Sunday, December 27, 2009

(97) 2009 in review

2009 was good to me karting wise. I got my first win(s), I placed on the podium in the Jim Russell Arrive and Drive karting championship, I raced in my first endurance race and did well in that, and I also got my first clean sweep (fastest lap, led all laps, got pole and won).

As far as stats go I surpassed 1,100 miles driven at race speed (over 2,000 laps of Jim Russell International Karting Center), I led over 90 racing laps, and I broke 24 hours in the seat of the kart.

There's a few things I didn't achieve this year that I wanted to, one being getting a race license of some kind, another being finally getting on the larger tracks in the faster cars, as well as buying my own sportscar. None of those happened more or less for money reasons, as the coffers are running thin.

What does next year hold? Right now, I don't know. I do know that if I'm going to be doing much racing at all, some of it will be in fullsize cars. What kind of cars, again, I have no idea. My family needs to recover from the money situation and I need to start making some income before I can really get myself hauled up the ladder any further. If I'm going to be racing cars finally, it probably won't be for a full season, and it may be a smattering of various classes - there's a few options on the table.

I hope 2010 will be as good to me as 2009 was. See you next year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

(96) My first Le Mans (the Saga of the Enduro, part 2)

You know how humans are 98 percent water? I'm not. Right now, I'm 98 percent acid. This is a result of my poor muscles, who've not only had to do 40 minutes straight in a very fast kart, but also had to do it again a mere hour later.

Never did I think, when I first entertained the idea of learning to race in karts, that I would be competing in an endurance race. Endurance racing was my goal, my eventuality, but I thought that it would be many years before I would drive in one. I didn't think people were crazy enough to race in karts for hours on end, but I was wrong, and even more so, I was one of them.

Until yesterday, the longest time I'd spent in the kart at one time was about 20 minutes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I got to the track at the normal time, around 8 AM, and met my two team mates for the day: Roger Eagleton and Leighton Ridgard. Both fast drivers and good friends. We also met our crew chief, Becky, who would help us in the pits and with strategy (the driving instructors were taking a fairly hands-off approach this time. Indeed one, Jared, was actually competing in the race). My dad, Scott, played team manager, taking lap times and managing stints.

We had two options on the table with regards to stints. Being a four-hour race with three drivers, it makes most sense time-wise to change every forty minutes, with each driver pulling two stints. An easier option for the drivers would be four stints at twenty minutes. We decided to go for the forty minute option, since we're all in fair shape. We concluded that if our times started dropping, we'd have my dad call us in for a change.

Practice was an hour of open lapping, and we each got a few go-arounds. We practiced driver changes, which went well, and we figured out that a pit stop would take about one minute or a lap, from pit entry to pit exit. I warmed the kart up, partly because I like drifting, mostly because I needed to refresh my kart control after 2 months of not driving. It was very cold, and I was getting wheelspin all the way up the hill and through the kink. By the end of practice we decided that I would qualify the kart, since I posted the fastest time.

Qualifying went really well. I got pole! There were 9 teams total competing across two classes (HPV Junior and the Russell class), with 4 teams in the Russell class. The entire field was on the same Yokohama Advan rubber, but the HPV motors don't have the same top-end as the Rotax motors in the Russell karts, so we were faster on the straights.

While putting me in the kart for qualifying was a good call, I'm not sure if it was a good idea to have me start the kart. The start was Le Mans style. The karts were off to the side of the track, the drivers would dash across the track, hop in, start the kart and pull away. A real free-for-all. I tired a few practice runs and got the hopping in part down pat, as you can see in the helmet cam. Usain Bolt, you better watch out.

I realized my first mistake before my butt even touched the seat - I forgot to pull the ignition pin out while the kart was sitting on the grid. No matter, I'll just pull it out now and it'll only add a half a second to my start time! Pull the pin, click, yup, push the starter, little bit of gas, aaaaand...

Chug chug chug.

Okay, too much gas. Try again. Chug chug chug. Still too much? Really? Less. Chug chug chug.

At this point I glanced at my coach, Jeff, who was watching from the opposite side of the track. My eyes must have been wide as saucers or something, because he came jogging across the track, dodging karts, to see what's up.

"It's stalling!" I shouted through my helmet and above the buzzing kart engines that were leaving me for dead.
"Less gas, less gas," coach Jeff advised.
"That's about as little as I can give it," I replied.
"Ignition pin," he said, giving the pin a tug.
"What!" I exclaimed, pulling away.

That little bugger only has about an inch of travel, and I only pulled it out about two thirds of the way. So the engine wouldn't fire, and I lost about 20 seconds on the start. After the first corner, I was in 8th spot.

Over the next twenty minutes, I used my anger over my small but catastrophic mistake to propel me back into 1st place overall. The first few laps were dicey as the kart was completely cold and the tires lacked grip. I led comfortably for the rest of my stint and gained a lap over the rest of the field, with no major mistakes and a rather exuberant pit lane entry at the end (I also forgot to pull the gas cap off as I was coming down pit lane). Racing with the HPV Juniors was a joy. They were very respectful and raced like much older people. One team, driving an Intrepid, even waved me by. They ended up winning their class.

Physically I felt pretty good all the way through the stint, but my head was bobbing over a little bit in the last 15 minutes or so in the left hand corners. The track is counter-clockwise, with only two real right-handers and neither are very high load. There are plenty of lefts, and a couple of them start to wear on you - the Helipad corner heading into Tic-Tac-Toe is a killer, very high G as it's sort of a basin that catches you as you drop off the apex, and the entire run up the hill through the kink, which isn't really high G, but it lasts a long time from the entrance of Sand all the way to the braking zone of Monaco. Watch the fuel tank in the onboard video to get an idea of the Gs. Even so, reverse National is probably the easiest on the body of the 4 main configurations at Infineon.

Helmet cam footage from my first stint, Le Mans style start all the way to the first driver change. 8th to 1st in the first 20 minutes, and gained a lap over the field in the second 20. Unfortunately I forgot to turn the camera on for the second stint, but you're not missing much because all it shows is me getting tired.

Roger took over driver duty from me at the end of my stint, held down the fort and kept our 1 lap lead, even extending it a bit. Now came the long haul. I watched Leighton jump in the kart and then tried to get some rest for half an hour. I should have gotten more rest but I felt pumped after my heroic-feeling first stint.

Fast forward to the start of the 3rd hour, and we were a lap and a half in the lead as I hopped into the kart after refueling. We were slightly worried about the tires, but for my second stint they felt even better than before. The lap times were faster and the grip was up since the sun was shining in earnest and the track was warm. There was a lot more dirt and debris on the track from various agricultural excursions.

Physically this stint was much harder. About halfway through the stint I started to see the end of my stamina looming over me. But, I rationalized my continued pushing by reassuring myself that if I started driving dangerously, or fell off the pace, then the team would bring me in. This enduro was very valuable for me, because I learned to ignore my physical pain for the sake of continued smoothness and performance. And pain there was. Every left hander felt like someone was jabbing their fingers in my neck, my kidneys felt a little squashed, and my knees were slightly bruised from supporting myself, even with the pads that I wore under my suit. Now I know how the drivers can go on during the 24 Hours of Le Mans: it's not because they don't feel pain or fatigue, it's that they're able to push past it and focus on their performance and the condition of that, not their body. Sounds kind of obvious, really.

Anyway, other than my continued fatigue, my second stint was very incident free. Even after 40 minutes, I was still banging out the laps somewhat smoothly and consistently. Though, I did feel like I got close to the end of my rope on the last lap - I might've been able to do 10 more before I forced myself to pit. I handed the kart over to Roger for his second stint, and he held up well also, keeping a good pace throughout and keeping us still squarely in the lead.

