Due to 2020 being generally shitty, this looks to be my only track day of the year. It could be argued that, if I had any sense, I wouldn’t even do this one day. A paranoid person might think that it is tempting fate: why give 2020 additional opportunities for mayhem?
The original plan was that I’d have a guest. For a while it looked like one of my track buddies would attend as well. None of that came to pass: my guest messed up his back last weekend and my track buddy decided to be a responsible parent and attend a parent-teacher conference. So it goes.
I arrived early because I wanted to be relaxed in my preparations. It seems whenever I have any time pressure, I mess something up. Never anything serious, but I prefer to have things go smoothly. So I had a bit of time to kill. If the food truck had been open, I’d have spent some of the time eating. I brought a snack with me, but not a meal.
We are typically split into fast and slow groups. I picked the slow group. When I signed in, I asked if we had enough cars to do this. It seems we did. However, during the drivers’ meeting, we were told that the number of entrants was marginal. We’d do fast/slow groups the first hour and after that, we could run as we pleased. Judging by wristbands at the meeting, I guessed there were more slow cars than fast ones.
I was the only Lotus.
The track’s website listed rules for COVID: only people in your own household could be passengers; social distancing should be maintained; masks are required when not wearing a helmet. It didn’t appear that these rules were being enforced. Few of my paddock neighbors wore masks, and some even attempted to shake my hand when introducing themselves.
The weather was ideal, unless you count the smoke from the forest fires, be they here in Colorado or on the west coast. There was no obvious smoke smell, but the haze was significant. The temperature was pleasant and there was no breeze to speak of.
The slow group was up first; we’d have a half hour, but by the time the meeting was over and I made it out on track it was more like 25 minutes.
This is the first time on track since the engine replacement, lighter flywheel, rear brake pads, and new diffuser. I didn’t notice any particular difference, but it has been nearly a year so it’s not a good side-by-side comparison.
I had some considerable traction issues that I’m blaming on tire pressures. (That said, I didn’t change pressure in any sort of attempt to correct the problem.) The real issue of the evening was my brakes. Midway through that first session, my brake pedal started getting long. Brake fluid level was okay. The problem is most likely old fluid. The brakes cooled down between sessions, so things were okay at the start of each session and I’d have increasing fade lap after lap. None of my sessions was very long, so this was an annoyance and something to be closely monitored rather than a significant problem. I can only think it would have been much worse on a regular summer track day when the ambient temperature is twenty or thirty degrees higher.
When I went out for my second session, the check engine light illuminated. I came back into the pits immediately and checked the codes. I had two: P0463 and P1302. P0463 is “Fuel Level Sensor Circuit High Input” which indicates a fuel level that exceeds the fuel tank’s capacity. I filled up in Byers but didn’t fill more than usual. Certainly, after 17 highway miles and 8 laps, I wouldn’t expect this code. I’ve had the P1302 (misfire) once or twice before. I cleared the codes and went back out. If they returned, I’d call it quits. They never did.
I ran a short third session. I would have liked to have gone longer, but was limited by my brake problem. I called it quits after that, as the sun had dropped below the horizon and I figured that by the time my brakes were sufficiently cooled, it would be too dark to put in any good times.
My best time was in the first session, 2:13.40, which I think is a decent time for the street tires. Not spectacular, and I won’t bother putting that lap up on YouTube. Today’s video is mercifully short. This time of year, the sun sets directly over the highway straight. This would normally be quite bothersome, but with the smoke it’s not an issue at all. The camera doesn’t do the scene justice.
And there are my two errors, both exiting the corkscrew. First, I’m too abrupt when pulling out to pass the M3 and I get quite a wobble. The second time, I hit the curb, unsettling the car and causing me to put two wheels off. (The guy behind me on that last one caught it on his camera, but hasn’t sent me a copy yet.)
At least my brake pads are quiet now. (These pads handle high heat, work when cold, are relatively dust-free, and quiet. Except when brand new, when they sound like a locomotive horn when coming to a stop. They need a track day to get quiet.)
Considering how few laps I ran, I was surprised at the physical toll. When I got home, I was quite fatigued and the next morning I had a few more aches and pains than I was expecting.
I’ve run laps at La Junta one time before, two years ago with CECA. I really had a good time. I describe the track as “rinky dink” yet outstanding: it’s short and flat with six right turns and only one left turn. And yet it’s the only track I’ve been on with a turn that I can take at 100mph. On street tires.
I’ve been wanting to get back there. Last year I made a half-hearted attempt to get the LoCo track rats to do a day. Nothing came of it. This year I put in a bit more effort. After a series of emails with Ryan and Dave to come up with a few possible dates I reached out to Allan at La Junta Raceway to see what we could do. And so we had our first LoCo Track day at La Junta Raceway.
Saturday, October 12
Google Maps tells me La Junta Raceway is 192 miles from my house. The sensible thing to do would be to get a room, as I did last time. But I often get up before 5:00am when I’m hiking, so why should I treat this any different? So I packed the car last night and set my alarm for 4:40. I was out of the house at 5, at the gas station in La Junta a few minutes after 8, and at the track in plenty of time for the 8:30 drivers meeting.
Entry was $100, which is about what HPR charges for half a day. We were hoping we could get 5 Lotus out there. We did get 5 signed up, but Dave’s Elise is up for sale at FoD and his Porsche is leaking fluids, so he scratched. When I looked at the roster Thursday evening there were 9 cars. We had six show up and one of those wasn’t one of those 9.
We ran in two groups: LoCo at the top of the hour, the “mixed group” at half past. It wasn’t so much a mixed group as a German duo: a Porsche and an M series BMW. Allan provided pizza for lunch and coffee and donuts for the drivers meeting.
The meeting had all the usual stuff: talk about the flags, passing, entering and leaving the track. The unusual stuff took up most of the agenda.
My first visit here we ran the whole day counter-clockwise. This is the orientation the track was built for. Today we’d do the morning sessions clockwise and do the normal way in the afternoon. So that was a big topic in the meeting. There are non-trivial concerns when running the track the wrong way. One of the (concrete) corner bunkers is on the outside of the exit of a turn and there are no tires on this side of it. There’s a giant cottonwood tree on the outside of the end of the fastest turn on the track. And the end of the pit wall would be a bad thing to hit.
Oregon Raceway Park was designed to be run in both directions, and that’s what we did on my visit there. I found it disorienting and never had enough laps to get comfortable on it in either direction. La Junta is much smaller and simpler, and I was certainly comfortable running it the normal way. Our first session was only about fifteen minutes as we got a late start. But that’s okay. It was still fairly chilly. Nobody would be going very fast with cold tires on a cold track.
