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Round and round and round and round... - Equiraptor's Journal
Round and round and round and round...
Well, our Driver's Edge event was quite fun. We headed out Friday evening, made it to the hotel, ate dinner, went to the novice meeting, and settled in for bed. We were up early (the engines made a better alarm than the iPhones or the one in the hotel room) and headed out to the track. We found ourselves a place along the fence to park and leave our stuff. It was foggy this morning making visibility on the track quite poor. They decided to start with green group's first trip out, as this session would be driven by the instructors and under a yellow flag the entire time. It was intended as a chance for the novices to get a look at the track and see what was going on. And so out we went. I pulled my car into grid, which wasn't much different from pulling it into grid at an autocross, and waited for my instructor to come find me. We were not told who our instructors were, just that they knew our car models and colors, numbers, and our name. A red (well, orange) haired woman walked up to my car and introduced herself. She's Julia, and she'd be my instructor for the weekend. I hopped out of the driver's seat and she sat and re-adjusted. She had a set of speakers and microphones - she said it was a motorcycle communication kit - that we could use to communicate while on the track (the top was down, and the car is loud, and we were in helmets). She turned on my car, and was quite pleased... Apparently she heard my car drive up to the hotel the night before and hoped she'd get to drive it. "It sounds like a real car, not like a little ricer!" We talked a bit about my past experience - autocrossing, driving the supercharged '94, etc. while waiting for everyone in the grid to be ready to go. Eventually, it was time to head out... And she stalled. She restarted the car... and stalled again. I think she was just trying not to rev it very high starting out, but the car needs either a very delicate clutch foot or a few thousand rpm to get going well. After a bit of time on the track, she asked how I was doing... "Well, mostly good, but I'm a bit creeped out by how close you are to the car in front of us." "Oh, I'll pull back." "But isn't getting that close normal on the track? Stay close, I should get used to it." So she crept back up. Overall, not the most interesting 25 minutes of the weekend, but it was a good first look at the track.

Our first classroom session, as green drivers, covered things I'd already learned as part of autocrossing. It was things like seating position, look ahead, etc. A bit later, back out to the track we went. This time, the students got to drive. I asked Julia if I should leave DSC (the traction control) on, and she said to. I obeyed, and we went vrooming. It was difficult and nerve-wracking and I felt like I was fighting the car every step of the way. I did end up getting the car a little sideways, even with the traction control on, and I countersteered through it. Julia seemed very shocked and impressed by my recovery. We finished that session, came back in, did another class, and ran a slalom course.

They had a slalom set up on a straight set of pavement in the infield. A strip of tape was put on the windshield of our cars. We were not to look below the tape as we drove through the cones. There were two instructors managing this, rotating between the cars. An instructor would drive a student's car through the cones demonstrating the weaving pattern, and then the student would drive. While waiting for my turn, I talked about autocross, and how that slalom was much, much more open (and thus faster) than most of the slaloms I'd encountered autocrossing. The instructor who came with me heard this, and so teased me about me not being allowed to knock down any cones (all the students before me had hit a few). Then, he took my car through the slalom, and once through, asked, "Is the suspension stock?" heh.... "Nope. JIC A2" "Oh, ok. The weight was shifting strangely." He took it back through the slalom a second time, and then we traded places. I complained that the tape was on the horizon line for short little me, so he moved it down... Then decided to just remove it. "You autocross. You know how to do this," he said. Oh, ok then. I turned off DSC (he'd left it on) and went twisting through the cones. I hit precisely 0 cones, was moving faster than the instructor had been, and wasn't really pushing it. After a couple of trips through, he said, "Yeah, I think you've got it." *grin* After this was the parade laps and lunch. On the parade laps, we went around the track at a fairly slow pace. Anyone and everyone who wanted to come could, from the racers to tow vehicles, families as passengers, etc. The parade laps gave me a great chance to get another look at the line on the track.

In my third on-course session of the day, Julia let me turn off the traction control. This was a wonderful, wonderful thing. I no longer felt like I was fighting the car, but was able to work with it. I started driving faster and harder, and started passing more and more people. The only times anyone in the green run group kept up with me was when I either was trapped behind an even slower car, or on the long banked "straight" where the higher HP cars could reach higher speeds than my little Miata. When we came in from this session, Julia asked me how I'd feel about moving into the blue group for Sunday. "Would I be stuck in trains less frequently?" "Probably." "Then it sounds great." She talked with the people in charge while I went to another class. By my fourth (and final) session that day, Julia was working on getting me to be more smooth. My Miata's pretty twitchy, between the aftermarket pieces and the alignment that's on it, and this encourages me to become less-smooth. Julia was telling me I was doing ok being smooth while we had space in front of us, but once I caught someone (which nearly always happened quickly in green), I'd lose the smoothness. Julia noticed I was trail braking and managing slip through the corners. She said that's typically something she addresses with yellow students (the "order" is green -> blue -> yellow -> red, with "solo" approval possible while a student is still in the yellow run group.

