I very nearly titled this entry “Money Shift Forensics”. I was thinking “forensics” was a suitable synonym for what I really want to say. But forensics is defined as “scientific tests or techniques used in connection with the detection of crime”. I’d say my missed shift lies more in the neighborhood of negligence than criminality. Although the car isn’t dead (and never was alive, for that matter), parts of the car certainly are dead so I think “postmortem” is a better word in this case.
Monday, October 14
In spite of Ryan having a few other Lotus to work on, he was able to start digging into my issue on Monday. He started it up for a few seconds to hear the noise. Then he got to work pulling things apart and assessing the damage.
Initial reports looked good. In an email at the end of the day he said, “I actually think we may have dodged a bullet here!” At that point the extent of the damage looked to be limited to the flywheel. But the investigation had just begun. He wanted to remove the transmission, continue the inspection and record some measurements of the crank to verify no damage has occurred. Ryan suggested that, all said and done, I might get out with a bill for parts and labor “near the 3k mark. This is assuming that there are no engine issues found or any other hidden gremlins.”
He asked me for authorization to remove the transmission to continue the inspection. So far, I’d be billed for 2 hours of labor. To continue, it starts to get expensive: “11.5 hrs for transmission removal and inspection, clutch and flywheel replacement.”
I consented and waited patiently.
Later in the week I was telling a coworker my tale of woe. I made the rather flippant remark that “I’d taken the car to the most expensive place I could think of” to get the work done.
Monday, October 21
That bullet that we dodged? Not so much.
Here is the email Ryan sent me late on the 21st:
I was able to get the transmission off this afternoon and have a look. I first removed the clutch and found all 8 of the flywheel bolts to be EXTREMELY loose and had backed out. This allowed the flywheel to vibrate at such a rate where it almost welded itself to the nose of the crankshaft. After about 5 minutes of prying with 2 pry bars (side to side) I was able to release the flywheel from the crank. This should normally pretty much fall off once the bolts have been removed.
The galling was so bad between the flywheel and the crank that the remnants left on the mounting flange of the crank as well as the nose is very severe. I noticed a couple things during the removal as well. There was an oil leak from the back of the engine. This was because the bolts were loose without any type of thread seal/lock applied. These holes are open to the crankcase through the crankshaft.
So, here we go. Because the galling and build up on the flange mounting face and the nose is so bad we pretty much have 2 options.
OPTION 1) I attempt to remove as much of the galling as possible, replace the rear main seal, flywheel, and bolts and hope for the best. Having this professionally machined would be just about impossible with the crankshaft installed in the engine and/or the engine installed in the vehicle.
*** THIS I DO NOT RECOMMEND. The crank is a perfectly machined piece where the flywheel and clutch assembly are designed to fit flush with almost zero runout. A small variance here will be very large at the outer circumference. Apply this to an 8500 max rpm limit and track use, the repercussions down the road may be worse than what we have seen here.
OPTION 2) We replace the engine. New, used, rebuilt, whatever you’d like. This will provide the safest option for the future, the best outcome, and guarantee the most trouble free in the long run.
Option 1 doesn’t sound too good to me, so that means I’ll be replacing the engine. The first decision to make, then, is who will do the work. As I said above, this is pretty much the most expensive place I could have it done. It may very well be that no one would do a better job than Ryan. Even with the club discount rate for labor, I’m already near twelve hundred for the diagnostics.
We initially thought we dodged the bullet because the timing chain is okay and there is no damage to the pistons and valves. So perhaps there’s some salvage value to be had out of this engine. Compression is good, and the top half was rebuilt less than two years ago.
Ferrari of Denver doesn’t get as much work over the winter as summer, so it would be better for them to utilize Ryan at a lower rate than for him to be idle. And as I’m in no hurry to get it done, they would have scheduling flexibility. So Ryan put together a quote for the work with a deep discount.
It was not an unreasonable quote, but it’s not a small number. I don’t want to go into debt to get the car running again. With the luxury of having four or five months to get it running again, I think Michael and I can get the job done. It doesn’t look like it will be difficult to get a good replacement engine. Michael has done an engine replacement before and he graduated with high marks from the same school as Ryan, so I have every confidence in him.
Now I just need to get the car home.
Friday, October 25
The other Ryan came to the rescue again.
We met at 10:00 at Ferrari of Denver. They got a few guys to help us push it out, thinking perhaps that we’d need to push it into the trailer. They seemed impressed by the winch in the trailer, and that my little tow ring was robust enough to pull the car. They asked Ryan if he had the same tow ring. “No, but it threads into the same hole.”
My big concern was getting it into the garage. We could winch it in, but not winch it out. The driveway is sloped enough that the car is almost level when the back tires are on the ramps. With the tongue of the trailer as high as it would go, we’d still have to push it uphill. And at tipping point, it would start to roll down the ramp and into the garage, so somebody had to be in the car to hit the brakes. Which meant only one of us could push.
But Ryan backed the trailer up, inch perfect, and we easily got the car into the garage. With it backed into the garage it’ll be a lot easier to deal with than when we did the clutch; we should have backed it in then, but I didn’t give it a second’s thought.
This one hurts
I’ve spent quite a bit on repairs, but this one is different. Brakes and tires and the clutch are all wear items. The ordeal of the camshaft was engineering failure: first the excessive wear on the cam, a widespread problem, and then compounded by defective parts from Toyota. The suspension failures were both due to failures of bolts. Those bolts aren’t generally considered wear items, but I now have their replacement on my calendar. The wheel studs will also be replaced on a schedule.
None of those repairs was due to any fault of mine, other than putting miles on the car.
I’ve run laps at La Junta one time before, two years ago with CECA. I really had a good time. I describe the track as “rinky dink” yet outstanding: it’s short and flat with six right turns and only one left turn. And yet it’s the only track I’ve been on with a turn that I can take at 100mph. On street tires.
I’ve been wanting to get back there. Last year I made a half-hearted attempt to get the LoCo track rats to do a day. Nothing came of it. This year I put in a bit more effort. After a series of emails with Ryan and Dave to come up with a few possible dates I reached out to Allan at La Junta Raceway to see what we could do. And so we had our first LoCo Track day at La Junta Raceway.
Saturday, October 12
Google Maps tells me La Junta Raceway is 192 miles from my house. The sensible thing to do would be to get a room, as I did last time. But I often get up before 5:00am when I’m hiking, so why should I treat this any different? So I packed the car last night and set my alarm for 4:40. I was out of the house at 5, at the gas station in La Junta a few minutes after 8, and at the track in plenty of time for the 8:30 drivers meeting.
Entry was $100, which is about what HPR charges for half a day. We were hoping we could get 5 Lotus out there. We did get 5 signed up, but Dave’s Elise is up for sale at FoD and his Porsche is leaking fluids, so he scratched. When I looked at the roster Thursday evening there were 9 cars. We had six show up and one of those wasn’t one of those 9.
We ran in two groups: LoCo at the top of the hour, the “mixed group” at half past. It wasn’t so much a mixed group as a German duo: a Porsche and an M series BMW. Allan provided pizza for lunch and coffee and donuts for the drivers meeting.
The meeting had all the usual stuff: talk about the flags, passing, entering and leaving the track. The unusual stuff took up most of the agenda.
