ChumpCar Race at The Ridge – Part 2

ChumpCar World Series Logo

This is a long overdue post covering the second part of the ChumpCar race at The Ridge last year. Much has happened since then and I’ll have to post a recap of past events as time has just flown by with life getting busy, travel, work, etc.

The evening before the race I’d found the seating position of the car didn’t allow me to reach the pedals so the morning of the race the team got to work taking the seat out and making adjustments. They were able to get the seat to slide forward enough for me to reach the pedals with the help of some padding between me and the seat back. I can’t say I wasn’t a bit concerned if there’d be enough time to make the adjustments as we were getting close to the start of the race. Everyone calmly got to work and just focused until it was done. Looking back, as a novice I found I probably worried about things more because it was all so new to me.

Shortly after the adjustments were done, our first driver went out to start the race and we headed to our team canopy behind the pit wall. Mike introduced me to this mobile app called Race Monitor which allows you to view timing and scoring data live from the race. It works on both iPhone and Android and was helpful for us to track our team car and I’ve also used it since to monitor other races I’ve attended.

Our car was running well and moving up the ranks nicely which was really exciting. I was the last driver in our lineup as I was the least experienced with it being my first race. The team completed successful pit stops and driver swaps and things seemed to be going well.

Pit-stop

That was until the car had to come in because of fuel pickup problems prior to my first run. The team worked on the car, made some adjustments and were able to continue on with the problem seemingly resolved. It was then time for me to get suited up and ready to jump into the car for my first stint; I was beyond excited.

I’m glad I had the support of the team and pit crew the first time I got in the car. Getting all the gear on with helmet and HANS, getting strapped into the car, getting everything adjusted and ready to go takes a bit more than I thought. Things you wouldn’t think about like the order of putting your gear on and how to get in the car and get adjusted without being able to move much can be a challenge the first time. It’s a bit different doing it leisurely on your own compared to in the middle of a race during a pit stop. The team did a great job of helping me through it quickly and the next thing I knew I was strapped into a race car getting ready to head out for my first race.

Cockpit

I can still remember the feeling while waiting to leave the pits, it was a bit surreal as I glanced around me to see all the car’s gauges in what felt like a space suit strapped to a rocket at the time. A combination of excitement, anticipation, and a realization that “this is it”, the thing I’d been waiting to do for quite a while. All that instantly faded away as I was given the signal to go and felt that intense focus come on as I moved my thoughts away from my immediate surroundings and projected it forward onto the hot race track.

I was off, checking my mirrors as I made it past the blend line and onto the familiar line of the track. Although at the same track I’d driven before, this felt like a totally different experience. The car sounded great and handled amazing compared to my street car. Quite a difference driving a car with race tires, rear wheel drive, stiff suspension and roll cage. I very quickly found myself wheel to wheel with other cars on track going into corners together. I have to admit this was a bit nerve wracking at first not being used to driving so close to other cars at speed, into turns, or being passed by cars significantly faster anywhere on track. No point by’s or passing zones here but I quickly adjusted to the environment after a couple of laps and began to get a good rhythm going.

dead-bull

I was up to speed and catching some slower cars, made a couple of passes, and that was a very rewarding and exciting feeling. I continued on for several laps until I caught some cars that were running at about the same pace. I had a great battle with one car, the #74 Dead Bull station wagon, almost catching it for a couple of laps but it had a horsepower advantage on the straightaway so wasn’t able to make the pass despite my being a bit quicker in the corners. Then things got a bit weird with the car.

I started to notice it wasn’t quite responding to the throttle input as well and started to feel a bit sluggish and the car I was trying to catch start pulling away from me. I stayed out for a few laps to confirm and then decided to come into the pits to have it checked out. It was close to the end of my first run so figured it’d be best to have things looked at before the next driver switch. I came into the pits and told the team about it, they checked things over and put in the next driver.

