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.
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!
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.
This month’s Lotus Colorado meeting was held in Erie at Scuderia Rampante, a high-end Ferrari restoration shop. Calling the place a high-end Ferrari restoration shop is a bit redundant, I guess, but I think I can get away with it. If you had a Ferrari and wanted some work done on it, how far would you be willing to send it? They’re working on a car that, when they’re done, will go back to Hong Kong. I’m not sure there is anywhere farther from Hong Kong than Erie, Colorado.
They called the event a “shop tour”. That probably overstates it. To me, a tour implies some sort of guide telling us what we’re seeing: what’s important or interesting. Nothing like that today, we just wandered around the place. Several employees were there to answer questions, so we weren’t completely on our own.
This was not our first visit. We were here a few years ago. Not much has changed, and for somebody not very interested in cars it might be fair to ask what there is to see a second time. For those of us quite interested in cars, there’s always something to see. I’m not particularly a Ferrari fan – I’ll never own one and probably never drive one – but I think they’re fascinating examples of engineering and technology.
And it’s not just Ferraris. There are a variety of other cars there as well. Most are stored in a giant rack but a number are in various states of disassembly. To do engine work on most of the Ferraris, they simply remove the entire engine, transmission, and rear suspension and put that assembly on a table or rack.
As I said, I’m not that into Ferraris. For the most part, I can’t look at one and say, “That one is a 430 and that one is a California.” I don’t know what any of them is worth (other than more than I’ll ever spend on a car) or how much it might cost to have one worked on. On many of them, I’d guess a clutch service would go for perhaps as much as I paid for the Elise. So I won’t go into any detail on any of the cars I saw.
On prominent display were an F40 and an F50 side by side. The F40 is the red one, the F50 is the black one. The F40 was built between 1987 and 1992. I have no idea how many of these they made. A quick look on the internet tells me if you want one today, you can expect to spend about $1.6 million. The F50 dates from 1995-1997. You’d need to sell two F-40’s and kick in an extra few hundred thousand dollars beside to pick one up. I’m guessing you don’t get to see these cars side by side very often.
I know even less about Lamborghinis than I do Ferraris. This one is an example of the first Lamborghini model made. It’s a 350GT. They hadn’t yet started naming their cars after bulls. There was a 350GT and a 400GT. If I understood correctly, this car was an interim car – a 350GT with the motor from a 400GT, which makes it quite rare. Even so, it probably could be had (were you to find one for sale) for somewhere in the neighborhood of a million.
I thought the Fleetwood was interesting. I don’t know what year it was, but it was a giant. I believe this one is a 1952 Fleetwood Seventy Five limousine. It’s about a mile long and has more chrome on one car than on all Cadillacs built in the last decade. Looking at it, I couldn’t help but wonder what the thing weighed. I was guessing it might be 6,000 pounds. That was way off. In fact, these cars were closer to 4,700. For comparison, my 1967 Imperial was 4,900. The Imperial had a giant 440cid engine, while this Fleetwood was motivated by an eight cylinder 331cid motor that cranked out 190hp. Again, for comparison, my Elise generates 190hp.
They don’t just work on cars here, they store them as well. I didn’t count them, but they can probably stack something like forty cars in this giant rack. I’m sure it’s quite the operation to get one off the top: move the bottom one out of the way, rotate the stack down, take the next one out, repeat. Every car in there looked to be hooked up to a battery tender, so you could just jump right in and drive them off, once you managed to get to the one that belongs to you. Not all of them are super-exotics. In this photo, the car on the other side of the Testarossa is a modern Ford Mustang. And there were a few examples of Detroit iron from the same era as the Fleetwood above.
Here’s one of the engines they had taken out of the car. It’s the engine, transmission, and suspension. This one was hooked up to a device that lets them run the thing. I wasn’t in the room when they fired it up, but it was much quieter than I expected. I guess you’ll get that, given the size of the muffler hanging off the back.
It wasn’t just cars. In the back corner they had a little sitting area with a couple of stuffed bears (including a polar bear smoking a cigar and holding a pool cue), a couple of cabinets filled with knick-knacks, and some vintage race posters on the walls. This portrait of Steve McQueen caught my eye. It’s made up of articles, photos, and advertisements from magazines.
