Incident at Woody Creek

Friday, September 15

We never got any notice of the schedule for our day at Woody Creek. At dinner last night I asked around but never got a definitive answer. Somebody said that they’d be driving the race cars to the track with police escort in two groups, one in the morning and one around noon. But there was no agreement on when the morning group would go. Also, I was told that it would just be parade laps, twelve cars at a time. Another said we’d get some “spirited driving”. If it was just to be parade laps, we would get an early start for home.

A couple of people suggested that I couldn’t go wrong if I showed up at the track at 7:30. So that’s what we decided to do.

We arrived promptly at 7:30 and the gate was still locked. Within a few minutes we got in, signed the waivers, and were sent to the paddock. It wasn’t a paddock so much as a short go-kart track. We went the wrong way a couple of times and finally had to be escorted to the parking area on the little go-kart track.

We were there quite early, as it turned out. We chatted with the guys running the track: Jason, Kevin, and Canadian Paul, who’s actually an Aussie. They mentioned that there would be a guy there later with a drone getting aerial shots. He’d share the footage and they said I could use it in my video. Sounds good to me!

By the time the call came that the RMVR guys were on the way, it was suggested that I go run a few laps. Get out there, do a “sighting lap”. It rained last night, check on the puddles. Check out the cone chicane. Chad could verify that all the signal lights were working. Basically just a list of excuses to get out on the track before anybody else showed up.

You don’t have to twist my arm to get me out on the track. I started off slowly, as the car had cooled off. It took a lap to get up to temperature. I ran two laps, then a third. I was starting to figure out where the track went, was starting to add a little speed.

Then, on the fourth lap, we heard a “pop” and the car spun and stalled. The right rear suspension was deranged, reminiscent of several years ago when the left side failed on my first lap at HPR.

As I was the only car on the track, I got out of the car to investigate. I waved at the guy in the control tower and they dispatched a truck. We jacked the car up and put dollies under both rear wheels. As I only have a tow ring in the front, we towed me the wrong way back off the track. By this time, the race cars had arrived. The paddock overlooks the track, and dozens of people were watching, taking pictures of me as I was slowly dragged off the track..

It was an odd sensation, having no control over the back end of the car. I had to brake sometimes to keep tension on the strap. Because the rear wheels were on casters, they’d go in any direction and I had no rear brakes. I tried to steer such that the back of the car was in line with the strap, but that wasn’t always possible. In retrospect, I should have had the cameras running.

Going down the hill we hit the only pothole in the place and the left side dolly got kicked up into the bodywork, causing some minor collateral damage. It happened again, not as badly, when we hit the transition from asphalt to concrete.

I spent a miserable morning trying to figure out what to do. Jason and Paul would help at the end of the day. If it was an easy fix, it might not get done in time for us to head home before dark. If it wasn’t an easy fix, where would I get it fixed? How far would I have to tow it? Bill suggested I ask around, perhaps I could find some RMVR member who had towed a street legal car. Maybe they could trailer my car and drive theirs.

I texted Michael, who gave me the number of a shop in nearby Carbondale run by his friend’s dad. If it wasn’t an easy fix, perhaps he could tow it to his shop and do the repair there. Maybe I’d need Genae to come get us. Maybe Chad should try to get a ride back home. I was definitely not having a fun time.

We had skipped breakfast to get here early and now had no transport available to get some lunch. Paul offered us the use of his car, or maybe we could walk to the Woody Creek Tavern, a “rustic tavern wallpapered with Hunter S. Thompson memorabilia.” As luck would have it, somebody bought a bunch of sandwiches for the general consumption. I don’t know who did it, but it’s much appreciated.

I tried to keep occupied. I talked to the guy with the Mercury Comet. He hadn’t caught on fire. Some fuel got dumped and that’s what burned; his car was fine. When I first saw it yesterday, I thought it was a Maverick. This car was red; one of my cousins had a red Maverick back in the day. I haven’t seen one in ages. I’ll admit that I think it’s a pretty good looking car.

They guy with the #27 Mustang was there. I told him what car I drive and said that he’d passed me at the RAKC lunch with every passenger I took out. I told him that I was intrigued by the line he took in turn 11 at HPR. I said that I’d tried it and it was faster for me than my usual line. He said he does it because he doesn’t have power steering.

The afternoon group turned out to be only a handful of cars. Jason felt things were under control so he came over to help me with the car. When I say “help me”, I mean “do all the work”. We pulled the wheel off and he quickly came to the conclusion that all we needed to do was replace two bolts that had sheared. These bolts connect the hub carrier with the ball joint plinth. When they failed, of course, the shims were scattered. Chad found one right away, I found a second a before we moved the car. Kevin came back with a big one a couple of hours later.

