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.