Saturday, December 27, 2008

(53) 2008 in review

Well, it's been a little over a year since I decided I wanted to be a racing driver. I started out knowing pretty much nothing about cars. I learned a lot this year. I learned that speed is relative, I learned that sometimes going fast means going slow, I learned that I'm "danger-stupid" (according to the government) and that obviously since I'm a professionally trained driver I'm completely inadequate when compared to the old woman who can't parallel park so obviously I'm not fit to coexist in this society of rocket engineer drivers (just like the guy that merges with freeway traffic going 30 MPH because he thinks going full-throttle is for hooligans).

Yeah, I'm still pissed about failing my test (twice).

I had two main goals this year, get a podium finish (which I did, twice), and finish the driver's championship in the top ten (which I did, in 9th spot, so barely).

Goals for next year? Well, there's a few (in order of priority). There's of course the never ending goal of finishing in first place, and then get into the top-5 in the driver's championship. Then I need to buy my own car as well as pass my driving test. I also want to do some track days with my own car and get my competition license for semiprofessional racing (NASA or SCCA). Assuming I make enough money, I also want to buy my own race car and hire a team, but I'm counting those as secondary concerns.

2009 will be a busy year for me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

(52) Not again...

I failed my driving test AGAIN. I changed lanes in front of a guy and he had to adjust his speed a little bit and the examiner deemed this dangerous. He was at least 3 car lengths back if not more and we were only going about 30. He only had to slow just a couple miles an hour.

I swear, these tests are so redundant because you have to drive so reserved for it, and if you did that all the time you'd crash every Tuesday. It's just a big song and dance dreamed up by bureaucrats, and, unfortunately, I can't sing and I can't dance.

I'm really pissed about it and normally I wouldn't be, but getting a road license is kind of critical to a few things, like a good job, and a race license. If I don't get my driving license, I can't exactly move forward. I'll get there eventually, it's just a question of how long.

Friday, December 5, 2008

(51) Changing the Formula

I suppose it's about time I talked about Formula 1, huh? Where to start...

Well, Honda is pulling out completely and they're up for sale, Bernie Ecclestone, CEO and "Supremo" of F1, wants medals instead of points for victories and to make qualifying more complicated and less about putting the fastest man on pole, the cars are getting less downforce and more mechanical grip through slick tires, as well as the new "KERS" system which basically means the cars are hybrids, and Max Mosley, President of FIA and the man responsible for the pitiful 6 cars on the grid at the 2005 US Grand Prix, wants Cosworth to make standard engines for teams to "elect to use" in 2010 or 2011.

Most people are up in arms about all this. I'm not too worried about it. I think the changes to the cars are a good thing. Less downforce means the cars show how hard they are to drive, the cars aren't on rails through the corners. Less downforce means more passing. Slick tires means more tire strategy and more consequence when they get worn down, you'll see a lot more cars sideways. You'll be able to tell when the car is at or beyond maximum.

KERS, however, I don't know about. The system takes energy produced under braking and stores it for the driver to use at will. I suppose you could look at A1GP or Formula Palmer Audi for the effects of the "boost button". But limiting that boost with braking performance? I don't think anyone will be able to predict what effect that will have on the racing.

But now we get to the nitty-gritty stupid-stupid.

Medals? How dumb is that? Points ensures that the man with the most points is the winningest driver already. So what if the driver with the most points only has to finish 5th at the final Grand Prix? He earned that leeway by winning more than the last guy and building up his points. If you go back in history and look at some of the greats that have won Grand Prix season championships with points, and then you apply the medal system to their placing, a lot of those legends would never have won a single championship, and that's a real shame. Out of all of these new changes, the medals is the one I most want to crash and burn.

And the new qualifying... ugh. Just give the drivers 20 minutes, put them on the track and the fastest dude at the end gets to be up front. Everybody's happy.

The Cosworth engines... Now, this gets a little convoluted. Basically, Cosworth will build a spec engine, and a spec transmission will be supplied along with it in 2010. It's a whole drive train. Teams can then choose to buy the engine for about 6 million Euros and that includes 30,000 kilometers of testing and a full season of track support with Cosworth engineers. The teams don't have to buy the engine if they don't want to. They can still choose to build their own.

The problem then is, the Cosworth engine becomes the defacto standard. The engine that, say, Ferrari builds cannot be more powerful than the Cosworth standard. But, they still all have to use the standard transmission package. So, even if you choose to build your own engine it wouldn't do you any good from a marketing standpoint because no matter what you build or spend, it won't be any better than the budget standard.

So what Mr. Mosley has done, is address the concerns from Mercedes and Ferrari about branding their engines, while still negating any benefit they might have gained by building one themselves.

How idiotic is that? Formula 1 is, and has always been a technical exercise. What Ferrari learn on the Formula 1 grid, they take to their street cars as well. If you limit the engine standard like that, progress comes to a standstill. Not only will Formula 1 become stagnant in terms of technical advancement, but also the road cars that benefit from the experience of the F1 teams will also slow in development. The Bugatti Veyron, for example, would not be possible without the Ricardo transmission, and Ricardo only learned how to withstand 1000 horsepower by being in F1. And similar things can be said for every other supercar that has been made.

It just makes me sick. It's a load of bureaucracy. So why then, did I say that I'm not bothered? Well, if F1 goes down the tubes, at least there's good racing in GP2.

And finally, Honda. Well, it's a real shame, to say the least. Honda engines took Ayrton Senna to most of his championship wins. So their influence has been pretty much undeniable.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

(50) Kar? What Kar?

I just found out about this obscure video game called netKar. It's supposedly the most realistic Formula simulator on the planet. And yeah, I guess it's pretty amazing.

You start the demo, you're sitting in the cockpit of the car, a Formula Ford 1600. Great. I know these. Good place to start.

But the engine isn't running. I search through the options and find no "ignition" key. I have no idea how to turn the car on.

I'd played flight sims before, and I had this wild idea; do I actually have to click the ignition switch in the cockpit? Sure enough I move my mouse over the master switch and click, lo and behold it moves. Okay, great. Now the ignition. I click. Nothing. Oh, I have to hold it down. Right. *chug chug chug chu-vrooom*

Now that's very cool and all, but come on. What a gimmick.

So I pull it out of the pits (the automatic clutch making sure there is much chugging, as I have no clutch pedal). I got on the straight and rev. Wait, there's no gear indicator or tac! I click wildly trying to turn on the display in front of me. No luck.

Oh well, no rev counter. Whatever.

I take a couple of corners, "guessing" the revs and gears I'm in. The tires are cold, that's realistic. It really feels like my car is bouncing along on rubber balloons, even though I don't have any "force feedback" in my particular gaming wheel.

But sure enough, I get into a spin. I hit the gravel trap and dust gets kicked up, clouding my vision. I really can't see very well. The dust is inside my helmet. That's realistic, I think.

But the automatic clutch wasn't fast enough and I've stalled. I reset the master switch and hit the ignition. *chug chug chug chug*. Nothing. I try again. *chug chug chug*. Nothing. I try again. Silence.

My battery's dead.

Now, I guess I can understand where people are coming from with this whole realism thing. Most people won't get to drive a race car in their lives for various reasons, be it money or health. I understand that this is as close as a lot of people get, and I support the fact that they can sort of experience it. But come on.

In a real race car, 110 miles an hour in a little Formula Vee or Formula Ford is fast. In a video game, it's just plain boring. Stalling and flipping master switches and such isn't fun; it's a chore. Some people say it adds "immersion" (just one of the millions of buzz words that have been creeping into media of all forms lately). To which I say, jump in a pool of lava. That's immersion, too.

It's great to know that we can simulate things like tire degradation and engine heat and little tiny bumps in the road all on a computer. That's really swell, and more than a little cool, and a lot of fun to play with for a while just for the geek factor. But that's not the point, the point is to simulate reality. Why do that? We already have that. It's called reality.