So, the damage: The remains of the two bolts had to be extracted from the hub carrier. Some part had machined the inside of the wheel, a narrow, shallow grove. Aluminum curly cues were hanging from the rear panel. A brake line got a pretty bad scuff and needs to be replaced. From the car falling off the dolly, the left side of the rear panel is bent and there’s some fiberglass damage. Everything else looked to be in good shape. No bent suspension parts.

I gave Jason what meager assistance I could as he worked on getting the sheared bolts drilled out. He was eventually able to do this without disassembling any of the suspension or brakes. Then we searched through big bins of bolts – metric large, metric medium – that they’d salvaged from cars over the years. We found some of the correct size and thread pitch (but not hardness!) and I helped him install them. This was about the best possible outcome. I was so relieved.

Jason is a Lotus guy. He used to have an M100 Elan, in British Racing Green. Now he’s working on a barn-find Europa. He was going to put a TDi engine in it, but has had to go another direction. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say again: Lotus isn’t just a car, it’s a community.

I suspect that these two bolts that sheared are in fact the point of failure of the incident back in 2011. That happened exiting turn 2 at HPR. Everything was damaged except the toe link brace, but nobody could tell me what the point of failure was. I think the difference in the resulting damage is down to having it happen at a lower speed.

The first one happened at the start of my first lap of the day, this one midway through the fourth. That would make both of them after less than five miles of driving. Neither instance happened at a particularly high speed. This one I was in second, the other in third. In fact, I’m much faster through turn 2 of HPR now than I was six years ago. In neither case did I hit a curb or a bump; there was no abrupt force applied.

It was good that it happened when I was solo on track. Had this happened with somebody behind me, it might have been trouble. I spun and came to a stop in just a few car lengths, diagonally across the track in a place with poor visibility.

Jason got it all together just after three and I took it for a quick little test drive. Paul joked that I could do the test drive on the track, but that wasn’t going to happen. This is a temporary fix, sufficient to get me home and the car to Ferrari of Denver for Ryan to get the correct bolts and make sure everything is actually okay.

I may have him replace the bolts on the other side. It’s clear now that these are a maintenance item. I’ll get some advice as to how often to replace them. I’m pretty sure I can do the job myself without much difficulty.

I had been pretty stressed out all day and was relieved that I got out of this without major difficulties. Jason was a real life saver.

But I was still feeling some stress. This is a temporary fix and should be okay. But I was somewhat paranoid. I thought it would be better to go through Glenwood Springs, taking interstate or four land highways the whole way. No sharp turns, no cliffs without guardrails. Approaching Glenwood, Navigator announced “There is heavy traffic in your area” and routed us a way I’ve never been. We wondered how much of this was caused by the big bridge project. Is it like this every day? It took us forever to go fifteen miles.

Many times on the drive home I imagined what would happen if the bolts failed right now. What if I hit some big bump and it broke? What would that eighteen wheeler behind us do to us? Every rough patch of road made me nervous. That trepidation mellowed as I got closer to home, but it never really went away. We went through several bridge repairs in progress: the asphalt was ground off and the seams were big, sharp bumps. Each one was excruciating.

We made it home without incident. I was exhausted.

Woody Creek isn’t defined in my lap timer’s library. I needed to set the start/finish location before I could get lap times. I figured I could do that before the first actual session of the day so I didn’t run the lap timer for this “session”. Note that you can see one of the shims hit the ground in the rear view camera.

Thursday Night Open Lapping

Thursday, August 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battery

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

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

Turn Signals

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

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

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

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

Tires

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

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

The Video

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

La Junta, July 8

This year, CECA’s track day calendar features an event in La Junta. I’ve been wanting to go there for a while. I had considered attending a Porsche Club event there, but I never put much effort into making it happen. A CECA visit there makes it easy.

Scott wanted to go, too, so we caravanned on down. It takes about three and a quarter hours to get to La Junta from my place, so we left Friday afternoon and spent the night in a motel. You can either head south to Pueblo and take a left or head east to Limon and go south. I figured it was better to avoid Friday rush hour traffic on I-25, so we took the Limon route.

We caught up to a thundershower approaching Limon. When I drove through southeastern Colorado last month I passed through a bunch of small towns I’d only known from weather reports. Those reports generally involved hail or tornadoes. It occurred to me that there’s a small but real chance we’d find ourselves in such weather. My tires handled the rain easily, but Scott’s tires were more suited to the track, so we slowed down quite a bit.

