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Rich Merritt:  Road America, October, 2000
BMW Club Driver School, Elkhart Lake, WI

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What are the three most dangerous things in the world?


1.  A jewish commando with an Uzi machinegun.


2.  A mugger with a straight razor.


3.  A doctor in a brand new M3.

The doctors and internet millionaires are keeping my record alive.  At 5 of the 6 open track/driver school events I've attended, someone stuffed an M3 during the event.  At Road America this weekend, the Badger Bimmers staged an event where at least three cars bit the wall including - you guessed it - another M3.

It was bitterly cold.  We bundled up in layers as the snowflakes flew, and still had to drive with the windows down.  It took several laps just to get heat into the tires.  At 3:00 pm on Saturday, as we were getting ready for the final session, ice and snow were gathering in the tree-covered corners, so they ended the day.  Next morning was equally cold, but partially sunny and no snow.  It warmed up to just damned cold on Sunday, and we got in all four sessions.

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The BMW Club really believes this stuff is a SCHOOL, fer Pete's sake, and they make us attend classroom sessions (where they take attendance!) and then do exercises in the paddock (braking, skid pads, autocrosses, etc).

I guess they don't understand that most of us old farts with hot cars just want to go out there and drive fast - like at Porsche club events, where we get FIVE sessions a day and no classrooms.  I regard the autocross exercises as a waste of tires for more experienced drivers (I quit running SCCA autocrosses long ago), but very useful for novice drivers.

All seriousness aside (who said that? Let's see how old YOU are), the classroom sessions are very informative.  We had a dude who has been racing since 19-ought-49, still wins SCCA races in his D/SR, and sounds like Floyd on Hee-Haw, but who knows every inch of Road America along with every old racing joke in the book.  He was a hoot!  Knew his stuff, too.  It's great to go into the classroom after a session, ask "Floyd" to diagram a corner, and talk us through the proper line.

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For example, I had a problem at Canada Corner in selecting the proper gears - if I shifted down to 2nd for the turn in, I was at 7200 rpm before corner out, and had to shift up whilst still in the corner.  But if I entered in 3rd, I had to carry a lot of speed into the turn, taking it to the rumble strips on corner out, while the gravel pit beyond beckoned like the Sirens.  Floyd and the classroom group decided that I should try it both ways, and check my exit speed as I completed 13-- the theory being that the exit speed two corners later would be a good indication of what the fastest speed through the three linked corners was.

Good plan.  And if I had gotten any unobstructed or noncompetitive laps, I woulda tried it.  Alas, half the time I came to Canada Corner it was behind a slower car.  The other half of the time, I had a fire-breathing Cobra R or an M3 on my tail, so I never got a chance to try the theory.

OK, I know what you're thinking: "Why didn't you just let those cars go by?"  Because I had passed them originally.

It seems like I could catch these guys easily.  I'd run them down somewhere on track, and they would dutifully point me by as soon as I appeared in their mirrors.  Next thing, they are all over me!  Holy mackeral!  Where'd all that speed come from?  I had some tremendous dices with these guys, one per session.  First the Cobra R, then a black M3 from someplace racing with a roll cage, and then a blue M3, driven by a guy who will be an instructor next year.  Man, it's like the sight of a black Mitsubishi going by lights their fire or something!

I have scorned M3s and Cobras in my posts in the past, but let me amend those comments.  An M3 or a Cobra, when driven by someone who knows what he is doing, is ferociously fast!  I could not believe that these guys were hanging with me.  We Stealth & Mitsu drivers are not accustomed to seeing lesser cars in our mirrors.

But I got 'em!  I learned that by shifting down to 2nd at 5 and at Canada Corner (throwing out the anchor, my buddy Jeff Lacina calls it), I could force them to brake a little harder at corner entry.  Then, with the AWD and the turbos screaming, I could pull away under sheer acceleration.  I ate them alive from 5 to 6 up the hill, then from 7 to 8 (a flat out, early apex righthander taken at about 80 mph), so I'd gain 50-100 yards or so by the time we hit the Kink.  I limit myself to 90 through the Kink (and they don't, being better drivers), so by Canada Corner, all three would be up on me again under braking.  I 'd throw out the anchor and gain it all back from there to 14 and onto the front straight.  The Cobra R would catch me up by the time we got to 1 (that is one fast sumbitch!), while the M3s would stay with me.  I'd get 'em through 3, but they would all catch up under braking at 5.  My car brakes OK, but it's still a 3800-lb car, whilst the M3 and the R are 3200 lb, so they brake much better than I can.

Note: I woulda let any of those three cars by if they had showed any indication they want to pass - like flashing headlights or pulling into the passing lane.  The black M3 could have gotten me if he really wanted to (he said he closed up on me every now and then just to show me he could), and the R could have gotten me with sheer top end if he had been close enough on any of the corners leading onto a straight - but they all seemed content to just sit back there and scare the beejeesus out of me.

I'll tell ya, it's really something to come screaming downhill into 5 at 125 mph with an M3 or a Cobra R on yer ass, bang on the binders, and hope the guy behind still has brakes!  I hit 125 at three places - 1, 5 and Canada Corner - and always with one of those three cars in my mirrors.  I gotta get a boost controller if I am going to run with these kinds of fast dudes!

Afterward, it was cool to go shake hands and congratulate each other on a good run.  It turns out that the black M3 was carrying a video camera and recorded our entire session, and he'll send me a copy.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  We're not supposed to be racing out there.  But I learned as much from dicing with those guys as I did from my instructor.  Of course, it was my instructor, Jeff Whyte, who showed me the correct lines and smoothed out my transitions, making it possible to stay with those three fast cars.

But "Floyd" and the classroom group showed me something really cool, too, which I would not have tried without an M3 on my butt.  It seems there is an access road intersection at the exit of 13, after the bridge.  Floyd showed it to us on a diagram, illustrating where the rumble strips are, with the access road just beyond.  The group discussed how you could use that little section if you came out of 13 too hot.  So, at one point, with one of the M3s so close we could breed the two cars, I screamed out of 13, crossed the rumble strips at corner out, and used the access road to gain another 6 ft of road.  This let me keep the power on for a launch toward 14, while the M3 lifted to avoid the rumble strips.  I musta gained 50 yards with that maneuver, thanks to the class.

What a weekend!  Way to go, Badger Bimmers.  I'll be back next year.  With studded snow tires this time.

---  Rich/old poop/94 VR4 (Rich Merritt)
1994 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 Twin Turbo
Ground Control/Eibachs, camber plates, lowered,
Kuhmos, Porsche brakes, SS lines, Hawk Blues,
water injection to rotors.  Stock engine.

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