I recently got back from the Bertil Roos rookie camp. The program is kind of like a race weekend limited to inexperienced drivers with extra coaching. Here's a pretty in depth review of what went down.

We met up at the Roos main office which is a few minutes from Pocono International Raceway, were the program would be held. Among the students, experience level varied; but some had run the Roos series races before, but at least a few had no wheel to wheel racing experience, and I believe a few guys had only done the equivalent of the 5 day school like me. The camp started out with filling out an evaluation form where we rated ourselves in different areas – there were about 50 different criteria in areas covering racecraft, car control, mental preparation, etc. The first day would target what we individually wanted to work on.

So we got to the track and did a few drive arounds with the instructors in the street cars. We would be running the south course in the clockwise direction, which no one had experience on. On paper the track looks very boring, but in real life, it's a lot more technical then it looks. The front “straight” sweeps around turn 1 of the big oval course, backwards obviously. NASCAR considers Pocono a pretty “flat” banked track, but turn 1 of the oval does not look so flat in real life! After the front straight, turn 1 of the south course clockwise is the drop down on to the infield section, before you get to the main oval pits. The actual track is a pretty fast, wide, slight transition, but they had some cones up to make it a much sharper corner, which provided a much better passing opportunity. Turn two is a mid speed right, then there's a short straight into turn 3, a pretty fast right, which heads right into a tight left hairpin. Then there's a pretty slow right with a tricky camber dropoff, then the fast turn 6/7 which puts up back onto the oval right before the track bends right again for NASCAR turn 1.

The day would consist of 4 practices of roughly 20 minutes. We broke up in two groups and went out for the first practice. I was in the second group, so we went out to a corner to watch. I think watching first was probably a good thing. We saw the group overall get up to speed pretty quickly, but there were A LOT of spins, a lot of near spins, a lot of sloppy shifting and a lot of inconsistent lines. When it was my turn, I was hoping to not repeat the mistakes we saw, however, I was feeling pretty sloppy, particularly my shifts, which I thought would be second nature. Seems that the sequential in the skip barber cars spoiled me – that and just being out of a race car for about 3 months. Fortunately I kept it on the track, barely though.

For the rest of the day, each student would be running with their instructor for part of each session. In the second session, I cleaned up my driving quite a bit and dropped my lap times around 2 seconds (The electronic data system which shows your last lap time it pretty helpful BTW). I also picked up a few things from following my instructor. For the third session, my instructor and I worked on racecraft more, as I'd never raced wheel to wheel in cars. He let me pass a few times then repassed me, then did a few “intentional mistakes” to see if I could capitalize. I made a few mistakes myself and he got by me a few times. Overall it was fun, and the closest I've ever run with another car, although I was somewhat disappointed that, between the dicing and trying a new line in a few corners that took some getting used to, I did not improve my times.

For the final session of the day, the plan was to continue doing the same. Unfortunately, my instructor had a mechanical issue with his car so I didn't get to run with him. At one point, someone was tailing me for a few laps but unable to pass, but I decided to wave him past. I pushed it hard, and to my surprise, I was able to hang with him for a few laps and trim half a second or so of my times. Eventually I lost him when I got mistakenly blackflagged. By the end of the day, I was feeling like I'd gotten the basics of the track figured out, and was feeling pretty confident. Certainly I knew there was still more to the track and the car, but I was happy with my progress. The day went by really quickly and I was feeling very fresh at the end, way better then I had after a day of driving then ever before.

Woke up the morning of day 2 and was surprised it was wet outside! Somehow I overlooked checking the weather the night before. Regardless, I wasn't too worried because I did decent running in one damp session during my intro school, and always thought racing in the rain was cool anyway! The day would consist of a optional trackwalk first thing (with no instruction), a warmup session, qualifying session, then three races.

So I headed to the track early to do the trackwalk in light rain. I Had enough time to walk most of the track both ways. I was looking mainly for camber and elevation change, as well as grip changes, particularly in the wet. Even though I was led through a trackwalk during my intro school, doing my first walk on my own, I don't think I was able to pick up everything. Still it was helpful, if anything just to understand what I missed from talking to the instructors later.

Back in the classroom, we had a brief rain driving lesson, then a drivers meeting where we went over the rules and format of the upcoming 3 races for the day. Next we had a drive around with the instructors to point out some rain tips.

First session of the day was a 20 minute practice. Group 1 went out and the session was surprisingly clean, I think there were actually less cars spinning off then in the dry! It looked like the track still had decent grip. There was a sweeper/blower running on the track during the trackwalk, so the track was wet but no standing water. The guy I was sharing a car with said his laptimes were 4-5 seconds slower, so that was a good reference. I went out and worked down from around 10 seconds slower then my lap times the day before, to around 5 or 6. I was gaining more confidence with how much speed I could carry, however, I was also aware the conditions were changing, rain was beading off my visor at a much higher rate, and I could see much more spray coming off the other cars, so I couldn't get my times down any further, but I was maintaining the same range. During the session, I had my only spin of the two days; I carried a little too much speed into the tricky turn 5, almost caught it but ended up spinning to the inside and stopped with my front wheels still on, so no black flag!

