Woooooo Hooooo!The Nuts attended their first High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) events, and boy did they have a blast. They participated in two events at Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, South Carolina. On Friday, 14 March, 2003, they joined a one-day event hosted by Turn One Motorsports, the “home team” at CMP. Saturday and Sunday it was the SVT Cobra Mustang Club (SCMC).
They both want to extend thanks to their instructors, Marty Barrett and Lee Stabler, for their patience as well as their good instruction and advice.
1. OverviewSince the full report runs to some length lets start with a summary. Basically, The Nuts had a load of fun, learned a lot, and got a good bit of quality seat time. They both soloed, and this was their first weekend on the track. The instructors said The Nuts had made a lot of progress and just need more seat time to refine techniques and judgement and consistency. They're thinking they should do one more HPDE event, this time with the track cars, and some autocross events, and they'll be ready for license school.
2. Detailed ReportThe rest of this page will relate all of the gory details of The Nuts' first on track adventure.
2.1. The WeatherFriday the weather was good. It was clear and sunny and pretty warm, in the mid 60's or 70s, but the wind was blowing strongly, gusting up over twenty knots. Saturday The Nuts awakened to rain, a heavy overcast and cold temperatures in the low 50's. In fact, Saturday and Sunday it was cold enough that they wore their driving suits, since that was the warmest clothes they had.
Several sessions Saturday were run in moderate rain, and all sessions at least had to contend with mist and drizzle. On Sunday, the rain had passed, but the overcast remained, and temperatures didn't come up much, reaching maybe the upper 50's. It was really tough to get any heat into the tires on Saturday and Sunday.
2.2. The TrackFriday morning started with The Nuts taking a tour of the track with their instructor, Marty Barrett. He was driving a Porsche 996 Cabriolet, and it was awesome. You don't want to know what The Nuts would give for a “Tiptronic” shifter (push-button sequential), not to mention a 996 Cab.
This is a great track for your first outing. Lots of run off room surrounds most of the track in case you mess something up, and there's little risk of damage in most of them. Additionally, the track has both high speed sections and very technical low speed sections, with difficult combinations of turns. The elevation changes a little bit, but none of the corners are really blind.
All of the turns at CMP are late apex, except for T3, where you apex right about the geometric center of the turn. On several of the corners, especially T1 and T10, you pretty much have to go so deep into the corner that you're sure you're going to end up in the grass. Then you aggressively tuck the car into the apex. It definitely takes some getting used to, and this is where a preliminary session on the skid pad and threshold braking would have helped a lot.
The opening complex, T1 through T3, is a bit tricky. First off, you're coming down from top speed on the front straight, and T1 is a hard left. You have to shed a lot of speed and apex T1 quite late. Then you have to quickly cut across to apex of the right hand T2, also very late. You then have to get back across to the apex of the left hand T3, which opens out onto a short chute down to the T4-T7 complex.
The complex from T4 through T7, known as The Carousel, is very challenging, but a real blast when you get it right. This was the segment that Lefty figured out first, and could get consistently good runs through before any of the other corners. He found the keys were to apex T4 really late and stay to the outside for a second, then tap the brakes to move some weight forward, and go for T5's apex aggressively. Track out to the rumble strips, then “apex” T6 by straddling the seam in the middle of the track.
With careful throttle management, you haven't had to turn the wheel since the turn in for T5 and you're set to get into the throttle slowly, apex T7 late, and scream down the first part of the backstretch to T8.
T8 could be the most fun corner on this track. It's cambered about six degrees, and you can take a lot more speed through it than you'd think from the track map. Which is good, since carrying speed through T8 is a key part of getting a good lap. It's taken at moderately high speed and it leads onto the second, longer, portion of the backstretch. You have to go really deep into T8, and apex really late, to carry the most speed onto the second half of the back straight (T8-T10).
Of the high-speed turns, T9 is pretty much a non event. You just drift down to the apex poles on the right while accelerating as hard as you can, continuing track out at T8.
T10, however, could be the most dangerous on the course. From looking at it, you'd swear you could flat foot through it. In some cars you might be able to do that, too. For many cars, though, you either have to slow down a bit, or at least tap the brakes to get some weight on the front wheels.
If you do it wrong, you're going out the back of T10 into the grass and sand. If you do it really wrong, you hang the left side tires off in the grass, and try to catch it, and end up t-boned on a grove of trees off the right side of the track, over near the front stretch.
