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.”

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