This past weekend I logged my 9th and 10th track days at the brand new Palmer Motorsports Park in Ware, Massachussets. This two-day event would be my third with the Boston chapter of the BMW Car Club of America (BMWCCA). This is a great organization, which continues to impress me with its professionalism and level of care and instruction provided. For those unfamiliar, the event itself is known as High Performance Driver Education, or HPDE. This is track time without lap timing or scoring- it isn't a racing competition, it's all about instruction to improve your driving under controlled track conditions.
When I say this track is brand new, I mean brand new. The official opening was this spring. The track continues to make steady improvements, but to put it in perspective: folks were excited that they had painted white lines on edges of the track, and that there was a little grass growing in the runoff areas. This track is brand new. The course is paved, and the entry road is paved all the way to pit lane, but the parking lots are unpaved, and large piles of gravel await spreading to make them something other than a mosh pit when it rains- but more about that later. There are no facilities other than a temporary portable building for an office/classroom, a large portapotty trailer (which was pretty nice actually), and a few standard portapotties and garbage bins sprinkled around the paddock areas.
The facility is new enough that it's still facing some resistance from the town. Driving to the track I passed several signs posted on front lawns complaining about noise and property values. Local hotels and restaurants aren't complaining- they're getting loads of business from an extra 100+ people looking for beds and food on amateur event weekends like ours, and looking for more from more serious events. But local homeowners I think are a bit sour about noise and traffic. The track was getting some very welcome support from "Maw's Kitchen", a local business who ran a food tent serving breakfast and lunch to hungry drivers. Coffee, fruit cups, breakfast sandwiches, and lunch boxes were perfect to keep car nuts alive for a couple of days :)
I hope the town learns to live peacefully with its new resident, because the track itself is just spectacular. The 2.3 mile layout cycles through 15 turns and 190 feet of elevation change. This is a real roller coaster of a track. It's narrow, too, with maybe 3-5 ft of runoff on either side, before you run into either a granite wall carved out of the mountain, or a jersey barrier. In practice it is very much like a mini Nordschleife - with stone or concrete instead of armco. The good news is, you won't have to pay to replace any armco if you wreck- the bad news is, the energy some armco might have absorbed will go into your car instead. More about that later, too.
My two days started off early, at 4:30am on Saturday. Transit to the track would take only a couple of hours, but I needed to be there for tech inspection by 7am. I had the car packed and ready to go the night before, and was out on the road reasonably on time. I was over an hour into my ride on Rte 84 in CT when I caught up to a cherry '92 BMW 325is with a Lime Rock sticker in the window. Odds were pretty good this was somebody with whom I shared a common destination. We pulled along side each other and traded the hairy eyeball before deciding we had a common goal, and followed each other (and our GPS's) the rest of the way to the track. We subsequently parked together and ended up pal'ing around the whole weekend.
My car sailed through tech inspection and I was ready to go. I had fresh brake fluid, a couple of new brake wear sensors, and some aggressive brake pads which I swap in for track use. I had also given my coil-overs a close inspection to make sure everything was up to snuff, a habit I've acquired after my abrupt disassembly experience at Pocono. Another minor mod had been to install an aluminum gas pedal over the stock pedal- I've had some difficulty heel-and-toeing in narrow driving shoes, so I installed the pedal just slightly offset, which made a nice difference. No more missed foot placement on the brake- between a lot of practice and the slightly increased margin for error, I was able to reach the gas pedal with a roll of the ankle reliably all weekend.
Next up was the driver's meeting, where the club does some introductions and hands out a generous dose of cautionary advice. The Boston chapter has a (only partially) humorous tradition that involves raising your right hand and promising not to do anything stupid that would prevent driving home in the car we came in. Everybody gets a smile out of that, but also a little reminder that there are consequences to getting too comfortable out there.
I like to think I have a bit of experience on track, but of course it's nothing to compared to some. I haven't done any door-to-door competition, and there are guys at every event with hundreds of trackdays under their belts. I get one or two days a year, and so I'm content to be placed in the novice run group, in particular when I've never driven the track before. We had around 20+ drivers in my run group, most with between 3-5 days experience, but several for whom this would be their first event. Our first stop on both days would be an hour of classroom time, to talk about the specifics of the track and the basic skills we would need to survive. Our chief instructor was a very engaging speaker, so this was not at all an onerous requirement. After that it was off to find our instructors and get ready for some seat time.
My instructor was a very personable and enthusiastic guy named Steve. We hit it off right away and were chatting up a storm as we belted in and headed to the pits. Ironically, we both promptly forgot a key item from the morning driver's meeting- there is no blend line painted at pit exit just yet, and we were expected to keep left on pit exit all the way to the apex of turn two. I blew that one completely by blending way early, and since we were both new to the track, Steve missed it too. So a black flag ensued in my very first session, an embarrassing way to get started! We had no idea why we were flagged, but a friendly reminder at the end of a drive-thru made it clear and we were on our way again.
With all my sim racing experience, I consider myself a fairly quick study when it comes to learning a new track, but this one took longer than I expected. To start with there are a lot of turns, and with such short sight lines many of them look the same. The apexes on many of the turns are much later than they look. Session one was all about getting familiar with the track, but by the end I just wasn't there yet.
Session two I really started to put it together, and by the end of the session I was finally where I belonged on every corner entry, and beginning to pick up speed.
After lunch and a bit more classroom time, I really started to figure the track out, and began frequently overtaking cars in my group. Session three was also the unfortunate occasion for a reminder about the risks of track driving - I passed a nice M3 stuffed into the jersey barrier, with the whole right front pushed in and some airbags deployed. The driver experienced some snap oversteer after matting the throttle going up the hill into turn 5, and couldn't save it. My car (with almost 200hp less than that M3) had already been kicking in the traction control in that same spot; this unpleasant incident helped me resolve to just leave the traction on. Despite everything the Boston chapter does to save its drivers from themselves, all 3 events I've been to have included some bent sheet metal, though this is the first time it was a novice who paid the price- the other times it was experienced drivers getting a little too far over the edge.
By session four I am ready to go. Generally I've got the track down, though I'm still hunting for the ideal line through turns 7 and 12, and I have plenty of work to do to stay consistent everywhere else. But I'm braking aggressively and confidently and I really feel like I'm flying. This is what it's all about- I'm in the zone and fully into the never-ending pursuit of perfection. Nope, I'm never quite attaining it, but to me one of the attractions of track driving is that I get a fresh chance to be at my best every lap- every couple of minutes I get another opportunity to be better than I've ever been. I may or may not come close, but odds are that each lap I've done something really well that makes me think the next lap will be *the one*. It's a self-perpetuating cycle that is intoxicating.
So, a great end to day one. Feedback from my instructor is very encouraging- he comments on how comfortable I am with my car, and that he's sure I'm ready to be promoted to run group 2. The club has some leftover beer from a social event, and once the track is cold it's free beer and fish stories from all the drivers. What a blast!
The weather outlook, however- not so much. When I signed up for the event I signed up to camp at the track. Hey, it's out in the mountains and woods, I figured me and a few other guys could have some fun sitting around a campfire shooting the breeze about track driving, what could be better than that? Well, mother nature had other ideas. A big storm rolled in at the end of the day and pelted the track with wind and rain all night. Sleeping outside in a tent was kind of a non-starter, so I put the seats down in the back of the car and spread out my sleeping blankets inside. A comical outcome for a dude my age, but what are ya gonna do? In the end it wasn't so bad, I've definitely had worse nights sleep in my life.
The storm rolled in as promised, and by morning that unpaved parking lot had turned into primordial soup. More than once the next morning I stepped into mud inches deep thinking I was stepping on some reasonably solid ground. Fortunately I had more than one pair of shoes, but I was definitely wishing I had boots.
The track was a similar story. For session one it was still raining steadily, and there were multiple rivers and areas of standing water to worry about. The standing water zones were obscuring the lines in some places on the track, but that was easy enough to cope with. For me, the most disturbing section was the main straight.
The main straight isn't really a straight at all, it's a very long slow right hander, followed by a kink to the righ and a short uphill braking zone into a left-hander. In the dry, it takes some will power to keep the pedal to the floor and approach the barrier in order to take a straight shot through that kink and brake for the left. I had that down by the end of Day 1 and was moving through that kink pretty well. On the morning of day 2, the left had a river flowing onto the track, which then progressed down the short uphill, then back across the track before the kink. There was standing water all down the left side of the straight, so no opportunity to move left to set up for the kink. I was unnerved by the whole thing and was lifting halfway down the straight to prepare. I was equally conservative in a few other places on the track, all adding up to around 30 seconds extra per lap. I've done a full day in the rain at Lime Rock, but even that small track feels spacious compared to the narrow runoffs at Palmer.
By session two, however, a dry line is beginning to appear, and my confidence is coming back. Still not braking like I was the day before, but lifting much less and only 10 seconds behind my lap times from day 1.
Session 3, much to my relief, is dry! The track is completely clear, and I'm back to where I was the day before. I spend most of this session following a Mazda RX-8 and having a great time of it. I'm much faster in a couple of key corners and on the straight, and he's faster everywhere else. I had so much fun that session that I decided it was the perfect time to call it a weekend- as we park from session 3 a light rain comes back in, and I decided I'd rather not face the wet again.
With the current limits of my yearly track time agenda, I have a few more tracks to check off before I start doing repeats, but I have to say, this is a jewel of a track. I'll gladly come back to Palmer again in the future, and I'll gladly do it with BMWCCA.
Some of my Facebook friends will have already seen this video from this summer. Here at last is a proper write-up of my adventure.
Early in 2014, my wife and I started planning a family trip to Europe. My oldest daughter would be headed off to college in the fall, and we saw this as probably our last chance to all travel together. Our other impetus for this trip was my youngest daughter's destination of Bilbao, in northern Spain, where she would be spending 3 weeks as an exchange student. With that as an anchor destination, we finally settled on flying into Italy, making our way across France, and finally into Spain, over the span of almost two weeks.
Italy, France, and Spain? As a Motorsport nut, it would have easily been possible to turn this into a completely gearhead-focused trip. As a family man, of course, that was unrealistic. Fortunately my family accepts that this is part of who I am, and they are always willing to give me some room to follow my passion, as long as I keep it within reason. So as we narrowed down the stops along our route, I was constantly evaluating nearby locations of interest.
Beyond the concerns of cost and convenience, I had to get lucky on schedule to find a venue with a coinciding public driving event, and also find a place to rent a car for the track. I investigated Monza (too expensive), Vallelunga (too far out of the way), Paul Ricard (a little of both), before finding the GT Experience at Circuit de Catalunya. The price was right, and we were already planning to stay in Barcelona, so it would be easy to squeeze in a morning on the track with minimal disruption. It wouldn't be a lot of track time, but it would be a Ferrari on a Legendary European F1 circuit- check two boxes on that ultimate Motorsport dream list!
As a bonus adventure, I slipped Monaco into our route. We spent a gorgeous afternoon there, including walking a portion of the F1 course up the hill to Casino Square, and had a great dinner on the famous harbor. An afternoon here was not quite long enough- I would love to go back, maybe even for the vintage Grand Prix weekend.
So finally, on to the topic at hand. We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express just outside the circuit grounds. I was out the door early, leaving my family to an unusually late sleep-in and relaxed breakfast. The GT Experience crew met me and a few other early-birds at the gates, and we followed them down to the paddock for check-in and orientation.
The organization sets up shop across four garage spaces in the paddock. I hardly know any Spanish, so I was a little worried about language barrier, but by this time I had been out of my language comfort zone for a week already, so from that perspective it was just another day! I had to ask for English a couple of times during check-in, but they were very accommodating overall. Through the garages and into the pits, there was a nice long line of Ferraris waiting for us. I had booked an F430, but they also had a couple of 458s, and I was surprised to also find a Radical in the garage (I think that wasn't for public use).
After a little bit of waiting as people checked in, the next order of business was a recon lap, given to a few drivers at a time in a Hummer H2. This was the only time language was a problem- the other drivers were native Spanish speakers, so I was reluctant to bring up the fact I had no idea what anybody was saying :) I have enough track experience to know mostly what I was looking for as we went around the track, so I did my best to pay attention to the brake and apex cones and flag stations on my own. However, it did push me to make absolutely sure my co-pilot was going to be an English speaker! In the end, I needn't have worried, the staff was on the ball and reserved the right combination for me. In the video, that's what you'll hear me talking about at first, but once my guide caught on he quickly put me at ease that he was going to tell me everything I needed to know as we went.
As for the car: What a beauty! Classic Ferrari red, beautiful yet purposeful lines. Inside, an interesting mix of purpose and luxury; everything was covered in lovely stitched alcantara. The seats were low, but cushy. The overall effect was sporting, but surprisingly comfortable; in retrospect I think my expectations were jaded more by Ferrari's Motorsport history than by its obvious luxury qualifications, so I was pleasantly impressed with how comfortable the whole experience was- there is much less compromise required in comfort than I anticipated, and I guess that is why the price of ownership comes so high.
I would only continue to be more impressed as we got rolling. Around 450 prancing horses started wailing behind me, and their crescendo is something you want to hear over and over again. The paddle shift was extremely quick, and packed a healthy wallop on every shift. The view ahead is excellent; turn-in immediate and precise and intuitive. The braking points marked on the track were far too generous- I didn't do anything to push the issue, but I'm confident the car was capable of braking at around 25% of the marked distance; it felt like I was practically idling down to the apex. All that on the lowest of sport settings; what could this thing do when truly unleashed? The car was so confidence inspiring that I felt acclimated in about a quarter of a lap- which was good, because I'd only paid for three! Yes, after all that, I was only booked for three laps. At €250 I still think it was worth it. I had the option to buy one more lap, but I figured 4 laps versus 3 wasn't going to make a difference, and still stand by that.
As you can see from the video, I did have a brief sector in my first lap stuck behind other cars, but in general my guide was more than happy to have me pass slower cars... which seemed to be all of them. I was ready to go for broke hunting apexes, and had a great time of it. The interior of the track is tighter than I expected, and feels like a large stadium- it must be a great place to watch an F1 event. We were on the National layout, which used most of the track but meant the main straight was noticeably abbreviated. Still, 205 km/h was pretty impressive in that distance.
And just like that... It was done! Even with the limited seat-time, I am still very satisfied with the experience. The car was better than I imagined, and amazingly friendly despite its high limits. If you ever get the chance, get behind the wheel, you won't be sorry.
A couple of nice production videos from teams that drove the 2013 Nurburgring 24 Hrs.
From the Falken Tire team (sorry, can't embed this one):
And from BMW:
Apparently the friendly cartoon Michelin Man wasn't always so appealing! Say hello to (the kinda creepy) Mr. Bibendum, as he was known before a much needed image makeover.
Read more at TheOldMotor
Had a great day at the Grand Am finale at Lime Rock last weekend. Couldn't have asked for a more beautiful fall day at one of America's more scenic road courses!
LOL, those crazy young men and their driving machines!
Read more about this (wisely) long-extinct sport at TheChicane
Another of my favorite events, shot by another of my favorite motorsports photographers. Great stuff by Camden Thrasher at a place now near and dear to my heart, the Nurburgring.
See more at Camden Thrasher Images.
One of my favorite events, shot by Julian Mahiels, one of my favorite motorsports photographers. Just imagine...
This past weekend I checked off a definite bucket-list item: driving the Nordschleife!
This was a dream that I never really thought I'd fulfill. I've long hoped to be able to do some international travel with my family, presuming I magically become wealthy at some point, but who knows where Germany would fall on our list of places to visit, so I didn't see the opportunity coming any time soon. Lucky for me a business trip popped up for a week in Wilhelmshaven, a port town on the north end of the country. It's a long way from Nurburg, but the good news was I'd be flying in on Sunday and have a day to myself. I've known about the possibility of the trip for some time, but until the contract was in place I didn't want to talk about it and jinx myself. Finally the contract came in a scant 3 weeks ago, and I frantically made my plans. I flew into Frankfurt, arriving at 5:30am on an overnight flight. I rented a car and drove for two hours to the 'ring, did my laps, drove back to Frankfurt to catch a 2:15pm train, and rode the train for almost 6 hours to get to Wilhelmshaven. It was a long day, I only dozed for about 1/2 hour on the plane... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Before even getting to the 'Ring came my first drive on the autobahn. Those stories you hear are true- the law says keep to the right except to pass, but it's more than just a law, it's also a survival imperative. You will be passed by German sedans doing 140+ mph in the left lane, so you will learn quickly to move over lest you become a hood ornament on one of those fliers! The autobahn has long stretches of unlimited speed, but it also has limited areas. I was good at recognizing the speed limit signs, but it took me a couple of times to recognize the "limit removed" signs- my first clue would be the sudden rush of high-speed traffic flying by me again, and I would follow back up to speed. I was comfortable doing around 150-160km/hr in my rented Jetta wagon, seemed like its natural cruising pace.
Nurburg is nestled in a beautiful region of hills, pine forests, and manicured fields. I drove past a number of villages tucked tightly into little valleys so only their red clay roofs showed from the road. The last thing you would expect to come upon out here is an F1 facility, but there it is. The GP portion of the track is now infamously overbuilt, and I got a good look at the now-inactive roller coaster. For those who don't know about it, this ambitious development plan is now in a lot of financial trouble, and the entire facility is for sale. To a driving nut like myself, this is akin to hearing that Jerusalem is for sale, and in danger of being leveled to create a golf course. Now that I've tasted a bit of the experience, I think management got themselves in this position through a fundamental misunderstanding of their audience. The development appears to have targeted a large and affluent F1 fan crowd, which probably works fine, except that only one F1 race is hosted every two years. The people who come there the rest of the year are drivers immersed in the culture of the car, and they are extraordinarily happy to sit in the parking lot, look at each others' cars, and swap stories about their 'Ring laps. The best development they could have made at that track to serve 95% of the calendar year would have been to quadruple the size of the parking lot at the Nordschleife tourist entrance, because it fills early with an enthusiastic crowd that has another kind of roller coaster in mind. So on to that...