Under-hood

The next driver went out for a few laps and then had to come into the pits as the problem seemed to be getting worse. That’s racing for you, you never know what’s going to happen. ChumpCar in particular as you can imagine takes this risk/reward ratio to the next level and really challenges the teams to figure out how to keep the cars running through the endurance race. Next door to us the team was in the process of doing an engine swap in the middle of the race. That made our problems seem small in comparison but something was definitely not right with our car.

After some more tweaking on the car we had another driver swap and after a while the car had to come back in for the same reason. We were quickly loosing positions and the team was baffled by what might be going on with the car. They had to bring it back into the paddock to get it on jackstands and look underneath.

on-jack-stands

There seemed to be a small leak coming from the differential but that wasn’t the cause of the problem. The team decided to change out the fuel filter since it seemed like something in the fuel system was getting clogged. Shortly after that repair, it was my turn again to go back out.

The car seemed to be running well in the pits so I went back out on track and was ready for some more racing. The first few laps were great, the car was quick and I was making some good passes and picking up the pace again. Then things got interesting so to speak.

The car started to get bogged down again and shortly after started sputtering and threatening to stall. I was on the other side of the track with no radio so I had to try and get myself back around the track to make it to the pits. I was starting to get blue flags as the car was slowing down and I had fast traffic coming up quick behind me. I was trying to rev the engine to keep it from stalling but at one point it just died. I caused a couple of white flags as I tried just rolling down hills while trying to get the car re-started to no avail. I pulled off the track near one of the flag stations and sat there trying to start the engine again. I finally got it restarted and managed to keep it on and limp it back onto the track with the help of the corner workers and eventually made it to the pits.

That was a pretty crazy lap as cars were zooming around me and I was hoping everyone was paying attention to flags and wouldn’t come crashing into me since I was limping along around the track off the racing line. In retrospect, as nerve wracking as that felt at the time, it was a actually a good learning experience. Knowing what to do in an emergency is pretty important and I feel I made the right choices keeping myself safe and communicating with the flag workers to help me get around the course and back to the pits.

Once in the pits, the team looked over the car again and decided it was done for the race. There wasn’t anything else left to do that they hadn’t tried without getting it back to the shop. It was a bit disappointing but at least we all got a decent amount of seat time and it was definitely a blast to drive when it was running well.

lompoc-done

I’ve since kept in touch with Mike and learned the issue seemed to be the foam inside the fuel cell may have been disintegrating and clogging the fuel filter. They’ve since run the car in other events and it’s been working well.

That’s racing sometimes but overall I have to say I had a great experience meeting a great group of people, getting in the middle of some exciting and fun wheel to wheel racing, and getting a good amount of seat time despite the issues with the car. This race made me realize I really wanted to do this more often, and I’ll be sharing the rest of the journey here in future posts.

 

ChumpCar Race at The Ridge – Part 1

ChumpCar World Series LogoAs I briefly mentioned in a previous post, I participated in my first wheel-to-wheel race last month. I signed up for the ChumpCar World Series and joined The Old Lompoc Special team in their Mazda RX7 for the race. The official name of the race was “Fast Times at Ridge-Mo-Park”, held at The Ridge Motorsports Park of course.

The ChumpCar World Series, for those not familiar with it, is a self described “crap can” endurance racing series designed to make road racing accessible and affordable. In a nutshell, you buy a car valued at under $500, fix it up with some safety equipment, put together a team of about 4 drivers and go racing together. No racing school requirement, no SCCA license needed, and tons of seat time. I’m oversimplifying things a bit but that is the idea at the core. You can learn more about ChumpCar on their website and forums.

For me, this was a very exciting opportunity and a great way to end the season by getting a taste of road racing. I wasn’t looking to build a car for this series myself so I browsed the ChumpCar forums and responded to someone looking for a driver at the 14-hour endurance race at The Ridge. I emailed back and forth with Mike, the team owner, a few times and I agreed to join their team as an “arrive and drive” paying driver. They were the most expensive team to join from the ones I’d inquired with but they also seemed to be the most well organized and professional outfits out there. They offered what I was looking for, a well-put together and tested car, arrive and drive arrangement, and all expenses included in the price.

