HPR, Wet and Dark

My visit to HPR courtesy of Ferrari of Denver seems like a long-ago memory. It’s definitely time for another track day; time to scratch the itch that cannot be satisfied.

I asked Ryan if he wanted to do a Thursday evening session. I had an ulterior motive. Ryan is a great guy, and I enjoy spending time with him, trackside or not. But the real reason I asked was: he trailers his car to the track and maybe he’ll transport my slicks for me. I’m so selfish.

It’s quite fun running on slicks. But I probably won’t buy another set. First, I can’t drive on them to and from the track, so I have to have help. Second, they’re really hard on the car. Before I used them, I’d never have thought going just a few miles per hour faster would be that big of a deal, but the additional stresses and forces applied to the car really are significant. Most notably, for example, is when I spun and broke one of the motor mounts.

I think I have about one more good day of use left on the slicks. Once I wear them out, I can buy some track tires that I can drive to the track on.

Thursday, September 15

Ryan kindly agreed to cart my wheels and jack to the track for me, so we signed up for our Thursday evening session. These Thursday evenings feature a hot track from 5 pm until 9 pm, or until nobody is still running. I’ve done a few of these and, because the track has no lights, I’ve never lasted more than a lap or two in total darkness.

One thing to keep in mind in this part of the world is the weather. For years I’ve joked that you could use the same weather forecast for any August day in Denver: “High in the mid-90s with scattered afternoon and evening thundershowers, possibly severe.” It’s September, not August, and we’re an hour east of Denver. But we’re pretty much still in that August weather pattern, so it still very much applies.

On Tuesday, Ryan texted me, “So rain and slicks tomorrow?” The forecast was for a 30% chance of thundershowers. The proper interpretation of a 30% chance is this: it will rain. But you have about a 1 in 3 chance of it raining on you. I responded that I would remain hopeful that it’ll rain north or south of the track and miss us.

We arrived at the track a few minutes before they opened the gates. I chatted with a couple of the other drivers, with our eyes to the skies. There was a significant weather cell to our south: rain, lightning, thunder. Typically, these storms move mostly west to east, so anything not west of us might not affect us. One of the guys got his phone out and brought up the current weather radar. The storm we were watching was headed straight for us.

Sure enough, by the time the drivers’ meeting was over, we were getting rained on.

Sometimes, these storms can dump almost biblical amounts of water, accompanied by quite the light show. These Thursday night sessions are “rain or shine”, and will be stopped only for lightning in the immediate vicinity (so they can get the corner workers off the track) and if the rain is really extreme. We didn’t have either of these issues, so we ran.

I elected to not mount the slicks, but Ryan had no choice: all he had with him were slicks. I went right out and ran some laps, while he stayed in the paddock watching the size of the roostertails the cars were throwing off.

My fastest lap of the day was in this first session. The track wasn’t yet wet. At first, I only needed to put the wipers on intermittent. It wasn’t long before I had them wiping continuously, and the track started getting pretty wet. I only ran 5 timed laps (that’s 5 laps, plus the out lap and the in lap, or about 18 minutes). It rained pretty steadily for the next half an hour, with very few people brave enough to go out.

We spent the time watching the weather from the relative comfort of Ryan’s trailer. It was parked with the ramp to the south, where the storm was coming from. For a while, the wind was stiff enough to blow the rain six feet into the trailer. Then the wind died down, meaning the storm almost stopped on top of us.

With Ryan and me in the trailer was Tony, owner of a Dodge Challenger, who was participating in his first track day. We gave him some tips, mostly having to do with the sensory overload that first-timers experience. When the rain more or less stopped, I went out for a few laps to scout the conditions. Tony rode with me. I knew I wouldn’t be going very fast, so it was probably a great way to show him the racing line. Provided I was able to stay on it.

I’d never driven laps in wet conditions before. On a Thursday a few years ago, we got sprinkled on but it was never enough to turn on the windshield wipers. I got sprinkled on at Mid-Ohio, too. That track has a very low-grip surface, and even a few drops were enough to cause me to lose control twice in a single lap. I called it quits.

