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Team3S Member Track Report:

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Rich Merritt: Heartland Park, July 23, 2000
BMW Club Driver School, Topeka, KS

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Turn 14

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Thank You, Brad Bedell !!!

Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou

We installed Brad's Big Red calipers (from a Porsche Turbo) with Pagid Black pads and they did the trick. For the first time in two years, I got through an entire race weekend without changing pads! No fade, no nasty burnt brake pad smell, no problems at all. I ran every single session for the first time ever, getting about 210 track miles (9 20 minute sessions, each about 9 laps x 2.5 miles) .

I looked at the pads plenty, even pulled the wheels off 3-4 times to check the pads up close and personal. Toward the end of the weekend, as pad material got embedded in the rotors, they got downright squeaky, noisy, cranky and emitted every bad brake noise you can imagine, but they BYGOD stopped the car!

Thank you Brad! Those calipers are definitely the answer to our brake problems.

A new set of Kumhos worked great, although they wear funny and need a bit more negative camber than the Yoko 032R tires did. We'll crank in 3 deg negative camber before we go out again.

Now for the report from a race weekend at Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas, where they know me well as the lunatic who used to do brake jobs every weekend on the hot asphalt. This gets pretty long and dreary, since it's a brain dump. The essential elements are:

    The brakes work!

    Kumhos work!

    BMWs are no challenge to a VR4!

    There are some VERY fast cars in the upper race groups, and I got spanked up there!

Read on at your peril. Those were the highlights. Everything else is just dreary. :-)

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My instructor, Jeff (slow 'ol farmer dude), laughed as we sat down to play. He does not like our cars -- oh, he likes them just fine, he just doesn't think they are suitable for open tracking. He runs a fire breathing 351 Mustang that will just flat eat my lunch.

(I am copying Jeff on this so he can correct any mistakes on the fine points of driving the track.)

Here's a hot lap of Heartland Park in a VR4. We're running the long course -- about 2.5 miles with 16 turns. I am writing this to show you how a VR4 runs a road course, and to write down my notes before I forget them. I'll save this post for the next time I go back. You are welcome to use it if you go. It oughta give you an idea of how to approach the track. It might help if you print off the map.

Down the front dragstrip straight we hit anywhere from 100 to 120 mph, depending on the launch out of turn 16 and how hard you want to run. A really good launch, 7200 rpm shift points, and waiting until the last possible moment to brake will yield 120 in my car (stock engine VR4). I rarely if ever attempted to do so, because it's so hard on the brakes. (Note: I can see Jack T easily hitting 130-140 here, because we are essentially running a 3/8 mile drag race from a running start. Jack might even reach liftoff velocity here.).

Hard, hard braking and downshift to 2nd for 1, a less-than-90 right (an acute right, to rallyists), then an immediate left at 2. Jeff says to treat Turn 1 as an entry to 2. Just forget taking turn 1, he says. "What you are doing is aiming for the turn in for 2. Get that right, and you'll launch toward 3 and the carousel." So, we take a very late apex into 1, cut way back to the right, and take a late apex for the left into 2. "We're just widening this turn as much as possible," he says. It feels slow when you do it, because what your head wants to do is clip the apex at 1 and drift across the track at an amazing speed, but that's the slow way because then you have to slow and come back all the way to the right.

3/Carousel is a constant radius turn to the left, taken with a late apex in 4th gear and positioning the car very, very high up in the turn. You go way high to avoid the terrible bumps in the middle of the Carousel where my car (and many others) "porpoise" through (bouncebouncebounce.) Although going high is not the fastest line, it's fast enough and preserves the suspension.

Toward the end of the carousel turn, we pinch back down to the inside curb on the left, touch the track out cone, drift out a little to the right, then tuck back to the left in preparation for the entry to 4, a very fast sweeping right that opens up.

Stab the brakes to bring the front down, turn in, then flat all the way through. We're still in 4th at about 80 at the apex. Touch the inner curb at the apex and let the car unwind to the left ("plenty of track there" says Jeff, "use it all"). I can't say how fast it is through there, because the car is on the turbos and accelerating like crazy in 4th gear and the corner station at 5 is coming up dead ahead and the car is drifting left to the track out cone, skittering on the pavement, and I don't want to look down at the speedo because way too much is happening at that point. I'm guessing maybe 110.