Race suit

Trying out the racing gear

Preparing for the event I looked over the ChumpCar rules including the necessary safety gear. I’d need to pick up a helmet, race suit and other fire-proof gear. Since I wasn’t ready to buy these outright I searched online for rentals. I found a place online called RaceSuitRental that rents race suit packages specifically for ChumpCar. They provide a great service at a reasonable price and that’s where I got my helmet, suit, shoes, and gloves.

I picked up fireproof under layers locally at 425 Motorsports. I did a good amount of reading on safety equipment and the types of gear needed and learned about the importance of these items as well as a neck restraint system. I added a Hans device to my rental and everything came delivered neatly packed in a Bell duffle bag.

A few things I’d like to point out about race gear for those that haven’t tried some on. It gets HOT in there real quick. Once you’re suited up you’re wearing fireproof underwear, socks, balaclava, suit, gloves, shoes, Hans device, and helmet. That’s part of the challenge of driving a racecar, particularly in an endurance race, and something you may have thought about but it’s just not the same until you put on the gear yourself. It certainly makes me appreciate the guys who do this professionally, it’s not as easy as it looks.

Arriving at the event it was quite a site to behold. Although I’d been to The Ridge several times prior, the atmosphere was certainly different from what I was used to. This is one of the first things I came across walking to the ChumpCar registration tent:

ChumpCar Grill

The registration tent itself was in the spirit of ChumpCar, nothing fancy but they did have some very nice and cleverly designed trophies made out of car parts on display:

ChumpCar Trophies

I have to show of the second place trophy up close as it’s hard to tell the detail work that went into these otherwise. This was one of my favorites:

ChumpCar-Robot-Trophy

After I got myself registered which included having the ChumpCar officials inspect my safety gear, I got a chance to walk around while I waited for my team to arrive (they were driving a big rig from Portland).

I took a chance to take some pictures of the various themed cars I saw around the paddock:

Buzz

Little-Pony

Fail

Partridge-Family

Gangreen

After the truck arrived I met the rest of the team and got the car unloaded:

Unloading

Red-RX7

Once the car was out and gear was starting to get organized for the race the next morning I had a chance to sit in the car and check it out. The first thing I noticed was the drivers seat was too far back for me to comfortably reach the pedals (drawback of being short). We’d have to make some adjustments the next morning before the race.

High Performance Driving at The Ridge

This past Sunday I went back to The Ridge Motorsports Park for one of their High Performance Driving days. The event was hosted by the Ridge Racing School and they had a great turnout on a beautiful summer day.

Ridge-School

The Ridge Racing school currently lists a couple type of events, the High Performance Driving Day and the Ridge Driving Experience. The latter is their introductory course for new drivers while the one I attended is for experienced sport drivers or licensed racers only. I was able to attend this one based on my previous track experience which although not extensive, does include my being approved for solo driving on this track thanks to the Hooked on Driving (HoD) event I attended earlier.

The Ridge is an amazing track and I’d been looking forward to returning here since my first visit with HoD. One of the reasons I chose this date to come back is I’ve recently joined a team for an upcoming ChumpCar Race at The Ridge in a couple of weeks. ChumpCar is an endurance race series for cheap cars.

I’ll be writing more about this after the race but am very excited to be a part of it as this will be my first actual wheel to wheel race (as opposed to lapping days). So coming to The Ridge ahead of that was a great opportunity to refresh my memory of the track and get some practice before the big day.

Ferrari-EntranceOne of the first things I noticed coming in to The Ridge this time around was the types of cars that I was lining up behind upon arriving.

Honestly, I felt a bit out of place at first as it looked more like an exotic car show than a normal lapping day.