I ran with the top off, as usual. Under my driving suit I had my sweater and hoodie. I was bulky but warm. By the second session I shedded those layers as the weather turned ideal. Sunny, calm, mid-60’s or even low-70’s.
The track is adjacent to the airport. Back in WWII it was La Junta Army Airfield, a training base that accommodated a large number of twin engine aircraft on its three runways. Deactivated in 1946, it’s much calmer these days, and only two runways have been used since then. The track uses the southern end of the disused runway and taxiway. I may have missed one or two, but I saw four or five planes and a helicopter all day. The helicopter is that of the local medical transport outfit.
One of the pilots stopped by and visited with us. Interesting guy. Flew for the Marines for 26 years, recently started doing medical transport. Works seven days on, seven days off; twelve hours on, twelve hours off. He had lots of questions about the cars. I loved his language. The cars are ships, horsepower is thrust, speeds are in knots. Upgraded brakes and tires are “varsity” brakes and tires. I’m surprised he didn’t call us drivers “pilots”. I told him if he could borrow a helmet I’d give him a ride.
Got him strapped in, told him I wouldn’t be able to hear him once we were going, and headed out. He was very enthusiastic, giving me a big thumbs-up after each turn. Then I made a mistake. Exiting the fastest turn and onto the long straight, I miss the shift from fourth to fifth and instead did fourth to third. I caught it in an instant and got into a correct gear. Damn. But nothing happened. Well, it seemed nothing happened. Half a lap later when I entered a braking zone and lifted off the throttle the car made a bad rattling noise. I went back to the paddock.
It sounded and felt good on the throttle, only making the rattle off throttle. After a short trip around the paddock I didn’t drive it again. I did start it twice more for a few seconds each time. The consensus was a rattling exhaust or a broken motor mount. I didn’t say anything about my missed shift. We took the diffuser and access panel off and poked around. No problems with exhaust or motor mounts. Listening to the last few seconds I ran it, it was clear to me it was inside the motor. I’m screwed.
Finally somebody asked if I’d missed a shift.
I lied. I said “no.”
Why did I do that? Obviously, I should have led the investigation with the admission that I missed a shift. Would have saved everybody the trouble of looking for rattling exhaust or broken motor mounts. Why did I lie?
I’ve driven stick shift cars for thirty years, more than four hundred thousand miles, and about fifty track days. Only missed shifts I’ve ever made have been second to fifth instead of second to third. Never the money shift.
For a long time, I’ve taken pride in the notion that I’m kind to the equipment, getting more miles out of brakes and clutches and tires than most of my peers. But this notion is under assault: twice I’ve had suspension bolts fail on the track, had wheel lugs fail, broke a motor mount, and replaced the clutch at 80,000 miles. Now the money shift.
I also take some measure of pride in thinking of myself as an honest guy. I claim to value honesty, openness, and transparency. If I was open and transparent I’d have said I missed the shift first thing. If I was honest, I wouldn’t have denied it when asked.
We gave up looking at my car when the pizza arrived, and I tried to relax for the next few hours. When I could think of things other than the events of the morning the time seemed to pass faster. So when Kevin asked if I’d like to ride with him and maybe drive his car for a couple laps of instruction I agreed. I’m not an instructor. I often have to reflect on events after the fact to realize exactly what’s going on. My videos help a lot on this. Maybe I rely too much on the videos, and if I didn’t have them I’d be better at being in the moment.
In any event, I did my best to see what tips I could share with Kevin. This is only his second track day, so he’s a bit of a clean slate. I didn’t try to communicate anything to him until after we did a full lap, then I tried to correct his line in a few places. In general, he wasn’t getting the car close enough to the apexes, he tended to apex early, and often didn’t let the car run out to the edge of the track exiting the corners.
After five laps we swapped places and I drove. I drove three laps; an out lap, a hot lap, and an in lap and we switched back. He then drove another five laps. His times after seeing what I did improved by four or five seconds a lap, and were more consistent from lap to lap. He’s so new at this, I’d expect his times to steadily improve with practice without my input, but I think I helped him out quite a bit.
The guy in the BMW was there giving a ride to his grandfather who used to race cars back in the fifties. The grandfather, whom I’d never met before and who, to this point, I’ve exchanged maybe a dozen words with, said if he still had his trailer he’d get me and the car home. You meet some pretty nice folks at the race track. (Addendum: I wasn’t the only mechanical victim of the day. The BMW driver had a broken strut and when we left, his car was still out on the track.)
The obvious next issue was how to get the car home. The obvious answer was to ask Ryan what it would take to get him to drive his Exige home and put my car in his trailer. All it took was to ask. Ryan is a lifesaver.
Ryan drove his car and I drove the truck with trailer. I got out of the gas station before he did, so we were separated from the start. He’d programmed the GPS in the truck to navigate to his house so I didn’t bother with using my phone. This turned out to be a problem. The truck’s satnav didn’t know there’s a bridge out. I stopped and consulted my phone. It said I could go a few hundred yards ahead to take a county road east. I should have turned around right there, but instead I followed my phone’s directions.
I got to this first county road and it looked like somebody’s driveway. Phone says there’s another one up ahead. So I went to the next one. It was a nice gravel road, but it looked like it dead-ended. On I went. The next county road was a just a double track, like a single lane jeep road. No way I was going to pull this trailer down any of these roads.
So I had to turn around and go back. I got to sort of a wide spot and managed to flip a u-turn without sinking into the shoulder, having to back up, or jack-knifing the rig. The detour took me six miles east to cross the river, then six miles back to the road I was on. But I think it was still a better route than dealing with the construction on I-25.
Ryan was using his phone for nav, so he got routed across the river without incident and was now almost ten miles ahead of me.
Our first waypoint was Limon, where we could stop and grab a bite. But this is quite a bit up the road, so I had plenty of time to reflect on the day. I was pretty down about my driving error and tried not to think about how much it might cost to repair. I was also quite ashamed about lying about it.
I phoned Michael and confessed about the money shift. I was originally thinking we’d take the car home, but given our limited resources it was obvious the best plan was just to drop it off at FoD. The LoCo meeting was scheduled for the next day, so I’d be able to explain it all to Ryan and discuss the way forward. (Oh dear. I generally don’t use last names here, but we now have two Ryans in the story. I was going to use last initials, but they’re both Ryan C.)
We dropped the car at FoD at about 8:00pm. Ryan offered to give me a lift home, but that’s not an optimal choice. I took a Lyft instead.
