Thursday Night Open Lapping

Thursday, August 31

High Plains has offered Thursday night open lapping for the last two summers. I’ve been wanting to do it but somehow never made it a priority. They run a hot track from 5 to 9pm. Last week Scott asked if I wanted to go. I pondered it a day or so before responding in the affirmative. Scott and Mark met me at the park and ride.

I’ve never lapped at night and I’ve never lapped in wet conditions. With sunset at about 7:30, I would certainly get to drive in the dark. And this time of year is perfect for evening thunder showers on Colorado’s eastern plains so I felt there was a better than even chance of some rain.

Heading east on I-70 we could see a dark cloud above Byers, dropping rain from one end. We had to stop at the gas station for fuel. I pulled up to the pump but stayed in the car. The roof isn’t exactly rain proof and I had a couple of big leaks dripping on the sills. I was pondering how long I’d sit there, delaying the inevitable drenching, when the rain noticeably slackened. Even though I sat in the car while the gas pumped, my shirt got pretty wet. Which, in turn, caused all the windows to fog up.

Mark and I were fueled up but Scott hadn’t started yet. So we ditched him, Top Gear style, and headed to the track. A couple of miles down the road we were out from under the cloudburst and back on dry roads.

I didn’t get a car count, but we had a small enough turnout that we didn’t run any groups.

I may have been the fastest car on the track when I headed out the first time. Nobody ever passed me, and I passed six or eight cars. It was sprinkling a bit; for a short time I had to put the wipers on intermittent. The track surface never got wet. It never was wet enough to glisten. But every now and then, I could feel a little loss of traction.

I guess it was a little perverse of me to want it to rain. There were a few showers in the vicinity, none likely as wet as what we had at the gas station. They’re happy to run the track in the wet, as long as no nearby lightning endangers the corner workers. But although lightning occasionally flashed on the horizon, neither lightning nor rain was an issue tonight.

I finally got a working suction mount for the phone. The last few track days I’ve had to keep the phone in my pocket where I can’t see it. It’s a big help to get the immediate feedback on what you’re doing. I tried changing my line through one turn. Run a couple of laps the old way, then a couple the new way and see whether I’m gaining or losing time.

During my second session they had to deploy the tow truck to collect a stricken BMW between turns 6 and 7. I was expecting it to take a lap longer than it did for them to complete the operation. The tow truck was on the move before I got to the start/finish line. As I approached turns 1 and 2, the yellow lights were getting turned off. I passed the truck on the highway straight. Next time around, he was hooking up the car. He took the short-cut at the top of the hill and were off the track by the time I came back around again. That’s something like eight minutes. Very efficient.

After the second session I opened the boot lid to find my battery out of its mount, laying on its side. I got lucky here. I’ve seen pictures of rear clams damaged by a loose battery. It can cause serious damage. I never heard it banging around and there’s no damage I can see.

The bracket had not come loose, the battery just popped out of the mount. I attempted a repair but was unable to get it secure. So my day was done. When I expressed my disappointment that I didn’t get to drive in the dark, Scott, the generous guy he is, offered to let me take a few laps in his car. Twist my arm.

Although I’ve ridden in many Elises, this is the first time I’ve driven one other than my own. It’s only the second car I’ve tracked that isn’t mine (the Mazda Chump Car being the other). Scott’s car is supercharged and he’s on better tires. I had my doubts about the tires, though. They had been stored in the cold over the winter and I’ve heard bad things about that. Also, the suspension is different, his being standard and mine being track pack.

He gave me the keys and said, “Don’t break it! Try to do more like a 2:20 than a 2:13.” I ran a few laps. I had the phone in my pocket, so I couldn’t see what my times were until I was out of the car. My first impressions were how different the car is. The seats are different (mine are cloth, his are leather). The clutch had a different feel, he’s got a different shifter.

And the most obvious difference is the power. I never pushed the car. I short-shifted and was on the brakes much earlier than usual. Even so, I was often in fourth gear in places where I’m always in third. Turns out I did a 2:17 and topped 119mph on the highway straight. That’s 10mph faster than I managed in my car tonight. Without pushing it.

I was really looking forward to driving in the dark, and would have enjoyed driving in the wet, but missed out on both. I was hoping to get four sessions, which would have made the event about half the cost per lap as a day with CECA. But with the mechanical failure, I only got two sessions so it was back to par.

Battery

Turns out it was an easy fix – I didn’t realize the lip on the base of the battery was not symmetrical. If I’d turned it around 180 degrees I’d have been in business. I had the battery replaced on my trip to Austin in June. I’m wondering if it was installed improperly since then. If so, it managed to sit tight for about three track days (COTA, La Junta, and the RAKC lunch laps).