Think about this; if we all had a holodeck in our living rooms, just like in Star Trek, and you could do all kinds of crazy things with it without any risk of harm to yourself, would you use it? Would skydiving be just as fun in that holodeck as in real life? Would you get the same terror from being on the battlefield in the holodeck? I don't think so. Sure, people would play around with it and it would be the gadget to have for quite some time.

But think about it. The designers created this thing to be as realistic as possible. What would people do with it? They'd do fantastical fantasy things. They'd do things that are impossible or near impossible.

And that would defeat the purpose of the entire machine, wouldn't it? You wouldn't have people going into the holodeck to wash dishes. Or drive to work. No, they'd go in it to be Micheal Shumacher, or a Don for the Mafia, or an astronaut and go to Mars, or maybe even something that's not human, like a dragon.

And that brings me to my point. The best racing games, or games period, have been unrealistic ones. The ones where you can make wheel-to-wheel contact and not hit the wall, to be able to take 5 bullets to the chest and keep fighting, or jump 20 feet in the air, or solve mysteries on another planet, because that's the heroic, fantastical and impossible thing.

And how does this relate to netKar (or any racing simulator)? Well, racing games can be perfectly good approximations without being realistic. There was a game recently that was called GRiD. Yeah, the cars were way too fast, the cornering speeds were way too high, you could crash into walls and things and come out fine. But the underlying behavior, the way the tires met the road, the way the cars felt to drive, was perfectly grounded. And in my opinion it's the best racing game I've ever played. No master or ignition switches necessary.

There will always be people who like those uber-realistic simulations, and keep doing what you do. But it's not my thing. Besides, if all this works out the way I hope, I won't ever have to turn to a computer to help settle my race car fix ever again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

(49) Dangerous driver

I still don't have a driving license. I'll be 19 this month.

If only I had the love of driving I do now when I was 16, eh? I'd have a job. I'd probably have my own car. I might've been involved in a lot more track day stuff. I might've learned how to find my way out from under my own hood.

I really have no idea why I've waited this long to get my license.

And apparently I have to wait even longer now.

I went in for my driving test yesterday and, surprise surprise, I failed. I got 100% on my written tests (twice), but I didn't even get halfway through my practical test.

What did I do wrong?

I forgot to check my blind spot when I pulled into a bike lane for a right turn.

Normally this is checked as a "traffic check", which goes towards your 15 allotted errors.

But in this special case, this is put under the "dangerous maneuver" category, which is a critical error, which flunks your test.

Why is this a dangerous maneuver? I could hit a bicyclist, right?

Well the examiner said that hitting a bicyclist is unlikely, since cars go a lot faster. The real danger are other cars. Because the law requires that you get over as far right as possible to make the turn.

Now this all makes perfect sense but the lane I pulled into was one of those 2-foot wide jobs and I checked my rearview before I even slowed down and there were no other cars within a mile of me. There's no way a car could've been there. That's why I didn't look.

The really funny thing here is that I failed my test, I'm classed as a dangerous driver, and they tell me to "drive home" and come back in a month. Isn't the point of the licensing system to keep dangerous drivers off the road? How broken is that? Apart from the fact that I didn't do anything dangerous in the first place.

And to my credit, I've only been driving for 3 months. Most drivers have been doing it for at least twice that when they take their test at 16.

Well, I have to wait a month now and that's a month longer of being a lazy, spineless, no-good leech on society. Ha! Don't I have it good.

In other news. This (click).


Can we just have no speed limits please? It just makes things less complicated. And then we don't have to mount these in our cars.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

(48) NASA? No, not that NASA

Had a good time this weekend at the NASA races. There was a crash later in the 2nd day by one of the Spoon touring cars. It went off in turn 1 which is a small sweeper. The car launched off the hill there and landed in the stands, near some spectators. No one was hurt but the car had to be ripped open to get the driver out. I suspect suspension failure.

Other than that the weekend was dandy. I met some guys from Speed Trapp racing who prep Spec BMW E30 race cars. I got to talking with them and they are really enthusiastic about what they do and they provide some great services. The class is really cool, too. It's one of those classes that I just look at and instantly want to drive. That may be the one I get into, as it's fairly affordable, is growing fast and has a good rule set unlike Spec Miata. Those little BMW E30s are reliable as rocks, too.

Spec E30s on track.

I met one of my instructors, Robbie, from the Skip Barber driving course up at the garages where he coaches a driver in Formula Mazda, which is exactly like Star Mazda but without the TV coverage and national venues. I also ran into one of my rivals from Jim Russell karting who I didn't think drove anything like these cars. I got to hang around the garages and sit in one of the cars.

The Formula Mazda cars up at the garages near the kart track just before their race. My friend's car is the black and silver Andersen Racing look-a-like.

I was going to go talk to the guys at Spoon Motorsports from Japan but their crash kind of put an end to that. They had an NSX-R GT there, too. Which, I'm told, is only 1 of 5 in the world (Honda only made them so they could have their racing version homologated in the All-Japan Grand Touring Championship).

Aparently this car has been somewhat of a myth until Spoon started showing it in 2008.

Anyway, I also seem to like the NASA ambiance more than SCCA. It's a bit more professional and a bit more laid back at the same time. It's still club racing, but that's not such a bad thing really.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

(47) Racking up the miles

Stats update: I finally bothered to add some more figures down there on the blue stats bar. Some of them are truly big.

I've been in the seat of the kart for 8 hours and 8 minutes this year.

If you do the math with my average racing speed and time in the seat, that means I've done 394.1 miles on the track this year.

If you divided 394.1 miles by 0.750 (the length of the track), you get 525.4 laps.

BUT! Take this with a grain of salt. These stats haven't entirely been tracked by a computer like my other ones. For instance I know how many practice and qualifying sessions I've done, but I only have a vague idea of how long they were on average (about ten minutes per session). So that stat is somewhere inside the ball park, but won't be down to the millisecond.

But the other two, miles driven and laps made, are complete conjecture based on my average racing speed (which fluctuates a lot). I'll keep the miles driven stat up there just for fun, and I'll keep re-calculating it based on my racing speed, but don't take it as a biblical passage or something. But do know that my miles driven stat for my RACES is quite accurate and is not based on any statistic other than official lap counts made by a computer and the length of the track they were on.

Total laps driven I won't put up, though, because the distance of the tracks I will visit will change a lot so keeping that one up to date will require a lot more work than it's worth. It only works now because I've only driven one track. As before, my racing laps driven is quite accurate as those come out of a timing and scoring computer.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

(46) And the award goes to...

Not me, apparently.

I just got back from the awards banquet and it was a good time. There were awards for the Rotax Max challenge, the Junior, Cadet and Senior arrive and drives, and all the classes in between. Lots of scholarships were handed out and a lot of prizes and such. I think about 50 grands worth of prizes were given out.

And no, I didn't win anything.

As the points stand, I turned out 9th. So I made my top-ten finish goal, barely, with 1002 points after dropping my worst round. Not bad out of 40 drivers. 9th through 5th were all within 100 points, so a close finish in my area of the board.

Greatly looking forward to next year.

Next week I'm meeting one of my Skip Barber instructors (Robbie Montinola) at a NASA event at Infineon for some chit-chat. That means I'll have spent 5 consecutive weekends at the track. Lets keep the momentum going, eh?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

(45) I only stalled 140 times!

Driving school was cool. Had lots of fun and learned a lot of things. I won't go into too much detail because we didn't really learn a whole lot of racing techniques, but I'll abbreviate.

First of all, the teaching style is very different from Jim Russell. At Jim Russell, it feels more like a racing retreat. Everything is very calm and organized and it kind of seems like their motto is "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well". They take time to make sure you get it right the first time. But at Skip Barber, everything is very fast-paced. It's more like a dance school (not that I've been to dance school). Get it right through fast-paced repetition. Do it quickly or don't do it at all.

