Laguna Seca Trip: Day 7 – Thunderhill Raceway

Friday, July 15

Now the vacation shifts gears, so to speak.

It’s a quick 15 minutes from the motel to the track. The facility is pretty nice; they have two large canopies to park under. The one nearest race control, bathrooms, and meeting rooms was already full when I got there, so I had to park at the farther one. Late arrivals were out of luck when it came to shade. This can be quite important as the day progresses. It ended up being about 100 degrees, so shade is important to some semblance of comfort.

Checked in. All cars are required to have numbers. Evidently, that’s some sort of rule in the region, not just for this event. I could use painters tape to make a number, if I could borrow some, or I could purchase a set from them for five bucks. That’s a sticker for each side of the car and a smaller one for the windshield. I got #29.

GBMC6478sThey have an official photographer there – They have a trailer (“with triple air conditioning!”) full of monitors where you can view what they’ve shot. Pictures for the day are $75. For two-day events, they charge $115. Chatting with them, I discovered they would be in Laguna Seca on Monday, so I told them to bring today’s photos with them on Monday and I’d buy both days for the 2 day event price (even though it’s two one-day events, not a two-day event).

Hooked on Driving (HoD) runs four run groups. A and B had their drivers meeting together, then A went upstairs to a different room and had ground school. C and D were the advanced groups. HoD runs five twenty minute sessions. I’m used to 30 minute sessions and prefer fewer longer sessions than more shorter ones, even if it works out to be the same amount of track time. Fewer longer sessions means fewer in and out laps and more fast laps. Each group is limited to twenty five cars, which is a reasonable maximum. Twenty five cars over a three mile track means we’re generally well-spaced and had a good chance of getting a few unobstructed laps each session.

For the A and B groups, “download” sessions were held after each track session. We went over subjects such as the proper line for various turns, proper gear selection for a couple of the tricky places, and so on. The instructor in charge of the group went on track to get video of the cars in the group to illustrate the good and the not so good.

The first couple of laps of our first session were run under yellow flag with a number of instructors out leading us around. This lets us newbies get an idea of the proper line. I really enjoyed the track. It’s quite challenging with the blind crests and off-camber turns.

I make it a point to meet the other Lotus drivers at these events. Today we had two. Tony was there running his S1 Elise. He says it’s not street legal. It’s a race prepared car from the factory with roll bar, fire suppression, fuel and electrical cutoffs. It’s Lotus Racing Green. It’s left hand drive, which surprised me. Tony says it was sold in the French market. Rover engine, very similar in power to the Toyota in the Federal Elise.

Bo has an orange Elise. He’s had is about a year. Big wing, race seats, after market wheels, bigger diffuser. We were all running in the same group, so we sat together at the classroom sessions.

I don’t think all five groups were fully subscribed. At least one of the drivers in my group would normally run advanced instead, but those were full. For the most part, it was not a dissimilar group of cars to what you’re likely to see at HPR – the usual mix of Mustangs, Corvettes, Porsches, and so on. One car that stood out for me was a Ferrari race car, complete with pneumatic jacks.

IMG_2184sThe track is quite challenging. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, like HPR, so there is plenty of room if you make a mistake. If you go off, you just mow some weeds. It has a nice mix of high speed and low speed turns, off-camber turns, and blind crests. The facilities are nice as well, with air-conditioned classrooms and plenty of shade for the cars and drivers.

GBMC1197sI ran five sessions and improved my best lap each time. I was quite slow the first session; every lap in my second session was better than my best lap in the first session. If we ignore that first session, my time improved by five seconds a lap over the course of the day.

One of the great extras that HoD provided was the presence of a performance tire company. When we exited the track, we could pull into their area of the paddock and they’d get the pyrometer and pressure gauge, collect all the relevant data, and recommend changes. I struggle with setting my tire pressure; I think I got some good tips from them, it just remains to be seen if I put them to good use.

Like yesterday, it was quite hot. I don’t know what the official high temperature was for Willows. As I said, it was close to 100 degrees. This is the first time I’ve been at a track where they had a relaxed dress code. I wore my suit for the morning sessions while everyone around me was in shorts and short sleeves. I lost the suit for the afternoon and was much more comfortable. But it did feel a bit odd.

I stayed to the very end and was one of the last cars to leave the track by the time I got all packed up. I gassed up in Willows before heading south on I-5 to the Bay Area. I’m staying with friends the next two nights in Danville. It was almost exactly a two hour drive, hitting a number of interstates (I-5, 505, 680) before successfully placing me in front of my destination.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. The track was challenging but not frustrating, HoD ran a great event, and I always enjoy socializing with people with a common passion.

Here’s my fast lap: