Saturday, January 28, 2012

Racing at a new track - SCCA @ Infineon

So the next race was Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, CA.  I have only been to this track once before in my street car (RX7).  Infineon is known as a technical track.  It is more challenging and difficult to learn than Laguna Seca or Thunderhill.  There are many and frequent elevation changes.  Most corners are blind (meaning you can't see the apex or exit).  It doesn't even really have a straight.  This track keeps you busy working the car the whole time.

The scariest thing about this track is that it doesn't have any run-off.  If you go off, you are probably going to hit something.  I had just finished fixing my car and was not looking forward to breaking anything else...

How to prep for a new track
I wish I could give you pointers on how to do this but I don't know if I have much to go on.

In preparation for this race at a track that I wasn't familiar with, I watched many Spec Miata videos on YouTube and Vimeo to try and understand braking points, turn in points and see if I could learn this line.  Viewing the videos, made me feel comfortable.  However, once I got out on track, what I had seen in the videos just didn't translate well to what I did on track.

With the large elevation changes at this track and blind apexes, the videos just didn't seem to help me all that much.  I felt totally lost out there.  Next time, I'm going to try and do a test day before attempting to race a track that I've never been to before.

Let's talk tires for a bit.  

This race was at the mid-point of the season and I was still running the original 6/32 shaved Toyo RA1 tires that I had bought at the beginning of the season.  They were wearing surprisingly well.  The outside edges were showing a bit more wear than the inside of the tires.  Some people "flip" tires to get more life out of them.  This involves dismounting the tire and remounting with the inside "flipped" so that it now on the outside.  Being the frugal person that I am, I decided to do this.  I had AIM Tire flip the tires Sat morning of the race weekend.

Racing at a new track
So, new track, learning the lines, trying to re-build confidence after my last race where I damaged my car.  Lots of challenges.  I just could not get comfortable.  I tried following people during practice but my tires didn't seem to have any grip.  What could be wrong?  The tires felt awesome last race.  Could I have used them up suddenly due to all the heat cycles?  The tires still had about 2/32nds of tread.  Was it just the driver's self confidence?  Very un-nerving at a track as challenging as Infineon....  My qualifying times had me last.

The race finally came and I approached feeling very uncomfortable.  The car didn't have any grip and I couldn't keep up.  Pretty soon, I was getting lapped.  Approaching the Esses, I noticed a string of front runners coming up fast.  There isn't enough room for a 5 car train to pass in the Esses.  What should I do?  If I held my line, I was afraid I'd get taken out so I slowed up and pulled off line so the train could get through. Then I drove into the hot pits and called it a day.  I'd rather have the car in one piece so I can figure out what was wrong and save it for the next race.

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