Life is Great with a 6.0-liter V8
RSS icon Email icon Home icon
  • Miller Motorsports Park: Day 3

    Posted on March 30th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    I’ve completed the third, and final, day of this course… and now I want to go back to the beginning again! I felt that I’ve really improved my driving, but at the same time really neglected an important aspect of things (more on that later).

    Today we started the day back on the “East Course” with another van ride. This time we talked about taking several different lines through each of the corners… passing, defending, etc. We also started talking about places that are good (high percentage) and bad (low percentage) passing areas. This set the tone for the rest of the day, which was very focused on “the art of passing”.

    For the first on-track session was a lead/follow, but this time I found myself behind the wheel of the FR500S. Unlike the school car I’ve been driving for the past two days (Mustang GT), the FR500S is a purpose-built race car!

    The other cars had roll cages and race seats, but the FR500S is in a whole different league… there is no AC, no AM/FM stereo, no interior, etc… heck, the steering wheel is removable! To start the car you have to turn a master electric cut-off switch, flip switches (ignition, AIM, etc.), and push a button… there is no key. After the first session I even had to ask someone how to turn the darn thing off!

    While getting into/out of the FR500S was a bit tricky, the mechanics setup the car with a race seat that fits my larger hips (Sparco EVO3). The car also had a 6-point harness, which despite having a belt in your crotch, was extremely comfortable. After spending the day in this seat/harness I would not hesitate installing this same setup in my car for track days.

    On-track the FR500S was MUCH quicker than the school Mustang GT. Being ~350lbs lighter it was a little faster down the straights, but it was in the corners that it really shined… I was easily able to carry 10-15mph more speed in most turns. It didn’t take me long to really start to like Turn 7 (Agony & Ecstasy). By trail braking into the center of the corner, I could carry lots of speed on entry without sacrificing corner exit.

    For the second session of the day we were sent-out on track solo. The FR500S had no passenger seat, so all of the instruction was done from outside of the car. Because of this, I’m really glad that I did not elect to use it yesterday… I never would have learned about my breaking issues. Also, with the better cornering abilities of the FR500S, much of the resulting understeer would have been “masked”.

    After lunch I learned that the FR500S that I’d been driving in the morning had developed a mechanical issue (some warning light came on or something). They gave me another one to drive, but not just any car… Roger Miller’s car (as in Miller Motorsports Park). Thankfully I was able to keep it on the track, as it would have been difficult to explain how I wrecked the track owner’s son’s car.

    When we headed back out on track it didn’t take long to realize that all of the reference cones had been removed! After having always looked for cones, it was a little strange not having the references… but as time progressed I felt it made things easier. Without cones to fixate on I found myself “scanning” more. I was less focused on hitting a “perfect” apex than driving a smooth line through the corners. During this session I also discovered I could carry WAY more speed through Clubhouse Corner (Turn 13) than I would have ever believed.

    Most of the past two days have been spent trying to navigate the track on my own. In session #4 the instructors joined us on-track and started challenging us to drive with another car in close proximity. It is much more difficult to focus on driving a smooth line when you have another car filling your mirrors, and too easy to overdrive a corner trying to keep-up with faster cars. During this session we also worked on the idea of setting-up a pass, even if it took several corners to manifest.

    When driving in close proximity I started to learn just how much proper gear selection makes. The second half of the day I was constantly catching cars in the corners, even if I didn’t want to, but due to “being stuck in 4th gear”, just couldn’t pass them on the straights.

    All of the instructors were giving me great complements on how smooth my driving was. This is good, as that was what I was focusing on, but I realized that I need to become more familiar with a manual transmission if I ever want to get faster on-track (in a non-automatic car). This is why I wish I was back at the first day of the school again… I’d really start to practice on getting smooth with shifting (including heel-toe downshifts).

    The last on-track session of the course was focused on close-quarters driving. Most sessions start with the cars spaced evenly around the track, but this time we all went out in a group! For many laps we were running 3-4 cars nose-to-tail around the track. It really is an exhilarating feel driving full-speed through a corner only inches away from another car you’re not even looking at (other than your periphery).

    The car that I was following was taking a dramatically different line than me through several of the corners, so there were many times we crisscrossed on the track. It was really fun to poke my nose under his in a corner, just to let him know I was there. For maybe 8 laps I would close-up in the corners only to be pulled away from on the straight. If it had been a racing situation I’m sure I would have been able to intimidate the other driver into making a mistake… In reality, I should know how to shift properly and just left him in my wake after a lap or two.

    Just before the end of the session I pulled through the pits to get some clean driving room (surprising my Father who was watching from trackside and thought I might have gone off-track someplace). I took these last few laps to really practice driving a perfect line, without any influence from having a car in front of me. After the final checkered-flag flew I headed into the garage to park the FR500S for the final time of the day.