So you don’t think I’m exaggerating, I’ll post a sampling of the types of vehicles I saw around the paddock below (say hello to Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, KTM, etc):

Ferrari

Porsche
LamborghiniKTMI quickly got over feeling out of place with my Integra and just took it all in and met a bunch of friendly people who happen to drive very nice cars. The staff at the event were great as well and there’s just a great energy hanging around with a bunch of car and motorsports enthusiasts.

Getting on track again was a blast. I hired an instructor for an hour to help me get back in the groove quickly he was very helpful reminding me about turn in points, track out and car positioning to clean up my line. I found I remembered a good amount of the track but there were a couple of areas I needed to work on.

Early in the day I got a good amount of passing done being pointed by much faster cars. One in particular I found to be a great deal of fun, almost comical. The Lamborghini pictured above was a first timer to the track and I kept catching him in the corners while he just launched away like a rocket in the straightaways. He eventually had to point me by as he was actually going much slower around the whole track. :)

Towards the end of the day I found I was getting pretty quick around the track. The other drivers had gotten up to speed by then but I was certainly holding my own in one of the slower cars on track. I had one other very memorable pass which was also the most exhilarating, being pointed by a late model Porsche 911 with both of us moving at speed on a straightaway. I just had a really good run through turns 3, 4, and 5 leading up to the straight and was going significantly faster. I can already tell I’m going to really enjoy wheel to wheel racing.

Unfortunately, that was short lived as I ended up spinning midway into turn 6 from carrying too much speed. I ended up taking a short off track excursion but luckily didn’t travel very far and came to a safe stop. I re-entered the track after the Porsche passed by, probably wondering what the big dust cloud was about.

I definitely got my money’s worth at this event, got re-acquainted with the track and feel pretty comfortable and fast through the turns. I even found the entry speed limit to turn 6, so overall a great day of learning. Until the next time!

 

Forza 4 GRM IT7 Series Starts

The Grassroots Motorsports forums Spec B Forza 4 series finished a couple of weeks back and today we started the new IT7 series. This is a spec series using the 1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE and I’d been working on building my car for today’s first race. Here are some pictures:

Mazda RX7 1

Mazda RX7 2

We had a pretty good turnout for the first event at Infineon Raceway. I still have a bit of tweaking to do with the car setup as it can still be a bit drift happy but am enjoying the rear wheel drive action so far. Here we are doing our rolling start lap for the sprint race (the second of two races):

Race at Infineon Raceway

SCCA Double Regional at The Ridge

This weekend I drove out to The Ridge Motorsports Park to watch the SCCA Double Regional/Vintage race. This was my first time going to one of the SCCA road races and I was pretty excited to see this one at The Ridge, having driven the track myself recently.

I had a great time at the race and walked around the paddock area and got to see a variety of race cars in the various SCCA classes anywhere from lightly modified spec cars to full open cockpit purpose build race cars. Since this event also featured a vintage race there were some very nice classics to see as well including early Porsche’s, Corvette’s, and Mustangs.

Of particular interest to me was meeting some of the guys who race in  Pro 44, the Pacific NW Porsche 944 series. I got a chance to meet Geg Fordahl from Fordahl Motorsports and the rest of the guys racing 944′s that weekend. One of them had a pretty sweet looking Rothmans 944 which I learned is a rare version of the 944 built for the Canadian Porsche Challenge series in the late 80′s. I had a chance to watch this car run in the vintage race which was a blast.

Rothmans-944

I spent a good amount of time hanging out with the Pro 44 guys and they were all very friendly and kind enough to share some of their experiences running the 944′s. I found this to be very valuable as this is the series I’m looking to get into myself next season.

Forza 4 Race – Motegi East

Tonight we just finished the Forza 4 Grassroots Motorsports B Spec race at Motegi East.

I hadn’t had a ton of practice this week so wasn’t feeling too confident about my lap times on the track but did pretty well considering. We didn’t have a big turnout as we’d had in previous races but we did have 8 cars and I qualified 5th. I ended up finishing 4th so was pretty happy with how the race went. Early in the race I made a pass for 3rd but wasn’t able to hold on to it. I made a mistake coming into a turn too hot and ran out of track which slowed me down enough to give the position back.

