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  • Spring Mountain Level 2: Day 2

    Posted on February 10th, 2012 tcorzett No comments

    After a good night’s sleep I found myself refreshed and ready for another day on track. Last night I spent quite some time going-over the track in my head, with the hopes that I’d be more familiar with the mechanics of each turn on the course.

    Like yesterday we started with a heel-toe downshifting exercise to warm-up. While I’ve been spending my time on track in an automatic transmission vehicle, I wasn’t going to pass-up the opportunity to get some more practice with a manual transmission. At first I had some difficulty with the mechanics, but it didn’t take too long to start to get a feel for it. I found that taking a moment to properly position my foot on the brake peddle (without applying the brakes) made it much easier to blip the throttle when it came time to heel-toe. While I was able to get several smooth downshifts, I still think that driving an automatic on track will be more beneficial at this stage.

    The first track session of the day was a lead-follow exercise, and I felt I did a fairly good job. When I wasn’t directly behind the instructor I was doing a better job hitting my marks… but when the little voice inside my head said, “catch-up to them”, I found myself making mistakes. Fortunately I was able to collect myself and run at my own pace, focusing on the driving line.

    The second session started as a lead-follow, but after a lap or two a student pulled into the lead and the instructor followed. With an open track in front of you, it is an entirely different experience… you can’t rely on just watching another car to determine what to do.

    I started-out leading surprisingly well, hitting my marks going into the Bus Stop (Turn 8 ) and apexing well through the Loop (Turns 10, 11, and 12). While I was being followed, the instructor also noticed that I was apexing really (really, really, really) early at Turn 2… and that it was keeping me from getting a good exit/drive onto the straight leading towards Turn 3. I also learned that I was getting too close to the “near apex” cone in the Chicane, resulting in a poor entry into Turn 4. Getting instruction over the radio really helped me figure out the proper line!

    After lunch we moved beyond lead-follow and began open lapping, which included the use of a transponder for recording lap times. I started out the first session with an instructor in my passenger’s seat and was really focusing on driving the proper line… hitting my marks in every corner on the first lap. With my confidence building I started to go quicker and quicker…

    Unfortunately my confidence got the better of me when I tried to drive into Turn 4 without using the brakes (no brakes = faster right?), only to find my car didn’t want to turn. Running wide I tried to dive towards the apex and added too much steering input… breaking the rear-end loose. Fortunately I still had stability control turned-on and was able to keep the car on track, but it was definitely humbling.

    Yesterday I got a feel for the importance of balancing the car while approaching the apex of a corner, and today I was really able to start to apply it on track. Using the throttle/brake the driver can adjust how much weight is on the front wheels; changing how easy the car wants to turn. Without changing the angle of the steering wheel you can make the car take a tighter line (less throttle or more brake) or a wider line (less brake or more throttle) towards the apex.

    A great example for this is entering Turn 10… you are fairly wide exiting Turn 9, but want to be all the way to the right for the entry to Turn 11. If I tried to turn the car only using the steering wheel it just wanted to push wide (like what happened at Turn 4). By briefly applying the brakes and shifting weight to the front wheels, the car hooks and turns-in like it’s on rails!

    The best thing about having an instructor ride along was the immediate feedback I received going through Turn 2. I was able to feel the proper line through the corner, and boy did it allow me to get on the throttle sooner… so much so that I was completely unprepared for how much more break pressure was required to slow down going into Turn 3. For then on kept working on keeping in the middle of the track well into the turn, such that the path into the apex and through the exit was as straight as possible.

    For the remainder of the day I was driving solo. During the second session after lunch I was really in the grove, and once I got up to speed I ran my quickest lap of the day (2:18.466) followed by two more laps less than 0.1 seconds-off! In the final “cool down” session (~70% of max, focusing on running the perfect line) I found myself running consistent lap times (~2:21)… when I wasn’t looking in my mirrors getting worried about holding someone up. I honestly think if I had run hard down the back straight that one (or more) of my laps would have been faster than my PB… it showed me just how important being smooth and on the proper line is to being fast.

    While I was 10-15 seconds a lap slower a lap than the other guys on track (the instructors can run sub-2:00 laps staying in 4th gear the whole way), I’m feeling good about how I progressed over the two days (especially considering it’s my first time on this track, and most of the others have been there two or three times).

    Unfortunately this time I’m only taking a 2-Day course, but I really feel that I’ve not only learned about a new track… I’ve also started to get a better feel for how vehicle dynamics and weight balance effects a car. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to come to Spring Mountain to refine my skills, but I’m sure that what I’ve learned over the past two days has made me a better driver.

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