We stopped for fuel and dinner in Limon. Without particular dinner plans, we took a target of opportunity: Oscar’s Bar and Grille was next door to the gas station, so we went there. The parking lot was pretty full, and the dining room and bar were packed. We found ourselves a seat at the end of the bar and got some menus.

The place was movie themed, as the name might suggest. They have an old 35mm movie projector by the hostess station when you come in, and movie posters adorned the walls. All the menu items were given the names of movies. The bacon cheeseburger is Grease. Halfway through our meal we got to watch a little scene as the bartender ejected a customer.

Dinner over, we headed back to the parking lot. There we met a father and son. “Are these your cars? We’ve been checking them out.” The father said, “I see you have GoPro mounts on your car.” I now have three of them glued on. One has been on for several years but this is the first time anybody has ever commented on them.

“I have them all over my truck. We’re storm chasers.” Amateurs, true, but storm chasers nonetheless. They’ve gotten as close as a hundred yards from twisters. He showed us pictures on his phone. “Here’s a tornado: see the striations in the funnel cloud? The debris flying through the air? This one was anti-cyclonic, fairly uncommon.” This is just another little example of how driving this car has affected me. I’d never have met these guys if I’d been driving the Chrysler.

Back on the road, a pretty sunset to our right, we headed south. The storm had continued its way to the east as we ate and our road was dry but for the occasional puddle. Lightning strobed the storm clouds to our southeast for the remainder of our trip.

We checked in to the Red Lion Hotel. It took us a while to track down somebody at the front desk. There was no doorbell, no bell on the desk. Eventually the clerk arrived. “The wifi password is written here. But the storm knocked out the internet.” Our room had no pictures on the wall, no mirror in the bathroom, none of the four lights above the beds worked, and there was a funny smell in the bathroom. Is it mold? Urine? Moldy urine?

In the morning we went in search of the track. My phone said it was just a half mile away. Even after Google Navigator has led me to believe it wanted me to dispose of my own body off a dirt road in Death Valley, I keep trusting its guidance. This time it led us to an automotive shop in a residential neighborhood. I knew as soon as we turned down the street that we weren’t in the right place. Scott got us on the right track, though, when he found something called “La Junya Raceway”. It looked to be adjacent to the airport, which confirmed for me that it was the right place.

I later learned from Alan, the track manager, why Google sent us to his shop. Google needs a mailing address. Evidently, they send a postcard to verify the address, and there’s no mail delivery to the track’s actual address so he used his shop’s address. I didn’t think to ask him about “La Junya”, though.

The registration email for the event indicated that entries for the day would be limited to forty cars. We fell far short of that with only fifteen cars by my count: a Miata, a Viper, a Camaro SS, a Mini, two recent Corvettes, a 2016 Challenger (Plum Crazy), a Corvair, a Porsche GT3, a recent Mustang and two classics, and three Lotus (me, Scott, and Ryan).

The track is built from some old airport assets – an apron and taxiways. As such, it’s flat with perhaps as much as five feet of elevation change. It’s also pretty short, at 1.2 miles. The track map indicates seven turns, but you could easily say turns 1 and 2 are really just one turn. They are all right-hand turns but one. In the drivers meeting, they characterized it as “easy to learn, difficult to master.”

I don’t know that I’d say it’s difficult to master, but it is more interesting than the track map might indicate. Turns one and two, as I said, are one big arc, with a transition from asphalt to concrete that is accompanied by a significant bump. The concrete isn’t exactly smooth, so the car is jittery under braking. Early on, I decided it might be possible for me to take the turn flat out, on the gas until the transition. I was able to do this several times, but typically found myself feathering the throttle.

I again failed to get fully successful in capturing video and data for the event. With the older GoPro, you can start recording immediately after turning it on. With the newer one, you have to wait several seconds before pressing the shutter. I was evidently impatient once as I missed getting a forward view for the second session. And, even though I retethered the OBDII dongle to the phone I again failed to get telemetry from the car.

Generally, CECA runs in three groups: green for novice, blue for intermediate, and red for advanced. I had signed up for blue (for people who have driven on a track, but not this specific track) but because there were so few cars switched to red. Also because there were so few cars, they combined the blue and green groups. With just the two run groups, we’d get something like a twenty minute session each hour. In the end, we got six sessions and everybody had had enough by three o’clock. The last session was just us three Lotus. I think other cars may have started the session, but it wasn’t long before I realized we were the only ones left.