My first visit here we ran the whole day counter-clockwise. This is the orientation the track was built for. Today we’d do the morning sessions clockwise and do the normal way in the afternoon. So that was a big topic in the meeting. There are non-trivial concerns when running the track the wrong way. One of the (concrete) corner bunkers is on the outside of the exit of a turn and there are no tires on this side of it. There’s a giant cottonwood tree on the outside of the end of the fastest turn on the track. And the end of the pit wall would be a bad thing to hit.
Oregon Raceway Park was designed to be run in both directions, and that’s what we did on my visit there. I found it disorienting and never had enough laps to get comfortable on it in either direction. La Junta is much smaller and simpler, and I was certainly comfortable running it the normal way. Our first session was only about fifteen minutes as we got a late start. But that’s okay. It was still fairly chilly. Nobody would be going very fast with cold tires on a cold track.
I ran with the top off, as usual. Under my driving suit I had my sweater and hoodie. I was bulky but warm. By the second session I shedded those layers as the weather turned ideal. Sunny, calm, mid-60’s or even low-70’s.
The track is adjacent to the airport. Back in WWII it was La Junta Army Airfield, a training base that accommodated a large number of twin engine aircraft on its three runways. Deactivated in 1946, it’s much calmer these days, and only two runways have been used since then. The track uses the southern end of the disused runway and taxiway. I may have missed one or two, but I saw four or five planes and a helicopter all day. The helicopter is that of the local medical transport outfit.
One of the pilots stopped by and visited with us. Interesting guy. Flew for the Marines for 26 years, recently started doing medical transport. Works seven days on, seven days off; twelve hours on, twelve hours off. He had lots of questions about the cars. I loved his language. The cars are ships, horsepower is thrust, speeds are in knots. Upgraded brakes and tires are “varsity” brakes and tires. I’m surprised he didn’t call us drivers “pilots”. I told him if he could borrow a helmet I’d give him a ride.
Got him strapped in, told him I wouldn’t be able to hear him once we were going, and headed out. He was very enthusiastic, giving me a big thumbs-up after each turn. Then I made a mistake. Exiting the fastest turn and onto the long straight, I miss the shift from fourth to fifth and instead did fourth to third. I caught it in an instant and got into a correct gear. Damn. But nothing happened. Well, it seemed nothing happened. Half a lap later when I entered a braking zone and lifted off the throttle the car made a bad rattling noise. I went back to the paddock.
It sounded and felt good on the throttle, only making the rattle off throttle. After a short trip around the paddock I didn’t drive it again. I did start it twice more for a few seconds each time. The consensus was a rattling exhaust or a broken motor mount. I didn’t say anything about my missed shift. We took the diffuser and access panel off and poked around. No problems with exhaust or motor mounts. Listening to the last few seconds I ran it, it was clear to me it was inside the motor. I’m screwed.
Finally somebody asked if I’d missed a shift.
I lied. I said “no.”
Why did I do that? Obviously, I should have led the investigation with the admission that I missed a shift. Would have saved everybody the trouble of looking for rattling exhaust or broken motor mounts. Why did I lie?
I’ve driven stick shift cars for thirty years, more than four hundred thousand miles, and about fifty track days. Only missed shifts I’ve ever made have been second to fifth instead of second to third. Never the money shift.
For a long time, I’ve taken pride in the notion that I’m kind to the equipment, getting more miles out of brakes and clutches and tires than most of my peers. But this notion is under assault: twice I’ve had suspension bolts fail on the track, had wheel lugs fail, broke a motor mount, and replaced the clutch at 80,000 miles. Now the money shift.
I also take some measure of pride in thinking of myself as an honest guy. I claim to value honesty, openness, and transparency. If I was open and transparent I’d have said I missed the shift first thing. If I was honest, I wouldn’t have denied it when asked.
We gave up looking at my car when the pizza arrived, and I tried to relax for the next few hours. When I could think of things other than the events of the morning the time seemed to pass faster. So when Kevin asked if I’d like to ride with him and maybe drive his car for a couple laps of instruction I agreed. I’m not an instructor. I often have to reflect on events after the fact to realize exactly what’s going on. My videos help a lot on this. Maybe I rely too much on the videos, and if I didn’t have them I’d be better at being in the moment.
In any event, I did my best to see what tips I could share with Kevin. This is only his second track day, so he’s a bit of a clean slate. I didn’t try to communicate anything to him until after we did a full lap, then I tried to correct his line in a few places. In general, he wasn’t getting the car close enough to the apexes, he tended to apex early, and often didn’t let the car run out to the edge of the track exiting the corners.
After five laps we swapped places and I drove. I drove three laps; an out lap, a hot lap, and an in lap and we switched back. He then drove another five laps. His times after seeing what I did improved by four or five seconds a lap, and were more consistent from lap to lap. He’s so new at this, I’d expect his times to steadily improve with practice without my input, but I think I helped him out quite a bit.
The guy in the BMW was there giving a ride to his grandfather who used to race cars back in the fifties. The grandfather, whom I’d never met before and who, to this point, I’ve exchanged maybe a dozen words with, said if he still had his trailer he’d get me and the car home. You meet some pretty nice folks at the race track. (Addendum: I wasn’t the only mechanical victim of the day. The BMW driver had a broken strut and when we left, his car was still out on the track.)
The obvious next issue was how to get the car home. The obvious answer was to ask Ryan what it would take to get him to drive his Exige home and put my car in his trailer. All it took was to ask. Ryan is a lifesaver.
Ryan drove his car and I drove the truck with trailer. I got out of the gas station before he did, so we were separated from the start. He’d programmed the GPS in the truck to navigate to his house so I didn’t bother with using my phone. This turned out to be a problem. The truck’s satnav didn’t know there’s a bridge out. I stopped and consulted my phone. It said I could go a few hundred yards ahead to take a county road east. I should have turned around right there, but instead I followed my phone’s directions.
I got to this first county road and it looked like somebody’s driveway. Phone says there’s another one up ahead. So I went to the next one. It was a nice gravel road, but it looked like it dead-ended. On I went. The next county road was a just a double track, like a single lane jeep road. No way I was going to pull this trailer down any of these roads.
So I had to turn around and go back. I got to sort of a wide spot and managed to flip a u-turn without sinking into the shoulder, having to back up, or jack-knifing the rig. The detour took me six miles east to cross the river, then six miles back to the road I was on. But I think it was still a better route than dealing with the construction on I-25.
Ryan was using his phone for nav, so he got routed across the river without incident and was now almost ten miles ahead of me.
Our first waypoint was Limon, where we could stop and grab a bite. But this is quite a bit up the road, so I had plenty of time to reflect on the day. I was pretty down about my driving error and tried not to think about how much it might cost to repair. I was also quite ashamed about lying about it.
I phoned Michael and confessed about the money shift. I was originally thinking we’d take the car home, but given our limited resources it was obvious the best plan was just to drop it off at FoD. The LoCo meeting was scheduled for the next day, so I’d be able to explain it all to Ryan and discuss the way forward. (Oh dear. I generally don’t use last names here, but we now have two Ryans in the story. I was going to use last initials, but they’re both Ryan C.)
We dropped the car at FoD at about 8:00pm. Ryan offered to give me a lift home, but that’s not an optimal choice. I took a Lyft instead.
Sunday, October 13
The meeting was scheduled for noon, so I got there about 11:30. Ryan was right there when I pulled up, and I gave him my tale of woe. It would be the first of many tellings, as we had a nice turnout. Before long, I realized I was a topic of conversation. Everybody knew the story pretty quickly. So it goes. I was a little surprised that so many people weren’t familiar with the term “money shift”.
