Thursday, September 1, 2011

Racing: Porsche Track Day

This part of the magazine is primarily dedicated to the modification of ones vehicle to either make it look the way we want, sound the way we want or to go as fast as we can make it. Now, in terms of performance modifications, we’ve talked all about the value of good tires, suspension, alignment, ride height, brakes, balance, weight, aerodynamics and all sorts of things you can do to your car to make it go faster. However, there is one thing I’ve yet to touch on, one of the most important parts of the performance equation, that of driver skill.

Now you can have a ridiculously fast car out at a track day and quite easily find yourself being made a complete fool of by much slower vehicles that have no business passing a car with three times their power. I myself use to rally race a measly 110 horsepower, 2WD 1985 Toyota Corolla, and it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to go out and beat a 300 horsepower Subaru WRX STi or Audi TT. On gravel or icy conditions, these cars had a massive advantage over me, however, their drivers did not have the experience to get the most out of their vehicles, and thus, their $80,000 race machines were being passed by my rusted out old $5,000 Corolla.

So, what’s the best way to rectify this situation? Well, you can do what I did, start at the bottom with the slowest car, and over several years teach yourself to whip that car to within an inch of its life, or better yet, you can take a driving school, and learn in a weekend what it took me a year to figure out on my own.

I attended one of Morrisports Advanced Driving clinics out at Mission Raceway to freshen up on my racecraft, with Porsche lending me a rather special vehicle for my track driving tuition. The all-new Carrera GTS, a higher performance version of the Carrera S, which allows drivers who want a higher performance 911, but still want the pure driving experience of a 2WD car. Finally, I would have a proper weapon to compete; finally I was the one in the 400 horsepower car. However, now I need to learn the proper skills so that when I hit the track, I could get the most out of the car.

Morrisports Instructors put us through an extremely informative hour long classroom session, teaching us the basics of car performance, handling, braking, driving line and seating position. From the classroom, we headed out onto the track where we handed our keys over to our designated instructor. For the first five or six laps, the instructors drove our cars around the track, allowing us to do two things. First, realize just how fast the car is capable of going, and how much lateral and braking force it can withstand before it starts to loose grip. Second, it allowed me to study what my instructor was doing to make the car go faster. Everything from the way he sits, where he is looking on the track and the inputs that he is putting into the controls.

After five or six laps, we pull into the pits, and trade seats. Now I’m behind the wheel, and trying to remember everything I’ve just learned in the last few hours. My first laps are ragged and slow. Mixing what I’ve taught myself about racing on loose surfaces is only hurting me on a sticky tarmac track. I’m braking too hard and erratically, I’m getting on the throttle too soon, and I’m just too damn excited. We pit as our groups session is now over, and have an hour or so to go over my performance.

In the car, when the instructor is teaching at speed, I found I was concentrating too hard on the road to take any of his instruction in. Resting in the paddock we go over what needed to be done. Brake earlier and smoother, carrying it into the corner. Wait a little longer to roll onto the throttle, drifting may be the fast way through a forest stage, but on the track it looses you valuable seconds. And finally, relax, stop gripping the wheel with all my might, and put that energy into my left foot to keep me stabilized in the seat. I spent the rest of my off time, going through these fine details in my head, visualizing what I needed to do.

Come next on track session, It was all me behind the wheel and I began letting go of my rallying habits and utilizing my new found skills. Each lap became faster and faster, my line better, and the grin on my instructors face bigger and bigger as the art of racing was finally becoming clear. While we did not have any timing devices on hand, the extra g-forces that I was able to put the car under, and the increasing top speed I was able to achieve on the straight proved my speed was increasing exponentially. I was finally driving a top level car, yet I was starting to real in cars at an even higher level, cars like 911 GT3’s and the manic 911 Turbo S that I had on my great drives series to Mount St. Helens. However, I learned one important fact, that even after several years of racing, I still have a lot to learn.

At the end of the day, I was almost quite angry really. Why didn’t I do this sooner? The value of proper driving skills is easily the most important performance investment you can make with a car. It allows you to ensure that no mater how powerful your car is, that you will be able to get the most out of it. Not only that, but it also gives yo the confidence to pull the car out of an emergency situation if ever needed. If you ever plan to take your car to the track, which is the only place you should be driving it in anger, be sure to improve your cars performance, by investing in a driver-training program.

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