Monday, June 16, 2014

The Ocean is a Desert with its Life Underground

While becoming an adult generally sucks, from time to time it has it's perks. This weekend that perk was a track day. Though driving on a racetrack has always sounded like a lot of fun, I never had the money or equipment to take part in a track day. This weekend I left Grace at home, and took my Subaru out for some fun.

I think that the idea of a track day, especially on a road course seems intimidating to most people. I know it did to me. I'm fully convinced that fear of feeling like a 7th grader on the first day of middle school keeps us from greatness having fun trying new things. I have a few coworkers who have done the track and autocross thing for a long time, so when they asked if anyone was interested in joining I jumped at the chance to learn about this world I've observed from afar for a long time, but never really stepped into.

I got up at 5 AM to drive to Willow Springs International Raceway, about 100 miles away. In terms of distance to a racetrack, that's not very far at all. Willow springs is a large complex with at least 5 different tracks, the best known being Big Willow and Streets of Willow. We would be on the smaller course, Streets of Willow. After registration we had the driver's meeting and then the beginner group (my group) went out on the track and we followed an instructor at moderate speed around the track to get oriented and learn the preferred line.

During the next session they let us go all out, with the restriction that we could only pass on straightaways. This is footage of my first hot laps.

First ever hot laps on a road course

After my second session, I found an instructor named Bruce and asked if he would take me for a ride. Bruce's track car is a Porsche 911 GT3. Ho-lee-poo. Fast. Just crazy fast. Yet Bruce was so relaxed as he drove and explained the course that even though my face was being separated from my skull by G forces, I felt perfectly at ease.

My third session was not nearly so relaxing. about halfway through the 20 minutes, I got stuck behind a 2003 Mustang Cobra. I'm not sure if the driver was scared of turning corners, or if the car simply wasn't capable if it but as I followed him through the turns, I felt like I was driving at 5/10ths. Then I could have passed him 6 times. Each lap. But we were only allowed to pass on the straights so I would ride him through all the corners and then when it came time to let the faster drivers by, he would open up his throttle and start to pull away. Yet by the time I was halfway through the first corner, I was ready to pass him again. I was so frustrated after this session that I went and spoke with the organizers about being moved to the lower intermediate group. I was in the top 5 of my group so they let me move up.

The fourth session was fun, I passed and was passed. But I felt like I still didn't really know what I was doing, so I went and asked Bruce to ride along with me. He was happy to do so and I learned a lot from him about putting together a racing line.

A few laps with my instructor, Bruce

Another thing I learned about is what happens to your tires when tyou work them that hard. My old tires had bubbles in the sidewall, so I was definitely not going to take them on the track. I got new tires last week, and chose an ultra high performance all season tire. Bad move. The Goodyear Eagle F1 is likely an excellent tire with great treadwear characterisitcs. It is however, not a track tire. The front left tire especially took a horrible beating. It likely lost 25-30% of its useful life.

All things considered I had a blast, and will return to the track. I must say I've learned that being a "racer" is far too rich for my blood. I'm a casual participant at best, but I can't wait to have a date with Grace at a road course.

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