Life is Great with a 6.0-liter V8
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  • Santa Cruz Cruise

    Posted on December 28th, 2011 tcorzett No comments

    After taking two months off from work earlier this year for my Road Trip, it felt a little weird taking more time off for trips home. The end of the year is also packed with holidays that makes travel a nightmare… so when I only have a weekend off, the last thing I want to do is spend it in an airport. After two months of solid work, I was really needing a break… fortunately here is a holiday shutdown that makes braving the airports worthwhile.

    Having a few days back home, one the the things on the top of my “To Do List” was getting out with some NorCal GOATs for a cruise. A group of us met-up in Saratoga and headed out into towards Santa Cruz.

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    The roads in the South Bay hills are really some of the best in the Country. At times there can be some annoying traffic, but today most of the people were courteous and pulled aside when they saw us approaching.

    Normally I would have lead the group North on Skyline Dr. to Alice’s before turning onto La Honda Rd. for the journey to Pescadero Creek Rd. At the suggestion of one of those going on the cruise, and because we didn’t have a big group, we decided to take Alpine Rd. instead.

    I’d never driven Alpine Rd. before, but based on the Google Street View anticipated it to be quite tight/twisty… boy was it! While there was a painted center line, the road was only one-and-a-half lanes wide. Fortunately there was zero traffic on the road (not another car or even a bicycle)! While it was fun, the road was a bit too tight/twisty for a large car like the G8.

    I’ve been looking forward to driving Pescadero Creek Rd. ever since the last time. This road is truly the ideal place for my car to play… perfect pavement and fast sweeping corners. This time we weren’t any cars to slow us down and we made great time!

    We made such great time that we had to wait a couple extra minutes at Highway 1 for one of the GTOs that was meeting-up after work. We took the opportunity to take some photos and talk-shop about our cars.

    When we first arrived at the coast it was fairly cool and overcast, but it didn’t take long for the sun to burn through the clouds and really make the scenery beautiful.

    Once the final GTO arrived we headed out along Highway 1 towards Santa Cruz.

    Having spent so much time away from the West Coast, I was really enjoying the views. There is nothing line a sunny day driving down Highway 1 to make you realize why you live in California!

    I had planned on simply driving along the coast into Santa Cruz, but we found ourselves stuck behind some slow cars/trucks. Someone suggested we take an alternate route, so I gladly pulled-over and let him take the lead.

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    I was very impressed with the suggested route, will definitely be adding these roads to my repertoire!

    Due to the detour we were running a little late, but that just made lunch that much better. We stopped at a small BBQ joint that has a really incredible menu. I finally decided to get a Tri-Tip Sandwitch with garlic fries… yum! I’m sure I’ll have to make another trip here to try their ribs, and maybe even their fish and chips!

    I was really looking forward to trying to dive on Bear Creek Rd., but unfortunately we were running behind schedule. As a result I had to leave the rest of the group and take the direct route back on Highway 17.

    I was really happy with the way the day turned-out. The choice of roads, planned and improvised, made for a very enjoyable drive. Being on the road with other people was a great change, and really makes me want to spend more time at home.

  • Bondurant: Day 3

    Posted on December 21st, 2011 tcorzett No comments

    Today was the final day of the 3-Day Grand Prix Road Racing course at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. Looking back over the past few days, I’m shocked at just how much I’ve learned.

    This morning we didn’t waste any time before getting back out on track, and jumped right back in where we stopped yesterday… driving the Lake Loop and Carousel track configuration.

    Last night I spent a fair bit of time thinking about what I was doing well, and what I was doing poorly. As I summed-up in my post from last night; Smooth is fast. I took extra time to slow down and focus on driving smoothly into and out of the corners… wow, what a difference!

    By smoothly braking into the corner, rather than stomping at the brakes at the last possible second, I was better able to turn into the apex and get back into the throttle. Rather than jumping off the brakes at the turn-in points, I increased the amount of trail-braking I was doing… and that really helped with the weight transfer (keeping it on the front wheels) making the car much easier to turn. I was also able to focus on the racing line and use as much of the track as possible (rumble strips are your friends). I quickly found the proper line entering Turn 9, and that allowed me to better enter Turn 10… putting the car another foot to the right made things so much smoother (and faster)!