Then, during the last 30 minutes of the race and Leighton's final stint, disaster struck. After about 5 or 6 minutes of running, Leighton came in with complaints about weird brake feelings. We were concerned that the brake pads would not last the full 4 hours, but the crew said they looked fine. Everything looked normal, so we told him to go back out. Alas, a bad call. On the very next lap, the brakes failed going into the helipad section just before Tic-Tac-Toe. Leighton shot off the track towards the fence, downhill, at about 50 MPH. He managed to miss the tire barriers, and the fence, by riding the dirt and grass berm that surrounds the bottom section. Luckily, Leighton was unhurt, and the kart was fine, other than the brakes completely not working.

After limping back to the pits, we found this:

The brake disk had completely separated from the axle mounting and was flopping loosely within the caliper.

The brake rotors and pads had been replaced before the start of the race, but I presume that the axle mounting has been the same part for most if not the entire year. I bet that it wouldn't have mattered what we were doing, the part would've let go within 4 hours of running regardless of constant use.

An axle replacement would've taken hours, but luckily Jim Russell kept a few spare karts out for us. Leighton hopped in the first fueled kart and off he went... very slowly.

His warmup lap was uncharacteristically slow, and continued to get slower. First place gained another lap on us. Becky commented to me that it looked like a fuel delivery issue with the carburetor. After several progressively slower laps, Leighton parked it inside the apex cones on the helipad. The kart had died. I hung my head. This couldn't possibly be happening. We were dominating before this.

One forlorn truck ride later and a final kart swap (this time a good one), the damage was done. We were in 3rd place in class, 6 laps behind with 15 minutes left in the race, and our competitor's fastest drivers were on track. I almost couldn't watch. Leighton was trying and trying doggedly, but it was no use. Our competitors were blighted by no mechanical maladies of any kind, and they sailed to the first and second spots on the podium. We took third, and the fourth team to cross the finish line was 15 laps down having suffered a failed ignition coil.

Still, we finished the race despite some quite trying circumstances, and we had a brilliant run for the majority of the race and led the most laps of any team. All told we completed about 240 laps, and led for more than three quarters of that distance. My team mates did a fantastic job and as far as the driving and pit work was concerned, there was nary a hitch as far as human error goes, save for my start line debacle.

Special thanks to Jim Russell for encouraging us to participate in such a great event, to Becky for being a fantastic crew chief, to Scott Evans for being our team manager, and to all our competitors who raced fairly and very quickly.

We also got a very shiny trophy for our efforts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

(95) And the award goes to... me, but not me

The Jim Russell awards banquet was last Sunday. It lasted quite a long time as there were many class winners to announce (the school sponsors the Rotax Challenge).

I was all set to receive my 3rd place trophy when 3rd place was announced as being... not me. Needless to say I was a little confused. By my math, I'd got it. The instructors had said I got it after the last race. The press release I got in the email said I was squarely in 3rd place by 20 points. But the name on the trophy was not mine.

I talked it over with a few of the people with the school, some of whom were also confused, and they agreed to recalculate the winners.

The result of which is my official 3rd place finish in the Jim Russell Senior Arrive and Drive Championship.

It seems that even karting is not immune to Formula 1 levels of controversy.

Regardless of this, I'm very thankful to the school for doing a very good job in running the series this year with very few hiccups. I think it's a real testament to the coaches in the school that they were able to take me in as a completely inexperienced kid and transform me into a race winner in two short years - I've learned more about racing this last year than I thought possible. To my competitors, if you're reading, it was a blast to race against you and we managed to keep it fair all year. And to the winner and runner-up in the championship, congratulations, it was an amazing fight to the end.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

(94) Driving According to the Chump #3: Basics of Racing in the Wet

If you watch motorsport very often, you've probably seen a wet race. In it, you've probably seen your favorite driver, who is usually dominant, get destroyed. The announcers will probably slag this off as the rain being, simply, "the great equalizer". Tosh. Racers win in the rain because they understand rain racing. Racers lose in the rain because they don't. Setup is still important, smoothness is still important, and driving the limit is still important.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at the 2009 FIA CIK World Karting Finals in Macau. You can see that race here on Youtube.

However, the part I'm interested in is this:

[sorry, the video got removed]

Being American, I don't like the French a whole lot. But I have to say, Mr. Kozlinski is doing something that the Finn, Mr. Vainio is not. Well, actually, he's doing many things that Vainio isn't, but one thing in particular that gives him a lot of speed. Can you spot it?

A rain line.

Of course, Vainio did start emulating Kozlinski after a couple laps, but, you snooze, you lose.

It really is staggering how many very good drivers seem to refuse to deviate from the rubberized parts of the track. It's really not that hard to figure out. Smooth surfaces get slick when wet. You want to be driving on the bits with the most corrugation. It's an instant rain tire, in theory - it gives the water somewhere to go when the tire presses down on it. Even disregarding the academic differences, it's incredibly easy to feel when you play with it on the track.

The theory behind a rain line is simple. Try your best to minimize the time spent on the rubber in a corner. Easy in theory, hard to do for real. You need to know where the rubber is and isn't, so get on out there and have a gander when it's dry. Just because it's black, doesn't mean it's rubbered in. Nincompoops make black marks everywhere. Black marks only indicate where people are having trouble with sliding. Highways and freeways have tons and tons of rubber on them - but they're not black like a race track (darker color sure).

To see the real rubber, crouch down to track level, facing the sun, and watch for the silver reflections coming off the track. This is an extremely graphic depiction of where the rubber is, and it will show you just how progressive it is, and it will explain why you felt like you were losing a bit of grip by being just half a car or kart width off-line in the dry, even though you were still in the black bits. It only takes one errant slide or brake lockup to make a black streak. It takes hundreds and hundreds of passes to make silver reflections. Seeing the silver is the only way to know 100% where all the rubber is. That and simply having raced at the track for a long time.

So, now that we know exactly where the rubber is, we can avoid it should it start raining. Again, just watch Mr. FIA CIK World Champion Kozlinski up there. Brake to the inside, cross the rubber to the outside, stay wide, apex extremely late, and what ever you do, do not track out - go straight and avoid the exit rubber.

Now that we've got the track working, we need to get the car working too.

In the dry, we know that the harder we corner, the more the side wall of the tire bends and contorts. There is a point, depending on the construction of the tire and the conditions of the track, when the tire is bending at just the right angle and generating maximum grip. We experience this in the form of slip angle. Too much body slip angle, and we need to countersteer, slowing the car because of scrubbing. Too little angle, and the car doesn't respond as well and we go slower (push understeer).

Rally drivers probably already know what I'm going to say.

Since the track itself has less grip, no matter how hard we try to corner using our normal methods, the tires will never bend like they did in the dry, and we will never achieve that same cornering speed. To counter this, we need to rotate the car more. Rotating the car more puts more load on the tires. The less grip the track is giving you, the more you need to rotate. See: ice racing and rally driving. You'll notice that both of these examples display huge drift angles, and if you watch closely, you'll see that even though the drivers are carrying 15 or 20 degrees of drift into corners (or more), they're still adding wheel, fighting understeer. Understeer while drifting? That seems impossible! It all has to do with balance and the relative slip angles of each tire. The more you start to think of each tire as it's own "car", the more you start to understand how rotation works, why it's so critical, and why all the fast drivers are good at it.

With this in mind, two major things happen in the wet regarding the way the car behaves balance wise:

1. Understeer is very, very understeery.

2. Oversteer is very, very oversteery.

As a result, we need to have the car very well under control. Oversteer with the same kind of aggressiveness shown in dry racing is likely to result in a spin, and understeer is likely to result in an off-track excursion, provided we're carrying a good amount of speed into the corner. So we need to be careful and precise about how we rotate the car.

