Emich Rant

Sunday, April 28

I registered for the afternoon session of the most recent Emich sponsored track day. After all the changes we made to the car, it’s only prudent to get her out on the track before I drive cross-country for events at Mid-Ohio and Autobahn.

I’ve done a few Emich days before. In fact, my last track day was an Emich day. That didn’t end well. I was running on slicks, made a minor driver error, spun the car and broke the motor mounts. Aside from that, I thought it was a pretty good day: everyone was fairly well-behaved and each track session had less traffic than the one before as many of the folks who registered for the full day got tired and left.

But this may be the last.

When I picked up my wristband I asked about the car count. “Seventy or so. Not too bad.” If equally divided between novice and experienced, that’s three dozen cars on track at the same time. That’s a traffic jam. Oh well, it will get better as folks leave.

But my assumption is that the guys (and it was all guys) running in the experienced group are actually experienced and not novices.

I’ve been to so many drivers meetings at HPR I could easily run them. All the usual stuff gets covered: how to get on and off the track, what the lights and flags mean, and passing rules. For the experienced group, we have open passing. Meaning you don’t need a point-by to pass, and you can do it wherever you think it’s safe. There are two things of particular interest to me, and if Glen doesn’t mention them, I’ll raise my hand. First is reminding the high horsepower cars that if they see a low horsepower car in their mirrors, please don’t race down the straight and that they’ll need to lift to let us by. Second is that it’s the responsibility of the passing car to go around the slower car. It’s not the responsibility of the slower car to get out of the way.

I brought up the first one, and somebody else brought up the second. When I made my comment about horsepower differences, Glen reinforced it by saying that horsepower doesn’t matter: if somebody caught up to you, they’re faster. Let them by. The other point was reiterated as well. The slower car should not deviate from his line.

I Lose My Composure

In my second session I caught up to a silver Corvette. I was faster everywhere on the track except the straights, where he used his horsepower to get away. I was behind him for nearly a lap, and when we got onto the long straight I expected him to let me by. Instead, he hauled ass ahead only for me to catch him in the next turn. Later that lap, I pointed Dave Green by me. At the start of the straight Dave pulls out to pass, but the Corvette hauls ass again, totally unaware he is now holding up two Lotus behind him. We finally get around him after turn 5.

Next time around there are flashing yellow lights: said silver Corvette is stopped on the inside of turn seven. Well, he won’t be holding anybody up any longer. But he is there for the rest of the session while the tow truck deals with him. So we have yellow flag (actually, flashing yellow lights) conditions there: get off the throttle until you pass the incident.

Meanwhile, in my mirrors I see a brown Cadillac catching me. Sort of. He’s not making any headway at all in the turns but is much faster on the straights. On the highway straight he gets optimistic and pulls to the inside thinking he’ll outbrake me into 4. He’s not even close. He doesn’t see that I’m braking much later than he is.

Next time around, he’s still quite a ways back. He dive bombs me again and is able to sneak inside. He doesn’t remember the comment during the meeting that “there are no F1 scouts here today. Nobody will be impressed by dive bombing somebody into a turn.” Under ideal conditions, he can’t take the turn as fast as I can, and it’s even worse for him because he’s way to the inside. So we go through the turn about 20 mph slower than normal for me. But he’s ahead now, so he’s happy.

A few seconds later we’re in the yellow flag area, passing the tow truck and the stricken Corvette. At the hairpin we are good to go to full throttle again, and we do. We’re headed through the downhill esses, a right-left-right combination under full throttle. A glance in the mirror and what do I see? A Camaro moving to my left, attempting to pass here. This is the second worst place to try to pass on this track. Where does he think I’m going to go? Does he expect me to just disappear?

It’s the faster driver’s responsibility to make a safe pass, and the slower driver should keep on his line. My line goes apex to apex to apex, crossing the entire width of the track twice through here. And this guy is going to pass?