It has been a busy week and I’m a little behind on getting the blog updated. So I’ll post things a bit out of sequence. I’m still putting together two or three videos of my drive home from Snowmass over Independence and Loveland passes. That work was slowed down by an evening at the Great American Beer Festival and a trip today down to Ferrari of Denver for a little car show which they called “Holy Horsepower.”
Saturday, September 22
Hours on the flyer stated 10am to 2pm, but their parking lot is small so I figured it was better to be early than late. As it was, I didn’t arrive until a few minutes after ten and by then they were pretty well full. They directed me to a nice spot that could hold two small cars. “We can probably fit another Lotus in there.” I wandered off for a bit and when I got back it wasn’t a Lotus in the spot next to me but a Tesla Roadster. Close enough!
I quickly spotted Kent’s 2017 Ford GT. It took me a while to track him down. When I did, I asked if he remembered me telling him that, even though I like all his cars, the only one I would ask to drive was his 2005 GT. I said I’d renege on that now that he has the new one. That got a smile out of him. I told him to expect an email from me.
As is usual in these things, if they were to give out an award for the dirtiest car I’d win. I haven’t had a chance to wash it since the Snowmass trip, so it’s all covered with bugs, dust, and track grime.
As expected, there was no shortage of fancy machinery. I neglected to get photos of the Morris Mini and the yellow Pantera. Actually, there were quite a few cars I didn’t get pictures of. But my photographic skills aren’t that great, so I figure I’ll go easy on everybody.
This was my best look at the Tesla and Elise side-by-side. I’d heard that they share only something like 7% of parts, and it looks like most of those are on the interior. The Tesla is several hundred pounds heavier but uses the same brakes. I was surprised by that, but it makes use of regenerative braking, so the brakes don’t need to work so hard.
I took a few shots of a pretty orange Aventador. It was one of the few cars with the engine compartment open. I was somewhat amused that they have a plaque with the engine firing order on it. I don’t recall seeing that before.
Quite a few people left by noon, but a few cars kept arriving throughout the time I was there. The one that drew the biggest crowd was a pearl white Ferrari LaFerrari Aptera 70th Anniversary car. I heard somebody say it was worth $6 million. I don’t know my Ferraris. I didn’t know it was a LaFerrari until I looked it up at home. Sure enough, it looks like that $6 million figure could be correct. Wow. Pictures don’t do the paint job justice.
When I found Ryan I told him I was interested in getting an ECU dump for my car. He said it was pretty easy and offered to do it. He brought out his scan tool and laptop and in a couple minutes I had the data. He did this last year when he rebuilt the top half of my motor, but I didn’t get a copy. I was most interested in time spent at various engine speeds. In adding these up and counting the amount of track time I have, I’m a bit surprised I’m not above 5700rpm even more than is shown. The time by car speed maps out to my expectations pretty well, so I don’t doubt the data.
If you’re an F1 fan you are probably familiar with the “grid walk”. American fans watched Will Buxton do it for a few years. British fans have been watching Martin Brundle do it for twenty years. It’s the segment of the F1 broadcast where Martin (or Will) walks through the grid just before the race, chatting up whoever he finds, whether it be drivers, team principles, or celebrities.
Today I did my little version of it. It’s nothing so glamorous. Today I helped run the grid for the CECA event at HPR. My job was to check the cars as they formed up on the grid before being released onto the track. I was to see that they had the proper wristband for the session, they had their tech sticker, their helmets were on, their seatbelts fastened, and were properly attired (long pants, long-sleeved shirts, no open toed shoes).
Each group is called to the grid starting about ten minutes before their session starts. Although there are typically a few cars that don’t arrive until their session starts, most of the cars in the group get lined up beforehand and wait in line for a short while. That allowed my garrulous self to have a quick chat with just about everybody. As each driver runs three or four sessions, the only drivers I didn’t talk to a few times were those who were late to join their sessions. Perhaps they were the only ones smart enough to avoid my small-talk.
Obviously, I’d rather be out running laps than working on the grid. But I had a good time nonetheless. Sure, I stood in the sun all day and got a bit sunburned (there wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire time), walking up and down a short section of tarmac. But I got a good look at all the cars and although I didn’t have a radio, I could hear Joe’s and thus had a pretty good idea of what was going on everywhere.