The Nordschleife is the remains of a long F1 track first created from public roads in the 1920's. There were a lot of tracks like that in the early days, but *very* few survive today. Not only has the Nordschleife survived thus far, it has been updated to modern standards including guard rails, curbs, and safety catch fences around its entire 17km length. Formula 1 stopped using it in 1976 after one too many fiery crashes, but it is still used yearly for popular events such as the VLN 24-hour endurance race. The layout includes a staggering 73 turns, all of them unique when coupled with the unending elevation changes. Astonishingly (to a liability-minded American like myself), the track is opened to the public frequently for "Tourist Days". Drive up, pay your 23 euro or so, and you can drive one of racing's most legendary tracks.
This track is rightly considered the biggest challenge in the racing world, and with the challenge comes a very real danger of getting it wrong. It is fairly narrow in most places, with very little runoff on either side before the 3-4 feet of guard rail that line the entire track. Spinning out here at high speed typically means pinballing back and forth between the guard rails, and in the short time I was there I saw the results of that happening to a nice Z06 Corvette, as can be seen in one of my in-car videos.
With such a reputation, rental car companies *really* don't like to find out you've taken their rental car on the 'Ring. Rumor has it they periodically send spotters to the track during tourist drives just to make sure, and I've heard of people being banned from Avis forever for their trouble. Fortunately that has given rise to a small number of companies who prep cars as 'Ring rentals. I settled on Rent4Ring Gmbh on the recommendation of BridgeToGantry, a popular Tourist Days web community.
Rent4Ring offers several different cars to choose from, starting with their popular Suzuki Swifts. That may sound funny, but they do a nice job preparing the little cars, whose short wheelbase makes them quite nimble when tuned properly. They are surprisingly quick on a roadcourse like the Ring where top speed is not paramount, and in the right hands they can surprise some much more powerful cars. You'll see several of them in my videos, some that I passed and some that passed me!
As for me, I was really looking for a rear-drive car to maximize my experience, especially since I expect I may only get the chance to do this once. I settled on a Subaru BRZ. This is a new sports car model jointly developed with Toyota, rear wheel drive with just a little over 200 horsepower as tuned by Rent4Ring. I also went for a paddle-shifting automatic. I normally drive a stick, but I figured that operating one less pedal this time would leave more concentration for staying on the road :) The paddle-shifting worked out fine; the car shifted positively and held whatever gear I selected. With 200hp the BRZ is peppy but not over-powered, and comes with a full suite of electronic traction and spin controls, so I was confident I should be able to push this car without getting myself in a lot of trouble. Rent4Ring strips the interior of all their cars, and installs a full roll cage, racing seats, and 4-point racing harnesses. Suspensions and exhausts are modified for road-course use, and nice sticky tires installed. The whole package felt very well put together.
The entire staff was very friendly, and fostered a jovial atmosphere with everyone there for a car. We received a good briefing about what to expect and how to behave on track, and a bit of warning about common mistakes and their serious repurcussions. Then we were fitted individually into our cars and sent on our merry way to the track entrance.
How to describe that first lap? I'd had the jitters for days in anticipation; in fact it was probably a blessing that I couldn't plan until so shortly before the trip happened- if I had months to think about it I wouldn't have slept for a week. But there I was helmeted and strapped in, so tightly in fact that I couldn't reach the pass machine to swipe open the gate at the entrance to the Nordschleife :) I worked the badge holder over my helmet and managed to get the gate open, and I was off at last.
I've been driving this track in computer simulations for years, so I was familiar with the track layout before I got there. In a track this size, it's extremely difficult to memorize each corner as you would do with an ordinary track. The strategy therefore is to memorize the most dangerous ones so that you can recognize where to be prepared to slow before it's too late. The simulated track is remarkably accurate, and I fully recognized the more iconic corners, and had very little trouble adapting. To my relief, I didn't set a tire wrong the entire time I was there, or even experience one moment of panic- testament to my own mental preparedness and my immediate confidence in the car.
I treated my first lap as a reconnaissance lap, soaking in the sights and sounds and marveling at the elevation changes, which are difficult to get a sense of in a simulation. More than gross elevation change, the track sharply undulates in a few places, and the car bounces and moves around quite a bit if you're going fast enough. I was very cautious with traffic, backing off and letting faster cars by with no hesitation. I was passed by the afore-mentioned Corvette around halfway through the lap- he blew by me in the faster 2nd sector, and came unnecessarily close to me in the process. At the time I wondered about the driver's precision; the proof is on the tape, I guess, as I later passed that Vette on a flat-bed, missing some fiberglass from both ends.
At the end of the lap I made my sole rookie mistake- I nearly entered the one-way parking lot from the wrong end. A sharp yell from the safety people patrolling the lot stopped me quickly, and I sheepishly backed up and got a tolerant smile for the foolish newbie :) I parked and got my dash-cam installed and took a quick walk around the lot to take a few pictures, then it was back to the track.
Gaining in confidence for the second lap, though still holding back at a couple of corners where I wasn't 100% sure what was on the other side. It was still early and I saw very little traffic; I could hardly imagine my good fortune at having the entire Nordschleife practically to myself. There were a few photographers out, and a couple of people were starting to show up at the spectator area at Echsbach. I got the stability control to kick in a couple of times, but under the circumstances I wasn't even tempted to turn it off- I'd much rather work around it than risk it all going wrong. It was loud- you can hear it in the video, sort of a sharp groan as it pulses the ABS. By the end of the day I had the traction light flashing like mad as the rear suspension struggled to keep both tires on the pavement at every lump and crest.
Lap 3 I didn't even leave the track but used the on-track lane to rejoin the entrance. This would turn out to be my fastest lap of the day- traffic was still very light, and I was confident and comfortable enough to start pushing pretty hard. I was still conservative for a couple of passes, but when I had the track to myself I was flying right along, lifting much less than before. It was cold out that day, overcast and in the low 50's, but by the end of this lap I was sweating up a storm! When I was done I had to pull off to remove my jacket and cool off a bit.
I was fully committed by lap 4, and got into the stability control a lot. That's fun, but making the car slow itself is a clue that you're making mistakes. This is when I came upon the yellow flags at Fuchsrohre and saw the wrecked Corvette on the side of the track. The track was beginning to get busy at this point; I was very conscious of faster traffic coming up behind me. They're rarely hesitant to pass, so if you're smart about staying to the right and lifting briefly you can both get on your way with very little disruption. My only mistake on a couple of occasions was misjudging the rate other cars were closing on me and slowing well before I needed to, but most of the time letting faster traffic through had no effect on my enjoyment of what I was doing.
After lap 4 I parked again for a few minutes to cool down and give enough time to clear the Corvette. The workers were quick but I still managed to catch up to the Vette on the flatbead- I was extra cautious there, certainly didn't want to be the moron that crashed into the wrecker! I was much smoother on laps 5-6 and didn't kick in the stability near as often as I did on lap 4.
And with that, it was done! I had the option to spring for more laps if I wanted to, but the parking lot was already full and more cars were streaming in; the track was well on its way to getting very busy. Plus I had a tight timetable to get back to Frankfurt and catch my train. So I headed back to Rent4Ring.
The guys at Rent4Ring checked my car back in, and had a nice little joke with me about finding damage- there wasn't any, but the look on my face was no doubt priceless :) I told them what a great time I'd had, how much I liked the car, and how my lap timer said I'd turned a 9:31, which is respectably quick for a first-timer, and even elicited a "Bloody hell!" from the fellow who gave us our briefing. I'm certain I could have shaved another 10 seconds or so off of that time if not for the increased traffic and persisting yellow flag in my last two laps.
The track and the experience were everything I could have hoped for, and I confess to taking a great amount of pride in having faced the legendary Nordschleife. I'm a long way from being its master, but I survived its challenge competently and came away with a respectable lap time.
My lasting impression will be of what a singularly unique place this is. It takes a very special culture to preserve a piece of road like the Nordschleife, to make it publicly available for tourist days, and to tolerate the fact that it daily claims a regular sacrifice of sheet metal. Surely if such an environment still existed in the US it would be headline news until it was shut down. I feel that I've experienced an anachronism of driving history and count myself immeasurably lucky to have had the opportunity.
More videos to follow once I get to a better internet connection!
Bonus pics from the car park:
How to decorate your Porsche RS
There's that Vette again in the background... soon to be missing a lot of that rear valence...
Looks just like Mike Miller's car, seen here in its natural habitat
Starting to fill up now
EDIT: Finally got to a reasonably stable internet connection, here's two more vids!
Lap 3: My fastest of the day. Still a little tentative, but this would turn out to be my last uninterrupted lap.
Lap 4: This one has a large yellow-flag area for that ripped up Corvette!
Sad to record the passing of another great racing legend: John Fitch has passed away at age 95.
Read all about the storied career of one of racing's great gentlemen at AutoWeek
I do love me some vintage racing posters! Here's a great collection, straight from MB itself!
In case you missed it: Day 1
Patrick, my instructor, asked me to come back on the morning of day 2 with a new set of goals. By the end of day 1 I felt that I had a solid understanding of the fundamentals I needed to practice until I was consistent, but there was one area where I still needed some improvement. Ideally when you exit a corner, you're hard on the gas, unwinding the steering wheel, and the car naturally "tracks out" at its grip limit all the way to the far side of the next straight. I was truly tracking out only about half of the time; in the rest of the corners the car settled naturally closer to the center of the track and I would steer out the rest of the way. Patrick reinforced that this meant I was either slowing too much for the corner, or getting back on the gas too late, or both. We agreed my eyes had a lot to do with it- the more I was able to look ahead to find the corner exit, the earlier I would get on the gas, and the better I would track out. I also wanted to improve my line through the bus-stop chicane, and improve my consistency braking for Turn 6, the fallaway downhill left. Patrick also wanted me to learn to throttle steer the car into the apex of turn 5.
We went out together for the first session of the day. In turn 5, Patrick had me press and release the throttle to feel the car's balance change, and to show me how I could tuck the nose of the car into the apex with a gentle lift of the throttle, shifting the balance of the car forward. This technique let me accelerate longer out of the chicane, where before I had been holding a steady throttle through the entrance to the turn.
Getting through Turn 5 faster and faster meant that I was going into Turn 6 faster, needing to brake harder. I was now charging downhill at over 100mph, and my braking was getting a bit frantic at times, which did nothing for my goal of consistency. In fact I was dealing with the need to shift my braking points all over the track. Patrick observed that I got on the brake at the same points lap after lap, which would be a good thing as long as my entry speeds were the same each time, but unfortunately they weren't. He quipped that "No good turn goes unpunished; as your exit speeds get better you will have to adjust your braking points on the following corners".
Immediately after that first group 2 session, there was a solo session. Patrick and I talked for a couple of minutes about what I would work on the rest of the day and he got out. I fired up the car and got back in line for the solo session. Traffic was extremely light, plus my pace was getting closer to everyone else's, so I didn't see many other cars that session, and was able to attack the track at will. In my enthusiasm I lapsed badly on where my eyes were focused. At one point I barreled into Turn 9 looking just beyond the nose of the car, instead of looking far to the left for the blind apex. True to the axiom, I went straight ahead, right where my eyes were looking. It was a real pucker-factor moment; I did get the car slowed and stayed on track, and was jolted back into looking ahead as I should. About 20 minutes into the 30 minute session, I noticed the car was starting to feel squirmy under braking. The pedal was still firm, but the car was beginning to move around a little when I braked hard. That was enough for me- I came in early to let things cool. When I told Patrick, he suggested I check the tire pressures, especially in the rear. A double-stint at the pace I was now running was enough to dramatically elevate the rear tire pressures and put the car out of balance. Sure enough, he was right- I checked my pressures immediately after my next session and found the rears to be at 44psi, 5psi higher than the fronts.
A little time to reflect on my lapses in the 2nd session was very good for me. Session 3 I went out and everything came together- my downshifts were getting better and better, I was braking harder, I was keeping my eyes up where they belonged, and therefore getting on the throttle better and tracking out as I should. I was giving a lot fewer point-bys, and getting some myself from cars that I hadn't been able to keep up with on day 1. I even found room in my concentration for one more crucial skill that I had been neglecting: paying attention to the flag stations. It's easy to get lost in what you're doing and not notice when a flag is waving; in fact, the day before I had missed a "black flag all", which means that something is on the track and all cars are required to exit to the pits. Fortunately Patrick was with me at the time to point it out for me, but it stuck with me that I needed to do a better job seeing flags.
All this hard charging was very satisfying. It was also raising my fuel consumption; I had planned on refueling at lunch to make sure I didn't have another fuel starvation problem, but this time I got below a half tank in only my 3rd session, and my continued improvements in Turn 5 were enough to actually make the car stumble a couple of times. Also, though I didn't know it yet, the heavier braking was taking its toll on my brake pads, which apparently weren't up to handling the heat I was generating. They made a little noise at the beginning of session 4, but quieted down after a lap or so.
I was still moving along well in session 4. Near the end of the session I took a point-by that I regretted: I was following an M3 that was following a 330 sedan. The middle car pointed me by late on the back straight; I made the pass, but did not dare tuck in between the two cars, and did not get a point-by from the lead car before it was time to turn in for the chicane. I braked appropriately early and found room between the two cars, but in the meantime I completely missed the checkered flag flying from the flag station signifying the end of the session. Patrick later assured me I didn't violate any rules by making that pass, but we both agreed it might have been better to wave that one off.
Session 5 was an open session for instructors, group 1, and group 2 solo cars. Patrick came with me, anticipating the traffic would be heavy and the pace quick. I was still in good form for the most part, with only the occasional missed apex or slightly off-speed entry to worry about. I continued to deal with the effects of my cornering improvements; this session I repeatedly got into turn 7 carrying too much speed. In retrospect I recognized that I was shifting into 4th gear shortly before my braking point and getting briefly on the gas, which left me braking too late. Patrick confirmed that I should stay in 3rd; in fact he stayed in 3rd from the chicane all the way through turn 9.
My proudest moment of the second day came during this session. On the main straight I gave a point-by to a red Z06 Corvette, who blasted by in a cloud of V8 noise, and pulled away a little on the short straight into turn 2. I was getting good in the esses, though, and at the top of the hill I had to lift to keep from running that Vette over as we hit the main straight. Patrick was always ready with positive reinforcement when I did something right, but genuine compliments were hard-won, and I got one on the bumper of that Vette :)
My brakes were beginning to grumble steadily at this point, though the pedal was still firm and I didn't seem to be losing noticeable performance. I was worried about the rotors, which were on the car when I got it 60k miles ago, but Patrick suspected the pads were baked and beginning to crumble. I would later find out we were both right- at the end of the session the pads were visibly crumbling around the edges, and on the ride home the rotors would continue to worsen into a pulsing vibration symptomatic of warping. At this point there was only one more session for group 2, and I liked the idea of getting an early start for the long ride home, so I decided to call it a day.
Timing isn't allowed at HPDE events, but Pete did some unoffical stopwatching for me on day 1. In the morning I appeared to be turning consistent 2:42s. By afternoon I had dropped to comfortable 2:35s. From my in-car video my personal best was a 2:33 on day one; by day 2 I was doing 2:32s with a personal best 2:30.9.
1. The track is fantastic, every bit as epic as I expected it to be, and twice as challenging.
2. I love the esses best of all. Pitching the car into Turn 2 with the throttle on the floor and trusting it to grip up the hill, transitioning to 3, exiting 4 at 110mph was a thrill I won't soon forget.
3. Real instruction is absolutely invaluable. I had loads of fun at my first two (non-BMWCCA) events, but in retrospect I was wasting my time in comparison. I learned and was able to apply more in two days than I had learned in years of reading and driving on my own or with local clubs. I will definitely book events with BMWCCA from now on.
This week I attended my third career trackday event, this time at Watkins Glen International.
My first two events at Pocono and Lime Rock were challenges, but I knew Watkins Glen was going to be taking it to another level. Pocono and Lime Rock are both about 1.5 miles. Pocono has loads of runoff everywhere, and very little elevation change (it is actually a great place for a first-timer). Lime Rock has a couple of tight spots and two potentially tricky elevation changes. The Glen is about 3.5 miles, with very little runoff, and almost constant elevation changes of up to 140 feet. This is one of the world's great racetracks, with a rich history of hosting 20 years of classic Formula 1 events. Driving through the paddock and onto pit lane means following in the tire tracks of legendary race drivers. All of them respected this place for its challenges, and I would too.
I made arrangements to stay at the nearby home of long-time sim buddy Pete Schlough. We've been driving together and hanging out virtually since 2006, when Pete joined NASRL shortly before the league made the transition to Race2Play. He generously made the offer to put me up as soon as he heard I was coming out, and I invited him to join me at the track for however long as he was available. Pete was able to take Wednesday off and spend all day with me. That prospect was all the more valuable for Pete's experience as a flagman at The Glen- he's extremely familiar with all aspects of this track, and has driven it before as well.
In preparation, I put in a bunch of laps online at the wheel of my simulator, driving the track on iRacing, which features a laser-scanned version of the track that is the most accurate available. Before I even left my house I was pre-loaded with a good familiarity of the layout, which did turn out to be helpful. Pete gave me an excellent preview of recent modifications at the track, which included a couple of new paved runoff areas and the addition of a NASCAR SAFER barrier at the exit of the final turn. I was pleased to hear that a couple of the gravel traps were gone- at street car speeds, paved runoff would be preferable to being towed out of the gravel if I were to leave the track.
The trip out there was uneventful, except for the torrential rain I had to drive through. I made it in about 5 1/2 hours and was at Pete's place early. The Finger Lakes region of New York is pretty country; lots of farmland and little villages in between, with low mountains and a series of long lakes that give the area its name. Pete and I shared a pizza and some beer and talked racing easily until it was time to suppress my excitement long enough for fitful sleep :)
Montour Falls, at the bottom of the mountain
Morning came and we got caffeinated and gassed up, arriving at the track just a little later than planned. I was jittery about getting registered and getting the car through tech inspection in time; Pete chuckled and let me go about emptying my stuff out of the car into the middle of the paddock to get ready. I sailed through and we moved everything to a better spot at a more leisurely pace to set up my pop-up and get things more organized.
