“I am the Stig!” At least that’s what I told Michael when I got home yesterday after spending the day at HPR. My head is so big now I have trouble getting it through the door.
The event was sponsored by Emich VW and was a bargain at eighty bucks for the full day. Having attended their spring day earlier this year I knew pretty much what to expect: the morning would be really crowded, and there would be loads of novices. But I couldn’t resist.
This was my first real run with the good tires. I’ve been using my street tires for the last few seasons. When I first started timing myself, I was putting in laps in the low 2:20’s. I had a set of used slicks that came with the car. The first time I drove on them (and the last full day), I improved my time from 2:22 to 2:14 and change. Gaining those eight seconds all at once was a bit of a shock. I recall describing the day as “scary fast”.
In the last few years, though, I’ve been learning the track and have quite a few hours under my belt. On the cheap street tires I’ve managed to match that “scary fast” time of 2:14 and change. I don’t think there’s eight seconds difference to be had with these tires, but it’s important to set goals. So my goal for the day was to take four seconds off my personal best. I hoped to log a 2:10 (and change).
I generally ask how many cars are entered but didn’t bother this time. It was a lot. They break us into two groups – fast and slow. Each session is a half hour, so each group would get three sessions in the morning and three more in the afternoon. In the spring, I ran in the slow group. In retrospect, I think I was on the cusp – one of the faster cars in the slow group, or one of the slower cars in the fast group. With the good tires I decided to play in the fast group. Worst case scenario, I’d switch to the slow group if I felt I was getting in everybody’s way.
The rules differed between the groups. The slow group was only allowed to pass in three or four places, and only with a point-by. If you catch up to somebody and he doesn’t wave you by, you don’t get to pass. The fast group played according to open lapping rules: pass wherever and whenever, with no point-by required. My only concern with the fast group was that a number of novices were included. A novice in a fast car might be fast, but he’ll still be a novice and may be unpredictable.
The slow group was out first. They started the day with a session of “follow the leader”. An instructor led several cars around the track, and at the end of each lap the car immediately behind the instructor would get out of line and rejoin at the back. Even with a handful of instructors, it took a while for everybody to follow right behind them. So the fast group’s first session got started late and was a bit abbreviated.
Both the first morning and afternoon sessions began with a couple of laps with yellow flags at all corner stations. So, a couple of laps to get everybody accustomed to the track. In that first morning session we only got five laps (plus out lap and in lap). Much to my chagrin, my fastest lap of that session was the very first, under yellow flags. And that turned out to be 2:28; quite a bit slower than I had hoped.
In the second session, Chad (running in the slow group) gave me a ride in his Mini, looking to get some tips. I’m not an instructor. I don’t feel qualified to tell anybody how to get around a track. And between the helmet, the engine noise, and my admittedly sub-par hearing, I find it difficult to communicate. So I figured the best policy would be to holler at him if he did anything blatantly wrong and save my constructive comments until we were out of the car. Hopefully, he found my free advice worth every penny he spent for it. With a little practice, I have no doubt he’ll see big improvements in his lap times.
After I rode with Chad, he rode with me, with the intent he’d see my racing line. The highlight was my repeated attempts to take turn 3 flat out. A couple times I got a bit sideways on the exit. On what turned out to be the in lap, I thought I’d finally do it, but ran a bit wide and dropped the left wheels off the pavement. When you get two wheels off, you’ll find those wheels have much less traction than the two still on pavement, so instead of being able to straighten it out and get back on track, you sort of get pulled farther off the track. So I put four wheels off at HPR for the first time in years.
In that second session, I came to realize that these tires would cause me to essentially re-learn the track. All my braking points were different and I was able to carry enough speed through some turns to cause me to adjust my entry to the next turn. Even so, I was pleased to have improved my personal best time to a 2:12.25. Woo hoo!
Quite a few folks only ran half days. More ran their half day in the morning, so as the day wore on, there were fewer and fewer cars on the track. In the afternoon sessions I was able to get long stretches without encountering any traffic. And the bulk of the traffic was cars I was catching, as opposed to being caught and passed.
In the crowded morning sessions, I often came up to folks who weren’t paying enough attention to their mirrors. One guy was particularly annoying. He was in a blue Corvette with a giant wing and a big ’99’ on each door. I easily caught him in the turns, to the point of essentially tailgating him from turn 10 all the way to the pit straight. There, instead of pulling over to let me by, he put his foot in it and opened a big gap. After the session, I wanted to suggest he check his mirrors more regularly but never did find where he was parked.
I attained my goal of a 2:10 and change in the third session. Sitting here doing the math I discover that the difference between a 2:14 and a 2:10 is a bit more than two miles per hour. Unless I’ve messed up the math, a car doing a 2:10 lap will gain almost four hundred fifteen feet on a car doing a 2:14.
The practical effect of doing a 2:10 is that, instead of being one of the slower cars in the fast group, I was one of the fastest cars. I’ll have to go to the video to verify, but I think the only time I got passed in the last two sessions was by Mike Pettiford, a driving instructor with 30 years experience driving highly prepared (not street legal) cars. Instead of getting eaten alive by Corvettes, I was doing the eating.
In the last session I managed to break the 2:10 barrier, recording a 2:09.83. The next lap I was going a fraction of a second faster until I caught a slower car.
So now I’m that big-headed guy who goes around saying “I am the Stig!”
I used the Fitbit again yesterday. It give some odd results, along with some results that make sense to me. Oddly, it credits me with steps when I’m driving. I first noticed this during the summer, when I’d get to the trailhead for a hike and find I’ve already logged a couple thousand steps. The sessions recorded yesterday don’t tell me how many steps it thinks I walked while driving the car, but it does say I managed to walk 1.5 miles in my last session. Aside from not actually walking, it makes sense to me. In that last session, my pulse exceeded 110 for 24 straight minutes. To do that on my morning walk, I need to keep up a pace of about 3.5 miles per hour. Twenty four minutes at that pace is 1.4 miles.
Let’s put it another way. The day was sunny, clear, and in the low 60’s. I ran with the top off and the windows down, so I was well ventilated. I wore my driving suit with just a t-shirt and briefs, plus gloves and helmet. By the time the session was over, I had worked up a good lather. In that first slow session, it was like driving to the grocery store. Running in traffic doing 2:16 or 2:18 wasn’t much more taxing. It seems to me it takes quite a bit of physical effort to shave those last few seconds off my lap time.
It’s been my belief for years that some of the fittest athletes in the world are race car drivers. I’ve discussed it many times with stick and ball sports fans but the general feeling is that drivers aren’t athletes. Because everybody has driven a car, and everybody knows it’s not much more strenuous than sitting on your couch watching football.
I know how much effort I expend driving my car at the track. I’m sitting here the next day with slightly sore muscles in my upper chest and arms. I have tender spots on my hips and spine from the seat. If I didn’t wear a knee pad on my left knee I’d have a giant bruise there. And my Fitbit tells me a fast session is an aerobic workout. All this driving a street car. I can only imagine what it takes to drive an F1 car for an hour and a half, where your longest rest is a 2.8 second pit stop.
I did manage to get video of most of the sessions. I didn’t bother with one of the morning sessions, and messed up with one of the afternoon ones, but I did get the final session and my best lap. I’m still dealing with the fallout of upgrading my phone. I didn’t realize until after the fact that I hadn’t synced up the OBD-II dongle so the only data I have is GPS data. And I’m working out of town this week so I won’t get to edit an upload a video for a while. So the three people who actually want to see another lapping video will have to wait a while.