Saturday, April 15, 2006

Wings of a Dove

For my birthday, my wife bought me a trip to driving school. I had just got the latest incarnation of the blue car (a Z06 Corvette) and I was a little tentative with it. It was more than 100 hp more than my last blue car, and around 500 pounds lighter. In short, a handful. I was on the edge of getting in trouble again: Cops, tickets, etc.

The school is set up to do four track sessions for a given driver each day. Novices like me had an instructor in the car with them at all times, generally connected by a headset intercom so they could tell you how to drive the course.

After my first run, I was shaky but getting the hang of it. My instructor fed me a constant string of instructions, all in a very British accent. He was in his 60s:
"Easy on the brakes. off the brakes, turn in, now THROTTLE THROTTLE THROTTLE!"

He really liked saying THROTTLE!

I was sitting in the setup, letting the car cool off and drinking water, when he walked over, helmet in hand.

"So! How would you like to ride along in the next instructor session? I drive the same car as you, ya know, a Corvette. That way, you can see what it can really do." he said.


Presently, we're strapping into his car. It's a black 01 Z06. He's got a harness on his side of the car, but I've got stock belts. I move the seat up so I can brace with my legs better, but that's it. He gets in, buckles a six point harness on and tightens the H strap across his chest. Then he tightens everything again. Jesus. What are we getting into?

We roll to the grid. He is talking about how long he's been driving, and how he loves corvettes, and how he loves to play driving games. Video games. He's over 60, so that makes him a rare bird. He tightens his harness again.

We roll out onto the track and I ask what noise is coming from the tires?

"Oh, well, I have some race rubber on there. Should be good for another couple of sessions." He tightens that H strap again. Oh, boy.

At pit out, he nails it. I'm pinned back in the seat. We accelerate through the first turn, going like mad, and the car starts to step out. He corrects and we're back on line, headed for the next turn.

"Have to get some heat in the tires. Hang on now, this is how you should be braking..."

And he parks the car. At least that's what it feels like. I've never been in a non-crashing car that slowed down that fast. The ABS comes on. The car skitters from side to side. It's violent. Almost as soon as we brake, he's back on the THROTTLE THROTTLE THROTTLE!

He grunts as we come out of the turn.

"Roight! Now we can really go! Let me know if you need to stop for anything or if you feel sick."

Holeee crap.
Now, he's talking me through the track as we go around. I begin to understand that he's actually taking it easy, driving around 70 or 80% of what he can do. I'm soaking it all up, learning from this guy that's been around this track so many times.

I also understand the harness. In order to steer and use the pedels, you can't be bracing yourself with your arms or legs. The harness isn't so much about safety as it is about control of the car and avoiding driver fatigue. I resolve to get one, as soon as I can.

On the main straight, we come up behind a Porsche, as I recall. My instructor is frustrated.
"Now, when we get to the next stroight, he'll move over and let us by, because our line is better than his." He says.

But through the next straight and the next, the Porsche never gives us the point by. Our line is better, and we catch the Porsche every time in the corners. We're coming to the end of the back section, about to enter the chicane before the main front straight, and we've been on the bumper of the Porsche the whole lap. I hear growling in the headset.

"Dunno what he's thinking, but here's where we go around" He mutters. We accelerate, harder than before. Coming up to an awful sharp left, with a car in front of us.

The Porsche brakes. We don't. Oh, shit. Contact time. I brace. At last, a LONG half second later, we brake, inches from his back bumper. Hard left, and I realize the car is right on the edge of adhesion. This, I realize, is 10/10ths. 100%.

We enter the chicane, and it must look as if the Porsche is towing the black Z06. He snaps the car back right, and THROTTLE THROTTLE THROTTLE! Rather than turning very much at all, we blast through the chicane, tires up on the right curbing, then the left, and drifting out right up the banking of TWS. With the widening track, we are almost parallel with the Porsche now, and at last I see the driver put his hand out and over the roof, as we pass him. That makes it legal, so we don't get black flagged.

There is more growling in the headset, but it's muted by the engine noise as we are doing over 140 on the main straight now. Time to relax and tighten the harness again. I'm laughing as we head down the straight.

Peter Dove was my instructor's name that first session, and he taught me a great deal about being smooth and fast, and about being competitive on the track. I have not seen him since.


Post a Comment

<< Home