The fast line through many of these turns is to stab the brakes, turn in, and nail the throttle way, way before the apex. You accelerate through the apex and then let the car unwind to the track out cone. Lesser cars, such as 911s and RWD cars, sometimes trail brake right up to the apex, then get back on the gas as they clip the apex. With the AWD, we can get on the gas very early, and gobble those guys up. Of course, instructors in lesser cars get power on very early too, but they are much better drivers and go very very fast in spite of their inferior cars.

(Jeff: We 3000-GT owners regard our cars as mechanical marvels that are vastly superior to more mundane vehicles like Mustangs, 911s and M3s).

5 is a 90 deg downhill right. Very, very late apex. Stab the brakes, down to 3rd, turn in, power all the way through, unwind left to the exit, then come back to the right as you go flat down the hill to 6. If you do 4 wrong, you have lots of time to ponder the entry to 5 because you're very slow, and you'll most likely early apex 5. But if you do 4 right, then 5 comes up in a terrible hurry and you have to take a late apex because you are going so dang fast that you just barely have time to brake and downshift, and you get a late apex whether you want it or not (you want it).

(When you are learning 5, the instructor keeps yelling, "waitwaitwaitwait, NOW turn in," as he tries to get you wait for the late apex. But if you get 4 right, all this yelling is unnecessary).

Brake hard for 6 (a very tight, less than 90 deg, uphill left.), shift down to 2nd, late apex, then flat all the way to 8, the esses, like so: Come out of 6, upshift to 3rd, flat out, move to the far right, wait for the late apex for 7 (a sweeping left), turn in without lifting, clip the apex cone on the left and, keeping the throttle nailed, unwind to very outer edge of the track on the right. If I get this corner right (once in a great while), my car has just enough power through here to get a teeny bit of air over the rise and it sets down right next to the edge of the grass. (That is a rush! Alas, I can't find the sweet spot for the turn in point every time). Then continue flat in 3rd, upshift to 4th and hold it until it's time to brake for turn 8 at about 110-115.

Incidently, Heartland Park is all late apex turns, because one turn always leads to another. Screw up the entry to one turn -- say with an early apex -- and it takes 3 or 4 turns before you can get back in the proper rhythm and get the speed back up. One turn in particular that you DO NOT want to early apex is 7, where you are flat in 3rd with the turbos making all the horsepower in the world (remember, that's where Roger always wants us to take hp readings with our G-force meters: 3rd at 6,000 rpm). If you early apex 7, you run out of road, and take a 90 mph ride through the grass, about 50 ft from a concrete barrier (you can see it on the map). Please don't ask me how I know this so vividly.

But I digress...

Hard on the binders for 8, a 90 left that is the beginning of the esses. Stay way right on the straight leading to 8, bang on the brakes, down to 3rd gear then turn in to the left with a late apex. There is a round curb on the inside, and I always tried to bounce the left front tire off the curb. It would bounce about 6 in. into the air, and the whole car would "hop" and settle down perfectly for the next immediate right. From that point to 12, it's flat out, reaching about 110 mph. 9 is a right, 10 is a sweeping left, 11 is a nonturn and 12 is a very very fast 90 left.

At 12, wait until the last possible moment, hard on the brakes momentarily to slow the car, then turn in to the left for a late apex at about 80 in 4th gear (100+ if you are an instructor), flat to the floor after the turn in, clip the curb at the apex, and let the car drift a little to the right, then swing back left about 3/4 across the track, stab the brakes, aim for the curb inside 13 (a right), and stay flat, still in 4th gear. Here, we are essentially straightening out the 12-13-14 series of esses, whilst the 911s and BMWs are making big sweeping turns, going wide right out of 12, swinging way back to the left to enter 13 with a late apex, then late apexing 14 (a downhill left), drifting way right, then tucking back in for 15 at the bottom of the hilll -- like a bunch of drunken sailors, swinging back and forth across the track, left, right, left, right. . Instructors, and folks who have AWD cars (ahem), just slice right across from 12 to 14 in 4th gear, then bang the brakes, downshift to 3rd, and hug the inner curb through 14, a downhill left.

This particular tactic will gain you 50-100 yards on the competition in a heartbeat. One second you are way back and the next moment you are on their butt.

15 is a hard right at the bottom of the hill. Like 1, this is a setup for a more critical turn, 16, a tight left which leads onto the main straight. You want to late apex 15 and, like 1, stay way to the right -- don't drift out to the left, because you'll just have to bring it back to right -- then late apex onto 16 and onto the front straight, and that's one lap of Heartland Park in a VR4.


