Saturday, July 16
It’s an hour drive to the track from Danville. I should have left earlier; I didn’t realize how crowded it would be. I drove through the entire paddock looking for a place to park and ended up back near the entrance, closest to food. I may have gotten the very last spot. I was between two Miatas on one side, two Porsches on the other. On the other side of the Miatas is a Volcano Orange McLaren and on the other side of the Porsches is a silver one.
The place is a madhouse. Track Masters and Speed Ventures are co-organizers of the track event. Track Masters is also operating an autocross here in the parking lot so we’re quite crowded. I found the sign-in desk and submitted my paperwork, was directed to the classroom for the drivers meeting. This meeting lasted about an hour, about twice the usual length. Much emphasis was placed on the fact that there are concrete barriers in close proximity to pretty much the entire track. They called it a “professional driver’s” track: a track for drivers who’s cars are paid for by other people.
Between that and the large number of participants I was feeling less than happy.
They were running five groups: Red, Orange, Green, Purple, and Black. Four sessions, 25 minutes each, with the first Red and Orange sessions running during our meeting. I’m in Purple: Intermediate, Point-by passing. I could have run in Black, which is Advanced/High-Intermediate, Mixed Passing. Cars that don’t want to be passed without giving a point-by can put a red circle sticker on the back of the car. No sticker means pass at will. Being new to the track and on street tires I was more comfortable signing up for Purple.
I circulated the paddock area off and on all day, looking to introduce myself to any other Lotus runners. George found me. I’d been through the place once or twice without seeing his car, deep in one of the garages. He’s in an S1 Elise. After talking to him, it sounds like he has the same car as Tony from yesterday. George’s is yellow, Tony’s is green, but in all other respects the cars look identical to me. George didn’t seem to know about Tony. The only other S1 I’ve seen was at LOG. What are the chances I’d see two in two days?
I found Josh and Tony parked together. Josh is running a 2-Eleven, Tony an orange Exige. I told them my story and Josh asked what size tires I’m running. It took me a minute to understand what he was really asking. He had a spare set of slicks and was offering to let me run on them. If I was more familiar with the track, I might have taken him up on the offer. Very generous.
Josh had some unwelcome excitement in the second session. After a couple of laps, Tony was behind him. Josh waved him by but in the process put two wheels off. When he came back on track he over corrected and spun, putting him in the wall. Broken left rear suspension and some fiberglass damage. I didn’t know any of this until after the session, other than seeing him parked beside the track. Our session was black flagged to get him off the track. It only took 10 minutes, but that really cuts the session short. I had two “fast” laps, but they were both heavy traffic and I was unable to get a clean lap.
When I got off track, I headed over to see what had happened to Josh. They showed me the footage on their GoPro. Josh was assessing the damage when I took a picture. Tony says “You’re going to be in the magazine now.”
I really enjoyed the third and fourth sessions. I was getting more comfortable on the track and was able to improve my times by about three seconds each session. The fourth session was best – by now a number of cars had already left, so there was noticeably less traffic.
I chatted with a couple of other Lotus owners, whose names I’ve sadly already forgotten (I’m so bad with names). One had an ’06 Elise special edition (yellow, silver stripes). The other in an Chrome Orange S260 Exige. There was also a silver Exige there. I didn’t get to chat with him, other than to exchange hellos. As usual, all very nice, friendly folks.
When we were all packing up I chatted a bit with the owner of the orange McLaren. He used to have an Elise. He said he wondered if it was too much. “Not too much money, too much car.”
At lunch, waiting in line for the nine dollar burger I asked the guy in front of me if his car matched his cap. “Of course,” he said. He was driving his Ferrari FF. On it’s release, it was the world’s fastest four seat car. He said he might be driving the heaviest car out there today: 4200 lbs.
Many of the guys I talked to said Sonoma was their favorite track. Of the two so far, I prefer Thunderhill. I’m a big fan of having plenty of run-off room. If I make a little mistake, like Josh made, I don’t want to pay a major penalty. Mowing the weeds is enough for me. There are a number of places on track here (turns 10 and 11 in particular) where I know I can go faster, but I’d hate to misjudge the grip level and end up in the wall. That said, my early unhappiness was forgotten. I’m happy to have come here once.
As always, I enjoyed the company of the people around me in the paddock. We had to team up to defend our territory. When we were out, somebody parked in Glen’s spot. They made an announcement on the PA for the car to be moved. The guy thought the spots were for customers of the Wine Country Motorsports store. We borrowed a couple of traffic cones to put in our spots while we were on the track.
There was an “official” photographer there. This guy did a lot of paddock shots and fewer on track. I already planned to buy two days of photos, and that wasn’t part of the budget, so buying any here was out of the question. The guy had some nice shots, though.
With the shortage of track minutes, I managed to drive back to Danville without needing to gas up. Quite a difference from yesterday, where I put 9.95 gallons into my 10 gallon tank a few miles from the track.
MJ and Rod made a nice tasty dinner for me and we spent the evening in conversation, with the failed coup attempt on the TV in the background.