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.

My First Track Day – SCCA PDX

Ever since my first experiences with autocross I knew I wanted to get more involved with motorsports and some day try road racing. This summer I made the leap and decided to take action on that goal.

I went to the SCCA website and found the next upcoming Performance Driving Experience (PDX) event and registered. The PDX is the very first introductory level event for road racing. It was my opportunity to get out on a road course with my daily driver (1999 Acura Integra GS-R) which I had autocrossed so many years back.

I found a wealth of information online both at the SCCA website but also at this site called Go Ahead – Take the Wheel. They break down how to get started road racing, the various types of events, what to bring, how to prepare, what to expect, etc. It’s an truly excellent resource that I not only recommend but will continue to reference throughout my journey.

This PDX event was held at Bremerton Motorsports Park here in Washington which is about an hour and a half from where I live. I had to get up pretty early on a Saturday morning to get there by 8:00 am with enough fuel in the car to make it through the day. You burn up fuel much faster when racing than you do driving normally so it’s good to fill up before getting to the track.

The morning started with a tech inspection of the car and getting a loaner helmet from the club. So far this was the same as it is in autocross so it felt immediately comfortable. We then went on a track walk with the lead instructor, David Jackson. Again, this was similar to autocross but now we were on a much bigger track. Interestingly, I think Bremerton is the ideal track for a first time road course experience for someone like me having previous autocross experience.

Bremerton Track Map – Click to enlarge

Bremerton is a track on an airfield and the course is defined by cones and larger pylons just like an autocross track. The difference is there were much fewer cones, not as many turns, and a very long straightaway allowing for much faster speeds. Also, there were concrete walls in the middle of the course so I was certainly keenly aware that spinning out in the wrong place would not be the same as in autocross where there is usually nothing but cones to hit. David had some great stories to tell from his many years of racing experience and he did a great job of dispensing advice.

After the track walk we went into the classroom session with the PDX group where David started going over a presentation. We then went to perform some exercises near the paddock area. They set up a coned slalom course, again very familiar from autocross. This was a two part exercise, the slalom followed by threshold braking section to stop in between two cones. Threshold breaking is braking has hard as you can at the right time to have the car stop exactly where indicated. It was fun to hear the ABS come on at the end of each run, I don’t normally get to feel that in my car. It took a couple of tries to get the car stopping at marked location as I found I was braking too early.

My white Integra on grid

From there it was back to a classroom session where we talked about flags and their meanings. It’s important to know where the flag workers are located throughout the track as you’ll have to watch for flags during the race. This was all prep to go onto the track which we did next. We each had instructors drive our cars for two laps to show us the racing line and for us to find the corner workers. Then we switched and drove the rest of the session with instructors riding with us. This is where it really gets exciting!

The first few laps were getting acquainted with the track layout, which was not that hard at Bremerton. Listening to feedback from my Instructor Harley Johnson was very helpful and I learned I could take turns 3 and 4 (see track map) in a higher gear (3rd instead of 2nd in my car) and was able to carry more speed through those corners.

Throughout the day I continued working on threshold breaking after the 100 mph straight on the track. The fun part for me was not so much going 100 mph but the change in speed threshold breaking from 100 mph down to make a tight left turn at the end of the straight into turn 1. I was still breaking a bit early and each lap I continued to brake a little later as I got closer to the turn in point. Then I had my first off track excursion when I experienced brake fade, braking a bit too late and essentially missing the turn altogether. Harley saw I was going to miss it and just motioned me to continue going straight as there was a runoff road at the end of that turn. That was totally unexpected and I wasn’t sure what to do for a moment so that mistake was a great learning experience. I went off track to a safe distance from the turn in case other cars missed it as well. I then turned the car around and waited for the nearby corner worker to wave us back onto the track (this had caused a local yellow flag).

That was the last lap of the morning run and upon returning to the paddock I was signaled to stop by the lead instructor. He wanted to “have a word” and asked me what happened. I explained I hit the brakes late and experienced fade. He said I did the right thing (of course, I had help from my instructor Harley riding in the car with me) but that was a great learning experience. I don’t plan on going off track much but now I know what to do in that situation, always focused on safety.