I told Ryan to take his time getting to it. I’m sure he has a few cars in front of me. He’ll take a good look at it and let me know the diagnosis and we’ll discuss a treatment plan.
Here’s the video. A couple of laps to get a feel for the track when going the wrong way. Note the unprotected bunker (0:34), the tree (1:00), and the end of the pit wall (1:07). I had a couple of faster laps later in the session, but the forward facing camera died half way through. Evidently, I need to plug that camera into the charger after every session.
I’m a little behind in getting things recorded. That’s not a habit I want to form.
Sunday, September 8
This is the second track day hosted by Ferrari of Denver this year. I was happy to be able to do one, and even given what I experienced at HPR, I was quite happy to have another free track day.
This one was billed by LOCO as a “Club Social Track Day”. FoD puts it together for their Ferrari customers: a free day at the track with access to an instructor, feed everybody pizza, hang out with guys who have a Ferrari or three. We Lotus folks tag along, kick in for the corner workers, and pass every Ferrari that ventures out. So it wasn’t exactly free, but a $40 track day (including lunch) is tough to pass up.
We had a good Lotus turnout: Tat, Kevin, Eric, Will & Kat, and myself in Elises. Ryan in his Exige, Peter in his Evora, and William with the Cortina. (I hope I didn’t miss anybody; one of the perils of not writing these up promptly.)
The supercharged guys weren’t having the best treatment when it comes to point bys. I was only held up once all day; everybody gave me a prompt signal. Ryan posted a video (that I can no longer find) of him following Eric and being held up several times. I was just a bit behind them, and I guess after getting passed by bright orange cars they may have been more vigilant by the time I got there.
One guy in particular was slow. He was in a grey FF. I passed him twice in three laps. Think about that: the lap is 1.4 miles long. I went 4.2 miles in the time it took him to go 2.8.
They had a press car there from Lotus: an Evora GT. I almost didn’t drive it. I’ll never be in the market for an Evora, new or used. This particular example is an automatic and on suboptimal tires, so that wasn’t particularly enticing. But Tat said I should drive it; all the LOCO people would give short write-ups to William for the next issue of Remarque. So why not?
Given the vast difference in comforts the Evora holds over my car, I didn’t pay particular attention to the interior appointments. The cockpit of the Evora is hands down vastly superior to my go-kart. Ingress was much easier than the Elise, obviously. The seat was comfortable yet firm and supportive. Visibility is about what I expected: limited to the rear but otherwise good. I adjusted the seat and the mirrors, selected sport mode and drove. Given the car is an automatic and not on proper tires I was expecting a less than stellar experience.
I wasn’t allowed free reign in the Evora, but I wasn’t driving parade laps, either. I wasn’t allowed to wring its neck and they did a data dump after every driver. Full throttle was okay on the straights, but keep it cool. Six tenths, maybe.
Once I got out on track, the first thing I noticed was the down shifts. It took me by surprise going into the first corner. It was quicker than I expected for an automatic, and the sound was unexpected. And I didn’t expect it to go down two gears where I only go down one. I took it easy for a couple of laps, getting used to the car. The Evora is twelve or thirteen hundred pounds heavier than my Elise, but it didn’t feel heavy. I found the handling very neutral. I have CG locks in the Elise; just regular belts in the Evora yet I felt well planted and didn’t miss the CG lock.
The cabin is quieter than I expected; I could easily hold a conversation with my passenger. In the Elise it’s pretty much hand signals on the track.
Throttle response was immediate. I didn’t put the brakes to much of a test, but I did hurry a bit through the turns and the precise handling made me smile. The purist in me would want a manual transmission, but I was rather impressed with the auto.
It sure would be a fine car to take on a cross-country road trip for an HPDE day.
I haven’t made the time to put together a video yet. I didn’t improve my best lap time, so there’s not much point in just putting up a lap or two. I did go through the footage to make some notes. I was passed only by the orange Lotuses of Ryan and Eric, while I made twenty passes. They weren’t all Ferraris, but I did pass every Ferrari I saw on the track. Maybe I’ll put together a compilation of passes.
I’ve had a busy couple of weekends at the track: first the Ticket to Ride days then the Ferrari day. A week before either of these, though, Michael and I took a look at my brake pads. The fronts were clearly getting near the end of their life. I certainly had enough for Ticket to Ride, which is more or less the equivalent to half a track day.
So right after Ticket to Ride I ordered a set.Unfortunately, they were back ordered.
We took another look and decided I’d be okay for one more track day, but no more!
This turned out to be a slight miscalculation. There’s a definite nasty grinding noise coming from the front when I apply the brakes. I need to keep the car parked for who knows how long, until my order gets filled.
Then I remembered that a few weeks ago, when looking for something else (I don’t even remember what I was looking for now), I came across a box with a used set of pads. When I found them, I said to Michael, “Why do you suppose I kept these?”
They are the stock pads that I took off the car when I first put the Carbone Lorraine pads on a few years ago. I can’t say for sure, but they may have half their life left. In any event, they’re not completely done, so that must be why I kept them.
Not knowing how long I’ll have to wait for the good pads, it was an easy decision to put these used ones back in. And it’s good instruction for me. I keep saying that I’m software, not hardware. So Michael did one side and I did the other. (Yes, I’ve gone through this exercise before, when Doug first helped me. It didn’t stick then, but I’m thinking that through repetition I’ll finally get it.)
We took it around the block to make sure all is well. They’re clearly not as sticky as the CL RC5+, but they’ll work just fine in the interim.
And, luckily, the rotors are none the worse for wear.
For the last few years, at least, Ferrari of Denver has held a track day for their customers. In the past I somehow never was on the mailing list and didn’t hear about them until after the fact. This year, when I had Ryan doing my alignment I made sure that was rectified. The earlier ones, as far as I know, all happened at the Colorado State Patrol track. This one was out at High Plains Raceway.
Other than seeing lots of expensive cars on the track, I didn’t really know what to expect. The schedule told me it would be a short day, with a driver’s meeting at ten and the final checkered flag at three. Allow for an hour lunch for the corner workers and we’re talking roughly three and a half hours. I was thinking we didn’t have enough cars to break into groups, so it should still be plenty of time to get four twenty five or thirty minute sessions.
Michael kindly came with me, so we loaded up his car with my slicks. I’ve been on the track with a few Ferraris on CECA days, and they were all just a little bit faster than me. So I was thinking that on the slicks I’d have a pretty good chance of passing some of these guys.
I’ve never been a huge Ferrari fan, never had any posters on my walls as a kid. I’ll never have the means to own one so I don’t pay that much attention to them. So I can’t tell you how many of which models were there. There were a bunch of red ones, a couple gray ones, and a very pretty blue one. They were all fairly new. A few of them were brought out by the dealer. I think they were giving rides, and as we were leaving somebody was using the launch control system on one of them. They’re all fast, capable cars. There were a few Porsches out there as well. Again, all fast, capable cars.
We also had a nice Lotus contingent: three Elises and three Evoras. Three of us are club members: myself, Dave and Peter. We made a half-hearted attempt at getting a Lotus group picture but couldn’t track down all the owners.