The obligatory list of cars: three Elises and an Exige, two Ferraris (a 430 Scuderia and a 355 F1 Berlinetta), a Pantera, a couple of Miatas, a Mini, a 1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7 (boasting a built 351cid motor pumping out 450hp), 3 Scion FR-S, 2 Vipers, a Camaro, a stable of Mustangs, a fleet of Corvettes, and a scad of Porsches and a few miscellaneous others. We had twenty or so cars in each group, so a busy day for a CECA event.
Here are a few tidbits I gleaned:
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Ferrari 355 was no garage queen, having over 46,000 miles on the odometer being tracked regularly.
One of the Vipers was being driven by a fellow who had not driven the car before that morning.
A chap in a Corvette not only hadn’t driven that car before today, but this was his first time driving a left-hand drive stick shift. (He was a recent transplant from Australia.)
A fully race-prepared Mustang hit the track with the ECU still in transport mode, where the engine wouldn’t rev more than 3,000 rpm. The owner managed to get it sorted before his second session.
We had no tow truck for this event. Instead, we relied on a pickup truck with a tow strap. We had to deploy it three or four times. One stricken car (a brand new Mustang) had no tow hook. Luckily, he was just out of gas so the sketchy tow was avoided.
One of the cars that needed to be towed in was Mark’s black Elise. The battery came loose. When it happened to me last year, it stayed hooked up and I didn’t know it was flopping around until I opened the boot in the paddock. In Mark’s case (or his daughter’s, actually) the battery not only became disconnected, it leaked acid in the boot. The car stopped, the gauges froze, and they had a bit of a mess to clean up. They didn’t seem to suffer any clam damage though.
I spent a lot of my time standing next to the wall at the end of the pit straight and entry into turn 1. I was a bit surprised how quiet most of the cars were. I may be wrong, but I’m thinking my car is louder than any of the four Lotus that were running today.
This is one of the three passing zones on the track. It’s up close and personal. One of the others is on the highway straight, which is also visible from here. The third is between turns 5 and 6, out of sight over the hill to the west. Obviously, this isn’t racing, but it’s interesting to see which cars are fast, and which drivers are fast. Best example perhaps was one of the FR-S’s. When I thought I saw it pass the yellow Ferrari, I asked Joe. “That FR-S just pass the Ferrari?” “Yup.” Next time around he passed a Viper. The next lap the Ferrari passed the Viper but both were still on the tail of the FR-S. Then the FR-S opened up some space. At the end of the day I talked with the FR-S driver. He says the car is totally stock. But he does have some racing experience, so he knows how to get around a track.
Late in the day, a 1969 Mustang came off the track and when they parked it in the paddock it promptly caught fire. The fuel filler is above the rear bumper in the center. He had an old gas cap which evidently leaked, spilling fuel on the exhaust. They managed to put out the fire with little damage, but it did cause a bit of excitement.
I think the oddest part of my day was during the lunch break. They allow for some “parade” laps. With no corner workers out, we were allowed a few slow laps, limited to about 60mph. I did three laps. It felt strange being on the track with no helmet, going slow. The idea was that Joe would lead the parade. But he and I were the only cars out, and we were half a lap apart. I made a half-hearted attempt to take all the slow turns as fast as I could, so long as I never topped sixty. It felt pretty weird.
I’d much rather be driving than working grid, but I was happy to lend a helping hand. I don’t see why I can’t do this again, perhaps once each year.
I spent my track day budget on my Laguna Seca trip so I didn’t register for CECA’s second track day at HPR. But it was a nice day and I decided I could postpone mowing the lawn and changing the oil in the Lotus so I could head out to the track and perhaps get a ride or two. I knew Scott would be there in his Miata, which I haven’t seen on track yet. And Ryan is generally there with his Exige, he might give me a ride.
Upon arrival, I made my way out to the wall between pit lane and the track to watch the cars. It looked to be the usual variety of CECA entrants: mostly Porsches, Corvettes, and Mustangs leavened with others for variety: 2 Exiges, Scott’s Miata, a few Cobra replicas, a Pantera, a couple of Vipers. It looked like there were several interesting cars running without passengers, including a pretty red Ferrari 458.
