Report by Billy Easton
Far up in the Mountains of Japan, Mount Hakusan to be exact, we were about to embark on the debut of the S500 prototypeâ€™s first mission of attempting to take over the world.
As we arrived at the track the weather was much better than it had previously been for the 2wd portion of the event. The sun was out, track was dry and practice was about to begin. Having never actually raced the car at an event I was quite unsure of exactly how things were going to fare out. I had bench raced the car many heats and felt the set up would be a great starting point. Gerd and Joern were going to start with their already successful set up and would serve as a good comparison at the end of the day.
After my first round of practice I chose not to change anything on the car, it was too early to tell what or how it was handling due to the green track conditions. Although it was the first run on the car, it seemed to be in the ball park. The next rounds of practice had come and gone; I was making small changes to the car, but really did not want to do anything drastic in fear that I could easily become lost.
I started working on the rear of the car first. I had a sway bar attached and found in this particular racing condition the car benefited without it. Â I was also starting to sway to lighter shock oil and spring. It really seemed like the track was low in grip and was beginning to break up bad in the banked sweeping turns. Many of the drivers were having a difficulty with the rough condition. It was simply time to find good bump handling and motor down, to allow for smoother acceleration and more consistent lap times.
As I headed in that direction with a softer spring and 10wt lighter oil, as the conditions were deteriorating my lap times were actually stabilized at the same speed. So, things were starting to look up and many people were complementing me on how well the car looked. This was not only a confidence booster, but my chances of doing well were looking better and better each and every run.
After things were kind of heading well for me I asked Joern how his car was handling and he told me it had an over steer. I immediately told him to put in a front diff. He had been using a front one way. Although the track had long turns the track condition was too loose for him to keep his car smooth. After he changed to the differential his lap times too became better and he felt much more comfortable with the car.
The cars were looking really good for the qualification rounds, and I felt we were making great progress even with only two of the cars at the event.
I had watched many cars go around the track and I had picked out drivers of my own that looked to be doing well. I tried to learn from their lines and car set up as much as possible in order to better my chances to be ready for the early rounds of qualifying.
After the day of practice was over, on our ride back to the hotel we discussed our car settings to see kind of where we were at. Many things were similar, which was good, because nobody was â€œout to lunchâ€ so to speak. Joern and Gerd felt comfortable with their car as well as I did mine.
We then headed down the mountain to pick us up some much needed McDonaldâ€™s grub. Since were staying in the mountain, it was difficult to find anything to eat other than noodles and dry foods. Joern was craving McDâ€™s and I wasnâ€™t about to say no to an American Hamburger, French fryâ€™s and a coke with ice.
We arrived at the track the next morning to begin preparation for the first rounds of Qualifying. My objective was very simple; keep it on its wheels. After the first round was over I was sitting in the 4th position with a great point score. After 4 rounds of qualifying had passed I was sitting on a 4th and a 6th, not bad for a prototype or a car never used in competition by myself. I was really happy and looking to make the A final. It was not a for sure thing though, I still needed a good 3rd backup score. My 3rd score was in the teens and I had one last chance to get a strong one in the final and 5th round of qualification. As the tone went off for me in round 5, it was a good start, me and Masami swapped lead in the heat back and forth for a minute or two and then I made a mistake that would cost me big. I fell back in the pack of cars and was really unable to get back to the lead and would have to hope that my time was good enough to improve my points as much as possible.
Iâ€™m not exactly sure what my points total added to but it was going to be good enough for 8th on the grid in the A final. Yeah I was so happy. Joern had a great run of points and would end up 6th on the grid in the A final as well.
With 2 cars at the event and both of them were in the final it was a great accomplishment not only for us as drivers but the debut for Serpent as well. Many companies did not even make the final with far more cars and drivers. It was very gratifying for us as a small team.
Going into the final the goal was definitely to move up the grid. I was not happy with an 8th place finish and was looking forward to getting closer to 5thish or better. As the finals were coming and going, things were starting to really look up for me. I had a 4th and a 6th, which were good points. I was looking at a tie for 5th. Going into the third and final main, I wanted to win, this would put me on the podium, and although I was asking for 2 miracles in a one weekend, I thought it could be possible. Well, lightning will most likely never strike the same place twice and after the horn had sounded I was struck from behind by another car and found myself stuck in a pipe and nobody saw it. So, I was half a track down before the first lap had completed. Some people had broken their cars, which was good for me, but would only allow me to end up 8th in the 3rd final. So, to say the least, I would have to settle on the points I already had. The good news was, I was in a 3-way tie for 5th and won the tie break on the fastest run. So, I had achieved my goal of 5th and was very satisfied for the result. Joern, was not as fortunate as me and was beat around by others and finished in the 10th position.
In the end, the race for 4wd had turned out quite well for Serpentâ€™s small team. We had discussions every evening to see how we felt about our cars and what we might do to improve it the next day and or even on the production car. Although we did not win, the showing was very strong. Serpent entered into this market and is already making A finals at world championships. This is not something to frown upon, but to look at as the beginning of something beautiful. I am very proud to be part of the team we have created and look forward to being in the winnerâ€™s circle using Serpent product in the future.
Source : Serpent