JCNA Challenge Championship
Day Three: Pirelli JCNA Slalom.
There is just someting about slalom... about taking a stock, normal, daily driver, street Jaguar - well... usually stock - and pushing it to the limit on a big open parking lot where you can't do much harm. In fact, the only thing you can hurt are a few cones... and your ego!
For the past 12 years, JCNA's Slalom program has being growing at a steady pace, from just a few members competing to hundreds. Some region, like the Northeast or Northwest have a number of events each year, with some clubs organizing 2 slaloms a year. In other regions, events are more rare but it's encouraging to see that when club members are introduced to this form of competition, they really enjoy it.
Take the Southeast for instance where until recently you would have one slalom a year with a handful of members competing. And that was on a good year ! In 2001, it took one enthusiastic member of the Jaguar Club of Florida to spark a tire smoking fire: that year, some 20 members attended the JCOF inaugural slalom and gave it a try. In 2002, attendance grew by over 50%!
The same pattern can be seen at the National level, with Slalom entries growing every two years: about 20 in Colorado 99, over 30 in Franklin 2001 and... over 40 in Phoenix! yes... over f-o-r-t-y drivers lined up at Phoenix International Raceway during the JCNA Challenge Championship 2003. Not bad!
But it's not that suprsising if you consider that our Jaguars were meant to be driven and that in a slalom you are only competing against a clock. And a clock isn't subject to interpretation or sometimes subjective point deductions... you're slow... too bad! you hit a cone out of his box... everybody gets to see this and the 2 second penalty!
Organizing the Slalom in Phoenix was a challenge as it was orginally supposed to be held at Bondurant's Firebird raceway until, only a few weeks before the set date, they happened to remember that they needed that same lot for a monster truck show... No panic in the face of adversity; Dennis Eynon and his crew found another lot at Phoenix International Raceway, a recently opened race track west of the city. It turned out to be even better since the lot was much larger allowing 2 courses to be setup in order to save time with the number of entries.
Better yet, the road course was being used by a High Performance driving School that day and they allowed JCNA members to join in for some parade laps, a great opportunity to drive on a real race track, even behind a pace car, which many grabbed. There was even a possibility for the most experienced drivers to run high speed lapping sessions which unfortunately nobody was able to do because of the tight schedule. Remember... 50+ cars entered and they all needed to do 5 runs.
The courses were set up as early as possible and final registration and tech started around 10am. Gary Hagopian walked the course with entrants and asked me to do a few demo runs in my V12 E-type, slow first then picking up the pace.
Time to set entrants loose in a sea of cones which can be confusing at first if you don't pay attention. The course is fairly short and run 3 times in sequence, first an hourglass then a figure 8 followed by an oval. Standing starts and full stop finishes with a cone marking the end of the finish box. Bump that cone and you're DNF... wasted a run. Mark Stevenson in his XK120 came close to that fate, with the cone balancing on it's edge against his front bumper... Others wasted a run or two by getting lost while I prefered just nearly spining out of control to blow my first run; sliding sideways with the rear tire smoking ins't the bext way to approach one of the end turns...
Of course after all got a few runs, one set of timers decided to call it a day so we were left with one course slowing things down a bit. All participant got their 5 runs, with time to spare. At the end of the day, judging by the smile on drivers face it was clear they all had a great time regardless of what they drove and how far they decided to push. Some where clearly enjoying the experience without pusing hard. Others just had to drive on the edge... and sometimes beyond... trying to squeeze the last few tenths of a second even if it meant spinning out a cloud of tire smoke. Harmless, except for the driver's ego and few hundred miles worth of tire mileage.
An incredible variety of cars were driven on the course, from Mark Steveson (JCCA) in this 120 to XKR, XJR and X-type (a Hertz Special driven by SE Director Jerry Wise). Plenty of E-types and XJSs, even a couple of 60s saloons like an S-type and MArk II . Among the fastest performers, beside Gary Hagopian (JANE) in his modidied 62 Coupe where Jerry Mouton (JAG) in his street prepared Series 1 Coupe E-type and Coventry West's Dick Maury with his heavily modifed XJS (recently featured in Jaguar Journal). Of course, it takes more than a car to get a good time... just ask Journal editor Mike Cook seen in this picture ready to to run in Dick MAury's XJS.
This Slalom was the first time the newly voted classes were used, especially the new Street Prepared classes for cars that are not stock but that are not all out race cars either. This class is a great addition and gives a chance to those who would otherwise be facing guys running slick oversized tires, lightened body and heavily modified cars. Unfortunately, a mistake in the tire rating cut off as defined in the current rule means that those members running certain high performance street tires are still bumped into modified and don't stand a chance.... I am one of these, because of Pirelli P Zeros I fitted on my E-type... yes the same P Zeros XJR, XKR and even S-types are allowed to run in Stock classes! But altogether, despite that minor technicality, the new classes appear to work well and should help increase interest in the program.
Despite the strong Arizona sun, it didn't feel too hot thanks to a strong breeze, which got just a bit too strong for the timing and scoring tent by the end of the day. Luckily nobody was hurt and no cars where damaged when it took off and all runs had been completed sparing the score keepers of sitting in the sun to perform their duties.
If you want to see why slalom is the fastest growing JCNA competition program, keep an eye on the calendar and give it a shot the next time a club organizes one in your region... you won't regret it!