I’ve seen photos of damage done to other people’s Elises due to the battery flopping around in the boot. I’ve had a good look and don’t see the slightest sign of damage to my car. I’d say I dodged a bullet.

Turn Signals

From the time I bought the car, the left turn signal has blinked at twice the rate of the right. Some have said this is an indication that the turn signal will fail. It kept working for me for quite a while. But for the last five years or so the left rear hasn’t been working. I’ve tried a couple of proposed solutions without finding a fix. I was told that the entire unit needs to be replaced. There are two problems with this answer. First, the parts are about impossible to find. Second, the assembly is quite expensive.

So I’ve been using hand signals. I still use the signal, as the front works okay. I just use the hand signal when there’s somebody behind me.

Last week on the way home from the LoCo picnic I noticed that the left turn signal was now blinking at the same rate as the right side. Back home in the garage, I got out to look. Sure enough, it was working! As I stood there watching, it began to alternate between blinking slow and fast. The joy was short-lived, though, as it quickly went back to blinking fast and not working. It worked for perhaps two minutes.

On the way home from HPR it worked for the entire drive. It has failed again since then, though, so I’m back to hand signals. I find it odd that it doesn’t work for years and now all of a sudden decides to work every now and then.

Tires

I bought Yokohama tires last year for track days. I got four days out of them. The rears are almost slick. The fronts have tread, but I’m pretty sure they’re heat cycled out. I expected to get at least six days, so I’m pretty disappointed. On the first of those four days I recorded my personal best lap time at HPR: 2:09 and a fraction. Since then, a 2:14 has been my best. I’ve managed 2:14 on the Dunlops, so I’d have to say my disappointment isn’t limited to their longevity.

So now I’ve done a 2:13 with the Dunlops. That’s with a full fuel tank and a light rain falling. I’m certain the 2:09 is out of range on the Dunlops. But I’m out there lapping for fun, not to win any races. I see no reason to buy sticky track tires. I’ll see what I can get in the 300 treadwear range. A little stickier than the Direzzas, but should last a good long time if I use them only for track days.

The Video

When I’m searching through YouTube for track videos, I tend to whine if they don’t have any gauges, track map, or timer. So I’m being a naughty boy by not having any gauges or a map in this day’s highlight reel. And it only has a lap timer because you can see it on my phone.

Laps in the Chrysler

April 2, 2017

I joined Lotus Colorado before I had a Lotus. At my first meeting John Arnold announced a track day at a brand new track, High Plains Raceway. I asked him if he’d laugh at me if I took the Chrysler. “What kind of Chrysler?” So the first car I ever drove on a race track was the Chrysler.

I have no idea what sort of times I put in that first day. In my misspent youth, I hung out a lot at Malibu Grand Prix playing pinball and video games. Their big attraction was the cars. They were rotary engined, bigger than go karts, capable of seventy miles an hour in a straight line. The track was a half mile long, never more than twenty feet in a straight line. Most folks had no problem putting in a 65 second time. My first shot I thought I was really hauling ass. It was 90 seconds. That first track day in the Chrysler, I thought I was really hauling ass. For the last couple years I’ve wondered what sort of time I could to in the Chrysler today, now that I know the track and have sort of learned how to drive a car fast.

So why do I bring this all up?

Several weeks ago I paid for an afternoon of lapping on April 2nd. Then I took the Elise in to the shop for some work. Unfortunately, she’s still there, five weeks and counting, likely some more weeks to go. I’ll save the gory details for another time, but the short version is that a defective Toyota part has caused some complications.

I made a half-hearted attempt to give my sessions to somebody else but found no takers. So I decided to satisfy my curiosity and run a few laps in the airport limo. The plan was to do an out lap and two or three laps then quit.

That first time, the 300M was ten years old and had been garaged all her life. Now she’s about to turn eighteen and has been sitting outside for seven years. The clear coat is peeling like a bad sunburn; windshield is cracked; rear-view mirror is off for the fourth time, adhesive failure. She’s tired, wanders a bit on the highway, needs new bushings all around. Any more than a few laps would be cruel to her.

When I got off the highway in Byers, the check engine light came on.

I ran a few laps anyway.

What an entirely different experience than the Lotus. The steering wheel feels giant when wrestling the car through the turns. I was all elbows, like a power forward grabbing that contested rebound. The car is nearly twice the mass of the Elise. It has more rubber on the ground and has brakes about the same size as the Elise. But with all that weight I felt like I was driving a bus, giant steering wheel and all.

After only a few laps the brakes were getting pretty hot. The pedal would get long along with the stopping distances. Not long into the session I also noticed that the car figured out I was doing something unusual as it turned off traction control for me. Pretty clever.