We quickly moved to the 10 minute qualifying sessions which would set the field for the final main race. Group 1 went out and it was much wetter then their first session. We watched from a new position, the outside of turn 7, where the cars transition back to the oval, which is probably the scariest part of the track, in the dry, let alone the wet! In the dry it's flat out if you get it right but there are a lot minor dips and slight elevation changes, so line choice matters and you can feel you are near the limit. In the dry, I got it sideways there before which isn't too comfortable with the concrete wall to the outside. In the wet there were puddles everywhere so you had to dial it back and also feather back on it when you were back on the oval. During practice I got it pretty sideways jumping on the throttle too quick and we could see most guys in group 1 having the same issue. A few times it looked like guys were about to eat the wall! We could also see some guys that just manhandled the cars and powerslid out to the wall every time!

I got in the car for my qualifying with the knowledge that my car partner had apparently gotten the pole for group 1. My goal was to run close to his fast lap. Feeling pretty confident from the rain practice, I planned to get right on it by the 2nd or 3rd lap to get a good time in, then try to improve with a little more risk towards the end of the session, from my instructors advice. I myself had planned to take it easy the first half of the session, then hammer it towards the end thinking perhaps the track condition would be better. I was glad I took the instructors advice though. By the second lap, I already within a few tenths of the group 1 pole time, and few laps later I turned a lap about 2 tenths better then group one pole. I could start to tell the track was drying up just a bit as the rooster tails were a little smaller and the rain was not hitting the visor as much, so track condition was in fact improving. I felt I could drop another half second or so still. However, coming around turn 2, I saw a car parked to the inside with smoking coming from the rear. Not feeling safe going full bore right past that, I had to sacrifice the next few laps until the checkered came out before the car was cleared. I was glad I got a few good laps in before the yellow. The instructor was right, you never know what may happen if you wait! I thought my lap time was pretty good, but knowing the skill level of the other drivers and the drying track condition I had no idea where I had qualified. I didn't learn till close to the final race that I had infact gotten my first pole ever!

Next was the first race of the day which was a short 6 lapper with a random draw start. Our instructor drove the pacecar and we rode along, so it was cool to watch the group 1 race from that perspective. We then parked in turn 1 and had a great view of the action into the heaviest braking zone on the track. The race was short but there were a few nice passes.

After that, it was a big moment, I was about to race wheel to wheel in a car for the first time in my life. How long had I been waiting for this! But since we were rushed as more bad weather was coming, I quickly strapped into the car as soon as group 1 finished without the chance to overthink things or second guess myself. I would start second with the random draw. Coming to the green flag, I got a decent jump on the polesitter and thought I would be in a good position to lead my first race! However, out of the corner of my eye I see the third place car dive to the inside and make it 3 wide. He has the inside line into turn one so I had to slot in behind. For rest of the 6 lap race, a gap of about 1 second stayed the same between him and me. So I finished second in my first race ever, not bad. I did find out that he had to switch cars before the race, and the new car had brand new tires with full treds, great in the wet, but not as good as an almost slick worn tire in the dry!

I was really looking forward to the 2nd and 3rd races after a short lunch break. However, fog quickly moved into the area, and in the matter of minutes visibility was down to maybe a few hundred feet. Everyone waited it out, but after a while we were starting to wonder if we would be able to get the races in. After over an hour, the fog started to lift a bit and group 1 rushed to get into the cars and race. As they were out on their second race, the fog suddenly completely lifted and it was perfectly clear again!

So I got in the car for my 2nd race. It would be inverted form the finishing order of the first, so I would start second to last. I was feeling pretty good and got a decent start, but the winner of the last race again got a monster start, and snuck up the middle of the whole pack, and with it 3 wide already, I didn't have anywhere safe to go so I decided to stay at the back through the first corner and then try to pick off some cars. However, the track was drying now, and somehow, I was a bit off the game. It was really cool that there were not really any slow drivers in the whole rookie camp; in our group, everyone was probably within a few seconds of each other. So there were no easy passes, and being a little off, I was barely able to even hang with the tail of the pack, let alone pass! The six laps went by fast and I finished dead last!