The Corvette driver was being oblivious and rude by not paying attention to his mirrors. But he wasn’t dangerous. The Cadillac driver was overly optimistic and in a hurry; couldn’t wait to actually catch me. He didn’t understand the differences in our cars and abilities but because he did this at the end of the straight, I had no trouble seeing him and knowing where he was. He could easily have put me off by forcing me to slow down so much more than usual; I couldn’t take my line because he stole it. If I couldn’t slow down enough I’d have gone off.

Where the Camaro wanted to pass me is a different story. It’s not straight. He put himself in my blind spot; I couldn’t tell where he was going. I have a split second to act. The only sensible thing to do is to stay on my line. If he presses his pass, either we collide or he goes off. Any experienced driver knows this is a bad place to pass and will wait the few seconds to pass.

He passes me after the turns. And I express my displeasure with an extended middle finger. I lost my composure. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m generally pretty good about not doing that on the streets, and I’ve never done it before on the track. I was wrong.

But the Camaro driver was a dangerous idiot.

Who promptly found me in the paddock. If I’d have been able to track him down to chat, I’d have started by apologizing for flipping him off. But instead I got a face full of belligerence. “You got a problem with my driving?” and “I’m allowed to pass anywhere” and “I’m going to wrap your head around your steering wheel” and “I’ll kick your ass”. My response to the last was “Bring it on.” I figure if he assaults me, he goes to jail. Then he changed tack from threatening to insulting: “You’re a shitty driver”, “Your car is stupid”, “Your jumpsuit is stupid”. He continues: “I’ve been here several times, you don’t know what you’re doing out there.” He finally decides to walk away, but keeps turning around and continuing: “You’re shaking your head. You’re shaking! You’re a coward!”

Obviously, I’m writing this a couple days later. Yesterday I looked at the video. Should I have seen him before I did? It turns out that he showed up behind me because he didn’t slow down for the tow truck. I don’t know if he was on full throttle up the hill, but he caught me and the Cadillac from a great distance. We didn’t slow to a crawl, and I’d guess the Camaro was doing 15 or 20 mph more than us. That might not have been full throttle, but it was way too fast with the tow truck right there.

I lost my composure because these three things happened back to back to back. It’s not the first time for any of these things but the combination made me lose my cool. I will learn from it. But I really don’t think the other drivers will. I’m reasonably certain none of them knows that they did anything wrong.

So my self-defense will be to avoid HPR track days where I expect a big car count. CECA days may be more expensive, but there aren’t as many cars and the core group is pretty steady, so we know each other and have some built-in expectations that we can rely on.

Okay, enough navel-gazing.

Aside from that drama, it was a good day. The car worked well. No problems with the clutch, motor mounts, wheel studs, or battery tie-down. A pair of new tires for the front and an oil change and I’ll be ready for my big trip.

And there was one lap where it was rather fun to be in traffic. Here I am, for a time sandwiched between a McLaren and a Ferrari.


Yet Another HPR Video

Sunday, April 29

It’s time for the spring running of Emich’s track day at HPR. I signed up for the afternoon sessions only. It’s a good bargain – four half hour runs for $85. It’s always a crowded day because I’m not the only bargain hunter. This year it sold out. But I figure many of the folks who sign up for the entire day leave early so the last couple sessions will feature a lot less traffic.

Today it seemed like the mix of cars was a bit more upscale than in the past – the vast majority of the cars were new Mustangs, Porsches, Corvettes, and Camaros and not so many older cars. In fact, I don’t think there were more than a handful of cars older than mine.

Scott and I drove out together and got there just in time for the drivers meeting. When we pulled in, I figured we’d park close to the pavilion so we wouldn’t be late for sign-in and the meeting but as we went by the carports Ryan flagged me down. There were two slots that morning entrants had paid for, so we snagged them.

