As you come around the Carousel at Mid Ohio and the pace car ducks away, your gaze reaches up and left as you focus hard to see the slightest bit of movement from the flag station. You roll through the left hander leading to the front straight, letting your peripheral vision and ears inform the distance between your bumper and the car in front of you— right now that flash of green is all you care about. The slightest movement will trigger your right foot to come down before anyone else’s.
You’re close to the front and can see the starter well. His arm is tucked behind the half wall of the flag station, and he’s looking at the line-up, doing what he can to ensure a fair start. It seems like forever— what’s taking him so long? You’ll be past the stand before he even... THERE. His shoulder and elbow move in one swift motion and before you see the whole green square you’re wide open and about to dart out from behind the competitor in front of you.
The second to third shift hits home— it’s quick, but steady enough to make sure you found your mark. As you know from your early years in racing, a missed shift at the start is a sure ticket to the back of the line.
You tuck left for the inside of turn one. Too many times the outside lane gets pushed wide because of shenanigans or tomfoolery. But the guys ahead of you are good— they know there’s no need to brake here on the first lap before everyone’s up to race speed. You follow their lead and stick to the yellow curb, conscious of that driver with a bit of a reputation who is hugging your passenger door.
Tracking out is not an option because of your friendly neighbor, and he’s getting a little run on you heading up into the keyhole. You both shift to fourth. By the time you get to the bus stop, he’s got half a length on you. The two of you take the quick right hander flat, but you overbrake for the switch left and give him an opening. There’s not a lot of rubber on the outside of the bus stop and he knows this, so he darts across your nose and has the advantage going into the keyhole.
This is your corner. What you do here makes or breaks your move at the end of the back straight. You hit the brake zone perfectly, heel-toe down to third and quickly roll into the throttle. The track bends to the right, but the camber doesn’t come till about 40% in. You feel the angle you’re looking for and put the pedal all the way down.
There’s ten feet between his tail and your nose at trackout, but the two of you shift to fourth at the same time. You’re closing the gap, and ahead of you he waves his hand in a tomahawk motion. Your rival has turned into a drafting buddy. There was a bit of a tangle in the group ahead of you at the exit of the keyhole, so with your nose tucked right under his rear bumper you cruise past two cars by the time you get to the back straight flag station.
You hit fifth gear, still pushing your fellow driver. The cones for the four marker are coming up so it’s time. He’s looking back to try to figure out what you’re going to do. The downhill right hander at the end of the straight is tricky, but so are the turns that follow it. You’ve seen many battles through this stretch before from behind the windshield, on the infield, and on tv and you know there’s no one right way to do this. You ease to the left, feigning a slow move to the standard line just before the four marker. He tacks over to stay in front of you, but you dart right and roll deep into the brake zone. Heel-toe to fourth. Heel-toe to third. This time, it’s he who overbrakes and you take the corner, tracking two thirds across the racing surface to prevent him from retaking you in Madness.
Madness. You love this turn. Skim the brakes with the car diving into the uphill, onto the throttle at turn in, down on the throttle hard before the crest of the hill. You tamed the roller coaster this time. That left-turn-downhill-exit has caught you before, causing you to drift your way down the backside. While that may have been exciting, you have a race to run, and a mirror full of competition.
For whatever reason, your car loves to push through the right hander at the bottom of madness even though it’s set up toward oversteer in right turns. Knowing this, you trail brake to get the car to rotate, at the same time checking your mirror to make sure you aren’t about to get dive bombed.
The line under the Honda bridge and just before Thunder Valley improved greatly when Mid Ohio reduced the curbs for motorcycles several years ago. You use this to your advantage and clip the yellow curb under the the bridge— you know you’ve done it right when you hit the rev limiter in third the split second before the brake zone for the right turn into Thunder Valley.
This is another great turn— one you love and know you’re good at, and it always makes you wonder why anyone would bother making a race track on a flat surface. The moment you get your initial rotation, it’s hard on the throttle, up the hill and over the candy-striped inside curbing with your right-side tires. The hill crests as you are tracking out, decompressing your 700 lb/in front springs for just a moment. You look in your mirror and you’re slowly beginning to pull away. A corner worker once told you how he saw a vintage Can Am car’s front wheels come off the ground going into Thunder Valley. But that was Bobby Rahal behind the wheel, and you are driving a Miata, so any similarity ends with the location.
You find fourth gear and head into your weakest turns of the track. The high speed left coming out of Thunder Valley is very similar to turn one, but for whatever reason you aren’t as aggressive here. You brush the brakes and hit the candy stripes. The car tells you to unwind the wheel and carry some more speed, while that little bit of your brain reminds you not to track out too much. You don’t take time to look in your mirror because you’re about to set up for the carousel.
All of your braking and your shift back to third needs to be completed by a subtle crest in the track— after which the surface washes down and away from the long right hander. Perhaps you dwelled on that fact too long because as you turn in, you see you’ve got a mirror full of trouble once more. You diamond the carousel and are able to get the power down quickly for the left back onto the front straight.
You shift to fourth just before the start/finish line, ready to rebuild that distance between you and your competition with an at-the-limit attack of turn one. Sixteen more laps, and you’ll finish another race at Mid Ohio.
**photos added were taken by author during 2012 and 2013 Grand Am weekends at Mid Ohio and correspond to the paragraph above the photo. Story written from the perspective of a humble Spec Miata driver— no pro racer here!