Saturday, August 24
After a string of hiking posts, we switch gears and head to the track.
Although I’ll call it a track, the Colorado State Patrol facility on South Table Mountain in Golden isn’t really a race track. It’s a training facility for the CSP. The track is really more like a road. It is slightly crowned and even as a center strip painted on it. Drivers should be careful not to go off here. Not only is the pavement often three or four inches above the surrounding ground, there are boulders hidden in the weeds. Hitting one of these will ruin your day as well as your car.
Because the track is only about fifteen miles from home, Genae kindly volunteered to take my slicks for me. She would drop them off in the morning and when I was done at the end of the day, I’d call her and have her pick them up. I keep telling myself I only have about one more track day on these tires.
I’d really rather use them up at HPR. I’ve run at HPR many times but this was only my second trip here. At HPR, if I go too hot into a turn and go off, I’m not worried about damaging the car. Here, there are those nasty boulders. The street tires give me plenty of notice when I’m about to lose traction whereas with the slicks you’re fine until you’re not. But if this is the only place I can have somebody bring the wheels and jack and tools, so be it.
I stopped to top off the fuel tank at the Shell station a few blocks from the track. Once on South Golden Road Genae caught up to me. I also found myself only a couple of cars behind an orange Elise. It was Eric from Colorado Springs. He passed the bus we were behind and went past our turn. I thought he missed the turn, but he was headed to a different gas station.
The access road to the track is dirt. It was in pretty bad shape last year. But today it was even worse. In spots, it featured a gully that meandered down the middle of it and from my seat looked somewhat like the Grand Canyon. Half way up the road I came across another Elise. He had decided this couldn’t be the correct way and was trying to turn around. Once alongside him, I reassured him we were going in the right direction.
Chris had recently bought his red Elise. It used to be Joe’s car. Joe, sadly, has ALS and had to sell the car. This was Chris’s first track event. Chris, Eric, and I all parked together. I mounted the slicks and had the car inspected. Then the drivers meeting was convened and I checked in to get my bracelet – I’m in the red group today.
At all the CECA events except HPR, drivers must also volunteer to work a corner. I was a bit late signing up and had only a few choices. I asked Eric if he wanted to work a corner with me and signed us up for the last session. The last session was open lapping, so Eric decided he would rather work corners in an earlier session and switched.
As Chris hadn’t been on the track before, I gave him a ride in the first session. Red group was first out. There weren’t very many cars in attendance. I didn’t get the official count, but there weren’t more than a dozen in the red group. Much to my surprise, I didn’t get passed in the first session. I used to go to these expecting to be the slowest car in my group but experience has told me I’m somewhere in the middle. Certainly, it must be that the faster cars got out ahead of me and we weren’t out long enough to lap me.
I was a bit tentative that first session. I had forgotten the finer points of getting around the track – my braking points, the quickest line. And it’s been a while since I ran on slicks. I was supposed to be showing Chris how to get around the track but I was missing the apexes by a mile, too early on the brakes except when I was way too late. But he seemed pretty happy when he got out of the car. The first session was 11 laps, best lap was 1:16.03. Four laps were slower than 1:20.
After the first session, Doug showed up in his silver Elise. He wasn’t there to participate; just to hang out. He didn’t even bring a helmet. I mentioned that I will soon need to replace my brake pads and he offered to show me how it’s done. I asked him how many beers it would cost. He doesn’t drink beer, so he said he’d do it if I’d give him a ride at the next track day. I suggested he borrow a helmet and I’d give him a ride right then.
So Doug was my passenger for session two. I was a bit more consistent. This was 14 laps, but included a trip through the paddock to get away from an inattentive driver. Being in the red group (experienced drivers who have been on this track before), I didn’t expect to find somebody not paying attention. I was catching a Mustang and we both caught a Sunbeam Tiger. He was probably six seconds a lap slower than us. We were behind him for two laps and he never waved us by. The rules today allowed passing only in two places, and only with a wave by. Frustrated, I got off the track and told the stewards that driver wasn’t paying attention.
