Saturday, July 2, 2011

Moving 'up' in the autocross world

Those that know me will know that I have been autocrossing for some time now.  My friends will know me as a "car guy", my autocross friends fully realize that I lack true "car guy" knowledge and experience.  I will be the first to admit that I'm not a grease monkey.  I understand the workings of a car but not enough to tweak or get really hands on at this point.

I've been racing mostly for fun due to not having a competitive car and honestly, not putting the effort to make the car competitive - you can't make a refrigerator fly.  Arguably I've been more competitive in the last 2 years due to picking up a co-drive with Fabrice Renaud who has a well prepared 1994 Mazda Miata he has generously offered me.

This year, I was fortunate enough to be offered a drive in a friend's Formula Ford that has competed regularly at National Tour events and even a US Nationals and is extremely competitive.  I'll save you the back story but the lead up is that I had a chance to drive this at the 2011 Packwood National Tour and had to decline.  Mike was running the car locally (which is rare) to get some seat time for my 'pinch hitter', and offered me a drive at the same time, how could I turn that down?

We had done prep work prior to this, fitting me in the car and creating a custom seat for me.  I hurried out and bought race shoes from Driver's Edge Autosports as nothing I had would fit in the footbox of the Formula.

As event day rolled around, the excitement and anticipation built.  I would be driving the car before Mike and Matthew with Shar.  Shar had driven the car once before and went first to try and get some heat in the tires before my first run ever.  The day was overcast and there just wasn't any heat to be had.

As I lowered myself into the car, a tiny bit of nervousness finally set in.  Could I handle the car?  Do I know the procedures if something went wrong?

Photo by Jason Tcheng

I tightened the harnesses, attached the steering wheel, and donned my helmet.  People walking through the grid started taking pictures.  To spectators, it's not often a 'real racecar' is seen.  Those that knew me and that it was my first drive in the car wished me well as I started to re-play the track in my head.  This car was going to be fast and there would be little time to think.

Started up the car and proceeded to the line... stall.  restart and get it to the staging line.  Clutch work was not great I admit as it has a metallic clutch with little slip.

Waiting at the line, I was able to stay calm and focused.  Time to go, brought the revs up and dropped the clutch.

Calm and focus were completely blown away by the absolute assault the car gave me at launch!

Before I knew what was happening I had reached the middle of the first offset box, where now I had to perform my first shift.  I was told "release the throttle, no clutch, slip it into second, back on the gas" so I did that, only the shifter is so short and smooth, I didn't know I had completed the shift when I had so lost easily 1 second shifting back out and back into 2nd, then getting back on the throttle.

In 2nd gear the assault continued, unbelievably quick acceleration!  Head thrown back, struggling to keep looking ahead, I make the first sweeper which was very fast and reach my first braking point.  I decided from the get go that I would brake early for a few reasons: 1) not knowing the brake performance 2) I left-foot brake and wanted to ensure I had the right pedal

Brake waaay early and turn it into the first sweeper, the car turns AMAZINGLY well and I feel the car rotate under me magically.  Misjudged the sweeper and realized I had too much speed and coasted through the corner, just clipping a cone.  Back on throttle coming around about 180 degrees (275 degree sweeper) and poor throttle control results in full counter-steer on corner exit as I feel the car rotate in a way I didn't plan to.  I caught the spin! O_O WOW!

Full throttle for about 2 seconds on a short straight and another long sweeper, this time to the left, brake not so much this time but again, misjudge distance to a cone wall, yikes too much speed, car goes sideways and take out a 3 cone wall.  Full counter-steer again with throttle and I'm thinking to myself, am I really holding this drift???  Yes... yes I was. =P  I was amazed as I exited the corner sideways.

Remainder of the run was uneventful, not wanting to push my luck and getting a better feel for the brakes and throttle.  Going through a 4 cone slalom at the end of the run, I was amazed at how little steering input was needed.  I remember thinking during the slalom "is this all the steering that's needed?  really?" - clearly not focused on the run =P

The time was horrible, I easily took out 3-6 cones but I had so much fun, I couldn't have cared less.  I should say now that we were driving on dead tires so the car did gain grip later in the day but ultimately was a tricky car to drive.

Thanks to Mike for the drive and kudos to an awesome set up!

This memory will last a lifetime!

Check out the helmet cam footage of this first run:

Fastest run was the last of the day but no good helmet footage, here's the on-board cam:

1 comment:

  1. Right on Zach! Excellent driving... pretty soon we will see you in the Indy 500 down here in the states... :)