12 Nov 2013

Okay, a belated update for Saturday’s trackday event. There were multiple events going on at Auto Club Speedway: our trackday, a short demo session by – no kidding – Mazda GTP cars, a street racer/poser sort of show, and an autocross.

The trackday went very well. My windshield got cracked, not by rocks, but because the center support padding got compressed (by wind loading, no doubt) to the point that the edge of the glass contacted the bracket – instant crack. In addition, there were a surprising number of rock pits – the consequence of everyone running chewing-gum soft tires. (After the event, there were many impact marks where balled-up sticky tire rubber kicked up by cars ahead hit Midlana.)

Tire wear was very even, no complaints about suspension geometry 🙂

This being my first event ever at this track, in a car that I’ve never driven this fast, I was intimidated by The Wall around turn one and two. What I didn’t know was what Midlana would do if I got the back end out at speed. The concern was that it “might” step out, catch, and whip the car back to the right, up toward the wall. We were told that if our cars started to spin in that turn, to NOT counter steer, to instead, steer to the left, down the inclined turn. I don’t know about other drivers but I think it would be very difficult to undo what’s been engrained into our driving habits for decades, being able to suddenly steer the opposite direction that our reflexes dictate.

I was told that I should have been able to take that curve at around 130 mph, but was simply unwilling to find out what would happen. Of course, this means the question remains, what WILL Midlana do? When I first started driving at trackday events, it was back in the 1980s at Riverside International Raceway. Turn Nine there was similarly intimidating, and it took several events before I got to the point where I was okay with the back end of the Datsun 1200 stepping out slightly. Of course in that car, the speed was a lot less, and the weight distribution was far different. In a car with nearly 70% on the rear axle, it takes some getting used to.

The only “moment” I had (pointed out in the video) was while under hard braking for a turn and was about to heel-and-toe downshift. What happened was – from my perspective – the car didn’t slow. I didn’t panic because there was a ton of runoff, and simply drove straight off instead of attempting to turn. At about the same time I saw the front tires lock up, so I knew the brakes were working, so why didn’t the car slow? It was because I’d adjusted the brake pedal to be just above the gas pedal under braking… but under HARD braking, the brake pedal was lower, enough that my shoe caught the edge of the gas pedal. As a result, I had 400+ hp helping me continue straight, and that’s just what happened. This was a good learning experience, because had it happened with someone immediately in front of me, it would have required some quick thinking to not hit them.

Something I’d been wondering about was confirmed to have happened – Midlana spits flames under deceleration! Cool! Unfortunately I didn’t think to put the GoPro back where it could record it, and as far as I know, no one caught a picture of it. It’ll certainly be something that I’ll have to get some footage of 🙂

My brother found some footage from another car at the same event running in my group, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8CnfEjfo5E. Sure enough, there Midlana was, passing at 19:03 in his video. No exhaust flames, though…

At several times during the day, Mazda (yes, the factory) brought out a few of their “old” GTP cars, the ones with the four-rotor rotaries. Man, I wish I had more time to walk around (as a participant, your day is fairly busy). Anyway, I just loved the way the cars looked and sounded. As one idled through the pits, the doors were open (it was fairly warm) and I got a good look at the driver, who was a big guy. I was later told that it was Mazda’s president… nice perk!

Lastly, there was an separate event held in the pit area that I just couldn’t understand, a pseudo street racer car show. It consisted of a long row of cars on static display, showing off their visual awesomeness (enormous turbos, crazy camber, and little suspension travel), while cars that were heading out to the real track passed by. In any other context (read: away from a real track) I could better understand it. But here, at a real track, surrounded by real race cars, it just seemed absurd to pretend to have a bad-ass fast car, yet not drive it. Kind of like Hollywood impersonators hanging out at the entrance to the Oscars, hoping to be mistaken. Surreal.