Back in my misspent youth, I spent a lot of time at a place called Malibu Grand Prix. I was originally attracted to the place because of the large arcade that had dozens of pinball machines. But their big attraction was to drive their 3/4 scale Indy cars. Most people probably compared them to go-karts, but they were much faster, capable of reaching 70mph in a straight line. The track had no straight lines longer than about twenty feet, though. A lap was half a mile long and began with a standing start, and the cars were spaced out such that you could never catch up to the car in front of you. When your lap was done, your time was displayed in large lights for everyone to see. A “Speeding Ticket” good for ten laps cost ten dollars. Most drivers could do a lap in about a minute. Good drivers were in the 54 to 55 second range.
I remember my first lap. I thought I was going really fast. I was hauling ass, and the adrenaline rush was intense! I knew I wasn’t setting any records, but I also knew I was putting in a respectable time. I broke the beam at the checkered flag and got in line for my next lap and looked up at my time, displayed in eighteen inch high lights for the world to see: 90 seconds.
In the drivers meeting today Glenn asked for a show of hands: how many drivers here today had never run a lap on a race track? About a dozen hands went up.
After a couple of sessions I couldn’t help but think of my first lap at Malibu Grand Prix. Here we have a bunch of drivers in some of the world’s fastest production cars out on a race track. I know they thought they were really going fast; I know they felt the rush of adrenaline. And I passed just about every one of them.
I know that there’s a lot to process for a driver the first time they’re on the track, and I try to keep that in mind. But very few of them ever looked in their mirrors. Slow and inattentive is a bad combination on the track. We had a second short drivers meeting at lunch and we were reminded to check our mirrors. It didn’t help much. We were operating under point-by passing: we can’t pass without the driver ahead pointing us by. But if they don’t see the faster car in their mirrors, they never point anybody by.
Even if it was open passing, I’d never have been able to get around them. You see, it’s really easy for a slow driver in a Ferrari to keep me behind him because he has three times the horsepower and on the straight he can pull ahead of me without any effort at all. A typical example today: half way around the lap I caught up to a guy. In some turns where I have the throttle wide open, he was on the brakes. He was taking fourth gear turns in second. And every straight, he’d punch it and I could never get next to him. By the time we crossed the start/finish line, I was 35 seconds slower than my previous lap. That means he was doing about a 3:20 lap.
When the day began, I was looking forward to passing a Ferrari. I knew I’d be on track with a bunch of guys with little or no track experience but I figured their cars were fast enough it would still be a challenge for me to push my little car past them. I wasn’t thinking about my first lap at Malibu Grand Prix. But it’s all good. Everybody with a Ferrari should take it to the track at least once.
The highlight of the day for me was running a few laps behind Dave. He is always a fair bit faster than me. He’s supercharged, so he has a horsepower advantage. And as I’m generally on my street tires, he also has a grip advantage. But today my slicks were the difference.
For the first session after lunch, Michael volunteered to forego a ride so I could try to set a fast lap. After a few laps I came through turn one to see Dave entering the track in front of me. I figured he’d pull away from me on the straight but I found I was keeping up with him. I had to point a Porsche by, and I thought that would get us separated, but when Dave pointed him by I was still somewhat close. I think it’s mentally easier to push when you are trying to catch somebody, and I pushed.
I closed the gap. At one point, I had a nice close-up view of his exhaust spitting flames when he downshifted. Next time around he pointed me by. If this had been a race I’d never have been able to pass him. I was only ever so slightly faster. But it was immensely satisfying. I set a new personal best at 2:07.60 (which is a few seconds slower than Dave’s best). And it was a helluva lot more fun than passing Ferraris piloted by drivers who had never turned a lap before today.
Sadly, the battery died on the camera just before this. I didn’t get video evidence of my lap, and I didn’t get Dave’s car breathing fire. So it goes.
There’s talk that Ferrari of Denver will do another track day soon, this time at the Colorado State Patrol facility. I’m game!
Every year, Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers put on a big event to raise money for the Morgan Adams Foundation to help kids with cancer. One way that I can contribute is to drive laps during the racers’ lunch break. The idea is that people make donations to get rides in cars at speed on the track. Seems I make it to these every other year for one reason or another. They do Ticket to Ride on both Saturday and Sunday; in previous years I’ve attended I’ve only managed to do one day. This year I went for both.
Saturday, August 10
They assign us to one of three groups, based on, presumably, how fast our cars are. This year, orange group cars are $50 rides, blue group cars are $100 rides, and green group cars are $250. I’m in the orange group. A few minutes before we were to go out on track, the organizers came to me and asked if I minded changing to the green group.
Not everybody has to make a donation to get a ride. In the past, I’ve given rides to the grid girls and corner workers. It’s typically sunny and quite warm at these events, and people can make a donation to get a grid girl to hold an umbrella over the drivers when they’re waiting on the grid. I think the grid girls are volunteers; I know the corner workers are. Event “ambassadors” get free rides, too. They’re kids who are cancer survivors. It seems we had an unusually high number of ambassadors at the event today, so they moved me to the green group to help with them.
They have a little parking area near the table where people sign up to get rides. Usually, I arrive too late to park there. This year I made a point of getting there early so people could see the car. It’s certainly not the most expensive one there, or the most exotic. But it does draw a crowd. Ryan was there with his Exige, and we’d watch people looking at all the cars. I’m not saying they ignored the others, but ours seemed to be more the center of attention. Whenever I saw kids take an interest, I offered to let them sit in it. Not one refused; eight or ten kids took me up on the offer.
I gave four rides today, all to ambassadors. When the volunteers help them into my car, they tell the kids that I probably won’t be able to hear them. (It’s not “probably”: I certainly can’t hear my passengers.) If they want to go slower, give me a thumbs down. If they want to go faster, give me a thumbs up. We do an out lap, a “hot” lap, and an in lap. Usually the out lap is slower, to get warmed up, and the in lap is slower, to cool the car down. For these things, I try not to go slow.
Each lap I “asked” how my passengers were by giving them a thumbs up. Each lap, each one responded with a thumbs up.
I’m not sure how it is for the smaller kids. My first ambassador was pretty young; too short to see much out the window. And he couldn’t brace himself against the bar in the foot well, and with just regular seatbelts (I don’t have harnesses installed), the smaller kids tend to move around a bit in the seat. They all said they enjoyed the rides when they got out, though.
Afterwards, they provide lunch for the Ticket to Ride drivers. Nothing fancy, but I’m very happy to get a meal and a cold beverage. During lunch a couple of parents approached me. “You gave my son a ride. He really had a blast. Thank you.” I really can’t imagine what these kids and their families have gone through. I’ll admit that what got me out there in the beginning was being able to run some free laps, but it does give me a “warm fuzzy” to give these kids a ride.
Sunday, August 11
Things were scheduled to start a bit earlier today, and I left the house a bit later, so I didn’t get a prime parking spot. They managed to squeeze me in anyway. There weren’t as many ambassadors today as yesterday, so they peeled the green sticker off my windshield and put me back where I belong, in orange. I don’t know if they were having trouble getting people to sign up for the green group, but today greens were only $200.
It looked like the local Viper club came out in force today with five of them in attendance. Unusually, they outnumbered the Porsche contingent. Ryan was there again, and David showed up too, so we had three Lotus. Both David and Ryan were in the blue group, with their superchargers and sticky tires.
Yesterday it was a bit overcast. I somehow neglected to apply sunscreen but luckily didn’t get too badly burnt. Today the sun was shining brightly, and although the forecast indicated it would be cooler, it was pretty toasty. I applied the sunscreen right away and spent more time in the little shade that is available.
