LOG 35, Day 4

Monday, August 24

The printed schedule indicated an 8am start for track day, but this was incorrect. At the buffet last night, Ross made an announcement that we should be there at 7 instead. So it’s another early morning; I left the hotel before 6:30, stopped at the gas station to top off the tank, and headed south on I-25 to PPIR.

I was thinking I’d arrive just on time, thus being one of the later arrivals. To my surprise, the gate wasn’t open yet and we were queueing up in two lines. It didn’t take long to see that I was one of the earlier ones and we’d soon have people stacked up on the interstate. A few of us started directing traffic down the side road to a dirt lot. So much for the 7 o’clock start; the schedule would be shifted an hour.

After signing the track’s waiver at the gate, we stopped at another line before entering the track where we turned in our paperwork and picked up our numbers. I’ve done nearly 30 track days and this is the first one I’ve had to have a number.

I’ve only run laps at PPIR once before, with CECA. That time we were in the garages which was quite nice. Plenty of room to put our gear, out of the sun and wind. No garages today, though. After emptying the car and affixing our numbers and letters (I was A group, car 25) we went into the classroom for the drivers meeting.

Usually they go over all the rules – which flags are in use (typically just yellow, red, and black) and tell us where we are allowed to pass. They did talk about flags but passing zones must have been discussed in yesterday’s meeting, which I missed due to being here at the autocross. No worries; I’ve been here before and know the drill. I did get some good news and some bad news. The good news was that I didn’t have to have an instructor with me, not even for the first session. The bad news, I had to keep the soft top on. So the camera got mounted on the harness bar rather than top center where I have the new adhesive mount. I later found out I wasn’t allowed to take a passenger.

I didn’t count the A group cars. There were perhaps a dozen for the first session. Greg in his formula car, a couple Esprits, a couple Evoras, a couple Exiges, me and few others. We were the first group to run, so I was in a bit of a hurry after the meeting. This is when I found out that after upgrading my phone, I needed to sign on to my RaceChrono account in order to get lap times and OBD data. Unfortunately, I was unable to remember my password, so no data acquisition today. Oh well.

This was my first track day since I started wearing the Fitbit. I was curious how much I really work in the car. But I didn’t think of turning it on until the third run, and then I forgot to turn it off for a half hour. Maybe next time I’ll do better.

Today wasn’t really a track day – it officially was a driving school. That’s why I couldn’t take a passenger – only instructors were allowed passengers. Much as our autocross was run by SCCA, the driving school was run with the aid of the Mercedes Benz club. I’ve never run with them; because we were using their insurance we weren’t allowed to go topless unless we had arm restraints. This has never been the case for me before.

IMG_1473sBecause this was a driving school, I was a bit surprised to see nobody had put cones out on the course. Usually the organizers place cones at the apex of each turn at a minimum, plus turn in and run out. I assume they got the cones out after our first session as they were there next time. In any event, I had my line figured out after a few laps.

This is not my favorite track. No, that’s not true. It’s my least favorite track. We run on about three quarters of the speedway plus the small infield section. The road course section of most ovals takes up the majority of the infield. Here at PPIR, more than half the infield is taken by parking lots, garages, and other buildings. With so little room for the road section it’s a bit rinky-dink. And, of course, I’m not going to push very hard on the speedway section – a mistake here and you’re in the wall. All other tracks I’ve been on have plenty of room if you go off – there’s nothing to hit unless you really screw up.

IMG_1475sMost of the cars in my group were faster. I passed a yellow Esprit several times, and a blue Evora. But because we were not a large group, I only had to wave by faster cars a few times. In the second session, just as I was catching the yellow Esprit, Greg caught me in his formula car. The yellow Esprit waved him by, then waved me by. By the time I completed my pass, we were well into the turn on the speedway. A few corners later I was shown the black flag. Oops, I should have waited to pass him. I think I was the only driver given the black flag all day.

Between sessions I visited with a number of people. Most track days, I know many of the people from other events – the local track rats. Today I had the opportunity to socialize with folks from all over, including a couple from Ottawa. They had flown in, so weren’t participating; he said he enjoyed running at Loudon, New Hampshire. They solve their small infield problem by running a road section outside the oval.

I only ran three sessions. I normally have an extra five gallons of gas but didn’t bring the can with me on this trip. I normally try to run as many laps as I can – get my money’s worth. But missing a session here didn’t bother me that much. I was all packed up and on the road by 3:30 and home by 5:30. I’d almost forgotten how much fun rush hour traffic can be. I’m spoiled by working at home.

I couldn’t check out the Fitbit data until after I got home. I always knew I was working hard in the car – I’m often breathing pretty hard, and your basic rule of thumb is four heartbeats per breath – but I had no real sense of how hard. The Fitbit tells me I was in peak zone for three minutes and the cardio zone for fourteen. Total that’s a bit over half the time. When I wasn’t in the cardio zone my heart rate was still above 100 much of the time. So a half hour running laps in the car is not quite as strenuous as hiking for a half hour.


I spent Saturday at the track, my first visit to Pikes Peak International Raceway.

The track was built in 1997. Before that, it was horse race track. They ran IRL and Busch series races there before it was shut down a while back. It was closed for three years before it was sold. Some NASCAR testing is done here, along with club racing. There’s a deed restriction that prohibits them from hosting any major racing series. CECA has a day there every year.

When it was built, it was one of the fastest 1 mile ovals in the world. Seems counter intuitive to me, as the elevation (5,360′) means lower horsepower. It’s a D-shaped oval, with a short road course in the infield. The road course is 1.3 miles long, which includes about three quarters of the speedway.