Ferrari 458 Speciale
I wandered around the paddock for a while, checking in with my track rat pals. As usual, Ryan had a covered spot. He was only a few spots away from that 458. I made my way down the row and introduced myself. The 458 was owned by John. I asked him if he wanted about 190lbs of ballast in his passenger seat. He didn’t get my meaning at first, but it clicked eventually: “Oh, you want a ride!”
When his group was up I grabbed my helmet and jumped into his car. He told me he wasn’t out to set a fast lap time and I told him it didn’t matter to me. Onto the track we went. We hauled ass onto the track; faster, by far, than I’ve ever entered the track. From the passenger seat I couldn’t see the speedometer but I did have the forethought to start the lap timer on my phone before we got started.
The 458 is quite the machine. The steering wheel has about as many controls as an F1 car. One of the dials is called a manettino. This is where the driver selects the mode: low grip, sport, race, and so on. I’m not sure whether John had it in sport or race. John told me he could put the transmission into auto but at the track prefers to use the paddle shifters. He allowed that auto might be faster, but he enjoyed doing the shifting.
The car is fast. John said he hit an indicated 145 mph (my phone said 135; the truth is probably in between). We ran about five laps but never managed to have a clean lap. My lap timer showed a best lap of 2:08 (for reference, I’ve managed a 2:09 in the Elise). He had a theoretical lap of 2:01 (that’s a lap made of the three best sector times). I have no doubt that several seconds could be trimmed from that time. I don’t think he’s had a lot of laps at HPR, and certainly not a lot in that car.
Braking is fantastic. The discs are huge and he’s running on large, sticky tires. The seats are very nice, do a good job in cornering. Still, CG-Locks on the seat belts would be helpful. Exiting the turns I could feel the car squirm just a bit as all the electronics worked to keep it pointed in the right direction. John was missing the occasional apex, and his line is quite a bit different than mine in a number of places. It felt much faster than the recorded lap times. Certainly, with a traffic-free lap John could set a very quick time indeed. It’s a seriously fast car.
In the spot next to John was another Ferrari, one of much older vintage. I introduced myself to Bill. I told him I don’t know my Ferraris so he told me a little about his 365 GTB/4. It’s a V-12 (the 458 is a V-8). It predates all the computer control of modern cars. In contrast to the silky smooth modern 458 the 365 snarls and growls, pops and sputters. It sounds incredible.
Ferrari Daytona 365 GTB/4
Bill agreed to give me a ride. His car is much more like a race car than John’s 458. It has a roll bar, five point harnesses, and an array of old-school switches and dials on the dash, including a dial to adjust the brake bias. Headroom is a bit cramped with the helmet on – if I sat up straight my head rubbed the top. Less headroom than the Elise with the top on, but quite a bit wider.
Like John, Bill said he wasn’t going to go fast. I used to talk this way. For a few years I told my passengers we’d be one of the slowest cars on the track. I think there’s a bit of expectation management in this. I didn’t really think I was one of the slowest cars on track, and I don’t think John and Bill weren’t trying to scoot.
The two cars are quite a contrast. The 458 seemed a bit like a video game. All the controls are on the wheel; a flick of a finger to shift up or down. (And a misplaced finger to start the windshield wipers. John had to come into the pits to shut them off – he doesn’t drive the car in the rain and had difficulties turning them off, even putting two wheels off at one point dealing with the distraction.) Bill was working much harder in the 365 – double clutching, blipping the throttle on downshifts. Dancing on the pedals and sawing at the wheel.
The lap timer gave Bill’s best lap as 2:13, with a theoretical best of 2:12. As with John we encountered a fair amount of traffic. Bill gave everybody lots of room. I have no doubt he could log a quick time on an open track. There was the occasional clumsy downshift, but he was hitting his apexes pretty consistently. The car is a real chore to drive. When we got back to the paddock his first remark was along the lines of “I can’t imagine driving a 24 hour race in one of these.”
I will admit here that I’m not a good passenger. Typically, my discomfort arises due to not being in control. I don’t like riding with most drivers; too many people don’t pay enough attention. It’s a mental discomfort. Today my issue was in my gut, not in my head. I never have problems with motion sickness when I’m behind the wheel but if we’d have stayed on the track much longer, I’d have been signalling my desire to get out of the car. I’ve seen videos of people puking in their helmets and I don’t want to go there. Particularly in a Daytona 365GTB/4. (This is certainly not a critique of either Bill or John.)