I was prepared for the extra sessions – I brought extra gas. After lunch I went to pour it into the car but found the nozzle was malfunctioning. It’s one of those where you have to hook the end of the nozzle on the edge of the filler tube in the car and press down for the fuel to flow. The nozzle was stuck and every time I tipped the can up to pour, gas spilled all over the outside of the car. Scott let me use his gas can, so I poured his five gallons into my car then decanted my gas can back into his can. I managed to not spill much more gas.

The other notable event was when I blew my exhaust. After the fifth session, Ryan asked me if I thought my car was louder after the session than before. I said I didn’t think so. He said, “When I was behind you, you blew a big wad of packing out your tailpipe.” Reviewing the video, I can see that some packing is coming out the tailpipe in the first few sessions. Just a flash of white fiber every now and then. But in that fifth session, two big wads blew out. The camera is mounted very close to the exhaust and you can hear it happen. But it wasn’t audible to me inside the car, with my helmet on.

Luckily, I have the stock exhaust in the attic. I’ll put that back on while I research muffler repairs. I’m thinking I can get this one repacked cheaper than I can replace it. Michael will help me with the swap. Then I don’t need to feel under any deadlines to get it repaired. Let’s just say the budget was busted with the camshaft repair.

There are practically no facilities at the track. There’s a building with bathrooms and a classroom. There’s a small control tower and a flag tower at start/finish. Lunch is available from a concessionaire trailer. On the menu are “Magic Potatoes”. With a name like that, they must be good. And they were – baked, buttery, cut into chunks, with spices and a bit of bacon. They broke when stabbed with a fork, hot and delicious. Bill and Heike invited Ryan and I to sit in the control tower with them and enjoy the air conditioning. It was a capital idea, as the day was a bit warm and none of the picnic tables has shade.

I had a nice chat with Fred, who drove the Camaro SS. He has a number of track stickers on the side, mostly from around here but also including Laguna Seca, COTA. the Nürburgring, and Spa. I asked him if he’s driven this car on all those tracks. He said, “The kills follow the pilot.” He says he participates on some sort of car event, generally a track day, about twenty five times a year. I’m not sure why I find it reassuring when I find people who are more extreme about things than I am. If what I do is somewhat crazy, it’s good to know I’m not the craziest person around.

Ryan’s BFW

While Fred and I were chatting, a fellow and his four boys were interested in my car. Two were his kids, the other two were nephews. They were golfing nearby and heard the cars. “Put those sticks away, we’re going to find out what all that noise is about!” I had the kids take turns sitting in the car. I offered to take dad out for a few laps if he could find a helmet. Then, during lunch when they’re running parade laps, the youngest kid ran up to me. “My dad says I can ride with you on a parade lap!” So I belted him into the car and off we went. He could hardly see out the windshield, but his brother and cousins saw him. That made his day.

COTA On Reflection

It’s confirmed. I’m no Lewis Hamilton. And I’m no Martin Scorsese. And I present videographic evidence.

This is the first time using two cameras. I kept the Hero 4 in the usual spot and used the suction cup for a rear facing view. I used the rear facing camera for the sound, as it’s right on top of the engine and a bit out of the wind.

I was using DashWare to render the gauges and data, but it quit working. I installed the latest version, no help. So I found another one, Race Render, but haven’t paid for the full version yet. So it’s demo mode – can’t do more than three minutes.

This is basically my entire third session. Rolling through the paddock, onto pit lane and onto the track. Then every car I saw, whether I was passing or getting passed. Then exiting the track and returning to my spot. But there’s not a whole lap in there, so I added my fast lap of the day.

Thursday I was notified my photos were available to download. This is the fourth time I’ve bought pictures. It’s the first time I didn’t drive away with the pictures. The photographer (PhotoMotion) did a good job, not the best of the bunch, not the least. I guess that doesn’t sound too complimentary, but the truth is I’m happy with the results and feel I got good value for the money.

No doubt where this picture was taken.

If I’m in front, that means I’m winning, right?!

I’m not real happy about the taped numbers.

From the third session.

The Austin Hill Climb?

When I travel to these tracks, I’ve been asked how wherever I am compares to other places I’ve been. This is my twelfth track, so it’s a fair question.

The Facility

This is the sixth track I’ve lapped that has hosted a major league race. Others are Portland International Raceway, Laguna Seca, and Elkhart Lake, which were perennial entries in the ChampCar calendar, and Sonoma and Pikes Peak International Raceway, which hosted NASCAR. This one’s Formula One. It doesn’t have that patina of age yet, and only time will tell if it gets it. (Does anybody talk about the F1 track at Indy?)

Circuit of the Americas dwarfs the others when it comes to infrastructure. It’s on the biggest piece of land, has the biggest grandstands, biggest parking lots, the most and best appointed garages, biggest meeting rooms. It can handle the most spectators. It has large video screens and the best public address system. Plus, it’s all still pretty much brand new.