I expected to be the slowest car on the track, so I ran with the novice group. I wasn’t quite the slowest car. I only ran two sets of laps, an hour apart. The first session, I spent most of my time waving cars by me. A couple of very slow cars waved me by. I didn’t get anything like a clear lap. The second session was better in spite of being stuck behind a truck the whole time.

It was an F-150 Lightning. I don’t know my trucks. I’m working under the assumption that it’s an SVT because if it’s an older one, I got owned by a bigger, older vehicle with less power. This guy slowed me down only slightly. He had more power, could pull me on the straights and up the steep hills, I caught him in the twisty bits. I could have gone a little bit faster if he’d have let me by, but it’s always fun to run nose-to-tail with somebody doing similar lap times. Even if you can measure them with an hourglass.

There were two Lotus there, Ryan with his orange Exige and a new guy with a red 05 Elise. I think he told me his name was Cory. He’s had the car a bit over a year and this is his second track day. It’s supercharged. He gave me a ride and I tried to give him some pointers. I didn’t say anything for a couple of laps, to get a sense of how fast the car would go. I thought it would be a bad idea to suggest my braking points if he’s going ten miles an hour faster.

The car seemed to be more of a handful than mine. I think the track pack makes quite a bit of difference. I’m sure I’d have a better sense as a driver than passenger, but there seemed to be quite a lot more pitch and roll.

After we got the checker, he kept pushing it. I figured he’d go until we caught the guy in front of us, but he kept going fast, too. Then, cresting the hill in turn 7 he lost it, fully sideways one way, then fully sideways the other, big swings of a pendulum. The second swing wasn’t as big and I thought for a split second that he caught it, but no. The car was half in the weeds, showering us with dust and dead grass. He had a GoPro mounted on the windshield, but I don’t know that it was running.

Before we left, I wanted to put some air back in the tires. The car stalled when I went to back it up to the air hose. And it was reluctant to start when I was ready to leave.

So, here’s the lapping video nobody really wants to see:

Million Dollar Ride

Saturday, September 24

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

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

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.

CECA at HPR

Sunday, June 26

The original plan was that Michael would come to the track with me. CECA charges by the car, not the driver, so he would get do drive for free. But he had scheduling difficulties and work and he couldn’t make it.

We get a slightly different crowd on CECA days, a bit more upscale. When I got off I-70 I passed a Mercedes SLS AMG parked in the shade of a cottonwood, occupants relieving themselves (did I say “upscale”?). At the gas station, Dave was filling up a couple two gallon cans for his Elise. He prefers those over the five gallon because they fit in the boot. But I think he only carries one helmet. Before I left, a red Ferrari came in for a pit stop.

About two weeks before the event, organizers were concerned about attendance. Only a dozen or so cars had registered. With a week to go, it was nineteen. In the end they were happy to announce that we had 41 or 42 cars. Of those, nine were Lotus. Specifically, six Elises (three green, two black, one orange), two Exiges, and an Evora. We outnumbered all the other marques. Corvettes and Porsches numbered five or six each. In addition to the aforementioned SLS and red Ferrari there was a gray Ferrari as well. And, of course, the usual assortment of Mustangs, Miatas, Minis, and BMWs. I think this is the first CECA event I’ve been to with no Vipers.

It was a pleasant day, clear and sunny, a bit breezy. A bit on the warm side, but not uncomfortable.

I enjoyed the second session quite a bit. My last few visits to HPR were the free day and the two Emich days – well over a hundred cars each time. With three groups instead of two, and so few cars, most of my laps were free of traffic. For the first four or five laps, Jeremy was following me in his Exige. He wanted to see my line. I was able to open up a little distance between us on the twisty bits, but with his extra horsepower he could catch me on the straights.

I wanted to switch places with him, follow him for a couple of laps and get his line on camera. The red Ferrari was behind him. In the first session, even though I was three or four seconds a lap slower than the second session, I was able to gain on the Ferrari. But in the second session he was now a bit faster than me. I waved Jeremy by but could only follow him for about a lap before I waved the Ferrari through. The rest of the session I worked hard to keep up with them. The Ferrari couldn’t catch Jeremy, and I couldn’t catch the Ferrari; we were all running very similar lap times. Following them, I put together my two best laps of the day.

Even so, my fast time was about five seconds slower than my best. I never put any wheels off the track (although Jeremy says I was consistently hanging half my left side tires off the outside of the kink before the highway straight), I felt like I was sliding around quite a bit. I need to figure out tire pressures.

With my big trip starting soon, today was sort of a shakedown run. We mounted the stock exhaust in preparation for Laguna Seca. We did an oil change and had the brakes flushed as well. It could be that the stock exhaust is part of my five second deficit. It’s quite a bit quieter – more restrictive – and it weighs fourteen pounds more.