My riders today were all paying passengers. One gal was particularly enthusiastic. Lots of “oh, yeah”‘s and “this is great”‘s. She waved at everybody who we passed or who passed us. When we pass, we get a point-by, and when I point somebody by, I get a little wave of acknowledgement in return. At the time, I was thinking she thought they were waving at her, so she waved back. It may be, though, that she was just enthusiastically waving at everybody we saw on the track.
The last few times I did Ticket To Ride they also had Pro-Am races so there were a bunch of professional racers in attendance. This time they were unable to source some cars so they could have a race in equal equipment, thus no Pro-Am race, and no gaggle of pros. But Randy Pobst was here. I’m pretty sure he’s here every year, whether there’s a Pro-Am or not.
I ran into him before we gave laps and had a short conversation with him. Then I saw him again having lunch and sat down next to him for more discussion. He’s a very nice guy, very friendly. He told me he has always liked the Elise and is interested in the Evora. I asked him what his favorite tracks are (Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca, and Mont Tremblant, in no particular order) and what sort of fitness regimen he subscribes to (nothing much any more, other than good diet). I told him I lack technique: I can’t seem to figure out rev matching. He said he’s coaching somebody on that now, and he could help me, and that it’s hard to learn without a coach. I have no doubt I could learn quite a bit from him.
I enjoyed my time at the track. I didn’t get too sunburned, ran a few laps, shared some happiness with some deserving kids, spent some time with some friendly people, and made a small contribution to a worthy cause. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.
I don’t know what it is about the headlights on the Lotus, but it seems like I’m always replacing the bulbs. That’s an overstatement, obviously. I’ve had the car nearly ten years now and although it seems like I’ve replaced a headlight bulb a dozen times, it’s probably more like four or five.
On my Ohio trip my passenger side headlight died and last week I finally got around to replacing it. No trip to the store was required, or so I thought, as these bulbs are sold in two-packs and I still had a new one from the last time I did this.
Under normal circumstances, changing a headlight bulb is your garden-variety pain in the ass. Jack the car up, dismount the front wheel, remove the fender liner, unscrew the three bolts that secure the headlight cover, swap the bulb, then put it all back together.
Taking it all apart, though, it became obvious that it wouldn’t be the garden-variety pain in the ass this time. The bolts thread into little brass fittings that clamp over a piece of plastic. On the passenger side at least, one of the three brass fittings is missing. And the plastic where all three fittings go is broken. To be completely honest, I think two of the three were broken last time we replaced a light bulb. To continue the honesty, it may be that I’m remembering the plastic being broken on the driver’s side. So the problem likely exists on both sides. I’m going to ignore the driver’s side until one of those bulbs fails.
After a couple of hours of labor it became obvious that we wouldn’t be able to secure the headlight cover back on the car with the plastic all busted up. Before we started this operation the headlight cover was in place and secure, but we were unable to return it to that state.
A quick search of the internet provided some bad news: a replacement piece from Lotus will cost something on the order of $650. If you could order one. To say these parts are made of unobtanium wouldn’t be an exaggeration.
One fellow said he’d placed an order, but none were available. This was from a rather old forum post, but even if they were now available, I don’t particularly want to spend $1300. Because with the condition these are in, even if I didn’t think the other side was busted up the same way, it would look really silly to have one brand new one and one beat up one.
Michael found another forum posting about how these things could be fixed. That thread had a couple different flavors of the same solution. We’d buy some wire strapping from the plumbing department of the local home store, cut and fold and drill as necessary, and rivet them in place.
We only did two of the three mounting points. When we took it apart, only two were connected. And with the repair it’s much more secure than it was when we started all this.
The end product wasn’t quite a pretty as the second photo above as we had to enlarge the hole a bit to get the bolt to align with the fitting. But after some judicious Dremel work we had our fix completed.
In the end, Michael and I spent on the order of six hours over two weekends to replace one light bulb. The only supplies we needed to purchase was the 10′ roll of tab tape. It was the smallest quantity we could buy, but at least there’s plenty left to repair the other side when that light bulb calls it quits.
I’ve been negligent recently. I attended two car events the last two weeks without making any notes. So here I am, in catch-up mode.
Colorado Concours d’Elegance
The 36th annual meeting of the Concours was held at the Arapahoe Community College back on June 9. It has been five years since I last went, so I figured it was time to make another appearance. Last time, the day began with nice weather but in early afternoon we had a tornado warning and everybody had to go into the school for a short while.
This time, the day began quite chilly. I took a jacket and a hoodie and ended up wearing both for much of the morning. It looked like it might rain heavily, but aside from a few sprinkles early we stayed dry. And as the day wore on it warmed up considerably, with the clouds breaking up and bright sunshine (if not totally clear skies) by the end. We had so much sun, in fact, that I managed to get a bit of a sunburn on my face.
We had eight Lotus turn out: a Stalker (a Lotus 7 replica), a Europa, an Evora, an Elite, an Esprit, and three Elises. I thought I was the last to arrive, but another green Elise showed up a few minutes later. We were directed to opposite ends of the line, so our Lotus contingent was bookended by green Elises.
I almost never have the roof mounted on the car. It hangs on a bracket on the garage wall. I’ve pretty much decided the only time I’ll put it on the car is for car shows. I have vinyl outlines of all the tracks I’ve lapped displayed on it, but nobody ever gets to see them. So the car shows are a good excuse to put the roof on, and the track decals serve as an explanation of the somewhat rough condition of the car.
I made a lap of the field mid-morning to get a look at all the cars. Because it’s not my first rodeo, I pretty much knew what to expect. The show is put on by the same car clubs every year, so the bulk of the entrants are regulars. Although Lotus Colorado is one of the hosting clubs our turnout this year is fairly typical for us, which means we’re one of the smaller clubs to appear. The other clubs tend to have much larger appearances: Alfa, Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, Saab, Triumph, and a few others. A highlight for me was seeing a handful of really old cars: what I might tend to call horseless carriages, those cars that are now a hundred years old or older.
As a part of my recon lap I scoped out the food choices. There were a handful of food trucks there with a variety of menu choices. Towards one o’clock I wandered over to grab some grub and first picked on the Cajun truck. I decided I’d have the jambalaya. The line was fairly long; I found myself behind about a dozen people. After a short while, there were only about six folks in front of me. Then a gal came out of the truck with a sharpie and crossed off about a third of the menu, including the jambalaya. That was disappointing.
So I decided to switch to Plan B: toasted ravioli from the Italian truck. Again, I found myself at the end of a significant line. I turned to the guy behind me and said I hoped he wasn’t looking to have the ravioli. “Why? Do you think you’ll get the last order of it?” “No,” I answered, “Somebody in front of me will get the last order and neither of us will get it.” Sure enough, a few minutes later somebody came out and crossed off a number of menu items. Luckily, the ravioli wasn’t one of those deprecated.
I spent most of my time hanging around my car. Lots of people commented on or asked questions about the track decals. I challenged a number of people to name as many of them as they could. Some had some off-the-wall suggestions, including Brands Hatch and Sebring.
It was an enjoyable day, in spite of a couple issues at the end. I’d neglected to plug the car into the trickle charger in the preceeding days and when I went to leave it wouldn’t start. Wes and Toni gave me a jump and I was on the road. Dave G., however, locked his jacket in the boot. That’s not a big deal, except that his key was in his jacket pocket. We tried to get the boot open without success, so he had to Uber home to get his spare.