Sunday, October 13
The meeting was scheduled for noon, so I got there about 11:30. Ryan was right there when I pulled up, and I gave him my tale of woe. It would be the first of many tellings, as we had a nice turnout. Before long, I realized I was a topic of conversation. Everybody knew the story pretty quickly. So it goes. I was a little surprised that so many people weren’t familiar with the term “money shift”.
I told Ryan to take his time getting to it. I’m sure he has a few cars in front of me. He’ll take a good look at it and let me know the diagnosis and we’ll discuss a treatment plan.
Here’s the video. A couple of laps to get a feel for the track when going the wrong way. Note the unprotected bunker (0:34), the tree (1:00), and the end of the pit wall (1:07). I had a couple of faster laps later in the session, but the forward facing camera died half way through. Evidently, I need to plug that camera into the charger after every session.
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!
Autobahn Country Club is a country club that, instead of being focused on golf or tennis, is all about performance driving. Members there have access to a race track that can be run in three configurations (North, South, Full Course), a skid pad, and a go-kart track. They can build a garage on-site for all their toys. Most such facilities are open only to members and their guests, but Autobahn sometimes hosts club track days. When I started planning this trip, I thought it would be worth a shot to ask if I could lap there on a guest pass of some sort. After a few emails and phone calls, it was all arranged.
And so, here I am, ready to see how the other half lives.
It was a leisurely morning as I didn’t need to be at the track until 9am. On Thursdays they run a later schedule that varies through the summer, based more or less on when the sun sets. So my first session wouldn’t start until 10:20am. Before that, I needed to visit their instructor. It wasn’t to get any instruction, per se, but to cover all the stuff we usually cover in the drivers meeting.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The clock radio in my room went
off at 6:10 this morning, tuned to a Spanish language station. Much
of this trip I’ve been getting up at 6:10, but today I wanted to
sleep in a little longer. Didn’t happen.
Went downstairs for breakfast. Same fare as the hotel in Toledo, likely because it’s the same chain. The TV was on the news as it usually is in these places. I’m never particularly interested, but the weather report did catch my attention. They said that this May is now officially the wettest May recorded in Chicago history: a bit more than 8 inches of rain. We get about 14.5 inches of precipitation all year in Denver.
At the track, after getting registered at the front gate, I went to the clubhouse to introduce myself to Ron, the fellow who arranged for me to be here. He told me a bit about the place – when they opened, how many members they have, what improvements they’re working on, and so forth. Then he took me down to meet Tony Kester, one of their instructors. I guess you could call him their resident Stig. He raced professionally for some time, participating in the American Le Mans Series as well as at least one 24 Hours of Le Mans. (A golf club has golf pros, a tennis club has tennis pros, ergo a track club has race pros.)
We covered the usual drivers meeting material – flags, passing rules, passing zones, their LED lights, entering and exiting the track – and sent me on my way. I unloaded the car in an out of the way place. (“Over there by the bleachers is probably best. Members aren’t used to people laying out a bunch of stuff” as those who don’t have garages on-site probably trailer their cars.) Then I headed on to the track.
By now I had two wristbands. One said that I’d paid, the other
that I’d had my meeting with Tony. (Presumably members get
different color wristbands that indicate they only need the one.) The
drill is to go to the end of pit lane and stop. Race control will
have you sign in (actually, he just asked me my name) and when
they’re ready they’ll release you onto the track.
The first session was horrible. Although it wasn’t raining, it rained overnight and there were rivers running across the track. Not just one or two, but nearly everywhere. At the time, I think there were only three turns that were dry. I crawled around the track. Even so, I was going sideways quite a bit. Not “sideways, this is fun!” but “sideways I’m not in control!” I put four wheels off once and was sliding around quite a bit. It was not fun.
As well, I managed to pick the wrong configuration for the lap timer so I wasn’t getting any data (I had selected the North course instead of the South course). In this case, good riddance. There wasn’t any worthwhile data from this session.
Back in the clubhouse I talked to Ron again. “Have Tony show you the wet line.” Great idea. We tracked Tony down. Rewind a bit here. When Tony and I had our little drivers meeting, somebody showed up and asked him if he gave rides to a couple of guys yesterday. “Yes, both at the same time. It was really wet. I don’t think they puked, but they sure looked sick.” So Tony gets a car (an Audi RS5 Quattro, I believe) and takes me for a ride.
The first time around he’s more or less on the line you’d take in the dry. Periodically, he’s doing massive steering inputs or abrupt throttle or brakes to see how much grip there is. It’s a little unsettling. The next two times around he’s following the “wet” line, which is taking the outside of the turn rather than hitting the apex. He was giving a running commentary: “It’s good here. Still pretty slick through here. You have to avoid this puddle” and so on. The wet line works most places, but not all. Anyway, I think I get the idea and he drops me off and puts the car away. His parting shot was, “It’s easier with all-wheel drive!”
While Tony was schooling me on the wet line, a Corvette was out on the track. Well, he was out part of the time. He put it well off the track in the same location I did, but while I was able to regain the track, he needed a tow. He gave up after that, having completed two laps. His times were in the three minute range, probably about what mine were.
After my lesson from Tony, Ron came and found me. He tells me he’s signed me up to drive their BMW M2 Competition Coupe for their touring lap session. In this session we’ll be driving around behind the pace car, not above 50mph or so. No helmet required. They have a Jag I’d like to drive, but Ron tells me it’s always reserved. So the M2 works for me. During the course of the day, several people tell me that’s their favorite car of the bunch. (They have a dozen or so cars for this purpose – Audi, Lexus, BMW, the Jag.)
By now I see that I’m the only one dumb enough to waste his time at the track today. It’s just too wet. And the consensus is that the track won’t dry out, and we may actually get more rain. I’m not exactly pleased. I’ve decided that this whole thing may be a waste of my time and money. If it’s not going to get any better, I may as well leave and do something else. I was pretty down.
But I go out for another session. It’s still wet almost everywhere. I can’t follow the line I’d like to learn: the fast way around a dry track. I can’t turn in where I want, or apex where I want, or brake where I want, or even shift where I want. I’m always looking for the water. It’s drying out a little. I think. Maybe. But I manage to keep it on the track. For a long time. Technically, each run group is given a twenty minute session. But because I’m the only idiot out there, they’ll let me run until I give up. So after 35 minutes I give up. The good news is, I manage to steadily improve.
At lunch time I discover that I’ve somehow lost my credit card. It’s not my only one, so it’s just a pain in the ass and not a total disaster. No idea how I’ve lost it. I didn’t leave it at registration, and haven’t had to use it since. Where could it have gone? Anyway, after lunch is the touring lap session. Just as I’m finishing my sandwich, a gentleman comes by to give me the keys to the BMW. Well, a key fob anyway. There’s no such thing as a car key any more. Then he says, “Not to be demeaning or anything, but do you know how to put this car in park?”
