On Track

Hi Pat,

What a weekend, huh? You guys must be flying high! What a great year for you.

Amidst the excitement of Laguna Seca, I had my own little bit of fun behind the wheel on Saturday. For the record, the event was the Fall DE offered by the Alabama PCA at Talladega Gran Prix Raceway, or “Little Talladega” or “TigPrix.” We have an awesome club and they have welcomed me so warmly over the past year. As luck would have it, the national president of the PCA was in town for the Barber Vintage Festival, and he came over to check out our event. But he was not driving a Porsche!PCA Natl Pres Kurt Gibson and his non-Porsche conveyance

The day started rather ominously, I must say, when I was forced to pull over on the side of the interstate just three miles into my hour drive to the track. A car ahead of me lost something that sent a big black cloud of smoke and oil right onto the front of my car. My visibility went to zero and I had to get right off and clean that mess off my windshield. It was AW. FUL. I got to the next exit and found a gas station where I gave the glass a serious scrub-down with the glass-cleaning stuff I had on hand. I had to exit again along the way because, as it turns out, the crap on the hood of my car was still blowing onto my glass. I found another gas station, bought a small bottle of Dawn hoping to get through the oil, and went at it a third time – this time also wiping down the front of the entire car. What a mess!

I’d allowed plenty of time for the trip, leaving at 4:30 in the morning. So even though it took me two hours, I arrived in time to find a spot near the shelter, unload my car, slap on my numbers, and zip over to tech to get my car checked out for the day. Then I had a classroom session with my novice group, followed by a little down-time before my first session.

That was when I got my first deep breath, got my stuff set up, and found a place to plug in my laptop computer. My air card worked fine where we were, and I was immediately able to bring up radiolemans.com and stream their superb coverage all morning long. It was much appreciated by my fellow drivers, many of whom follow ALMS closely – and were rooting for the Lizards! I need to get a long-sleeved Lizard shirt so that I can wear it to drive and work at the tracks (long sleeves required). The race didn’t actually start until the very end of our track day, so it wasn’t until I got home that I got to hear the real fun as it happened! Still, radiolemans.com had a full day’s coverage, and we enjoyed the driver interviews and other features over the course of the day.

Another task accomplished was the set-up for my on-board camera that I was using for the first time at this event. With my computer set up in the shelter, I was able to download my track sessions immediately, then clear the memory card for the next run. I experimented with camera placement a little, but really didn’t have much time to be futzing around with it all. Luckily it was as easy as advertised to set up and use, and the footage came out well enough for me. Not the best quality, and I need to figure out why I am getting no sound at all, but I got tons of footage from the day.

And I scored a wheel crest cap to replace my missing one! I’d ordered a couple online but they aren’t quite right (polished aluminum, not chrome like mine). This one is rough, but it’s chrome, and frankly, the whole damned wheel is rough so it’ll fit right in.

Me and My Real Driving Coach JB

Before my first session, My Real Driving Coach appeared! I was so happy to see him. He knows most of these folks, and we chatted a bit and talked about how we could work him into the existing instructor-student pairings, which had me lined up with one of the club regulars. I had been in touch with all of them ahead of time about My Real Driving Coach coming along for part of the day, so it was just a matter of logistics, wrist-bands, and talking about how we’d divide up the time. He ended up riding with me for my first session, then taking my car out in an instructor session with me riding shotgun. I had two morning sessions and two in the afternoon, each 30 minutes. So two hours of seat time for the day. Three if you count my ride-alongs with both JB and my instructor.

The first session was lead-follow for the first few laps. Eventually the pace truck pulled off, the yellow flags were put away, and we were off! My group, all novices, was a mix of experience levels – some out for their first time, and some, like me, with a few track days under their belts. Yes, my left arm did spend some time hanging out the window to point faster cars by. But somewhere along the way in that first session, I enjoyed performing my first pass. And then my second.  pre=””>Whee! Seriously, it was a bit of a mile marker for me, and a fitting way to celebrate my first year on the track. My Real Driving Coach was so much fun, very positive in the way he delivered his feedback, very encouraging.

During the second morning session, I went out with my assigned instructor and really benefitted from some of his input on steering, and a few tweaks to the line I was driving that he suggested. He has more experience driving older cars like mine (his is a 86) so his feedback on steering was really great. I got so much out of observing him when I rode with him later.

