Photos: Scott Grasso.
As I upshifted into fourth gear down the front straight, I glanced in the rear view mirror to see if anyone was on my tail. All clear. Engine roaring as I passed the start/finish tower, I then looked to the right to make sure no one was entering the course from the pits. 7400, 7500, 7600 RPM. The red shift light centered in my tach flashed angrily at me but I knew it would let me stay up there a little longer. I moved the car over to the right edge of the track and straightened the wheel before braking for the entry into turn 1. A deep breath as I forced myself to brake a bit less than the last lap, and hold it steady a fraction of a second longer before turning in to the apex. Committed to the turn but carrying more speed, I start unwinding the wheel and looking further out to the corner’s exit, wondering if I will keep the car on track, or go off into the grassy hillside…
This past weekend marked the beginning of our 2nd season of the NorCal 86CUP Presented by Cusco-Winmax time attack series. Many of the familiar drivers from last year’s inaugural season of 86CUP returned for the 2-day season opener, with new tweaks and mods on their cars, in pursuit of speed. My trusty BRZ and I returned to the track with no changes since the season finale event in December. And we had a few new entrants, people joining us for the first time or drivers who had recently progressed up from Solo (beginner) group into Point-By (intermediate) group. After the drivers’ meetings in the morning, we headed out onto the course. By the second session I was feeling more comfortable with the car. The rest of the day I played around with minor changes in tire pressure to see if I could get the handling attitude of the car to change a little, and set up my GoPro to capture some on-track footage.
A few friends also came out in other vehicles such as Honda S2000s and Miatas. We were happy to share our paddock with them too.
At the end of the day, we headed back into the small town of Willows, CA and about 15 of us sat down for dinner at the Casa Ramos Mexican restaurant. We talked about the day’s racing, our experiences on the track, and our plans for other upcoming events. Tired from a long day, we headed back to our hotel rooms for some rest. A few more energetic folks got together to play some card games before catching some shuteye.
Sunday morning, 7AM came way too soon. We checked out of our hotels after grabbing a light breakfast and stopped for fuel before re-entering the racetrack. Our numbers had shrank a little as some of our Saturday drivers headed home, but a few new arrivals had joined us for Sunday’s session as well. Final checks and preparations complete, back out on track we went. On Saturday we had run the Bypass configuration, and on Sunday we were doing the Cyclone configuration, or “Over the Top” as we sometimes call it. Some people like the Cyclone more, others prefer the Bypass. I myself am in the Bypass camp, and I wasn’t made any more enamored of the Cyclone when we had a full-course red flag situation and all cars were instructed to stop. I found myself having to stop right on the uphill slope approaching the Cyclone and it was an uncomfortable spot to be waiting for about 10 minutes. Eventually we were allowed to exit the track and we learned that a 370Z had blown its engine on track, dropping oil all over the turn 8 section. Fortunately this was towards the end of the day, and had completed all of my sessions without incident.
A little bit weary after a long weekend of driving, we packed up our gear and readied our cars for the long drive back home. Once we returned to the Bay Area a number of us decided to get dinner together, and it was another wonderful chance for us to share a few laughs, reminisce about the weekend’s action, and encourage each other to stay at it, keep improving and learning as we all sought to become better drivers. As much fun as it was, and as much as I already anticipated the next opportunity to return, it was a relief and a joy to arrive home safe and sound, and return to the the comfort of my own bed.
Although the next 86CUP weekend (Rounds 3 & 4) is scheduled for the weekend of May 23-24, some of us will be returning to Thunderhill for the April 25-26 weekend. I’ll be there Sunday April 26 to try my hand at the new Thunderhill West track for the first time. Can’t wait to experience that track for myself, and I’ll be sure to share my impressions of it after spending a day trying to learn its twists and turns.
If you’d like to know more about the NorCal 86CUP series please visit our 86CUP Page, as well as the Northern California Racing Club’s 86CUP/Chrono Series website.
Scott Grasso, our resident NorCal86 photog, was with us on Saturday to shoot some great photos of the on-track action. A big thanks to Scott for sharing his photos with us and letting us use some of them here on our site. Also be sure to follow us on Instagram for more photos and videos as we continue the driving adventures — our IG account is 86drive.
Video update – here is my video compilation of highlights from the on-track action. Enjoy!