    Looking back over the past three days I really felt satisfied about my progress as a driver. I also felt motivated to come back to a school after I get some more practice with a manual transmission. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure-out a way to get back out to Miller Motorsports Park in the future, as the past three days have been awesome!

    Note: All on-track photos are “stock” and are not of me driving. There was no photographer trackside, but I felt some photos would make things look more exciting.

  • Miller Motorsports Park: Day 2

    Posted on March 29th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    Two days down and one to go! After spending another day on track I’m feeling more comfortable and confident, but I am still reminded (quite often) just how much more I have to learn!

    Today started out with a van session on the new track… Yes, the new track! Unlike yesterday where we were on the “East Course”, today we headed over to the “West Course”

    Being on a new track for the second day was really different than any of the other schools I’ve done. Yesterday I was getting fairly good at the “East Course”, but not being able to pick-up from where I left-off was challenging. I was able to learn a fair amount from the van ride, but it took me a while to get this new course down.

    The first on-track session was a lead/follow at a fairly slow pace. Not only were we learning a new track, but the temperature was ~40°F (aka. cold) and there were couple wet spot on the driving line. I’m getting better at picking-up the driving line after a couple laps following someone.

    In the morning we had another chance to get into the skid car for some additional practice. This time the car was setup with very little grip. When driving into a corner the car didn’t want to turn (understeer), but when you started through the corner the rear-end would step-out (oversteer). I was doing quite well at balancing things, but got a bit overconfident. When I started to drive the other direction into an off-camber corner, around I went… at least there were only two cones stuck under the car!

    Today we had only a single lead/follow session, and for the second session I ended-up going solo the entire time. It didn’t take me long to get a good feel for Turns 1 through 4, but I was having a really difficult time with Turn 6. I kept turning-in too early, making the corner into a “V” rather than a smooth arch. After letting one of the faster cars past, I observed their driving line and noticed just how long they stayed against the outside curbing before turning in (midway between “Right Hook” and “Knock Out”). Once I saw that line, I was able to make the adjustment and I started taking the corner much better.

    Unlike the “East Course”, the “West Course” is very flowing. The first few turns link together and really encourage you to carry speed through corners. Once you start your turn-in for Turn 3, you very quickly get back into the throttle and carry it all the way into Turn 5. The speeds felt much faster than yesterday, but I never once thought to look down at the speedometer.

    While it was fun to blast into Turn 5, I often times found myself not slowing down enough, and the more time I spent on track, the worse it became…

    After lunch we again headed out on track, but this time I had my first passenger! Having an instructor riding along really helped me learn, but for this session they were with me at the start of the session. I found that while I was driving slow I was able to maintain a good line, but when I started to pick-up the pace (as the tires warmed-up, etc.) I would start making more and more mistakes. While I learned from the instructor, it would have been nicer to have them ride along later in the session (when I was making the mistakes).

    My real problem area was getting the car turned-in for Turns 5 and 10, both really slow corners, because I was trying to go too fast. Late in the fourth track session of the day I had an instructor in the car with me and he noticed I was not applying enough brakes at the start of the braking zone… and as a result wasn’t getting the car slowed-down enough before turn-in (which is why I was always pushing through the corners). For the remainder of the session we worked on getting the car slowed-down, and I really gained a better understanding of just how slow those two corners are.

    In the last session of the day I took the knowledge I gained throughout the day and tried to put it all together. I did a much better job slowing down into the corners, resulting in driving a much better (and smoother) line. It was very rewarding to see things come together so well, compared to the first sessions on-track it was night and day!

    The final session was also very fun because I spent it chasing-down another car. While for most of the time we weren’t nose-to-tail, I was able to judge our distance to figure-out where I was driving faster/slower.

    During this session I was doing such a great job in Turns 7 through 9 that I was able to get quite close to the other car going into Turn 10, but driving the course in 4th gear… he was running away from me onto the front straight. I was then able to catch back-up into the breaking zone for Turn 5, but would again loose ground coming out of the slow corner (‘sigh… 3rd gear would have been nice).

    At the end of the day, I was very impressed with the progress I made. Towards the end I was consistently running good laps. I’m having a hard time remembering if there were any corners in the last session that I really butchered.

    Tomorrow is the final day of the school, but we will be returning to the “East Course” to apply everything we learned today. I’m really looking forward to getting back onto this track, especially since I get to drive the Mustang FR500S!

  • Miller Motorsports Park: Day 1

    Posted on March 28th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    Day 1 of our 3-Day course at Miller Motorsports Park is in the books and boy was it a hoot!

    The day started out like many of the previous schools I’ve done, with morning introductions and some classroom time. All of the other schools were in street clothing, but this time we had full driving suits! It took a bit of time to get everyone into the right sizes, but we quickly headed out to the garages to get into our cars.

    The Mustang GT is the main vehicle used for the course, and other than a few minor modifications (roll cage, race seat, 4-point harnesses) they are mostly stock. The seats in the cars (Sparco Evo2) is a little narrow for my hips, but wasn’t too bad. After a few laps (and cinched down harnesses) I felt well supported.