Here’s a short clip of my pass for 3rd early in the race:

New Brakes and Rotors

New brakesAfter last week’s track day it was definitely time to replace the brakes. Since I still had the factory rotors I decided to replace those as well. I ordered some Hawk HPS brake pads all around and Brembo rotors online. They arrived yesterday so I set up an appointment at the local auto shop to have them replaced. Earlier I picked up some ATE Super Blue brake fluid so I had everything ready to go.

Acura-on-LiftI’m buying my own parts and just paying for labor as I’m not set up to do the work myself (don’t have the space/tools). Bill, the mechanic at the shop was fine with me hanging around while he worked so I got to observe and see how to do the installation. I’ve done minor things like oil changes but haven’t done a brake job myself so this was good to learn.

So now the squealing is gone, and the brakes feel great. I’m looking forward to the next track day to see how they perform.

4th of July at Pacific Raceways

Usually the 4th of July is when the weather in Washington decides it’s the official start of Summer and this year was no exception. Since it fell on a Wednesday it meant no long weekend but instead an opportunity to go back to the track.

Pacific Raceways

Pacific Raceways was having a drivers school and afternoon lapping day on the 4th hosted by ProFormance Racing School. Since they usually hold lapping days at this track on weekdays, I hadn’t been able to make it out since I work during the week. This was a perfect opportunity for me to get some seat time on the track closest to home (about 45 minutes away).

ProFormance Racing SchoolI called ProFormance to ask about their all day driver’s school program and spoke with the owner, Don Kitch. He recommended I go for the afternoon lapping day with a coach instead since I’d already had prior track experience, just not at this particular track. That worked out great as not to repeat classroom stuff I’d already been through but also get someone to show me the line on this track.

Integra-PaddockI arrived at the track and saw there were several cars already there for the high performance driver school that started in the morning. This group was still in the classroom session when I arrived so I got some time to empty out the car and look around before they went out on course and I could register. There were a few other afternoon lappers but not a large group which I figured would mean less traffic on the track. This is a good thing when first learning a new track, less people coming up fast behind you to have to point by.

In the paddock I saw a Lotus 2 Eleven which I hadn’t seen before and talking with the owner learned is a rare car, so I had to get a couple of pictures.

Lotus-2-Eleven

As the first group headed out to their cars to grid, I met my coach Michael outside before going in to register. At registration I met Don Kitch and he gave me a ProFormance log book and I filled out some paperwork. It’s kind of funny, but in the course of a few short months I have 3 logbooks now (SCCA Time Trials, Hooked on Driving, and now one from ProFormance). These are actually very helpful as the purpose is for you to document what you learned, particular turns on the track you want to remember, and areas to work on. I’m actually being quite diligent here and making some good notes because I see the value in that, just as in writing down my experiences here.

After registration we had a short drivers meeting where Don went over the track, flags, passing protocol, and general safety information. Now that I’ve been to a couple of these I can identify some of the subtle differences you’ll encounter on different tracks. Things like passing protocol may differ between tracks or groups you run with. For example, at Hooked on Driving they required one point by for each car. That means you stick your hand out of the window to point one car by and then bring your hand back in. If there was a second car behind the first, you would stick your hand out again for that second car, and so on. With ProFormance, you would instead leave your hand out and subsequent vehicles could pass until you put your hand back in the car. Similarly, passing zones were marked by green and red cones at Pacific Raceways whereas they were blue at The Ridge. These are all fairly minor differences but it’s important for all the drivers to be on the same page for safety.

After a short break I met up with Michael and we were ready to go on track. As I’d seen in previous events, the instructor would drive your car on course for a couple of laps to show you the line so we’d be doing the same here. Pacific Raceways has fewer turns than the Ridge but the track layout is still quite technical so I knew it would take me some time to get used to it.