Later in the day it suddenly started pouring rain. We are in Washington state after all, go figure. This made things even more interesting as puddles quickly turned the track into a mess for the other prepared cars with race tires (very little or no tread). We waited out the rain a bit and David went out with safety workers to inspect the track. When he saw it had dried enough he sent our PDX group out first since we were on street tires. That would help clear the track of standing water for the rest of the field.

This was actually a blast. I got to feel the car slide around a bit but I felt I could control very precisely where I put the car just by holding the wheel steady and using the throttle (called throttle steering). This is much easier to do in the wet because you can experience it at slower speeds.

I got my share of blue flags (faster cars coming up behind) and practiced point by’s (sticking your hand out of the window and pointing another car by so they can safely pass). The format of the event is strictly about learning and not racing other cars so there was no pressure there and could just focus on being a safe driver and learning the track.

Another flag I experienced was a red flag, meaning come to a complete stop off the side of the track near the flag station. It turned out a deer came out of the woods and ran onto the track so they had to stop the whole field to ensure nobody hit the deer or got their car hit by the deer. I’m told you don’t normally get a red flag on course unless something really bad happend so this was a good one to experience without someone being hurt or cars being damaged.

Overall this PDX was a great experience and definitely got me ready for the next time I could get on a race track.

My Forza 4 Simulation Setup

After doing quite a bit of racing in Forza Motorsport 4, I decided I wanted to step it up a few notches. I started doing some research online in the area of driving simulation and found that people were putting together some pretty serious setups for games like Forza and iRacing.

I found everything from full metal cockpit cages with multiple monitors and racing seats to a basic wireless control steering wheel from Microsoft. The handheld wireless wheel controller is nice but not as precise or immersive. It’s probably a step up from the regular controller but not by much. I don’t have the room for a full simulation setup so a cockpit was out of the question and my budget for something like this. My friend Mark had played around with some of the setups from Fanatec and after looking into them I decided these would work best for me.

I decided to go with the Fanatec CSR wheel and Rennsport wheel stand. I ended up ordering their combo setup which includes the wheel, CSR Elite pedals, and shifters (H pattern and sequential). The wheel stand is great because it folds and allows me to move it out of the way when not in use and is quick to set up yet sturdy. I already had a race car gaming chair that works perfectly with this setup.

I found this setup works great and really changes the game and how I play. I changed the game setting steering to simulation and controller type to wheel with clutch. Now I’m able to drive with a real brake/gas pedal, shift with a real clutch and shifter and get force feedback from the wheel when driving. This all comes together to give you an even better and more immersive experience when racing. The biggest thing I noticed is how much smoother you can be using the wheel and pedals. I always found it hard to give it just a little bit of throttle with the controller triggers, now I have a much better range of control. Also, holding the wheel steady or making minor corrections is much much easier.

The setup is not cheap, and it’s certainly a big expense for a “game”. Sure, I could have gone to a couple of track events for that price but with this setup I can practice every week  and even work on things like heel toe downshifting when I’m not in my car. It makes my participation in the weekly series feel like much more of an event as I bring out the setup before the race and get myself into position.

Of course this setup can be used with other racing games as well. Forza Horizons will be coming out soon so I’m looking forward to trying it with that as well. I’m still pretty addicted to Forza and recently picked up the Porsche expansion which is great. They keep adding content like the new Dodge Viper so this setup will definitely keep me satisfied in between real life driving events.

Forza Motorsport 4

So I’m big into games, always have been, and I spent many hours with the original Gran Turismo on the PlayStation. That’s the game that really started it all for me, the first game that had great car physics and a variety of production cars to choose from and customize. Ever since GT things have just gotten better and better for gamers who love racing.

The latest and greatest in my opinion is Forza Motorsport 4 on Xbox 360. It really excels in vehicle dynamics simulation, attention to detail in everything from the cars themselves, cockpits, tracks, and customizations. There are plenty of game review sites covering the game itself and why it’s so amazing so I won’t rehash those aspects here. What I do want to talk about is how this applies to racing (great writeup here) and can aid in driver skill development.

Although there is no substitute for what racers call “seat time”, time spent sitting in the seat of a car on a real track, there is something to be said for simulation. Pilots use simulators for training as does the military and as computing power and capability increases we’re only going to see more of this in different fields. For sports like auto racing this is particularly helpful as track time and attending events is not cheap. Firing up your Xbox for a quick game on the other hand is a great supplement (not alternative) to real life racing.