I’m guessing that, together, these two cars together are worth about a million bucks. They are truly exotic creatures. Most folks only see them on display – like animals at a zoo – at shows and auctions. I’m happy to have gotten a taste of them, running wild, on the track.
It’s an hour drive to the track from Danville. I should have left earlier; I didn’t realize how crowded it would be. I drove through the entire paddock looking for a place to park and ended up back near the entrance, closest to food. I may have gotten the very last spot. I was between two Miatas on one side, two Porsches on the other. On the other side of the Miatas is a Volcano Orange McLaren and on the other side of the Porsches is a silver one.
The place is a madhouse. Track Masters and Speed Ventures are co-organizers of the track event. Track Masters is also operating an autocross here in the parking lot so we’re quite crowded. I found the sign-in desk and submitted my paperwork, was directed to the classroom for the drivers meeting. This meeting lasted about an hour, about twice the usual length. Much emphasis was placed on the fact that there are concrete barriers in close proximity to pretty much the entire track. They called it a “professional driver’s” track: a track for drivers who’s cars are paid for by other people.
Between that and the large number of participants I was feeling less than happy.
They were running five groups: Red, Orange, Green, Purple, and Black. Four sessions, 25 minutes each, with the first Red and Orange sessions running during our meeting. I’m in Purple: Intermediate, Point-by passing. I could have run in Black, which is Advanced/High-Intermediate, Mixed Passing. Cars that don’t want to be passed without giving a point-by can put a red circle sticker on the back of the car. No sticker means pass at will. Being new to the track and on street tires I was more comfortable signing up for Purple.
I circulated the paddock area off and on all day, looking to introduce myself to any other Lotus runners. George found me. I’d been through the place once or twice without seeing his car, deep in one of the garages. He’s in an S1 Elise. After talking to him, it sounds like he has the same car as Tony from yesterday. George’s is yellow, Tony’s is green, but in all other respects the cars look identical to me. George didn’t seem to know about Tony. The only other S1 I’ve seen was at LOG. What are the chances I’d see two in two days?
I found Josh and Tony parked together. Josh is running a 2-Eleven, Tony an orange Exige. I told them my story and Josh asked what size tires I’m running. It took me a minute to understand what he was really asking. He had a spare set of slicks and was offering to let me run on them. If I was more familiar with the track, I might have taken him up on the offer. Very generous.
Josh had some unwelcome excitement in the second session. After a couple of laps, Tony was behind him. Josh waved him by but in the process put two wheels off. When he came back on track he over corrected and spun, putting him in the wall. Broken left rear suspension and some fiberglass damage. I didn’t know any of this until after the session, other than seeing him parked beside the track. Our session was black flagged to get him off the track. It only took 10 minutes, but that really cuts the session short. I had two “fast” laps, but they were both heavy traffic and I was unable to get a clean lap.
When I got off track, I headed over to see what had happened to Josh. They showed me the footage on their GoPro. Josh was assessing the damage when I took a picture. Tony says “You’re going to be in the magazine now.”
I really enjoyed the third and fourth sessions. I was getting more comfortable on the track and was able to improve my times by about three seconds each session. The fourth session was best – by now a number of cars had already left, so there was noticeably less traffic.
I chatted with a couple of other Lotus owners, whose names I’ve sadly already forgotten (I’m so bad with names). One had an ’06 Elise special edition (yellow, silver stripes). The other in an Chrome Orange S260 Exige. There was also a silver Exige there. I didn’t get to chat with him, other than to exchange hellos. As usual, all very nice, friendly folks.
When we were all packing up I chatted a bit with the owner of the orange McLaren. He used to have an Elise. He said he wondered if it was too much. “Not too much money, too much car.”
At lunch, waiting in line for the nine dollar burger I asked the guy in front of me if his car matched his cap. “Of course,” he said. He was driving his Ferrari FF. On it’s release, it was the world’s fastest four seat car. He said he might be driving the heaviest car out there today: 4200 lbs.