Pacific-Raceways-Track-Map

We came back on track and switched seats and headed back out. The first few laps Michael walked me through each turn helping me put the car in the right place as he’d shown me when he was driving. We were going slower and I pointed a few cars by so that we could drive at a speed where Michael could call out the turns and give me instruction.

After those few laps we came back off track to discuss a couple of turns. Turn 2 is a sweeper that requires a similar technique I practiced at The Ridge. I needed to turn in and set the wheel, maintain throttle, have the car come in to the apex on it’s own, then apply throttle gradually and let the car track out to the edge. I avoided my previous habit of trying to accelerate while turning but I was turning in too early. This made me reach the inside of the turn too soon and made me go slower. Michael suggested I follow this seam on the track which would keep the car more on the outside of the turn. Also, on turn 3a I needed to turn sharply to the right and keep the steering wheel set as I had a tendency to try to unwind too early. This is the slowest section of track, it’s downhill and banked so it took a bit of getting used to, but it is actually a really fun turn once I got the hang of it.

We continued sessions of a couple of laps and stopping for feedback which was very helpful. I started to learn the track by turn number and improve my use of the track with “you paid for the track, use all of it” coaching from Michael. Another thing he mentioned I was doing was braking for too long, causing the brakes to heat up and start to fade. I needed to brake a little later and harder to slow the car faster and minimize the amount of times I was on the brakes to allow them to cool.

After a break Michael approved me for solo driving and handed me the ProFormance track license which allows me to drive the track solo at their events. I went back out and practiced what I’d learned and was able to carry more speed through the turns. I really started to feel comfortable on the track and can now visualize all the turns in my mind. Towards the end of the day about 15 minutes before the event ended I noticed my fuel gague was almost at empty (I had filled the tank just before the event). Also I was experiencing more brake fade going through the turns so I decided that was a good time to end.

Checkered-Flag

Overall it was a great day on the track in beautiful summer weather. I learned the track and am now approved to drive Pacific Raceways solo on lapping days. I’ve improved my line in the sweeper and am able to hit the apex and accelerate out much better. I also worked on my braking and transitions so overall feeling much smoother and quicker.

One thing I’ve learned is the value of working with coaches/instructors. In particular, when learning a new track I find it saves a ton of time over having to try and figure out all this stuff on my own. I figure if I am paying for track time anyway, I might as well pay a bit more to learn the line from someone who really knows it and can help me make the most out of my  day.

One of the things I should mention is the big difference I saw in the wear on a warm summer day vs driving in the wet/rain. I used a full tank of gas just in afternoon lapping as the straightaway was pretty fast, reaching just about 120 mph in the Integra. I definitely saw some tire wear but not huge, just noticeable. What did get alot of wear was the brakes, not helped by my earlier mistake of staying on the brakes too long. They were already a bit worn from the previous track days but this time around I used up whatever was left.

Brakes-GoneWhen I exited to the paddock at the end of the day I heard some squealing and upon checking the brakes it looks like the rear’s were pretty much completely gone and the fronts were pretty low. I had enough left to get home but am leaving the car parked for a few days and have ordered some new brakes and rotors all around. The squealing is not too loud when driving, but I found that going in reverse is very loud so I took this video so you can see what I mean:

As I told Michael when he asked how it went at the end of the day, “I’m out of gas and out of brakes, it was a great day.”

Hooked on Driving – Part 2

At the lunch break the instructors conducted “demos” where they would drive their own cars and take students along for a ride on the track. I had the chance to ride along with another instructor in Don’s Lotus Elise and that was a blast! The car definitely feels very purpose built for the track, and handles more like a kart than a car in how precise it felt in steering and overall responsiveness.

Don's-Lotus-EliseLater in the day Don invited me to ride along with him in the car as well and he demonstrated more of the smoothness we had been working on in my car and it further illustrated where I needed to focus my practice. He really was making very minimal turns of the wheel, smoothly setting it, and then using the throttle to make minor adjustments throughout the turn. He definitely showed a driving level I aspire to get to with more practice so I really appreciated that experience.