Unlike my first two trackdays, this event would be with the BMW Car Club of America (BMWCCA), Boston Chapter. Calling it a trackday is really doing it a bit of a disservice- it's officially called a "High Performance Driver Education" (HPDE) event. Plus it was for two days, not one! Preparation was much the same on my end, but I soon learned that the level of instruction I was to receive was to be much more extensive than that of my local car club at my first two events. A mandatory driver's meeting laid out the event rules and introduced the schedule. As a group 2 novice, I would have an instructor with me on track full time, and get an additional hour and a half of classroom time on both days. I would need official signoff from my instructor to be allowed to drive solo, which would get me access to a few extra on-track sessions.
My instructor, Patrick, came by to introduce himself, and ask a few questions about my experience, and what I hoped to learn. That last piece would be a recurring theme through both days- I was encouraged to set goals for myself for each session, to identify where I wanted to improve so that Patrick could help me get there. My overall goals for the event were to improve my braking and downshifting skills, and to generally work on smoothness in my driving. I told him I was familiar with the layout from iRacing, to which he nodded and replied that the elevation change was still going to be unfamiliar, because the simulator does not convey the vertical slope of the track (he was right, of course). We arranged to meet up at 9:30 for my first drive, and I was off to the classroom.
Class time was unstructured, looking back on it, which was fine. The instructor spent the first session going over flags, and the passing rules. Passing was allowed by point-by only, meaning you were not allowed to pass until the car you were passing had pointed to indicate he was ready for you to pass. As a non-competition event, all drivers were expected to give point-bys to faster cars at the first safe opportunity so no one would be held up for long. For the rest of both days, the classroom was a place to ask any questions and talk about what were seeing on track, and for the chief instructor to comment on anything that he'd seen happening out there.
Patrick on track in his Dinan 325
Finally it was time to helmet up and hit the track. It was sunny but windy and cool on top of the mountain, but I'd by lying if I said my knees were shaky all because of the cold; I was quite amped up by now. Patrick brought a headset setup that slipped into my helmet so we could hear each other on track.
Windows are kept rolled down to make it easier to extract someone from a car if necessary, so it gets quite loud in the car at speed, and even with the headset I sometimes needed Patrick to repeat the last thing he said. Patrick drove my car first, and narrated extensively about the things he was doing and especially where his eyes were looking as we lapped the track twice. The eyes are key in race driving- the fundamental axiom is that "Where the eyes go, the car follows"; in other words, you will naturally tend to drive the car where you are looking. I knew the axiom, had heard and read it for years, but had not had it driven into me as a necessity the way I was about to for the next two days. Patrick had an almost supernatural ability to know where I was looking at all times and was a steady reminder in my ear when I wasn't focused where I should be. My two first laps at The Glen were a stream of key points to focus on: turn-in points, corner apexes, corner exits, flag stations, through all eleven corners.
We pulled into the pits and switched seats, and spent a little time on my seating position. Unfortunately my seat doesn't adjust low enough to accomodate the thickness of a helmet added to my 6ft of height, but with a little work we were able to get me situated a little better than I originally had myself set up, and we were off.
The online preparation did work- mentally I was prepared for every corner as it came, despite the additional gobs of visceral input that was flooding in: g-forces, wind buffeting, noise from engines and tires, the smell of hot brakes. Which is not to say I wasn't still intimidated by some corners- the uphill esses (turns 2,3,4) feel a lot faster in real life than in the sim, with sustained left, right, left g forces pulling on you; turn 6 is a sharp downhill left approached in 4th gear that looks very scary at speed. Patrick was still narrating as I drove: "Turn in now; find the apex; patience; power on... heavy brake... turn-in". I was comfortable until we got to turn 9. Patrick was still narrating, but when he instructed me "medium brake", I was looking up at the blind corner coming up and my brain was screaming "HARD brake!". I got through it safe but a bit slow and sloppy, and would continue to work on that corner the rest of the day.
First session debrief mapped out the rest of my day:
1. At the forefront, I needed to learn how to heel and toe downshift (for my non-motorsports readers, that is the practice of rolling the right foot to blip the throttle for a downshift while pressing hard on the brake at the same time). I've long known the concepts and have experimented with it before, but I'd never gotten proficient and didn't even try to do it on track. For Patrick this was clearly non-negotiable, something I absolutely needed to learn, which was all the impetus I needed to commit to it the rest of the day (and the next).
2. My eyes were everywhere but where they belonged. I was typically focused a short distance in front of the car; was staying focused on the apex until I was just about to pass it; mostly missed the corner workers altogether. Lots of work to do.
3. I was still a mess in turn 9. I needed to learn visual references to find the blind apex so I would know when to turn in properly, and needed to learn the racing line better when I did turn in.
Next session I rode along with Patrick in his car. He drives a well worn 325 with 318,000 miles on it, which makes my 330Ci seem like a babe in the woods at 156,000! Patrick was extremely relaxed on track, setting the wheel once for each corner and maintaining a smooth arc without the constant adjustments I kept making. At this point I was able to notice where his lines were different from mine- he was in earlier and tighter in a couple of corners, which I would come to understand later.
Session 2 was about putting heel-and-toe into practice. Patrick had me driving a little slower and shifting more than necessary just for the experience. Predictably I was clumsy at first- I frequently placed my foot on the brake too far away from the gas pedal to give it a blip, and just as often would partially release the brake when blipping the throttle. Patrick gave me guidance to brake at the first brake marker, then downshift halfway to the turn-in. We also worked on figuring out turn 9; learning that my inability to locate the apex was what scared me most; Patrick identified a tree just off track that was in line with the apex and gave me something to focus on.
By session 3 I was beginning to gain the muscle memory I needed for the downshifts. We continued to focus more on where I was looking, which really paid off for me first in turn 5, a long sweeping right-hander. Patrick had me looking over the infield and through the flag station to find the apex as soon as possible, then immediately further up track to find the corner exit, relying on peripheral vision to watch the approaching apex and maintain my line. As soon as the exit was visible, I was able to get back on the gas far earlier, and gained exit speed dramatically. Looking ahead was obviously a safety benefit, but this was the first instance where I clearly understood the speed benefit. The more I was able to reliably apply the practice, the faster I became at every corner. Session 4 was more of the same, continuing to improve downshifting and consistency. I was improving with my eyes, sighting down track, but continuing to bounce back and forth between looking down track and back to the apex rather than staying focused.
By the end of session 4 I was getting perilously low on fuel. My car has an unbaffled gas tank, and under sustained hard right cornering it will begin to starve for fuel with anything less than half a tank. As I got faster in turn 5, the throttle became less responsive exiting the corner, and I wished I had filled up the tank during lunch. After session 4 it was crucial I go get fuel, but I had to attend the mandatory classroom session. So I went to class and refueled after, missing session 5. Patrick signed off on my ability to go solo for the final session of the day. And I mean literally "signed off": the instructors were required to sign a form certifying that the student is qualified to safely drive solo. My green #1 solo sticker was a point of pride for me, signifying significant improvement in a short time, and justifying my faith in my own skill and potential.
My first solo session showed I was still somewhat green. I was running with some group 1 drivers and instructors, and the track was fairly busy. I was a little intimidated when cars approached from behind; no one wants to be the guy that holds up a long train of cars, and one or two of my point-bys were clumsy. But I got through it and built more confidence, while trying my best not to revert to old bad habits (or start any new ones!).
At the end of the day we were treated to a track-walk by Peter Argetsinger. Peter is a pro driver coach who has been training world-class drivers for 30+ years, and is the son of the track's designer. We stopped at most corners and Peter talked about lines and approach, it was very interesting. I mentioned elevation change earlier; at speed in the car you still don't realize just how steep the hills are, and how banked the track is. But standing on the slopes and banking it is dramatically apparent- this is one undulating track!
So ends Day 1. Pete & I took in some good Italian food in the town of Watkins Glen. I had planned on being a party animal Wednesday night, failing to take into account how mentally drained I would be by that time. I was lucky not to fall asleep in my plate of canneloni!
Next installment: Day 2, No Good Turn Goes Unpunished!
Last Friday I visited my local short-track, the Waterford Speedbowl, to learn about Accessible Racing.
Accessible Racing is a non-profit organization that has developed a handicap-accessible race car for "Arrive-and-Drive" events designed to give the thrill of a lifetime to people who would otherwise never have a chance to get behind the wheel.
The car itself is pretty amazing. This is a former Cup car whose side-impact cage has been modified to swing out like a regular car door. The seat has been modified to slide back and rotate, giving full access, especially for the wheelchair-bound.
Inside, it has an automatic transmission with electronic gear selection. It has mechanical hand controls for brake and throttle for those with normal use of their arms and hands but limited or no use of legs and feet. It has an ultra-sensitve electronic brake and throttle control for those with limited use of arms and hands.
And to keep everybody out of trouble, it has a complete second set of controls in the passenger seat, where the day's instructor, Scott, kept a watchful eye on the track's outside wall :)
Visiting this day were 9 people from NYC and their doctor. Their disabilities ran from mild (single limb) to prosthetics to one enthusiastic quadraplegic who turned out to be the best driver of the day. This was his second time participating, and I have no doubt he'll be back again given the chance. One woman had never driven a vehicle at all, and she was piloting that cup car around the oval by the end of the day!
I didn't expect a chance to drive, but I certainly didn't turn it down when it came :) Getting in the car was a lot easier than climbing into the car at the Richard Petty Experience a few years back, I'll tell you that! Plop your butt down, gather your legs in, and swing the seat into place behind the steering column. Very cool.
I used the normal pedals for the first few laps to get the measure of the track and the car, then I switched to the standard hand controls. They were surprisingly intuitive- I think the mechanical relation to the normal pedal resistance translated easily from my foot to my hand, and I had no problem modulating during corners. I didn't like having only one hand on the wheel, however, especially mid-corner in an oval, that would take some getting used to. I was under instruction not to try the electronic throttle- apparently it's super sensitive, and your average able-bodied person will put themselves through the windshield trying to apply the brake!
All in all I thought I was moving along pretty well- until I gave up control to instructor Scott for some hotlaps! That's when I realized I had been driving the car like a street car, forgetting that it was in fact a race car! Scott quickly showed me that the car had *waaay* more grip left in it, as he plastered me to the side of my seat for 10 laps around the oval. Great fun!
This is a wonderful program. Big wide smiles all around- on the faces of the people working the program as well as on the faces of the new drivers, who were clearly reveling in an experience that most of them never thought they'd ever have. Thanks to all involved for letting me share in the experience (including the track owner, who donated the day's track time)!
Cool morphing animation of the evolution of the shape of F1 cars through the years:
Teammates to the end? Carroll Shelby's teammate in the 1959 Le Mans win for Aston Martin follows him to the great paddock in the sky.
"Salvo" didn't carry quite the name recognition Shelby still enjoyed, but held quite a number of circuit and class records in his heyday, amassing an impressive 98 wins in a variety of car classes and series.
I very much enjoyed this interview, full of a gentleman's tales of the wild days of international racing:
Case in point: Roy didn't join the celebration after the Le Mans win, because his foot was too badly burned by the exhaust overheating the footwell. Keeping the pedal down even when it's literally burning your foot? Now that's my kinda guy.
Most photo credits to CART member Kevin Fitzmaurice. Thanks Kevin!
Sunday the 20th I participated in my second autocross of the year, this time with the Connecticut Autocross and Rally Team (CART). This event was CART's first visit to a lot at the Mohegan Sun Casino, which was quite the attractive proposition to me since it's only about 20 minutes from my house. Also, the pavement there is in great shape, and everybody was excited by the prospect of a lot with potential for some serious grip, as opposed to the beat-up lots we usually have access to.
The scenery was nicer than our usual locations, too!
And by "everybody", I mean *everybody*! Over 110 cars showed up and the lot was packed.
I expected the traffic to be a bit chaotic in this tight space, but CART did a pretty good job keeping it under control.
The course looped on itself on the right side, before opening up a bit on the far end, and then finishing in a slalom.
My first three runs were an unusual comedy for me. On the first run, I had my phone mounted on the windshield as usual, but this time I got a phone call as I entered the first turn! LOL, I was startled, and surprised at how much it wrecked my concentration for a second or two. 1:42.5, an ok first time but definitely in need of improvement.
Waiting for my second run the line had gotten a bit long, so I sat in the car in the sun for a fairly long time. Got a good launch, charged into T1, slammed into second gear, and the shift knob came right off in my hand! Kept the clutch in and stared at the knob in my hand, dumbfounded, then came to my senses, pitched the knob on the floor, and kept going. Much to my surprise I was still faster; the grip was coming up with the temperature, and I managed a 1:41.9. Considering how much time I was sure I had lost, I figured I was good for a 1:41 flat.
For run 3 I resolved to *select* 2nd gear as opposed to *grabbing* it. It was a good idea in theory, and in fact it helped- I only pulled the knob halfway off this time, LOL! Why on earth BMW doesn't thread their shift knobs on is beyond me- it's just friction fit, which is ridiculous, clearly doesn't hold up to heat. The same thing happened to me in my 528iT years ago. 1:42.1 this time, even though it felt faster than previous lap.
I took a look at my class competition at this point, and discovered I was more than 1.5 seconds behind the class leader, a VW GTI. I had hopes of dropping my time by a second, but 1.5? Hmmm. I pitched the shift knob completely this time and went without. It looked weird but was perfectly workable, and I knew it wasn't coming off in my hand. A better run at 1:41.7, still not close enough to my target time. I wandered down to look over that GTI, and discovered it was on R-compound competition tires. It was well-driven, too- no chance I was going to compete with this guy for first on my street tires. Oh well, at least the pressure was off- I finished the competition with my best run at 1:41.3, still a little short of my target time.
Because the event was so close to home, I convinced a few people to come check it out. My brother-in-law Pete was out of town, but his girlfriend Laurie came to watch; I've been tempting her to give it a try, but regret to say that watching may have scared her off :) My father-in-law also came; it was his call that interrupted my first run. Later on a couple of friends from work turned up (Dave & Tim), and my other brother-in-law John. They were there for the fun-runs after competition and I gave each of them a ride on the course. It's always fun to give first-timers a ride- the ride is surprisingly violent, with g-forces that you'd never imagine from watching on the sideline. All 3 held on for dear life and left impressed. And wouldn't you know, I turned my best time of the day on the first fun-run, with the 1:41.0 that I'd been looking for!
Looking forward to going back to Thompson in July, stay tuned!
Rest In Peace automotive legend Carroll Shelby, 1923-2012:
Attended my first autocross of the year yesterday with the Fairfield County Sports Car Club.
No major maintenance on my 330 this winter- knock on wood, it's been running well. I did delay taking off the snow tires a few extra weeks until I could afford a new set of Dunlop summer tires for the front. The tread thickness on the brand new tires came as a bit of a shock to me- I didn't realize just how worn my tires were. I had been planning to wait until maybe September to get the matching rears, but now I see I'll need them sooner than I thought.
Weather here in New England has been beautiful for the past few weeks, unseasonably warm in the 60s and 70s. Wouldn't you know it, though, the day I plan to autocross, it pours. The past couple of years I've had pretty bad luck with weather and motorsports- rain at Limerock, rain at my car show, rain at autocrosses. It was supposed to rain all weekend, but just to rub my nose in it, it stayed clear and sunny all day Saturday. I guess I should be grateful it wasn't pouring when the day started, but it was clearly on its way:
We actually got in a couple of dry runs in the morning, but it was still too cold for sticky tires at 50 degrees. The challenge for me is always to keep the rear of the 330 planted (oh for a limited slip diff!)- but with cold temps and worn rears I was kicking the back end out all too often. Kept it tidy enough but misjudged a couple of corners on my first run (eyes up, Hutch! Keep looking down course!). :42.7 for openers was ok, but I was hoping for better, knowing how the conditions were about to deteriorate.
For my second run it was just beginning to sprinkle here and there. This time I was on the attack, much tighter in the slalom and decisive in the first-lap fork. Still misjudged one corner (eyes up!), but improved by a second to :41.7
That was it for the dry runs. The event organizers did a nice job getting us going early so we could squeak those two in before the rain, and knowing how bad it was supposed to get, they started circulating the word that we would only do 4 runs and end the day early. That didn't get any argument from anybody, as the wind was picking up and it clearly wasn't going to be any fun out there by mid-afternoon.
So for my third run the track was wet, but not drenched. This is a when a tarmac surface is at its slipperiest, and boy was I in for a wild ride! It became abundantly clear that new rear tires were definitely in my future. The fronts responded well, good braking and very little understeer, but the rear end was all over the place, even braking loose off throttle in cornering. I got out of shape the second time through the slalom, and from there on out I was just barely keeping it together. Finally in the last turn the rear snapped out faster than I could catch it. I was lucky to gather up only two cones and not take out the timing cones that were just a few feet away when I came to a stop.
That bit at the end is the guys telling me I'm still dragging a cone under the car when I exited the course :)
Run 4 I left the traction control on and managed a 43.7. After that it was just pack up and go home!
Despite the weather I still had a good time, and I enjoy the screwups just as much as the successes. Now to talk to my wife about those new tires...
I just watched Butch & Sundance this afternoon, then wandered across this post at MotorsportRetro tonight.
Newman was such an enigma. A movie star that, off-screen, turned out to be one of us. A millionaire who started a charity foundation with a spotless legacy that survives him to this day. I watched Newman race and win at Lime Rock in a Mustang back in the 80's. When he took off that sweaty helmet after the race, he was clearly accepted among the other drivers, and didn't expect anything more, or less. Stories abound of him coming out of his trailer on a race weekend with cups pf coffee and breakfast for guys who had been sleeping under their car. I've never seen "Winning", the movie that inspired his interest in the sport, will have to look that one up.
While researching in preparation for this Sunday night's PASRL Midwest Vintage Muscle event, I found a great forum thread with a wealth of pictures from the race, and a bit of narrative recap to go along with them. Lots of fun to page through, give it a read here.
Great helmet-cam video from Brumos Porsche driver Leh Keen during the Daytona 24hrs.
Learn a bit about the long-forgotten sport of Boardtrack Racing, once the most popular spectator sport in the land!
All via AxisOfOversteer
It's a different breed, that's for sure. How anybody can drive these roads at this speed at night is beyond me!
