Saturday, September 01, 2007

Thank You, TrackDaze!

What an awesome event! I'm definitely doing this again.

Yesterday got off to a great start. The first run of the day had some impressive hardware on the track. In our group there was a Porsche 911 Turbo, a Ferrari 575, at least one M3, and a 2008 VW R32 that was being provided by VW for use during the day.

I found out about the Ferrari and the Porsche during the run, when they suddenly appeared in my mirrors right after Oak Tree. There's a 4000' straight from Oak Tree to Roller Coaster, and with my ~120HP to their ~400, they appeared and then were gone. But not for long...

I caught up to them entering Roller Coaster, which was really weird, but weirder still was what happened next. My instructor had me hold off just a little bit through Carousel, and then drop the hammer through Hog Pen. At the exit of Hog Pen, we were on the Ferrari's bumper, and he gave us the point-by to pass.

So there you go: my day started off by passing a Ferrari in a Miata.

My instructor signed me off for solo runs for the remainder of the day. The first one was fabulous. Without the extra ~175lbs, the car was much quicker, and I was able to surprise a bunch of folks. Braking was better, acceleration was better, transitions were better, everything. Yeah, there were some folks that passed me, but mostly very high horsepower cars.

The second one was not fabulous.

These will sound like standard racer excuses, but while individually they're excuses, collectively they create enough variables to be admissible:

1. I forgot to check tire pressure before going out. I expect the front left was 3psi high, while the others were at least 2psi high. That can make a big difference in cornering and braking.

2. The cool-shirt wasn't working correctly. I had dumped out some water to drop weight, but apparently enough that the pump was sucking dry. In hard left turns, I'd get icy cold goodness, but in straights and right turns, nothing. It's a right-hand track.

Anyway, I was aware of both issues by the first turn, but I didn't back off because I had already half-way decided to come home immediately following that session. I wanted to go out having fun! I nearly went out. Twice.

The first time was at South Bend, a turn that terrifies seasoned veterans. It's at the end of the climbing esses, is off-camber, downhill, and requires a tap of the brakes before entering. I'd chatted with some of the instructors during the day, and they thought 80mph was just a bit slow for entry, so I tried to bump it to 90. Not so good. The car skated out like it should have, but the back end began to over-rotate. Normally, correcting this will shoot you off the outside and into a tire wall, but instinct made me fight the spin. I overcorrected, overcorrected again, calmed down and made 2 or 3 more corrections, and found myself on my original line, only 10mph slower than I should have been, and pointed directly at the braking marker. Sweet!

A lap later, I came through South Bend perfectly but carried too much speed into the first apex of Oak Tree, dropping the left tires off, correcting, dropping the rear tires off, correcting again, and finding myself nearly perfectly aligned for the 2nd apex. I gave the corner workers a wave and kept on going, but 2 cars I'd been working very hard to keep behind me made up a lot of distance over those 2 laps.

After making two major mistakes in as many laps, I decided absolutely that the end of that session was going to be the end of my day.

To top things off, the TireTail failed on the way home. Entering Rte 58, I felt the weight of the car shift, looked back, and saw a wheel rolling across the road. I stopped, got the wheel, actually found the TireTail's linch-pin and backing plate, put it all back together, and continued on. I'd put the thing together incorrectly in the paddock, and I paid the price.

It was a long, slow drive home, but it gave me plenty of time for reflection, and there's no way that will have been my last time in a passing group. Holy smack.

I also got a ride with Mr. Kimmelshue in the E46 M3. That thing isn't like most cars. There aren't brakes, per se: they're more like anchors. Big anchors. He hits the brakes and the car just stops. There were several turns it felt like we simply couldn't make, but a tap of the middle pedal would pull the car down in an impossibly short span, and through the turn we'd go.

As for that ride in the Atom, it was just one mile, from the paddock to the Lodge, with Mr. Kimmelshue at the wheel, but you can do a lot in one mile in that car/thing. I'm definitely scratching it off my list of dream cars, though. My left ear hurt for about 2 hours from the supercharger whine (it's right next to your head), and it throws rocks at you in turns. Not to mention the bugs and face-ripping feeling of the wind. Maybe if I'd been better suited (driving suit) I would have liked it more, but it felt a bit unhinged. And God forbid you should find yourself behind it on track. It was by far the loudest thing I heard out there (during my sessions), and even 100 yards in front of me it made my teeth hurt.

Final thought on the Miata: I analyzed the Gtech and pyrometer data and found out why some cars on stock tires were able to stick with me: too much camber at all 4 corners. At least 1/4-degree needs to be dialed out. Outside temps were consistently 10-degrees cooler than middle and inside, which were generally equal. Braking suffered dramatically, with readings never exceeding 0.60G (0.2 worse than what we've seen at the autocross, even with race pads). Turning was pretty good, with max numbers in the 1.14G range, but acceleration was horrid, never exceeding 0.18G. Yuck. Granted, acceleration wasn't due to camber, but maybe I wouldn't have had to do so much of it if the suspension were set up properly...

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