My best time in session two was 1:16.21, with one other lap in the 1:16’s and only the laps behind the Tiger over 1:20. Again, I wasn’t passed. By now I had noticed that some of the usual fast cars weren’t in attendance. Alan was there, but in his Corvette (automatic transmission and street tires) instead of his Viper. There was a Viper there, but he was in the Green group. Also in the red group was a Dodge Magnum (a station wagon), an Audi, the aforementioned Sunbeam Tiger, an Alfa Romeo, a couple of Mustangs, and a couple of cars from the 60’s: a GT 350 and an AMX. Oh, and a big Chrysler 300. He was here last year and I recall him being the fastest car on the track. Not today.
I didn’t have a passenger for session three and managed to turn my best times. It was the longest session, good for 19 timed laps. I turned a 1:13.32, three more laps in the 1:13’s, eight in the 1:14’s, and nothing as slow as a 1:20, even when catching traffic. The highlight of the session was running nose to tail with a blue Mustang Boss 302. I may have been the last one on the track that session and waved him by right away as my tires weren’t warm yet.
I ran three or four laps behind him. He could pull away on the straights but I’d catch right back up in the turns. Although he wasn’t holding me up, he waved me by. Then we ran three or four laps with him following me. Eventually, I put him some distance behind me, but that was probably due to traffic more than any speed differential. He had more than double the horsepower of the Elise, but said he sometimes had a bit of trouble putting the power down if he tried to get on it too early when exiting a corner. He also told me he tried once or twice to brake as late as me. No can do. As expected, I was able to brake later than any other car in the red group.
The fourth session was open to all groups. As such, there was more traffic. There were also, finally, faster cars. Eric’s Elise is supercharged. He’s made a number of performance mods in addition – exhaust, aerodynamics, weight reduction. I waved him by in this session and had no chance of keeping with him. At one point, under braking going in to turn 1, he had flames coming out his tailpipes. He was running about 3 seconds a lap faster than me.
For this session, I had the AMX driver as a passenger. He was quite impressed with the car’s handling. Of course, the two cars are radically different. His muscle car (390 CID engine) is nearly 40 years older and twice as heavy. Next time we’re at the track together, he’ll give me a ride.
Session four was 14 timed laps. Fastest lap 1:15.04, fully half the laps in the 1:15’s and again nothing as slow as 1:20. I didn’t get any of session four on video. I spaced out after session two and failed to power down the camera. It ran out of battery half way through session three.
By the end of session four, it was apparent we were going to get some rain so the stewards called it a day. That meant I didn’t end up working a corner. I didn’t plan it that way, but I’ll take it. I called Genae to have her come fetch my wheels and tools. It seems I’m always playing the game “What Did I Forget?” Today was no exception. Early on I realized I forgot sunscreen, so I got a mild sunburn on my face. When I went to swap wheels I discovered I’d also managed to forget gloves. In the morning it wasn’t a big deal. I thought about the gloves when I was half way done with the swap. Gloves would have kept my hands clean.
Now, however, gloves were a bit more important. Brakes get quite hot at the track. Hot brakes tend to heat up the wheels. Proceeding with changing wheels now would result in burnt fingers. Luckily, Eric was still there and lent me his gloves. By now the rain started up, so he sat dry in his car while I got fairly wet. Just as I finished, so did the rain. Perfect timing!
By now I was nearly the last one there. I chatted with the stewards a bit waiting for Genae. There’s a gate at the entrance, which was now unmanned and closed. I’d have to go open it for her to get in. When she finally got there, only one other group was still there. They had four cars and a giant transporter. That’s quite an operation for running club days.
I had a fantastic time. I don’t have a breakdown of my lap times from last year, but selecting a random lap from last year’s video tells me I was a good five or six seconds a lap faster on the slicks than on street tires.
I still don’t have the slicks figured out. I took my pyrometer with me and got temps after each session. The hottest I got them was less than 140 degrees. That’s after a cool down lap, and I have no idea how much the tires cool off in that time. Subsequent research tells me these tires should run between 110 and 140 degrees, so I was at the high end and possibly over.
In any event, I wasn’t willing to push the envelope at this track. With a better understanding of the tires I’m sure I could have gotten another few seconds a lap. But I really didn’t want to go off here. Again, I had a lot of fun.
There are a couple of club dates coming up in September at HPR but I’ll probably skip these. I want to do the day at Pike’s Peak International Raceway in October and I’ll need to get new brake pads before then.