If our normal body slip angle is about 7 or 8 degrees (something like a street car or GT club racer), then our ideal rain slip angle will probably be somewhere in the 10-15 degree range, or possibly even more (or less), depending on the tires and the conditions. It's really surprising how much more drift angle you can get away with before the car even suggests that you might want to start countersteering. I say drift angle because, while we're not drifting really, it's a whole heck of a lot more than your everyday slip angle, and in dry conditions we certainly would be drifting at that point! The same rule as dry racing applies: the less steering you use, the faster you'll go.

Again, I suggest you take a look at the video up there. For the first few laps, Vainio is fighting understeer, only rotating the kart a little bit, and using tons of steering input to keep the thing on the island, while Kozlinski looks like he's competing in Formula Drift, yet he's still working the wheel in the same way as he was in the dry (furiously). He's easily carrying 30, 40, maybe even 50% more slip angle than he was in the dry. Again, once Vainio gets passed he figures it out, but he's still not as fast as the Frenchman. That part is experience, and thus is the difference between the 28 year old Frenchman and the 15 year old Finn. Vainio has a chance at Formula 1, though, so age and wisdom isn't all that. But I digress, blatantly.

I suppose all the scribes in the world could go on and on about the benefits of one style of driving versus another (the above is just my opinion on what works, I'm sure plenty of people go about it differently. Fact is there never is that one perfect way to do something in racing), and I can sit here reiterating various points that are surely covered in dozens of books, but the best way for someone to see how to do something is to see it, so watch what is probably the best rain drive in history: Senna in his last race at Donnington, 1993.

Far be it from me to analyze the most adored Formula 1 driver in history, but, I have to say, that's pretty much perfect. You see how he gets to that nice early slip angle really quickly while the other cars are still fighting to turn, and how he holds it through the corner straight to the exit without any twitches or anything dramatic? The other cars are entering the corners a good bit slower than he is. Slow in, fast out this is not - Senna's exit speed comes from his massive momentum, which comes from his (relatively) massive slip angle. That is how you drive fast in the rain.

I only have five tips for you this time since I'm far from a wet guru (this is just a basic article):

1. You lose a lot of grip in the rain, but braking suffers the least.
2. You need to rotate the car more to make it work optimally in the rain.
3. You need to stay away from the rubber line in the rain. And paint.
4. Pay very close attention to car angle. Understeer and oversteer are greatly exaggerated in the wet.
5. I advocate trail braking in the wet, but some people don't. Try it both ways and see what's fastest for you. You definitely trail brake a lot less in the wet.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

(93) Jim Russell sprint karting 2009 finale

It was cold yesterday morning, colder than Thursday. The conditions were so bad it felt like we were going out on new tires every session. In the first session on brand new slicks, I actually got wheelspin taking off from a standstill in the pits, even with the minuscule torque of sprint kart engines. I had to weave down the pit lane just to be able to take the exit curve. Once out on the track (National config), I got wheelspin down the first straight up to about 50 MPH. You can probably tell, but wheelspin just doesn't really happen all that much in the karts - maybe in a high speed corner you'll get a little bit more angle than you wanted because you punched the gas a bit too much, but in most corners the kart is traction limited instead of wheelspin (power) limited because even if you do mat the gas, the carbureted engine won't allow it and just refuse to rev. Wheelspin on a straight is unheard of from my point of view. So being able to kick the tail sideways on a straight at 40 MPH without tapping the brake or twitching the wheel is something new for me. But it only took a lap for the excessive wheelspin to go away.

So, the track was slicker than goose snot, and it was a challenge to drive - the brakes were touchy, the throttle was touchy, and the steering was touchy. I was about mid-field during the practices.

I think it was during one of the first sessions of the day, but I passed my one-thousandth mile in the seat of the kart today. That's well over one-thousand five-hundred laps.

Come qualifying, the sun was coming out, but the track hadn't heated up yet, so conditions were pretty similar. The problem was, I was mid-field, but I wasn't setting my fast laps until about lap 8 or 10 in the session, and qualifying was only 5 laps. National isn't my best configuration. I ended up qualifying 6th.

The fog backed off for the first race, round 9, and the track was heating up. I started on the outside of row 3. I had a so-so start that was highly affected by the accordion effect, and I dropped back one slot. Coming out of turn 1 I had a good run on 6th and I took him on the outside in Tic Tac Toe, hopping the middle curb pretty good in the process. 3 corners later, I dispatched 5th going into Kramer. I then followed the pack of 3 fighting for 2nd, waiting for them to battle it out and make a mistake. After a position change, 4th made his mistake in lap 3 in Helipad, and I simply motored on by going into Laguna, executing a slightly exaggerated slide-job pass.

The next lap, I made a mistake into Helipad and 5th shoved his nose up the inside, but I held my ground and put the left side of the kart in the dirt doing so. But, the basic rules of passing being what they are, outside loses going in, outside wins coming out, even if the guy to the inside puts some nice donuts on your side pod.

For the next few laps I just put my head down and drove. I was slowly catching 3rd, but in the end it wasn't enough. After the checkered, I went up to my rival and made a big shrug. I think we both expected to do a lot better.

Round 9 helmet cam footage.

After the B Group race, I was 4th in the championship, 10 points behind 3rd (who won the B Group race).

Ah well. Still one more race to go, on a new track - National Reverse. A track I'm good at.

With track conditions improving by the minute, I put it on the outside front row for race 2 (round 10). Pole was a Formula 3 racer from the school down below.

I had a good start, but I couldn't hold him off into turn 1, but I gained a run going into Monaco and tried a slide-job pass, but I carried too much speed at the apex and didn't park it, meaning he could re-pass me coming out. However, I now had the inside for Kramer. I did a slightly better job outbraking him there, but I opened up too much for the Esses and he slipped by on the inside.

A few minutes later I tried it again into Kramer, but this time he got a run and we went 2-wide through the Esses. This resulted in him grabbing the spot back in Laguna, since he was on the inside now.

I kept trying to pass, but he kept re-passing. My mistake was that I just never really parked it at the apex - I was too focused on carrying momentum through the turn and he never had to check up. By the 9th lap he was too far ahead for me to benefit from his draft and I finished in 2nd, exactly 1 second behind. The other mistake that I made was I kept looking back to keep an eye on my rival, and you can see how that affected my concentration - each corner immediately after I looked back was a bad one.

Round 10 on-board footage, the final race. It's pretty epic and climactic, even if I did lose.

So now with my 2nd and 4th place finishes, the bottom line was that to keep the bottom step of the championship podium, the guy in 4th had to finish 3rd or worse in his Group B race. A 3rd place result would have landed us in a tie. In the event of a tie, the tie breaker is based on who has the most wins. In the event of a further tie (which it was, 2 wins each), whoever has the most 2nd place finishes wins (I had 1 more than him, so I would walk away with 3rd).

We didn't have to resort to the tie breaker. He was in the lead but spun in the first corner. So I grabbed 3rd in the championship.

Meanwhile, my rival was praying for a bad finish from another racer who was tied with him for the championship lead. In the end, my rival took the championship win and the 3 days in the Formula 3 car that goes with it.

It was an absolute blast of a year. My driving improved even more, thanks to the great instructors who teach us to race closely and respectfully (most of the time) and to the mechanics who prepare the karts - you can't learn anything on a bad machine and these machines were as close to perfect as they could be all year, as well as being even and fair for each driver across the field. Thank you Jim Russell!

BUT! This is not the end of my 2009 season endeavors! There is still one race left.