Lotus Only Car Show
The next Saturday, the 15th, we had a LoCo Meeting at Ferrari of Denver. It wasn’t just a club event, but it was mostly club people. The big event of the day was a weigh-in. Prizes were given for lightest Lotus, heaviest Lotus (an ironic prize, no doubt), lightest Elise, and lightest car overall (because, even though it was a “Lotus Only” event, there were other kinds of cars). Oh, and there was a food truck serving up fish and chips
The whole time I’ve owned the car, whenever anybody asked what it weighed, I’d tell them “the previous owner told me 1965 pounds”. This was my chance to see it weighed and get a number that wasn’t hearsay. I didn’t know whether that 1965 pounds was accurate, or which wheels were mounted, or if the hardtop was on, or how much fuel was in the car, or even if I remembered the number correctly.
We did the Elises first, and I was second on the scales. Dave G’s car was first and came in at 1964 lbs. He and I were joking before we were on the scales about who had less fuel in the car. My low fuel light came on on the way to the event, so I knew I was nearly empty. He said the same thing, so with his car at 1964 I figured he was lighter. As it turned out, mine came in at 1901 pounds, lightest Elise by 24 pounds. Knock me over with a feather. So I’m guessing that 1965 figure is with the lighter wheels and a full tank of gas. My prize was a gift certificate good at Ferrari of Denver.
When they were going over the results and giving away the prizes, there was talk of doing it again next year. They’ll have to come up with different competitions than this time, or chances are all the same cars would win. Ryan said maybe something along the lines of “the biggest loser”, seeing who could shed the most weight for next time.
Autobahn Country Club is a country club that, instead of being focused on golf or tennis, is all about performance driving. Members there have access to a race track that can be run in three configurations (North, South, Full Course), a skid pad, and a go-kart track. They can build a garage on-site for all their toys. Most such facilities are open only to members and their guests, but Autobahn sometimes hosts club track days. When I started planning this trip, I thought it would be worth a shot to ask if I could lap there on a guest pass of some sort. After a few emails and phone calls, it was all arranged.
And so, here I am, ready to see how the other half lives.
It was a leisurely morning as I didn’t need to be at the track until 9am. On Thursdays they run a later schedule that varies through the summer, based more or less on when the sun sets. So my first session wouldn’t start until 10:20am. Before that, I needed to visit their instructor. It wasn’t to get any instruction, per se, but to cover all the stuff we usually cover in the drivers meeting.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The clock radio in my room went
off at 6:10 this morning, tuned to a Spanish language station. Much
of this trip I’ve been getting up at 6:10, but today I wanted to
sleep in a little longer. Didn’t happen.
Went downstairs for breakfast. Same fare as the hotel in Toledo, likely because it’s the same chain. The TV was on the news as it usually is in these places. I’m never particularly interested, but the weather report did catch my attention. They said that this May is now officially the wettest May recorded in Chicago history: a bit more than 8 inches of rain. We get about 14.5 inches of precipitation all year in Denver.
At the track, after getting registered at the front gate, I went to the clubhouse to introduce myself to Ron, the fellow who arranged for me to be here. He told me a bit about the place – when they opened, how many members they have, what improvements they’re working on, and so forth. Then he took me down to meet Tony Kester, one of their instructors. I guess you could call him their resident Stig. He raced professionally for some time, participating in the American Le Mans Series as well as at least one 24 Hours of Le Mans. (A golf club has golf pros, a tennis club has tennis pros, ergo a track club has race pros.)
We covered the usual drivers meeting material – flags, passing rules, passing zones, their LED lights, entering and exiting the track – and sent me on my way. I unloaded the car in an out of the way place. (“Over there by the bleachers is probably best. Members aren’t used to people laying out a bunch of stuff” as those who don’t have garages on-site probably trailer their cars.) Then I headed on to the track.
By now I had two wristbands. One said that I’d paid, the other
that I’d had my meeting with Tony. (Presumably members get
different color wristbands that indicate they only need the one.) The
drill is to go to the end of pit lane and stop. Race control will
have you sign in (actually, he just asked me my name) and when
they’re ready they’ll release you onto the track.
The first session was horrible. Although it wasn’t raining, it rained overnight and there were rivers running across the track. Not just one or two, but nearly everywhere. At the time, I think there were only three turns that were dry. I crawled around the track. Even so, I was going sideways quite a bit. Not “sideways, this is fun!” but “sideways I’m not in control!” I put four wheels off once and was sliding around quite a bit. It was not fun.
As well, I managed to pick the wrong configuration for the lap timer so I wasn’t getting any data (I had selected the North course instead of the South course). In this case, good riddance. There wasn’t any worthwhile data from this session.
Back in the clubhouse I talked to Ron again. “Have Tony show you the wet line.” Great idea. We tracked Tony down. Rewind a bit here. When Tony and I had our little drivers meeting, somebody showed up and asked him if he gave rides to a couple of guys yesterday. “Yes, both at the same time. It was really wet. I don’t think they puked, but they sure looked sick.” So Tony gets a car (an Audi RS5 Quattro, I believe) and takes me for a ride.
The first time around he’s more or less on the line you’d take in the dry. Periodically, he’s doing massive steering inputs or abrupt throttle or brakes to see how much grip there is. It’s a little unsettling. The next two times around he’s following the “wet” line, which is taking the outside of the turn rather than hitting the apex. He was giving a running commentary: “It’s good here. Still pretty slick through here. You have to avoid this puddle” and so on. The wet line works most places, but not all. Anyway, I think I get the idea and he drops me off and puts the car away. His parting shot was, “It’s easier with all-wheel drive!”
While Tony was schooling me on the wet line, a Corvette was out on the track. Well, he was out part of the time. He put it well off the track in the same location I did, but while I was able to regain the track, he needed a tow. He gave up after that, having completed two laps. His times were in the three minute range, probably about what mine were.
After my lesson from Tony, Ron came and found me. He tells me he’s signed me up to drive their BMW M2 Competition Coupe for their touring lap session. In this session we’ll be driving around behind the pace car, not above 50mph or so. No helmet required. They have a Jag I’d like to drive, but Ron tells me it’s always reserved. So the M2 works for me. During the course of the day, several people tell me that’s their favorite car of the bunch. (They have a dozen or so cars for this purpose – Audi, Lexus, BMW, the Jag.)
By now I see that I’m the only one dumb enough to waste his time at the track today. It’s just too wet. And the consensus is that the track won’t dry out, and we may actually get more rain. I’m not exactly pleased. I’ve decided that this whole thing may be a waste of my time and money. If it’s not going to get any better, I may as well leave and do something else. I was pretty down.
But I go out for another session. It’s still wet almost everywhere. I can’t follow the line I’d like to learn: the fast way around a dry track. I can’t turn in where I want, or apex where I want, or brake where I want, or even shift where I want. I’m always looking for the water. It’s drying out a little. I think. Maybe. But I manage to keep it on the track. For a long time. Technically, each run group is given a twenty minute session. But because I’m the only idiot out there, they’ll let me run until I give up. So after 35 minutes I give up. The good news is, I manage to steadily improve.
At lunch time I discover that I’ve somehow lost my credit card. It’s not my only one, so it’s just a pain in the ass and not a total disaster. No idea how I’ve lost it. I didn’t leave it at registration, and haven’t had to use it since. Where could it have gone? Anyway, after lunch is the touring lap session. Just as I’m finishing my sandwich, a gentleman comes by to give me the keys to the BMW. Well, a key fob anyway. There’s no such thing as a car key any more. Then he says, “Not to be demeaning or anything, but do you know how to put this car in park?”