This is the best facility I’m ever likely to visit for a track day.

The Track

I enjoyed driving on this track. A number of other folks talked about how smooth the track is compared to others they’ve been to. It’s smooth, but it’s not without its undulations and bumps you have to account for under braking.

My favorite tracks feature interesting elevation changes, a combination of fast and slow turns, with some blind or otherwise challenging apexes, and lots of run off. I really don’t like walls anywhere near my car. COTA does have elevation changes, but it basically boils down to one hill to climb, then slalom down. Perhaps I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to run on tracks that have a lot of terrain. COTA falls squarely in the middle of the road by this metric.

I believe it’s the fastest track I’ve been on. I’m over 100mph three times each lap with a top speed of 120. Each of these straights end in second gear left turns, so it’s a heavy braking track, too. (I wasn’t in the Lotus at Road America. It’s possible RA may be as fast.)

There is a lot of run off here, and most of it’s paved which is new for me. I never put a wheel off. HPR, ORP, and Thunderhill are in wide-open spaces where if you go off you’re just going to mow some weeds. You do some agricultural driving. Here, when you go off you may as well be in a parking lot. Obviously, the surface is in excellent condition. Although none of the other tracks I’ve driven were better, all the newer tracks have nice surfaces. So I was pretty comfortable pushing a bit.

And there are some fun bits to push through. I found the esses challenging and I enjoyed the carousel (almost as much as the one at Road America).

The Track Day

Edge Addicts ran a very professional operation. It was well organized and well staffed. The event ran on schedule but for a slight delay late. I never lost any track time due to an on track incident. There was an outfit there to help you with tire pressures and other services. A professional photographer was on hand to get good photos for everybody.

I didn’t ask for a car count. I’m assuming they want more cars than I want, given the price of operating the facility. There were a lot of cars there, but it didn’t feel crowded. The track day fees for one day would pay for three days at HPR (but I’m spoiled; it’s more like two days at a California facility). There were a lot of nice cars there. Didn’t see anything like a Lemons car. Everybody was well-behaved.

Sessions were short, about twenty minutes each. I’d rather have four twenty five minute sessions than five twenty minute ones – it also means fewer in and out laps. I got five “fast” laps each session, so more than a quarter of my track time was either an out lap or an in lap. A side effect of the short sessions is that cars are released onto the track nose to tail. Immediately you’re in a train of cars. At one point I was tenth in a line of fifteen cars. The flaggers just held up their blue flags for the whole string. With the shorter sessions they’re pretty much forced to get everybody out quickly.

For my California track days, at least, another side effect of the shorter sessions is the need to hustle people back to the pits when the checkered flag is shown. At home the in lap is done with the idea that you don’t use your brakes, let them cool off. Here, like on my California trip, we kept going fairly fast. But I was able to not use my brakes until making the final turn into the paddock.

The Bottom Line

I had a good time. I’m happy to have done this.

 

COTA Blitz: The Big Event

Sunday, June 11

I woke up a few minutes before 2am to a bit of a racket coming from upstairs. Was somebody doing jumping jacks in the room above me? Running in place? Definitely calisthenics. A few minutes later it was quiet. By now it had become obvious to me the true reason I woke up. Let’s just say I was having some gastric distress, perhaps a side effect of the tasty tacos.

I woke up for real at a quarter to 6. Got showered and checked out of the hotel. In the days leading up to my trip I kept an eye on the Austin weather forecast. A few days earlier the forecast for Sunday in Austin was 93 degrees. That didn’t sound bad to me, but I wasn’t taking the humidity into account. I had to wipe the windshield down with paper towels, there was so much dew.

On the way to the track, the sun was a red ball sitting on the horizon and a thin layer of ground fog filled the low spots in the land. There was no traffic. I didn’t see three cars together the whole way until I pulled into the gate at the track behind a silver Elise and a Porsche.

The track’s waiver wristband is pretty cool, as these things go. It’s a tubular fabric secured with a one-way sliding bead. Takes a pretty sharp blade to remove, I found out later. “Have you ever been here before? Know where you’re going?” Not me. “Through the tunnel, past the gas pumps, down a ramp on the right.”

This is a giant facility. It’s not as big a piece of land as Road America, but measured by the infrastructure it dwarfs everything else. Big grandstands, big parking lots, big video monitors, expansive garages. It has an amphitheater. For all that it is, I really didn’t see that much of it. The interesting bits, for sure, but I never left the garage area and the track surface. I’d like to attend the F1 race and see the place in the usual way.