The “autocross section” from T11 through T14 is the most technical part of the track. They're all slow corners and they're close together, but not close enough to really be handled as combinations. Add in the fact that T13 goes a bit off camber after the apex, and they can be a real adventure.
This is where most of the offs of the weekend occurred. In the Mustang, getting good lines through these corners requires precise throttle management and late corner entries. Even when you get them right, they still feel a little squirrelly.
2.3. The SchoolsThe Nuts actually attended two separate schools during this outing. The Friday event was a single day and was operated by Turn One Motorsports, the “home team” at Carolina Motorsports Park. The second event covered Saturday and Sunday and was operated by the SVT Cobra Mustang Club.
2.3.1. The InstructorsOn Friday, their instructor was Marty Barrett with the Porsche Club of America (PCA). On Saturday, Lee Stabler and his father, also with the PCA, instructed Lefty through Sunday morning. Righty took one session with his instructor Saturday morning and soloed from that point. Lefty is really sorry, but he can't remember Lee's father's name for the life of him.
On all three days, we got great instruction. We really can't thank our instructors enough for the help they provided. It goes beyond the instruction, too. They were nice people and they were genuinely interested in our progress. So, here's a toast to all of them.
[Righty] Marty was very patient, provided guidance and good advice, and helped me to push my own expectations and abilities within a safe envelope. Thanks to Marty's coaching, I was cut-loose after my first session on Saturday to drive the track alone. [/Righty]
2.3.2. The Run GroupsOn Friday, Turn One assigned drivers to four run groups.
On Saturday and Sunday, SCMC used a very similar four group structure.
For some reason, SCMC assigned Righty to the D (Lead Follow) group, while Lefty was assigned to the C (Instructor Passing) group. The instructors got together with the club officials and got Righty in C, where he belonged by lunch time, though, so all was well.
2.3.3. EquipmentSince The Nuts don't yet have their race licenses, and this was their first time on track, they couldn't use track cars. So, they used their street cars. For Righty that was a 2002 Ford Focus ZX-3 and for Lefty it was a 1999 Ford Mustang GT.
Righty's car was bone stock except for the Ford rear spoiler and 16 inch wheels. Lefty's car only had a couple of modifications, including a Pro 5.0 PowerTower short throw shifter, Kumho Ecsta Supra 712 tires, Carbotech Panther Plus front brake pads, and Motul RBF 600 brake fluid.
Both cars performed very well. The only mechanical problem we encountered was when Righty got the brake fluid a bit hot in the right rear, and they had to bleed the brakes. Other than that, literally no problems. They were pretty surprised, though, by how much power steering fluid expands when it's hot.
2.3.4. On TrackOn the track, The Nuts had more fun that should really be allowed. Especially on Friday, when the grip levels were high. There was rubber down on the track from a race the previous weekend, the weather was dry and clear, and the temperature was in the 70s. So they could get some heat in the tires, there was heat in the track, and the cars developed some really good grip.
During that first afternoon, The Nuts eventually got within about thirty seconds of full up race lap times in similar cars. Lefty even made his first “tire boogers” on Friday afternoon. [Ed. We hate to admit it, but he saved them. ]
Frankly, the rainy weather Saturday and Sunday worried The Nuts a bit. It turned out to be a really good thing, though. With the reduced levels of grip, they were able to get to the edges of the traction circle at lower, safer speeds. And the edges of the traction circle are where most of the learing is to be had.
The track was much slicker on Sunday morning than Saturday, even during moderate rain. This was probably because it rained all of Saturday night, in addition to a good bit of rain Saturday daytime. By Sunday morning, the asphalt was badly saturated. By the afternoon, though, the track was drying nicely and speeds came up a bit.
The Nuts ended up getting about 200 miles of track time each (about 75 or 80 laps). On Friday, they had four sessions of 20 minutes and one of 15 minutes. Saturday we got four 20 minute sessions before they were worn out and frozen. Sunday they did another four 20 minute sessions.
By Sunday afternoon, enough people had pulled out that groups B and C were combined, and The Nuts were just too slow for that grouping so they got out of everyone's way. They both gave a lot of “point bys”, especially after the B and C groups were combined on Sunday. Lefty did get a point by from a 911 though!
2.3.5. AdrenalineOn Saturday, in the rain, Lee's Group D (Lead Follow) driver took him off course around 70 or 80 mph at T8. It shook Lee and the driver up a bit, but didn't hurt anyone. The only damage to the car was a de-beaded left rear tire and the bra disconnected on one side, so it was all right. In fact, the driver was back after missing only one session to clean the mud off his car and reinflate the left rear tire.