If I had to sum it up, Skip Barber is very American in it's style, and Jim Russell is very European. I'll let you decide which one you think is better.

I got the hang of the manual by the end of the first day, but I still need to get smoother with the clutch. Heel-toe downshifting is cool, but I have small feet and my foot kept slipping off the throttle. I just gotta keep practicing.

The cars were cool. Getting to chuck an RX-8 around on the skid pad was fun, and the Miatas were actually pulling some pretty good G through the autocross corners, but not anything near what the karts do. The Mazda3 is... a budget Japanese car, believe it or not. Out of the 3, I'd still have an RX-8.

The biggest problem I had with driving full-sized cars fast was the lack of feel. For instance braking. In the karts you can feel in the brake pedal when you're at threshold brake pressure. But in the car all you get is ABS kick, which means you've gone too far. There's also the total amount of just slowness. In the karts, everything is fast-paced when you're on the track, because the track is small and the cars are small. But even on an autocross I still found myself waiting for something to do, even flying through the little S curve they had at 50 MPH felt kind of slow.

But I think the biggest thing I learned was weight transfer. Since cars weigh a lot more than karts, you have to deal with transferring weight to make the car gain grip either in the front or back. Probably the biggest use of this is in the corners.

Most cars nowadays are set up to understeer. Understeer is safer. Understeer happens when the contact patch of the front tires is smaller than the rear patch. There are other factors but the contact patch is the most important.

This is where trail braking comes in. In karts, the brakes are all in the rear. So, while you do get some wieght transfer in the kart from the driver shifting forward, the main effect of braking with the rear disk is that the kart wants to spin. Don't ask me why, I'm not a professor. All I know is, when the rear wheel is under threshold brakes, the rear wheels want to go to the front for some reason. This means that steering response goes through the roof and becomes extremely sensitive. This is how we cure understeer in karts.

In a car, the brakes have a front bias. I believe I've touched on this before. Brake bias to the front means the front wheels lock up sooner which means under lockup the car will keep going straight. If you had rear brake bias, the car would spin under lockup. This is, again, safer.

What this front brake bias does is transfer weight to the front. Weight to the front means the contact patch of the front tires gets bigger, which means you have more grip in the front. So, we can turn sharper.

Same effect, totally different method. In karts, you trail brake for just an instant to get the right "slip angle" and then maintain that slip angle with neutral throttle. In a car, you trail brake to maintain your slip angle as far as you can. The perfect amount of slip angle depends on the differential and the grippiness of the tires and your wheelbase.

And, breathe.

And now I've used up my technical speech credit for this week.

Oh, and I forgot to mention we were given two hot lap rides in the Mazda3s around Laguna Seca. That was cool.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

(44) Learning to drive all over again

As I said last week I'm going to the Skip Barber driving school on Saturday and Sunday, and I'm leaving Friday night.

And no, it's not racing school. I have a bunch of things I want to get out of this:

1. Learn to drive a manual. Rental agencies don't rent manuals any more (at least in my area) and traditional on-street driving schools don't offer the training either because it's too expensive. And, since we don't have a manual car for me to learn on, I have to go elsewhere, which is Skip Barber. I'll also learn heel-toe downshifting.

2. Get some at-speed experience in a real car. I won't be driving on the track (Laguna Seca), but I'll be doing some autocross. There's also car control classes on the skid pad.

3. Drive some Mazdas. I'll be driving the MX-5, the Mazdaspeed3, and the RX-8. I love the RX-8. I sat in one at the races last weekend and it was awesome.

4. Lower insurance! Since I got my permit when I was 17 1/2 I didn't need to do driver's ed or driver training. So my insurance rates are higher than if I were living in Detroit with my Mercedes parked on the street and a broken alarm system and no central locking. Being a professionally trained kart racer might lower my rates from some agencies, but it doesn't do as much good as a nice accident avoidence class.

5. Undercover spy stuff. Burn after reading: I'm trying to figure out ultimately what racing school I want to attend to learn how to drive real cars on the track. Taking this driving school will give me a good look at the way Skip Barber works and the equipment they use. Skip Barber is cool because if you complete the 3-day racing school you automatically get your SCCA regional license, and it's less expensive than Jim Russell. But, Jim Russell has faster cars and better facilities from what I've seen... hmm. Okay burn now!

And, uh, I think that's it. See you on Monday.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

(43) ALMS 2008 series finale

Here's the pictures and videos of the ALMS series finale at Laguna Seca.

There were an unbelievable amount of cautions. Those Audis really smell bad and they're really quiet.

The funny thing is the GT2 cars were going around in about 1 minutes and 24 seconds. Well, the 250CC Superkarts that were qualifying in the cold, foggy morning were going around in 1 minute 24 seconds, too.

Practice video: (sorry for the bad quality)

Race video:

It was really foggy in the morning for the Star Mazda practice:

More fog!:

My dad in one of the Skip Barber Formula cars:


The Penske Porsche drivers:

The Audi drivers:

Risi's Jaime Melo browsing a car magazine with his crew:

The Risi Ferrari garages:

The race:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

(42) The meaning of life post

A few quick notes before I hit the sack.

1. ALMS is awesome. The cars are awesome. The day was awesome. The weather was awesome. The race was awesome. I have some awesome videos and awesome pictures to show you later.


2. I'm going to a 2-day Driving School at Skip Barber next week. Don't get all excited, it's road stuff (though I will learn heel-and-toe shifting). I'll drive a Mazda 3, an RX-8, and an MX-5. I'll also be learning a stick (finally).

3. The long one. I understand I was a little overzealous with my Nurburgring bashing a few weeks ago. Well, I'm returning to that because Porsche and Nissan have been going at it like children. First Porsche goes out and buys their own Nissan GT-R R35, then they spend a few days at the Nurburgring racing it around along with a GT3 and a 911. Cool.

The problem is that Porsche couldn't get within 20 seconds of the lap time posted by Nissan's driver. They were quick to point fingers at the tire rubber. They claimed that it was possible that Nissan put racing slicks or semi-slicks on the GT-R for the quick run.

This whole thing is silly because all manufacturers do this on some level; they make up statistics. Now, it's proven that the GT-R went around in 7:27, but the introduction of racing slicks makes that time a fabrication. Similarly, when companies use a dyno to get their 0-60 times and the top speed ratings they are equally lying. If a car does 0-60 in 4 seconds and a top speed of 190 on a dyno, there is no way it'll do that in real life with weather and air resistance.

So, apples and oranges, Porsche. Theory of escalation: they use slicks, you use slicks. It's not THAT hard for an average Porsche or Nissan GT-R owner to put racing rubber on their car. Just come up with some PR nonsense about it being a track and that you have to use track-spec gear and be done with it.

And finally, 4.

You know you want this.

I want it.

Very badly.

Does this not make you want to watch a modern-day Trans Am? Chevy's putting the Camaro in Koni challenge next year I think. But we need an all-American Iron series so these new iterations can duke it out.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

(41) The end of the 2008 Jim Russell karting season

I did good today. Today was a good day. Actually, it was a day of highs and lows.

The points ended me up in 15th place after last month. Usually the top 15 are put in A group but to make the groups evenly sized I was put in B group. At that point I was effectively B group points leader.

Practice started off pretty normally, slick tires, slick track, no weight in the kart, et cetera. We practiced the normal Sprint track first and we had two sessions of that. Well and good.

Taking a moment to breathe before first practice.

In qualifying I set 6th fastest time out of 14 racers, I think. So I started the race in 6th. I wasn't skipping up and down with joy, but I wasn't depressed either.

Qualifying; go go go!

At the start of the first race (race 7 in the series) we used the full front straight which would then be blocked by the cones. It's more exciting that way.

Thumbs up in the 1 kart. Must be ready to race!

