For the second moment in time, I was a race car driver and my GT-86 (FRS) was my race car. I wasnt actually racing anyone, but traveling at high speeds around a track and pushing myself and my car to the limits makes it close enough. It is an odd feeling, spending a whole weekend feeling like a race car driver only to go home and have to get back to a normal job and normal life. Returning to normal speeds isn’t as hard as it sounds, being that I gave it my all and was exhausted from the weekend. I cant wait to go back and do it again.
Pictures and Videos will be added at a later date, as soon as they are ready.
I wont bore you all with the camping details, but we decided the best, and cheapest, way to manage the weekend was to camp at Bayou Sagnette State Park around the corner from the track (maybe a mile away). It is a well kept park with lots to do, including walking trails, a boat ramp into the nearby waterways for fishing (I think), a pool, and a wave pool. And all for $25 per night. We grilled steaks over the open fire with a tripod grill under the light of this years “Super Moon”. It was definitely bright, especially later in the night. The trip was made by myself and 2 friends from work, one who was driving his own car (a Sentra SE-R Spec V) and one who came as our personal photographer. With the moon out, we took some very fun night shots of the car using a flashlight and long exposures to spotlight the car. I’d never done anything like it, and it turned out great.
We actually had to drive further to get our breakfast at McDonalds than we did to get to the track itself. Arriving at the track was uneventful. I need to get a new helmet with a Snell SA rating (mine is a motorcycle helmet, so it has a M rating), but otherwise things were quiet. My instructor Brandon was younger than I, but claimed to have a course lap record for his car class. I dont know if it was true because its hard to find the course records currently for the track, but I know I certainly got faster with his help.
Again, we used the long course (in yellow) at NOLA Motorsports Park, 2.75 miles. Again, I have the track picture posted to help you understand when I give turn numbers.
First session on the track I turned off traction control (at Brandon’s request). HPDE isnt focused on racing, but we are trying to drive fast and learn limits, and holding back wont help me to improve (or rather, I wont improve as fast). I ran the car hard, pushing as best I could. The new brake pads were almost too good, so I had to find new braking points that were much later for all of my turns. Going into turn 9, on what would have been one of my last laps anyway, I went in a little too fast and didnt brake enough. The back started to come a little loose as I went back to the gas. Instinctively, I am told that I let off the gas a little when I should have giving it a little more, and it caused the car to spin. Really, I just turned sideways and slid across the track until I came to a stop. The car ended up with a check engine light and didnt want to start at first. We sat for a moment and then tried again, with a little extra throttle, and it came back to life. As per track rules, we headed for the pits/paddock area to check the car out. Using a bluetooth OBD2 reader and an app called Torque (for iPhone or Android), we pulled it up and found it was a map sensor that was upset. The code cleared easily and the car didnt give me any trouble for the rest of the weekend.
Just like last time, each time on the track got faster and faster. I wasnt reaching the same speeds that I did last time, but I felt like my cornering speeds were higher and I was generally faster throughout the whole course. Brandon seemed to enjoy working with me and pushing the limits of myself and the car. By the end of the first day, the paint on the backs of my new brake pads had boiled and blistered up from getting so hot. I feel thats a pretty good sign that I was really using their full capacity.
Usually, braking at high speeds is done in a straight line. If you brake while you are starting to turn, you force all the weight on the front tires leaving the back tires without any weight on them at all. When you turn, the back end comes out and you spin. There is a technique that is quite used called Trail Braking. For cars, normally that are lighter weight, you can brake really late and hold your brakes until after you start to turn. The act of turning and the sideways movement causes the car to slow a little. Combined with getting off the brake and onto the gas, it allows you to take corners at a speed perhaps higher than what you should be able to. After the first run in the morning, Brandon looks over to me and says something along the lines of “You are too good to be braking in a straight line. We’ve talked a couple times about trail braking, next run, lets step it up even further and go after it.”
Trail braking is definitely something that will take some time to really master and employ all the time. I was able to use it, in likely a poor fashion and not every time, on turns 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 13, and 16. Brandon says that eventually, I should feel it/use it on nearly every turn on the course. So it gives me something to work on next time I get out there.
The afternoon started with another spin for me. This one is on video, so you can see the fun. As you can tell, I come into turn 5 fast (faster than I used to), brake, and give it some gas before turning because my personal timing is off. That results in the car spinning. Good thing is that I was a little more prepared for it, so I just relaxed and let it run its course. It was fun.
There were a few classroom sessions this weekend that were included. We talked about the different flags and what they all meant. In one of the classes, the instructor broke down the turn into three basic parts, the turn in, the apex, and the exit. There was a discussion on how to corner, where to look and to always keep your eyes up and down the course further, and some questions and answers. I brought up the topic of what to do during a spin and that was all covered too. All in all, it was very relaxed, casual, friendly, and open. Everyone at the track seemed willing to talk, give advice, and help. The race group guys were awesome too, letting us look into their trailers and check out their whole operations setup.
And then there was a long trip home.