Move the gear selector to “P”? This is not the correct answer.
“When you pull into the parking space, leave it in drive and turn
it off.” We head off to the cars for the laps. It takes me a few
seconds to figure out how to get it into drive. Old dog, new tricks,
I guess. It has paddle shifters but I don’t even try to figure this
Heading on to the track it’s the pace car, another BMW, me, and the Jag. We’re following the dry line even though there’s still quite a few wet spots and puddles. After a few laps it’s pretty obvious to me that we’re doing pretty good lap times. We’re not going very fast down the straights, but we’re not really slowing for the turns. I manage to dig my phone out of my pocket and get the timer running. I didn’t try to turn off any driver aids, but perhaps not all the nannies were enabled. I managed to get it somewhat sideways through the puddles a few times, as did the other BMW driver.
By the time we exit the track my soul has been a little bit crushed. Our parade laps were faster than what I managed the previous session. When I got out of the car, the other BMW driver was talking to Kyle, who was driving the pace car. “Thanks for those last two laps!” Kyle winked and said, “We never went over 50, did we?” Then I showed him my lap timer and my times from my previous session. He laughed (not in a malicious way). It is somewhat funny.
I got to talking with Kyle. He noticed my HPR hat and asked how I liked the place. He says he’s been wanting to run there but hasn’t been able to make it work yet. I told him about the facilities, that it’s a bit crude (no running water, for example) but that the track itself is great. He said he’d worked at a place like that: in the middle of nowhere and porta-potties instead of toilets. I asked him where that was. “Oregon Raceway Park”. Hey, I’ve been there!
By the time of my next session, the sun had been shining for a
while, and we had a little breeze. The track was very nearly dry. I
started really trying to get on it, on the dry line. There were still
a few places where I couldn’t do it, where I had to adjust to avoid
some water, or tiptoe through a turn to avoid spinning, but I was
easily faster than before. All my laps were under two minutes, and my
best was 1:53.27. Not a particularly fast lap, but maybe better than
I’d have done in my first session had it been dry all day.
I had two more sessions after that. I improved my time to 1:48.05. In the clubhouse, they have a screen that is constantly updated with members times. All (or maybe just most) members run with transponders. Their times are displayed on a large monitor. I don’t have a transponder, of course, so my times weren’t included. But by now there were two members out running their spec Miatas. They were lapping in the 1:43’s. Tony asked me which Miatas they were. I described them and he said they were both very good drivers. He thought my time was pretty good given the conditions, my tires, and my lack of experience on this track.
In my penultimate session, I managed to kill another bird (my second on this trip). For a short while I was concerned it was stuck to my car somehow, mashed into the grill or something. Next time around the dead bird was in the middle of the track. At least is wasn’t in a place where I was going to run over it again.
In the last session I failed to improve my time. I got close, but couldn’t best it. (I’d have liked to run a few more laps, but I timed it perfectly. At the gas station down the street I pumped 9.8 gallons of gas into my 10 gallon tank.)
I finished the day with a beer in the clubhouse, packed up all my
stuff, made a final search for my missing credit card, and hit the
road. My first stop was the gas station a couple miles down the road.
I’m glad it wasn’t any farther: I poured 9.8 gallons of gas into
my 10 gallon tank.
My last session started at 6:05, so I didn’t leave the facility until about 7. On the way back to the hotel, at a stoplight a guy in the next lane told me my right headlight is out. So now I’m missing the right front turn signal and right headlight. There’s no damage from the bird strike, so I guess I’m just lucky all my lights are going dim at the same time. (Luck is when bad things happen; everything else is skill.)
Addendum: I found my credit card a couple days later, and now all the turn signals are working again. So it’s just the headlight.
This is a very nice facility. This is the third track I’ve been to that is “members only”. The first was ORP, mentioned above. When I was there, it was more primitive than HPR. The other is Woody Creek, also very primitive. Nothing primitive about Autobahn.
The track is more or less what I expected. We’re in Illinois, so I was expecting it to be as flat as a tabletop. It did have some subtle elevation change, just enough to catch the eye but not enough to challenge the driver. Drainage was a bit of a problem, but as alluded to earlier, this was the rainiest May recorded for the area. In addition to the rivers that ran across the track there were several places where the water percolated up through the asphalt. They really have worked hard on drainage, but what can you do in extreme conditions?
For most of the day, I had the place to myself. The aforementioned Corvette made two laps, and a couple of Miatas ran maybe a dozen laps each. When they left the track, they headed to their garages. So I never met another driver all day. I met quite a few Autobahn employees in the clubhouse, and perhaps one or two members who were there but not driving. The lack of other drivers to talk to was largely due to the track conditions.
Having the place to myself was a bit odd. It was great not having to deal with any traffic at all. Every lap was unimpeded. That’s never happened to me before and probably never will again. On the other hand, track days are very much social events. I like wandering around the paddock talking to the other drivers. Mine was the only car in the paddock. But I’m sure if the conditions had been more normal I’d have had somebody to talk to.
I’m not a man of the means required to be a member. My guest pass was a one-time thing, as a courtesy to an enthusiast passing through. If I lived in the area, I’d go back for a club day (North Woods Shelby Club runs there). I think it’s great that they open the facility up to non-members occasionally.
In spite of the rocky start, I had a great time. Everybody was friendly and made me feel at home. So I give a tip of the hat and a hearty “thank you” to Ron and the rest for hosting me.
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 Ken 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.
I registered for the afternoon session of the most recent Emich sponsored track day. After all the changes we made to the car, it’s only prudent to get her out on the track before I drive cross-country for events at Mid-Ohio and Autobahn.
I’ve done a few Emich days before. In fact, my last track day was an Emich day. That didn’t end well. I was running on slicks, made a minor driver error, spun the car and broke the motor mounts. Aside from that, I thought it was a pretty good day: everyone was fairly well-behaved and each track session had less traffic than the one before as many of the folks who registered for the full day got tired and left.
But this may be the last.
When I picked up my wristband I asked about the car count. “Seventy or so. Not too bad.” If equally divided between novice and experienced, that’s three dozen cars on track at the same time. That’s a traffic jam. Oh well, it will get better as folks leave.
But my assumption is that the guys (and it was all guys) running in the experienced group are actually experienced and not novices.