The 1970 SCCA Trans Am event at Laguna Seca saw a season-opening win by Parnelli Jones in a Mustang Boss 302. This was the opening salvo in a battle with the Penske-prepared AMC Javelins that would last all season. Jones and teammate George Follmer ultimately dominated the series, winning 6 out of 11 events. This was a big shakeup from Penske's prior championships with Mark Donahue at the wheel of a Camaro; development of the new Javelin would continue, and Donahue would return to the top honors for 1971.
The Pan American Sim Racing League at Race2Play aims to recreate the spirit of this series with the Vintage Muscle Championship featuring a classic muscle car mod for GT Legends. This season we will visit 8 tracks from the 1968-70 Trans Am schedule, plus a midseason special oval event at Darlington. There's still time to make the season opener at Laguna Seca, this Sunday at 9pm Eastern US time.
Smooth period recap of the 1970 World Sports Car season, produced by its manufacturer's champion, Porsche!
Watch as Max Papis gives his old friend Alex Zanardi a ride around the Rally Monza circuit in his NASCAR Toyota. Alex can't wipe the grin from his face, definitely brought a smile to my own!
There's precedent for this if you reach back far enough- here is a video of the "Race of Two Worlds", when Indy cars came to Monza in the 50's! Very strange to me to see cars going the wrong way around the Monza banking, but of course the Indy cars were designed to turn left!
Enjoy this amusing look at the 1981 Las Vegas GP.
To survive, one must evolve, I suppose! This year the most daunting of classic motoring events went green- somewhat. There were 3 events, one for alternative energy vehicles, one for historic vehicles, and one for classic Ferraris.
Read all about the "inaugural" Eco Targa Florio.
Read about the first offical Grand Prix event, the 1906 French GP. 12 laps at almost an hour a lap- the race was paused after the first 6 laps and completed the next day!
Uhhh... I guess they're still silver :) But the numbers are red!
Love the mechanic's method of testing the exhaust manifold temperature. And the Mercedes looks sublime in full drift at the Nordschleife.
Read all about the 1908 New York to Paris race around the world (yes, they took the long way around, before there were roads!).
Whoa! How did I get this far in life without knowing about this website???
Just scratching the surface with these samples, what an amazing library of scans they've got here...
This past Thursday I participated in a track day event at Lime Rock Park with the Connecticut Autocross and Rally Team. I've been going to Lime Rock for years as a spectator, and have even been on the track a couple of times, once for a parade lap, and once for a ride-along in a Skip Barber Miata. But this was the first time I would get to drive myself at what I consider my home track.
This event is the culmination of a few years of driving dreams for me. I started autocrossing a few years ago, did my first track day at Pocono last year, and actually planned to go back there again this year. I figured I had left enough on the track at Pocono, which is a very simple and safe layout, that I should go back one more time before trying Lime Rock. But this year's Pocono event was cancelled due to the installation of Safer Barriers on the Nascar layout, so I decided to bite the bullet and move my registration to the year's last event at Lime Rock.
Lime Rock is a much more challenging course than Pocono. It has some fairly aggressive elevation changes, and it's much narrower with very little runoff area in places. And to make matters worse, the forecast was rain! I was a bit nervous to have my first laps be in the wet.
Though I'd been to one event before, I didn't feel at all ready to just jump onto the track, so I signed up to be in the novice group for the day. CART gives very good instruction- we received a total of more than an hour of classroom time before and after our first laps. Our instructor Paul calmed my nerves a little about driving in the rain, explaining that it would be good for us because we would be running at reduced speeds and have more time to react to everything. But my nerves came right back up when our other instructor Jim took the wheel of my car- I was reasonably comfortable everywhere except the final turn, which involves a hard right at the bottom of a downhill drop. I could not press the "I Believe" button on the grip through that turn in the rain. Jim took me through a few laps and then handed the car over to me- the "I Believe" button was still glowing, but I just couldn't push it :) The focus of our training throughout the morning was to not get on the brakes during the downhill- we were instructed to coast downhill, keep the car balanced, and turn in at the markers. My problem was, I was getting out of West Bend (the prior corner) fairly well, and was pushing 75mph when I began the downhill. Coasting got me down to maybe 70 by the time I was to turn in, but in the wet my car only had about enough grip for 60mph. My first 3-4 laps involved some fairly panicked braking mid-corner, which upset the car badly, just as we were warned against. Lucky for me the anti-spin control in my car was just waiting to save my bacon. On the second lap in particular, I remember feeling the brakes working individually to straighten the car as the rear end started to swing out to the left. The ESP in my BMW has been a hindrance more than once in autocross sessions, but on the track it really came into its own. This early incident was the only time during the day that it had to intervene with any seriousness, but occasionally the traction control would kick in to prevent wheelspin in other parts of the track; at all times it was a quiet partner that I wouldn't have noticed if the light wasn't blinking on the dash.
So anyway, it takes me a few laps, but I begin to learn that it would behoove me to do all my braking at the top of the downhill to get myself into a steady 55-60mph before turning in, and I begin to get comfortable on the track. The showers are tapering off by now, and there's only one place on the track with standing water that is really obstructing the line. My tires don't have a ton of tread left, but they are surprisingly good in the wet. I begin to ratchet up my speed on the main straight and deepen my braking points around the track. I've done a dozen laps already when I charge down the straight for a peak speed of probably 108mph, and fail to adjust my braking at the end for the extra speed I'm carrying. The double-apex hairpin at the end looms large, the wet grass and tire barriers on the other side, as I late-brake and turn in as much as I think I can, and bring the car just around the left-hand side of the track, with very little room left over between me and disaster. A real pucker-factor moment; I finish the lap and come in a bit early to regroup.
OK, so how'd I do? Off to another classroom session. As our instructor warned us, this day was not going to turn out to be a big ego-boost for any of us. The good news is, nobody went off track, though there were a couple of close calls. Some guys needed to settle down a bit and be less aggressive with the passing. As for me, I got a clean pass in and led our group; another car and I actually broke away from the novice pack and caught the rest of the group from behind in our first session; a nice feeling, even though I knew I still had a lot of work to do.
So, back at it with and admonition to work on my lines first, and worry about the speed later. Over the next couple of hours, the racing line continued to dry, and the sun came out to dry the track completely. Once the track was dry, my speed and comfort with the track really climbed. Driving in the wet may have slowed my speeds, but in my estimation the fear that was coupled with the uncertainty in grip was a detriment; the added stress was more than I needed to occupy my overloaded senses. It took me a while to work up to it, but the earlier instruction about the final turn paid off- I could accelerate right up to the downhill, coast down, and turn in at 80mph and the car would stick nicely, with no fear of pushing off into the grass on exit.
By the way, Harry's Lap Timer, the iPhone app that I'm using to record my laps, works flawlessly all day. Excellent video as you can see (well, as good as the iphone is capable of anyway), and the option to overlay my time, speed, and a g-meter on the video afterwards, all automatic without a single distraction while I'm driving. One of the best apps I've ever bought. Sometime between 12-1pm I turn my best laps of the day, consistent 1:10s according to the lap timer. I'm feeling good in Big Bend, maybe giving up a little time in the esses, probably being overly conservative at the uphill (a very dangerous spot), and still a bit conservative in the downhill (an even more dangerous spot). The track is dry and warm enough that I'm finally overheating my tires after about 10 laps; I can feel the rumble of the tread shoulder under heavy cornering, probably need to reduce pressure a little. I'm also loving the smell of my own brakes after pulling the car down to 60 from 110+ on the way to Big Bend. The windows are down and the exhaust is wailing at full song as I charge down the straight; I'm rev-matching nicely on downshifts and pulling strongly out of the corners; this is really what I'd always dreamed it would be.
Finally it's time to do our timed laps. The track is cleared and everybody gets lined up to head out... and it starts raining again :( The club decides to let some cars out on track in the hope we can dry it out before doing the timed runs, and I decide to join in.
These are some of my best laps of the day. After honking around the dry track on full attack, I back off a bit to accomodate the wet conditions. Now that I've driven the track much faster, driving in the wet at reduced speeds feels easy; this is what our instructors were trying to describe in the morning, but we were too green to get it. I'm now perfectly comfortable heading into the downhill at 60mph and run an effortless 20 laps, extremely relaxed at the wheel and completely enjoying myself.
About that lapcount- you may recall that CART was sponsoring a fundraiser, Laps for Liam. I had 4 sponsors pledging a total of $3 per lap, so I was, uh, "driven" to complete as many laps as I could throughout the day. I ended the day with a total of 70 laps, raising a total of $310 between pledges and donors. Thanks very much to everyone who contributed!
The track was still damp on about 50% of the line when the club decided to go ahead with timed laps. I was all warmed up after doing so much time under the current conditions, plus I was a bit concerned it might rain again, so I was the 3rd car out. It turns out that was a mistake- the sun came back out and the track continued to dry after my runs, so much of the field was timed in dry conditions and my damp times just didn't stack up. I ended up tied for 4th in my group of 8. Not so bad for a first timer at Lime Rock, but I just know I could have placed 3rd or possibly 2nd if I had been smart enough to wait until later in the session.
Back to open practice sessions after that, and the hardest rains of the day came late in the afternoon. I went out to generate some more lap $, but even I had to come in before long as the water started to turn parts of the track into a river.
All in all, a very satisfying day. I feel like I did well, but know I have plenty of room for improvement; what could be better, really? I'm very happy that I'm familiar and comfortable at last with my home track, and foresee many trackdays there in my future.
Some photo credits to CART members Kevin Fitzmaurice and Marc Boerma
Other random shots from the day:
Speed Week on the salt is one of my favorite events. There's a rich history of bringing cars to the flats to push the ground speed record boundaries, or even just to answer the eternal question: "What'll she do?" A wonderful variety of cars show up, from rat rods to original rods to streamliners to belly-tankers. And they all look great photographed on the salt.
See the full gallery at SportsCarDigest
The car below is part of a new series called "Unlimited Racing Champhionship", a new spec racing series by IMSA and ALMS. Looks awesome, I hope this takes off!
Early this month the second Gstaad Classic took place in the Swiss alps. Looks like a beautiful event- start this video playing and turn it up while you browse the enormous gallery of pics from one of my favorite photographers (and all around talented guy) Julien Mahiels.
See the full gallery at SportsCarDigest
Yep, outta their friggin' minds!
Read about one of Argentinia's proudest motorsports moments, a sort-of-victory at the 1969 Nurburgring 84 Hours - yes, you read that right, 84 hours at the 'Ring!
Read on at Jalopnik
Read about the family F1 team that eventually consumed the career of double world champion Emerson Fittipaldi at MotorsportRetro
Might not have worked out optimally, but if I had to guess, I'll bet Emmo has no regrets. Quite the grand adventure, the kind that may be lost to the sport today.
Excellent period film about the 1951 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, featuring a classic battle between Fangio and Ascari.
Click through to AxisOfOversteer.
A recycle from an older post, but this time all in one piece instead of multiples. Enjoy this excellent period documentary on the 1965 Targa Florio!
On Sunday I attended my 3rd autocross of the year, this time with the Connecticut Autocross and Rally Team (CART), on the grounds of Thompson International Speedway in Thompson, CT.
Usually I autocross with Fairfield County Sports Car Club, but I was drawn by the new venue to join CART for this event. Thompson has a nice big parking area that they're experimenting with opening up to car clubs. The area open two us features two lots connected by a short section of road which is actually a remnant of the old Thompson road course. If you're not familiar with it (I just discovered it myself a couple of years ago, and I live here!), Thompson was the first paved oval track in the US. The road course was built in the 40s, but has been abandoned since the 80s, and now part of it serves as the paddock and parking. Read about its long history here.
Anyway, the course layout CART put together starts in the lower lot, charges up the hill to the second smaller lot, runs around that lot and back down the hill to another open area. All that adds up to runs of over a minute, and some peak speeds much higher than we're used to seeing at autocross events around here.
It's very difficult to find a suitable large lot in CT that is open to the idea of autocrossing, so the clubs make do with smaller spaces and correspondingly lower speeds. Not so much a problem here, where most cars could make it into 3rd gear going up and down the hill; I hit about 65mph, and the Factory Five Cobra that turned in the day's fastest time hit 80mph. Here we see CT Racing's Mike Miller in his race-prepped RX-7 cruising right along at the bottom of the hill:
That Prius in the foreground belongs to Tom Mak, and believe it or not, he placed that thing 33rd out of 77 drivers in overall raw times. Quite the drive, I'm tremendously relieved he didn't beat me with it... this time :)
I had signed up for Street Tire class (STA), a class for lightly modified cars on, you guessed it, street tires (as opposed to racing slicks). But there weren't enough cars in my class, so I ended up dumped into BSP with some steep competition, among them a couple of Corvettes and an all-wheel drive Subaru STI. One of the Corvettes was even on slicks; I believe I belonged in the slower DSP class, but as a visitor I was just in it for the fun and didn't make a stink.
The day started out overcast, and we endured passing light showers all morning, a couple of them heavy enough to get the track soaked down pretty well by the time we were ready to start our runs. It was kind of a mixed blessing; it kept down the oppressive heat that had been plaguing us all week, otherwise we would all have totally baked out there in the sun.
On the other hand- the track was wet! I left the traction control on in the damp, I figured with the higher speeds I might appreciate the safety buffer while I tested the limits with standing water on the track. As usual, the traction computer was permissive up to a point, but eventually it likes to throw a wet towel on the fun. The quicker I respond by backing off the throttle, the quicker it will loosen its fist, so I've got the hang of dealing with it for the most part. My biggest challenge is always coping with rear wheelspin, even in the dry, so I'm pretty sure leaving it on in the wet was the right thing to do.
That was my 2nd run of the morning, and at 72 seconds, the fastest I would manage in the wet.
Because of the track layout, there was a relatively long wait between cars, and therefore the runs weren't going by all that quickly. The clouds finally broke around 2pm, and the sun began to dry the track fairly quickly. By the time I took the line for my 4th run it was about 2:45, and the word come out that we would probably only do 4 runs total. Some of the driving line had dried out, but a lot of it was still damp, and there was standing water in a few spots. If this was going to be my last run, I'd better make it count!
Well, you can see how that turned out :) I made the left turn at the top of the hill and got on the throttle a little too soon, passing through a puddle, and the rear end stepped right out on me. It doesn't really show on the video, but I tank-slapped back the other way a little bit too, then got it gathered up and was able to keep moving. It killed my time, though, and I thought that was it for the day. In my distraction, I missed second gear coming back through the slalom, ending up with yet another 72 second run when I should have made up a ton of time.
Much to my relief, everyone finished their 4th runs in good time, and we had time to make a 5th. Here was my chance for redemption; I was looking to get into the 60's, but really only expected to do a 69. I was elated to turn in a 65.8, much better than I thought I could do. I knew that was good enough for 2nd in class after the 4th run, but had no idea what times the other drivers were going to generate; surely they were going to show some improvement as well, but how much?
They'd improve quite a bit, actually :) I ended up 5th out of 7, with some consolation that I was within a half-second of one of the Corvettes and the AWD Subaru. I was 16th overall out of 77, not a bad day in the end.
BTW, the videos and overlays were done with the "Harry's Lap Timer" iPhone app I posted about a while ago. It performed great as you can see. I'd like to pick up an external gps antenna to improve the accuracy a bit, but all in all I'm thrilled with it.
Some extra pics below.
This track-prepped 6-cylinder Jag is very quick, and has a *glorious* sound.
I can seriously see myself in one of these when the kids are gone...
Mike's data logger
Very cool 320 with a 325 motor in it
Vruum - Psssst! Exactly the sounds this Merkur made!
12+ minutes of tasty eye and ear candy from the 2011 Spa Classic!
The GT-40 onboard footage reminds me very much of my experiences with the car in P&G- flying by another car on the straight, then hanging on for dear life as the creaky brakes struggle to slow the car, being passed back in the corner, then doing it all over again on the next straight :)
That crazy turbine car is a Howmet TX, read about it here.
Thrilled with this year's close finish at Le Mans? Here's another one to enjoy, 1969's event featured numerous closing lap passes between Porsche and GT-40.
At the age of 81, Sir Stirling Moss has decided to hang up the driving gloves for good. Apparently qualifying for the Le Mans Legends was the final straw, where he says he finally scared himself into retirement. I'll be first in line to applaud a career spanning 7 decades; may we all be so lucky as to keep doing something we love that long.
Read a nice retrospective at MotorsportRetro
Read about this astonishing pace car fail from the opening of the 1971 Indy 500 at Hemmings
Saturday was a gorgeous day at Lime Rock. I piled in a car with some friends and headed off to watch the Continental Tire Series ST and GS races.
The best thing about the great American road course, and there are several of them, is the atmosphere. I'm basing this assertion on my experience at Lime Rock, but I believe the same thing is true at some other great tracks like Road America, Mid Ohio, Road Atlanta, the list goes on. First, they are integrated into the landscape. The stadium oval is a destination all by itself, insular in it's domination of the surrounding environment. The best road courses are part of the natural surroundings, in fact their best features are derived from the natural terrain and give them their character. Second, they are totally welcoming to their fans. This may be a luxury of scale- a Nascar event can't afford to let everybody everywhere, because there are just too darned many people to be manageable. At Lime Rock, the paddock is always open, and in my experience the teams are always welcoming, glad to let you wander around their cars and get a real inside look at everything (as long as you have the good sense not to touch anything). There just isn't much better than sitting out on the hill overlooking the esses on a bright early summer day, clinking a few brews with good friends, wandering down into the paddock a few times to check up on your favorites, then stopping somewhere for a bite on the way home to talk about what you saw. Good times.
A very sharp Alfa I spotted in the parking lot
An E21 in the BMW tent
Overlooking the final turn during the MX-5 Cup race
M3s giving ridealongs between events
Gee, Honey, a few hours with a welder and my car could look like this!
Detail on Jack Roush's Mustang, which finished 3rd in the GS race.
The Mustang of Scott Maxwell/Joe Foster, which was badly abused by John Heinricy in a Subaru
The top 5 await inspection after the GS race
Read about the plucky Connew Motor Racing Team, which fielded its first and only F1 start at the 1972 Austrian GP with a garage-built special.
The time of such things happening is long gone, but don't think for a second it was easy, even back in the day...