In particular, the game has a good level of customization with regards to settings to aid in your driving skill practice. To get away from the more arcade feel of the game be sure to turn off all assists (except maybe ABS brakes initially) and you can start to really get a feel for how different cars behave at speed. You’ll start to notice you can’t just throw the car around or brake at the last minute and expect to make a turn. Just like in real driving you’ll want to practice you look ahead skills and smoothness with the controller. Start by doing hot laps on a track you know well until you feel comfortable with the car and how it handles. Also, to start, pick a lower horsepower car and try to make it go fast. Just like in real life, you’ll learn alot more about carrying speed through the corners from your technique rather than from the car’s ability to accelerate fast.

I’ve been having a blast with this setup and after completing the career mode I’ve been focused on online multiplayer circuit racing. This can be a mixed bag depending on who you’re racing. Sometimes you’ll have a very clean race with drivers who treat it like a simulation rather than an arcade game and this is when it’s really fun.

I’ve recently joined a weekly series with guys from the Grassroots Motorsports website forums. They’ve organized an SCCA B-Spec series that’s been a blast so far. The B-Spec series is a real life series with cars like the Honda Fit and Mazda 2 (that’s a picture of my in-game Mazda 2 spec car at the top). It was created as an affordable entry into road racing competition. Mirroring this in the game was a great idea as there is a specific customization setup for each type of car that makes the races very competitive and alot of fun.

So if you’re looking for another way to practice driving I’d definitely recommend Forza 4. Setting up the difficulty towards simulation really opens up another aspect of the game, one that can help you in real life.

How I Got Started

I’m going to go back in time about 10 years to share with you how I got started and introduced to the world of auto racing.

My friend Kenny told me about something called autocross with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) back in the San Francisco Bay Area where I grew up. Technically, this is called Solo2 when you look at the SCCA website. I learned that this was an affordable way to take your car “out to the track” without much risk of damage.

In autocross the track is made up of traffic cones and cars run one at a time pretty well spaced apart so it’s one of the safest environments to test the limits of your ability with your daily driver. A weekend event would run about $35 at the time plus a yearly SCCA membership which is under $100. Overall this was the least intimidating way to get started and still one of the best values around.

One of the most beneficial aspects of this program is just getting out there and meeting others in your local area who are often very helpful and willing to help beginners learn the ropes. If you love cars it’s a great place to go and see what types of cars people race. You’ll find everything from daily driven Honda Civics to race prepared Corvette’s with full roll cages and other go fast customizations. Walking around the paddock you’ll likely find other drivers with the same type of car you have so it’s a great way to get to know people.

The SCCA provides a structured environment for learning and competition. During a Solo2 event you’ll also work the track and learn about various positions such as starter, timer, flagger, or help with registration. This arrangement keeps the event costs low for everyone but also gives you great experience and understanding of what goes into running one of these types of events.

As I got into Solo2 I learned about the various aspects of car control such as looking ahead on the track, looking where you want your car to go before it gets there, smoothness of steering inputs, and vehicle weight transfer. I was racing my daily driver, a 1995 Honda del Sol SI, at the time and was having a blast. Cars are grouped by class based on their performance characteristics so the competition is close. I got to experience the adrenaline rush of acceleration and speed and enjoyed competing for points throughout the season. I did this for two seasons and in between switched to my next daily driver, a 1999 Acura Integra GS-R which I’m still driving today. I placed 3rd in the GS-N (G Stock Novice) class back in 2001 which was quite a thrill.

After a while other priorities came up and I stopped participating in autocross but looking back it was a great foundational experience for my development as a driver. For those wanting to get started in motorsports I’d definitely recommend giving autocross a try. There are other clubs in addition to the SCCA that offer such programs. National Auto Sport Association (NASA) is a similar organization as well as manufacturer specific clubs (Porsche Club of America, BMW Car Club of America, etc) that you may want to look into.

Fast forward to today I’ve come full circle in a way. I’ve got the itch to go racing again but this time in a different format, road racing. This is something I’ve always wanted to do as I learned about the various motorsports styles and I’ll be posting my progress towards that goal here.