Move the gear selector to “P”? This is not the correct answer.
“When you pull into the parking space, leave it in drive and turn
it off.” We head off to the cars for the laps. It takes me a few
seconds to figure out how to get it into drive. Old dog, new tricks,
I guess. It has paddle shifters but I don’t even try to figure this
Heading on to the track it’s the pace car, another BMW, me, and the Jag. We’re following the dry line even though there’s still quite a few wet spots and puddles. After a few laps it’s pretty obvious to me that we’re doing pretty good lap times. We’re not going very fast down the straights, but we’re not really slowing for the turns. I manage to dig my phone out of my pocket and get the timer running. I didn’t try to turn off any driver aids, but perhaps not all the nannies were enabled. I managed to get it somewhat sideways through the puddles a few times, as did the other BMW driver.
By the time we exit the track my soul has been a little bit crushed. Our parade laps were faster than what I managed the previous session. When I got out of the car, the other BMW driver was talking to Kyle, who was driving the pace car. “Thanks for those last two laps!” Kyle winked and said, “We never went over 50, did we?” Then I showed him my lap timer and my times from my previous session. He laughed (not in a malicious way). It is somewhat funny.
I got to talking with Kyle. He noticed my HPR hat and asked how I liked the place. He says he’s been wanting to run there but hasn’t been able to make it work yet. I told him about the facilities, that it’s a bit crude (no running water, for example) but that the track itself is great. He said he’d worked at a place like that: in the middle of nowhere and porta-potties instead of toilets. I asked him where that was. “Oregon Raceway Park”. Hey, I’ve been there!
By the time of my next session, the sun had been shining for a
while, and we had a little breeze. The track was very nearly dry. I
started really trying to get on it, on the dry line. There were still
a few places where I couldn’t do it, where I had to adjust to avoid
some water, or tiptoe through a turn to avoid spinning, but I was
easily faster than before. All my laps were under two minutes, and my
best was 1:53.27. Not a particularly fast lap, but maybe better than
I’d have done in my first session had it been dry all day.
I had two more sessions after that. I improved my time to 1:48.05. In the clubhouse, they have a screen that is constantly updated with members times. All (or maybe just most) members run with transponders. Their times are displayed on a large monitor. I don’t have a transponder, of course, so my times weren’t included. But by now there were two members out running their spec Miatas. They were lapping in the 1:43’s. Tony asked me which Miatas they were. I described them and he said they were both very good drivers. He thought my time was pretty good given the conditions, my tires, and my lack of experience on this track.
In my penultimate session, I managed to kill another bird (my second on this trip). For a short while I was concerned it was stuck to my car somehow, mashed into the grill or something. Next time around the dead bird was in the middle of the track. At least is wasn’t in a place where I was going to run over it again.
In the last session I failed to improve my time. I got close, but couldn’t best it. (I’d have liked to run a few more laps, but I timed it perfectly. At the gas station down the street I pumped 9.8 gallons of gas into my 10 gallon tank.)
I finished the day with a beer in the clubhouse, packed up all my
stuff, made a final search for my missing credit card, and hit the
road. My first stop was the gas station a couple miles down the road.
I’m glad it wasn’t any farther: I poured 9.8 gallons of gas into
my 10 gallon tank.
My last session started at 6:05, so I didn’t leave the facility until about 7. On the way back to the hotel, at a stoplight a guy in the next lane told me my right headlight is out. So now I’m missing the right front turn signal and right headlight. There’s no damage from the bird strike, so I guess I’m just lucky all my lights are going dim at the same time. (Luck is when bad things happen; everything else is skill.)
Addendum: I found my credit card a couple days later, and now all the turn signals are working again. So it’s just the headlight.
This is a very nice facility. This is the third track I’ve been to that is “members only”. The first was ORP, mentioned above. When I was there, it was more primitive than HPR. The other is Woody Creek, also very primitive. Nothing primitive about Autobahn.
The track is more or less what I expected. We’re in Illinois, so I was expecting it to be as flat as a tabletop. It did have some subtle elevation change, just enough to catch the eye but not enough to challenge the driver. Drainage was a bit of a problem, but as alluded to earlier, this was the rainiest May recorded for the area. In addition to the rivers that ran across the track there were several places where the water percolated up through the asphalt. They really have worked hard on drainage, but what can you do in extreme conditions?
For most of the day, I had the place to myself. The aforementioned Corvette made two laps, and a couple of Miatas ran maybe a dozen laps each. When they left the track, they headed to their garages. So I never met another driver all day. I met quite a few Autobahn employees in the clubhouse, and perhaps one or two members who were there but not driving. The lack of other drivers to talk to was largely due to the track conditions.
Having the place to myself was a bit odd. It was great not having to deal with any traffic at all. Every lap was unimpeded. That’s never happened to me before and probably never will again. On the other hand, track days are very much social events. I like wandering around the paddock talking to the other drivers. Mine was the only car in the paddock. But I’m sure if the conditions had been more normal I’d have had somebody to talk to.
I’m not a man of the means required to be a member. My guest pass was a one-time thing, as a courtesy to an enthusiast passing through. If I lived in the area, I’d go back for a club day (North Woods Shelby Club runs there). I think it’s great that they open the facility up to non-members occasionally.
In spite of the rocky start, I had a great time. Everybody was friendly and made me feel at home. So I give a tip of the hat and a hearty “thank you” to Ron and the rest for hosting me.
I was out the door by 6:30. I grabbed a spot in the paddock and went looking for where the meeting would be. I was early and watched some of the late check-ins, including a fellow who drove his McLaren from Ontario. He didn’t have a tech sheet with him, so they gave him one. He signed it and handed it back. “You need to check the boxes”.
Meeting was at 7:15, all the usual stuff.
In the paddock, I ran into Ken, the only other Lotus in attendance. There were several others registered, all Exiges, but all but Mark canceled. That was a little disappointing. I’m used to seeing a bigger Lotus turn out.
My paddock neighbors were Mark and Don. Mark trailered in his Corvette, Don trailered in his S2000. Both very nice gentlemen. Don had a couple of 5-gallon gas cans and before we went to lunch we used one to fill my tank, then when we went for food we refilled it so he was back to his full allotment. I was a bit surprised that I took the whole 5 gallons. From the gauge it looked like I only needed 4. After running the two afternoon sessions, I was about to pull onto the track for “happy hour” and noticed that I was reading empty and the light was on. So I didn’t run. Later, when leaving the facility, the gauge read about a third of a tank. When I fueled up, I had four gallons left in the tank. Oh well.
Our first session was under full course caution, and everybody ran. I was immediately concerned as I thought it was extremely slippery. The consensus is that it’s a low-grip track. It got better as it warmed up, and by the time my group was out conditions were about as good as they’d get. It was pretty slick, but not any worse than, say, Portland was. By the time I’d run a couple of sessions at speed I was comfortable with the grip level.
For the two morning sessions I didn’t bother running the cameras. I was still trying to figure the place out. The organizers said they’d try to find an instructor for me, but I told them part of the fun for me was figuring it out on my own. This struck them as out of the ordinary. Why not get the advice of an experienced driver and get up to speed quicker? Different strokes.