I’ve been to so many drivers meetings at HPR I could easily run them. All the usual stuff gets covered: how to get on and off the track, what the lights and flags mean, and passing rules. For the experienced group, we have open passing. Meaning you don’t need a point-by to pass, and you can do it wherever you think it’s safe. There are two things of particular interest to me, and if Glen doesn’t mention them, I’ll raise my hand. First is reminding the high horsepower cars that if they see a low horsepower car in their mirrors, please don’t race down the straight and that they’ll need to lift to let us by. Second is that it’s the responsibility of the passing car to go around the slower car. It’s not the responsibility of the slower car to get out of the way.
I brought up the first one, and somebody else brought up the second. When I made my comment about horsepower differences, Glen reinforced it by saying that horsepower doesn’t matter: if somebody caught up to you, they’re faster. Let them by. The other point was reiterated as well. The slower car should not deviate from his line.
I Lose My Composure
In my second session I caught up to a silver Corvette. I was faster everywhere on the track except the straights, where he used his horsepower to get away. I was behind him for nearly a lap, and when we got onto the long straight I expected him to let me by. Instead, he hauled ass ahead only for me to catch him in the next turn. Later that lap, I pointed Dave Green by me. At the start of the straight Dave pulls out to pass, but the Corvette hauls ass again, totally unaware he is now holding up two Lotus behind him. We finally get around him after turn 5.
Next time around there are flashing yellow lights: said silver Corvette is stopped on the inside of turn seven. Well, he won’t be holding anybody up any longer. But he is there for the rest of the session while the tow truck deals with him. So we have yellow flag (actually, flashing yellow lights) conditions there: get off the throttle until you pass the incident.
Meanwhile, in my mirrors I see a brown Cadillac catching me. Sort of. He’s not making any headway at all in the turns but is much faster on the straights. On the highway straight he gets optimistic and pulls to the inside thinking he’ll outbrake me into 4. He’s not even close. He doesn’t see that I’m braking much later than he is.
Next time around, he’s still quite a ways back. He dive bombs me again and is able to sneak inside. He doesn’t remember the comment during the meeting that “there are no F1 scouts here today. Nobody will be impressed by dive bombing somebody into a turn.” Under ideal conditions, he can’t take the turn as fast as I can, and it’s even worse for him because he’s way to the inside. So we go through the turn about 20 mph slower than normal for me. But he’s ahead now, so he’s happy.
A few seconds later we’re in the yellow flag area, passing the tow truck and the stricken Corvette. At the hairpin we are good to go to full throttle again, and we do. We’re headed through the downhill esses, a right-left-right combination under full throttle. A glance in the mirror and what do I see? A Camaro moving to my left, attempting to pass here. This is the second worst place to try to pass on this track. Where does he think I’m going to go? Does he expect me to just disappear?
It’s the faster driver’s responsibility to make a safe pass, and the slower driver should keep on his line. My line goes apex to apex to apex, crossing the entire width of the track twice through here. And this guy is going to pass?
The Corvette driver was being oblivious and rude by not paying attention to his mirrors. But he wasn’t dangerous. The Cadillac driver was overly optimistic and in a hurry; couldn’t wait to actually catch me. He didn’t understand the differences in our cars and abilities but because he did this at the end of the straight, I had no trouble seeing him and knowing where he was. He could easily have put me off by forcing me to slow down so much more than usual; I couldn’t take my line because he stole it. If I couldn’t slow down enough I’d have gone off.
Where the Camaro wanted to pass me is a different story. It’s not straight. He put himself in my blind spot; I couldn’t tell where he was going. I have a split second to act. The only sensible thing to do is to stay on my line. If he presses his pass, either we collide or he goes off. Any experienced driver knows this is a bad place to pass and will wait the few seconds to pass.
He passes me after the turns. And I express my displeasure with an extended middle finger. I lost my composure. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m generally pretty good about not doing that on the streets, and I’ve never done it before on the track. I was wrong.
But the Camaro driver was a dangerous idiot.
Who promptly found me in the paddock. If I’d have been able to track him down to chat, I’d have started by apologizing for flipping him off. But instead I got a face full of belligerence. “You got a problem with my driving?” and “I’m allowed to pass anywhere” and “I’m going to wrap your head around your steering wheel” and “I’ll kick your ass”. My response to the last was “Bring it on.” I figure if he assaults me, he goes to jail. Then he changed tack from threatening to insulting: “You’re a shitty driver”, “Your car is stupid”, “Your jumpsuit is stupid”. He continues: “I’ve been here several times, you don’t know what you’re doing out there.” He finally decides to walk away, but keeps turning around and continuing: “You’re shaking your head. You’re shaking! You’re a coward!”
Obviously, I’m writing this a couple days later. Yesterday I looked at the video. Should I have seen him before I did? It turns out that he showed up behind me because he didn’t slow down for the tow truck. I don’t know if he was on full throttle up the hill, but he caught me and the Cadillac from a great distance. We didn’t slow to a crawl, and I’d guess the Camaro was doing 15 or 20 mph more than us. That might not have been full throttle, but it was way too fast with the tow truck right there.
I lost my composure because these three things happened back to back to back. It’s not the first time for any of these things but the combination made me lose my cool. I will learn from it. But I really don’t think the other drivers will. I’m reasonably certain none of them knows that they did anything wrong.
So my self-defense will be to avoid HPR track days where I expect a big car count. CECA days may be more expensive, but there aren’t as many cars and the core group is pretty steady, so we know each other and have some built-in expectations that we can rely on.
Okay, enough navel-gazing.
Aside from that drama, it was a good day. The car worked well. No problems with the clutch, motor mounts, wheel studs, or battery tie-down. A pair of new tires for the front and an oil change and I’ll be ready for my big trip.
And there was one lap where it was rather fun to be in traffic. Here I am, for a time sandwiched between a McLaren and a Ferrari.
No, this is not the story of how Indiana was settled.
Several months ago I found a set of “gently used” Hoosier A7 slicks for sale on Lotus Talk. The seller was in Fountain Hills, Arizona, which added a bit to the degree of difficulty in obtaining them, but only a bit. Michael was in school in Phoenix so he could fetch them for me if I managed to strike a deal. We knew we’d be bringing a load of his stuff back to Denver at the end of the summer anyway, so why not add a set of tires to the mix?
I contacted the seller, who wanted two hundred dollars. I told him they weren’t worth that much to me and asked if he’d take forty. After a long pause he countered with sixty and we had a deal. Michael went to his house to collect them, and when Michael graduated I went down to Phoenix and helped him move his stuff home, along with my set of slicks.