Many of the guys I talked to said Sonoma was their favorite track. Of the two so far, I prefer Thunderhill. I’m a big fan of having plenty of run-off room. If I make a little mistake, like Josh made, I don’t want to pay a major penalty. Mowing the weeds is enough for me. There are a number of places on track here (turns 10 and 11 in particular) where I know I can go faster, but I’d hate to misjudge the grip level and end up in the wall. That said, my early unhappiness was forgotten. I’m happy to have come here once.
As always, I enjoyed the company of the people around me in the paddock. We had to team up to defend our territory. When we were out, somebody parked in Glen’s spot. They made an announcement on the PA for the car to be moved. The guy thought the spots were for customers of the Wine Country Motorsports store. We borrowed a couple of traffic cones to put in our spots while we were on the track.
There was an “official” photographer there. This guy did a lot of paddock shots and fewer on track. I already planned to buy two days of photos, and that wasn’t part of the budget, so buying any here was out of the question. The guy had some nice shots, though.
With the shortage of track minutes, I managed to drive back to Danville without needing to gas up. Quite a difference from yesterday, where I put 9.95 gallons into my 10 gallon tank a few miles from the track.
MJ and Rod made a nice tasty dinner for me and we spent the evening in conversation, with the failed coup attempt on the TV in the background.
It’s a quick 15 minutes from the motel to the track. The facility is pretty nice; they have two large canopies to park under. The one nearest race control, bathrooms, and meeting rooms was already full when I got there, so I had to park at the farther one. Late arrivals were out of luck when it came to shade. This can be quite important as the day progresses. It ended up being about 100 degrees, so shade is important to some semblance of comfort.
Checked in. All cars are required to have numbers. Evidently, that’s some sort of rule in the region, not just for this event. I could use painters tape to make a number, if I could borrow some, or I could purchase a set from them for five bucks. That’s a sticker for each side of the car and a smaller one for the windshield. I got #29.
They have an official photographer there – gotbluemilk.com. They have a trailer (“with triple air conditioning!”) full of monitors where you can view what they’ve shot. Pictures for the day are $75. For two-day events, they charge $115. Chatting with them, I discovered they would be in Laguna Seca on Monday, so I told them to bring today’s photos with them on Monday and I’d buy both days for the 2 day event price (even though it’s two one-day events, not a two-day event).
Hooked on Driving (HoD) runs four run groups. A and B had their drivers meeting together, then A went upstairs to a different room and had ground school. C and D were the advanced groups. HoD runs five twenty minute sessions. I’m used to 30 minute sessions and prefer fewer longer sessions than more shorter ones, even if it works out to be the same amount of track time. Fewer longer sessions means fewer in and out laps and more fast laps. Each group is limited to twenty five cars, which is a reasonable maximum. Twenty five cars over a three mile track means we’re generally well-spaced and had a good chance of getting a few unobstructed laps each session.
For the A and B groups, “download” sessions were held after each track session. We went over subjects such as the proper line for various turns, proper gear selection for a couple of the tricky places, and so on. The instructor in charge of the group went on track to get video of the cars in the group to illustrate the good and the not so good.
The first couple of laps of our first session were run under yellow flag with a number of instructors out leading us around. This lets us newbies get an idea of the proper line. I really enjoyed the track. It’s quite challenging with the blind crests and off-camber turns.
I make it a point to meet the other Lotus drivers at these events. Today we had two. Tony was there running his S1 Elise. He says it’s not street legal. It’s a race prepared car from the factory with roll bar, fire suppression, fuel and electrical cutoffs. It’s Lotus Racing Green. It’s left hand drive, which surprised me. Tony says it was sold in the French market. Rover engine, very similar in power to the Toyota in the Federal Elise.
Bo has an orange Elise. He’s had is about a year. Big wing, race seats, after market wheels, bigger diffuser. We were all running in the same group, so we sat together at the classroom sessions.
I don’t think all five groups were fully subscribed. At least one of the drivers in my group would normally run advanced instead, but those were full. For the most part, it was not a dissimilar group of cars to what you’re likely to see at HPR – the usual mix of Mustangs, Corvettes, Porsches, and so on. One car that stood out for me was a Ferrari race car, complete with pneumatic jacks.