At the bottom of the ramp the first car I see is a yellow Elise. It had the full aero package – big wing, splitter, big diffuser, half a set of side skirts. “Is this the Lotus parking?”

“Yep, pull right up.” Thus I met Eric and his wife. They are clear evidence I’m not the only one who makes trips like this. They lived here in Austin for a while, not long ago. They live in Detroit now, after a stint in the UK. On their way here they did a track day at Autobahn near Chicago. He’s run lots of European tracks and spent a lot of time at the Nürburgring. When he lived here in Austin he was a member at nearby Harris Hill Raceway. He reckons he’s done on the order of two hundred track days. He bought the Elise new back in 2004 and has made a number of upgrades. In addition to the aero, it’s supercharged and has all the requisite suspension bits. He’s run many laps here at COTA.

We walked over to the registration desk together. We got a schedule, an aerial picture of the track – not a map, and the turns were not numbered. My pack included two wristbands, the yellow one to indicate my group and the “tie-died” one to signify I’m a solo driver. After my experience with Hooked-On-Driving, and given the cost of the event, I expected them to have numbers available to us. At HOD they were five bucks for the set. Surely they’d have them here. Alas, that was not the case and many of us used painters tape.

We began festivities with the drivers meeting. For me it was actually two consecutive drivers meetings as we had our yellow group meeting immediately after. In both meetings we discussed the usual topics – signalling, passing rules, and flags. When they got to the debris flag, it went like this: “We’ll show it for one lap. After that, be aware that the debris may still be on the track. The flagger needs to be ready to show other flags so the debris flag won’t be shown continuously. The debris could be a part from a car, or it could be a critter like a turtle or rabbit.” I’ve seen birds and squirrels and ground dogs and, yes, rabbits. But never a turtle.

After the drivers meeting I had just a few minutes before my group was out. I got both cameras mounted and running. When I’m in a hurry is when I make mistakes, like not being sure the camera is running. Today is my first time running two cameras. Level up! On the drive yesterday my suction cup mount for the phone came unstuck. The heat killed it and I was unsuccessful getting it to work. So the phone spent the day in my pocket. It works, but I don’t like it. Since I can’t see it until after the session is over I have no idea how I’m doing on the track. The feedback is valuable.

Now I’m feeling the anticipation of that first lap, that first time on an F1 track. I’m pretty much only minimally prepared. Chad kept offering to bring his sim rig over so I could practice, but I declined. I watched several you tube videos. I searched for cars similar to mine to get an idea of the speed. Any videos I found with data were Exiges or supercharged Elises. The NA ones I found didn’t even have lap times. But I thought I at least knew which way the track went.

The first session I was at sea. I really had no idea where to put the car. The track is wider than others I’ve been on (though not as wide as I was expecting). There appear to be a number of different lines of rubber down. Whenever I was following two cars, they both ran different lines and neither looked particularly great to me. I struggled particularly with the esses.

My very first lap, the out lap on my first session, I saw a turtle on the rumble strip in the esses. It didn’t register with me. What did I see? A piece of bodywork? The next lap was carnage. The scene changed every time I drove through it. It wasn’t until our after session meeting that I learned what it was. One of the guys said he thought the shell was part of a brake disk.

After my first session, I took the SLR and went in search of my Lotus people. Including me, there were eight Lotus: five Elises (mine, two yellow, one silver, one red), two Evoras (silver and blue), and a black Exige.

The silver Evora belonged to Richard. He’s English. The Evora is not his first Lotus. He has a Rover Elise at his dad’s house in the old country. He still goes back and drives it.

The second yellow Elise was driven by an instructor here. He told me he had a busy day yesterday. He ran in all the groups except blue and logged 159 track miles.

The silver Elise was another Eric. I see very few Elige drivers wearing kneepads. Eric was. This naturally led me to relate the ordeal of the camshafts, with the result that my kneepads are missing, along with the rest of the contents in the box. He kindly donated his other kneepad to me. “I have a bunch of them, use them for go-karting. You can keep that one.”

I never did track down the owner of the red Elise. The black Exige was Rich, and his wife drove the blue Evora. I only talked to Rich briefly and never did make the acquaintance of his wife.

I didn’t think to ask the organizers about the car count. There were a lot of cars there. There were probably a hundred cars in the garages and more, like me, spread across the paddock. I’d guess at least twenty five cars were in the yellow group. At one time I found myself tenth in a string of fifteen cars. The corner workers just displayed the blue flag to everybody.