Righty was out in the same session, his first time solo, and came up on the car stranded in the gravel, pointing back toward traffic, on the right side of the track, just as Lee was stumbling out of the car. That worried Righty a little bit. Plus, it red flagged the session for twenty or thirty minutes while they retrieved the car. So Righty had plenty of time to sit on the false grid his first time solo, and cogitate on it.
The next session out, Lefty was driving with Lee instructing, and it was raining moderately rather than the mist we'd had earlier. The first couple of laps were fine, but on about the third time around, Lefty got a little throttle happy coming out of T14 and nearly looped it. T14 is a right hand 110 degree corner taken below 50 mph, at least by Lefty.
Lefty apologized profusely to Lee, but Lee said Lefty had stayed cool, stayed with it, and done the right thing, so it was all right. Plus it was at 40 or so miles per hour rather than the 70 or 80 of the previous incident. Lefty still feels bad about putting Lee through something like that so soon after the previous “off”.
Lee later told Lefty that when they went into T8 on the first lap of that session, he thought “here we go again”, but they stuck in T8 very nicely. Later on, Lee told the driver that went off that he needed to see what tires Lefty was using. Thanks Kumho.
Lefty has to interject here, to say that the Carbotech Panther Plus brake pads and Motul RBF 600 brake fluid worked extremely well, too. Lefty had more braking than he knew how to use, and there wasn't even a hint of fade, due to either the fluid or the pads.
Several other cars had off track excursions, but not many considering the weather and slippery track conditions. They didn't see any serious damage on any of them, though. Unfortunately one Corvette threw a serpentine belt and overheated. The Nuts sure hope that the car was OK, 'cause that can get expensive.
2.3.6. Righty's ExperienceI had boiled the brake fluid in the Focus on Friday, so the pedal was on the soft side Saturday. Since my car doesn't have ABS, I chose not to bleed the brakes hoping that I would be less likely to lock them with the softer pedal.
One of the more striking things to happen to me Saturday was the impact of not having a co-pilot riding along each lap. [Ed. Righty was 'soloed' after his first run on Saturday morning.] My heart and respiration rates were much higher and my confidence was down a bit. When you add to the equation that our nice, tacky, forgiving track was now wet, slick, and getting "greener" with each falling raindrop, my stress level was growing by the minute.
After waiting on the grid [Ed. for his second session] for what seemed like an hour (it was actually only 10 minutes), they started waving us out, about 10 seconds or so apart. I was about 6th in line, so the first car out was just coming into view [around T8] when I was waved out. I made it through turns 1, 2, and 3 without a problem. Despite the rain, the bite was still surprisingly good.
I hit the apex for turn 4 about dead-on and finally remembered to hold the car out heading to turn 5. The car ahead of me took a bad line and I was itching to “mix it up” with another car. I got a good run to and through T7 and was making time on the Mustang ahead of me heading down the hill toward T8.
As we approached T8, the corner worker was out of his hut and waving the yellow flag frantically. The Mustang ahead of me saw the yellow before I did and lifted without signal. I had been closing on him before and now I was really closing on him. I got the car slowed and a hand out of the window to warn those behind me.
As I came through T8, still closer to the Mustang than I wanted to be, I saw a black Mustang pointing in the wrong direction, well off of the track and seemingly in the trees on the inside of T8. During my brief glance, I noticed the instructor stumble backwards out of the passenger door [Ed. That was Lefty's instructor, Lee Stabler].
By now, my heart is in my throat. We were waved into the pits and had to wait about 10 minutes or so while they cleaned-up the mess. Luckily for all, the car hadn't quite made it to the trees. However, it did go so close that they couldn't open the driver's door! The only damage to the car was the Left-Rear tire got pulled off of the bead and the corner of the bra got pulled loose.
The rest of Saturday was uneventful, save the fact that the little yellow Focus was able to run down a Cobra in the wet and harass it to the point that it had to wave him by!! I hope that my performance gained the Focus some respect with the RWD V8 crowd. I did have a number of folks come up to me afterward to ask me about the car.
Sunday was a bit drier than Saturday, so I'd hoped for better traction. Boy was I wrong!! [Ed. The track was saturated by then.] Even with the characteritic FWD push, the Focus was tail-happy all morning. During one of my morning sessions, I was pushing a little harder into T4 than I should have been and broke the rear end loose slightly as I turned-in.