You remember last year, how I missed out on the 4-hour endurance race? Well, Jim Russell is doing it again this year. I've formed a preliminary team with a couple other students and we're planning on entering with either 3 or 4 drivers. That's coming up in December, on the 5th. So far, we have very fast drivers on the team and we're confident in a very good finish, if not a win.

So, keep an eye out for that. As with last year, I'll keep updating the blog with various motorsport related things I find interesting and/or do. Over the winter I plan on making some money and finally buying a sportscar, so if I do there will be some track days in my future. If things go well financially, I may be doing a racing school in real cars, and maybe some pre-season tests if everything is ideal.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

(92) Move over, Lambo boy

Practice today went well. It's been a few months since I took tic-tac-toe going this direction - I'd forgotten how to go fast through there. But with some "go get 'em" encouragement from the instructors I managed to make it work.

The conditions were pretty bad. The first three sessions were all about 2 seconds slower than normal. It was very cold and the track was almost damp. The brakes were especially touchy. They gave absolutely no warning as to when they were going to lock up. I actually locked up pretty bad going into tic-tac-toe and stalled the engine, and the tires still didn't make any noise.

I didn't end up fastest. There was a "guest" driver who was faster than me by a tenth. He's been racing a very long time in the Jim Russell series and he's quite fast. He's definitely going to be running with us at the front on Saturday. I was faster than my rival, though, by about a tenth and a half.

After practice was over I went down to the big track to see one of my friends running his BMW in a track day. I went for a ride around Infineon and we ended up passing a Lamborghini Gallardo. See that? Come to Jim Russell, learn to pass Lamborghinis with "inferior" equipment. There was a Gallardo Superleggera a few corners behind us that had trouble keeping up as well.

I've gotta get myself a sportscar so I can get out on the big track more often.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

(91) Complicationalness

The championship points, as they stand, are pretty complicated. With a double-header coming up on the 10th of October, it's going to be very important to be on top of my game. Here's the top 5 points standings:

1st: 1450
2nd: 1434
3rd Greg Evans: 1392
4th: 1380
5th: 1290

Looks pretty simple at first, right? Guess again! We're dropping 1 race. With dropped races the points look like this (worst finish dropped). Everyone keeps their places:

1st: 1350 (-150)
2nd: 1300 (-134)
3rd Greg Evans: 1250 (-142)
4th: 1220 (-160)
5th: 1156 (-134)

So, the good news is, my position is more secure and the gap back to 4th is larger (30 points instead of 12). The bad news is, it's going to be harder to catch up to 2nd. 1st, 4th and 5th are all Group B racers. 2nd is my rival in A Group. So the only result I have direct control over is 2nd's.

Now we get into the "what ifs". Since next weekend is a double header, that's going to attract more racers. It's possible that someone might show up that's faster than my rival and I. That would be very bad, because we usually place near each other - so that 1st and 2nd 20 point difference is critical (200 points for 1st, 180 for 2nd, 170 for 3rd).

Pretty much, if I'm going to take away 2nd in the championship, I'm going to have to finish 1st in each race and beat my rival by 2 positions. If we both finish in the top 5 with neither of us claiming the win, I'm going to have to beat him by 3 positions each race. That's a lot of luck to call on in one day. But I'll call Lady Luck anyway and keep calling even if I get a busy signal. And no, you can't have her phone number.

Meanwhile, on the defensive side, 4th is down 30 points on me after the drop. If 4th wins both of his races and I finish 2nd in both of mine, I will move back to 4th. If I finish 3rd in one of my races, and 4th wins one of his, we will be tied. At that point I would have to outplace him by only one position to keep 3rd, obviously. Pretty straightforward. Do not let him gain 30 points! I think I can manage that, but I only have control of my own races, not his (unless I set up some spike strips).

Even though they're not directly vying for the championship, 4th and 1st have been battling pretty fiercely in their races. Even though 1st takes the victory more often than not, 4th has still outplaced 1st three times in the past 8 races. 4th's worst finish is 4th, and 1st's worst finish is 5th. But, 4th has won only 1 race, and 1st has won 4. 1sts' average finish position is 2nd, and 4th's average is 3rd.

Trying to see the future is hard, but based on our records, I'd say it's very likely that I'll keep my podium.

That's good, because my head hurts now.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

(90) Thunderstruck

I woke up at 5:50 this morning to the sound of "boooooooooom". At first I thought, "what? Another shuttle landing?" Then I saw the flashes, and I realized it was thunder and lightning. We don't get that much here in California.

"Oh boy" I thought, "I'm going to learn to race in the wet today!"

Not an entirely accurate assumption, as it would turn out.

On the way to the race track we crossed the Martinez/Benicia bridge. On our right, the mothballs were getting pounded by lightning strikes, one after another.

Sure enough, the track was wet when we got there. So much for my "warm weather" theory. The lightning was done, and it was only sprinkling a little bit. There was no standing water but there was enough to drastically change the grip level. We proceeded to get a crash course in wet racing from our coaches. I'll go into it in a little more detail in a later "Driving" chapter, but for right now know that our primary goal was to find 2 things:

1. Dirty or abrasive track.

2. Dry track.

It's a lot easier than it first looks.

Finding dry track is simple. Dry track is gray or brown, wet track is black. Finding dirty track is a bit harder, and requires some knowledge of where the rubber "marbles" (or "clag" as the great Mr. Hobbs says) builds up. To know exactly where the clag builds up you must run in the dry. So you can imagine the dismay of a racing driver when he turns up at a new track and it's soping wet!

So, armed with my new knowledge of water fighting, we headed out into the first session on National Reverse equipped with full-wet rain tires.

My first wet session ever!

During the session, I notice 3 things:

1. The brakes work remarkably well.

2. The kart hates going around corners. I estimate a 50% loss in sideways traction. It. Will. Not. Turn!

3. You need to rotate the kart a good deal in order to avoid terminal understeer. See Laguna on the first lap in the video...

Laguna was by far the wettest corner. Braking for Helipad was almost completely dry, and the hairpins and the two start/finish turns both had plenty of grip and I was able to drive them pretty normally after a semi-dry-line started forming. Tic-Tac-Toe (or Toe-Tac-Tic in this case) was pretty slippery, but you kind of had to take the punches on that one to get a good exit.

At the end of the session, my fastest time was a 1:00.560, a full half-second faster than anyone else. I guess I'm good in the wet! I really enjoyed applying the throttle based on wheelspin and not based on engine bogging.

Back in the pits, I had a gander at the tires and realized that they were cooked. Everyone's tires were ravaged. The treads were all blistered. We changed to slicks for the next session.

By the time qualifying rolled around, the track was very dry. I stole the pole in the last lap with a 55.411, a tenth ahead of 2nd.

As far as the race is concerned, flag to flag. It was really uneventful. I made a couple little mistakes, but overall I was smooth, bang on the limit and most importantly faster than 2nd. I could literally feel the intensity of 2nd to try and keep up with me. He was concentrating incredibly hard, and had me worried a couple times when I looked over my shoulder. During the race I also set fastest lap, a 54.531.

Round 8 helmet cam footage. Not a whole lot to see really... just open track. How it should be. :)

So, to recap:

* Fastest in all practice sessions, Thursday included.
* Pole position.
* Led all laps of the race and won, of course.
* Set fastest lap time of the race.

That's a clean sweep if I ever saw one!

As far as stats go, I also passed 20 hours in the seat of the kart today. Next month, I'll be passing the 1,000 mile mark.

If my math is right, I'm also now in 3rd for the championship. You couldn't ask for a better weekend.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

(89) You're going fast if you crash

Practice today went alright. The sessions started out a little inconsistent, but I pulled it together and started going fast. Fast enough to go off, see, look.

