The National Capital Chapter held their last Driver’s School this past weekend at the Jefferson Circuit at Summit Point. The Jefferson is one of my favorite courses — very MINI friendly. The weather was beautiful, and unlike last November, sunny and warm. The GeorgeCo MINI ran like a top. (Watch me chase the M5 in the video above.)
No major changes to the car from the last track day. The suspension has settled a bit, so I now have more negative camber up front which helped with tire wear. I replaced my stock hood scoop with the M7 Extreme Hood Scoop which may have helped with intercooler temps, but it wasn’t that hot to begin with. The Falken RT-615s continue to wear evenly and remain predicable through multiple sessions, never exceeding about 125 degrees in the front and 98 in the rear.
Because of the suspension work and sticky tires, we’ve been having trouble making the car misbehave on the skidpad. For my second session, we tried something different. To get the car into oversteer, I lowered the fronts to street pressure and over-inflated the rears by about 10 pounds. With a little application of the emergency brake, the tail came out quite easily. But with all front-wheel drive, it is hard to sustain oversteer for any distance. You can see at the end of this clip that I managed to get the car almost completely sideways and still recovered.
This time last week, I was outside in my t-shirt and shorts starting to get ready for the first CCA driver’s school of the year at Summit Point. This year, the first school was to be on the main circuit, usually everyone’s favorite event. In February as the snow was blowing, we were all a bit concerned by having the event so early in the year, but as March started to warm up, those fears seemed unfounded. And then it started to snow again. I remember heading out the unplowed backroads from Charlestown to Summit Point thinking, “what am I doing?…” The idea of traving at speed on a track was far fom my mind as I concentrated on staying on the road.
When we arrived, the track was plowed, but covered in places by thick sheets of black ice. We proceeded with classroom work and opened the skid-pad. By 11 it was time for quick reconnaissance laps of the track which proved to have warmed fairly quickly. There was some standing water, some bits of ice, and places where the snow was still blowing across the track, but it was doable.
Since the track was covered with snow and ice and I had just changed my suspension, I thought it best to keep with my all-season tires for the first day. I figured that way, I wouldn’t get into trouble since I wouldn’t have much traction to start with. It turned out to be a good strategy as the snow melted and the track became quite wet in spots. By Sunday, the weather had warmed to the 40’s and the snow retreated quite rapidly. The track was still wet in spots, but it was sunny most of the day so the shaved track tires came out and my pace picked up considerably. In all, my pace was still off of the lap times from last Fall, but then again, we aren’t keeping track. Here’s the last session Sunday:
The new suspension worked out great. The car is very stable at speed, neutral in the corners, and turns like a cat on carpet. The cold, dense air really gave a boost to the super-charger and I found myself hanging with much higher horsepower cars that I couldn’t keep up with in the summer.
Part two of the suspension upgrade brought new springs and adjustable camber plates in the front. This proved too much of a challenge for me to attempt at home so I went to Frederick Motorsports. I hadn’t visited Scott since I had my Alfa four years ago. It was a challenge to wrestle the plates in and get them adjusted since the new springs were still stock diameter. I think the setup will be better once I get some coil-overs, but for now, at least I have some camber in the front. This photo shows the change in ride height from the new TSW Lowering Springs. Overlay on rear wheel arch shows the difference.
Here’s the current alignment:
I’m heading off to Summit Point this weekend for a DE on the main circuit. The weather isn’t cooperating as it’s currently sleeting outside and we expect a couple of inches of snow overnight. MINI does really well in the wet, but I doubt I’ll really get a feel for what the new suspension can do unless it dries out and warms out a bit.
For me, this brings to a close my motorsports activities for 2006. On the weekend of November 11th, I attended my fourth BMW driver’s school. This school was on the Jefferson Circuit at Summit Point, the same place as my first event of the year. Saturday was a beautiful Fall day, but Sunday was just plain nasty. Wind and rain all day, making for a slippery track. Slippery is actually good for a MINI driver (any front wheel drive car for that matter). On Saturday in the dry I was probably about mid-pack for my run group, but on Sunday on the slippery stuff MINI lead the way. (Yes, this is not a competition. It’s about skill. No wagering….)
The day got off to a rather rocky start when my instructor put his E36 M3 into a tree on turn 5. He had almost completed a 180 degree spin on the track when he just ran out of track. We only slid 50 or 60 feet but it seemed to take forever. We came to rest in about a foot of water up against some trees. He had a pretty large dent in the left rear quarter panel. Once we pulled it out a bit it was drivable but his day was pretty well shot. To get out of the car, we had to take off socks and shoes and wade through the water. Not so much fun when it’s about 45 degrees outside.
In the end I think it was a very instructive day, however. The conditions were such that you were on the edge of losing control at very low speeds so you learned quickly to respond to what you car was doing. I’m already looking forward to picking up in the Spring.
I spent the weekend of September 23-24 on the Main Circuit at Summit Point, WV. This was the third class I’ve done with the National Capital Chapter BMW CCA and I highly recommend attending one if you have never been on the track before. This was also my first session on my new shaved competition tires.
Saturday started out rainy and slick. The morning sessions I completed with my Goodyear street tires. This was the first time I’ve really pressed these tires and they performed extremely well even though my R90 wheels are a bit on the heavy side at 20 lbs. each. In the afternoon I put on the Hankooks (225/45R16 Ventus RS2 Z212s shaved to 4/32 inch) with my Kosei wheels and the car really came to life.
On Sunday, I was “signed-off” by my instructor to solo. That was both exciting and a bit intimidating — in fact, I was sweating like one of Dick Cheney’s hunting companions. Once I got over the initial shock, I found it quite relaxing. It was odd to only have my own voice in my head, but quickly found a rhythm and really enjoyed the session. Also the car was quite a bit faster without the added weight of a passenger.
We also did a “no-brakes” session in the afternoon. This was the first time I’ve done one of these. The goal is to lap the circuit without using your brakes. You have to find ways to bleed off speed and learn entry/exit speeds for the corners. You start out very tentatively, afraid to exceed the entry speed, but quickly realize you have lots of options to scrub off speed. I found that after the session there were a couple of places where I had previously been braking that now all I had to do was lift and that my entry speeds went up a bit. Unfortunately it started to rain again at the start of the final session so I didn’t get to really see how it affected my overall lap times. But then again, this is not a race — so no wagering.