Learning is the attraction. I’ve never been one for classrooms, but always had a thirst for knowledge – a horrific dichotomy for anyone growing up in the dystopian school system of the 70’s and 80’s. ‘Dynamic Classrooms’ are the only way I seem to learn anything, and became autodidact as a result. Sometimes the results are dramatic, other times you really don’t know you learned anything until a few days (or weeks) later. Such is the motivation for this post, so here are the deliverables from my past 2 seasons in Time Attack.
1) Know your car, Ask questions, more power is not the answer. I ran a few events my first year and really had to learn the car. It’s a daunting proposition when you want to make immediate changes, but being able to learn the car only comes from seat time and changes to the car will be less than effective without that intimate knowledge of how your car reacts. Ask yourself questions, was it understeering on entry or exit? Or both? Was it my line, the track conditions or the car? Was I trail-braking there? There is a lot going on and training yourself to address a single component is critical to eliminating variables. It takes time, iron out your car and your line before you make any changes. Make changes 1 at a time or you will never know if it worked. ASK QUESTIONS!! There are so many people who want to help you, so let them – but they don’t know unless you ask! I am super grateful to Wayne S for taking time to talk with me and show me his in car footage to explain lines and track-out options that really worked for me. I’ve been around race tracks and race cars my entire life. I’ve taken schools and built my knowledge base from some world class instructors – but the most important lesson I’ve ever learned is to never be afraid to ask for help. I continue to learn because I still have questions. The Gimli track fosters a family environment, be a part of it.
2) Aero is Good! After much research and learning, really trying to understand the physics of how and what works on what type of car, I embarked on a journey in search of downforce! One of the things I really like about Time Attack is the relative freedom to modify your car in this manner. After designing a splitter, I thought I’d have it ready in short order “it seems simple enough” I thought, until I started to build it – so part B for this point is “its always more complicated than you think”. There’s doing something, then there’s doing something right. My favorite saying is “Cheap, Fast, Reliable – Choose 2”. Most want Fast and Reliable, you don’t get Cheap with that option. So then it becomes an exercise in patience, but the results are better. It took a year to get the splitter on the car doing it all myself, it took a little longer for the wing, but I am happy with the results. Patience is a virtue, but also a key element of success.
3) Brakes are Grrreat! After trying to ‘drive around’ a braking problem that turned out to be inherent to the cars suspension geometry, I went through an interesting learning curve that proved you are never too experienced to make a simple mistake. My Dad always taught me “measure twice, cut once” while this may seem simple in theory, errors can occur in the name of deadlines. It’s imperative to free yourself of deadlines when working on your car – this requires planning. Your hobby/race car is supposed to fun, relaxing (I can hear the murmuring already lol) and fulfilling, getting that “I did it” sense of accomplishment. Part B to this point is “remove the wrong parts that look like the right parts from your work area…” fasteners are an example; metric vs imperial, spark plugs - segregate what you need to avoid errors - espcially when you have multiple vehicles you maintain. Brake pad compound selection has a lot bigger effect than I thought. And I was able to effectively alter front/rear brake bias with pad selection, I was elated to get on the binders for the first time in 2 years and not have the back end bounce all over the track. Just to emphasize the importance of knowing your car (see point 1) in relation to braking, one event I went to had a simple caveat prior to event entry “if you can’t tell us what brake fluid and brake pads are on your car, you won’t be admitted on the track”. Take that to heart.
4) “It’s just bodywork”. This has been the summer of bodywork for me, or maybe just “losing stuff that was supposed to be attached to the car” lol! From the hood flying up exiting turn 9 causing an embarrassing red flag (and an even scarier look from the Steward!!), to losing my transponder (yet another awkward moment), to shattering my hatch while trying to install the wing (more disappointing than awkward lol). Remember the point about never being to experienced to make a simple mistake? It happens all the time. I forgot the hood pins in a rush to get on grid and the hood flew up at 109kmh. The transponder was held on with one zip tie, that wasn’t enough. The hole location to mount the wing turned out to be .020” overlapping the edge of the hatch glass – poof! All over the place in a million pieces in the blink of an eye. The bigger picture is that of how do you react in the face of adversity? Or better yet, Who is around you? I am grateful for Al M. When my hood flew off, I was ready to put it on the trailer and go home. Al was the first guy in my face telling me “it’s all good, no problems, its just bodywork – get back on the track”. This is absolutely critical. He was right, and I followed his advice. Same for Mat L – I lost the transponder, he ran up and gave me his personal transponder to use and put it on the car (with 2 zip ties, I noted…). Then he and Al both spent their own time searching for that lost transponder – a bigger ‘Thank You’ can not be said. Maybe part B for this point should be “Lean on Me”…Remember what I said about family?
5) Cold and Wet. I have raced in the wet, I have raced in the cold – racing in the cold AND wet is an entirely different animal. Typically I like the September races because they yield the best lap times, the formula for fast lap times is cool pavement and hot tires. For a wet set up I always bump up tire pressure and if possible, narrow rear track width (this is RWD, no idea about you modern cars lol). The wet driving style changes as well. Trail braking in the wet is historically a bad idea, so I try to do all my braking in a straight line, and while all this will help, nothing will help the fact that I can’t get ANY temp in the slick tires in a wet, 2 degree track in 5 laps LOL! Then add in that BEAUTIFUL new pavement and it’s like a switch when transitioning from that to the old surface – treacherous at best!! The only thing I can take solace in is that it’s the same day and same track for everybody, I was not alone! …but those AWD cars are fast right away in this stuff, not fair LOL!!
So, at the end of this I look back at this season and have nothing but thanks and gratitude for those I am lucky enough to share the track with a few weekends each summer. Perhaps this could also be a ‘WIF’ or “What I Forgot” post. Because its accurate that many of us take things for granted. I forgot to ask questions earlier, I forgot that I need help despite my best plans to avoid it. I forgot that I need time alone and that I need time with friends. We call it Racing, we say it’s about going faster, I call it learning and it’s about whatever you put into it. Roger Penske’s formula for success is Effort = Results, many people put in effort to make my season successful, the results are that I’m going to keep coming back and pay it forward to the best of my ability, so that I can help more people have a successful season at the track as well. I hope this post is the start of that.