I arrived for Tech
Inspection the night before and noticed another VR-4. Hooray. This was a
bone stock circa 1993 VR-4 with a father and son team driving it. There was
supposed to be an Instructor with a well-modified VR-4, but I think he was
helping to run the event so he was not able to drive. It was strange to
have one of the cheapest cars in the lot for a change. Brand new Carrera 4
cars, 911s, 944s, RS Americas, etc. Verrrrrry nice cars. I was happy to be
among them. Of course they look nice in the lot but how do they run on the
track? The next two days were the best driving weather of the year: clear,
sunny, mid-60s, and no rain. I got to the track, swapped out the Porsche
pads for the Pagid Orange (Brad's Big Red setup), swapped to the 17" wheels
and Yokohama Advan 032R tires, bled the brakes, and I was ready to go. So
off I went ... to the classroom. Since this is a DE they teach safety,
safety, safety and many basic skills in the classroom, such as, in a spin, push
both feet in (clutch and brake), if you have a manual or brake in a straight
line since the tire can only do 100% of anything. (100% deceleration means no
turning allowed or else you lose some braking power). Good stuff. I had
already read the book Going Faster by the Skip Barber Series, so I had a few
skills already learned.
Now it is off to the track for the first of seven on-track runs of about 20
minutes (a little over 200 track miles in two days for seven run sessions).
I met my instructor, who I already knew, and he knew a little about my car.
That was where the similarity stopped. He was a very excellent instructor
even though he drives a FWD Honda Civic. He appreciated the fact that I had
Big Reds, a rollbar, and 5-point harnesses. They helped mucho. I purchased
a commercial video from Mid-Ohio about their track (driven in an Acura NSX),
so I was trying to remember all I could as well as listen to him, give
instruction in my ear at the same time, concentrate on the track, try not to
hit the $140,000+ Porsche on the track, etc. I loved all the input my brain
was getting. Laps 1 and 2 were taken slow to learn the course. Laps 3 and
on we were on the move and pushing hard.
Stock suspension did not help in
some twisty bits but the Big Reds were a surprise to both of us. I had not
truly tested them before. They had new cryo-treated front rotors, new Pagid
Orange pads, new (cheap) brake fluid, new SS lines, and the calipers were
only a month old. Thanks to Rich I knew I could hammer them all weekend
without fear of losing any braking. Down the backstretch of Mid-Ohio it
goes downhill so that helps to increase speed. There are cones for 300
feet, 200, 100, and turn-in that stayed up all weekend. (The other "helper"
cones were removed on Saturday, but because the backstretch was so dangerous
at high speeds they left up these cones). We initially started braking at
400 feet from 100 mph. Then 300 feet at 100 mph, then 250 feet. Still had
plenty of room to spare. I knew that my speed at the end depended on a good
launch into the backstretch. Since I was in the "D" run group (I for
Instructor is highest, A is highest student class, then B, C, and D) I had
some other beginners in my group. They were slow, but some of them were
also driving dad's brand new $80k Porsche. Some were driving a 25-year old
911. I didn't think all of them would be fast, so I didn't mind the traffic.
It let me slow down and learn the turns. However, launching out of the
ever-famous Keyhole let me downshift to second, (no heel-and-toe yet), and
rocket onto the backstretch. I was able to attain 120 mph in 4th gear down
the back before braking HARD at the 300 foot mark. Talk about a rush. It
looks like you are going to shoot off the road as it takes a hard 90-degree
right, but you have to keep braking, brake, brake, brake, TURN! The
instructor has told me to turn in late on all the turns and that will help.
Boy was he right. Turn early and you end up squirming all over the track.
Turn late is the key here. Wow those Big Reds grab. And the pads aren't
even warmed up yet, either. One more lap of thrills and the first session is
over. Enough for me to know the Big Reds work, but also to know that my car
is slow out of turns unless I keep the turbos spooled.
Back to the garage to check the brake fluid level, oil level, pads, tires,
etc. Perfect. Now off to class again. Back to the track (adjusting tire
pressures from John Christian (MAJOR thanks, John), and getting some advice
on turns from him since he drives a first gen Stealth TT, but it is in the
shop for the time being). More fun this time. More time spent at higher
speeds. More time hearing the tires squeal and talk to me. What a blast.