Off I go out of Laguna! See what happens when you go fast? I was killed!

No damage, at least.

Other than that it was pretty normal. I consulted with Jeff, one of the coaches, and he thinks the "stay under the radar until I'm more experienced" idea is a good one. He suggested a few different ways to go about it. Right now I'm leaning towards Formula Mazda in the SCCA, but Radical Sportscars and Spec Racer Fords were also high on the list there for me. The Radicals will probably prove too expensive, though. The idea is to do it on the cheap with a lot of track time. I'm kind of shying away from the idea of going from karts to tin top sports cars right away. I think I should drive something stiffer and more demanding while I learn to run on the big courses. So I'd be looking at a stiff open top sports racer or a Formula car.

Anyway, it should be warm on Saturday so the grip might be a little wonkey.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

(88) Under the radar

I've been a bit lazy in updating for the past couple of weeks. I'll catch you guys up, briefly.

I went to the Indy Grand Prix at the end of last month. The first race was the Indy Lights, where local guy JR Hildebrand won by a fair margin.

The next race was the F1 historics, which were pretty cool. They were all from the late 70's and early 80's. Andretti's Lotus was there, as was Prost's McLaren.

Then the Jim Russell F3 cars went out. In turn 2, one of the front runners spun, and a lot of the field plowed into him. That incident took out 7 cars I think.

Then the IndyCars. We were watching right at turn 9, the chicane, and we were aptly positioned to see Kanaan's late dive bomb on Castroneves. They made contact and Helio went high into the air. I'm amazed the suspension didn't break right then and there. It held out for a while and then broke into turn 1 and he spun off up the hill.

And today, I went up to Infineon again for an SCCA regional. I was talking to a driver in Spec Racer Ford, and he had a really interesting idea about my career: since I'm starting late, and since I have a lot still to learn, I shouldn't try to stand out a whole lot right at the moment. I should bide my time, get Formula car experience by doing something in SCCA, and stay under the radar until my skills are developed enough to then go out and do something like Skip Barber National and go in with a splash.

Something to think about.

Race 8 is on the 12th, next week. The points so far look like this:

1st: 1270
2nd: 1264
3rd: 1220
4th (me): 1192
5th: 1118

Mathematically I'm still in it, of course, but I think, with 3 races left, it's most realistic to be shooting for 3rd at this point. If the classes weren't combined into one championship I would be in second right now. A couple more wins would be nice right about now!

See ya next week!

Oh, one thing I forgot. Sorry if I got your hopes up with my coach Mike's Indy Lights ride. I misunderstood him. He'll be driving next year, if everything comes together.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

(87) Fair fight

Well, it wasn't the greatest race ever, but I could've done a lot worse.

The day started out at pretty much ideal temp. I was pretty much up to race speed in the kart by lap 3 or 4 of the first session. The grip started to go away during the later half of the 2nd practice session. This track seems to lose grip once the temp gets past about 85 or so.

I had a decent run in qualifying. I got the pole with a 54.39, but I wasn't any faster than my previous practice sessions. The big development was my rival, who had some sort of mechanical issue with the kart (we're still not sure what happened, might have been bad carb jets, might have been a rubbing brake rotor). It just wouldn't accelerate like it should have. So he got 4th. It's sort of an empty-feeling pole because my rival had a mechanical. Kinda like winning under a yellow. I'd prefer if it was a fair fight.

Of course, my rival selected a new kart to do battle with and we gridded up for the main. Being pole, I had the inside. My row partner tried to take pace control away just before the start and kind of jumped the gun a bit, but I handily outbraked him into turn 1 and established a working gap, which I held for 3 laps.

At the end of the 3rd lap, my rival went by into kramer. I never got that corner down this weekend and I paid the price, and then again in lap 7 when I got passed again and put squarely into 3rd place.

Slight overdriving, added weight (5 lbs), the hot temps and a couple somewhat large mistakes kept me from launching more than one (botched) assault in an attempt to regain 2nd. At the end of the day I lost 2 places and finished 3rd. I'm not really pleased with how I did, it's not the result I was after, but it's not bad. Could have done way worse. At the end of the race my fastest lap was 54.761, which is a lot slower than qualifying, but 4th's fastest was 54.762, only 1 thousandth of a second slower.

Round 7 helmet cam footage. Watch the cooldown for a slightly dissappointed Gato. The audio is slightly delayed for whatever reason.

On a brighter note, one of the coaches, Mike Hill, is starting his 2009 Indy Lights season next Sunday at Infineon with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Watch it and support him!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

(86) If you call it a livery, it costs twice as much

We got new liveries (stickers) today. In fact, they match my suit perfectly.

New livery (stickers)! They must have used my suit as a template. Presumably, they'll cost more when they tear off...

Practice itself went alright. The first 2 sessions were a bit rough, and the 3rd was a tenth slower than normal, but the 4th session felt really good. In the first session I had a tire pressure imbalance, and that kinda threw the balance of the kart off (not to mention pulling left on the straights). The Jim Russell team fixed it pronto, though. Of course, I was the fastest all day.

The temps were ideal in the first two sessions, but the track got overheated for the last two, so we lost some grip. The supermoto guys also ruined our track, but the ProKarters on Saturday will clean it up and we'll have a lot more grip.

I think the struggle today was using my eyes. I've always had notchy steering on the sprint reverse track, and I think it's due to the fact that you have to look almost completely sideways to lock onto the apex point of both the sweeper and turn 1. So in the first couple of sessions I was looking at a point somewhat before the apex, realizing I was apexing early, correcting, then losing speed mid-corner as I re-focused on the apex. I more or less fixed it in the last two sessions, but while turn 1 felt great, the sweeper requires me to look so far to the side I actually can't see the wheel any more. When I do that, my hands just sort of do their own thing and I apex early anyway. The last couple of laps in the 4th session were getting there, but I still have to work on it on Saturday.

The IndyCar guys were down below, testing and setting up for the next weekend. If you ever get to go to an IndyCar test, do it, because unlike F1 or maybe even NASCAR, the garages are all open, the teams are all available, and there aren't any crowds (there were maybe 100 spectators there).

Helio Catroneves' Penske IndyCar.

I also found a little fleet of Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X's with "Jim Russell" written on the side in one of the end pit garages. This is a new program coming out soon that will allow you to take a Lancer X Ralliart through some drift turns, on an autocross and out on the track for real, for about 900 bucks. IMO, that's the best bang for the buck out of all the sportscar programs I know of. I might be checking it out. Thus is the benefit of sponsorship, and since Mitsubishi is the school's primary sponsor now, I should say something salesman-ish...

Um, the FJR-50 chassis that Jim Russell uses for it's championship is really good, and the Mitsubishi EVO engine in it makes it even gooder, so you should buy an EVO X because it has that same Mitsubishi power*. And since it's a Mitsubishi with a Mitsubishi engine, that makes it even gooderer than the FJR-50.

* Lola Formula 3 chassis not included. But it's not a Mitsubishi, so you wouldn't want it any way.

Also. Double clutch gearbox. I'll just leave you with that for a couple minutes.

Eh? Eh?

Yeah. Might need some work.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

(85) No control

With my win last month, I've really tightened down the lead margin on the 3 guys ahead of me. This championship is tough because we're competing against guys in another group, so we have no control whatsoever in their races. All I can do is finish well and hope they mess up. It's still mathematically fair, since you still have to finish better than the other guys.

1st (B group): 1070
2nd (A group): 1064
3rd (B group): 1050
Me (A group): 1022
5th (A group): 940

It's close. Real close. And now there's 4 rounds left, the first of which is this Saturday. Practice on the 13th, race on the 15th.