At some point in the morning, I got JB behind the wheel of my car and I rode along. I think my 21 year old 911 is the only older Pcar he’s ever driven. He spends all his time with the brand-spanking new top of the line cars in his job! He’s talked to Hurley about his days driving 911s in the 70s and 80s, and when he got out of my car after 15 minutes of a 30-minute session, his first words were, “Man, that is some work! To think Hurley won 24 hour races in these cars….wow!” He definitely knows from testing the limits of a car, and he was all about pushing mine out toward the edges. I’d say he gave her…60-70% at times. The steering is so crude-feeling on my car compared to newer ones – but when I looked at his hands, they were so incredibly light on the wheel! It was great to sit in my car and to know how much she is capable of. My front brakes were sa-MOKIN when we pulled off the track, and I have a feeling I’ll be ready for those new front pads soon.

We exited the session early because my car developed a noticeable skip. AGAIN. A peek under the deck lid revealed the cover of my air filter hanging open. Ugh! Another plug wire was knocked loose somewhere under there. The skip seemed to disappear once that was sorted. The guys who work on my car, from the only place in town that services older Pcars, were at the track to provide support for the club, which was convenient and helpful. Many folks had much bigger problems than I did, and they were busy all day long.

PCA Natl Pres Kurt Gibson with Instructor and AL PCA VP Brynley KingMy Real Driving Coach left after lunch, and I finished out the day with my assigned instructor. It rained off and on all day, but it was very light. There were times when the track was pretty well dried out, and it was good to have the range of track condition and to experience the changes over the day from wet to dryer and back and forth. My newish Dunlops were great! They handled the transitions seamlessly, and seemed very forgiving of my sometimes less-than-smooth inputs on the slick track.

I don’t remember anything remarkable about my third session, except that my instructor took a few moments to go over his assessment sheet with me. My marks are improving! Still not ready to drive solo, but I have improved in several areas, at least in his estimation, from the last evaluation I had in the club. I have some new ideas about skills to work on. We agreed that it would really help me to spend some time on a simulator between track sessions.

What I recall about the final session was that I was flakey as hell! Very inconsistent. In hindsight, I think I was very low on energy by that point, physically and mentally. It was a long day! But I didn’t have any off-track excursions or anything like that. I was a little overly distracted by some of the other cars. Especially the cop cars with their blue lights flashing all over the track! I think I wrote before that we had two “police Porsches” in attendance, seized cars painted in department livery, trotted out to local parades and such. Their handlers were sent to this class to learn how to drive the things – very different from their usual Crown Vics or Dodge Chargers, I am sure. I loved passing one of those guys!

So. I don’t usually need as much brake as I think I do. I did some work on braking later, and harder – more efficient braking would sum this up I think. This work was tempered, of course, by the changing track conditions with the rain, when I did not do any brake experimentation! I need to watch out for pinching the ends of my turns when I should be letting the wheel open up and track out. I got some nice feedback, namely that I am an excellent driver with solid basic skills and a natural feel for where I should be most of the time, and usually very smooth from throttle to brake and back. The last turn into the front straight became my favorite because it is slightly banked. It’s amazing what that little bit of help with weight transfer did for the smoothness of my transitions – and that seamless transition I managed with the banking gave me something to aim for on the rest of the turns. It feels so good when it’s right! I can’t say that having your personal handwriting on top of my head in the form of your autograph on my helmet made any difference in my performance, but I liked knowing it was up there anyway.

I continue to struggle with keeping the whole track in my head, and being able to plan way ahead in my inputs. It’s funny, I struggled similarly when learning to play the violin. The music on the page was so difficult for me to read at sight. But let me hear it once, and I got it immediately. This language of driving is still so foreign to me, though, very little about it is second nature to me still. I stay in the little stuff, with little mental energy left for the bigger concepts? I am not sure. I’m just going to keep getting out there every chance I get. I have definitely learned a lot in my first year. And my car has survived!

Alas, there are some new issues with my car, so I am not sure when I can get her back out on a track again. She’ll be OK for autocross, but I have some fuel lines that should probably be replaced, brake pads, and a few other things that need looking after. I’m getting some clacky valve noise which means, at minimum, that I need a valve adjustment. There are notorious valve cover issues with these cars so….holding my breath. I could really use a tune-up. And so could my car. Badum-BUM! Ha!

On that note, I’m outta here.

Sore, in a very good way,
VroomGrrl

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