As I went to downshift to 3rd preparing for T5, I missed my turn-in due to being offline from catching the slide. Despite this, I went for the apex anyhow. I soon learned that this was a mistake. As I headed for the inside curb, the front end pushed into 5. As the speed started to scrub from the push, the rear end started to come around (uh oh!).
I let it come on around (hoping it would catch itself) until I knew that I wasn't going to go straight off, but as I went to opposite-lock, my hands got all the way to the 12 and 6 position before the rear end stopped rotating (again, uh oh). At this point, the rear end is sliding at about a 45 degree angle to the path I'm on and I'm still well into the 3rd gear rev range (60 mph??).
Now that the rearend had stopped rotating and I was countering into the skid, I was heading straight off again! I had to turn back into the corner and get back on the gas to get the car back on a path that didn't include taking soil samples off T7. As I do this, the rear end decides that is likes the soil sample idea and heads for the outside again.
More opposite lock, more gas, another lucky save, and a slightly less “bad” trajectory. As the rear end stops rotating this time, I'm on a better line and I'm able to hit the gas and drive through the rotation with a smaller correction and I'm on the gas hard heading for T8 (Whew!).
At this point, I'm not sure what happens, but as I run it hard into T8, I get in too deep and get the rear end loose again. I guess that I got on the brakes too hard, waited too late to brake, trail-braked into the corner, or some combination of the above). Luckily, the car scrubbed off enough speed that I didn't even approach going off.
Oh, I forgot to mention that there was a Mustang behind me throughout this incident. Not sure who it rattled more, him or me. I waved him by between T8 and T9 and regained my composure. I was looking for the black flag from the corner stations and from the starter's stand, but never got one.
2.4. General StuffThis section is mostly the stuff we couldn't figure out where to put.
2.4.1. The SnakeDuring Lefty's fourth session Friday afternoon, on the first lap out of the pits, there was a snake between T3 and T4. The first time Lefty came around, the snake was lying on the racing line, between the braking and turn in points to T4, all coiled up, with its tail up in the air like a rattlesnake. So, Lefty, not being a great fan of snakes, ran over it. Besides, what was he going to do? Blow his line into “The Carousel”?
The second time around, its tail was down, but its head was up, mouth wide open, but it was still right on the racing line at the turn in for T4. So Lefty ran over it again. After that it got progressively more mangled as additional cars ran over it. It stayed out there for at least two sessions before getting knocked completely off the racing surface.
The track staff looked for it several times fruitlessly. They finally found it after the last session of the day and got rid of it. It turned out to be a copperhead about five or six feet long and two or three inches in diameter. They found the carcass of a turtle lying right next to the snake's body, but The Nuts never saw the turtle during their track sessions.
2.4.2. PreparationThe Nuts have to say that they believe that simulator time does help. You don't feel the G forces with the simulator, so it can't fully prepare you. You also can't feel the connection between the car and the road, at least very well. That makes it a lot harder to find and feel the edge in the simulator. They'll tell you something else, though, too. After doing the HPDE, The Nuts dropped from two to six seconds off their lap times in the simulators!
Unfortunately, the simulators they've used don't allow you to drive as deep into the corners, or as close to the edge, as real life dictates. This largely results from the lack of communication of the the connection between the car and the road. What you do get from the better simulators is a beginning appreciation for the braking and cornering rates and speeds that are possible. They also help you build an awareness of the way things should look when you do it right, and when you do it wrong.
They also allow you to break yourself of bad habits, like getting used to just going on off in the gravel when it gets really bad, instead of trying to save it. That's not always the thing to do, but it's something you have to be able to do. See the description above regarding T10.
In addition, you should read some of the relevant literature before your first HPDE. Read them again after the event, too. You'll have a better idea for what they're talking about and you'll get stuff that you didn't the first time around.
The Nuts found Carroll Smith's Drive to Win and the Going Faster book from the Skip Barber Racing School to be quite valuable. Also, the book about autocross and time trial driving by Henry Watts was helpful. These should be available through just about any book seller. Allan Staniforth's suspension book is enlightening on a more theoretical level, since most of us will never engineer and fabricate purpose built suspensions.
2.4.3. Lodging & Supplies
If you're going to CMP, especially on the cheap, stay at the Executive Inn in Kershaw. It's only four miles north of the track, on the same road (US 521), and rates are very reasonable (about US$ 50 per night in March 2003). The address is 301 S. Hampton Street, Kershaw, SC, 29067. The telephone number is (803) 475-7575.