Friday, July 31, 2009

(84) Driving According to the Chump #2: Reading the Car and The Limit

I don't really have a whole lot to talk about right now so I'll do another one of these.

One of the biggest problems I had was learning to read the car. Know it's limits, know when I'm below or above them. It's probably the largest hurdle to jump. Our bodies aren't meant to drive cars. We need to calibrate ourselves.

Training sensitivity is hard. But I've got a few ideas that will help with that. Lets start with the basics.

The first thing we want to be paying attention to is the wheel. If you're at the point where driving fast is instinctual, this will be a lot easier.

Obviously, the wheel is a necessary part of the car. We need it to make corners, save our hides and attack our opponents. The ironic thing is, in theory, it's not needed at all. It's physically possible to drive a course without touching the wheel at all. Humanly impossible due to error, but given enough time a super computer could calculate a way to do it with precise braking inputs, and repeat it, and I guarantee you it would be the fastest lap time ever recorded with that particular car.

This is verifiable in real life. Watch a video of a fast driver versus a slow driver in the same car, and the faster driver will use less wheel. Those of you with a telemetry program on your car can also verify it by adding up your total steering input values over the course of a lap. The fastest lap will have the lowest value.

All you need to do, to drive the limit, is to use zero steering input.

This is because of a lot of complicated physics things that I don't understand, nor do I want to. All I know is, when a tire gets to it's slip angle equilibrium, the point at which the self-aligning torque of the tire sidewall starts to fade, is when the steering wheel goes light. When the wheel goes light, you can zero steer.

You may be wondering, "how can zero steer be fastest if F1 and Le Mans drivers don't use it?!"

The thing is, while zero steer is the fastest way around a corner, it's not the fastest way to win a long race. The heat generated and the wear rate on the tire increases exponentially even with less than a few degrees more slip angle. This is the difference between a Formula 1 "qualifying" lap and a "race" lap: literally half of a degree of slip angle difference over the course of the lap. The truly brilliant drivers operate in the angles just before the steering goes totally light, just before zero steer, because that is where the tires are working the most efficiently.

So, zero steer is fastest, but it's the hardest on the car by a long shot. To drive the limit, the steering must be at it's center. However, there's a problem with that. No human can drive the whole lap with no steering input.

As a result, your goal is to be on the limit as much as possible. Sometimes that means going over, sometimes that means going under. As long as you're on the limit most of the time, then you're golden. Those small steering inputs back and forth over the limit will tell you how much harder or softer you should be driving. Driving the limit is the most important factor for driving fast. The driver who is on the limit and taking a bad line will usually be faster than the driver who is under the limit but using the perfect line.

To help generate our sensitivity to this limit, there's a few exercises we can do. The next time you're at the track, try focusing on just one aspect of what is happening for each session. For one session, try focusing your available attention on your throttle foot, or your brake foot, or your hands, or on the sound of the engine. By focusing our attention, we're tuning into what's happening a lot better.

For instance, the first time I really tried to take the s-bend flat at the Infineon kart track, I focused on a few things:

First, I focused on my hands. Learn exactly what my hands are doing. Now store that.

Second, a few laps later, focus on my throttle foot. Store what my throttle foot is doing.

Third, a few laps after that, I focus on the engine note. If I want to take it flat, it should sound like I'm going down a straightaway. Store that.

Fourth, focus on the visual. Where am I turning in? What reference point am I using? Store that.

Et cetera, et cetera.

Now I can combine all those things, formulate a plan, alter a few things and execute it via mental imagery (yes, you can do that at high speed). Now I have my "reprogrammed" corner, all I have to do is use it.

Rinse and repeat. I've found this to be the most efficient way of correcting mistakes. The better you understand what's going wrong the easier it is to fix. Rather than just recognizing "I need to take this flat, push the throttle down harder!" I've taken the time to understand it better, and fix it faster, with less stress, less trial and error and ultimately I come out with a better platform for fixing things in the future.

If you've just started driving fast recently, then that will sound pretty daunting. You're already probably completely occupied with saving your own life, so how can you pay attention to the engine note?! Just ease into it. You don't have to get really precise right away. Just start with recognizing physical elements more, like the sound, the feel, whatever it is. It will help you become an "unconscious" driver faster. I may liken it to learning a stick shift. In the beginning, you're unsmooth, you've got to look at the gear stick to shift, all that jazz. Now, though, you shift without even thinking. Now you can think of other things.

Sometimes, when my driving is really hooked up and I barely have anything to fix, I actually stop thinking about driving almost altogether, and I think about other things, like lunch, or new one-liners. Ironically, these are some of my faster laps.

So, the quicker you stop thinking about driving, the quicker you'll be quick!

I was going to do a bit on mental imagery, but I'll save that for later. For now, know that increased awareness during mental imagery sessions will also help you become sensitive. Whether you know it or not, your brain stores more information about how your car behaves than you'll ever notice consciously while driving.

Ten tips for sensitivity and driving the limit:

1. To drive the limit, sometimes you have to go over the limit.
2. The fastest laps are the ones with the least steering input.
3. Developing sensitivity is key to driving the limit.
4. Analyzing individual factors such as brake pressure and steering angle can help you become more sensitive, and help you fix bad lines.
5. Mental imagery will help you become more sensitive.
6. Beware of false limits; they can give you false feelings and make a bad line or apex worse.
7. The limit is harsh on the car's tires. For long races, try to drive just under the limit, just under zero steer.
8. The limit is something you can feel through your butt as well as through your hands.
9. Really pay attention to your tire noise as you near and go over the limit. Sometimes cars will make very distinctive noises depending on the tires used and the setup.
10. Yes. Zero steer is fastest in all cars, not just RWD cars. You may not be able to use it in all cases (throttle-on in a FWD car) but you should still use it where you can.

Friday, July 17, 2009

(83) Driving According to the Chump #1: The Apex

Over the past year or so, I've been sort of avoiding getting into the really nitty gritty of actually driving fast. Truth be told, I didn't have a really good idea of it myself - I was still learning. I still am. I talked a little bit about g-forces and the stuff I was being taught in school, but I think it's time I formalized all that into a series of tip articles. So here we go. Driving According to the Chump - the apex.

I suppose I could start with something really basic, like full throttle, or braking, but you should know how to do that stuff. That's easy, and obvious. Didn't stop me from getting it wrong, but that's not the point.

You know, that's not actually true. The apex is really basic in the end, it's just complicated. It's one of those things that, once you figure it out, is really easy and makes a lot of sense.

So what exactly is the apex?

Firstly, the apex is the point at which the car is at the inside of the corner. You start on the outside, then as you turn into the corner, you gradually cross the track and "clip" the inside of the corner. After that, you gradually allow the car to cross back over to the outside of the track and exit the corner.

Secondly, why do we apex? There's a number of reasons.

* The apex opens the corner, and makes it wider than it actually is.
* The apex gives us a really good reference point for things like throttle application, and what we're supposed to be doing with our steering wheel.
* The apex can be used as a racing weapon, both defensive and offensive.
* Finally, a proper apex allows the car to stop, go and corner at it's optimum.

If you're just starting out with performance driving and you're on your first track day or autocross, the most common thing to do wrong is to apex at the geometric center of the corner. You've got the right idea, and it's certainly better than following the corner to the letter. However, while not totally wrong, it could be more optimal.

Lets imagine a standard 180 degree hairpin. It's got no tricks, no radius changes, no weird crests or bumps.

Now lets imagine that we take a perfect geometric apex to this corner. We start on the outside, cross over to the inside, clip the inside curb right at the top of the corner, unwind the wheel and cross back over to the outside and exit the corner.