I wanted to do this one last year, but things didn’t work out. In the mean time, I’ve talked to a few people who’ve run there to get their impressions. Reviews were mixed – one guy said it was his favorite track while another wasn’t very impressed. I was looking forward to forming my own opinion.

I left the house promptly at six and collected Judd at his place forty minutes later. He didn’t sign up to run but wanted to come out to watch and get a ride or two. Turns out, he didn’t bring his helmet or much to eat, either.

The forecast for Denver was 60 degrees and mostly sunny. I didn’t think to check the forecast for Colorado Springs, but expected it to be much the same. We were past Castle Rock before sunrise. Not far south of there it was foggy, which cleared up before Monument Hill. We stopped in Fountain where I gassed up (car and can) and Judd got coffee. Here he told me my left turn signal wasn’t working.

We were at the track in plenty of time to get the inspection signed off and head to the drivers meeting. We used the south garage. I forget what the car count was, but the garage accommodates 36 cars and we didn’t quite fill it up. When we got there, a very pretty yellow Ferrari 458 cabrio was in the garage, but he moved it outside before the meeting. It wasn’t running today, sadly. After the inspector stickered my car, they asked Judd if he was ready. He told them he was just spectating, but it didn’t take much convincing to get him to fork over the entry fee and join the fun.

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In the garage

I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but we had four Elises, a bunch (herd? stable?) of Mustangs, three Miatas, a Mini or two, two BMWs (an M Coupe and 5M), a ZR1, a Viper, a few Porsches, a Pantera, an Acura NSX, a BRZ and an FR-S. The M Coupe owner keeps a set of slicks at the track and Alan runs his Viper on R6’s to and from the track but other than those two I don’t recall anybody else running slicks. Judd and I were on the same tires, his not much older than my rears. But my fronts are pretty much shot, with something like 15,000 miles on them.

Eric, Judd, and I were all parked together, near the south end of the garage. Eric ran in the red group, I was in the blue, and Judd started blue and switched to red. I had both my helmets with me. As I said earlier, Judd wasn’t planning on driving and although he intended to get a ride, forgot his hat. I said he could borrow mine. Then Kenny showed up with a friend, so we had Judd switch groups so I could take a passenger.

As there weren’t that many cars, the stewards decided that after the first session for each group, they’d combine green and blue. Blue was first out while green had their ground school. We were on track shortly after nine. It was mostly cloudy with temperatures in the mid thirty’s and fairly breezy.

From the paddock, we turn left onto pit lane. Pit out stays on the infield all the way around turns 1 and 2 and joins the track on the back straight. Before speedway turn 3, the road course makes a left onto the infield. At turn 9, the infield course ends and you go onto the 10 degree banking of the speedway, through turns 1 and 2 and onto the back straight again.

Frankly, the speedway frightened me a little. At HPR if you make a mistake and go off, or have a mechanical failure and go off, you really have to mess up to do anything more than get your car dirty. At Pueblo there’s only one place where there’s a wall anywhere close to the track. At the CSP facility you don’t want to go off because if you hit a big rock you’ll damage your car.

But on the speedway, there’s no run-off – the track goes right up to the wall. There are a number of lurid skid marks, each terminating with a nasty mark on the wall. Low in turn 2 there are some bumps. Here, if you mess up, or have something break, you hit the wall and the car’s not damaged: it’s destroyed.

So I took it pretty gingerly on the speedway. Particularly with my front tires being not so great right now. I did try a few different lines through there. We were only allowed to pass on the front and back straights of the speedway, so if I caught somebody on the infield, they’d go high and wave me past on the inside. And if I didn’t pass somebody there, I’d get set up so that if they were paying attention I’d be ready to pass before getting back to the infield. People seemed reluctant to wave me by on the back straight, and when I was working a corner I didn’t see any passing there at all. So I guess I was fortunate to be able to pass there the two or three times I did.

In the first session, I logged ten timed laps and managed a 1:13.8. On the speedway section, I was hitting the low 90s on the front and back straights, and high 70s in the turn. I ran four sessions with the other three being 24, 19, and 23 laps. By the end of the day, I managed to hit 100 on the back straight. I was only a mile or two an hour faster on the front straight and the turn but was braking a bit later. I bettered my time each session, getting a 1:12.5 in the last.

We ate our lunches in the room we held the drivers meeting. I chatted with Kenny and his friend (Josh?). Then they announced the parade laps so we headed back out. I had Josh ride for the parade laps and Kenny would get to ride the next session. The parade laps were led by the 458. Behind him was a black Porsche, and Josh and I were third. We never went more than 60, and I’m pretty sure I did every lap without hitting the brakes. Josh seemed to enjoy it, though, so it’s all good.

Kenny was a passenger for the third session. Not on purpose, we were first in line. I normally go to these thinking I’ll be the slowest car in my session. I don’t think this has ever been true, but in the first session I don’t think I passed anybody and only remember passing a few cars in the second session. So I was thinking I’d be getting passed before long.

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View from corner position in turn 9

We ran the out lap, then four timed laps in “clean air”. Then we started catching people. We passed Miatas, Porsches, and Mustangs. We passed the Pantera. It was great fun. Kenny noticed how much later I could brake than just about everybody we caught up to. Part of that, surely, is that many of the drivers had never driven on a race track before and had no real idea how late they could brake. We were only passed by the M5 and the BRZ (or was it the FR-S?).

The video is from my fourth session. It’s not my fastest lap, that happened two laps later. This lap was 1.1 seconds slower due to traffic, but at least you get to see something other than my boot lid. By this time, the faster cars had either left for the day or moved to the red session, leaving me the fastest car on the track.

It was a fun day. I enjoyed running on a new track. The facility was nice. But I’m not sure how often I’ll come back here. Of the four tracks I’ve driven on, this one is my least favorite.