There's a gas station right outside the gates to the track. You don't even have to get on the road to get from the front gate to the pumps. Since fuel inside the track property is about $4 a gallon, you'll want to use the gas station outside if you're running common pump gas. They even make a pretty good pizza there. If you're running high octane racing fuel, you're probably stuck with the expensive stuff inside the track compound.
Robert's and Gus' are good restaurants. Robert's is good old down home Southern cooking. They make a mean barbeque. They're located a couple of miles south of the track property on the same road (US 521). Gus' is an Italian restaurant that makes really good pizza. They're north of the track on US 521 inside Kershaw itself. It's a couple of miles north of the Executive Inn. There's also a Bojangles a couple of hundred yards south of the Executive Inn that has good breakfast biscuits.
3. ConclusionThe Nuts learned a lot and made a lot of progress. Marty was ready to “cut them loose” for solo sessions after their last session of the first day. Righty soloed in the second session Saturday morning, in the rain. Lefty wasn't quite that confident and took Lee and his dad along Saturday, then soloed Sunday once the track dried out a bit. Lee told Lefty on Sunday that he was surprised they could be cut loose to solo during their first weekendof school. He said sometimes he doesn't want to let the students drive home from the event.
They didn't have any off track excursions, and didn't tear up any equipment or people, so they did reasonably well. Righty apparently boiled the brake fluid at the right rear, but they bled his brakes and all was well.
The Nuts should have done a session of threshold braking and skid pad exercises before the first track session. They suggest this to any organization running an HPDE event. All of the novice drivers, and any other driver that wants it, should have a threshold braking and skid pad session before their first track session. Lefty was on tires and brakes he'd only been using a week, and wasn't sure where on the traction circle he was. Most novice drivers won't be sure of that regardless of how long they've had the tires, brakes, and/or car.
Now The Nuts need to get a passenger seat and harness for the track cars for check out rides. An HPDE event in the track cars, at least for Lefty, and they're ready to start on SCCA Novice License, school and racing.
[Righty] Compared to this, the rest of the HPDE was totally uneventful for me. I spent Sunday afternoon looking at the other cars there and bench racing with the folks from the SCMC. Thank you to CMP, Turn One Motorsports, and the SCMC for a wonderful and educational weekend. Hope to see you at the track again soon.[/Righty]
Photos taken by “Lefty”A shot of the queue for Technical Inspection Friday morning before the Turn One Motorsports school.
The Nuts arrived at the track early and breezed through tech as the second and third cars presented. These folks waited a bit longer to arrive, and paid the price by waiting in line at the Tech Shed. It wasn't as bad as all that, though, really. Turn One required an inspection prior to arriving at Tech, so the Tech inspection mainly consisted of checking the form, checking the fluid levels, and torquing the lug nuts. Only a few minutes per car.
Here, Righty is braking hard for the entry to T1. The cone in front of his car is the turn in point for T1. At this point, you've been accelerating for over 1000 feet down the front straight. When you hit the braking point for T1 you're going almost as fast as on the back stretch, if you handled T14 properly.
Righty buckling in for his second session on Friday. Golden Strip Hobbies is run by one of Righty's friends who's also a national level racer of remote control cars. It's located in Simpsonville, South Carolina.
A pretty neat Ford Festiva that participating in Friday's “Test & Tune” sessions. A Ford 2.5l turbo motivates it with about 400 dynoed RWHP, according to the owner. He had plenty of power and speed, but was working the kinks out of the suspension and handling.
Righty approaching the timing tower on the front stretch and the braking point for T1.
A really nice Cobra at Friday's event. The Nuts are not sure which run group he participated in, but it was either the instructors group or the “already soloed” group. Either way, it was a more advanced group than theirs.
A nicely turned out Porsche 944. Note the interesting front fascia and headlights. This fellow was in Lefty's run group, but Lefty didn't see him much on the track. He guesses they were running similar lap times.
This Porsche 911 at Friday's event was one of the few cars that pointed Lefty by.
Friday night saw continuous moderate rain from around sundown until around dawn on Saturday. Here you see the water running down the parking lot at the Executive Inn (Kershaw, SC), soaking the asphalt there just as thoroughly as it was soaking the asphalt of the track, four miles away.
Saturday morning was miserable. Low temperatures combined with rain and mist made life difficult both on and off the track. In this shot you can see water pooling on the infield road.
NutDriver Racing would like to extend
thanks to the following people and organizations for helping to make this a
very enjoyable and educational experience:
We sure hope we haven't forgotten anyone. If we have, please let us know and we'll get you listed. We'd include links to our instructors, but we can't find their web pages, so far. :-(
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