Tonight I wouldn’t give up so easily.

Let’s just say it was challenging.

The laps with Tony as passenger were the most interesting. I learned the places where standing water formed puddles and where water flowed across the track. A good lap time in the dry on my street tires, with a passenger, is in the 2:18 range. We only did 3 laps, with 2:56 being the best.

In the drivers’ meeting, we learned that they installed small reflectors on the track last weekend for the Lemons race last weekend. I couldn’t see them until it got pretty dark. They were fairly small, and a number of them had already been broken off. Even these small and incomplete reflectors are a big improvement over not having them.

Overall Impressions

It’s easy to think that the amount of fun you’ll have is directly related to how fast you go: if you’re going faster, you’re having more fun.

That isn’t really the case for me. Sure, speed is a part of it. But I definitely have more fun when I’m pushing myself and the car to the limit. Can I brake at the last possible moment and still make the turn? Can I put the throttle down? How fast can I take this turn without going off?

The limit for me and my car on a dry track with these street tires is maybe 2:15. When everything is wet, it’s quite a bit slower.

As the evening progressed, the track was drying out. As I said, it was bad enough at the start that we had puddles and rivers. By my last lap, the track was getting to be dry. The braking zones for many of the turns had completely dried. The places where water obviously flowed across the track weren’t dry yet, and there was no obvious flow of water, but I could see they were still quite wet and wouldn’t dry for some time.

I tried to drive to the limit. I never lost control – managed to keep the car pointing (more or less) in the right direction, never spun, and never put a wheel off the track.

At one point, there was a BMW catching me. We were heading down through 9A and 9B, into 10, where I planned on pointing him by in that short straight. At the entry of 10, I got quite sideways. I wasn’t looking out the passenger window at the BMW, but I wonder if I gave him a bit of a “code brown” moment. I gathered it in without too much drama and pointed him by, but it was a bit of a thrill.

Most of the rest of the evening featured incipient drifts, slight drifts, occasional wiggles, and quite a few instances of applying the throttle too quickly exiting turns, resulting in some oversteer.

I had a blast.

Later, Ryan posted video of a few of his laps. As I said, he was running slicks. In retrospect, once the standing/running water was gone, I think I’d have gone faster on the slicks, even though it was still damp. In his video, it looked like he had no issues at all with traction. Even in my last session I was struggling for grip and could manage nothing within 20 seconds of my dry times. Live and learn.

Cameras

Because it was raining, I left the top on the car until the last time I went out. So I mounted the older GoPro on the nose and the newer one on the tail. Any camera on the nose will get pelted with small stones; I have a couple of replacement lens covers for the old camera but none for the new one.

When you turn on the newer camera, it takes a few seconds before it’s ready to start recording. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and fail to wait long enough. When I press the start button, nothing happens. This happened for the first session, so all I have for that one is the front camera. That’s okay: if I’m only running one camera, it should be facing the right way! When I got out of the car after my last session and went to turn off the nose camera, I saw that the battery had died. So for the last session, I only got a couple of laps with good video. No big loss here. Those laps included my fastest lap of the day, but as that was still 20 seconds slower than a good dry lap, and I never had any cars around me, it’s no big loss. None of those laps would have been as visually interesting as my earlier “night” video at HPR.

The Video

I didn’t bother with a lap this time. I present five clips. First, passing an older 911 in the rain. The second and third clips involve a Mustang GT 350 (at least, I think it’s a GT 350). First, I pass him, then he passes me under braking into turn 4. Technically, we aren’t supposed to pass under braking, but no big deal in this case. Next, a short clip demonstrates water flowing across the track and standing in puddles. Finally, my excitement entering turn 10 with a BMW behind me. Note that the light level is more accurately shows in the rear-view camera. The front camera is adjusting the exposure.

2 thoughts on “HPR, Wet and Dark

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