After the expansive drive in the country that was Spa, we find ourselves at a much cosier little track this week for Lime Rock Park. It had been some time since I had raced here, and not since the early days of Solstice rookie times have I put in any concerted effort on this place.
Surrounded by the Berkshire mountains in North-West Connecticut, there is a feel of being wrapped up by the tree lined mountainsides as one laps this little place. The Riley feels a little awkward here, like it never gets the chance to stretch its legs. The start finish straight is over in an instant, and beyond that it’s a rollercoaster ride up and over a steep escarpment in only 47 seconds (Or faster if you’re not me!).
The laps tick by so quickly that you feel like there is no chance to breathe, as soon as you are thinking about relaxing a little after the fast and slightly terrifying final corner, you’re seeing braking markers arrive for turn one.
After my first practice session the tight confines of the place were made all too clear to me as there seemed to be Rileys off the road everywhere, and extreme patience was the order of the day with passing the Mustangs that were dropping over fifteen seconds a lap to the faster machine. As detailed here.
Qualifying went reasonably, my pace suggesting a spot in the second split again, fifth on the grid as it turns out. Second placed Joe DiNunzio blew his engine on grid too, making it fourth.
As we set off into the first corner everyone remained careful and quickly slotted into single file, by the end of the lap I was starting to be dropped by the leading trio, whilst coming under the close consideration of fifth placed Matteo Salmaso.
Coming out of the final turn on lap two I missed my entry and went in too wide. This corner, the fastest on the track, is called “Diving Turn” as the cars drop sharply downhill into the entry. Where it can catch a driver out is that the conventional line is beleaguered by fierce bumps that can be very treacherous in lower, stiffer cars, meaning a tighter entry and hugging the inside kerb is the way to get a clean run through. Sadly I had not heeded this on lap two, and skipped wide on the bumps, the car leaping into a lurid sideways moment at over 200kph. As i gathered it up I saw Salmaso very close in my mirrors and jinking right to pass into turn one. I couldn’t resist him on the brakes and he placed his car neatly in my turn in point to force me back into fifth.
Re-gathering my thoughts, I started to keep an eye on Salmaso as he pulled out a few tenths per lap, with Thomas Haupt in the number eight car keeping me honest a second and a half behind me. Before long we were in traffic. In this race there were no Mustangs, so there was no mixed class to the event, but over such a short lap it was not long before we picked up the back of the field and before I knew it I was in a constant adventure of lap after lap passing. Every time I came up to a slower car I had no time to be lackadasical, Haupt’s bright yellow bonnet was ever present in my mirrors, and any small mistake or loss of momentum could be enough for him to make a move and get past me. Every time I had a free track in front of me I pushed, and it felt like I could extend the gap to Haupt, little by little, but then there would be another backmarker to pass, and the rhythm would be lost and he wold be right there behind me again.
Thirty minutes of racing around this busy track was frantic. The tight third gear, double apexed right hander at turn one starts it all. Hanging onto the grippy, re-layed concrete and sliding to the exit kerb you then dive left and late into the imaginarily named “Left Hander”, the only corner on the circuit to indulge in this direction. Carrying as much speed on the exit as you can, keeping to the left of the road, you then throw the weighty sportscar to the right and pick up the throttle early through the last part of the esses and along the meandering straight for a few breaths before braking for the Uphill. The track climbing steeply into the sky to the right, and throwing the car to the left on the exit as a ton of metal leaps over a sheer crest, requiring a light lift to keep the back end in check.
Before you can think about relaxing there is a short blast along the table top before jinking right again, this time a fast fourth gear run through west bend, the exit taking you back down the hill sharply into the entry to the wide and fast Diving turn, a few short seconds later on the pit straight and you’re in the braking area for turn one again and off for another tour, relentlessly clocking up lap after lap of high speed running.
Salmaso dropped me and Haupt, but it never got more strung out than this. Haupt ran well through West Bend and Diving Turn, but I seemed to have the measure of him through the esses and it was enough to hold a gap. Each pass of a backmarker could bring him onto my rear wing, but just as often it was me that came upon the slower car at a better part of the circuit and gained the advantage. There is no good place to find lapped traffic at Lime Rock, the track is not too wide and especially through the esses things can get very cosy. Keeping on eye on Haupt was often a secondary concern to what was going on in front of me.
As I came around to start lap twenty nine the timing boards put in me in fourth place, Salmaso had lost it the lap before and his car was wrecked. At this stage it was getting tiring, I kept hoping that the next lap around was the one I would get the white flag. At the start of lap thirty seven, that wish was granted.
As I headed to turn one for the last time, Haupt was, as ever, in close attendance, but of more concern was the yellow number thirteen car of Warren Schuur, running very slowly into turn one, the Riley keeping a very tight inside line. Seeing how slowly he was running I almost overran him and had a brief lock-up in avoidance. Seeing his lack of pace I knew I could not follow him through turn one when Haupt was so close on the final lap, and slipped to the outside of Schuur, relying on his co-operation as I held as much momentum as I could on the outside line, passing and being able to take a reasonable apex in the second part.
On exit I noticed Haupt had also passed the yellow car and skipped a little sideways on exit. He was still there.
Surely that was enough excitement for the final lap? As I tore along no-name straight after a swift run through the esses I was faced with the sight of more traffic. Scott McDonough’s eighth placed machine was just ahead of me coming out of the esses, fast enough to look like not being a threat, but then as we approached The Uphill the yellow number sixteen car of Nicolas Inacio came into view, the Frenchman travelling very slowly with heavy damage from an earlier collision. McDonough was caught by surprise, slowing behind Inacio before committing to a pass on the inside, I arrived on them at full pace as we climbed up the slope, a wall of Rileys in front of me. I had to dive out of the throttle as I tucked in behind McDonough, Haupt now right on my tail. We ran line-astern through West Bend and as we chased through the final corner McDonough moved to the inside, allowing me and Haupt to pass on the outside, the two of us crossing the line only half a second apart in fourth and fifth place.
The close and non-stop nature of this circuit allied to the constant efforts of passing in traffic made this possibly the most exciting race I have had in iRacing so far. The consistent pressure from Haupt allowed me to keep a very high level of concentration and avoid any incident points, but fundamentally the running gave me a greater confidence with the car. I think, mainly, that this was down to the lack of chance I got to overthink things. The pressure was constantly on the whole race long which led to me driving the car very naturally and not getting bogged down with how it felt. I still had some trouble with high speed understeer, but on the whole found the Riley very enjoyable to drive.
On next week to the road course at Homestead oval, not a track I am looking forward to, but that’s where the series is going so that’s where I’ll be.