I'm quite enamored of my latest toy, an iPhone app called Harry's Lap Timer. This app uses the iPhone's built-in accelerometer and gps (or an external gps antenna) to automatically record laps. I've been trying it out on my favorite off-ramp so far, can't wait to get it on the autocross course and track. There's an extensive library of tracks online, including sector markers. Or you can create your own "tracks" through the built-in map. For autocross use, you can mark the start and finish easily when walking the course in the morning.
You can also record video using the iPhone's HD camera, results are pretty good- as long as your windshield is clean. Then if you like you can export the video overlaid with a realtime traction circle, speed readout, and recorded track line. Neat stuff. Here is a video made from two passes I recorded, one in-car and one out the windshield.
Lateral G track map overlay:
Lateral G vs Distance:
Speed vs Time:
Lineal G vs Time:
Zoom in on Lateral G, note how the track highlights zoomed area:
For a dedicated racer, this isn't going to replace a serious data collection unit. But for the trackday enthusiast, this app is a steal at $15. The built-in gps is just adequate, but an external antenna like the TomTom or Bad Elf receiver for iPhone gives some pretty impressive resolution. You can also link up a wifi OBDII device and record things like throttle position, wheel speed, and rpms as well.
Look forward to my next autocross report- it should include some intense data and analysis :)
Read all about Rudolf Caracciola's underdog victory for Mercedes in the 1931 Mille Miglia at SportsCarDigest.
Impatience drove me out to the autocross course today. I am very ready for the warm weather so my automotive season can get back under way. I was thinking that my April session last year was a surprise 70 degree day, but doing my research just now I found it was a 40-degree day, just like today, so joke's on me! This year there was a high-wind warning in effect to boot, so it was brutally cold on the course. I volunteered to be the flag man today (the guy who releases the cars to go on course) because it was much more sheltered from the wind in the parking lot. The day was consistently overcast so we were all doomed to be challenged for grip the whole day.
That was driven home to me immediately, as I lit up the rears and struggled to get off the line at all on my first run. I might have been better off keeping my snow tires on for today. All over the parking lot folks were swapping their slicks for street tires because sticky compounds just could not get up to operating temps. I talked to one guy who did 3 straight laps and barely got his tires up to 70 degrees. By the time I was done with my shift as flagman, I would gladly have put some 70-degree tires down my pants, let me tell ya.
After struggling so much in the first run I left the traction control on for the rest of the day. It occasionally killed my momentum more than necessary, but under the circumstances I was content to be lazy and let it manage my wheelspin for me.
One oddity I ran into today was fuel starvation. I showed up at the lot with about 1/8 tank of fuel left, which I thought was going to be perfect- plenty of fuel to get through the day's runs, with about minimum weight penalty. But the last section of the course was about a 450-degree tight right hand loop, and several times throughout the day the engine stuttered through the last 90 degrees. At first I thought it was the traction control as I was accelerating out of the loop. Another BMW 330 driver approached me and asked if I was having trouble in that turn- he was having the same problem, and his traction was off. Eventually I decided he was right- so lesson learned, 1/8 tank is not enough for this car.
Because of the weather (impending rain which would have made the cold unbearable), the event was called fairly early. We still got in 5 runs, but closed up shop by 2:30pm. Still had time to squeeze in a couple of ridealongs for my buddy Joe during the fun-runs- he will hopefully be back with me next time for his first outing as a driver.
Between the cold tires and the fuel starvation, I never got in a run I was very happy with. A few other drivers coped better than I did, and I ended up 4th out of 7 in my class.
Despite all my complaining and excuses, I still had a good time- I always enjoy the company and the competition. I wouldn't have been out there if I wasn't excited to get back behind the wheel with some familiar friends. Now next time, let's hope for some sun!
Check out the results, and especially the photo gallery, from this year's Targa Tasmania over at SportsCarDigest
And wow, check out the collection of classics hiking a leg around this corner :)
Read about WRC wildman Ari Vatanen at MotorsportRetro today. Also at the link there's an excellent documentary about Ari, his life-changing wreck and the depression that followed, and his eventual comeback.
Below, enjoy a brilliant drive in an Opel, which Ari drives about 2/3rds of on a flat tire!
Here's a name I didn't know: Attilio Bettega. Enjoy some great footage of this young driver from the late 70's and early 80's. Bettega was another victim of the wild Group B years; his fatal accident at the Tour de Corse began to call into question the safety of Group B.
Thanks to MotorsportRetro for bringing his memory to my attention.
When this video first came out in the early '90s, I was not yet the huge fan of vintage cars and racing that I am today. I remember finding this for sale (on laserdisc!) and wondering just what The Floyd were smoking now, and who on earth would care to watch them in a race in Mexico? I then completely forgot about it, until seeing it posted today on AxisOfOversteer. Now, of course, I think it's about the best thing ever.
Enjoy- in fact, enjoy this event whenever and however you can; how long can it be, really, before a more modern interpretation of sanity prevails, and the last checkered falls on this great throwback of a race?
Very cool footage of race-prepped Corvettes cruising the French countryside prior to their assault on LeMans in 1961. Also an interesting story of the anonymous donation of the original film reels to the author. Do click through to read the original article that led to this find, documenting Chevrolet's promotional venture to the great race:
Even in the frozen wastes of Sweden, they feel the need! Watch this video from land speed record attempts on ice, on a frozen lake in the town of ORSA. Everything from musclecars to big rigs struggle for grip on the ice. I can't decide which are crazier, the guys on the motorcycles or the rocket powered sleds! And just check out the spikes on some of those tires!
SportsCarDigest has assembled from YouTube the complete review of the 1965 Sebring 12 Hours, "The 12-Hour Grind". Click through to watch all 5 parts!
They should definitely bring back these titanium skidplates! At least we'd have something to watch during the parade!
Quoth Nigel Mansell: In free practice I would search out bumps that were slightly offline that I could use in the race if someone was right behind me. The lines wouldn’t slow me, but I knew would give a big shower of sparks to the guy behind, and hopefully pock-mark their visor too. They really did make burns on your visor.
Great footage from the first minute of the 1965 12 hours of Sebring. Love the LeMans-style start. Maybe we should try this in the PASRL Power & Glory series, require everyone to stand on the other side of the room and rush to their sim-rig at the start?
These flickr streams don't seem to embed well, so click through to TheChicane for the video, and some as-always insightful commentary to go with it.
A nice period summary of every GPL fan's favorite F1 season.
Speaking of Sebring, here's an extensive report on the 1957 12 Hours from SportsCarDigest. I found the quality and quantity of privateers interesting - I guess they're still out there these days, but the money required to compete makes them fewer and farther between; and they don't look so amateur any more.
This era of World Sports Car racing would make for a fantastic mod.
A brief history and a lot of cool pics of the racing cars of Ecurie Ecosse, the Scottish racing team founded in 1952, over at Motoring con brio today.
The transporter is great, but I almost like that shooting brake Jag more. That XKSS, of course, is infinitely desirable...
Click through for more images.
Cool old home video from the 1959 12 Hours of Sebring, featuring a couple of spins and the payoff: a dramatic crash of a Stangeullini. Thank goodness it's a lightweight, as the crowd is able to lift the overturned car off the driver, who is miraculously uninjured.
Via TheChicane, click through for some more background on the event.
EDIT: Rats! Looks like the embed won't work, click the link above to watch!
Read all about the bizarre kidnapping of Juan Manuel Fangio by Fidel Castro in 1958: When Politics and Racing Collide. I knew vaguely about this but the details are interesting, and the aftermath is a bit unusual too.
Castro made Fangio write his own kidnap note
Read about hard-working race driver Giancarlo Baghetti and the story of his only Formula 1 win: his debut race at Reims, 1961.
Mmmm, tasty hillclimb goodness! Looks a bit like me on my way up Trento Bondone... Sure wonder what it looks like at the top!
Via Motorsport Retro
According to Motorsport Retro, this cool clip of footage from classic Carrera Panamerica events is a preview of an upcoming documentary by Stephen Mitchell. Looks to be chock full of great stuff, can't wait.
And it's nice to see Mr. Mitchell doing something other than waxing reminiscent about how he used to own a GTO...
Read about promising young driver Gunnar Nilsson, whose only GP victory came at Zolder in 1977. Unfortunately, his greatest challenge would come from off the track, cutting his career short just as it was getting started.
Thanks Motorsport Retro for bringing this shooting star to my attention.
Documentary about the BRE Racing Datsuns in SCCA racing. Lots of great footage of some very cool cars, Datsuns and otherwise.
A nice blitz of footage from F1 through the ages.
Some great footage and pics from the LA Times GP at Riverside, 1963.
Reminisce with Bill Wagenblatt about his visit to the 1974 Spa 1000k at Track Thoughts today.
"As I was working my way along the railroad tracks I would hear the Matra MS670 exit Les Combes and start into the valley. One could follow the scream of the 3.0 liter V12 engine as the drivers entered the long right-handed 140 mph Burneville corner. Spectators watching from the café doorway at the apex had a close-up view of the drivers at work. A few seconds later the Gulf GR7 would do the same."
Pan-American Sim Racing League drivers will have a chance to recreate a similar experience when we visit Spa '67 with the Power & Glory mod in a few weeks.
Enjoy this full length documentary of F1 in 1973, narrated by Stacy Keach. Lots of great footage in here, and some crazy moments only F1 could deliver.
Note this video is NSFW (Not Safe For Work - or Wife!) due to a little time spent with Francois Cevert at a Mediterranean beach, God bless 'im. Great to see the young man enjoying himself, as the fates would turn suddenly cruel later in the season...
Via Motorsport Retro
A happy little video documenting one team's efforts at the 2010 VLN Nordschleife:
The Big Picture visits this year's Dakar Rally, and does its usual awesome job, follow the link for more.
More excerpts from the Cahier Archive, this time highlights from the 1961 F1 season, at Motorsport Retro today. Greats like Clark, Moss, and Hill topped the standings. Note that 3 of the top 5 at the end of the season were American, how long has it been since that was even mathematically possible?
Read about the career of the late Derek Gardner, designer of the iconic Tyrrell F1 cars of the '70s, at Track Thoughts today.
"Remarkably each of the Tyrrell cars Gardner designed won Grand Prix and two of the types would win Drivers Championships."
Some great shots and interesting commentary (as always) at TheChicane about the 1954 Formula 1 event at Reims.
Great classic video of the thundering herd drifting around Minnesota's Brainerd International Raceway in 1969.
A rare two-wheeler appearance on my blog, this guy is too awesome not to pass on!
Must be something about The Brooklands that inspired this sort of behavior back in the day...
For once, a fiery F1 crash results in no deaths, or even injuries... so why not keep the race going? Hard to imagine flaming or even smoldering cars on the side of the track now as racers continue to fly by.
Short race report at Motorsport Retro. I'm struck by what a force attrition was in those days, most reports that I link to involve more than one podium position determined by mechanical failure.
Mike Hawthorne narrates a recon lap of LeMans, 1956
Via Hemmings Blog
Read about Frank Lockhart, his beautiful Stutz Blackhawk Special, and his fateful Daytona Beach land-speed record attempts of 1928 at RacingCampbells
And don't miss the video(!) at BritishPathe
"Young kart racer Sebastian Vettel poses with his hero Michael Schumacher"
Read all about the defining moment in the career of race driver Tommy Byrne: a test drive for McLaren in 1982.
Also, be sure to read the comment below the story by "emaren", which might well explain some of the result.
Get lost in The Cahier Archive, 17,000+ photos spanning 50+ years of F1 goodness!
Via Motorsport Retro, from a recap of the 1967 Mexico GP.
An extremely thorough recount of the 1973 Nordschleife event over at Track Thoughts today.
Man, it does my heart good to know that this event still runs, a throwback to the glory days of the long distance roadrace. This event has always been unique for the types of cars that routinely participated. This year's event was won by a Studebaker driven by rally driver Harri Rovanpera. Can't wait for the videos to start surfacing. If you're unfamiliar with this event, do yourself a favor and look up the episode of GT Racer that covered it last year, great stuff.
Results and photo gallery at SportsCarDigest.
I'm all for a little spirited three-wheelin' in a corner, but this Alfa looks like it's about to twist apart and roll over!
NASRL's Latin World Tour Vintage GT series returns to smaller displacement cars for our next event, including the Alfa GTA. I'm really looking forward to the Power & Glory V3, which will include the Escorts and BMW CS. We'll build a very competitive set out of those, the Alfas, and the Alpines, and our events will end up looking much like this video.
Great quote from dirt-tracker Skeeter Kurtz:
"Understeer is when you hit the wall with the front of the car, and oversteer is when you hit the wall with the back of the car. Horsepower is how fast you hit the wall, torque is how far you take the wall with you."
More from unknown sources:
"Oversteer is when the passenger is scared; understeer is when the driver is scared"
"When you see a tree you're about to hit, that's understeer. When you can only hear and feel it, that's oversteer."
Apparently NASRL isn't the only group that thinks Portugal's Autódromo Internacional do Algarve is a great place to host an historics event- read about the event from this past weekend, and peruse the positively gargantuan gallery at SportsCarDigest.
And if you think that looks like fun, why not join us this Sunday night for the Vintage GT event in a Porsche 906?
Really, how does one drive when the barriers at the side of the road are people? I've seen plenty of shots from outside the car and thought "Man, those fans are nuts". But what does it do to the driver? The in-car shots here are just mind-boggling; no way I could concentrate or be the least bit competitive under these conditions.
A little pricey maybe, but definitely a cool idea. Precision cut birchwood track maps for the fan with an artistic eye.
How great would this be? NASCAR promotion muscle behind a proven sportscar series? Bring it on!
ITR boss Hans Werner Aufrecht told AUTOSPORT: “In America, we are working with the NASCAR organisation. Beginning in 2013, we hope to have a championship with 12 races in the United States
First now learning about the shadows cast over this classic Grand Prix. Can you imagine today's drivers and crew so worried about the barriers that they'd be out there with their own wrenches?
The defending World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, however, was still furious. He did the minimum three laps, but at a very slow pace, then pulled into the pits. The next morning, Fittipaldi announced he wouldn’t run, and went back home. Also during race day morning, Ken Tyrrell went out onto the circuit with his spanner to make sure the barriers were how they should be.
I hope to get out once more this season; then, no doubt, this video will keep me amped up until spring.
Read about one diligent race fan's strangely lonely visit to the abandoned facilities of Reims at Motorsport Retro
A series of articles from James Allen, who recently attended a Yas Marina Driving Experience at Abu Dhabi. I found the day 2 discussion about top level drivers' mental capacity quite interesting.
Read about the promising career and tragic end of Francois Cevert, who won the USGP at Watkins Glen in 1971.
Went to the Limerock Vintage Festival again this Labor Day. I think this is my 4th time to this event, as always a great way to spend a sunny day to close out the summer.
This year my friend Phil drove us up in his '73 BMW. Usually at the Vintage Fest they take some car clubs out for parade laps on the track during lunch break; we were wondering if we might find our way out on track this year. Sure enough, as we were in line to park, they gave us the big wave to park in the BMW car corral, and soon after a fellow turned up with a pass to join the parade lap.
As you'll see, when they say "parade" lap, they mean it :) Lot's of stopping and starting as they get a long line of cars on track, take a few photo ops, and then filter them all off again. A few guys got some stern looks for trying to make a little more of it- you'll hear me comment about an M5 that gets a little rambunctious, and there was also a 540 who was stopping every once in a while to do burnouts. Still it was cool to get a tour around the track and see the crowds from a different angle.
The rest of the day was the usual delectable smorgasbord of vintage racers. If I had to guess I'd say the count was down on the high-dollar exotics this year; not many old Ferraris in particular. Could be that the threat of the hurricane deterred some of them from travelling for the weekend. There was a nice collection of Bugattis taking place in the prewar class though, and a good presence of trans-am era Mustangs, Camaros, and Corvettes.
Another video here as a group of Alfas, Abarths, Astons, Ferraris, and a very rare Allard come tearing out of big bend:
The polished Aston would end up winning:
The Allard I mentioned above; 1 of 2 according to the driver!
Driver's view from Nuvolari's Maserati!
Heavy braking for T7:
Detomaso Mangusta. This car had a great sound, and looks to match: muscular and slightly menacing, yet still kind of graceful.
Sharp little Alfa, with an interior much too pretty for a racecar:
Maybe this Aston has an evil side?
How cool is this little guy? An Abarth 600MM. I love it.
Wistful footage from the battles of Nuvolari and his brethren in the 30's. Also some excellent footage from a much simpler Indianapolis Raceway...
The salt sings, baby! Sure looks like a fascinating event, would love to get out there one year...
This past Friday I participated in my first track day with the Connecticut Autocross and Rally Team (CART) at Pocono International Raceway in Pennsylvania.
The event was held at Pocono's North Course, which uses turn 3 of the massive tri-oval, with an infield road course which makes about a 1.2 mile layout. The North Course is fairly open, with mostly grass on the infield and lots of runoff for most of the turns, which is what made it attractive to me for my first time on track. Ideally I see myself lapping at my home course at Limerock, but my track car is also my daily driver, so self-preservation was a motivating factor that kept me away from Limerock for my first time.
All dressed up in masking tape; lights are taped to keep glass off the track in the event one gets broken by a flying rock
Over the past few weeks I readied my BMW 330Ci by focusing mostly on maintenance and safety, installing new ceramic brake pads and braided stainless steel brake lines. I also flushed the brakes with DOT4 fluid, which has a higher boiling point than the standard DOT3, and a fresh coolant flush. My driving companion was my old friend Phil, who these days drives a Dinan-modified BMW 540i; this was his first track-day as well.
CART puts on a great event for first-timers. The team is clearly very aware of the balance between instilling proper safety concerns and involving new people in the sport. We had plenty of personal instruction starting with a novice driver's meeting in the morning. We were each assigned our own instructor, who drove us in our own car for a few laps to get the morning started. My instructor, Bill, is a Corvette Z06 driver with 40 years of trackday experience. He drove my car and made it look easy; smooth cornering at speed, cruising comfortably down the straight. I was soaking up the g-forces, and watching the tach and speedo, trying to observe his cornering speeds and gear selections in each corner. Turn 3 is (I think) the tightest turn on the oval, and the road course is made up of a series of esses with short straights connecting them. Bill took 2 of the interior turns at about 60 mph, and the tightest of them at about 40 mph. He took me up to about 90 mph on the straight; I was expecting my car to be capable of a good 110 mph, but later I came to realize that Bill was trying to ease me into handling the exit from the banking, which is easily the most intimidating corner of the circuit. Even after becoming comfortable with the rest of the track, I would struggle all day with committing to that corner, which can be taken with little to no lift at 110-130 mph depending on the car.
