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.

One thought on “Hooked on Driving – Part 1

  1. Pingback: High Performance Driving at The Ridge | My Racing Journey

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