Sunday, October 14, 2012

Friday at the Track

When I first registered for Friday at the Track at Summit Point Raceway I was disappointed that I had to run in Group 1 with an instructor given my past track experience.  That said, it was still well worth it and my prior experience definitely did make a difference.  For starters, the instructor normally takes the first lap or two behind the wheel in the first session but mine let me jump right in behind the wheel and drive from the get-go.  Unfortunately, although I turned the camera on for the first session, I forgot to hit record :(

Summit Point Friday at the Track 10/12/12
To see all of the photos, see my flickr album.

On each run, the instructor reviews your performance on your safety, mental alertness, and handling of the car on a 1-5 scale.  The first run, the instructor gave me 3s across the board (which he said was SOP for first timers at FATT).  The second run he upgraded me to 4s.  The Rabbit has fresh pads and brake fluid but there was some green fade on the first run.  My brakes were apparently smoking visibly, but they were strong and held up.  After the first two runs, it was time for the lunch break.

After lunch, with the car still taking a break before the next session, it was time for me to hit the skid pad.  There is a circular stretch of blacktop that is wet down by sprinklers where you steer a Ford Crown Vic while the instructor works the gas and break.  The basic idea is to keep the car as close to following the inside line as possible while the instructor intentionally makes the car under- and over-steer. This was incredibly fun and challenging.  Despite the fact that you are fighting to keep the car going in the correct direction, you can't help but laugh and grin constantly.

Immediately after the skid pad session, it was time for me to hop in my car again and hit the track.  I guess I should say that the track time REALLY shows how much of the performance on the track is the driver and how much is the car.  There were many cars that would easily pull on me on the straight: Corvettes, some fast Minis, an Aston Martin, Audis, BMWs, and more.  I would often end up catching those cars and having them hold me up in the corners though.  Once the video footage has finished uploading, you will see that there were a few laps where I was almost keeping pace with a Corvette and an Audi S5, and was faster than them everywhere except the straights.

So, back to session #3 on the track.  This run I had a new instructor because my instructor from the first two runs was now running one of the skid pad cars.  The session started off with a bang with me putting down good strong laps, and then suddenly the car wigged out.  I lost all power, and the oil pressure light went on as I pulled out of turn 2 and tried to accelerate.  I pulled off the track right where I was, shut down the engine.  We were far enough off the track for me to pop the hood and check the oil.  Everything seemed fine, nothing was leaking so I turned the car over again.  It turned over and ran fine but suddenly died one more time.  I gave it one more chance to turn over and it fired up and ran smooth.  The oil pressure light stayed off and the instructor gave me the option of continuing on, or just trying to limp back to the pits.  I decided to cross my fingers, hope it was a fluke and press on.  The rest of that session, the car ran great.  I watched a car slide off track in a corner right in front of me but that was just because he locked them up in the braking zone.  He was able to get back on track and continue on, and to this point, at least in Group 1A, the day had gone well.

My instructor from Session 3 was actually surprised by how composed I was on the track until I explained to him about my past track experience in Germany.  As the checkered flag flew, he said he had no problem signing me off to advance to Group 2i, so I would just need to find another instructor for session 4 of the day and get them to sign off so I could advance.  He also filled out the last part of the review which is a rating of how much of my car's capability I was using.  The first instructor had forgotten that section.  He rated me as a 7.5-8 out of 10 for how much of my car's performance I was making use of.  I then had to track down my instructor from the first two rounds and have him check off the same value from my first two runs.  I was now one step closer to being able to move onto Group 2i!

After a break, it was time for my final session of the day.  I found an instructor, and we were off.  My run was going amazingly well.  This is the session where I was actually being held up by the Audi S5 and Corvette at times and was turning in similar lap times to them with their advantage coming from their speed and acceleration on the straights.  With just minutes left in the session, the Mustang GT driver that I had spent time talking to through the day lost it between turns 4 and 5 after dropping two tires off the track.  I didn't witness the actual spin, but I came around the corner right after it happened and the red flag came out. He can be seen off in the grass near the end of my session 4 video (which finished uploading as I write this).  Fortunately, he was OK, but I felt really bad for him.  The track was red flagged, and since I had to stop immediately rather than have a cool-down lap, smoke was coming up from my front brakes and over the hood of the car.  Once the red flag was lifted in favor of the black flag, we pulled the rest of the way around the track and into the pits to end the day.   My instructor for the fourth round also gave me 5's across the board and signed me off for group 2i!

I was ready to roll out and call it a day, but none of the scheduled drivers for the skid pad had shown interest in going down, so I jumped at the chance for another trip down to the skid pad.  This time, I was the only student in the car so I got to take advantage of the full 20 minutes, and the instructor let us have some fun.  After that, I turned in my card and called it a day.  I can't wait to go again (although I first need to get my issue from Saturday sorted out first, but a blog post about that will wait till another time.)


Nathanael Burton said...

Sounds awesome man. Hope your car's ok.

Mike said...

I think I edited it out in the video but at one point the instructor said "It's your choice" and I said "I'll just press on, if it is serious, there was probably bad damage all ready so screw it" or something like that. Car was fine after that hiccup and made it home ok.