This required level of mental commitment is, to me, the most striking difference between sim racing and real track driving. With all my sim experience, I was immediately comfortable with driving at speed in an open environment with other cars on track. I had no problem being aware of other drivers, and was comfortable following (and being followed by) other cars of varying speeds and capabilities. I was perfectly at home on the 40-60 mph infield corners (probably even more so from my autocross experience). I was modulating understeer with throttle application mid-corner, and unwinding smoothly on the throttle on corner exit. In sim racing, my level of commitment is equal for all corners regardless of speed. But taking my life into my hands approaching that turn off the banking at 115 mph, I balked every time. I was on the brakes and turning in way too early lap after lap, despite knowing full well that I was doing it. By the end of the day I had worked up to 90-95 mph, and had begun to trust that the car was capable of cornering at those speeds; but the thought of riding right up to the turn-in and taking that corner flat out is still almost inconceivable to me.
Speaking of the car, I couldn't be happier with how it performed. Phil & I spoke afterward about the astonishing level of engineering that underpins these machines. That we could flog these cars as hard as we did without them even blinking an eye, then load them up and drive them home, is really amazing. My 330 was highly composed at speed on the banking, and very nimble in the tight infield, with a healthy balance of power available wherever I needed it. Phil's 540 is heavier, and a little less tossable in the infield, but the linear delivery of an extra 100 horsepower on the straights was nothing short of intoxicating. We traded cars once in the morning, and I saw over 120 mph on the straight. Phil's instructor exited the banking at over 130. There were plenty of performance oriented street sedans and coupes on track, and I saw only one mechanical breakdown all day. Many cars these days are capable of much more than we give them credit for.
I had intended to stay late into the day for the relay event, but after lunch it was clear that I was going to be used up after we finished our timed runs. The sport is mentally and physically consuming when you aren't conditioned for it. Our instructors spoke to us in the morning about monitoring our own physical and mental condition while on track- the tendency is to tense up under the intensity of what you're doing- clenching your hands and arms, and even your mind. Pro drivers can keep it up for hours because they have learned to relax; for a novice, 20 minutes on track is a long time. I found this to be true throughout the day; I think the longest stint I ran was 9 laps before coming in to relax and think about what I was doing. After lunch I had a very nice run of 6-7 laps after which I thought to myself, that was a nice string of laps, and it would be smart to end this with myself and the car in one piece without pushing us both to extremes that we might regret. Phil & I took our timed laps and retired back to the hotel for celebratory cocktails to relive the day. In the end I managed a fastest timed lap of 67.7, which I think was close to my pb for the day. Looking at the results I see I have plenty of room for improvement, but I'm satisfied with my performance for my first time out.
My CT Racing teammate (and accomplished track rat) Mike Miller asked me if I was hooked. I would say that I loved it, and I have definitely added something to my motorsports repertoire. Unfortunately I'm in no position to maintain a track car, and as willing as my BMW is, I don't think I can ask it to do too many of those events and still be willing to be my daily driver. I believe I shaved about 10k miles off my tires in 50+ miles of laps. I averaged 9 mpg running wide-open-throttle for most of the time the car was running. We got lucky with a nice cool day, but the aux electric fan spent some time running after every stint. I actually got my power steering to cut out a couple of times during the day, I think because my fluid was a little low and the high g's starved the rack (that's what I'm hoping anyway). This is much harder on a car than autocrossing, and also more expensive and a more significant time commitment. For now I see this as a once-a-year event for me.
But that once-a-year is mandatory from now on :) I thought I would be ready to do Limerock next year, but I think I'll play it cautious and do Pocono (or maybe New Jersey?) once more before I visit a demanding place like Limerock. I think if I haven't come close to mastering a layout that simple just yet then I still have some work to do.
In-car video of me following Phil:
External vid of my timed laps:
Phil following me in his Dinan 540:
Phil's timed laps:
An 80's GT1 Camaro on track:
A 1973 Gurney Eagle Indy car. The noise this beauty made was just astonishing! But man was it intimidating to be on track at the same time as this beast...
Bryce, know this Corvair?
Our cars in the paddock garage:
CART photo credits to Kevin Fitzmaurice, thanks Kevin!
Lots of classics in here, love the one from Fangio :)
"Gotta work on the nut behind the wheel before you start fixing bolts on the car".
"Racing makes Heroin addiction look like a vague wish for something salty." -- Peter Egan
Colin Chapman: Simplify, then add lightness
Roger Penske: the harder you work, the luckier you become
Jackie Stewart: It is not always possible to be the best, but it is always possible to improve your own performance
When you think you know it all, it's a sure sign you don't
The best way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a large one and work down from there
On racers that favored implementation of restrictor plates:
"If they don't want to go that fast, all they have to do is lift...and somebody better tie a kerosene soaked wrag around their legs to keep the ants from eating their candy a$$!"
As an instructor getting into a car for the first session with a student:
"don't try and impres me, you won't." "don't try and scare me, I already am."
"Straight roads are for fast cars, turns are for fast drivers." -Colin McRae
"It's not a throttle-it's a detonator." -Jeremy Clarkson
"Aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines." -Enzo Ferrari
"Racing is the best way to convert money into noise" - unknown
"To finish first, you must first finish" – unknown
Oversteer is hitting the wall with the back of the car,
understeer is hitting the wall with the front...
Newman's first law: It is useless to put on your brakes when you're upside down. -Paul Newman
If the car feels like it is on rails, you are probably driving too slow. -Ross Bentley
Horsepower is how fast you hit the wall.
Torque is how far you take the wall with you.
"Cheap, fast and reliable. Pick two."
"Racing ... because golf, football, and baseball only require one ball." – Anonymous
Racing costs today exactly the same as it did twenty years ago.. it takes every penny you have.
I was doing fine until about mid-corner when I ran out of talent
Juan Manuel Fangio:
"Driving fast on the track does not scare me. What scares me is when I drive on the highway I get passed by some idiot who thinks he is Fangio."
“If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough.”
"If you don't come walking back to the pits every once in a while holding a steering wheel in your hands, you're not trying hard enough"
"It is amazing how may drivers, even at the Formula One Level, think that the brakes are for slowing the car down."
....it would have been cheaper to spend our money on cocaine and hookers....... ( at a bar, name unavailable)
You'll know you've made it.....when you wear out your rear tires.....before your front tires..... ( Former IP Champ and all around great fellow)
I KNOW I'm the slowest part on the car..... ( B. Wright, repeated too often....)
"Never run out of real estate, ideas and traction at the same time." - seen on a Track Daze T-shirt
"Oh yes. It's not when you brake but when you take them off that counts. Most people don't understand that." - Jackie Stewart
"Cornering perfectly is like bringing a woman to climax.” - Jackie Stewart
"He who turns least wins." Ross Bentley
Poverty is owning a racecar. (bumper sticker)
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well-preserved piece...but to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, and defiantly shouting "wow, what a ride." (On the back of a race car trailer somewhere).
"Here, hold my beer" - anybody before doing something arguably awesome
Wide open until you see God, then brake – unknown
Speed costs, how fast do you want to go?
Friend of mine used to say: "Hang on, saw this in a cartoon, I think I can pull it off."
Great vid of some cool lesser-known machinery from the German DRM series of 1976. Drivers of R2P's own BMW Challenge might find some of these familiar...
Today Jalopnik has a nice collection of their top 10 driving videos. I've linked a number of these before, but it's nice to see them in a convenient collection :) Below is Vatanen at Isle of Man, which was the only one I hadn't seen before, and of course Senna's perfect lap is always worth another view.
Nohuhiro "The Monster" Tajima's winning run from this year's Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
A classic clip of some great Porsche Cup mayhem!
These guys would have been better off in one of these:
Nice photo album from the 2010 Silverstone Classic over at Motorsport Retro today. If you've never been to a vintage event, they're a real treat, definitely make the trip if you get a chance. They're all over the place these days, there must be one near you, check this handy calendar.
I was particularly struck by this Corvette Speedster in today's album, I've never seen one quite like it:
Join us for a short trackside lap of the 1958 Grand Prix d'Europe!
On August 1st I competed in an autocross event with the Fairfield County Sports Car Club in Stratford, CT. Much to my chagrin this was only my second event this year- I had been planning on going every month, but a busy life keeps getting in the way, which isn't such a bad thing in the end :)
The weather was outstanding, clear skies with temps only around 70 degrees. The lot we use is right on the shore, so there's often a nice breeze off the water to help keep the heat down. Attendance was a little lower than usual at 70 drivers (guess I'm not the only one whose life keeps getting in the way), which meant that we all got a lot of driving in- 8 competition runs and plenty of time for fun-runs at the end, and we were still done by 4:30pm. There were four other drivers in my class (one of the largest of the day): a John Cooper Works' Mini, a Mazda RX-8, and two drivers sharing a Nissan 240sx.
No changes to the car this summer, other than a little routine maintenance; replaced a dried-out intake elbow, and an inner fender cover that was knocked loose and cracked by a suicidal possum. I'm gearing up for my first ever track day in Pocono in a few weeks, so I'm about to install new brake pads, braided stainless steel brake lines, and DOT4 fluid for that trip; more to follow at the end of the month!
My other little project was a homemade in-car camera mount, which I've made out of some PVC, and attached to the passenger seat headrest with a couple of u-bolts. It worked pretty well, though to my surprise it's not quite stiff enough with the camera on the end, and bounces a little bit. Also, I borrowed my daughter's camera, which has its mount-point on one end, so it ended up swinging around under high g-loads. Came as quite a surprise to me when I watched the playback, I was busy driving so I had no idea that it had moved. It's kind of a neat effect, though, the camera swings to look right out the back window a couple of times, it's like having my own camera man! Will have to use a lock bolt to hold it in place better I think.
I'm still very happy with the car's handling and power. Turn-in responsiveness, braking, acceleration are all excellent. The only weak spot in the car's capability is rear end traction under power- without a limited-slip differential, it's especially easy to dump all that power into wheelspin instead of acceleration. These Dunlops don't squeal, either; with the windows down I hear a lot of white noise and spitting of sand when they let go, but they don't scream their distress. So of course this the part where I'm supposed to apply some talent to make the most of what the car can do :)
The course design was very tight in places. The middle 3rd, in particular, featured a curving slalom along the back side of the lot which had to be negotiated much slower than I first anticipated. I made my first run with the traction control on; it stomped on me pretty hard in a couple of spots, drastically cutting power on corner exit to kill the wheelspin. Still I turned in a time of 39.6 seconds; anything under 40 was a respectable first run, so I figured the day had good potential. I decided my target time for the day was in the 37's. At the last event I kept the traction control on for 3 runs as a tool to help me learn the course- I found it valuable to know when the system killed the power, because it was highlighting for me where I needed to be more careful on the throttle. This time I decided to turn it off after the first run, which may have been a mistake. My next two runs were sloppy with wheelspin and understeer, and my times suffered accordingly. I was still leading my class on the strength of my first run, but then Mini driver (and our erstwhile photographer) Said Hu turned in a 39.5 to edge me out of the lead.
After the mess I'd made out of the two prior runs, I did my best to concentrate on being one with the rear end :) And it worked- I turned in a 38.5, a healthy improvement that put me back in front by a comfortable margin. I still broke the back end loose 3 times during that run, I was just much better at modulating the throttle once it happened. The car obviously had a 37.5 in it if I could assemble my best run. Turns out that wasn't to be- I did make one more improvement on my final run, with a 38.2, but even that run still had a couple of breaks in traction. The video above shows that final run; listen close and you can hear the rear lose grip as I get on the gas into the final slalom. There's also a glimpse of Said's red Mini at one point.
So a solid class win by about a 1-second margin, which is satisfying. I was 25th overall though, out of 70, and my goal is to break into the top 10. A look at the handicap times suggests that if I had found that extra half-second I would have been around 11th-12th, where I was my last two events. Definitely tantalizing enough to keep me coming back for more!
One of several very fast Miatas in the field:
Lining up on the grid:
Cool matte gray M3:
Fastest time of the day came from the driver of this Honda S2000:
Vintage Vette out for a different kind of adventure:
Sharp looking Porsche Cayman:
STX Nissan 240SX:
All car photos credit to FCSCC driver Said Hu. Thanks Said!
At age 80, still living the ultimate car life:
OK, I confess, I might not be man enough to do this in real life:
Whee! Hillclimbing sure does look like a lot of fun...
Honestly, as a chapter owner, I'd ban him from the next event for such a flagrant safety risk :)
The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.
The life of a race driver and family man, as told by a dog... what's not to like? Be warned, this book will put you in touch with your sensitive side. I've never encountered a book more expertly tuned to pluck at my heart-strings (I am, after all, a dog-lover, family man, and wannabe race driver). Maybe I'm just getting to be an old softie. You'll never get a more manly excuse to sob into a tissue while your significant other looks on and wonders just what the heck is wrong with you. Great book.
Now, back to my regularly scheduled Ross Bentley reading regimen...
Everything you ever wanted to know about Tire Graining, in a 4-minute video!
More cool racing footage from the 50's sports car scene in California. This one opens with some good paddock footage- I was struck by the contrast between the sports race cars and the ordinary lumbering 40's and 50's iron that was filling the roads at the time. I forget how exotic they were even in their own day, they must have looked positively otherworldly on the road.
No, it isn't about Race2Play aliens, it's a Group B Rally documentary in 7 parts!
Cool vid and some great pics of the 1971 Spa 24hrs touring car event.
More pics with captions at touringcarracing.net
Oh, to live my life here:
curb |k?rb| kerb
1 a stone or concrete edging to a street or path.
2 a check or restraint on something
3 a concrete construction used to help rotate your car
4 a tempting shortcut
Classic definition and pic via the ever-fantastic AxisOfOversteer
Sheesh, talk about inviting disaster!
Ken Block and Kimi face off at the special stage finale in Portugal, and tie at 2:11.0 exactly. Speaks pretty well of Mr. Block I would say. Fun to follow both rookies through the WRC season.
Fun to watch those big slicks wrinkle and bounce, very cool video:
Holy Smoke indeed... nice bit of car control. Crank this one up!
A nice 10-minute documentary about autocrossing. If you don't know much about it but have always wondered, give it a watch. My only comment is, early on you're going to see some race-prepped and some exotic cars- keep in mind there's nothing to keep you from having a great time in your everyday beater car as well. You'll have just as much fun and at low risk to your daily driver- probably less risk at the event than you'll face on the highway getting there and back. Odds are it's happening somewhere with an hour or so of you, go check it out!
Didn't mean to scare you, Alan, is this a relation of yours?
How Strang Met His Death, from Hemmings, an interesting history of racer Lewis Strang, polesitter of the inaugural Indy 500.
Hutch's Motorhead Weekend continues today with a trip to Limerock for some Grand Am action. Touring Car and Gran Sport action today, along with some Skip Barber, Spec Racer Ford, and Mustang Challenge events. Went up with friends from home, and met up with R2P'ers Bryce Aston and Eduardo Fernandez during the day. Always nice to see Bryce, and a pleasure to finally meet Ed in person. Had a go at iRacing on a Blue Tiger motion platform- I always assumed I'd like motion platforms, but in fact I hated being bounced around, and had a hard time driving while the apex kept moving on me. Other than that, it was a beautiful day at a beautiful track, had a great time watching the Mustangs & BMWs go at it, pictures below to prove it :)
Part of the program from the 1953 SCCA race at Bridgehampton, and a newspaper article after the event. Kind of ironic that you can't just tell people to keep themselves safe, it turns out you must go to extraordinary measures to save them from themselves. Interesting also that the event was sponsored by a Lions Club- I can't even conceive of my Lions Club doing anything remotely as risky in this day and age.
Interesting piece about hillclimbing. Some of those events take a special kind o'crazy (hello, Pikes Peak?), but this one looks pretty manageable. I gather they still do one at Mt Ascutney in Vermont every year, might have to venture up there one day to check it out.
A smokin' lap in a Sierra Cosworth. Plenty of air under the wheels up on the mountain.
The soundtrack in the first half is way better than the soundtrack in the second, as it's provided by the Lancia D50 Fangio is piloting.
Also I love the extent of his safety equipment, carried in a little helmet box. The giant outriggers between the wheels on this car, lest you forget, are fuel tanks! Probably no point in much more safety equipment in that car!
Going for broke on the streets of Monaco in your classic F3 - sounds like a good weekend to me! More vids and pics at Motorsport Retro
More Group B madness, starting with Ari Vatanen and why drivers continue driving when the risks are so great. Read more and see some great pics at Motorsport Retro
Love that soundtrack- can you identify any of these before they come into view?
The story of one of F1's more painful lessons in track safety: 1973 Dutch GP at Autosport.
Warning: the description of Roger Williamson's tragic demise gets a little graphic in a couple of brief spots, it's definitely not a joyful piece.
The iconic Tyrell wasn't the only one- read more than you probably ever wanted to know about six-wheelers at Autosport
Watch a profile of Jackie Stewart from Murray Walker's F1 Greats. More pics and stories of Jackie today at Motorsport Retro.
Giving new meaning to the term:
Mercedes-Benz 300SL W194 returns to the scene of its 1952 Carrera Panamericana victory.
See more pics and read about the legendary collision with a vulture that prompted the installation of the windshield bars at SportsCarDigest
Read the results of this year's Mille Miglia Storica and view a large photo gallery at SportsCarDigest
How cool is this? I'd have a heart attack if I could do something like this now, never mind at this age:
Via The Chicane
Sure is different from the '79 layout we drove in NASRL a couple of weeks ago. Looks pretty good to me overall though.
Read more at James Allen on F1
Watch a 6-part video documentary about the extraordinary life and death of legendary driver Graham Hill:
Not so long since our last NASRL Vintage GT at Bridgehampton- this however is the street course that predates the permanent road course. 1951 would have been either the last or next-to-last event on this original course. Love the campy narration and fabricated soundtrack.