I can't remember how many people I passed on the first lap, but it was a few. I think I was in 4th by the time we came around again. I picked up another position for 3rd on the second lap as far as I can remember and stayed there for most of the race. The son of Mark, the chief instructor, was in 2nd and the guy I shared that DNF crash with a few months ago was in 1st.

Then, on the 8th or 9th lap, we got a bunch of caution flags. Caution flags in karting just mean "be aware of a spin ahead and don't pass in that area". It's totally discretionary. I didn't see any spun karts so I passed the guy in 2nd at his weak braking point.

Then, as we round the last corner I see Jon, one of the mechanics, frantically waving a yellow and checkered flag. I saw a kart turned over just past another empty kart and someone limping off the track.

So we pitted and it turns out one kart just came in to the corner a little too hot and rode over the kart that was in the way. Both drivers went to the hospital, one with a hurt wrist (we thought broken) and another with a bad back and neck (they took him on a stretcher). Thankfully the paramedics were there pretty quickly and got them taken care of.

Turns out no one was hurt seriously, though the karts were (carb and intercooler ripped off one, both steering wheels damaged pretty badly, and probably more that I didn't see).

So the race was stopped and we called it as it was, me in 2nd.

The other debacle was that the power went out early on in the race, so we had no timing and were relying on caveman-style timing & scoring (a peice of paper). So there was a little confusion when we did the awards but another driver vouched for my "last-lap pass" story and I got the 2nd place trophy.

Some say that I never smile. But trust me, I am!

Qualifying round 2 was more interesting. They did what's called "GWC" qualifying, which is Green, White, Checkered. You get one warm up lap, you get the green flag, then the white, then the checkered. So you only get 2 laps to do your thing. I qualified 4th.

Group A taking the green in their first race of the day (I'm not in this one).

In the 2nd race I raced pretty well, I thought. But 3rd just kept slowly increasing his lead. I finished 4th. But since the chief instructor's son was racing "wild card", and he got first, I earned 3rd place points as judged by the instructors. They didn't want to mess with the points championship this close to the end by adding another driver just for 1 race day.

So that means I earned 350 points today, bringing my total (as far as I can remember) to 1,080 points.

Still, I have no idea how the other driver's placed in relation to me in terms of points and I won't find out until the banquet on November 1st. I have a sneaking suspicion that I made the top-ten.

"So, I brake where for that corner?" "Oh, about there."

Next weekend I'm going to Laguna Seca to watch the ALMS final there. You'll hear about that for sure.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

(40) Sprinting

I think practice went really solid today. Made a lot of forward progress. Well, I mean, I got better at going in circles. Is that forward progress? Or is that progress towards fatal doom?!

That's deep, man. Real deep.

Either way I was going faster. I focused on getting more relaxed in the kart and just kind of letting things happen and just gel rather than try and force the issue and beat the kart into submission. That probably sounds like a really drastic change but it's not. All I'm trying to do is increase consistency and avoid those hothead maneuvers that end my race.

As for the tracks, I knew Sprint's layout somewhat from my first foray into motorsport. So I tried to recall as much as I could from that, which is hard because I have a bad memory. Did you know I have a bad memory? I have a bad memory. I told you that, right?

So we started off going the normal direction and all seemed well. I mean, it was the first time I've been on that track for 7 months so I thought I did rather well for the first session. I don't like the Sprint regular as much, I think. But it's still nice because it's different.

Sprint reverse, however, I think is my new favorite. I like the way the corners lead into one another. Today we had a bit of headwind and when you come down the last straight it feels like you're doing a million miles an hour because the wind was so strong. If that's a factor in the race there should be some good drafting opportunities there.

On the reverse track I got my times right up there with the fastest guys so I'm feeling strong for the race. I'm really consistent on reverse Sprint and I think I'll do well. For normal Sprint, I'm not sure. I'll have to see how that goes on race day. I think I can still do well.

We'll see on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

(39) Sending off 2008

Well, the last practice of this year is tomorrow. Better make it a good one. Then on Saturday is the last race of the year for the Russell karting series. But never fear! There's still plenty to write about. I'm going to the series finale for American Le Mans down at Laguna Seca on the 18th, and I still have a job to get at the racetrack so I can stop being a useless leech on society.

The good news is for the last race we get the track all to ourselves, so who knows what the instructors will dream up for us. Probably some crazy track and a whole lot of heats and mains and such. I think I'm still in for a shot at the top-10, even despite my crashy habits last month. I think top-10 out of 35 or so racers is pretty good for a first year, don't you? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Anyways, I'll give it my all tomorrow and hopefully I can take to whatever configuration they give us. I think my short-term goals right now are:

* Relax
* Go faster than everybody else
* Win
* ????
* Profit!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

(38) The game plan ver. 2.0...

Last race I went and talked to a few dudes around the paddock and I came to the conclusion that I'm too incompetent to run my own kart.

I'm not a mechanic. I know nothing of building engines or anything like that. I'd have to learn all that. Or spend a lot of money and have it taken care of.

And, since I'm flat broke and have no money right now, and since sponsorship is nonexistent in karting except for the very best and most experienced, it would be very expensive even if I did know my way around a kart engine.

I have to be time-efficient. And if I'm going to run my own car I might as well go all-in and buy a 4 grand Honda Challenge car for NASA. It wouldn't be that much more expensive in the long run and I'd get more recognition for competing.

And I don't really want to do that either. But I might have to.

I was talking to one of my instructors, Jeff, about small Formula leagues. He said that he tested for a FF1600 team in Canadaland in the 80's. He said they wanted 150 grand for a season, and that Jeff would have to bring half of that. He said he fell short.

But basically what I get out of this is that if 150 grand would run a Formula Ford car in the 80's for a year. It must be at least double that nowadays. And it is. Pro Formula Mazda (Star Mazda) is about 300 grand for a year of running a car.

How the heck am I gonna get that kind of money? Skip Barber does $350K sponsorship packages for it's series champion (the series costs "under 50 thousand"). So I'd have to spend 50 grand (out of pocket, because who can get sponsorship for school?) for a chance to win.

I guess my only option is to try and find a cheaper series. I guess I won't be doing Formula for my first professional year.

I've heard (HEARD) that Koni Challenge is supposed to be cheap. That's basically production cars which have no interiors or mufflers. Minis, Acuras, Hondas, that kind of thing. It would probably be cheaper to go with that. That airs on TV so I could probably persuade sponsors to go for it. I actually like it a lot. The competition is really good, it seems like. The cars aren't lightning quick, but whatever.

Bah, as long as I can avoid car ownership, I don't really care what I race or where. I've heard horrible stories from club racers. Dirty hands, busted knuckles. It's horrifying. I don't know how those guys go on.

I've said this a few times, but I just need to get to funded motorsport as quickly as possible.

Anyway, the whole point of this is to say that next year I'm going to go back to school. I'm gonna do the Russell series again. I think I just need more time in the baker. I'm not crispy-crispy yet.

Mmm... toasty.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

(37) Nurburgring laptimes and you

So last month you may have watched with bated breath as the Dodge Viper ACR smashed the Corvette ZR-1's Nurburgring laptime by 4 seconds (7 minutes and 22 seconds).

Or you might have been like me, going about your life uncaring how fast an unaffordable super car can go around a 12.9 mile stretch of road somewhere in the Teutonic mountains.

The problem I have with these laptimes is this (well, these):

1. Only a third of all performance production cars have ever officially even set tire within 10 miles of the Nurburgring, let alone been around a track with a professional Nurburgring specialist and a Rolex. These do not include the Ferrari Enzo, the Porsche Carrera GT, the Pagani Zonda F, the Ascari A10, the Gumpert Apollo, etc, etc, etc. Oh I'm sure these cars have all been to the Nurburgring (provable by the Nurburgring webcam), but they are only driven by the millionaires that bought them and probably recorded a quite unremarkable time.