Before the second session I was talking to a guy who was driving a BMW. I told him how I was struggling to find my way. He offered to ride with me and give me pointers. Only instructors can be passengers, and he had the proper wristband. I didn’t realize he as an instructor, as he wasn’t adhering to the published dress code. But, sure, hop in. I told him I wouldn’t be able to hear him. He didn’t say or do anything the first lap, watching where I was going wrong. The second lap he started with some hand signals. He corrected my line in a couple of places and suggested an early fourth gear in the carousel.

With my passenger’s tips I was able to improve my time by about a second. I always wonder how big a penalty in lap times a passenger is worth. Even without his instruction, I’d have been faster in the second session than the first. It’s just a matter of how much. The only number I could hang my hat on was top speed. I managed 118 in the first session but only 114 with the instructor. I picked up three seconds in the third session and another in the fourth.

There were quite a few interesting cars – lots of Ferraris, a few Audi A8’s (all together in the same garage), a couple McLarens, and the usual large numbers of Corvettes, Porsches, BMW’s, and Mustangs. Also a few Dodges, including a Hellcat. In an afternoon session I pointed the Hellcat by me then managed to keep up with him until the end of the checker. He pulled far ahead of me on the straights, but I always closed up on him quickly under braking. That car weighs 4200 pounds and he struggled in the twisty bits. I talked to him after the session. The car is only a few weeks old, and it was his first track day.

My goals for the day were to turn a 2:50 lap and hit a top speed of 120mph. I never did accomplish the lap target, doing a best of 2:51.3, and on that lap did manage 120.5mph on the back straight. I’m confident that I could do the 2:50 if I had another day. By late afternoon I think the temperature was not in my favor on my street tires. In the final session I was getting sideways a lot. It was great fun, but doesn’t make for quick laps.

After lunch we were offered a tour of race control. I was expecting big things, this being an F1 track. It was somewhat better appointed than race control at HPR. Instead of two or three monitors showing all the camera views, there was a wall of screens showing dozens of cameras. One screen was devoted to a list of all black flag incidents. For today’s event, only a couple of people were working. For Formula One the place would be packed.

Our meetings were held in one of the rooms above the garages. You enter from the back. There are several rows of seats directly above the pits and across from the main grandstand. I stood out here for a few minutes. When the high horsepower cars blasted up the main straight the building shook. I can only imagine what it’s like when a field of F1 cars go by.

The event organizers also do F1 viewing parties here at the track. If I wanted to watch the Canadian Grand Prix, all I had to do was sit there above the garages. I didn’t want to know the results, though, so I minimized my time there.

I wandered through the paddock and garages several times. There was a wide variety of interesting cars. I spotted a yellow Ferrari with Montana license plates, but didn’t find the owner.

I didn’t have a full tank of gas at the start of the day, so after three sessions I went to the gas pumps on site. They had regular unleaded for about thirty cents a gallon more than typical retail in the area and 93 octane for five bucks a gallon. They also had high octane race fuel at eight bucks. I pumped three gallons of 93 hoping that would get me through the day. In the end, I cut the last session short by a lap or two because my low fuel light came on.

My last session was due to start at 4:00 and end at 4:20, but things got delayed a bit. There was a charity event of some kind. A bunch of Ferraris lined up at the back of the garage. They did some parade laps. I was standing next to one of the event organizers and heard a message on her radio: “No more than fifty miles an hour!” I told her I thought that hardly seemed fair. She said they were giving rides to blind kids. I bet they got a kick out of the sound and motion, even at slow speeds.

With the small delay, I didn’t get out of there until about five o’clock. After nearly not getting a room the previous night in Clayton I made reservations in Snyder. That meant I didn’t really have the option of finding a room any earlier. And with an ETA in Snyder of nearly 10pm it meant some more night driving.

It felt good to get out of the driving suit. It was pretty toasty and with the humidity the heat index was probably about a hundred. For the last session I briefly considered ditching the suit. If they let instructors out in shorts and short sleeved shirts, why not me. But I was a good boy and kept the suit on. Even with the heat, I felt pretty good at the end of the day. I’d been diligent about drinking a lot of water. Although I wasn’t exactly looking forward to five more hours behind the wheel, I wasn’t fatigued at all.

Note

I’m waiting on an email from the official photographer and expect to have those photos by the middle of next week. I’m also working on putting together a video or two. I’ll post an addendum when I have the images.

Laps in the Chrysler

April 2, 2017

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

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

So why do I bring this all up?

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

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

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

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

I ran a few laps anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CECA at CSP

Saturday, August 20

I was the beneficiary of Scott’s misfortune. He had registered and paid for the track day with CECA at the Colorado State Patrol training facility. But his car was still in the shop. The original plan was I’d show up for a while and he could give me a ride. Instead, I ran in his place and I gave him a ride.