The runners

So the Lotus contingent for the day was Ryan, Scott, and me. Unfortunately, Ryan again had injector issues. Not the same injector as last week, but evidently the same root cause. He thinks he has the solution and expects to be ready to go for next time. I hope he’s correct.

Ryan already in the trailer

Not much else to report.

I checked the settings on the lap timer and found where to connect it to the OBD II dongle, so I collected a limited amount of engine data. And I finally bought the unlimited version of Race Render 3 for making my videos.

I’m quite happy with it so far. It greatly simplifies the process. Before, I had to use my video editing software to do the picture in picture. It takes it about two and a half hours to complete that process. One thing that bugged me about it was that the rear-view camera isn’t a mirror image. That is, when I get passed by a car on driver’s right, the car goes to camera left. I couldn’t find any option that let me flip the image.

Race Render 3 does the horizontal flip of the rear view camera automatically. And it does the rendering in a few minutes. It also makes it fairly easy to sync everything up. I advance the main video to the first time I cross the start/finish line, adjust the rear camera to the same point (it will be off by several seconds – the time between starting the cameras). Then, for the data, tell it to find the start of lap 1. Bingo – all synced up.

The lap timer handles the GPS, so that’s the source of position and speed. The OBD supplies RPM and throttle position. I can also get coolant temperature and intake temperature. I may play around with this data next time. Throttle position percent comes through in the range of 14.9 at the low end and 77.6 at the high end, rather than 0 and 100. I edit the gauge display to adjust for that and it comes out okay. The ODB also records speed, so I may play with using that rather than the phone data. I haven’t checked yet if they match.

I’m open to suggestions for the display, so feel free to leave comments.

Emich Track Day

Sunday, April 10

The forecast was for a high in the low sixties with a chance of rain in late afternoon. They hit it pretty much spot on.

They limited the day to 120 entries and we had perhaps a few more than half in the experienced session.

We got started a bit late. Emich had a Z06 there to give people rides. Brand new, $95,000 price tag on the window. At the end of the first novice session one of the Emich guys put it into the wall between one and two. Deployed both airbags; they had to flatbed it off the track.

My fastest lap was in the first session, a 2:12.5. This is the first time I’ve gotten my fastest lap in the first session. I ran six sessions, sort of. One time I didn’t get on the track until the session was half over; another session was ended early due to an incident I’ll describe shortly. The tow truck was deployed two other times.

The track now has lights at every corner station; a nice upgrade. Usually they man about half the corner stations. There are several cameras that are monitored in race control, but with only half the stations manned, any yellow flag conditions might last three turns. With lights on all corners, there’s twice as much information available to us drivers. The same number of corners are manned, but they don’t use flags (except the meatball). Flashing yellow, steady yellow, red (stop), or “police lights”: flashing blue and red (exit the track).

I’ve often said that the race track is the safest place to drive your car. Everybody’s going the same direction, there are no potholes, nobody’s on their phone, all the cars are in good working order, and people wave flags at you if something unexpected has happened in front of you.

I’m going to have to add a condition to that: it’s a club day rather than open lapping. Unfortunately, as has been all too obvious these last two track days, there are people who can’t be relied upon to pay attention and to follow the few simple rules.

There was a white BMW with a giant black wing. A race car. He was fast; a few seconds a lap faster than me. He came up behind me in turn two. When I went to apex turn three I glanced in the mirror to find him missing. He was passing me, taking my apex. If I’d have stayed on my line, his left front would have hit my right rear.

Multiple times in the drivers meeting it was stressed that the slower car stays on the racing line. It’s the responsibility of the overtaking car to go around the slower car. This jackhole in the BMW, running at least twice my horsepower, couldn’t wait three seconds to pass me on the straight.

Back in the paddock I went looking for him. He was clear across the paddock from me. I asked several drivers if they knew where the white BMW with the giant black wing was. More than one said he’d passed them unexpectedly in turns. When I found him I was still pretty pissed. My cutting wit sometimes gets me in trouble, but today words failed me. I was unable to articulate exactly what he did wrong.