2. The thing itself. The Nurburgring isn't really a race track. Well, not any more. I struggle very hard to think of a single race that has used the old Nordschleife in the past 10 years (the F1 GP track doesn't count). It's more like a long, very bumpy toll road that connects to itself so that people can go around it really fast having paid a fee (about 8 bucks per lap). I'm sure clubsport use it quite often for their events but really, that's not racing, that's a hobby. If you can tell me about a major event like FIA GT or a formula series that uses the full loop, tell me and I'll retract this point at my descretion (haha, gotcha there! I don't have to if I don't wanna).

3. The criteria. What is a production car? Is it a car which is produced for people to use on the road and the track, like a Radical SR8 (which did it in 6 minutes 50 seconds or so)? Is it a car designed to go only on the road, like a Prius? Are number-limited cars, like the Enzo, excluded from "production"? If they are, both the ZR-1 and the Viper ACR are null and void because they won't make very many of either.

In my eyes, production means that they made more than 2, and it is road legal, and anyone can buy one without special qualiffications like a racing license.

And 4. The track is so long that there is not a single soul on the earth that can drive a car to it's absolute potential on the Nurgburgring. Not one.

So in short, I think the Nurburgring laptime, as a result, is one of the most stupidest things ever and I don't like it.

It's a wonderful place to develop a car because it's so bumpy it makes for very good quality rides and it's a very good place to prove how good of a driver you are. Not so good for trying to show how fast your car is.

Why not just use a short, famous track like Silverstone or Laguna Seca and be done with the little inconsistencies that make the Nurburgring a horrible place to prove your car?

Besides, a laptime is only a tenth or less of the whole story anyway.

Wow, that sounded bitter so I should say that I don't like the Viper ACR or the Corvette ZR-1, and I wouldn't buy either if given the money, and I honestly don't care which is faster, and if you said "choose one or die" then I'd take the Viper ACR.

And then I'd sell it for an Aston Martin or an Audi R8 while you weren't looking.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

(36) The race strikes again

Well I'll just jump right in.

I qualified 6th in A group today which I was happy with, since reverse National isn't really my track. On the start I made good time and passed my row partner on the outside for 5th. Then I think I dived down the inside of the next guy in the entrance to Helipad for 4th. Not sure about that one. Have to look at the tape, might've been earlier.

Then on the 2nd lap I was rear ended by 5th in the braking zone for reverse Turn 1, which was the final corner on the lap.

Now forgive me if I go off on a little techy tirade here. Just skip this paragraph.

On most cars, the brake bias really effects braking. Rear brake bias allows you to carry more brake into the corner but it's more unstable and is able to spin under full lockup. Front brake bias, which is what most cars have, means that if you lock brakes the car will just go straight. This is safe, but it's also slow. Most people consider 35/65 rear brake bias to be extreme. Well, karts have a 0/100 rear brake bias.

So they are very, very fidgety under braking. And if they get upset in the slightest under braking, they will spin.

So, when 5th nosed into me, even though it was just a tiny tap, it sent me around. The story was ( I had no clue what happened because I have no mirrors) that he pulled out for a pass, and then he discovered that someone else had pulled out on him. So he got back in line but I was braking by this point. When you throw down a pass you really commit to braking late. So, even at full threshold he wasn't able to stay out of my rear bumper.

So I rejoined in 12th (last) place.

And now I had another problem.

I had yet more adventures with the front cowling. I guess I knocked it with my knee or something because it was tilted way over. And it was stopping me from getting full-throttle. If the throttle has about 5 inches of travel normally, I was getting maybe 3 and a half before it bumped up against the skewed nose.

So, with a gimped throttle I limped on and tried to catch up. And I did, I caught 11th (after a late-braking spin in Helipad) and tried to put some passes down in my strongest spot, but the guy was a really experienced spec Miata racer so he knew how to re-pass me in that turn. His exits were slower than mine so I counted on passing him on the straight bits but my throttle problem just wouldn't let me get a good run. Excuses, I know.

After this charade for the 2nd lap I guess I got a little impatient and went down too hot out of reverse Turn 1, and dropped wheels. That knocked the chassis around on the rumble strip and I spun again. But when I tried to get going again the kart didn't want to go. An escape road to the pits was right there so I just went in. Turns out the throttle was completely stuck now on my skewed cowling. With 3 laps to go I called it quits. By the time I got out there and got back up to speed I'd only get one lap's worth of practice so it wasn't really worth it.

Overall, not the best day ever. But still, I learned something (don't be a hothead) and I still earned a few points.

The way the points stood at the beginning of the day I was poised to claim my top-10 finish. I had 634 points and the leaders were up in the 900s and to break the top-10 I'd have to have claimed about 120 points. I think I was in 13th spot overall. But we didn't see any points sheets after the race so I'll have to wait till next month to see those. I'm going to have to race well in October if I want my top-10.

Speaking of next race, the ProKarters are ending their season this month so next month we get the track all to ourselves. The instructors are thinking of doing some pretty crazy things. The main thing they want to do though is 2 main races, with the first race deciding grid position for the 2nd in some way. Whether it's an invert job or what is still in the air. Either way we'll get a ton of track time.

Well after today I think I'm going to put my focus back on not crashing. Yeah, the first incident was just one of those things, but I nearly crashed at least 5 times trying to make up ground while fuming. In my mind it's better to be consistently middle of the pack rather than fast once or twice and crashed the rest.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

(35) Lotus is like a flower... oh, wait

So practice today went okay.

The high fog layer was really heavy. If you live in central California on the coast you know what I'm talking about. So the track was nasty. In a lot of places the track gets refreshed overnight, the rubber dissipates and basically it gets washed clean. Well here the track seems to kind of gel. The rubber doesn't totally go away but it gets really slick. The mornings are almost all like that and it's usually gone by about 9:30.

But this time it lasted longer, and seemed a lot worse than normal.

I didn't crash in the pits again, but immediately going into the first turn I noticed the brakes were locking up really easily. Normally it's still about the same pressure for lockup in the morning but today it seemed like a third of the pressure would spin you. I had a huge slide around Monaco like it was ice.

Plus my kart was unweighted and that always makes the throttle really sensitive and prone to snap. I don't think I took the Esses flat until about the 3rd session, just before the sun came out. I was doing the line right, but it was just so slick it really wasn't doable for me.

I also tried experimenting with where to put my weight, because I've heard it said that leaning out is better than leaning in, and vice versa.

I think for high speed corners like the Esses and Kink it works better. Going through Kink I would lean in, and then while keeping the same wheel input I'd lean out, and just instantly it seemed like I had more grip and the kart would zip to the inside a bit.

But for slow speed stuff I didn't feel a difference. I'll try it more on race day.

Anyway, some how I got a little bug with Helipad and Tic-Tac-Toe. The solution was: turn in sooner with a sooner apex in Helipad and then later apex and more center curb in Tic-Tac-Toe.

I don't like that curb in Tac. Going the other way it's easy, but reverse it's really steep. And you pretty much have to hit it because otherwise you'll get loose on the exit. That section is all full throttle remember, so it's that much more sensitive.

And, uhh, I had an incident. Not really because of my problem with Tic-Tac-Toe but just a mistake. I kinda got loose going in and I think my back wheels hit the curb and then shifted me sideways the other way. Then I corrected just in time to hit Tic and then I had to put more wheel on so I overcorrected and just lost it and went way off into the dirt. First time I've crashed there. Big spin, kart all dirty, etc.

When you crash like that the instructors make you clean your kart.

Problem is, I got all the way home and then realized I forgot to clean it. Oops. It's because I was in the first group so the second group was out when we left and I just totally forgot about it.

I guess I'll have to make up for it next time.

In other news (this is getting pretty regular), Lotus snuck out a new car when everyone was looking the other way. It's called the Evora. And it's gorgeous.

