Monday, June 15, 2009

MazdaDrivers June DE at VIR Grand East

Man oh man was this weekend fun. First off, special thanks to Archie and Diana Dann. Diana for lending me her husband for the weekend, and Archie for being pit-monkey and comrade-in-arms at the track.

This weekend was the best I've had thus far. I did have two offs, but I've cleaned up segments of the track that have bugged me thus far, and gained a ton of confidence in both myself and the car.

Saturday I started with the Novice group. I went out in the first session and was passed a few times as I tried to re-orient myself to driving at the limit. In the second session, we started to reel in the big boys, and in the 3rd and 4th sessions, we were maybe passed once while reeling in everything on track. I had a number of near disasters, but caught the car going around each time, wrestled it into submission, and kept the nose pointed in roughly the right direction. At one point we even took T6 in the Patriot Course completely sideways, but she tracked out perfectly and my instructor did a happy dance (I have it on film).

The second day we started in Novice, but my instructor went and had me bumped up to the Intermediate group. He felt I had a good grasp on taking the track at speed, and that the skill-level of the other cars made it dangerous for me to be held up by them. The first session in Intermediate, it became clear that we were reeling in cars there, too. A train of AWD cars passed me at one point, but that was it.

As the day wore on, I started putting a lot more pressure on the other cars in my group, setting them up for passes at Oak Tree, South Bend, and Bitch. We had just reeled in a 'Vette at Bitch, gotten the point, and were trying to pass when I had my first off of the event. The guy saw me round the turn, stuck his arm out the window, and didn't immediately lift. That meant we were drag racing for the next turn, which is a rise, a blind crest, and a steep off-camber downhill left turn. I had just cleared his front bumper before the braking zone, tried to swing out to track-right just to open up the turn a little bit, and when I steered into the left-hander, the back end came around. Into the grass we went, fortunately forward and not sideways.

Then in the last session I tried to compress my braking zone in Bitch, only to be rewarded with a lock-up and skid off into the grass. Again, no damage, but I have a nicely flat-spotted tire for the effort.

I changed absolutely nothing about the setup of the car, but made some big strides in cleaning up my line. Surprisingly, we found that the car rounds T1 faster if I turn in too early and with too much speed. The back end floats out, and careful application of 100% throttle tucks the nose down to the apex, allowing a 5mph boost at track-out. Score! We used the same principal at Left Hook, T11, Roller Coaster, and Hog Pen, each time gaining somewhere between 3 and 5mph at track-out. I'm confident that having used this approach on Full Course, I would have dropped at least 1.5 seconds.

Then we got exit speeds of 92mph at South Bend by doing a gentle brake followed immediately by full throttle before even turning. Yummy!

The real winner, though, in terms of dropping lap times, was the highly unstable slide-your-butt-around approach to T11 and Oak tree. Less braking, more steering, and the car is extremely upset going into the braking zone for Oak Tree. I'd wrestle the car down to the turn-in gator, turn the wheel and apply throttle, and the back end would step out again for Oak Tree. The resulting exit speed was 5 - 7mph higher, but my entire time through 11 & 12 was at least a full second, if not two seconds quicker. Wow. Cars that kept consistent distance on previous laps would suddenly be right in front of me. It's how we caught a few Vettes and Mustangs, and we even had enough speed to give 'em trouble on the drag race up the back straight!

Neither my instructor nor I had ever driven the Patriot Course elements of the track, and we were both learning and teaching each other throughout the event. I had a couple of times when the car was just about completely sideways, and while I did have both of my offs in that segment, I did feel by Sunday afternoon that I had a pretty good handle on how to get through there quickly:
  • T1 (Bitch): Track left, brake hard just before the 3 marker. Turn in @ 50% throttle, lift, turn in further, 100% throttle to scoot the rear out, and slide to the outside gator. Look for the roof of the building at the south paddock and drive straight for it.
  • T3: Track right, brake hard as soon as the track rises. Complete braking at the crest and turn hard to the left.
  • T4: Hug the gator just a hair too long, then throttle and turn back to the right.
  • T5: Ride over the gator and point to the center of the track.
  • T6: Brake, lift & turn, throttle. Kick out rear and slide to the outside gator. Point just to the right of the phone pole.
  • T7: Move across from track left just slightly and apply brakes just before the crest. Turn toward the left-hand gator. Rear will jump over the gator. Countersteer and 50% throttle. Rear will jump over next gator. Countersteer again and roll on throttle. 100% throttle and consistent steering input thru T8
  • T8: Aim for the back side of the gator.
  • T9: Back-side of gator, but shift to 4th when car settles.
  • T10: Back out of throttle to 90% Pray (with the right god behind you, you can stay at 100%, but be prepared for a very exciting drift through the next two turns).
  • T11 & T12: Constant radius arc. 100% throttle throughout.
  • T12A: Does not exist. Ride the gator and go straight through the black asphalt. Do not brake for Roller Coaster until you can see the outside gator. And even that might be too early.
Sadly my instructor stuffed his Porsche 944 / LS1 into the tirewall at track-out from Bitch, but it didn't do much damage.

Mazda Drivers Spring DE at VIR Grand East from Adrian Amos on Vimeo.

1 comment:

JamieSmitten said...

My favorite line of this entire post:

Hug the gator just a hair too long

Possibly a warning that applies to everyone.