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.