The problem with this is not immediately apparent. If it is, kudos. I didn't get it. The problem with it is, the exit radius is the same as the entry radius. This means the car cannot exit the corner any faster than it went in. It's a dud, a throwaway, a waste of time, and so is the next straight.

So, if radius = speed (the car only has so much grip available) we must open up the outside of the corner if we want to carry more speed out of the corner. How do we do that? The late apex.

We'll get to that, but I think now's a good time to list exactly what affects the apex point.

Basic factors:

* Turn-in point.
* Steering wheel input speed.
* Rolling speed.

Advanced factors:

* Car angle.
* Brake release.
* Throttle application (if before apex).
* Tire slip angle.

Some technical aspects like drive configuration and differential setup also affect the apex point.

So, how do we use the above aspects to give us a later apex? Well, assuming we're using a perfect geometric apex, it's going to be a little bit of everything at first.

Lets focus on just the basic points for now.

The first thing we're going to change is turn-in point. This has the largest effect by far. But, if we keep the same steering input speed and the same rolling speed (assuming we're at the limit of the car given the conditions), we're going to miss the apex, whether we wanted to hit a later apex or a geometric apex.

We have to use all of the points, otherwise we'll miss. So, the answer would be: (try to figure it out before you read the answer)

* Turn in later.
* Faster with the hands.
* Slower rolling speed.

Turning in later is obvious. It delays the geometric apex of the corner based on our position and the ending point of our line, like rotating a picture a few degrees.

Slightly less obvious is faster hands. Since we're now trying to turn more in the beginning portion of the corner to make the end portion of the corner much wider, we need to move the hands a little bit faster, make the car respond a bit quicker.

Even less obvious is rolling speed. Since radius = speed and our beginning radius is now tighter, we have to slow down a bit more.

But how does all this work translate into a faster lap time? As I said before, with a geometric apex, we're exiting the corner at the same speed we went in. This means that we're not taking advantage of the track. With a later, proper apex, we're extending our acceleration capability - making the straight longer, in layman's terms. By sacrificing the entry of the corner, we're making the exit quicker, thus increasing our average MPH and our lap time.

So how do we know how far to take it? How do we know when we did it right or wrong? How do we know what we did wrong? That's the hard part.

Lets go back to our geometric apex. The entry to the geometric apex feels easy. The car isn't really working all that hard, and you feel like you could go in a lot faster. The exit, however, doesn't go so well. You start adding throttle at the apex like you see racers do on TV, but you feel like you're going to understeer straight off the track so you back out, maybe add more steering and heroically save the car.

This feeling needs to be completely reversed. You need to feel like you're working the hardest on corner entry, then have a relatively easy time on the exit. The exit sensation should be "am I going to go off the track?" not "I'm going off the track! Stop stop stop!"

One of the first things I tell new drivers when they enter our series is, it's easier to fix an overly late apex than it is to fix an early one. At least with the later apex you've got the right sensations going through your head.

So now that we've got those sensations reversed, we're zeroing in on the perfect apex. Now we need to listen more to the car to really hit the bullseye.

The first thing you want to pay attention to is your steering wheel. Put some tape on the top of the wheel to help you see exactly where it's pointing. The wheel should be gradually adding as you approach the apex, then unwinding as you pick up the throttle and gradually coming back to center as you exit the corner. If you're adding steering, or backing off the gas after the apex, it's still too early.

The second thing is to feel the car under you. If you feel like you have the least control on the exit, you're probably doing it right. The car should float out to the edge of the track as you add more power and decrease steering angle. Everything that happens after the apex, other than throttle-on oversteer, is related to something that happened either at or before the apex, such as turn-in or the apex point itself.

And that's just the basics! It gets even more fun when you start to really factor in your feet.

As I said before, the advanced factors are:

* Car angle.
* Brake release.
* Throttle application (if before apex).
* Tire slip angle.

The reason why I call these "advanced factors" is that every advanced factor needs a basic factor value to work, and a culmination of all of them. I'll run through them.

* Car angle can be used to adjust your exit point. Sometimes your apex point is fine, but you need to use your steering input speed and your brake release to increase or decrease the car's "angle of attack" going into the corner. A higher angle can scrub a little bit more speed on entry, or help supplement your steering unwind, or any number of other adjustments. Car angle directly affects tire slip angle.

* Brake release will affect your angle, but also the "dartiness" of the car. Adjusting your brake release can help you get down to the apex if you find yourself going slightly wide.

* Throttle application, simply put, too much too soon will cause you to miss the apex. Too late or too little, and you won't exit in the right spot.

* Tire slip angle will directly affect the radius of the corner. Typically, tire slip is directly related to car angle, but knowing how to read your optimum slip angle will help you determine the angle of attack for each corner.

I'll leave you with my top-ten tips for apexing:

1. Don't be afraid to hold an apex for a few feet. Many long corners require long apexes.
2. The faster the corner, the earlier the apex should be. The less the car needs to work on the exit, the less room you need to give it.
3. The faster you enter a corner, the more likely your tendency will be to turn in early, giving you a "false limit". As you increase your rolling speed for new corners, force yourself to not turn in early and apex at the normal point.
4. The more rearward the drive configuration, the earlier the apex. RWD cars have the earliest apex. AWD cars are in the middle, and FWD cars have the latest apex. This is tied to understeer levels.
5. The tighter the differential, the later the apex. Locked differentials have the latest apex, open differentials have the earliest. Again, based on understeer.
6. Steering unwind happens as you add throttle, not at the apex, as is commonly misunderstood.
7. Do the most work before the apex.
8. The exit should feel like you have no choice but to track out, under normal throttle application and steering unwind.
9. There is always a varying degree of steering angle hold in the middle of the corner.
10. On a new track, or with a new car, apex much later than you plan to at first. It's easier to fix a late apex than it is an early apex.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

(82) The first of many

Yes, yes, yes! I WON! My first win! Oh man, I needed that!

Okay, story time.

During the first practice session, I half-spun coming out of the pits. I really hate cold tires. The rest of the practices went fairly well, but I had to run way out into the marbles to avoid a spun kart and nearly understeered straight off the track. It felt like I was going through gravel.

In qualifying I thought I did quite well. But, I ended up off pole by a tenth with a 54.709.

The race start was fast. We started by going into the sweeper, which is a 50 MPH corner. I was forced to the outside and lost a bit of ground to my rival, who started in first. He gained more ground through the next couple of corners, then I managed to stop losing ground and started gaining very gradually.

The start. Go go go! I'm on the outside front row.

I finally got within range around lap 5, and started work. It was intense because where I was fast, he was slow, and where I was slow, he was fast. I was gaining coming out of the tic-tac-toe (right left right) complex and outbraking him heavily into Sand. (I bumped him there once, sorry man!) Meanwhile, he would pull me going into Kramer (after the sweeper), and through the two back-to-back hairpins.

He had a bobble coming out of tic-tac-toe and I managed to gain a huge amount, but he looked back, saw me there, and ran a defensive line. I tried to stick to the outside but there wasn't enough room.

Then I bided my time, rubbing my brake to stay at the perfect range. I tried a move going into the no-name hairpin but I went slightly too deep and he re-passed me.

Then, I had a really fantastic run out of tic-tac-toe and punched it down the inside at the end of lap 8. I led for 5 laps with only a nosecone showing from my rival. Then, we hit lap traffic. I got around just fine, and so did my rival, but the very next corner he overcooked his braking zone and pulled an "Evans", sliding wide, half-spinning and stalling the kart. Since this was behind me, I had no idea he'd dropped out.

Leading the race.

