This past Saturday was a remarkable day at the track for me, and I find it symbolic that of all the local tracks, Thunderhill Raceway was again the stage for a big step forward for me.
Thunderhill is like my racing home. It was the track where I took my very first driving school, with a car that I had just bought and did not even have a chance to drive yet. It was the site of my first race after getting my rookie license, and two days ago, it witnessed my first race where I did not qualify last, passed another driver, and kept him behind me until the end of the race.
The day started with the realization that my car was different than before. The new cage made the car push in fast corners, and the seat position was not ideal. I did my best to get comfortable inside the car and get used to its new handling, but the whole day I just felt like I was not doing as well as I could.
Given my struggles, I was surprised to find that I did not qualify last when I pulled up to the grid. Once we were on track, rolling towards the start-finish line waiting for the green flag to fall, I completely forgot about my discomfort. It was as if I was truly fused with the car as I was vying for a good position in the controlled chaos that is race start.
I was so glad to see that I haven't lost my position once we made our way through the first corner. Now was the time to go to work, and drive my best, with the car that I had. I did not spend much time looking in my mirrors, and focused on driving as fast as my understeering car would allow.
The driver in front of me was losing ground, and I realized that I could get him. Our cars were about evenly matched on power, and I was still struggling with the new handling, but I stayed on his bumper turn after turn, while he was defending his position. Finally, he overshot Turn 10 and I almost squeezed by him to Turn 11, but he got there just early enough to not let me by. In his attempt to pull away, he underbraked, and his car got a bit sideways. By the time he had it steadied, I was side-by-side with him, coming out of Turn 13. I did my best to ace Turn 14/15 and pulled away on the main straight.
For the remainder of the race, he stayed close, and time after time I had to defend my position. We both got passed by a more experienced driver who started from the back because he did not qualify, so I ended up finishing in the same position I started.
But not last.
To make my happiness even more complete, looking at the data together with J. that night we discovered that I have improved a number of my sector times that day, and even drove my personal best lap time, running over the cyclone.