    I also focused on looking where I wanted to put the car next, which is a little strange when you’re going around a corner, but it really helped me with the late-apex corners (like the Carousel).

    All of these factors made me so much faster that I started bouncing-off the rev-limiter in 3rd gear going down the front straight (~105mph)… as a result I needed to start shifting into 4th, then back down into 3rd before Turn 1. I was fairly good at the up-shift, but my inexperience with a manual transmission (and the lack of heel-toe downshifting) really showed… I found myself shifting too soon or not letting off the clutch smooth enough, often times locking-up the rear tires.

    Compared to yesterday, I wasn’t “fighting” with the car as much to put it where I wanted to on track. With things going so smooth, the laps started ticking-off and any sense of time completely disappeared. At one point I started to feel myself getting tired/distracted, so rather than continue to make little mistakes, decided to pull into the pits for a breather. When I did, my instructor told me they were going to be throwing the checkered flag in a minute and it was time to head to the classroom… two hours had past!

    In the classroom we discussed many of the details required for racing… things like flags, rolling starts, following the pace car, single-file restarts, etc. After talking about it, we again jumped in our Corvettes and headed to the track to practice.

    I decided to stay at the rear of the pack for the starts, just so if I missed a shift no one would be running into the back of me by mistake. An added element of the rolling start was that it was the first time we were allowed to go side-by-side and actually race one-another! While it was only for the length of the front straight, it was quite exhilarating being so close to other cars all racing for a place on track.

    Once the starts were out of the way, we continued to lap the track working on our skills. It was at this point that I had the most incredible driving experience of my life… two Corvettes running nose to tail, lap after lap… it was incredible!

    It didn’t matter that there was a car right in front of me, I kept looking far ahead for my breaking points, apexes, and exit points. Being so close, ~1 car length, I found myself thinking less about the mechanics of what I was doing… and just driving. Even my downshifting improved! After ~10 laps he waved me past, and it was my turn to be the rabbit. It continued for another couple laps before we parted ways, but after the session I had to thank him for such an intense “race”.

    After lunch there was a brief classroom session to introduce us to the full (1.6 mile, 15 Turn) Bondurant Race Course.

    In this configuration, rather than turning left into Turn 2A… you crest a little rise and drive into the Maricopa Oval. While we have driven this section before, we now included “The Bean”… continuing to turn left out of Turn 4, rather than just going straight. This lead us towards a crest at Turn 6 and then rocketing into Turns 7, 8, and 9.

    These new sections were challenging, but again… when you got it right it just felt so easy. One of the areas this was most apparent was the run down the back straight. If done correctly, once you crest the hill at Turn 6 you don’t need to lift off the throttle until you enter the braking zone at Turn 9. With the changes in elevation, you really get to feel how the weight of the car is transferred… and what it does to the handling of the vehicle.

    As the afternoon went on I started to learn the areas of the course where I could really put the peddle to the metal… without negatively effecting the handling of the car. I felt myself getting quicker and quicker… having to break harder into the corners, but without the “recklessness” I had when I started the course. Where I once was abruptly tossing the car into the corner, I was now smoothly guiding the car through it. I was consistently challenging myself, fixing one issue then moving to another… asking, “is this the best you can do?”

    Far too quickly the checkered flag flew on the final session of the day, and with that my course came to an end…

    After getting out of the Corvette for the last time, those of us who were not returning for the 4th day of the Grand Prix Racing Course (which is focused on Formula series cars) received our report cards and graduation certificates.

    Overall this has been an incredible experience. Hopefully I can apply the knowledge that I’ve learned towards some Auto-X and Track Days in the G8. Having completed the course I have a new understanding of how to drive, but I know there is so much more I can learn. Now I just need to figure out how I can come back to take another course!

  • Bondurant: Day 2

    Posted on December 20th, 2011 tcorzett No comments

    My second day at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving flew-by so fast, I could hardly believe it was over!

    The morning started-out with a quick classroom session, then proceeded onto the skid pad in the skid cars.

    I’ve been on a skid pad before, but never in a vehicle that could have the front/rear wheels lifted off the ground. Using the hydraulic jacks on the outriggers, the instructor was able to induce either oversteer or understeer mid-corner (without the need for additional throttle input).