However, 3rd place was now in second and I kept looking back to see where he was. He was close, close enough to beeze by if I made a mistake. So I didn't. I held that pace and won the race by 1.2 seconds.

Now look at this. These are the fastest lap times of the race:

First (me): 54.713
2nd: 54.771
3rd: 54.771
My rival (7th): 54.703 (fastest of race)

Seven hundredths separating the front four karts, and two setting the exact same laptime. That's some close competition right there.

Now I'll stop boring you and you can go watch the video.

Round 6. Watch the cooldown lap for my celebration.

What a race. I needed that so badly. I've gained a lot of ground in the championship and I have my second wind. Also, my neck hurts.

But most importantly, I GOT MY FIRST WIN!!! And a medal.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

(81) Practice makes perfect

Practice for round 6 went well today. We're running the Sprint track in the normal direction this time. I think this is the first time I've seen the ProKart guys run this track.

My best time was a 54.8 and I was the fastest guy there today. My main rival has had to cut his track time for budget reasons, and he's never driven this track so I'll have an edge on Saturday.

Overall I focused on trying to get smoother with the wheel and rely less on my hands and more on my feet. The less steering you use the faster you go. In theory, if you could drive the track without touching the wheel it would be as fast as the car could go, but that's humanly impossible so you have to get as close as possible to that. The steering wheel is just a fancy brake, remember.

At the level I'm at right now, the differences between which is the accepted control for what gets more mixed together. It's harder to tell what will help you or hurt you. For instance, if I'm doing 50% of my steering with my brake release, and 50% of the steering with the wheel, then what's causing me to lose speed when entering corner x? Is it my brake release or my steering? So things take longer to figure out and it requires even more trial and error.

I'll get it sorted by Saturday, I'm sure. I keep studying my onboard footage and doing mental laps of the track.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

(80) F1 is IF spelled backwards

What an, um, interesting time in F1 we've had over the past few days. I'll summarize:

FIA: You will be summoned to hear your destiny!


FIA: 'Kay.

I think I've done that rather well, if I don't say so myself.

The long version is that basically the FIA, or Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (hereafter reffered to as "The Establishment"), forgot that the world does not revolve around them, and made various decrees about the 2010 rules without really consulting the people they would be affecting. As a result, the FOTA, or Formula One Teams Association (hereafter referred to as "The People"), got mightily pissed at The Establishment and threatened to break away and form their own top-dog Formula. The People and The Establishment bickered via press statements and interviews, pointlessly, for a while until finally, today, they met face to face and the FIA agreed to make some concessions (FOTA probably made some, too). The bottom line is that the 2009 rules will hold, possibly with slight modification, for 2010.

What does the Gato think about this?

Retardation. Whoever's to blame, I don't care. The whole situation is stupid and childlike and frankly is a complete discrace to this sport. The FIA was willing to sit down and negotiate and it is highly in question whether it actually had any effect on the outcome. FOTA did not need to make it's "intentions" public when they did, if even voice them at all. A complete over-reaction.

And you think I'm taking the FIA's side, don't you? Quite the contrary. The FIA made a very stupid (yes, stupid, as in unable to learn) decision to simply decree and mandate, and look what it got them: nothing. If anything it caused harm to the reputation of this sport. I need to give them credit, however, for resolving this situation in a most anticlimactic fashion. We're back to square one now, if a little more doubtful than before.

Now, I hope both parties have learned from this, but I wouldn't count on it. The whole thing was and is simply dumb and further illustrates my disgust for much of what happens off the track in Formula 1.

Now, on to something more relevant.

Now that Formula 1 is back together again, so is our karting championship. The school realized how odd and confusing it would be to run 2 championships based on weight, which is based on an average system, especially with smaller groups. There would be too many people shifting back and forth and it would be a mess. So, both groups will share the same championship.

I know that sounds really pretty silly, but really it's the best way to do it. We run two groups so that we get the most track time, and since both groups are flexible, we can't run two championships. The best way to do it would be to run 1 group, but that's not the way the school wants to do it so this is the best way.

So, as a result, I'm 4th in the championship, 108 points behind the leader. I need to start winning if I'm going to get a podium in the championship.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

(79) Stalled

I'm going to keep it a little bit short this time.

That was an incredible race. I qualified 3rd. I was set to get pole but I pushed too hard in qualifying. There were 8 lead changes during the race and we were really going at it. I can't type out everything that happened, that would take days, so you'd better just watch the onboard.

Round 5 helmet cam footage.

When I stalled, I tried to restart it but the starters are sensitive and only require a small amount of throttle (otherwise you flood the engine and it stalls again). Since I was desperate, I couldn't get it restarted quickly. Luckily Jeff, one of the coaches, was out there watching and ran over to help me. That was a pretty rookie mistake, really.

I set fastest lap during the race and led 6 laps (cumulative). That's the first time I've led a race for more than 2 corners!

I learned a lot about scrapping and racing even though I finished 6th, but that's why I'm here - to learn, without it affecting a professional career.

After the race, Jeff said to me "keep racing like that and your time will come". I'll try to do the same thing next race, I'll just win this next time!

At the end of the day Townsend Bell (IndyCar driver) had a seminar for the Russell students. He had a lot of interesting things to say about sponsorship. It was very enlightening.

I'm bummed that I didn't finish well, but I learned a lot and broke some personal walls. And that's why I'm here.

Now I'm off to watch the 24 hours of Le Mans on my DVR!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

(78) Mr. Consistency

I think I made some improvements today. Bumped up the consistency a little bit. Got within a couple hundredths of previous laps and pretty much kept it there, within about a tenth or two most of the time. Fastest lap was a 56.1.

My rival wasn't there today. That's good, because I'm good at this track and I think I've got a major edge over him for Saturday. I want to win so bad, I can taste AND smell it. It smells like a pencil eraser. It tastes like chicken, of course.

I think this is the one that's gonna be my first win.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

(77) Midway

The 5th race of the 2009 season is next weekend, the same day as Le Mans starts. I wonder how many races world wide will be happening on June 13th? I wonder if the Le Mans weekend plays witness to more races, or less races than other weekends? I'll probably never find out.

I do know that next weekend we'll be back with the NorCal ProKart guys, since last race (our double-header) was without them. It's cool to be there with all the people and the excitement and to see the tents as you go down the front straight and to watch the great driving, but by the same token we get to drive twice as much when they're not here. I'm not sure which I like better. Actually, that's a lie. I like driving.

As it stands now, in the mid-season, I'm 2nd in the championship behind my main rival. The standings may have a few errors, simply because of the classification re-shuffle after the two first rounds. Last year we did a singular championship with both groups running separate races, so this way is a little more consistent but smaller championships for each side: (I'm only putting the first 6 drivers)

A Group (light group)
1st: 730 pts
2nd (me) 680 pts
3rd: 630 pts
4th: 600 pts
5th: 582 pts
6th: 580 pts

The points structure we use goes like this:

1st: 200
2nd: 180
3rd: 170
4th: 160
5th: 150
6th: 142
7th: 134
8th: 126
9th: 118
10th: 110

All the way down to 40th at 19 points. So every position gets points.

Mathematically speaking, I'm going to have to win 3 races in a row to gain 1st place assuming my rival finishes 2nd every time. If the only finishing places we're talking about are 1st and 2nd, then my rival can lock me out if he wins 2 more races, but anything's possible. I'm not sure if we're dropping 1 race this year or not, I'll check this Thursday. If so, then it gets too complicated and not worth doing the math. Just finish as high as you can!

I really want to get that first win. I should have had it last race(s), but the two guest drivers thew a curve ball to those plans. Still, if we don't have any more talent come into the series, I'm positive I can get around my rival.

Well, see you Thursday or maybe Friday.