The track is quite challenging. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, like HPR, so there is plenty of room if you make a mistake. If you go off, you just mow some weeds. It has a nice mix of high speed and low speed turns, off-camber turns, and blind crests. The facilities are nice as well, with air-conditioned classrooms and plenty of shade for the cars and drivers.
I ran five sessions and improved my best lap each time. I was quite slow the first session; every lap in my second session was better than my best lap in the first session. If we ignore that first session, my time improved by five seconds a lap over the course of the day.
One of the great extras that HoD provided was the presence of a performance tire company. When we exited the track, we could pull into their area of the paddock and they’d get the pyrometer and pressure gauge, collect all the relevant data, and recommend changes. I struggle with setting my tire pressure; I think I got some good tips from them, it just remains to be seen if I put them to good use.
Like yesterday, it was quite hot. I don’t know what the official high temperature was for Willows. As I said, it was close to 100 degrees. This is the first time I’ve been at a track where they had a relaxed dress code. I wore my suit for the morning sessions while everyone around me was in shorts and short sleeves. I lost the suit for the afternoon and was much more comfortable. But it did feel a bit odd.
I stayed to the very end and was one of the last cars to leave the track by the time I got all packed up. I gassed up in Willows before heading south on I-5 to the Bay Area. I’m staying with friends the next two nights in Danville. It was almost exactly a two hour drive, hitting a number of interstates (I-5, 505, 680) before successfully placing me in front of my destination.
I thoroughly enjoyed the day. The track was challenging but not frustrating, HoD ran a great event, and I always enjoy socializing with people with a common passion.
Scuderia Rampante is a Ferrari restoration and repair shop in Erie, Colorado. They’ve been in business for something like forty years. Skip arranged a shop tour for the Miata and Lotus clubs. It turned out to be not so much a tour of the facility as the opportunity to wander freely about the place.
Life sized Matchbox collection
It’s loaded with interesting sights. In addition to all sorts of exotic Ferrari automobiles, there were cars of other marques, a helicopter and a half and two stuffed bears. Some of the cars are there in storage but most seemed to be undergoing some repair or other.
I seem to gravitate to the unusual. Certainly it could be said that wandering around a world class Ferrari shop is unusual in itself. For the most part, though, I’ve seen these cars on the road; out in the wild so to speak. But there were a couple of notable “which of these is not like the others” cars.
In the small show-room like entryway was a Ferrari I’d not only never seen before, but had never heard of. In the first couple years of the fifties, Ferrari produced eighty two copies of the 212 Inter. Powered by a three carburetor V-12 that pumped out as much as 165 HP it was capable of hitting 116 mph and going from 0 to 60 in just 10.5 seconds. My how automotive technology has advanced. Someone there told Michael this car is worth $18 million, but a quick search indicates it’s more likely in the $2 to $3 million range.
Ferrari 212 Inter
The 212 isn’t unusual because it’s a Ferrari, it’s unusual because of its vintage and rarity. There was at least one other unusual car of the same vintage, if not the same rarity. In the rack I couldn’t help but notice the Wolseley 16/60 with the Bahamas license plate. This is another car I’ve never even heard of. It’s not out of place here, though. Although the car was made by BMC it was styled by Pininfarina. About 63,000 of these were made.
Scattered throughout the shop floor were various Ferrari drivetrains under repair. Some where just the engine, others were both engine and transmission. I was quite interested in the flat 12. There was a red Testarossa in the giant car rack with a license plate “FLAT 12” but this engine probably belonged to the black Testarossa on the floor.
Scuderia Rampante wasn’t the only place we went on Saturday. We started at cars and coffee in Louisville and ended at a show put on my Hagarty’s and Auto Archives. Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing a Porsche 918 on US-36 where I managed to get a crappy cell-phone picture. The same car was at Louisville. I hadn’t seen it there before.
We were planning on having hot dogs at the Hagarty event. By the time we got there the weather had deteriorated quite a bit. No longer just chilly and overcast, it was now raining lightly. We elected not to stand in line in the rain for hot dogs. After a quick tour of the new home of Auto Archives we made our way home. It turned out to be excellent timing, as we were hit by an intense hail storm. Most of the hail was BB sized or pea sized but some stones were more like marbles.