It’s not often that you get to drive a new circuit at your home track. But for our recent HPDE at the Summit Point Shenandoah Circuit, we got to do just that by driving counter race for a session.
The Shenandoah Circuit has a couple of different configurations in the normal (counter clockwise) race direction. Most of these involve adding chicanes or extra corners in the Pistol Grip section which just make an already busy track even busier. If you don’t want to drive the Karussel, there’s the inner apron, or the outer apron available to you. You can also cut off the Karussel entirely by taking the bus-stop cut over to the Corkscrew under the Bridge. I wanted to try something completely different. So for the first session on Friday, I had the instructors drive the track clockwise with the corkscrew to bus-stop cut over. As you can see from the video it was a very different track.
I have a greater appreciation for the elevation changes in various parts of the circuit, and also a sense of just how many of the turn entries and exits are off camber. And on a predominately right handed circuit with off camber entries, I realized I sit too low in the car now and cannot see the majority of the right hand apexes. Given that no one in the group really knew the line, it was a great learning experience and will be repeated in the future. I think next time, I’ll have the instructors and advanced students drive this direction for a half-day on Friday.
I have the opportunity this month to have two events on the same track. At the beginning of June I instructed with PCA at the Shenandoah Circuit, Summit Point Motorsports Park, and at the end of June I return with BMW. I’ve always wanted to see if I could gather data to answer two common questions: How much faster will I be on track tires? And, how effective is coaching an experienced driver?
So the answer to the first one is fairly straight forward, but since this track can have several different layouts, let’s establish some controls. We will not use the banked Karussel, but instead take the inside apron. We will run the Old Ram cut-off instead of running through the hot grid, and we will drive the Range Straight instead of the Range Esses.
I have 75+ days on this track and data on several hundred laps, that until now, were always on max performance summer tires (treadler 200 or greater.) My best recorded time was 1:44.73. At the start of this first weekend in June, I did a few sessions on Falken 615Ks (treadwear 200) and then switched to Toyo RRs (treadwear 40.) The best on the Falkens was 1:44.87 (so 0.14 sec off of my best). The best on the Toyos was 1:42.96, an improvement of 1.77 sec over my best, and 1.91 sec better than the Falkens on the same day. Average the two together and that’s a 1.84 sec improvement or just about 1.75%. So, just by spending money on better tires, I was faster, but that doesn’t mean I was better.
Armed with my new faster tires, I then asked one of my fellow instructors, Paul Bylis to ride along and coach me. I listened to his advice for a session, and then went out on my own again. This time, my best lap was a 1:41.97. A further improvement of 0.99 sec. So now I have a rough comparison of the value of coaching (which for me is free since I just have to ask for it) vs. spending money on more expensive tires.
The Catalyst tells me I’m still leaving a three fourths of a second on the table.
This is a great DE track, but it often makes instructors sick in the right seat. I once did a lead-follow event here where I was in the lead with three students following me. While trying to keep an eye on that third student I managed to make myself sick while driving.
Here’s a video with a few laps where I’m following a group of instructors who don’t drive this track much. It’s a good example of how most drivers approach those three corners and don’t drive the line I’m recommending.
The road is crowned in many corners so an inside line that shouldn’t work is often very fast here. You’ll also notice my FWD roots in the way I take some of these corners. This video shows a couple of different lines through the signature Karussell as well. I think the inside line through the Karussell is only about half a second slower than the banking.
I tend to drive a different line than most drivers in these three corners:
The Loop: The hairpin at the end of the longest straight. If the track were flat, the fastest line would be to set up far right and make a really late apex. That way you maximize your speed at the end of the straight and make the biggest arc you can. But the road is crowned, so if you stay right, you have to fight the crown at turn-in. Better is to finish your braking on top of the crown, and then use the negative camber on the inside to maintain mid-corner speed and double-apex the corner. You also have the added benefit of an extra 30 feet of track available for braking should you over-cook the entry.
The Pistol Grip: This is the triple apex at the end of Stone House Straight. I often see drivers swinging right before starting the arc rather than braking straight and holding one arc for the triple apex. Any extra speed you can carry through this larger arc is lost by going a longer distance. Brake once, see the wheel, get back on throttle – lift for the third apex and accelerate down the hill for the next right.
Old Ram: This is the cross-over after The Loop that takes you to the Cave Esses if you are not driving through the grid straight. The entry is off-camber and down hill, but if you get your braking done before you crest the hill and enter from mid-track instead of going deep, you can make a really tight double apex out of the corner. The entry is blind so it takes a while to build up speed, but it can be very rewarding when you figure it out.