    I’ve had a difficult time in the past (especially in snow/ice) trying to deal with understeer… most of the time I just crank the wheel and slide straight… today was no exception. It took me quite a while to learn that I needed to apply the brakes (transfering weight to the front wheels) and reduce the steering input. I eventually figured it out, but I think I’ll need to get some more practice with this before I feel really comfortable.

    Despite owning a rear wheel drive vehicle with gobs of torque… thankfully, I’ve not really had many chances to recover from excessive oversteer. It was really great to feel how the skid car starts to slip away, and to practice what is needed to smoothly recover. I was truly surprised just how important it is to look where you want to drive the car (and not at the telephone pole you’re sliding towards)… keeping your eyes focused on the exit point for the corner makes correcting much easier.

    After the skid car we hopped into our Corvettes and returned to the Maricopa Oval. Today one of the other students snagged the car I was driving yesterday (he can have my burnt-up clutch), but it wasn’t a big deal… I just selected another Corvette from the line.

    While the other students were adding heel-toe down shifting to their corner entry, I focused on my driving line. Having a night to think about all of the lessons from the previous day really helped, and I started out driving much better than I did yesterday.

    At this point I was really pushing the Corvette as hard as I could. After a while I stopped to re-adjust my seat, only to find smoke pouring off the front brakes (I actually went back out to do a few cool-down laps).

    Unfortunately, I was often driving the car too hard into the corner (getting on the brakes late)… and as a result would carry too much entry speed towards the apex. While I might have been going faster into the corner, the inability to properly turn the car before the apex kept me from rolling into the throttle… and hurt my speed out of the corner (and onto the straight). I also found that I “dive” for the apex, rather than smoothly turning towards it; forcing me to take a poor line… again delaying me from getting back into the throttle out of the corner.

    The last activity before lunch was a threshold braking exercise. It consisted of driving at 65mph towards a set of cones… and decelerating (without the use of ABS) before a line on the ground. After each run they would move the cone closer and closer to the line, until the point where it was difficult to get the car stopped in time (without going into ABS). We also did a run from 65mph going full into ABS, while turning… but even with my brain telling my foot to do it, I had a difficult time just slamming on the brakes (full ABS) and keeping the peddle to the floor.

    After lunch all of our time was spent on the track running the Lake Loop and Carousel.

    We strapped-on helmets and jumped into the Corvettes for a session of follow the leader. While the basic concepts of hitting your brake point, turn-in point, apex, exit point were all the same… trying to tie multiple corners together was quite a bit more challenging. It didn’t take long for the instructors to pull-off, leaving us to explore the track for ourselves.

    I found Turn 2A is much like the constant radius corner of the Maricopa Oval, so felt fairly confident in that section. Turns 7 and 8 is a nearly straight shot from one apex to the other, but requires you to use both sets of rumble strips (which is great fun). Turns 1 and 2 are fairly “basic”, but requires you to slow-down properly from the ~100mph run down the front straight. Turns 11 and 12 are a bit more complicated, and requires a fair bit of trail-braking (to keep weight transferred to the front wheels, aiding steering), but I felt I was negotiating this section well.

    I found myself having the greatest difficulty driving through Turn 9 and into Turn 10. The first part of the session I wasn’t braking enough into Turn 9, and as a result I was not able to get the car properly turned before heading into Turn 10. After a quick ride-along with my instructor (who can really make the Corvette move!) I got a much better feel for the amount of braking required. Turn 13 was similar, I wasn’t braking at the right point to transfer weight to the front wheels… and as a result was pushing (understeer) away from the apex, keeping me from getting into much throttle prior to the braking zone for Turn 14.

    I guess my take-home from today is that driving into the corner faster or breaking later, doesn’t necessarily translate into a faster lap. I was also pushing my equipment harder than needed (the whole smoking brakes thing). Simply braking longer (at a lower pressure) to a slower speed, allows for a better turn-in… and a line that allows you to return to the throttle quicker on exit. I also need to remind myself that “Smooth is fast”… and that aggressive/abrupt braking and turning (while it might feel fast) is only scrubbing speed and increasing the wear on my equipment.

    After about an hour on track (it honestly didn’t feel nearly that long) we pulled into the pits and headed into the classroom to wrap-up the day. At the beginning of the course everyone in the class was fairly quiet and kept to themselves. After today’s track session everyone was suddenly very talkative… comparing driving lines, discussing problem sections, sharing experiences… it was incredible!