After lunch, after Don and I got back to the track from our Subway/BP run, the novice group had a second classroom session. I had skipped the first one. This second one included a turn-by-turn analysis of the track. I figured it would be good for me. It was helpful. The best thing, in my mind, was that I’d figured out most of what he told us. One thing that I hadn’t started doing but knew I needed to, was using the curbs more. Most of them are quite flat. He told us to get a good time here you’ve got to treat the curbs as part of the track. For the rest of the day I took that advice. The only other helpful tip I hadn’t already figured out was gear selection for turn 11. I was taking it much too slow. He said that’s the most “under driven” turn on the track (everybody tends to take it too slow).
I was running in the Green group with the novices. We had forty cars in each group, I believe. That’s a busy group. I may have gotten a clean lap in my third session, I’ll have to look at the video. I didn’t get a clean one in the fourth. In spite of that, I managed my best time of the day in that session: 1:53.33. My goal is to lap in the 1:52’s, so if I get a few clean laps I should be able to reach it.
I have to spend a lot of time in my mirrors because there are so many fast cars in the novice group. I think the only car in my group with less hp is a Miata. There’s a Mini (I met the owner at the restaurant last night), he’s turbocharged and has more hp but is heavier. Then it’s Porsches, Mustangs, and Corvettes. Oh, and the McLaren. There was a WRX and a couple of BRZ’s (or variants). Some of the Mustangs and Corvettes were slower, but I think they were all more capable cars. One of these Vettes pointed me by then dragged me down the straight so I couldn’t pass him. (Yes, I specifically brought this up during the meeting.)
The weather couldn’t have been better. It was a bit warm, but
not hot. It was dry, although the consensus is that we’ll see rain
tomorrow. I talked to a couple of Porsche guys who will swap today’s
slicks for something with tread for tomorrow. I’ll happily run in
the rain. (Easy to say that now, never having done it.) It will send
a lot of people home, that’s for sure.
A good, fun day.
For dinner, pulled into a Mexican place across the street from the motel. It was closed. Plan B was Arby’s, two doors down. It was also closed. I ended up at Bob Evans and had breakfast for dinner.
For the most part, today was much like yesterday. Only muggier.
Uncomfortably warm. The same temperature at HPR would be comfortable
but the humidity made it not so much fun for me. It wasn’t bad,
just not like yesterday.
One item at the drivers meeting was an instructor saying he saw some drivers waving “thanks” for a point-by. Here with Chin this is a no-no. Drivers need to keep both hands on the wheel. I was one of those drivers. Near the end of the day I mentioned this to a couple of the other guys and they said they thought it’s not a big deal. These things happen on the straights and not in the turns. I noticed that nobody gave me a “thank you” wave yesterday, so I realized it was different in this group. But even after it was mentioned this morning, late in the somebody did give me a “thanks”. So I wasn’t the only one.
Yesterday I don’t think I got a clear lap the whole day. I
probably got a few, but it was a very busy day passing and being
passed. Had you asked me yesterday if there was a way to improve
things, I’d have said “fewer cars”. We started with forty cars
in each group. That’s more cars per length of track than I’m used
I purposely didn’t make any attempt to move up to the blue
group. Two reasons: I was comfortable with this group and by now was
accustomed to their behavior and if a few drivers did move up, that
would be more guys running blue and fewer running green. And that
showed up today. I had several long sequences of clean laps. Maybe
not fully unencumbered, but I did feel I had lots of “clean air”.
Today my best lap was 1:50.30, which exceeded my goal by quite a bit. This was in the fourth session. I’m quite happy with these results. Unfortunately, neither camera was running as the batteries died in both of them. I’d moved the old camera to the nose and the new one to the rear mount hoping to get a greater sensation of speed, but got nothing instead. I’ve had one camera poop out on me, but never both. I’d even swapped out the spare battery for the old camera and had the new one plugged in and charging. So it goes.
Incidents of note. In the second morning session, I was reeling in Don. I caught him early but there was quite a bit of traffic, some we caught, some caught us. By the time we’d cleared it, I thought he’d worked quite a way ahead but I found myself right up with him. He’d been having minor clutch problems and was ending his runs a lap or two before the sessions ended. When he pointed me by, instead of ending his run he decided to stay out for another lap so he’d get some good footage of me. He was right with me from the start/finish to the chicane, but when I got on the back straight he was nowhere to be seen. Next time around I saw him parked on the infield.
I was concerned something bad happened, as he never moved again. Turns out he just ran it out of gas.
By the end of the day, most folks had cleared out. So the last
session was great and I was looking forward to “happy hour” when
everybody can run (and we use green group passing rules). Don donated
a couple of gallons to me so I didn’t have to worry about suffering
his fate. For those laps, I ditched the hot fire suit and went out in
shorts and t-shirt (but still with gloves). I was much more
comfortable. That comfort ended when it started raining. In reality,
I’d be better saying that it started sprinkling. I was getting
raindrops on the windshield, but I’d had this much rain at HPR and
it was really no big deal.
Everybody who’d run here in the rain said it was really slick. I
figured they were exaggerating. The first drops hit my windshield
about turn 1. Coming out of the keyhole I half spun the car, coming
to a rest in the middle of the track, facing 90 degrees to the right.
I got going quickly and continued at a somewhat reduced speed, only
to nearly do it again in the next turn. I thought I was going to go
off sideways (which I never want to do) but managed to somehow keep
it on track. That was enough for me, and I made my way, slowly, back
to the paddock. I think everybody else did the same.
The rain looked quite threatening and as I started packing up it really began to come down. So I packed up in a bit of a rush. Just as I was finishing up it quit raining, at least here at the track.
I headed to Toledo. Leaving the track I had short journeys along state routes, then followed a combination of US 30 and US 23 through some heavy weather. Big lightning strikes were hitting in the near distance, but somehow the highway turned slightly each time to avoid the worst of the rain. I did encounter a short cloudburst that had traffic down from 75mph to more like 40, but never hydroplaned. Finally, a short Rule #1 violation up I-75. Had a nice visit with Ruth and Loral. Found a motel and checked in.
This event was put on by Chin Motorsports. They do these a a long list of tracks east of the Mississippi. They run a well-organized event. As is usual, it’s a bit on the expensive side compared to home, but that’s mostly because I’m spoiled here. It’s more everywhere than here. This one was more than either of the Hooked On Driving events, and like them you need to buy an annual membership. This two day event plus the membership would get me three full days plus half a day of open lapping at HPR.
There were a lot of high dollar cars here, probably the most expensive crowd I’ve run with. Not a LeMons car to be seen. Quite a few of the cars were fully prepped race cars. I saw a Miata with a hammer and sickle on the hood and wanted to talk to the driver. He left not feeling well. When I saw it back out on the track I thought he’d returned. But no, the guy driving the car was his coach, working on some setup changes. So it’s a bit of a different crowd than I’m accustomed to.
They had plenty of instructors on hand and at least three classroom sessions for the novice drivers. Everyone followed the rules and there were no incidents that I’m aware of. Certainly no contact, either car vs car or car vs wall. The only yellow flag during any of my sessions was for when Don ran out of gas. In the meetings we were told to expect blue flags but I never once saw one, so I’m guessing they use them at some of their other tracks.
They had a photographer there. I glanced through his shots of me but passed. His prices were a bit lower than the other guys doing this, but I’ve already blown my budget for this trip. I tried to talk him into giving me five or six shots for twenty bucks. His counter offer was one for twenty. As long as it was cash.