Monday, July 18
The low flying planes quit buzzing the motel soon enough, and I was finally able to sleep a troubled sleep. I tried to remain positive. This couldn’t have happened in a better place. Eight miles away are the region’s Elise experts. I topped off the gas tank then headed to the track. When I arrived at the entrance to the track, another green Elise with a wide centered yellow stripe was behind me. There’s a entrance booth that was unmanned. I pulled aside and he pulled up. “Don’t stop here. Follow me.” So I didn’t, and I did. I just met Bryan.
The check engine light hadn’t come back on, not yet at least. But the car wasn’t warming up. I didn’t think I’d be able to run if it didn’t get up to temperature and by now it should have. Just as we enter the paddock we had to stop to sign the waiver. While I was queued up behind Bryan that the temperature finally got into the operating range.
We pulled into spots right up against the pit road, just a few car lengths from the pit lane entrance. After checking in, I went back to chat with Bryan. His 2005, Lotus Racing Green, not BRG, is his track toy. Supercharged, and sporting a new device for his exhaust to mitigate the sound. He’s had some experience at this track, but only his second time in this car.
There was an excellent turnout. As expected, a good proportion of Lotus. Mel, who I met yesterday, brought is ’74 Elan. There was an X180R race car, “Eleanor“, the second of two type 105 race cars built to compete in the SCCA World Challenge series. There were a ton of Elises and Exiges, a 2-Eleven. In addition, there was the usual complement of Porsches, Miatas, Minis, Audis, and BMWs. What I thought was a Noble turned out to be a Rossion. There were several Mustangs. Most were new, but there was a 1973 Mustang that was a race car when new and still is. A Cobra, I believe, and not a knock-off. Even an old Volvo station wagon Lemons car.
A Golden Gate Lotus Club track day is a well-organized event. Snacks were available at check in. The drivers meeting was efficiently run, everything covered yet succinct. The photographer, Dito Milian, spoke, giving pretty much the same spiel as he did on Friday. “If you’re in the front of a line of cars, it doesn’t mean you’re holding them up. In the picture it looks like you’re winning!” We were dismissed; let the festivities begin.
I’ve been carrying a second helmet the whole trip. I’d invited people to Sonoma but I didn’t really expect them to show up. I had the spare helmet on my trip two years ago and never had a guest. Carrying it is a waste of space, and I should bring something else. But today Caleb showed up so it wasn’t a waste of space after all. I like giving rides. I’ve probably had riders at nearly half my track days. But nobody was ever as excited as Caleb. He was like a kid at Christmas.
We would have a 20 minute session each hour and a twenty minute break for lunch. Everybody got seven sessions; I drove five and a half. To start the first session, Bryan offered to lead me around for two laps. He was giving a ride to another intermediate driver; would do two laps, drop him off, and resume. I could follow the two laps.
This worked out pretty well for me, he showed me a good line. The first session was a madhouse. It seemed like there were too many cars out. It’s partly down to the rush to do three sessions an hour – they release the cars from the grid quickly, not much space between cars, so we start the session bunched up. In the drivers meeting, they announced that if you spin or go four off in the first session, or put two off with a passenger, you’ll be the Bozo. They’d actually put a Bozo sign on your car. Although I put two off with a passenger it wasn’t in the first session, so I avoided being Bozo.
That first session never really loosened up. At home, checkered flag means cool down lap, don’t use the brakes. In this trip, checkered flag is “hustle home, boys.” Keep at eighty percent of your pace, and bring it in. Today checkers were displayed at 1 and 7. In this lap. We took the checker at turn one, so had nearly a whole lap. Even at the relaxed pace, half way through the lap I was setting my best lap time for the session.
In the second session the CEL illuminated again. I had talked to Rob Dietsch earlier. He said I’d have no problems running today and no problems driving home; the only issue will be extended warm-up times. Unless, that is, the misfire code returns. I wasn’t experiencing any misfire and when Rob checked the code it was just the thermostat. [In the subsequent two weeks, no codes have been thrown and warm-up times have been normal.]
Each session got progressively better, which is the usual case. Had I given more thought to it, I might have skipped the first session and run a later one instead. Each session was better than the previous. I was starting to figure out some of the turns, working out the braking points. I was getting used to the other drivers in the session.
I don’t think I passed anybody in the first session. By the third session I was really starting to get comfortable. Now I was getting stuck behind an orange Exige. I’d get close to making a run on him and I’d have to let a faster car by. Finally got up on him, got large in his mirrors, but his extra horsepower let him pull me on the straights. Not being able to get around him, I let a space open up; I could start away from him in the next session.
As odd as it was that my fastest lap in the first session would have been my in lap, had it been complete, my fastest lap in the third session was the one where I made the most mistakes. That gave me confidence. Make fewer errors, I’ll obviously get faster.
I’m sometimes surprised at how fast my modern car is compared to some classic race cars of not that long ago. The X180R is a beautiful car, sounds fantastic, it was a real pleasure to get to see it in action on the track, to run with it on the track. I was surprised I was able to catch it so easily. One of my neighbors speculated the car had a timing problem and wasn’t running properly. But it shows how automotive technology has advanced that my little 2006 street car can outrun a championship race car from 1990.
The thermostat didn’t give me much grief. The engine didn’t cool down too much between sessions, except for the lunch break. I was now faster than Bryan, so he wanted me ahead of him on the grid. Unfortunately, it took two laps to get the temperature back up. I’m fifteen seconds a lap slower without the second cam. After the two laps, I took off like a scalded cat; was able to execute a pass on the orange Exige that had flummoxed me earlier.
I improved my best time in each session, until my final aborted one. I put two wheels off twice, just barely, and was a little sideways or had wobbles a number of times but felt in control the whole time. With one lapse. In my final full session I came up on a black and yellow Mustang. He waved me by, pointing me right. I passed him on the left. After the session was over I found him in the paddock and apologized. Looking at the video, I see why I did it. He was moving right as he was pointing me right. Still, I was correct to apologize.
By mid afternoon, Bryan’s exhaust gadget was discoloring his license plate. He unmounted the device for the final session and was not black flagged. He didn’t need to use it.
I ran half of what I thought was the final session, due to low fuel. Okay, I admit I was beginning to get fatigued. I didn’t have the best night’s sleep, and we had gotten a good dose of track time. I certainly won’t complain that I didn’t get my money’s worth.
At the end of the day, Caleb asked me which of the three days was my favorite. It didn’t take me long to say that today was the best of the three. There’s no doubt that a big part of it is the iconic nature of the place. I still can’t believe I got to run laps at Laguna Seca. Incredible, the stuff of fantasy. Lapping Laguna Seca in a Lotus is definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
My feelings now are quite a contrast to just 24 hours ago. I’m relieved and elated, still somewhat adrenalized, looking forward to a sound, well-earned night’s rest.
At Willows we switched gears. Now we switch directions: homeward bound.
The upgrade to Windows 10 has interfered with my video editing. Although I haven’t been able to do one yet for Sonoma, I did manage to make this two lap clip, second lap is my fast lap for the day.