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  • 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.

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