Here it is the end of September, and finally time to put the rubber to the road, so to speak. I’ve been thinking about the difference between the Hoosiers and the Dunlops for quite a while now. The anticipation was exquisite. How much faster can I go over the course of a lap? Specifically, I wondered if I could average two miles per hour over the whole lap. If I exited turn 3 two miles an hour faster, could I carry that two miles per hour down the length of the highway straight? How much faster could I go in the sweeping uphill right handers of turns 7 and 11? I was pretty sure I could take turn 3 flat. I was pretty sure I could take 7 in fourth gear instead of third. Certainly I could average two miles per hour better. Then I did the math. Two miles per hour works out to about four seconds per lap. Two miles per hour doesn’t sound like much, but four seconds per lap sounds huge.
Sunday, September 23
The thing about track wheels and tires for an Elise that is driven to the track rather than trailered is that a support vehicle is necessary. My last set of track tires were street legal – I could mount them on the car at home and drive to and from the track – but slicks definitely are not. I sure wouldn’t want to get stuck in even the lightest rain in slicks. Also, I’d basically use the tires up completely driving them the 140 miles or so for the round trip. So I can’t run the slicks unless somebody goes with me. Michael kindly volunteered, even with the proviso that there’d be at least one session where I wouldn’t want a passenger so I could try to set a fast lap. (I figure the weight of a passenger costs me something like two seconds per lap.)
This was an Emich sponsored event and they offer full day, morning only, and afternoon only sessions. I signed up for only the afternoon session, with (I thought) the drivers meeting starting at noon. They’d break us into two groups, fast and slow, and we’d get four half-hour runs. My experience with these things is that most of the full day runners give up by mid-afternoon and that I’d have the most traffic in the first run and least in the last one.
Michael and I met up with Scott at the park and ride and we caravanned to Byers where we filled up with fuel. Michael and I abandoned Scott at the gas station so we could get a head start on setting up our stuff. We brought not only my track wheels but some chairs and a “gazebo”. That’s what it says on the box, but I’d call it more like a canopy. It provides shade, anyway, if the wind doesn’t carry it off. This was a risk, as we didn’t have any bungees to allow us to use the street wheels as ballast. We weren’t expecting wind, but you never know.
Turns out I was wrong on the meeting time, which was actually 12:30. That’s not a bad thing, as we didn’t have to hurry with anything. We got the canopy deployed and I went to work swapping the wheels. Here I will interject that I was poking around the internet the night before trying to decide how often I need to replace the wheel studs. So I use the breaker bar to get the lug nuts started all the way around, then start at the left front wheel with the impact wrench. Wouldn’t you know, the very first lug comes off bringing the stud with it.
I showed it to Michael and said, “Well, I’m done for the day!” I was pretty crestfallen. I lost a stud several years ago at an Eiskhana event and tried to drive it home slowly. Before I got home another stud failed. I ended up getting towed that time.
Luckily, Mark happened to be there. I met Mark through Dennis. Dennis owned the car I drove in the ChumpCar race at Road America a few years back. Dennis ran his car in three different race series so he had to have a pretty long list of drivers available. Mark was one of those drivers. He was here today running his Miata.
Mark says, “I’ve got some blue Loctite.” So we put that sucker back in and had an hour or so to cure before I took it out. I was still pretty concerned during my first session, paying close attention for any unusual vibrations. But all is well, and at the end of the day when we swapped back to the street wheels the stud stayed in place. In any event, even though I don’t have an answer to “how often do I need to replace the studs” I do know that I’ll be replacing them in the next few weeks.
I went out for the first session without Michael in the passenger seat. I was a bit uncertain how the slicks would work. They’re autocross tires, designed to heat up very quickly. So they’re not necessarily suited to running a half-hour track session. I’ve been told they’ll get greasy pretty quickly. One experienced racer told me I might only get one good lap on them. And, as I said, I was concerned about the stud.
But the biggest problem in that first session was the traffic. It was a bit like rush hour. Scott wanted to follow me around for the first lap, so I took it pretty easy. By the end of our out lap we were catching up to people. Going in to turn 4 I was seventh in line. The fast group is open passing, meaning we didn’t need the slower car to point us by. And everybody in front of me had a horsepower advantage. Nobody was pointing anybody by, but nobody was able to execute a pass. I got by two BMW’s and next time into turn 4 I was still seventh in line. At the end of the lap two cars went into the pits and on the pit straight I passed two more and got another in turn 1. It was the fourth lap before I got a clean run. That lap ended up being the day’s best. It was the only lap of the session where I had no traffic.
That best lap beat by previous best by two seconds and my best on the Dunlops by nearly five seconds. So I managed to get my two miles per hour. It was a little like driving a different car. Because of the greater cornering speed, I didn’t have to resort to my unusual line through 2, 6, and 11. I took 3 flat once or twice and was easily on cam in fourth gear through turn 7. I was six miles per hour faster in the pit straight, ten miles per hour faster through turn 4 and six miles per hour faster through turn 7. And yet I was slower on the highway straight. It was exhilarating. And I felt I could beat that time by another two seconds if I had a few clean laps.
The next two sessions I took Michael as a passenger. I’m thinking a passenger costs me about two seconds per lap. The first session with him I managed a 2:10, which isn’t much slower than that two seconds. The second session with Michael I had two laps in the 2:07’s, just a fraction slower than my best lap of that first session. If my two second guesstimate for the passenger is correct, my goal of doing a 2:05 is within reach. My lap timer confirmed that: it says my optimal lap in my first session was a 2:05.53. (That optimal lap is comprised of my best times in each of the three sectors put together as a theoretical lap.)
My last session started at 4:30. By now most people had left. I should be able to run eight or nine laps without any traffic. The tires still felt great, never felt greasy once. I was feeling good. I was psyched.
In my first timed lap (according to the data) I entered turn 7 two miles an hour faster than I had all day. Going up the hill I was in fourth gear and on cam. At the time, I’d have said I was doing it just as I’d done two dozen times already. But the data shows that I got off the throttle a little earlier than I had before. With the extra entry speed, I must have felt I was running wide at the exit, so I got off the throttle a little early.
I lost the back of the car, went into a spin, dropped the rear off the track. After 180 degrees was momentarily rolling backwards up the track before the car spun another 180 degrees. The car stalled and the oil light was illuminated for a second or two. I was going again right away. I never went more than a few inches off the track. But it was a violent spin. I’ve been sideways many times and always caught it. The only two times I spun the car before this was when I had the hub carrier bolts shear.
At the end of the lap I reported to the black flag station. Glen was already there talking to another driver. When it was my turn he asked what happened. I told him I lost it, that I spun all the way around. But I said maybe it was 180 one direction then 180 back the other way. “You don’t know how many times you spun?” I was there, I did it, but my eyewitness testimony was unreliable.