My friend (who signed me up) was the smoothest driver in our group in his
1991 Honda Prelude Si as he has had a DE before. I was the fastest car in
This is not a race, mind you, but as my times dropped I noticed I
was getting smoother and more comfortable with the car on the track.
Fastest time in the second run was a 2:03 (with some traffic).
Chat with more people. Look at the nice cars. Video some of the other run
groups. Just a nice day at the track. Other nice cars that were there were
a Lotus Elise, Dodge Viper, Caterham Super 7, Porsche race car (unknown
model), Audi S4, and then the slew of nice Porsches just littered
Back to class. Back to the track. Third run session now. Fastest time was
a 1:59 (almost no traffic). I found that I was able to hit the corners at 5
mph higher speed by launching out of the corners in second gear instead of
trying to maintain momentum in third. My instructor kept telling me to turn
tighter but I was already flooring it in third. So I backed it down to
second and could then modulate the throttle in a turn. Much more control
that way. Oh, and that 4-cyl Lotus Elise was going just as fast as the V-10
Dodge Viper. They ran well together. And that authentic Porsche race car
had a brand new engine and/or tranny and they were testing it out. He was
turning about a 1:43 ... WITH traffic ... and not even pushing it hard yet.
The day ended, drive to the hotel, have dinner, chat and tell stories, hit
the sack, back to the track in the morning. After my fourth run, my
instructor passed me off allowing me to run solo for the rest of the day
(three more runs). He said he had been watching and evaluating me the past
couple of runs and felt I was ready to take it on my own. I did. Near the
end of the run I saw a nice little black Porsche 944 in front of me. I
wanted to catch him before the front stretch. I came over the hill and was
gaining on him. I crested the next hill and thought, "Where did he go
already?" By the time I had finished the thought I realized that I had
missed my braking zone.
This was going in to Turn 11 which is an off-camber (sloping left) turn to
the right. Oops. I brake hard and in a straight line and run out of road,
put two wheels in the gravel trap, turn the wheel, get three wheels in the
trap, bump down to second and let the AWD pull me out. Darn. Brain fade.
That was stupid of me. I did not concentrate. I watched the corner workers
but they did nothing. The next lap around I got the black flag. Heh.
Oops. By the way, the black flag is to bring you in and make sure
everything is still attached to the car and that you are not dropping stones
all over the track.
I found that I did not brake as hard and as late when my instructor was not
with me. No biggie. I was still able to drive the car home. This was my
first event and I was still getting used to everything. The second day
ended as we packed our cars and then the rain started to fall. Perfect
timing and a great weekend. Another DE is the end of May at Watkins Glen in
lower NY. I can't wait.
I'm sure I missed something so give a holler. I can't possibly fit
everything here. It is just an experience to be there and I hope
everyone someday gets to attend a driving school at a real track like this.
Safety is the biggest key. This was not a speed event, but a controlled
driving school. I learned lots more about the car than I knew before. When
I was on my own, I tried some more tricks like heel-and-toe, braking while
still on the throttle (to keep the turbos spooled up), etc. Not enough to
be comfortable with but I learned more than I can practice on the street.
Like shifting into second at 60 mph you should NOT let out the clutch while
in the turn. It's amazing how much the car will lurch on you. Just like
Merritt always says, "Brake, downshift, turn-in, apply some throttle, clip
the apex, apply more throttle, turn-out, upshift." Some cases this meant
being at full throttle at the apex and others it did not. I did not have
the race seat installed in time and did not bleed through the Motul 600
racing brake fluid but these will be in place for the next event. The
harnesses worked great. At one very hard braking zone on the back stretch, I
pitched the nose so hard forward, hit the brakes so hard, that either a
wheel locked up or the rear end just got so light that it drifted. Nothing
like having the back end get squirrelly at 105 mph with your instructor in
the car. I learned after that how hard and how fast I could apply the
brakes and still maintain control. Just learning how the brakes work was
worth the price of admission.
--- Darren Schilberg "Flash", 1995 Black VR-4
Big Reds, Autopower rollbar, Sparco Evo race seat,
Simpson 5-point harnesses, Pirelli P-Zeros, Goodridge SS lines, Magnecor
KV85 wires, and a custom spark plug plate