Exiting Turn 14


Entering Turn 15


Exiting Turn 15

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We lapped virtually everybody in Run Group 3, with three notable exceptions:

    A 485 hp Pantera that went by me like a rocket ship. We held our own in the twisty bits, but he gobbled up real estate on every straight. Following him was great fun. Somebody said that, back home in Texas, that car is called "Torqzilla."

    A 930 turbo with bigger injectors and a bigger turbo, and super exhaust of some kind. He was making about 425 hp he said, and we had a great dice. I stayed ahead, but only barely.

    An older 535i with a supercharger, racing suspension and all the goodies. He said he was making about 450 hp. I passed him on Saturday without even noticing he was there, but I was on empty tanks. I filled up, and went out again for the next session. Now, he was all over me -- the difference was between empty tanks and full tanks, plus he had a different instructor who showed him a better way around. Again, I could stay ahead, and it was great fun running with him.

I don't like getting passed, as you can tell, and it is my downfall. I do all my dumb stupid stuff when I drive with my mirrors. When I am on the track all by myself I can click off fast, consistent laps. But when I get a car in my mirrors -- like if I am short shifting and trying to cool the engine down and somebody starts catching me -- I go nuts. Jeff yelled at me a lot for that. It's a personality disorder of mine.

It's interesting the way drivers will seek out someone with whom they've had a good dice. In my case, I want to know what's in that sucker, because the VR4 gets caught so infrequently (in my run group). It takes either a great driver or a high horsepower car to get by (not because of my driving, but because the VR4 makes so much horsepower that it can pull almost anything down the straights. What a better driver than me maketh up in the twisties, the VR4 taketh back on the straights).

On Sunday afternoon, they merged groups 3 and 4. Run Group 4 was a new experience. Half the cars in that group were instructors, and the other half were drivers with vast experience. I had a great dice staying between two instructors in corvettes, but got blown away quite badly by an instructor in a silver 911.

My instructor, Jeff, drove my car during an instructor track session, and he had no trouble keeping up with those guys, which tells me that the car is very competitive in the right hands. It is clear to me that I have a long way to go, but I made great progress this weekend.

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Kudos to Jeff, my instructor. I learned more this weekend than at any other single event.

Jeff rode with me for several sessions on Saturday, drove my car around in an instructor session, took me for a ride in his Mustang, and then we did a lead-follow exercise, where he led and I followed, then I led and he followed. (That was the greatest, because to the spectators, it looked like I was hounding this bellowing, fire-breathing Mustang, and then next lap I come around LEADING him!. Little did they know that Jeff pointed me by and was only running at about 7/10ths).

I mentioned turn 12 above, the very high speed turn taken in 4th at about 80. I had no idea this was possible -- I had been going through there in 3rd -- but when Jeff took the VR4 through there in 4th gear on his 2nd lap I saw that it was possible. He makes it look so easy.

It's one thing to listen to an instructor, but it's quite another to see it done.

Jeff says way too many students just humor him long enough so he'll get out of the car and let them solo, and too few actually want to learn something. Next time you go, use your instructor to the fullest. They know the way around, and they can help. Let him drive your car, because then you'll see what the car is capable of. Ask your instructor for a ride in his car, and try the lead-follow idea. You are paying for the instruction, so take advantage of it.

A good instructor is kinda like a horse trainer that can walk up to a wild animal and stroke its nose and whisper sweet nothings and the horse instinctively knows that it's in good hands and it settles right down. Your car will know when it's in the hands of a master, and it will behave very well. I've had several instructors drive my car, and they all go smoothly and rapidly and much faster than me, but with no fuss, no muss.

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Not much, but probably expensive. Whilst driving on my mirrors, I early apexed turn 2, ran out of road, and straddled a curb. It smacked the front air dam and ripped off the right side brake duct. Now the air dam won't go down, and the AERO light stays on. I gotta crawl under there and see what I did. I also tore up the valence under the front bumper pretty good.

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We ate ribs on Saturday night, and had a half-slab left over.  We wrapped the ribs in aluminum foil, placed them above the rear turbo heat shield for my 11:35 am session, and ate hot ribs for lunch.  "Turbo Ribs" we called them.  They look mighty tasty, don't they?

YourChef        LunchIsServed

More on the technical issues next time. Still got some problems we gotta address, but the big one -- the brakes -- is solved!

---  Rich/old poop/94 VR4 (Rich Merritt)

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Article 2000-2004 Rich Merritt, All Rights Reserved.
Heartland Park photos 2000-2004 Autographs and Jeff Lacina (slow ol' farmer dude).
Other Images 1995-2004 Bob Forrest, All Rights Reserved.