Via The Chicane
This clip is full of win right from the get-go, as a pretty white Jag goes charging up a dirt road in the 1955 Agoura Hillclimb.
Read all about the event at The Chicane. I particularly like the author's point about the allure of such an event looking back from today:
"...sportscars just weren’t the luxury status symbol that they are today. They weren’t precious jewels to be polished and parked in front of the dance club. They were simply tools—tools that were built for a purpose—and in 1955 that purpose was to get the Hell to the top of Agoura."
Back out for my first autocross of the year with the Fairfield County Sports Car Club.
Not much to report on the car for the off season- I did some recommended preventative maintenance: all new coolant hoses, replaced the crankcase vent valve and associated hoses, and even did the valve cover gasket and variable valve timing seals. Discovered and fixed a big vacuum leak in the intake. Some time-consuming, but in the end not all that difficult jobs that I was able to do myself thanks to some walk-throughs in the BMW forums.
I decided to try switching classes for this event. In SCCA autocross, they separate cars into classes based on stock performance and mods, and assign a "PAX" handicap, which is a multiplier applied to your lap times, in an effort to compare your driving performance regardless of what car you're in. Because my car has an aftermarket intake and a chip, I end up in a "Street Prepared" class. That class also allows specialized tires, so the multiplier is a bit high; because I'm on regular street tires, it puts me at a disadvantage. SCCA recognized that problem and created the "Street Touring" classes, which allow commonplace mods such as intake, exhaust, chip, sways, etc, but still require street tires. This makes a lot more sense for me, and making the switch lowered my multiplier a couple of percent. In terms of the competition, however, both classes are dominated by a couple of drivers who are usually competing for FTD (overall fast times of the day), so it still wouldn't be a cakewalk.
Lining up for the start. This Vette is always entertaining, makes a lot of noise!
It was a rather cold day on the lot yesterday- temps in the mid 40's for most of the day, but at least it didn't rain, lucky for us. This was only my second outing on my new tires; they've spent most of the winter in the garage while my snows were on the car. The pavement never really got heated up, so it was tough day to find grip. On my first run I was caught by surprise by the lack of grip in the rear- I lit them up off the line for a very slow start, and broke them loose again a few times during the run, turning in a time of 47 seconds. The faster guys were running 43s, so I knew I'd have to get that grip under control. I decided to turn the traction control on and see what it could do for me- my next run I dropped into the 44s, then a 43.9 (with my only penalty cone of the day). The next run was another low 44, and I could tell I had reached the limits of what the traction control was going to do for me- there were a couple of spots where it was clearly holding the car back much more than was necessary. It was helpful though, because it gave me the chance to concentrate on my line for those few runs; now that I had the course well figured out I could work on manual throttle control. I switched the traction back off and did 3 more runs in the mid to low 43s, with a best run of 43.227, good for 2nd in class, and 13th overall out of 69 drivers. Had I stayed in my old class, I still would have been 2nd in class, but would have been 23rd overall, so I think the move makes sense.
All pics courtesy of FCSCC member Said Hu, thanks Said!
Didn't get the story on why this monkey was hanging on to an Evo's rear wing, but it was funny to watch it's feet and tail flailing around during a run!
We see a lot of Mini's and Miatas, both very popular autocross machines
Smoke 'em if you got 'em!
Gotta love the soundtrack to this one. Amazing drive by Clark to retake the lead from a lap down, only to fall on hard luck again on the final lap.
As deployed by Fangio on his Mercedes 300SLR, Le Mans, 1955.
Click through for larger images.
I like this artist's tastes, could spend hours browsing his gallery... and a fortune buying from it.
How cool are these? The Targa shirt is most awesome, but I think I need that Carrera Panamerica shirt. Also check out Nicolas' originals on canvas at NicolasHunziker.com
Great silent footage of a December SCCA race in Palm Springs, 1955. I defy you not to create the soundtrack in your mind as you watch- what a glorious sound it must have been! For instance, when that Mercedes 300 blows a 180 to get back on the track, what must that have sounded like?
Get all the details at The Chicane, including the track guide to pick out Carroll Shelby, Masten Gregory, and Ken Miles in some legendary road racing machinery...
A long but interesting recap of the 1974 12 Hours of Sebring at SportsCarDigest. There's a lot more backstory on the people than you'd expect, which makes the actual race recap that much more interesting.
My favorite part:
"DeLorenzo and Baldwin were having quite a go at it for third. At the little kink in warehouse straight on the far backside of the track, just before the track turns back onto Flying Fortress Straight, DeLorenzo accidentally tapped Baldwin, sending him off track into a loading dock behind one of the warehouses. It was a hard hit and as Tony rounded the turn he looked back to see the car on fire and no sign of Baldwin getting out. Being the good guy that he is, DeLorenzo cut back across the apron of the runway and drove back to Baldwin’s car. There were still no workers on sight as DeLorenzo pulled an unconscious Baldwin out of the wreck. While DeLorenzo was tending to Baldwin, the workers arrived to save the car with fire bottles. As the last flames went out the workers had to redirect their attention to now saving DeLorenzo from a very irate Baldwin who had regained consciousness and was now straddling DeLorenzo on the ground and beating the s@#t out of him. Once separated, Jack calmed down and petitioned DeLorenzo for a ride back to the pits over the protest of the corner workers. They were at a loss as to how to stop it so they turned a blind eye as DeLorenzo drove away holding his bloody nose and with Baldwin as a passenger."
I mean really, what officious schmuck follows through with writing this ticket? Pulling him over I understand, but to write the ticket and impound an F1 driver's car for a burnout? Sounds like two swollen heads, forehead to forehead.
S'pose Hamilton was grinning when he uttered this statement? :)
Lewis Hamilton has apologised for driving in an “over-exuberant manner” after he was stopped by Australian police on Friday.
The McLaren driver did a burnout and a fishtail in a Mercedes car along Lakeside Drive in Melbourne and as a result he was pulled over by police.
According to local media, Hamilton, whose car was impounded, will be fined and charged on summons with improper use of a vehicle.
The Briton said in a statement on Friday evening that he was sorry for what he considered to be a ’silly’ mistake.
“This evening, I was driving in an over-exuberant manner and, as a result, was stopped by the police,” said Hamilton.
“What I did was silly, and I want to apologise for it.”
A great read recounting Fangio's epic win of the '57 Grand Prix at the Nurburgring: 1957 Grosser Preis von Deutschland, featuring no less than 10 successive lap records from the legendary driver!
Thanks Track Thoughts, one of my new favorites!
Hellé Nice was the stage name of Helene Delangle. She parlayed her fame as a trapeze artist at the Casino de Paris and friend (or more?) of Jean Bugatti, into a successful career as a Grand Prix driver in the wild and dangerous 30's. Her life was nearly cut short during a freak accident at Sao Paulo, when she flipped her Alfa Romeo on a displaced haybale- she was thrown from the car at 100+ mph, her body striking a nearby soldier- the impact killed him, but probably saved her life. The car somersaulted into the grandstands and killed four more spectators. Hellé was in a coma for 3 days, but recovered, and was working on a comeback when World War II interrupted racing for years. Postwar she was accused of being a Gestapo agent by famous French driver Louis Chiron- an unsubstantiated label that nonetheless ruined her career. She was ostracized by her society and even her family, and lived the rest of her life penniless.
Today, The Hellé Nice Project seeks to revive her memory, and raise enough funds to purchase a grave marker to commemorate her final resting place in France.
Absolutely epic story of a (relatively) ordinary Car Guy on a shoestring budget in the "Rally America" class run concurrently with the WRC Rally Mexico. His enthusiasm is contagious, this is a story not to be missed.
Transferring an older post. This car could maybe use some dampers!
Photos and info from Brooklands, Donington, and a variety of postwar events: F1-grandprixhistory.net.
Thanks to TheChicane for the link.
Very interesting anecdotes and restrospective from motorsports photographer Allan De La Plante at TheGarageBlog today. Read the comments as well for a little extra color from some of his contemporaries.
A cool retrospective of Burnenville corner at Track Thoughts, one of the fastest sections of the original sweeping Spa circuit.
I like the quote from Chris Amon, describing this corner from his experience in the 1970 Belgian Grand Prix:
“… Now we’re over the hill and coming down towards a sharp right-hand curve. This is the unbelievable corner. You come down here pulling nine-two or nine-three in fifth and you go in here flat, absolutely flat.” Nine-three in fifth gear was 180mph. “Then about here," Amon said referring to the apex, "you just go – unnh- and then straight back in it, so you’re actually exiting at about 170 mph.”
What was it about the DTM series that so often inspired this sort of behavior? And whatever it was, where has it gone in today's motorsport?
Watch that first step...
Drove the final Autocross of the year yesterday with the Fairfield County Sports Car Club. This session was on a much larger lot than usual- this lot is normally taken up by motorcycle training during the regular season, so it was a treat to try it out. Lap times were up around 60 seconds instead of the usual 35-45 laps we end up with in the smaller lot.
You may recall from past posts that I've been happy with my car, but very unhappy with my tires. As fate would have it, I suffered a major blowout in one of my rear tires while on the way to work weeks ago. No drama or damage during the incident, though it happened at about 60mph on the highway, but the tire was destroyed, and I finally had a good reason to get a new set of rubber. I ordered a set of Hankooks at first because they were a good bargain, but after waiting for them for 6 weeks on backorder, I ended up cancelling them and going with what I really wanted: Dunlop Direzza Z1 Sport Star Specs. These are highly rated as an autocross and trackday tire, so I was looking forward to trying them out.
Look a little concerned here, don't I?
I was pretty tentative on my first run, didn't feel like I really knew the long course well enough yet, so I turned in a slow time. Fellow R2P'er Mike Miller nearly equalled it in his beater Civic, which made me nervous- if he beat me in that thing I was going to be seriously embarrassed, and he's an excellent driver so it wasn't out of the question. I was a bit more committed on the next run and improved by over 5 seconds to 60.1 seconds. I continued to improved my times over the next two runs, but incurred penalties with a rare off-course on one run, and a flattened cone on another. For the final run I was looking at competing with very tough times from sometime R2P'er Tom Mak in a nimble Mazda RX-8, and Joey Wong in a Honda S2000. Looking at the time sheets I thought I could maybe pip Tom for the lead if I turned a 58 flat; minutes later he went out and turned a 55.9, which I was sure was out of reach. I nearly hit my target on my final run with a 58.6, which I'm very happy with. I ended up 3rd out of nine drivers. I'm satisfied with how I stacked up against some tough competition, and believe it shows the new tires made a marked improvement over my previous performances this year. In particular, I outpaced the blue Porsche that I was previously in close competition with by a significant margin, and even came out ahead of some of the AWD Subarus that I wasn't close to catching before. From here on out I won't have tires as an excuse any more, back to blaming the nut behind the wheel :)
Tom Mak finessing his RX-8
Joey Wong winding out his S2000
Mike Miller trades up to this stunning Civic :) Congrats also to new R2P member Zandy, who co-drove with Mike in his first autocross. Clean runs all day, which is a victory in and of itself for a first-timer!
All photo credits to fellow FCSCC member Said Hu. Thanks Said!
Spent a great day at beautiful Limerock Park today, hanging out with my friend Phil, and with fellow CT Racers Mike Miller, Bryce Aston, and Bob Fay. Despite some ominous clouds in the morning, there was no rain and the skies cleared by afternoon, which saved us some sunscreen. A lot of our favorite vintage iron and a few new surprises turned up for 20-lap races organized into groups by year and displacement. I've been 3 times now, and never cease to be amazed by the value and rarity of cars on track going for broke, driven like they were meant to be driven.
Star of the show this year was a legendary Mercedes W154 Silver Arrow. It was every bit as impressive as you might think a 500hp 1939 Grand Prix car might be. Pics below!
Vintage Porsches wail through the canyon up no-name straight
Paul Newman's Escort soldiers on. I'm sure Mr. Newman wouldn't have it any other way.
Unusual Racing Volvo
Sharp Abarth coupe
1920's Samson won the Veteran Race Car class on the concourse
This little Mini was a real giant-killer, starting with the Aston Martin it's hounding here.
This Jag was a real flyer, and tore up its class
Aston Martin hood
The W154 slumbers before the crowds gather
A 200mph wire wheel
In case there was any doubt
At speed for the first time since 1939
This Sunday I participated in my second autocross of the season in Stratford, CT, with the Fairfield County Sports Car Club.
Despite the gloomy weather forecast, we ended up having a great day for an event. Started off overcast and a little threatening, but by noon the clouds parted and we had clear skies for the rest of the day.
This was only my second outing in my "new" car, and you may recall that I was a little disappointed with my first outing. Things went a bit better this time, as I'm making a little progress adjusting to the car.
Once again, tires were the issue of the day. The car handles great- it's very quick in transition when changing direction. Throttle and brake response are excellent. It'll understeer a little if I screw up corner entry, but if I get it set right it rotates beautifully, hanging the rear out just a hair and gathering back up nicely when I straighten it out.
But when the temps go up as the sun heats the pavement, the grip suddenly disappears, especially in the rear. On the slalom on the far side of the course, I was able to keep the throttle floored past the first cone in the morning, but in the afternoon the rear end broke loose in dramatic style- I gave a heckuva tail-wagging show, front wheels pointed the wrong direction after every cone trying to gather it up. I was working so hard at the wheel I turned my wipers on, which doesn't do much for your concentration, lemme tell ya! Didn't hit any cones, though, and continued on for an ok lap only a second off pace.
After that I lowered the air pressure in my rear tires, hoping for some more grip. Next run was my fastest time of the day- still quite loose in the rear, but this time I was ready for it, and managed the wheelspin better. Lowering the pressure must have helped a little as well.
At the end of the day I brought home second in class out of 6 drivers. The same Subaru STI that won last time took home first again. He was dramatically faster than me again- I won't have a chance of competing with him without competition tires. I had close competition with Greg Cullen, a nice guy and good driver I met last year. Like me, Greg has one or two mods on his Saturn that bump it into a higher class than it's really prepared to compete in. So despite out-driving me all day, Greg's handicap time came up a little short of mine and I edged him out.
Interesting note- I did one fun-run after the event closed, with the traction control on. The electronics on this car are really pretty good- the wheelspin was gone, but the intervention was almost invisible. I could tell that I was getting much flatter throttle response in a few spots, but the car never pulled the plug on me and killed my momentum. My lap time was only a second slower than my best of the day. Definitely better to have it off, but I was quite impressed with its performance.
So another fun day on the course. Autocrossing is a tremendous bargain in motorsports, which is great because it's about the only one I can afford right now :) Can't wait for the next one in July.
Some more cars of interest below. All photo credits to FCSCC member Said Hu. Thanks Said!
Fellow Bimmerfest member Jim Burnham in his 540
Smoke 'em if ya got 'em!
Lots of trikes out there today!
Big V8s aren't exactly at home on the autox course, but they're fun to watch, and I'm sure more fun to drive!
Beautiful vintage Z car
This past Sunday I kicked off my autocrossing season by attending the Fairfield County Sports Car Club's Special Olympics Connecticut Autocross Series April event (whew, that's a mouthful!)
Photo credit: Said Hu
This was the first really warm weekend of the year here in Connecticut, and Sunday proved to be a scorcher in the upper 80s. There's only one tree at the event site, and it was comical to see people huddled underneath its bare branches looking for any bit of shade. I was happy to leave my umbrella at home knowing there was no chance of rain, but I learned my lesson- from now on I bring it anyway, for some portable shade.
My new publishing franchise: "Where's Hutch?"
Photo credit: Kevin FitzMaurice
This was also my first event in my new (to me) BMW 330Ci. Had to paint my magnetic numbers because the black wasn't easy to see on this orient blue car. I think the yellow looks sharp.
My previous car (a Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V) was a front-driver with a limited-slip differential, and was quite well suited for low-speed maneuvering on an autocross course. My BMW is a more powerful rear-driver without limited slip. On a track I'm confident the BMW is faster; on an autocross course I knew it might be a different story. Looking back on the event my sense is that I would have been quicker in the Nissan, but primarily because of the tires. The rubber on my BMW is crap... speed rating and tread aggressiveness is good all the way around, but the wear rating is an astronomical 340. These things are rock hard and they just don't grip. Because of the cold air intake and performance chip on the BMW, I'm in a class that allows R-compound competition tires, and I'm at a serious disadvantage on this set of rubber.
Photo credit: Kevin FitzMaurice
If it sounds like I'm making a case for an excuse, well, I am :) I came in 3rd out of 3 cars in my class this time, which is mildly disappointing, but motivational. I was up against an '08 Subaru WRX STI, and a late '90s Porsche 911. I was close to the Porsche all day, and had a chance to beat it if I pulled everything together. The Subaru was well-driven on sticky rubber and beat me by a second and a half.
Photo credit: Said Hu
Photo credit: Said Hu
All of which is not to say I didn't enjoy myself- I had a blast! I had a great time learning the car, and wagging the tail around the course with some, uh, exuberant application of that power through the rear wheels. The oversteer is predictable and easy to correct; a little extra rotation was always there for the calling with gentle addition of throttle. Handling with the stock sport suspension was excellent- the car stayed planted at all times on even throttle, roll was present but nicely contained. This was the first time I've driven the car hard without the traction and anti-spin, so I didn't know what it was going to be like, and happily it was a willing partner and a joy to drive.
I continue to be surprised by the changes the course surface goes through during the day. You would think that a parking lot is just a parking lot, but when it's used like a track, it behaves like one. I first noticed it last year on a sunny day after a rainy morning, as the course dried and changed all day. This time the sun was so hot that the surface heated and altered grip continually as the day went on. Grip for me peaked at around 1:30pm, when the surface was hot, but before the R-compound guys started shedding marbles all over it. I was controlling the power better by the end of the day, but the surface was really dirty by then in a few key corners, which cost me time.
So all in all, a great day, but it's clear I have my work cut out for me for the season if I hope to be in the hunt for points by the end. Tires are probably not in the cards until next year, so I'll have to dig deep to get ahead.
Photo credit: Said Hu
Mike Miller & I blew the day off from work today and went to opening day at the Skip Barber Racing School at Lime Rock Park in CT.