My car partner asked me what happened and I was a bit dumbfounded and couldn't explain why I was so slow! My instructor said something along the lines of, “I hope you were just taking it easy since you have the pole for the main race.” But I wasn't! While I was pondering what went wrong, Group 1 went out for their final 12 lap race. The first two races we watched had some good racing, but this time, the intensity stepped up 5 notches! The pack barreled into turn one on the first lap and somehow made it through. For the next few laps the top 3 dove into turn one, swapping positions but somehow not wrecking each other and running two abreast though sections of track where we'd never seen. After a few laps we heard on the radio there was contact between two cars in the hairpin but could not clearly see what happened from our position in turn one; however, one of the cars involved was mine! However, my partner was able to continue on and at the end of 12 laps, ended up with the win! And fortunately, the only damage to the car was a slightly bent rim, and the mechanics were able to change the wheel in a few minutes.

So the pressure was on me now for the final race. I was on pole, but on the outside, was the guy who won the first race, moved from last to 2nd in the 2nd race and managed to run two seconds or so faster then me in the second race. I could tell he was obviously pumped and he should be! I was not feeling so confident anymore. My plan going into the rookie camp was to win the main race, but now I knew it would be a challenge. I knew I had to get a good start, and thought my only hope was to stay in the lead and somehow hold off the pack for 12 laps.

So much happened during the race and immediately afterwards, everything was a blur, but here's how I piece it together from my perspective. The green flag drops and I get a good start and a jump on the outside polesitter. Into turn 1, I brake at a moderate point and hold the middle of the track. I think I've got the lead of the race, but as I look to turn in, I see someone moving up my inside, and he's almost even with me. Looking back I think it was a nice move that took advantage of catching me off guard. But at the time, I was frustrated as my plan for the race was foiled. I rather stupidly decided in a split second my only hope is to try to hold the outside and somehow find my way back around before turn two. We'd seen this attempted a few times in race 1 and be successful sometimes, but it was always a near collision between the two cars. I hold the outside and am near alongside him, slightly back as we approach the tight slight left kink between turns 1 and 2. He holds his line and is moving closer and closer towards the “apex” cone (it's not really a true corner so you are usually a bit off the cone). I don't even know if he sees me. At the last moment, I realize this is not going to work out, and move down, smashing the cone with the left part of my wing. I didn't realize it, but apparently I was dragging that cone around for the rest of the race! By the run up to turn 2, I've managed to loose two more positions and I'm down to 4th.

Well, the start gets me fired up and I immediately start pushing 100%. The track is pretty much completely dry now and something just comes to me. Suddenly I'm able to just put everything together, what I was unable to do in the last race. The next few laps, I manage to make the pass for 3rd into turn 1 and for 2nd when the driver makes a small mistake out of 1. So after a few laps I'm back to second and third place is all over me, with the rest of the pack probably not far behind. Out of 7, I get a good run, and am in the draft of the leader. With the rear wing all the way up, these cars seem to draft really well down the long straight. I catch up before halfway or so, think about popping down low but decide instead to lift slightly to time my move further down into turn one so he couldn't repass me. Unfortunately for me, 3rd position takes advantage and moves down low to pass me. I don't remember the next few laps exactly, but the two front drivers end up swapping the lead a few times. Eventually the 15-year-old-kid ends up in front of winner-of-the-first-race for a few laps. I'm going to school on them and realize both me and the kid are getting a better run on the other driver out of 7 onto the straight, but me and the other driver are better under braking into turn 1. In fact, the kid overshoots turn one a bit a few times which is the cause of some of the lead swapping. When he doesn't overshoot though, and ends up in the lead for a few laps, the result is 2nd place going to the inside and closing a huge gap on the leader under braking but not coming close to making the move due to being too far back from a lack of run out of 7. Him going to the inside means there's little room for me to try a move, even though I am right on his gearbox. During all this, another guy is right behind me in forth filling my mirrors and ready to pounce at any mistake.

Finally the kid overshoots turn one and this time drops some wheels and drops to second again. Next time around I see one of them get a black flag, I'm not sure why but the kid pulls off and that makes my job a lot easier. Apparently he was called in for dropping 4 wheels which is a stop and go penalty. It was certainly close and he said after the race he didn't think he dropped 4, but the last thing I was paying attention to was who had how many wheels on the track. Regardless I knew I needed to get by the leader now, I knew I could do it and I knew my advantage on him was out of 7. I get a good run and take him under braking into 1. So it's come full circle, I'm back in the lead and it feels great. In the closing laps of the race I pull a small gap and take the checkered. It was quite a feeling, something I'd been waiting for for a long time. Just to actually take part in a auto race itself felt like a huge accomplishment, and to win the main race, especially after feeling pretty desperate and lacking confidence before the race, was just amazing.

It was an awesome end to an awesome two days. The racing was awesome, the drivers were all great and the racing was fast, hard and clean. Plus I obviously continued to learn and improve and I somehow managed to win! I just couldn't ask for anything more.