Monday, July 4, 2011

Catching up on the 2 Laguna Seca races - Memorial Day Race

I haven't had much time to post lately so my apologies.  We had 2 races at Laguna Seca within 3 weeks of each other.  Balancing a challenging job, family and prepping for the next race apparently was more time consuming than I expected.  Prior to these 2 races, we have been on average once a month schedule.  Once a month is easier to manage at this stage of my life.  More than once a month, while totally enjoyable, takes more time and effort than I have available.  The cost of 2 events on the same month is also a challenge but I'll leave that topic for a different post. :)

Memorial Day race @ Laguna Seca
Recapping the Memorial Day race at Laguna Seca - It was a total blast as expected.

Preparation - I had only been to Laguna Seca once before in my street car (1993 RX7) so I really don't know the track very well.  I had tried to prep by watching video to learn the line.  Watching video is an OK prep but the reality is that video doesn't do the track justice.  There is a lot of elevation changes which affect your braking points and how much speed you want to try and carry through the turns.

Coaching - As part of SCCA membership, you have access to the Racing Driver's Club.  This is essentially a mentoring program where they pair you up with a more experienced racer that you can ask questions to and they can give you input and coaching.  It is free to rookie drivers in the first season like me. :)  I spoke with my coach throughout the weekend and got great tips each time.

The car was reliable as expected. Gotta love Miatas. :)

So my first time out for practice session at Laguna, I felt lost out there.  I was supposed to go out with my mentor and do some lead follow exercises but I was late getting to grid and he had left already.  So I went out on track and realized just how lacking video was as preparation.  I slowly gained some confidence with the corners, identifying braking points, turn in points and exit points.

This first practice session, I also struggled with tires that just did not feel like they were gripping.  If you have read one of my first posts about SCCA Driver's School, you would realize that I had this problem before... The ambient temps on track were pretty cold that first morning and either I didn't start out with correct tire pressures or I was driving hard enough to get the tires up to temp and pressure.  Probably both.  Toyo RA1 like to be run in the 38-40lbs range depending on shave.

Lesson Learned: Tire Pressures, Tire Pressures, Tire Pressures!
It really is amazing just how important tire temps are.  It would have been helpful to have known what temps to start the tires out that morning but I had never been to the track and didn't have any setup notes and didn't think to ask my fellow racers for advice.

Anyway, I figured out the temp issue after the session when I checked my tire temps.  They ranged from 36.5 - 37.5 all around.  It didn't help my confidence though.  I was not feeling particularly confident about myself after this practice session.  Confidence is important - both in the car and in your own abilities.

Qualifying - I checked and adjusted tire pressures (adding 1.5 or so to some tires) before the next time out which was a qualifying event.  That one went much better.  The ambient temps had increased  tires felt like grippy and the car felt good again.  It did push in turn 2 at the end of the main straight and also in turn 11 coming onto the main straight but I did what I could to drive around this - more on this later in this post...

I don't remember exactly where I qualified but it was toward the back and around my fellow class of 2011 racers.  You can see the action in the video I posted.  Regardless of what the video shows, I loved every second of it.  :)  I got a slight tap on turn 11 toward the end of the race when the P1 and P2 drivers caught up with me but no big deal.

The one thing that surprised me was how much quicker the leaders caught up and lapped the back of the pack at Laguna Seca.  In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise really since Laguna Seca is a much shorter track than Thunderhill but I'm a rookie so it was...  At Thunderhill, I can get to the last lap of the race w/o being lapped.  At Laguna, b/c it is a shorter track, the leaders start making their way through at the mid point of the race.  I spent a lot more time driving my mirrors and that caused some mistakes on my end.  I'm still compromising my race so that I can let the race leaders through w/o incident.

Lesson Learned: The importance of Race Craft
I learned another big lesson this weekend.  Race craft is very important.  Although I don't have video of Saturday, I was stuck behind a slower driver with a faster car.  He was renting a well prepared car with a "pro" motor.  The car had a ton of power on me.  I could pass him on certain turns but he would just put the throttle down and motor on by me like I was standing still.  I'm basically running a low mileage (90k) motor from a 91 Miata.  I'm still running the stock exhaust and cat for that matter also.  I'm very unprepared compared to other cars.

You can probably see myself and my fellow rookie racers in the Yellow/Orange Larry Oka rental car driven by Austin and the Sharpie car owned by my buddy Brandon.  Austin was able to force the green car with the Union Jack hardtop into a mistake on turn 11 and the three of us barely managed to get through.  You can see how strong the motor in that car is by the fact that he was able to pace us all the way down the straight even though we passed him at turn 11.  Simply amazing.

I need to start learning Race Craft and how set people up for a pass.  I guess that's progress. :)

All in all, we had a great time racing and everybody went home with cars in one piece - which is more than we can say about the next race....  Read on....

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