Planned activities for the day included free autocross exercises, skidpad exercises, and ridealongs on the track. Oh, and some cardboard pizza, and soda :)
First a few words about our chariot for the day. As you can see, a GT3 can quickly draw a crowd:
Mike was brave enough to let me drive up! Thanks Mike! No bones about it, this car is awesome. To start with it's a real looker- the black wheels and painted calipers peeking through look great on this white car. The interior is very nicely executed with stitched leather everywhere and alcantera inserts. It takes a certain amount of care to drive on public roads- Mike has to approach his own driveway at 45 degrees to clear the air dam, an exercise that lifts the front right tire a good three inches off the ground as the left front climbs the driveway. I unfortunately got ambushed by a poorly filled excavation on route 8 and left some scrapings behind on the pavement. We both winced but no damage done thank goodness! I was pleasantly surprised by the ergonomics and comfort- I had no problem driving for almost 90 minutes to LimeRock. It has a stereo, but you'll never use it- the glorious bark coming from behind you at all times dominates the cabin, and is all the music you'll ever need, and you'll want to hear it over and over again. 400+ hp and some massive brakes can really rearrange your eyeballs. I'm serious, you will feel it in your pupils as you're pressed into the seat on the throttle, and straining against the belts on braking. Traction control is effective and non-intrusive, as I discovered with a quick stab mid-corner to squirt through some traffic. A great car and I'm happy to say I drove one.
They look good in black, too, this mean GT2 was menacing the parking lot when we arrived:
Mike & I both checked the weather down here on the shore in CT, and saw we were looking at a partially cloudy 50 degree day. What we both neglected to do was consider the usual weather difference in northwest CT in cold weather- it's usually much colder up there, and today was no exception. I'm pretty sure it didn't break 40 degrees at the track, and with the windchill it felt below freezing. I had a few layers on with a light jacket, thinking I might be overdressed. Mike had a t-shirt and sweater, so he froze even more than I did. And at about 11am it started snowing! No accumulation, but it just added to the ambience. But enough about that, on to the driving!
Hmm, well, first we have to deal with the lines. The economy being what it is, and what with all the pent-up winter motorsports energy out there, this free event turned out to be a very popular idea. We decided to climb into the skidpad line first, and there we stayed for over two hours! The line was long enough before the Barber folks brought along a pack of VIPs and cut them to the front of the line. That didn't sit too well with some people in the back of the line, who got downright obnoxious yelling at the instructors. Mike & I were philosophical about it- hey, it's their free event, they get to do what they want, right? Fortunately they decided to mix the VIPs in by giving them one car and leaving the other to the people in line (2 were operating on the skidpad at all times). That quelled the insubordination for most, but that one vocal guy still wasn't happy. He soon either quieted down, or magically disappeared, we're not sure which!
OK, finally on to the skidpad. This exercise was about skid recovery as a driving safety skill, not really about drifting. The instructor ordered me up to a certain speed, told me to let off the gas, then yanked up on the emergency brake. Around the back end would come, and it was my job to recover. There were sprinklers on the inside of the pad to keep it wet and slippery. At first I tried to keep my hands on the wheel without moving them, but on the first rotation I wasn't able to crank the wheel enough to save it, so from there on I had to hand-over-hand. I handled the rest of the skids pretty well and kept the car moving. I was a little overly conscious of the car in front of me, which was going at a slower clip then I wanted to, so I didn't provoke the rear end out myself with the throttle, which I wish I had done. Mike went out next and was a bit more aggressive with it- he said the instructor was yelling at him to slow down the whole time :) Animated gif of Mike in action below (may load slower than the other pics):
That was the only time Mike went all the way around, but it raised a smattering of applause from the line :) The serious steering angle below was a successful drift.
Next we headed off to wait in line (of course) for the ridealong. That went a bit quicker, and was a little more sheltered from the biting wind. They had stock Miatas, Pro Cup Miatas, and a single Exige S out for rides.
The Exige would have been the car of choice, of course, but it was all up to luck in the line, and I ended up in a stock Miata. No matter, even a stock Miata is good for a thrill in the right hands. The instructor was a real nice guy, I asked how his day was going and he said "Hey, I get paid to do this all day, how bad could it be?"
So I was plenty comfortable at speed on the track, but despite my sim-racing experience, there were a few things that really stood out. First, entry speed is shocking in real life. You might think you're getting some sense of speed in your favorite sim, but it is another story when you're out there for real. I have no problem charging into Turn 1 in a sim, but it will take some getting used to on track, it's just so much beyond what you would do on the street, a restraint that will need to be overcome. Second, there's an awful lot of force missing in our hobby- this comes as no surprise, but was still something that really jumps out at you when you get out there. I told my instructor I was going to have to work on my neck muscles, because it was a strain to keep my head upright at times under the g-load.
After that... we'd had enough! No point in waiting for a baby-steps autocross when I'll be driving one later this month. Still, we entered a drawing to win a free 3-hr Intro to Racing course, so with any luck one of us would get to drive one of these for a couple of hours:
So despite the weather (note the snowflakes in that last picture), we had a good morning. All in all, it beat a day at work... unless you happen to be my instructor, you're not going to beat his day at work no matter what you do :)
So I was wondering during the Sunday night NASRL race, what does your average race driver do when he has to... er... adjust his unmentionables? Fortunately Road America has a nice long straight where I was finally able to let go of the wheel completely to get things worked out, but I probably wouldn't have done that in real life under full throttle. I bet a pair of fireproof gloves and a nomex suit makes it even more difficult.
I guess I should make an addition to my pre-race checklist...
Yup, back for more after only two weeks... my wife was thrilled! :)
I had a good excuse, though: finally getting my good friend Phil out for his first time among the cones. Phil brought along his recently acquired '03 M3, seen here in it's fresh masking tape livery:
Not much sun all day- just like last time I feared up until the last minute that it might be a washout, but a bit of positive thinking held off the raindrops.
Note the serious 3-wheeling going on :) I was back in DSP, itching to avenge my loss at the last event. I took first in class this time out, but it wasn't a fair fight- I think my only competitor probably belonged in a novice class.
The hardest part for Phil as a first-timer was staying on course- it took him a few tries to get around all the right cones. That's a normal adjustment, it can take a bit to get used to what the cones mean, and it takes some concentration and familiarity to train yourself to keep looking ahead so you know where the course is going. I can still on occasion get focused on the corner I'm in, and pop out the other side only to look around and think "Where am I?". By then it's too late.
Tom Mak was kind enough to give Phil a ridealong during the fun-runs, much like the one he gave me months ago- Thanks Tom! Phil was very much impressed, as I was, by what it's like to take a really fast run- it's surprisingly violent, with some shocking g's coming at you from all directions. Tom is a great driver, and gets the big Vette into some beautiful controlled rotations.
During the fun-runs I took the M3 out for a couple of runs. The first lap I left the spin control on, and the car definitely shut me down a couple of times in tight corners. So enough of that- the second run I turned the nanny off, and the car was beautiful to drive. I got into some sweet rotations myself, hanging the back end out about 6 inches on entry into both slaloms. A little more practice to control the wheelspin in the really slow corners, and some time to explore the limits in the slalom, and I think I could make it quite a bit faster. As it was, I was faster in my Spec V, partly because I'm comfortable in it, partly because it is quite well-suited to tight, low-speed maneuvering.
And so, one last trophy for the season. I'll try not to brag about this one... much :)
After an all too lengthy summer hiatus, I made it back out to hunt some cones today with the Fairfield County Sports Car Club in Stratford, CT.
Much to my surprise, the first thing I laid eyes on when I drove on the lot was a near mirror image of my car. Todd A breezed in from Jersey with his identical Spec V.
The ol' girls looked good side by side, road warriors alike.
After two straight wins in rookie classes, it was time to get my feet wet in straight DSP. Only one other car in my class today, a nicely set up Saturn SC2. The two of us traded fast times throughout the day, but in the end he got in a solid quick run, and I nipped a cone to blow my best run of the day. A crushing defeat :P
I had a great time watching the other Spec V three-wheeling around the course. Todd and I also swapped fast times all day- it was a lot of fun to have a couple of guys in similar cars to hang and compete with.
Got a good lesson in the value of tire pressure today- after our 6th run I thought the day was over, and I lowered my pressures from the 42F/39R I'd been running down to a more streetable 35. Then the flagman comes around again and I find out we get a 7th run. I went out and the car was total mush in the slalom, a dramatic loss of grip. I'd been cranking the pressure up based on recommendations without really knowing why, now I know what a difference it makes.
A fine time was had by all in the CT Racing camp at Lime Rock today. Good to meet some more of you in person!
This was my first ALMS race. The cars are just awesome. Fun to see them first hand after seeing them on tv and in magazines all these years.
The Audi R10 is just amazing. At idle it sounds just a little like a semi, just enough that you can tell it's a diesel :) But it purrs at revs like no other. It's dramatically quieter than anything else on track- when they lift throttle it's practically silent. I bet even Lakeville CT would let a track full of those race on Sundays :)
The Compuware Vettes, on the other hand, are very loud and leave no doubt that they're big V8s. Big bass exhaust note, what a glorious sound. Francesco and I were in the paddock next to one when they started it, sounded like a gunshot, I jumped a foot in the air! They sounded awesome travelling down no-name straight, the sound echoing on the banking.
Formula BMWs really do skate around quite a bit like they do in rFactor, we could definitely see them slithering around. The field was small but stayed pretty bunched up, fun to watch.
It was hot!
The GT drivers really have their hands full all day, they have to constantly watch their mirrors. The closing speeds sometimes were pretty dramatic. Only one class incident today that I know of, but wouldn't you know it took out one of the Audis.
The IMSA Lites had a real hard time with the esses today. A couple of them left some parts behind:
It took a while to clean all that up. This Formula BMW had it even worse, making it to the tire wall. The driver was unhurt.
Paging Mike Miller... Mr. Miller?
As much as I loved this GT40, it was about the slowest car in the field.
The ALMS series was very friendly and open. We wandered around and got some autographs during the lunchtime session. Here's Francesco and Bob with Gil De Ferran.
Future CT Racing driver Aidan Fay having a good ol' time with Mom & Dad:
Is there anything left holding this thing on?
A busy day indeed.
Back to Stratford, CT today for my 2nd autocross event of the year with the Fairfield County Sports Car Club.
The club had some special guests this morning, 4 police chiefs from surrounding towns came to compete in their cruisers! It was fun to see them out there with the flashers on, and most of them came in with big smiles on their faces. Local news channels showed up to do a little coverage, and a couple of reporters got the ride of their lives at the hands of some ace drivers.
Weather was an adventure today- I got one dry run in the morning, though the course was cold and dusty. After that each run was progressively wetter. Run 2 was just damp, but 3 had standing puddles, and I had the wipers on for run 4. Lots of wheel hop off the line in the wet, and keeping the front from plowing was a real balancing act.
I don't feel like I really figured it out today. My best run of 47.1 was full of mistakes, and I was quite surprised to find it wasn't my slowest run. The fast guys were running 44s in the rain, with the occasional 43. Most were 2-3 seconds slower in the wet than the earlier dry runs. I'm sure I could have run 45s with a few more chances, but the weather got the best of everybody, and the club called the event at 4 runs. Naturally it cleared up not long after that :)
Despite my dissatisfaction with my times, it was still good enough to win Rookie Non-Stock, for my 2nd straight class victory. I think I clearly don't belong in Rookie any more, but you only get to be a rookie once, I'm going to soak it up while I can :)
I attended my 2nd autocross today, my first this year, this time with the Fairfield County Sports Car Club.
This lot was quite a bit larger than the event I went to last year. Lap times were from 32 seconds for one alien, on up to 37s for some of the quicker street cars, and so on into the mid 45s for some of the novices.
Once again I came to appreciate the limited slip today. I made sure not to let myself rely on it as much as last time- it's probably not the fastest solution, but sometimes it's easier to just tromp on the gas and hang on, and let the limited slip sort the traction out for itself :) Many other front drivers were generating smoke out of the inside tire in several places around the track.
My loving family got me a 3-point harness for Xmas (okay, it was on my list), and I was very happy with how it held me in place. No more flopping around the car under cornering, especially in the esses at the end of today's course.
So anyway, when all was said and done, I turned a best of 38.4, which I'm very happy with. The car had another second in it if I could have strung together my ideal lap. But as it was, that was good enough to win my class in Rookie Stock. I beat all but a Lotus Elise on time, and the index class handicap put me over the top for the win.
I met up with fellow R2P'ers Mike Miller and Tom Mak, face to face for the first time. Both are just as great in person as they are in the forums and on the track, I look forward to seeing more of both of them at future events.
Video from behind the fence:
Did my first Autocross today with Connecticut Autocross and Rally Team (CART: www.cartct.com), and I'm an instant addict. There's no question this was the best $30 I've spent in a long time. I stayed the full day, 8am to 4pm, got in 7 official runs and 2 fun runs, served my half-hour work assignment, met some nice people and watched some interesting cars, and had a great time.
Showed up this morning with my front tires pumped up to 39psi, paid my money and got a car number and work assignment. I was pretty hyped up and nervous. Struck up a little conversation with a couple of guys parked nearby- for the most part people were friendly and happy to talk to a first-timer like me. Went to the novice walk-through, where one of the event organizers walks you around the course and talks about everything that will go on throughout the day. The CART guys were straightforward and thorough, just as you'd want them to be. Got through tech inspection with no problems, save a few cautions to remove absolutely everything that isn't tied down, even the floormats in the back.
I was all butterflies about my first stint- novices went first, but we got a ride-along with an experienced driver, who was there to make sure nobody got lost on-course or did anything crazy. I got through my first run clean, no cones or off-course excursions, with a 26.4. My ride-along was pleased- he said just getting through clean was step 1, next I could work on speed. 4 or 5 other drivers got lost on course out of our group of maybe 15 novices. I felt like I could easily trim 1.5 to 2 seconds off my time, so I set myself a goal of low 24s for the day. I soon saw that the fast guys were in the 20s, and wondered if anybody would break into the 19s.
I was thrilled to have popped my autoX cherry without embarassing myself, and mentally set to work on the next lap. My next outing yielded a 24.6, and I saw that my goal would be easy to attain. Next was a 24.2, and I was beginning to analyze particular corners that needed attention, and recognizing trouble with the back section (which I never did quite solve). Turned a 23.5 and hit my only cone of the day on the next run, which gave me a 1 second penalty.
My next 4 runs were 23.7s, which had me thinking that was pretty much all I had for the day. Then of course my first fun-run I turned a 23.4. Here's an on-board video:
The expostulation at the end is me realizing I've chopped 3 tenths off my best official time :)
My Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V was well-suited for this event right out of the box. The limited slip was working hard, but it definitely helped pull this front driver into the corners; whenever I started to push I could crank harder into the turn and it would tuck back in with only minor throttle adjustment. Transitions were neatly damped, it was really an easy car to drive. These are all things I thought I knew from the street, but you work your suspension harder in this lap than you'll ever do on the street.
You're expected to man the course for a half hour during the day, to monitor the cones and stand them back up when somebody knocks one over, and notify the timing trailer so they can assign penalties. It's not hard, and gives you a front-row seat to the action during your stint.
I highly recommend autocrossing to anybody- this is the elemental form of grassroots motorsports. You can show up with your own car, and as long as it passes safety muster you can have a great day with like-minded folk. You have a reasonable chance to be competitive with somebody no matter what you're driving. A well-run event like this one is relatively safe and not even that hard on the car, though the tires do take some abuse. Go out and find your local chapter or club and get behind the real wheel.
Results are up this morning- I took 4th in the novice class. I don't mind being beat by an STI and a BMW, but the Neon stings a little :) I was leading a guy in a shiny new Corvette Z06 most of the day, but he finally pulled it together for his last couple of runs.
Also, a couple of action shots courtesy of the event photographers:
I went to the Scion Grand Prix at F1 Boston today. My brother-in-law has an Xb (that crazy boxy thing), and brought me and a couple of others along as a guest. The whole day was free, sponsored by Scion, which was cool right off the bat. Only got one race in- there were roughly 500 people there I'd guess, so there wasn't a lot of track time to be had. The tracks are very cool- smaller than the track I went to in Wallingford recently, but the elevation changes kinda made up for that. I was on track 2, where I was turning only 16 second laps, and 10 laps went by mighty quick. My buddies and I came in first through fourth. I was 3rd, couldn't get a clean lap in because of traffic, I definitely could have done better. Some people were just out for a Sunday drive, I was passing people left and right, on the outside of hairpins, you name it. My brother-in-law got some clean track and managed the 4th fastest time of the day, got into the final race and brought home a trophy for 3rd.
Other than that, we got into a "pitcrew challenge", in which we had to do a pitstop on a Porsche, including changing tires and simulated refueling. We won that outright in a very close finish. It was a real hoot. Got a free sweatshirt and a nice plaque to put on the wall next to my cockpit.
The facility is sweet- if you're in the area and haven't been there, definitely check it out. Nice restaurant, bar, two tracks that can be combined into one for special events, it's bitchin'. Beat my 16.8 on track 2, shouldn't be that hard if you can get some open track :P
I've been DVR'ing the SCCA Runoffs from Topeka on Speed the past week or so. There's been some great racing in a variety of classes. I'm not very familiar with NASA yet, but I assume this is what it's like.
I love to watch this stuff because I feel like most of these guys are just like you and me. I can identify with some guy in a modified civic driving the wheels off for the fun of it in GT Lites. There was no shortage of coverage on the family atmosphere, not the least of which involved a 50 yr old mom beating half the pack in her CRX.
The wildest and most fun race I watched was the Spec Miata class. 56 cars took the green in the wet, after morning rain, and it was a zoo. There were cars everywhere in the inevitable mayhem, which came in T3 I think. But after that there were packs of 5 or 6 mixing it up all over the track, and it was great to watch. S'pose my mom would notice if I borrowed her Miata for a weekend and returned it with roll cage mounts and a 5-point harness???
I actually hope to make a bit of a transition with the new year into real-world motorsport. I found a local car club that does a few autocrosses and track days a year, for very reasonable prices. I'm planning to join up, do the brakes on my Sentra SE-R Spec V, pick up a helmet, and hit the road. About time I put some of this sim racing experience to the test.