We then went out for more laps and I was starting to feel much more confident about the turns on the track. Don did a great job of figuring out where I was skill wise and pushing me to get better. He had me braking later at the straightway as I had a tendency to lift a bit early and brake earlier than I needed to (from doing a bit over 100 mph on the main straight). He kept reminding me to use maintenance throttle (not accelerating or decelerating) during the turns and helped me with my shift points during braking. All of these things resulted in my going incrementally faster. I was starting to get pointed by to pass by higher performance cars and that was a blast.

Colin's-Porsche-944After one of the breaks I took the time to walk around a bit and talk with some of the other drivers. I had noticed earlier in the day someone had a Porsche 944 on track so I looked for the car and went to meet the owner. I met Colin, who told me he’d recently bought the car a few weeks back and loved it. It’s a lower horsepower car but he found it to be great for learning without extra power masking your mistakes or getting you into trouble. So far it looks like that may be the right car for me to get as a race car so I was glad to have a chance to chat with him.

Porsche-911As I walked around I took the time to snap some more pictures of other cool cars I saw in the paddock and I came across a very serious looking race prepped Porsche 911. The owner turned out to be one of the instructors and I chatted with him briefly about the car. He then offered me a ride in it, and I jumped at the chance! Now this was probably one of the highlights of the day. I got in the car and strapped in the 5 point harness of the racing seat and we went out. The first lap felt absolutely like a roller coaster ride. Although I’d been out on track both in my car and as a passenger in the Lotus, this was definitely way faster. This thing was fiercely loud and just ate up the track spectacularly. We got pointed by several cars and it was just a blast lap after lap.

I went back on track in my car for the remainder of the day and continued working on my skills. Later in the day Don approved me for solo, which means I could go on track on my own without an instructor riding with me. This allowed me to continue practicing on my own and by the end of the day I really felt things were clicking for me. I was able to implement Don’s instruction and could see I was carrying alot more speed through the turns while at the same time doing so more smoothly. This is a great and addicting feeling, when you can get the car to just fly through the track almost at the limit in a very controlled fashion with the minimum steering inputs needed.

trackOverall this was an amazing track day and a great value for the amount of instruction and experiences I got that day. I’m now approved for solo on two local tracks and have come a long way in terms of driving ability on the track. I can’t say enough good things about Don and the Hooked on Driving team of instructors and I’ll definitely be looking out for their future events.

Hooked on Driving – Part 1

The Ridge EntranceAfter my first track day at Bremerton, I looked at the schedule for upcoming events and saw there was something coming up the next weekend at The Ridge Motorsports Park. With the motorsports season well underway and summer weather in Washington starting to peek through, I felt up to tackling a larger track right away and continue the momentum in developing my new skills.

This event was hosted by Hooked on Driving, a race and performance driving school that  hosts events at various tracks throughout the country (I learned this after visiting their website). This was again a bit of a leap from the previous event both in terms of cost and venue. I was definitely pretty excited at the prospect of learning a new track, one that was not only new to me, but newly constructed.

Driving to The Ridge is just under a 2 hour ride, but not too bad early on a Saturday morning (I left around 5:30 am to get there by 7:30 am). Since my commute to work is only about 20 minutes it was actually nice to go for a long drive, especially when anticipating a fun track day. The weather was cooperating for the most part, although it did rain lightly on and off early on. I arrived at the track, parked next to a couple of Corvettes, and proceeded to the big yellow Hooked on Driving tent for registration.

Hooked-on-Driving-TentThere I picked up a loaner helmet, a new logbook, and group A sticker for the windshield. Group A is the beginner group as they also offer intermediate and advanced groups so you can run the track with drivers of similar ability levels safely. I got my car unloaded of all loose items and took a few minutes to walk around the paddock and check out a bunch of the cars driving that day. I found it pretty fun to see my car parked next to all these exotics and high performance sports and race cars.