There are majestic Masers, aggressive Ferraris, bonkers Lambos, stately Bentleys and glamorous Rollers.

But there's only one eccentric. Lotus.

You look at a Lotus and you just know it's playing some kind of trick on you. It has that "I know about the snake in your drawer, and you don't. And aren't you going to be in for a surprise when you open your closet" kind of smile about it. It's the kind of car that would categorize it's library Z to A and refuse to use telephones because "I don't like them." I always imagined that if a Lotus had a face it's eyes would be a strange color, like black, and it would have a funny hair style.

In fact about a month ago I saw a man getting into a car that had black and white sketch portraits stuck to it everywhere. My thought was, after "what", "the" and "heck" were "that man should own a Lotus" (in fact I think it was a Saab, so howdy do).

And you can see that spirit in the whole way the company works. I mean just take the simple names of their cars. They always, every single time, start with "E". And I think I'm right in saying that they are the only major car company to be a combined tuning house and manufacturer. You can go to Lotus and go "I'd like this Ford tuned up a bit please" and they'd do it. And just look at the name. Most other car companies like Ford and Mercedes are just names. But Lotus is a genus, and an ethos.

If that isn't the very definition of eccentric, I don't know what it is. And if I could drive for just one company, I'd drive for Lotus.

Back to the Evora. Now I know it's realistically a little bit old (the project started in 2006 and the Evora was unveiled in July) but I like to think that I keep abreast of car news and it totally snuck by me. I haven't heard anything about it.

Anyway I think it's great. The idea of a compact GT car is great. I love the interior and the looks. And if I had the money I'd buy it over an Elise.

So basically, <3 Lotus. I wish they made karts. Well, smaller ones, anyway.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

(34) Perfection in 3, 2, 1... (or oblivion)

Unrelated news first, the CERN LHC was activated today.

I understand if you don't want to read that mess.

Basically it's a big racetrack for photons and they go around it really fast (like, speed of light fast) and then eventually they will hit each other. When they do, the world as we know it will DIE.

Seems like a fairly tame consequence for discovering the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, frankly.

Lets see, they spent $8 billion on this project. For $8 billion, you could buy everyone in the world a... a um... hmmm.

*does the math*

Okay, you could buy every single person in Greenland (even the kids) an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. And have change left over for going to track days.

So, those of you in Greenland, would you rather know where mass comes from, or would you rather have a free Aston Martin?

Oh well. It's important to some people I guess.

Back on track here (almost literally). I have a practice day tomorrow and I'm pretty sure we're doing Reverse National. If so, I'll be working my butt off to try and get the same kind of niceness out of the reverse track as I've started getting from the normal track.

The reverse track doesn't seem to have the same kind of flow as the normal track. It's more stop and go it feels like. I don't think I like it as much. But a track's a track, right?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

(33) Trackwalk! Episode 1

I can't believe I didn't have this frankly brilliant idea sooner!

Drivers like to walk the track before they drive it. It allows you to see all kinds of useful stuff you would normally miss. Like, spike strips, hidden WMDs, Ninjas etc.

Now I'm going to be somewhat serious for this, so if you're not of that disposition, please, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!

Here is the Infineon Raceway International Karting Center (holy, title), as seen from my command center here in lower orbit:

Click for bigger view.

As you can see, it's quite nice. If you have an asphalt fetish, I'll give you a few minutes.


Now, here are my ultra high-tech Command Center overlays, courtesy of Microsoft Paint:

These are the corner names. You may want to keep this one open in another window.

This is a view of both of the main track configurations. Green is the Sprint track, and red is the National track. If the instructors saw me take the lines as I've drawn them here, I'd probably get chewed. If I was drunk that's what the racing line would look like. Drawing with a mouse is hard.

Now comes the hard facts. I'll overview the track and hopefully y'all won't fall asleep before I'm done. For the sake of clarity, we'll assume that we're using the National (red) line going in the proper direction.

Turn 1:

Braking for turn 1 starts at about the 2.5 cone (maybe 30 feet from turn-in) under ideal conditions at about 75 MPH coming off the start/finish straight. The apex speed is probably about 40-45 MPH, so it's one of the fastest corners.

What makes this corner challenging is the slight hump just before the apex. If you enter with too much speed, the kart will make negative G and will lose traction, causing a big understeer drift and you will miss the apex and drop wheels. The kart understeers normally over this hump so even though you want a late apex you have to attack the corner at a slightly higher angle as if you were aiming for a sooner apex. This will carry you out to your intended apex.

I find myself getting on the gas just after the crest of the hump about 5 feet before the apex. Full throttle from apex to exit.

Going reverse in this corner is really fun. It's uphill so the kart stops like it's hit a wall, and it's easy to maintain the proper speed. You just have to be careful feeding in the gas over the crest of the hump because it's really easy to get loose coming out and ruin your straightline speed.

Tic Tac Toe (2a, 2b and 2c):

I think this section is the most important on the track. If you mess up Tic, you will be hurting all the way to Laguna. Tic Tac Toe is one of those corners where you have to make the corner before it happens. You do that by turning in very late to Tic, so that the apex is almost past the corner. Then you turn back to the left so that you are lined up to shoot over the curb of Tac and pass by Toe like it's not even there. I drew the line pretty accurately in red on the track map.

Tac's curb is the only curbing you want to be hitting with the wheels. Exit rumble strips are fine but most of the apex curbs you want to stay off of as they like to bump the kart off-line.

You want to be full throttle from Tac all the way to a short braking point following Toe's apex. I'd say apex speed for Tic is about 35 or so, and Toe's apex is about 40. Braking for Tic is kind of a secret. If you brake early that's fine, but if you brake at the 2 cone (25 or so feet) and have a little bit of a heavy trail brake at turn in, you can much more easily get the kart pointed where it needs to be. Braking starts probably at about 65 MPH.

It's pretty much the same thing going backwards.

Helipad (3):

After the full-throttle getaway from Tac, braking starts just after Toe's apex. It's not heavy braking, but just a little rub combined with turning the kart's wheels to help slow it down.

The trick with entering Helipad's exit corner well is getting the right angle at it. If you go too shallow, the kart will bind up and start "hopping" with it's front wheels through the exit and you'll lose momentum. If you're too wide, you'll just bog it down from going too slow at the entrance since you need to turn the kart more.

The trick with entering properly is the yellow line that designates the edge of the track. There is a big asphalt runoff area that you can use. I find myself going just halfway across this yellow line. If you get the entrance right helipad is an easy corner. It's also the highest G corner. It's at least 2G coming out.

Speed through Helipad is about 30 MPH.

The exit of Helipad is a little tricky. You can use the slight runoff area as an exit but you can't go so far out that you drop wheels when it ends. It comes up a lot faster than you think.

Going reverse, the braking zone of Helipad is very rough but you stop very quickly. You want to be aiming right at the turn-in cone, and turn in just before you hit it. Going through Helipad backwards you don't want to drift out past the yellow line. I find myself keeping my left (inside) wheels just over a small seam in the middle of the track. There is no braking going in Toe.

Laguna (4):

Laguna is a very easy, flowing corner. It's about 45 MPH apex speed and it's very smooth with no bumps or tricks. It's an easy corner to do quickly but it's also comparatively hard to get perfect. The braking zone seems more slippery than the rest of the track so I find myself, even under threshold, braking at the 2.5 cone even though I only have to slow from about 60 to 45. You want a nice, easy exit to prepare you for Memo.

Going reverse it's exactly the same only the braking zone is grippier.

Memo Esses (5):

These corners are flat out at about 60-65. The tricky point is where to turn in. I turn in just past the small ruble strip on the right. Then I find myself lined up just right to take the corner almost straight.

Going through, you want to be relaxed and very easy on the steering. It feels like this corner has the most momentum shift and that really upsets such a light car. Don't be vigorous.