As I drove back to the hotel, I felt like the brakes on the MX-5 were... well... Mushy. They were certainly still stopping the car, but normally they're very twitchy (like so much of the rest of the car), and they felt... more like the brakes on the '94, or like the brakes on one of the Camrys. NOT like the 06's brakes. There's a tech group on site, so I'd have them take a look at it in the morning. And eventually morning did come. I left the car with them and went to the driver's meeting, and then the blue lesson. I cut out of the blue lesson a little bit early so Julia and I could make sure I was switched to the blue run group by a sane time, and because I was concerned about my car. My car was apparently late in line, and they didn't have it ready by the first blue session of the day. Julia suggested we run it in the second green session of the day, then join the blues with the second blue session of the day. I crossed my fingers that the car would be ready in time, and in an effort to stop worrying, rode with Julia in her Spec Miata for her second session of the day. That was great for me. It did get me to stop worrying about my car, and it was a great chance to see the track at Miata-speed without the cones (there had been cones up to show the turn in, apex, and track out points on the corners on Saturday. They were gone Sunday). We returned, and my car was up on the rack, in progress... but just "in progress" so far... I went back to where Nugget and I had parked that morning and grabbed a drink. I turned and looked at the flag, and it was green! This meant it was time for the green run group to go to grid! And my car wasn't done yet! I walked back to the tech area and saw them putting the wheels on! Yay, car almost finished. I asked the woman handling their customers what I should pay, and she said she had to wait for the paperwork, that I should come back after the track time. Finally I get to go out on the track this morning! Julia and I just have time to settle in and the get headset going before the green run group is off. I don't remember a great deal about this session. My goal was to return to following the line like I should, and to drive smoothly even when trapped behind slower traffic. I did manage to re-find the line, and even started getting a bit creative with the transition between the banked track section and the "infield" section.

It wasn't long before I was out again with blue. I had a lot of learning to do about corner 8 and was consistently having troubles timing my braking and turn in well. I had one rather frustrating turn through 8 and responded by turning into 9 sharply... very sharply. Too sharply - the back of the car started to come around. I overcompensated and some snap oversteer brought the back end around the other way and took us off the track to the right. My first spin on a track, joy. I'd managed to stall it, too. I restarted and found an empty patch to re-enter, and Julia asked me what went wrong. I had no clue - I was still getting back to driving. I was black flagged, as expected, and turned into the pits so they could do a quick check of the car. It checked out - no grass between wheel and tire, or anything like that - and I was let back out. I re-joined traffic flow and started making my way around again. The car felt really slippery - Julia told me I'd probably overheated the tires on the spin. I tried to take it a bit easier without slowing too much, but then corner 3 got me. I was having troubles braking like I should for 3 - I kept braking too late. My braking was much too late this time, and yet again, my turn-in harsh. Off we went again. Back into the pit, and Dean came over. He asked Julia, "Where was the spin, same place?" "No, corner 3 this time." "Ok, off you go," and he smiled. Had I spun in the same place, I suspect we would have had a talk about what was going wrong in that corner. I returned to the track, again, and was driving much more slowly. I was giving passing signals quite a bit, at first, but then found myself passing someone I'd just given a passing signal to. The session was over very quickly after that, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Right after this second blue session was lunch, which included more parade laps, clockwise (the opposite direction we were running) this time. Julia had suggested I go on the parade laps and try to relax, so I did. I returned and grabbed some food, and then had a realization. We're allowed to go to the slalom course pretty much whenever. We should try not to cause a huge line there, but other than that, whatever. The slalom course was my "comfort zone." I knew it, it felt safe, it was a way to get my head back into driving hard without feeling the pressure I felt on the track. There was one car out there and no one in line, so I headed up. It wasn't long before the one car out there stopped, and onto the slalom I went. On my first three runs through, I knocked down cones. I was really out of it. I slowed down a bit and started going through the other direction, and things settled into place. I gradually sped up and pulled my curves in tighter until I felt comfortable with the car and the slalom. Calm and confidence returned, I parked and tried to snap some pictures of green and yellow runs before going out for blue's third session of the day.

In my third and fourth sessions, I did better. There were no more spins, and though Julia said I was slowing down (I didn't notice that...) I was becoming more smooth. I was especially gaining confidence about coming off of the bank, and corner 3 was no longer worrying me. Corner 8 remained as close to a terror as that track had, for me, especially since I'd frequently pass people on the straight between 6 and 7 and I was worried about over braking and having them re-catch me. I managed to pass a Cayman S, and he couldn't quite keep up with me (though he was faster on the straights, it wasn't quite enough to make up for his slower corners, and I gained on him slightly each trip around). There was an Elise in front of me that just barely gained on me through each corner until, after a few laps around, he nearly stopped on the straight between 6 and 7 and let me and the Cayman pass. I came in feeling good about the weekend and wanting to come back soon.
3 comments | Leave a comment
nrubenstein From: nrubenstein Date: November 13th, 2007 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Don't be afraid to park the car if you feel like you're getting cooked.

Also, I'd tend to recommend just pulling up to the line with DSC off. In my experience, traction control tends to give people bad habits.

Also, did you check your tire pressures after each session? I'll bet you were running them way too high.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: November 13th, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
DSC was only on for the first session. It spent the entire rest of the time off. I hate it. Hate it hate it hate it.

I didn't check tire pressure, and probably was. I think that's on the list of things to do differently next time.
esuperlife From: esuperlife Date: November 14th, 2007 04:26 am (UTC) (Link)
So much detail in this post. I love it. Sounds like you spooked Julia a bit in the beginning, but in the end you both had a mutual respect for each other's abilities. Amazing to me how much feedback your Miata gives you in almost every driving situation. I watched a video of Vicki Henderson demonstrating fwd vs rwd vs awd and it makes me embarrassed, lol.

Reading this made me feel your excitement as silly as it sounds. I learned a lot from reading this. Looks like you found some areas to work on too. :) Do you do anything in specific after your auto-crossing experiences to restore the car back to daily driver mode other than changing the tires? I'm curious.
3 comments | Leave a comment