Acura-Integra-PaddockThe day officially started with the morning drivers meeting where Hooked on Driving regional owner Don Clinkinbeard gave away some prizes for their referral program including sets of Pirelli tires (Pirelli was one of the event sponsors) and free track days. I’ll definitely have to keep this in mind next time since I didn’t know about it before then.

The first next thing for me was a group A classroom session led by Don where he explained the schedule for the day and asked us all to introduce ourselves and say why we were there. For many people this was their first track day and just wanted to drive their cars fast in a safe environment.

Acura-Integra-on-GridSince I had already been out on a track, my goal was to learn this track and develop my skills. We then proceeded to review some slides on safety, flags, the track, and were told to line up our cars on the grid and wait for instructors to take us out on the track for our first couple of laps.

As I was waiting on the grid for an instructor to come by, it looked like they were running short on instructors so Don himself would be instructing me. That was pretty exciting and I was looking forward to learning alot from him. We went out on our first few laps with him driving and we were able to talk to each other via connected headsets in the helmets. I had mentioned to Don previously that I had done the PDX at Bremerton and he told me The Ridge would be very different, and he was right.

The-Ridge-Track-MapThis track was alot larger and more technical, with blind corners, elevation changes, and a long sweeper. It was a bit overwhelming the first few times around the track but I definitely got a sense of how well Don knew the track with him at the wheel.

We then switched drivers and I had my turn on the track. While we were on grid waiting in line we talked some more and he mentioned he brought his Lotus Elise he would be driving later in the day but also owned a Porsche 944 Turbo. This was great to learn as I have been researching the 944 Spec series as a goal and asked his advice on racing in that series. He told me the most important thing there is to be a good driver. The 944 Spec series has evenly matched cars so it’s not about upgrading the cars to go faster but about driving well. This is why I’ve been particularly interested in starting in a spec series, I’m more interested in developing as a driver and competing on skill to minimize the variables to deal with starting out.

My first laps on the track we started slow and I started to learn the line, braking points, turn in points, corner apexes, and landmark reference points (trees in the distance, patches of grass that stood out). Also important was learning the location of the flaggers at the worker stations and identifying the passing zones marked by blue cones. It’s alot to keep up with the first time on a new track but my previous track day made it feel less overwhelming and having an instructor in the car talking me through the turns was great.

As we continued through the lapping session I picked up more speed and started to be a bit more consistent hitting the apexes and following landmark references. Landmarks turned out to be particularly important at The Ridge because you have to rely on them to point the car in the right direction when coming up on blind uphill turns where you don’t see the apex cone until you’re over the hill. We used tree tops as a way to orient the car at various places on the track which worked great.

The-Carousel

The Carousel, see white apex cone off in the distance

I also learned to navigate a long sweeping turn (The Carousel) where you turn the car in at the turn in cone and set the wheel, turn your head towards a far away apex cone, and just use maintenance throttle to let the car gradually arc inwards patiently until it gets to the apex. This is easier said than done, as this was an area I had trouble with and kept trying to accelerate while turning. This just caused the car to push outwards (understeer) and miss the apex. This is something I struggled with through the day and finally improved on towards the end with repeated practice.

As I got faster navigating the track, I ended up catching up to other cars and at one point was trailing a blue BMW M3. At one of the turns it looked like he lifted off the throttle mid turn and ended up spinning out right in front of us. The instructor saw it coming and had me slow down as the other car spun off towards the right side of the track and stalled the engine. Earlier Don had mentioned the importance of maintenance throttle and not lifting on some of the turns so this was a great first hand demonstration of what happens if you do (without me having to spin out).

We covered this and other aspects in the following classroom session.  One of the most valuable things I learned from Don was the importance of not only being smooth but making a turn with the wheel and setting it, holding it steady and making any adjustments with the throttle instead of the wheel. This was again, throttle steering, which I’d experienced in the wet in Bremerton but got more practice here with a semi dry track (it had been sprinkling earlier in the day) and then on a dry track in the afternoon.