I normally get faster every session, and I tend to run every session I can. But today didn’t work out that way. Jeremy said he could see something flopping around under my car. This winter I mounted a cheap splitter. I figured it would be a sacrificial piece; instead of grinding the front clam I’d grind the splitter instead and replace it as necessary.

However, this one is quite flimsy, and attached only with six bolts with large washers. You can take it between index finger and thumb and move it up and down. Certainly not an aerodynamic aide. Jeremy asked if I could feel it causing any vibration. After two sessions I hadn’t felt a thing.

Late in the third session, though, the story changed. Over about ninety I developed a huge vibration at the front, bad enough to move my rear view mirror. I cut the session short a lap or two. I’d have taken it off right there at the track but I couldn’t do it without lifting the front of the car. It has pretty much destroyed itself. The door edge trim piece I had on the edge was disappeared and the front of the spoiler looked like it had been run over by a tractor. I’m disappointed that it’s a total loss, but happy that it happened here instead of on my trip.2016-06-26 14.33.58sThis was caused entirely by the vibration – I didn’t go off.

Okay, I know nobody watches these videos, but here’s my fast lap. Nothing special here, the Ferrari isn’t close enough to get a good look and my time isn’t noteworthy.

What NOT to do

I finally got around to going through the in-car footage from the free track day at HPR a couple weeks ago.

I feel there’s an argument to be made that driving a car on a race track is the safest place you can do it. Nobody is on the phone or texting; everybody is going in the same direction; people wave colored flags at you if anything unexpected has happened in front of you; there’s no debris on the road; even if you go off the track there’s nothing to hit, and so on. Mind you, I’m talking about a track day, not a race. We all understand there’s nothing we’ll do during a track day that will make our cars more valuable and there are no F1 scouts looking for the next Lewis Hamilton.

Every track day I’ve participated in has begun with a drivers meeting. At each meeting we’re told the same things we’ve been told at all the other drivers meetings we’ve attended. “This is a yellow flag. When you see a yellow flag, slow down. No passing until the next manned corner station.”

Still, it seems some folks get on the track and get a bit too excited. These words appear to fall on deaf ears. When watching the video, keep in mind that the camera has quite a wide angle – the yellow flag is much more obvious in person than on the GoPro.

One of the drivers in the video is a student. I can only assume there is no instructor in the car, as I’d expect the instructor to notice the yellow flag. I understand that this car, this student, was involved in car to car contact during the session. I’ve never known of any contact at any other track day I’ve attended.

I see the case of the red Porsche as even less forgivable. The yellow flag has been out here for at least two laps. Did he not see the stricken Corvette two minutes earlier? Had he already forgotten? Even worse is that he passed me in that turn. The normal line is to begin way on the outside, then cut sharply to the apex. Had I not seen him, I’d have followed my line and we’d have occupied the same space. If I had any way to positively identify this guy, I’d make my case to track management that he is in need of remedial action. At every drivers meeting he’s attended, I’m sure, he’s been reminded that the car being passed gets to keep his line – it’s the responsibility of the passing driver to go around him.

HPR Customer Appreciation Day

Today was HPR’s much postponed free day.

I have never seen so many cars on this track before. When I registered they said there were 122 online registrations. The final count was 179. To say there were a hundred Porsches there would be an exaggeration. But there might have been 79.

I was one of three Lotus. Zach and Margarite ran their Exige in the slow group. Sarah was there with her black Elise; it ran in the fast group with me, but I don’t think she was the driver.

I was one of the first ones there and I got a pretty good spot in the paddock. I was surrounded by BMWs. One was a 335, four wheel drive, wrapped in a satin blue, running on Blizzak tires. These weren’t stealth Blizzaks – he was sporting the half inch tall lettering on the sidewalls. I wasn’t the first to ask them if they brought other tires. It was two kids, not long out of high school. They ran two laps, twice.

I gave them both rides. The first kid was the friend of the one who owned the car. He was pretty excited. He told me it was his first day at the track. I was kind of slow getting to the grid and when I entered the track the engine still wasn’t warmed up. I took it real easy, on the lookout for snow or water alongside or on the track. Even so, I go four wheels off in the hairpin. With four off I need to stop at the black flag station. I didn’t even complete a lap.

Exiting the track, my rider is saying, “That was great, thanks!”. He thought that was the end of his ride. “We haven’t even had a fast lap yet.”

In the drivers meeting, Pettiford said there was water in turn 4. There appeared to be a fairly dry line through the turn, but it was very narrow. There was a coating of slick mud on the outside. By the fourth session, there was too much water to be any fun so I quit after a few laps.

There were way too many cars. Too many questionable passes. I was passed three times under yellow. One of those cars was involved in contact with another car during that session. I wasn’t the only one who went off – most cars were muddier than mine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the track limit registrations to something like 120.

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.