Tuesday, July 10, 2007


June 21 Weekend

This weekend I’m back at TWS for a driving event. Two, actually. Lou Gigliotti is holding a driving clinic on Friday, and then Viper Days is doing a school/event on the weekend.

Friday was great. They opened up the track completely; you could come and go as you liked and get as much track time as you could stand. Lou’s school was OK, with the highlight being able to ride with him, in his Z06 Corvette. The man is crazy fast. Always on the edge of adhesion, working each corner.

Watching him teach class was interesting. He thinks in terms of margins, gaps and gauges. Most commonly used gesture was to put his hands up in front of his face, thumbs together and index fingers up, like the hands of a dial. Or the gauges in a car. “You want to narrow that time you spend in limbo” he’d say, and the fingers move towards one another, closing. “That time between lifting on the brake and getting back on the gas”. What he was teaching was the same old stuff, but his way of thinking about it is very much more competition focused.

The other thing Lou did that was interesting was reveal how much he knows about the physics of the cars. Suspension, oiling, fuel consumption, humidity and how it affects the performance of the car, and so on. Finally, he’s a consummate salesman. He’s always hawking the shop and the gear. It’s like a standing joke, but it’s how he makes money to go racing, so perhaps it’s more serious.


It’s Saturday now. Was a wet morning, with standing water near the apex of several turns. I had to buy new tires yesterday, since my old ones corded in the last session. I don’t know if the back ones (I managed to get two fronts) I brought will last the weekend. I will swap the tires around to put the best rubber where I can. Brakes are fine, car is running fine.

I had to go through tech inspection too, for the first time. I pulled into the bay, and the inspector looked at the car, looked at me. Rubbed his head, under the cap, put the cap back on. He walks over to me, and pauses for a moment. “This isn’t a Viper” he says.

“Um, it isn’t? I asked the valet for one this morning…” I say. Standing joke, I’m thinking. He gave the car a once over, checking the harnesses for dates and my helmet for SNELL rating. It’s legal, but motorcycle helmets are frowned upon. I’ll need another helmet soon. He takes out an LED light and examines the brakes carefully. His fingernails catch in the cracks in the front rotors. He looks up at me, eyebrows raised. I shrug. The general rule is that if they are not cracked to the edge, rotors are good to run. The problem is that sometimes when they crack to the edge, they explode. He moves on, so I guess they are good for the weekend. The end result is that I get a tech inspection sticker and can go on track.

First session was good, but slow. That’s fine, as they are timing and gridding on that basis. I don’t care where I end up, but being at the back of the pack is a drag. Despite this being a “practice”, no one wants to listen to nor hang with the slow folks. So session two, I may try to hammer it a bit to see how I can do. I’m really trying to work on turns five and six, and will go whatever speed I need to for that purpose.

Saturday was good overall, with the highlight being an actual race. Viper Days host the Viper Racing League. There were around 16 vipers (and one very brave SRT4) on track, starting at the same moment, blasting down the front straight. It has to be a thrill to go from full bore down the front straight to turn 1, sharing space with the other folks on the track. Pretty quickly the leaders settled out, and the race (with no cautions to bunch them up again) devolved into the classic 1-2-3 fight and everyone else. Was fun to watch.

Mom also came down to the track for the first time on Saturday. That was fun, as Sheri brought her, and we got to show her around the event. She was favorably impressed, I think, and even got to go on a parade lap of the track.

I did fairly well Saturday, and felt my lap times were improving. I was passed by some VERY fast cars. The advanced group has a lot of the race guys in it, as well as some crazy super modified cars. It’s also where they put the faster Corvette guys, and the folks that know the track very well. At the end of the day on Saturday, there were five cars faster than I was: John Page in his vette (John set the fastest lap Saturday and Sunday), two comp coupes (a production race car build by Dodge; like a lighter faster Viper), one modified Viper on sticky tires and a super modified with 700 HP. I felt pretty good about that showing. My day ended when it rained out the last session, and I just didn’t have the oomph to change over to street tires and run in the wet.

Sunday dawned drier, and started out FAST! With a dry track and new tires, I was flying. Pretty sure I was faster than the day before, as I caught more people. John Page had a mechanical and had to split (car overheated; not sure why) and poor Chuck the instructor ran off track with his green student going 100+. They were fine because the student did the right thing and just ran straight off. Took them a while to stop though! It didn’t seem to rattle Chuck any, and he remains MUCH faster than me.

I have started to notice tire wear on the right rear, outside. That means my alignment is no longer sufficient to hold the tires upright under the load I’m placing on the car. Since you turn mostly left at TWS, it shows up on the right side tires. So I switched it to the other side and kept going.

Going home now, mostly raining, but the weekend ended well. The car is on the trailer, and I’ll be posting this to the blog soon. Going to write up a turn-by-turn thing too, of one of the brighter moments.

