And the crowd goes wild!! Ok, not really. But damn, what a load of fun.
Thanks to the scheduling gods, I was finally able to get my second SCCA driving school in. Only five months after my first one, this of course means that I missed out on a full summer of racing. But, oh well.
The morning of Friday, the first of the two days of school,dawned cold rainy and windy, a perfect day to take to an unknown track. Don’t you think? 8:00am driver’s meeting followed by a 20 minute period of time “on track.” Kim and Skip were there to crew for me, as well as Dan Ferguson who I had helped crew for during some races this summer. They had the car set up on rain tires and ready for me to go out for each of my driving sessions over the two days of school. The first day would be spent on the “short course” that the NASCAR weenies use, and the second day would be on the “long course.”
This time I wasn’t grouped in with cars that were 30% faster than me so I didn’t have to worry about being punted off into the boonies the whole time. This gave me a lot more of an opportunity to work on getting to know the track as well as work on my own skills at becoming a better driver. I would say that my car was about a middle of the pack or slightly slower car compared to the other people that I was going to be sharing the track with for class. But I didn’t know that at the time. More on that later.
The first session was all about learning the track, where to brake, where to turn, etc. With the steady drizzle of rain that we had there were areas to be concerned with. Such as the apex of turn one, since it is a banked corner, there was standing water on the inside of the track and you had to avoid dropping a wheel into it. The same thing held true in a couple of other spots. Also you wanted to avoid driving on any painted areas since there was less traction there than on blank pavement. There were places on the track where you simply could not avoid driving on the paint and you had to just deal with the fact that your car was going to be sliding until you got back on the asphalt.
The short course track goes like this: Start/Finish straight goes down hill towards turn 1 "The 90", a 90° right hander. From there down hill to turn 2, a slight right that transitions from downhill to uphill. Turn 3 is an uphill left hander that leads to turn 4 which is a right that transitions onto the back straight (turns 2, 3 and 4 are known as "The Esses"). The "Back Straight" is about ˝ a mile long and the end of it is the fastest point on the track. At the end of the straight you brake for the “bus stop” chicane, also known as the “inner loop”, a quick right, left, right that leads into the “outer loop” a nearly 180° downhill right. At the end of the turn is the short chute, or nascar straight that leads into turns 10 and 11, a nicely flowing and banked left and right combination back onto the Start/Finish straight.
The long course is when you use the whole track. Coming out of the "Outer Loop" instead of going down the NASCAR straight, you head downhill into an off camber (which means the track is banked the wrong way) left hander. This is called the ankle of the boot. From there it is steeply downhill into the "Toe of The Boot". This is a very sharp right hander that starts a steep climb up the "Sole of the Boot". At the "Heel of the Boot" is a 90° right hander that falls away and leads up to turn 9. This transitions back onto the short track and leads back into turns 10 and 11.
Things I learned about driving this course in the wet:
1.) Don’t drop your right front tire into the puddle on the inside of turn one. Pucker factor if you do: 1
2.) If you run wide on the exit of turn 1 you will end up with at least two wheels up on the painted curbing. Do not make steering corrections until you come down off of the curbing. Pucker factor if you do: 2
3.) Don’t drop your right front tire into the puddle on the inside of turn two. Pucker factor if you do: 1
4.) Don’t put your left tires on the painted curb on the inside of turn 3. If you do so your right rear tire has traction while your left rear doesn’t. This makes the rear of the car step out to the right and turns the car directly for the wall on the inside of the corner. Pucker factor if you do: 4 (trust me, I almost had to change my shorts when this one happened)
5.) When you are doing over 100 mph and come up on the back of a pack of Miatas (or any other type of car for that matter) braking for the chicane at the end of the back straight, there will be a lot of tire spray making visibility very, very poor. There is no way to avoid doing this other than just driving slowly, and what is the point of that? Pucker factor when, not if, you do: 1
6.) Water will cascade in sheets across the track in various places on the outer loop, try not to change your steering inputs when you hit them. Pucker factor if you do: 1
7.) The painted lines marking the entrance to the pits in turn 11 are unavoidable, you must cross over them twice if you want to come anywhere near the apex of the corner and get a good drive down the Start/Finish straight. Learn to live with the fact that your car is going to slide out from under you as you go into the apex and as you come off of it. Pucker factor when, not if, you do: 1
As each session went on I became more and more comfortable with the car and the track. I was able to push faster and faster. I passed more cars than passed me and got good comments from the instructors at the end of each session. After one session my instructor commented on how well I was doing compared to the Miatas. I told him that I didn’t know I was supposed to be slower than them, so I felt inclined to pass as many of them as I could. I was grouped with SRF cars (single seater formula car), Miatas and the other “Production” cars. For comparison sake an average driver in an SRF car should turn a lap on the long course at 2:18, a Miata with the same driver would do about a 2:24 and the car I was in should be doing about a 2:30. At the end of the day it turned out that I was third quickest overall, behind only one of the Miatas and one of the SRF cars. Driving in the rain is the great equalizer.
Day one was driven only on the short course, day two we started with a 20 minute practice session on the long course, then we had a race on the long course. They gridded us based on the fastest laps we had turned on Friday, which put me starting in third. The only problem was that I had set those fast times in the rain and now racing on Saturday, it wasn't raining anymore. Consequently I spent the whole of the 20 minute race waving the Miatas and SRF cars past me. At least no one driving a production class car was able to catch me, and I did even beat a couple of the Miatas. That was the end of school. I had passed and was able to register to race in the real race for Sunday!