    Tomorrow is my final day of the Grand Prix Road Racing course (others will be continuing to a 4th day in the Formula cars). After a short spin in the skid car (*rimshot*), the rest of the day will be spent on the track putting everything I’ve learned together.

  • Bondurant: Day 1

    Posted on December 19th, 2011 tcorzett No comments

    Today was the first of three at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, and all I can say is WOW!

    The day started-out with some classroom discussions about vehicle control and weight transfer. We then took a tour of the facility. The workshops at Bondurant are top-notch… each car is given an inspection (at least) daily… and there are piles of tires/parts for repairs. We then hopped into a van to check-out the rest of the property. If you ever have an opportunity to take a van around the Bondurant facilities… DO IT!

    At this point we broke into groups and chose our vehicle for the next three days…

    While I really would have liked driving a Pontiac G8 for the course, I’m “stuck” driving a C6 Corvette Grand Sport… oh darn!

    We headed-out to practice heel-toe downshifting. This was a problem for me… as I was having difficulties even getting the car into the proper gear. It took me a few times to launch from a stop… and (when I didn’t stall) was not very smooth going into 2nd and 3rd gears. After a short time I pulled-off track and went with my instructor to another area to just practice working the shifter and clutch. At this point I was just miserable… I wasn’t doing very good, kept stalling, and overall was frustrated at my lack of abilities.

    After the heel-toe drills we headed back into the classroom (where I was able to meet Bob Bondurant himself!) and talk more about driving lines and weight transfer. While I tried to pay attention to what was being said, I just couldn’t get my mind off the difficulty I was having with the manual transmission. We broke for lunch and I went out to grab a sandwich… all the time time being frustrated at myself. How bad was it? I just wanted to cry!

    After lunch we continued the classroom session before heading out to the Maricopa Oval to put the lessons we learned in the classroom to the test on track!

    For this exercise I only needed to get the Corvette into 3rd gear and leave it there… which was the best news that I had heard all day! We drove the oval in a counter-clockwise direction, having to navigate both increasing and decreasing radius corners.

    After a few warm-up laps, I put the throttle down and started to push the Corvette harder and harder. I can honestly say, this was the hardest I’ve ever pushed a vehicle before! Lap after lap of trying to hit your marks, looking through the apex to the exit… it was exhilarating! At this point I completely forgot the morning and couldn’t get the ear-to-ear grin off my face.

    I did a good job looking where I wanted to drive the car, but I was regularly turning into the corners too soon… making proper exits a bit more difficult. I also wasn’t as smooth on/off throttle and with steering as I’d have liked. I took some time to slow things down a bit and that really helped me get on the proper lines.

    After the oval we headed to do an accident avoidance drill (very similar to the one I did as part of the Civilian EVOC course I took years ago). Having to put the Corvette in the proper lane at 45mph was fairly easy (even though I nailed a cone on the last attempt), but it gave me quite a bit of time to work with the manual transmission. While I still stalled the car a few times, I got much better at (slowly) launching the car and shifting up into 2nd gear.

    The last drill of the day was more heel-toe downshifting. This time, rather than being out on my own, I joined the others and practiced smoothly shifting between 2nd and 3rd gear. I was orders of magnitude better than how I was in the morning… and didn’t totally burn-up the clutch! I’m still far from “fluent”, but I feel confident enough in my abilities to continue using the Corvette for the driving exercises.

    Tomorrow morning I believe we are headed to the skid car… and to quote an instructor, “If you’re not having fun in the skid car… you shouldn’t be driving a car”. I can hardly wait!

  • Bondurant!

    Posted on December 18th, 2011 tcorzett No comments

    It has been over a year since I purchased my birthday gift, but I’ve finally found the time to attend the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving!

    I’ve been looking forward to this course for so long, it’s been almost unbearable. While I was very excited, I was quite nervous about having to drive a manual transmission vehicle. I’ve driven a stick a few times in the past, so understand the procedure, but have never been able to become “fluent”. I tried to rent a car with a manual, even considered buying a “beater”, but in the end went into the course with minimal experience.

    When I flew into Phoenix, I knew I was in the right place… greeting me when I stepped-off the airplane was a Bondurant Corvette!

    I’m taking a Grand Prix Road Racing course, so will spend the next three days immersed in all things racing!