The Blue Car is not happy. We’re #3 in a four car train going into the turn 13 chicane. The lead car decided he wanted to pit some time ago, and slowed to 40. This means we’re dinking along behind two Vipers, both with 150 more HP than us. Better, there’s another behind us. I keep the RPM up and get ready to hit the front straight at half the normal speed I have here. It’s painful to climb up the bank at this speed.

When we climb up on the banking, and I put my arm out the window, knowing the pass is coming. My right foot is on the floor, and the Blue Car is howling her defiance. That doesn’t change the pass, as all three Vipers slither down the straight. I poke along down low, and pat the dash in sympathy. We’re not used to being the low HP car. We take the low line, as this is the second lap, and the pits are clear. Down in the flat part of the track, just above the marbles, we pass 120 going by pit out, still slow from the slow turn 15.

As we enter turn 1, things start to change. I cross the blend line, as the Vipers, who went higher, cross in front of me. Because my line is shorter, I’ve gained ground. My foot is still on the floor. I see the trailing viper, a black S Mod coupe, see me. The illusion is that I’m about to t-bone his car, but he’s crossing at over 100, so that won’t happen. Once we’re on the flat, I start to turn the Blue Car left, with my foot still firmly in the throttle. Gently, slow hands, and there is enough grip. If you lift while doing this, the back end will be too light, and the car will start to rotate too soon. I’ve not braked yet. With the nose pointed just right of the cellular tower I can see over the rim of the bog oval track, I straighten the wheel slightly, lift off the gas, and start braking.

The car shimmys as the front decides which way it wants to turn. The passenger seat slams forward. I’m hanging in the harness. This is why we don’t leave anything loose in the car. We also begin to oversteer since the wheel isn’t all the way straight. The black viper goes by on our right as my rear starts to come around to the right, rotating the car left, pointing at the apex of turn 2. When it’s pointing where we want, I ease off the brakes, and get back in the power. This is a moment of faith, when you have to believe that the rear will catch.

The rear end locks onto the road and we head for the apex. The vipers have not truly finished braking, as I see lights still, bright red. The Blue Car roars under full power towards the apex in 2, gaining now.

Going into three, the Vipers are sorting things out. The lead car has now been passed by both of the trailing guys, so I set up my own pass between turn three and four. Once again, I can stay in the gas longer and brake later by virtue of having a lighter car. He doesn’t especially want me to go by, but he overcooks three, and so I turn inside him and he has no choice. I miss the apex of three a little, so the back end is sliding more than I want when I hit track out. Luckily there’s a cross road there, so extra pavement to place the back left wheel on. In the throttle all the way down the small hill, across the other road in the infield and JUST before turn four, with the suspension all the way compressed from the road hump, I brake, turn us in and hammer the gas towards the apex. The two cars leading me have done it right as well, and I’ve gained nothing between four and five.

Going into turn five, an odd thing happens. The Vipers swing wide, brake a bit, and turn in. we narrow our line to apex five, which spoils the angle for six, but I have a plan. The gap closes. I’m thinking towards a pass between turn nine and ten, but I have to get close to them now, to let them know we’re back there. Going into six, I stab the brakes (Chuck taught me this one) trail brake and dig out of the apex at 80+. The Vipers, black following silver, are going through differently. They braked down MUCH more, but have the torque to almost break their wheels loose at track out. 500 or more horsepower, each of them. On the turn six to seven straight, I lose ground, as they go WOT.

Turn seven in a viper must be a thrill. They brake down to under 100, which is too slow. I’m at 105 going into 7, and I don’t brake, just lift a bit, get turned and hit the gas again to slingshot past the apex and up the hill. Tight track left, I see the black viper is swinging wide, and once again, it looks to him as if I’m pointed at the numbers painted on his driver’s side door. I’m smiling at him.

With a wider angle, his line is very fast through eight, but we’ve cut off quite a bit of track, and am able to hold track left through the turn, which sets me up for a full bore power drift through turn nine. The black viper is slower than me now, and I see his helmet tip up, looking in his rear view. He gives me the pass as we go down hill heading for the carousel. He’s pointed me by on the right, to the inside.

Going into the carousel inside and fast is a good way to spin out, but I figure, Lou did this yesterday with me in the car, so I can give it a try. We brake down after I pass the black viper and trail brake into the carousel. The car rotates right, then begins to push as I give it gas. I open the wheel up slightly and dance with it; trying to hold the right side wheels on the curbing and manage the understeer. It holds until I get the wheel straight, for just a car length, and we’re balanced for turn 11, to the left.

As I turn left, I leave the black viper behind. He’s flat out, but even 600 horsies all pulling together can’t make up for the line he’s driving. Too far outside, too far off the apex. Next up is 12, and I note that the silver viper is crawling, likely pitting in. He gives me the pass between 12 and 13, and I have free track all the way to turn 1!

This time, we come out of the chicane at 90+, sliding somewhat sideways, catching fourth just as we get onto the front straight. There are no Vipers behind or before, and for a moment as we pass start-finish, we’re all alone at TWS in the sunlight.


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