Everything felt okay, and Glen looked the car over and let me rejoin the session. On the next lap, as I was nearing turn 4 a car lost it between 4 and 5, first going off the left side, then crossing the track and going off the right side. He kicked up an enormous dust cloud and the lights in the turn 5 bunker were flashing yellow. I went pretty slow through the cloud of dust, not really sure where that car ended up.
Next time around, when I entered turn 4 I tried to downshift from fifth to fourth. But I couldn’t find fourth. I eventually got it back into fifth, but something was wrong. I continued slowly, trying to find a gear other than fifth. I eventually got one, but things were not good. I exited the track and going slowly through the paddock I heard a new noise. The noise went away when I engaged the clutch, came back when I released it.
With the car stopped I was able to select any gear. Michael jumped in and we drove slowly through the paddock. Gear selection was working again, but the noise was still there. We looked things over to the best of our ability when we remounted the street wheels. Nothing looked amiss with the suspension. Michael suggested that I’d broken a transmission mount. That would fit the symptoms. After a short discussion we decided I could drive the car home, taking it easy. So we packed everything up and hit the road.
Monday, September 24
At lunch today we put the car up on the ramps, took off the access panel under the engine and had a good look around. The rear engine mount is clearly broken, but the other three look intact. None of the bolts or studs appear to be damaged and everything else looks good.
I spent a fair amount of time looking at the video of the incident. I’m going to have to go with driver error. I shouldn’t have lifted until I had the car straightened out. For years I’ve heard that LOTUS stands for “Lift Off Throttle U Spin”, but I’ve never experienced it. That was quite the introduction.
Next on the agenda is ordering a set of motor mounts. I’m going to go with an upgrade from OEM. I’ve done a fair amount of research and will go with the Innovative mounts. I expect to feel a fair amount of additional vibration in the cabin, but these mounts will be better suited to the track and will likely improve shifter feel.
I’ll also order a new set of wheel studs.
I’ve been happy running track days on my street tires. I don’t feel the need to run on slicks all the time, and I really don’t want to spend a bunch of money on tires. The last set of track tires cost me about $800 and lasted four days. I got these Hoosiers because they were a bargain. I will continue to use these tires until they’re used up, whenever I can get somebody to cart them out to the track for me. But I know running slicks greatly increases wear and tear on the car. I do want to run better tires at the track, but ideally I could drive them to and from; ideally they’d last ten or twelve track days. I’ll keep looking.
But there’s no denying the thrill I got from these tires. Until the end there.
It’s time again for the RMVR race through the streets of Snowmass. It’s a big event and they need a lot of volunteers. Just like last year, they’re bribing me with free laps at Aspen Motorsports Park. (It used to be called Woody Creek and although I was never there when it operated under that name, I will continue to call it Woody Creek.) The place is privately owned and there are limited opportunities to run there, so I’ll take advantage of the opportunity. Last year’s visit was less than ideal, so I’m confident I’ll have a much better experience this time.
I was out the door by a quarter after seven, fueled up and on my way by 7:30.
The aspen are quite nice right now. Many trees still have some green leaves so unless there’s a big wind storm I should have some nice views on the way home. Why “the way home” and not “this morning?” I left the house early enough to make a stab at hiking to Hanging Lake. I’ve never been there, and next year they’re going to a permit system which will likely mean a lottery. I figure there’s a slight chance that I can get into the parking lot today, so that’s what I’m shooting for. But I will admit that the chances are not great.
I made it to the parking lot there a bit after 10:30 but the parking lot was full. Dang. Oh well. The ranger suggested I try later this afternoon, but I’ll be busy. The original plan was to go home via Independence Pass and Loveland Pass and get some GoPro footage of both of them. Instead, I think I’ll take another stab at Hanging Lake on Tuesday. If I get there early enough I should be in business. Early enough might be 8am. Which would mean being on the road by 7. Sounds doable.
Without the detour to Hanging Lake, I arrived at the track at a quarter to 11, which was way too early. But that’s okay. They were letting people in, so I had a leisurely time unpacking the car and getting everything ready.
Last year, the track day was after the RMVR race and a bunch of race cars showed up. This time it’s before the race and it’s only volunteers. At the start we had 10 cars, which we broke into two groups of five. The track is 1.1 miles long and they set up some tire barriers on the back straight to make a chicane. The track is narrow and bumpy and with the chicane isn’t well suited to passing, so we won’t be doing any. If we catch a slower car we are to go into the pit and wait for a release onto clear track.
Even with the extra time before my first session I managed to dilly dally too long. RaceChrono doesn’t have Aspen Motorsports Park in the library so I had to add it. It has been a while since I did this, and I’d forgotten exactly how to do it. So I ran the first session I ran without the lap timer.
Between sessions one and two I got the track added. It took me a while to figure it out, but that’s not because it’s hard to do but because I can sometimes be clueless. It’s actually pretty easy. At minimum, just plop a marker down at the start/finish line, rotate the arrow to match the running direction, and optionally set the width of the track.
In the second session I gave a ride to one of the paramedics. He used to work at the Lotus dealer in Denver many years ago. He has ridden in an Elise, but has never been in one on the track. He was quite impressed by the car’s ability to change direction. After a few laps I dropped him off so he could get back to his job. It wouldn’t be ideal for us if something happened where we needed the ambulance but both the paramedics were getting rides.
When I got out of the car after the second session to shut off the cameras, the new one’s battery had died. I usually get three sessions on a full charge. I thought I had full charges in all the cameras but am clearly mistaken. We were running twenty minute sessions and there was still plenty of time before I needed to be at the meeting. My goal for the day was to get three sessions, and I’d have no trouble doing that even taking a break. So I sat out a session while I charged the battery.
Third session I gave a ride to one of the other volunteers. He kept up a running commentary the whole time he was in the car but I couldn’t hear a word he said. Afterwards we chatted; he said he was saying mostly favorable things. Both passengers were impressed with the car.
Batteries survived the third session, where I set my best time. Under the little canopy in the pits where they have some tables and coolers and helmets to borrow, they have a leader board posted. The important things to note about these times is that they’re run by the members of the track who have run many, many laps, and that the laps they’re running don’t include the chicane. I think my times were favorable (my best was 1:09.19), given that this was essentially my first day there and the chicane certainly slowed me down.