Coming out of Memo, you don't want to "track out" on the left. If you do that you'll have a harder time getting over to the right for Kramer. You want to leave about a kart and a half of distance from the exit curbing.

There are some nasty patches just behind the apexes so you don't want to hit those. Also the curbs are really violent so if you hit one it will bounce you into a big slide. Hitting a curb at 60 MPH without suspension also hurts.

Going revers is a similar theory, only you're going slower and you can't really be all the way over because since you're going slowly and accelerating, you'll just bind yourself up or get loose coming out into Laguna. There are a couple of oil stains or something in the middle of the track I use for a turn-in point.

Kramer (6):

Kramer, as I'm sure you've read, is downhill, off-camber, and increasing radii. Off-camber means that instead of banking or being level, the corner slopes away from the apex. That causes havoc on your grip levels. Kramer is further complicated by having a confusing apex as a result of increasing radii.

So not only do you have to use the Turn 1 technique of aiming closer to go further, but you also have to contend with an apex "area". The apex in Kramer isn't so much a point as it is a 5-foot section that you must drive in. That sounds really easy but then you have the downhill transition and the wonky camber messing with where the kart wants to go. Kramer is a corner you just have to feel out.

The exit of Kramer leads into a nice blocking opportunity. People tend to pull out on the inside thinking they have a run, but only discover than I'm coming back over to get in the braking zone for Monaco. That causes a lot of unease in drivers and they tend to keep their distance going into Monaco. It's a good place to pull ahead a little bit.

Going reverse into Kramer is much like regular in theory. You want to feel the corner out. You're going uphill, but you still have that camber to worry about. Then you have the hill's crest so when you're on the gas to maintain speed you suddenly come up over this rise and you have to back off or slide the kart.

Monaco (7):

Monaco is just a plain old corner. Nothing too special. The only trick is, being such a slow corner (25 MPH maybe), you have to go fast enough to stay in the lower end of the power band, but slow enough that you don't get loose and ruin your path into Kink, and the difference isn't much, maybe 1 mile and hour. Other than that it's just a corner.

Going reverse seems like it's a bit easier because the road is wider I think on that exit.

Kink (8):

Not really a corner, but if you don't hit it right you can get loose coming down that hill. Turn-in point is right past where the pavement on the left ends. Don't be too vigorous, as with the Esses. Nice and easy. Apex speed is probably about 60 or so.

Backwards this corner almost doesn't even exist.

Sand (9):

Sand if fun. This corner really scoops you up. The "secret braking point" is right at the bottom of the hill. If you brake on the hill you will either be fighting negative G or gravity. Braking at the bottom means you're using positive G to your advantage and the kart slows quicker.

It's easy to over slow this corner. After Monaco and Kramer, it's easy to forget how much room you have on exit on the wide straight. This is another corner where you're full throttle pretty much at the apex. It's banked slightly, too, so you can just fly on through. The cadets call it "man-maker" because you need to be a bit ballsy to get the most out of it.

We just call it Sand because it's sandy. It's probably all dust from when people go off at Kramer just above. Shows how much character we have right?

There's a patch in the road from the karts tearing up the asphalt at the apex, but it doesn't cause a problem. Going reverse it can be very slippery when it's cold. Another really easy corner going reverse. Not much drama, unless it's cold, in which case you're going off.

So that's a lap of the track, in not as few words. It's a good little track. Lots of good design. It doesn't have every corner imaginable but it has enough to cover all the theory you'll need in figuring out new tracks. I can't help but think that what I learn here in terms of reading a track will dictate how I approach new tracks in the future.

Monday, August 25, 2008

(32) Indy, Indy, Indy!

Good Indy racing yesterday.

I love Infineon raceway. It's so open and everything is just right there. It's not like F1 GP circuits where everything is miles away from the fans and you can't get anywhere near the pits. At Infineon, you can get close enough to touch the tire racks and hear the pumps on the fuel machines.

Fun day. Got there while the drivers were busy careening around in Camrys to entertain the sponsors. I saw a lot of contact and general understeer hilarity. Then we went through the tunnels to the stands and watched the pit crews practice tire changes. Some of the drivers were standing around talking to the crews.

Helio Castroneves is hopping up and down with enthusiasm. No, really, he is, see, look: he's airborne.

I don't think my mom really knew what we were going to see. She was really excited when I started telling her who was going to be there. She loves Helio (from Dancing With the Stars, ugh).

Of course, the two Penskes were on the front row so I was excited too. I like Tony Kanaan as well, since I've heard him call Marco Andretti "stupid" on at least two separate occasions. Not that I think Marco is stupid, but I like when drivers say their minds.

The Andrettis had a special guest, too; George Lucas (of Star Wars creation fame, in case you live in a very deep cave on the moon) showed up to promote his new movie, which features on Marco's car.

And my mom's day was made when she got to ride in the back of a Ridgeline with Helio around the track on a parade lap. Needless to say she was pretty excited.

My mom got this picture just at the end of the pits after the parade lap. Helio, as ever, is totally enthused and into it. And look, you're on TV.

The race itself wasn't the most action-packed, I'll admit, but there was still a couple of crashes, a few offs and spins as well. The Penske's took a 1-2 and there was some really nice pit strategy coming from that team.

Some people are saying that the fanbase isn't up, and that the stands were empty, and revenue is down (which it may be), and the racing isn't as good as some others, etc, etc, etc ad infinitum.

Pshaw to that.

People who nitpick about Indy racing need to pull the stick from their bum and stop comparing sophisticated, precise and expensive open-wheel racing to cheap, unsophisticated, and imprecise stock car racing.

When you compare Indy to NASCAR it's like comparing fire and water; they both completely exclude each other. You're much better off comparing Indy to Formula and when you do that Indy seems like a Godsend.

If there is really trouble going on within the organization, which there very well may be, all we can do, being racing fans, is watch and go to races and let the IRL handle themselves.

We'll just get in the way.

The end (of that at least).

Anyway. Another cool thing is the Russell school had a little exhibition between the Indy Lights race and the main GP. They took the Formula cars out and did a little race for fun while they talked for a bit about the school. After the GP we went down to the Russell garages to see what was going on and chatted for a bit. I'll show you the garages because I don't think you guys have seen them yet.

The Russell garages on Turn 1. On the left, Audi R8s from the Audi Experience (sister program to the Russell schools). On the right, the Russell Formula 3 cars which cost about $160,000 and are all carbon fiber. And in the middle on the stand, a kart from the school "upstairs".

Earlier I said how much I like Infineon raceway. And I really do love it. And getting tons of people and having these big events is cool. But when I really most enjoy the racetrack is on the weekdays, when only one lane of the main gate is open and there are only 2 or 3 cars going around the track, and other than a few odd staff the place is deserted. That's when the place really comes alive and seems to have it's own personality. That's when the real magic happens.

And that's what I really love about it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

(31) Turning right to go left

Well that picture came in just now and here it is:

Click the image for full detail.

That's coming out of Laguna, probably about 40 or 45 MPH if I had to guess, maybe less because I'm sliding a bit. You can tell because I'm turning the wheel to the right, in a left-hand turn. You don't want to turn the wheel right to go left. You want to turn left to go left. Ha-ha-ha.

That was also during the race after I had hit another kart a little bit with the nose.

I need my own helmet.

The one thing I do want to point out though is my expression. You watch any racer, racing any car (or kart) and they will have that exact same expression. Very strange phenomenon right there. Mine might be amplified a little bit though because I'm still a newbie in the "seat of your pants" mode. I don't really know what I'm doing.

I like to talk about myself. Don't you like to talk about me too? I thought so.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

(30) The hardware store

Well, I was going to wait until I got pictures of the race to make another post, but there seems to be a problem in obtaining them so that'll have to wait. So I'll just put up what I have.

Look what I got at the Hardware Store!

Hardware Store being the racetrack. They take rubber!!! And in exchange you get a shiny thing.

