doing "observed practice". It was raining and I could not see the starter through the other cars and weather. At the start I was watching other cars and started accelerating when the cars in front of me did. Well, apparently the front row was asleep and two seconds after the green flag brake lights come on and I find myself trying to not rear end the car in front of me. That I managed, but I noted that nobody hit anyone in that start.
On Sunday the fastest car in the field buried itself in the sand trap during the qualifying race, and thus started the feature race from the back. I was starting on the inside row but the track is more than two cars wide and I did not protect my inside enough, allowing said fast car to come through most of the field approaching turn 1. Going into turn 1 I found myself three wide with a car passing me on the inside and everyone who was on my outside still there. What do you do if you are in a sandwich? I tried to turn in as tight as I could, and again there was no contact among the field.
Was this a race weekend run by another organization, I am sure someone would have been collecting their car from parts in the paddock.
Be that due to the no contact rule which forces aggressive drivers to leave their cutthroat attitude at home, or the fact that most new racers go through HPDE/time trial program before competing wheel to wheel, many people at IMG events know and respect each other. IMG holds Saturday night Car-B-Ques and there is probably over a 50% chance of any two event participants talking to one another during the Car-B-Que. Most people know most of the participants. It creates a feeling that everyone is a big family, and results not only in people being nice to their fellow participants, but also in feeling comfortable asking their compettiors for advice - with said advice frequently forthcoming.
My first race weekend was a great success, and I look forward to running a full race season with IMG in 2014.