After everybody was off the track Jason brought out his Europa. It sat in a barn for years before he bought it and has only about thirty thousand miles on the clock. It also seems to have some racing heritage based on some stickers in the engine compartment. The way he talked about it I was expecting it to be in rougher shape. He wanted to do a size comparison against the Elise. They’re very similar sizes: measurement by eyeball says the Europa is an inch or two longer and maybe an inch lower.
Side by side
I left the track in time to get checked into the hotel before our required 5pm meeting. On the way to highway 82 I saw a bunch of McLarens heading to the track. They had a short session starting at 4. I gave a peace sign to the first group of 5 or 6 cars but only the last guy in line acknowledged me. I waved at the next group of 4 or 5 and they all waved back. Maybe McLaren owners don’t like peace signs.
I got checked in and headed to my room to drop off most of my stuff. On the stairs I met my roommate for the stay: Brian. The door lock wasn’t working and he had called the maintenance guys. They showed up just after I did. He said he’d only be using the room for the shower because he’ll be sleeping in his van. That works for me. I dumped the first pile of my stuff on the bed then parked the car. Upon my return Brian had already left and my key didn’t work, so I had to get it re-keyed.
This meeting was for both corner workers and crowd control. Last year it was two separate meetings. It sounds like they learned some lessons from last year. From my limited perspective, last year’s event went off pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement. This year it’s a two day event rather than a single day. My assigned station this year is about a hundred yards up the hill from last year. I was on a straightaway last time and this time I’m in a corner, which should be more entertaining. Last year I didn’t have much to do, as I wasn’t in a very busy spot. I’m guessing this year will be very similar.
I went back to the room and I got the laptop fired up in order to copy the videos from the cameras. But the laptop didn’t recognize the newer camera. At the same time, Windows decided it needed to update itself. The laptop is so old it doesn’t perform very well, and doesn’t like to multi task. So I didn’t expect to make much progress.
Luckily, Jason was done at the track and was free for dinner. Even though he’s not a beer drinker, he kindly agreed to meet me at the brew pub closest to my hotel. We had a nice chat and I ate too much.
Here’s a video with a few laps. They’re short laps. I don’t think the bumpiness of the track comes through on the video, but it’s pretty obvious how narrow it is. Also note that all the turns are second gear and I’m only into third gear twice each lap. Still, that fast lap works out to about 57mph average speed. Above, I mentioned that when we caught a slower car we were to pull into the pits and wait for a gap. It didn’t always work out that way – sometimes the slower car pulled over for me.
I did a Thursday evening session last year. We got sprinkled on but it never got wet, and I had to end early due to my battery coming dislodged. So I’ve been looking forward to another Thursday evening session for about a year. I figured I’d be able to stay long enough for it to get dark, but was sort of hoping we’d have a thunderstorm roll through so I could see what it’s like in the wet.
It didn’t rain until the drive home, but more about that later.
I finally met Martha, who was the high bidder at a fund raiser several months ago for a ride in the car. We’d been trading messages for quite a while. At one point, she was going to give her ride to Lucia. As it turns out they both were there. Martha rode for only a few laps so I gave Lucia a few laps too. They both seemed to enjoy it.
The first session after they left, I noticed that RaceChrono was showing me a message: “Connecting to ODB…” It never could connect, so the first several sessions are without OBD data. That’s disappointing. I’d been bragging how well everything was working, and was looking forward to using the speed data from the ODB rather than the phone, which should be more accurate. I eventually got it working after unplugging the dongle then plugging it back in (that didn’t work), turning the phone off and back on (that didn’t work), then removing the ODB device from RaceChrono and adding it back in.
I ended up running six sessions. Four of those totaled only sixteen laps though, so that works out to be more like two sessions. The other two sessions were ten and eleven laps, so it comes out to about four full sessions. But I only got OBD data for the last two, which were four laps each. That should have been a single session, but when I got out on track I noticed I was low on gas. It hadn’t gotten fully dark yet, and I wanted to keep going, so I pumped a couple gallons of rocket fuel (98 octane unleaded racing gas) into the tank and went back out.
I really had a good time. There weren’t many cars running so we didn’t bother with the usual fast and slow groups. I ran about as many laps as I would during a CECA event for a bit over half the cost. I had a couple of nice laps in there as well. I ran two laps in the 2:12’s, which is as fast as I’ve ever done on the Direzza tires. My quickest ever is in the 2:09’s running on the stock Yoko’s. At the time, by best on the Direzzas was in the 2:14’s. I picked up a gently used set of A7’s and I can’t help but wonder how much faster those tires are. I would expect them to be quicker than the Yoko’s, so until I find out I’m operating under the delusion a 2:07 may be attainable. That must be delusional thinking, right?
I will admit here that I went four wheels off the track twice. First, I was on a flyer and through the first three turns was improving on my fastest lap of the evening. Then I caught up to Chad at the end of the highway straight. I figured I’d be past him before the braking zone but misjudged it a bit. He broke later than I anticipated. So I found myself braking too late and well inside my usual line. I had no hope of making it so I straight-lined it.
The second time was my very last lap. I had just done my best lap of the day. That lap was in near dark and every minute was getting darker. I could easily run pretty decent laps in the dark, but it’s more of a challenge to push it. I pushed it into turn three and badly missed the apex. That was confirmation that I wouldn’t be improving my time, and gave me a bit of insight into what the endurance racers face. They have better lights, but still, it’s a challenge.
The drive home was the most exciting part of the evening. It was only sprinkling on the drive from the track to Byers, but lightning was strobing the clouds clear across the horizon. It started raining when I got to the gas station, but it wasn’t terribly heavy yet. A few miles up I-70 it really started coming down. I had a hard time with visibility and had to slow to about 55. Then it stopped raining and a the road was dry in the right lane.
A few minutes later, the rain came down in Biblical proportions. I wasn’t having any problems with hydroplaning but I was really having a hard time seeing the lane markings. I had both windows cracked but the windshield started fogging up badly. Trying to get the windshield de-fogged I opened both windows a bit farther. Pretty much everything got soaked. I slowed down to about 20. A bunch of cars and trucks had pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. I considered it, but was afraid I wouldn’t get fully off the road and would get rear-ended. So I kept crawling along. Thankfully, a flatbed semi passed me and I had an easier time following him. I managed to get the defroster going and cleared a bit of windshield. It continued like this for quite a while. Luckily, there was no hail.
So here’s the best lap of the evening. I ran the new GoPro’s battery down on the previous session. I have a spare for the old camera (which usually gets mounted on the back, for rear view and sound). With just the one camera, the sound isn’t as good. And I didn’t aim it very well so I have too much cockpit for my taste. Finally, being that it’s an automatic exposure, it comes out lighter than it really was and introduces all that noise.