It's great. More places should use that business model.

Anyway, this Sunday I'm going to the IndyCar race at Infineon Raceway. If you see a short, skinny guy with Super Saiyan-like hair (not quite that long... I don't defy physics) and a pair of comically-red Oakleys then come on over and say hi. I think I'll be sitting by the start/finish so I'll be within easy reach for autographs.

Speaking of the Indy Racing League (IRL), there's a karting series that is sanctioned by them called Stars of karting. I might try for that. Maybe I'd end up with a seat in IndyCar? I hate ovals but I'd take any seat I could get really. It'd be great for my professional career. Then once I had more of a foothold I could go on to do other things that may not be as lucrative as IRL.

Next race I'm going to go around to all the transporters and have a chat with all the karting teams and see what's what and try to decide who to buy from or even what to do next year.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

(29) Jubilation!

I set my first pole, got my first podium, and reset my fastest lap on National regular!


I really kicked it up a notch today. I'm running in the 55-56 second range regularly. I did get knocked down to B group for my DNF last month, but I still earned some points. If you remember I was 10th last month but before the race today I was 18th out of 32. I earned 170 points so I've definitely moved up and I'll probably be back in A group next month.

Qualifying was good. Nothing weird happened there. Well, other than setting pole, but that's a good thing. My pole time was 55.39 I think. That time would have got me 2nd in A group.

The race was... pretty exciting. There's responsibility with pole, you set the pace and are responsible for gathering the field up after an out lap.

There were a couple of wild cards this race though. One guy from Atlanta that works for Skip Barber at Road Atlanta and has a good amount of racing experience, and one guy that used to run SKUSA ProKarts but got kicked out for crashing too much.

Unfortunately for me, these were the people that beat me. Actually, mister crash-a-lot wanted to start at the back. He wanted passing experience. So he sandbagged his qualifying. He ended up in 9th. "I'm not last?" he exclaimed.

So yeah, he passed the whole field and took first with 2 laps left. Had the field been the "normal crowd" I would have won. But oh well.

The Barber worker was my front row partner. We had an agreement to not start racing in earnest until about the 2nd time by, unless either of us made a huge mistake.

Well, I did.

Green flag drops, and I give my kart just a tiny bit too much throttle. The engine bogs down and off my row partner goes. He had me through turn 1. He kept increasing his lead little by little.

Then, about the 2nd or 3rd lap, I see a kart shoot by me on the inside, accompanied by a lot of smoke, and the driver spins in front of me. He just braked too hard. Well either way, I ran into him because he locked down the kart really quickly and stopped right in my line. I didn't hit him too hard but it bent my front "wing" kind of bad. The front cowling (the bit that covers the steering shaft) got bent, and it was rubbing my throttle foot or pedal. I don't know if I was doing quite full throttle, and if I wasn't then it wasn't a big difference. But I'll never know so I won't worry about it.

The important thing is the nose stayed on and I didn't get passed. But about 2/3rds of the way into the race, crash-a-lot came roaring by. He passed 9 karts today for the win. The guy's not human.

So, I ended up with 3rd, with fastest lap in 55.2 and a 11 second lead over 4th.

I'm really happy with that.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

(28) Going faster is slowing down

The rate of progressions has decayed! The mountain is steeper as you go on!

Sorry, I'm babbling a bit. Basically what I'm saying is every 10th of a second takes more work to gain now. The progress of going faster has slowed down.

But, I am improving little by little. It was a little hard to see it too much today, because most of the faster guys were there and none of the guys that are slower than me. But, fastest lap time doesn't count for much. I always do worse in practice than I do on race day, because in practice I'm focusing so much on how I should be doing this particular corner or whatever, and on race day I kind of relax. That's really evident in my social tendencies. In practice I really keep to myself and don't talk much, but on race day I talk with pretty much everyone and make jokes and stuff.

We ended up running National regular again. I leaned that they never run the Sprint course for races. That's too bad because I we've got 4 possible tracks (that go over start/finish, anyway) and we only use 2.

Anyway, I don't know whether it was my memory or if I was going a lot faster in this one corner, but coming out of the bottom of helipad seems a lot more G-force intensive than it used to be. After a long session when I shoot through there it feels like my head will come off. I completely lift out of the seat and I'm sticking to the side of my seat going through there. I'm coming off of that corner really well. Entrance through tic-tac-toe isn't so great but my exit is nice.

The race is gonna be a good one I think.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

(27) Grégoire l'artiste

Practice tomorrow. If it's the National track again (reverse or regular).... well I probably won't complain. It'd just be nice to get onto a new configuration. It's been about 6 months since I took my first class on the Sprint track, and I'm kind of eager to get back on it and see how much faster I've gotten.

Not really a whole lot to talk about right at the moment. So I will create something to talk about!*

* Read: run my mouth.

If you're on the internet, and subsequently reading this site, then you might, repeat, might, be a nerd, like me. And if you're a nerd (or a geek, either way), there's a good chance that you have played a video game. And if you have played a game, or many games, then you probably keep up with games on the internet. And if you've done that (last one, really), you've probably heard a lot about this whole "games are the 8th art form" etc.

Now that got me thinking, if a video game can be considered art, then what about cars?

For the sake of sanity (eh?) it's worth mentioning the 6 basic art forms: painting, sculpting and architecture being the spatial arts, and music, dance and poetry being the temporal arts. These were compiled in the manifesto "Reflections on the Seventh Art" by Ricciotto Canudo in 1923. The seventh art, being, of course, film.

Can you tell I live in California yet?

The interesting thing about these art forms, is that at least for the recent part (the 7th) it has always contained all of the former parts (the rest being so ancient that it's kind of impossible to tell what came first and who was inspired by what). Meaning, film is a combination of painting, sculpting, architecture, music, dance and poetry, with a new medium, being the actual film.

On that basis, video games are a container for film, painting, architecture, sculpting and all the rest, and by adding in interactivity, we can assume that it is the 8th art; interaction.

But what if cars bring out the 9th? Well, lets go down the list.

The painting is the colors of the car, inside and out. Check.

The sculpting is the shape of the car, inside and out. Check.

The architecture is the engineering of the car. Check.

The music is the sound of the car. Check.

The dance is the performance of the car. Check.

The poetry is how the mechanics of the car talk to you. The feel of the gear shift, the feedback of the wheel. Check.

Now, film. I could say it is the spectacle of a race, or the view out the window, or the theatre and drama of a fancy car. But no. I'm going to cop out and say it's the SATNAV. Check.

And finally, interactivity. Well, you turn the wheel and the tires move, right? Check.

So what does the car bring to the table that could give it the title of 9th art form? There are a few options.

Practicality or convenience. I'm going to dismiss that one right now. It's stupid. Art is not practical or convenient. It is excess. We don't need it, but we all have it. We don't actually need cars. We could get to where we're going just fine on our own two feet. Or on the back of a frog or a dragon or something. But we all have cars, even though we don't actually need them to function.

Could it be thrills? No, maybe not. Some cars just aren't thrilling (cough Chevy Aveo cough).

But I think we need to define the actual manifestation of art. I think that's pretty easy; art is the relationship between the man and the item. Poetry, for example, talks, and the man listens.

That significantly narrows my train of thought.

After a few minutes of thinking (gasp! People still do that?!), I think I have found the manifestation; cooperation. Harmony. The car drives us, and is there to be driven. To properly drive a car, you have to adhere to it's strengths and acknowledge it's weaknesses. Even though there are many types of cars, with engines in the front, and in the back, 2 doors, 4 doors, 2 wheel drive, 4 wheel drive, to get the car to do exactly what it's supposed to you have to work with it and understand it as an individual thing with it's own tendencies.

Therefore, cars are the 9th art: Harmony.

I'm satisfied with that. I'll be accepting my Nobel in the mail shortly.

Now, off to solve world hunger.