I just kept telling him to watch where he’s going and to think about what he was doing. I’m sure he still thinks he did nothing wrong because I failed to be articulate. He said “I thought you saw me” and “no hard feelings.” Yes, I saw him. Just because I’m paying attention doesn’t mean he can have my line. And, yes, there are hard feelings. I reported him to the assistant track manager and told other drivers to keep an eye out for him. Later, one guy told me the idiot passed him in turn three, same place he did it to me.

Now the story of the shortened afternoon session. I was running in proximity to a Subaru, blue and black with gold wheels. I passed him early on, but the next lap he seemed to be faster than me. He was clearly faster on the straights. I didn’t want to hold him up, so I waved him by. As soon as he got around me, my windshield took a light misting of fluid from his car. It was just that one shot, just as he passed me. I didn’t follow him too closely.

After another lap it was obvious I was quicker. I figured I’d get in his mirrors enough to get him to let me by on one of the straights. Coming out of the corkscrew he blew a big cloud of blue smoke out and jerked to the left. I stayed well right and went through another shower of fluid much heavier than before. He went in an arc across the track exit, spinning, kicking up clouds of dust and dumping a wide swath of oil across both the track and the pit lane. The police lights were on by the time I got to turn 3.

 

Emich at HPR

“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.

High Plains Drifter

I spent yesterday at HPR. The day was sponsored by Emich VW. It was too good a deal to pass up – just $80 for the whole day. As you might expect with a price like that, there was a good turnout. I didn’t ask about the car count, but the morning sessions were about as crowded as I’ve ever seen.

The weather early on was gorgeous – a bit cool, but sunny and pretty calm. About mid-morning Genae texted me, asking if it was windy yet. It wasn’t, but the calm didn’t last long. The wind came by late morning, with strong and prolonged gusts. On several passes down the highway straight the headwind was quite noticeable – no acceleration on the second cam in fifth gear. Between afternoon sessions, Scott and I found refuge in the wind shadow of a trailer, and tumbleweeds were a regular hazard both in the paddock and on-track. I never tried too hard to miss them and managed only to hit one or two. A Subaru came back from a session with a few big ones still stuck in the grill. They were stuck all over the chain link fence along the pit out.

As I said, the morning sessions were pretty crowded. With more cars, there were more incidents. Yellow flags were out a few laps in a row in the first two. But I did manage to get at least one clean lap each time,

I really had a blast in the car. My rear tires are completely shot, I should have bought new ones months ago, this was definitely their last hurrah. They’re done after thirteen thousand miles, but that includes nine track days.

2015-04-12 14.55.32sI had the car sideways several times in each session. Only one or two were big wobbles, all the rest were well under control. I laughed out loud with joy more than once. I am strongly under the illusion that I have good control of the car.

That said, I didn’t feel like I was as consistent as usual; as consistent as I want to be. I outbraked myself a few times and just plain missed apexes at others. But when I looked at the lap times after each session, my fastest laps each session were not more than two seconds between best and worst. My best lap was 2:16.14 and I had a theoretical best of 2:15.99.

I ran seven sessions for a total of 56 laps. I emptied my gas can into the car after the fourth and cut the seventh session short at 3 laps due to low fuel. I probably shouldn’t have done that last short session. At the end of the day, I asked Scott to follow me to the gas station in Byers in case I ran out. There, I pumped 10.1 gallons into my 10 gallon tank.

There were only a few familiar cars there. All the usual marques were represented, perhaps a more Corvettes and Camaros than usual, fewer Porsches. There was only one other Lotus, a 2005 Elise I hadn’t seen before. Supercharged, but with aged out tires. He was fast in the straights (he said he hit an indicated 135) but not much better than me in the turns. The oddballs of the day were two Vegas, one of which was a station wagon.

I have a busy week ahead and won’t have time to go through the video for a couple of weeks.