    After getting into our cars we headed out onto the “East Course” for a lead-follow session. I found it really nice to get out on track so quickly, even if it was at a slow pace. Just being able to take a couple laps really helped get an idea of the course, and it paid-off later in the day.

    The first drill of the morning was a session of heel-toe downshifting. Like my previous courses, these weren’t my best moments. Fortunately I’m starting to get a little better with the manual transmission. After some practice I was even able to string together a few good heel-toe downshifts! For the rest of the day (and the week) I will be spending my time in 4th gear focusing on my driving line. Maybe one day I’ll get the hang of this heel-toe thing, but it’s not going to be now.

    After the downshifting we headed to the skid car for some laps around the paddock. Like last time, it was a total blast. Being able to experience a car with understeer or oversteer in a controlled environment was priceless. I seriously think that all drivers should get behind the wheel of a skid car… even if it’s only once, the experience will help them understand what to do when a car starts to skid.

    There were only 6 students in our course today, which resulted in 2 students per instructor! With almost private instruction, I found it fairly easy to learn the track. It also allowed for lots of open space on track to practice, without having to worry about the car in front of or behind you.

    Our first real session on track was two cars following an instructor. We started slow and really focused on driving the proper line. After a few laps the two trailing (student) cars switched places and we did a few more laps. We continued like this, switching back/forth, for ~20 minutes before heading back into the paddock. By the end of the session I was really starting to understand some of the nuances of the track.

    After lunch there were three more track sessions on the “East Course” configuration.

    One session was another lead-follow. The other student in my group was at a similar pace as me, and it made for a lot of fun. We started out slow, but it didn’t take long for the speeds to start to increase… by the end of the session we were probably running about 60% pace of what I was eventually do today (not bad for the second session).

    The third and fourth sessions for me were solo. The plan was to have an instructor ride along for a period of time, but it seemed that I was doing well enough that they focused on some of the other students a bit more. It was a little awkward not getting a ride along, but it was also nice to know that I was doing things well enough to not raise any black flags.

    I tend to be fairly good at self-critiquing how I’m driving and will often times pick-up on mistakes and try to fix them on the next lap. There were still quite a few places where I made errors, but none of them were too major… and I think I’m getting a good feel for how to prevent them.

    I know I have a difficult time judging closing-speeds when entering a corner, and a few times I fell into the trap of trying to drive too fast into a corner. This resulted in a poor line through the apex and a slow exit… one time I even went through the first corner so hot that I induced oversteer (one potential downside of trail braking) and ended-up “drifting” along the rumble strip at the edge of the track! While it was fun, it was a little embarrassing. I think I just need to take it a little slower to make sure I’m getting a good exit out of the corners.

    Overall I was very happy with the way today turned-out. I was able to pick-up the new track fairly quickly and felt my car control was improving. Tomorrow we head to the “West Course” to learn another new course… I can hardly wait!

    Oh yeah, my Dad had fun too!

  • Miller Motorsports Park

    Posted on March 27th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    This next week is going to be a real treat… not only am I going to be doing a 3-Day driving school at the Miller Motorsports Park (MMP), I’ll be doing it with my Father!

    The school doesn’t start until tomorrow, but we headed out to Utah yesterday afternoon. It was great to get in early and have some time to relax a little. We also took advantage of the extra time to scope-out the MMP facility.

    One of the really unique features of MMP is the Larry H Miller Auto Museum. Businessman and automotive enthusiast, Larry H Miller helped lead the development of Miller Motorsports Park. One of the buildings has been filled with some of the most impressive and historic street and race Fords anywhere.

    Many of the cars are 1 of 2, 1 of 6, 1 of 10, etc… the first race Cobra, the last race Cobra… the list goes on and on. This is the only place in the world that has a Ford GT40 MkI, MkII, MkIII, and MkIV under the same roof!

    The car that really stood for me was the 1964/1965 Cobra “Daytona Coupe” (CSX 2299) that propelled Bob Bondurant and Dan Gurney to victory in the ’64 24hrs of LeMans.

    The car would then go on to win the ’65 24hrs of Daytona and 12hr of Sebring. Bob Bondurant and Dan Gurney would continue on to drive Daytona Coupes to the FIA World Manufacturer’s Championship. If that’s not impressive enough, the current value is estimated at over $7.25 million!

    After walking through the museum we headed into Tooele, UT to get some lunch at Sostanza Grill. While staying in Tooele last year, Sostanza was a staple… there was no way we were not going to eat there this trip! It didn’t take more than 5 minutes for the owner and several of the other employees to come over to say hello… it was great to see everyone again. With all the good food, I know we will be returning several times this week!

    It will be an early night tonight, as we need to be up early tomorrow for the first day of our driving school. After a couple hours of auto-related programing on TV it’s time to get to sleep!