2011-11-14

The digit counters fall

These have been some very track-loaded three weeks for me. I spent two days at Infineon last weekend of October and then two days at Thunderhill in the middle of the week right after that. Following that, another Infineon outing with NASA, and one last hurrah is happening at Laguna before the month is over.

The October event at Infineon has brought me a nice breakthrough, which allowed me to shave off full seven seconds from my previous personal best. I was full of anticipation, and a little bit of anxiety going to Thunderhill a couple days later, unsure whether my improvement was sustainable or just a fluke.

This here is a video from around noon on day One, where I was still working on pace. My data logger decided to not log the morning sessions, so I turned on the camera to have at least some way of timing my laps.

The logger agreed to work in the afternoon, so J. and I had some data to crunch in the evening and came up with a plan of attack for the next day. I made some notes in my track journal, and went to work in the morning. When we got back to the motel in the evening, I was astonished at how effective our plan was. I knocked off many more seconds from my lap times, finishing the two days with a very respectable 2:13 lap over the bypass.

What did I change in comparison to the day before?

  • Getting on the gas sooner (much sooner in 9, which resulted in me carrying 75 mph at the top of the hill instead of 60 before that)
  • Cleaning up and tightening Turn 14/15 which allowed me to be flat through most of the turn, and not just half of it
  • Working on the fear in 1 and carrying additional 5 mph through there
  • Later and less braking for Turn 2, flat on the gas very quickly, topping out of 3rd by the brake point for Turn 3
  • Faster transition to the left in Turn 4 (over bypass)
  • Finally overcoming the fear and not lifting for Turn 8
  • Moved from lazy shifts to quicker shifts (saving me at least 1 second over the whole course)

So what's next?

Next, I have an interesting challenge to solve. Now that I am no longer the slowest car on the track, I have trouble passing people who are not being too cooperative, such as powerful cars that motor me on every straight, yet hold me up in the very first corner. While it may have been very frustrating at the time, once I had some time to think about it in the paddock, it became clear that it is my problem to solve. I need to learn to pass in turns, and not have to rely on people lifting for me on straights.

How do I do that? Well, for starters I registered for the Art of Road Racing workshop at Thunderhill in January, where we will spend a lot of time working on passing and other race craft. I'll let you know how that goes, but let me tell you, I sat through a one-hour "teaser" session the authors gave at Infineon last Saturday and took away a ton of great insights.

A lot of driving relies on your ability to relegate the driving to your unconscious, and repetition is key to that, so another part of the plan is to drive and drive and drive. Stop for fuel and go again.

I have estimated that since I started my track career, I have driven at least 1500 laps around Thunderhill. So it is not surprising that my times there are better in comparison to what others are doing in Spec Miata than at Infineon, where I could have driven fewer than 500 laps so far.

All in all, I am about to finish the season full of enthusiasm and new comfort at the wheel. The goal of going back to racing once I reach a comfortable pace to qualify mid-pack is within reach and I hope to resume racing in the Summer of next year.

Here's to quicker laps!