This was my third time here, the other two were back in 2012 and 2013. Back then the dirt road leading to the facility was heavily rutted and a challenge to navigate. We had to crawl up, often switching from one side of the road to the other to avoid bottoming out. It was a pleasant surprise to see that it has been substantially improved. It’s hardly the same road. This road will never get ruts like it used to.

There was a nice turnout. The event was limited to forty cars. I had heard that with a week to go there were only eleven entrants. I didn’t count but would guess there were twenty five or thirty cars. I could be over estimating, though. CECA allows second drivers for free, so several cars went out in more than one group. In any event, CECA is back to break-even for the season

Nissan Skyline GT-R

Nissan Skyline GT-R

It was an interesting mix of cars. There was another Elise, Mark, who’s had his pretty blue car for only a few months. A Caterham made up the rest of the Lotus contingent. There was quite a group of 1960’s cars. CECA days always have a Hertz GT 350. There was also a nice orange Mustang fastback, a green Firebird, a white Falcon (1964, maybe?), and a red Corvair that smoked like he was spraying for mosquitoes. There was a later Mustang, a race car, but pretty beat up, and a recent GT 350. A few Miatas, a few very expensive 911’s, two silver Scion FR-S’s.There must have been a Corvette, certainly, but… perhaps not.

Two cars in particular attracted my attention. I couldn’t help but notice a Nissan Skyline GT-R, right hand drive. Not a flashy car, grey inside and out, but unmistakable. It has something I’ve never seen on a coupe or sedan: a wiper for the back window.

The other was a recent Mustang. Metallic blue, with gold stripes, a GT-500 Super Snake. He just had it dyno’d – seven hundred ninety something horsepower at the flywheel. He thinks it’s capable of 180mph and says that to get it to 200mph it would cost an additional $20,000. He was running in the green group and we were never on the track together.

Mustang GT 500 Super Snake

Mustang GT 500 Super Snake

I have no data from my earlier visits. I may have had a lap timer on my old phone, but if I did the data is long gone. Laps are counter-clockwise and cover about 1.4 miles. Depending on how you count it’s either eight turns or three turns and a chicane. A lot of the guys say it’s flat, but that’s not true. There are two big humps that make some passengers nauseous. And the entry of one turn has enough downhill grade to make late braking more challenging. One thing I like about it is that there are no long straights: it’s not a horsepower track. That said, I manage to hit 100mph twice each lap (well, most laps) and average 70, which is a higher average speed than I manage at HPR.

Caterham

Caterham

The weather couldn’t have been much better. It was cool in the morning, clear and calm. It stayed clear, with the usual brilliant blue Colorado sky, but never got hot. In the morning, oversteer was a common complaint. Everybody expected it to get better as the track got some heat into it, but my car felt loose all day.

Scott seemed reluctant to take a ride. He said he didn’t want to slow me down with the additional weight of a passenger. But I like giving rides. I told him I don’t really notice much change in the car, and doubt that my times are significantly slower. We speculated that it might be two seconds a lap here. It turned out to be more like a half second. I was able to do a 1:13.6 in the second session and 1:13.4 in the fourth. Most days my times improve each session so I might have been able to do a 1:13.5 in the third. With Scott as a passenger, I managed six laps in the 1:14’s with a best of 1:14.1.

When Scott got out of the car he complained of a bit of nausea. I hope it was the humps and not my driving. I missed a lot of apexes and took some funny lines. And made my biggest mistake of the day: braking too late on the downhill section. I couldn’t get the car around the corner and put four wheels off. I wasn’t black flagged but should have self-reported. I didn’t. I had the car straight and under control, down to 25mph.

The fourth, final, session was open track – all groups could run. But a number of people had had enough by then. There weren’t many cars on the track, even with whatever green and blue drivers were out. I managed six consecutive laps without traffic. Scott took a few laps in Mark’s car; he exited the track just as I was catching him. Then Mark drove and did the same thing. I was hoping to get his car on camera for a few turns but so it goes.

After the last session I had a nice chat with Bill and Heike. Bill had an interesting proposition. “The track,” he said, “isn’t really a track. We use it like a track but it’s really an endless two-lane highway.” He’s correct, of course. It’s built like a road. It has a crown like a road, it is striped like a road. The Troopers use it as a road. Bill suggests “Stay in your lane and see how fast you can do a lap.” Next time I come here I’ll have to give it a shot.

The video is two laps plus my off. The map gauge worked this time. I have no idea why it works sometimes and not others.