Summit Point Main HPDE

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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.

NAMCC Summit Point

We took the afternoon off and drove the new convertible up to see the North American MINI Cooper Challenge at Summit Point, West Virginia.  Randy Webb won the first race and Steve Diniz won the second in a day of very exciting MINI racing at Summit Point.  Run in conjunction with the Phil Wicks Driving Academy and taking place during MINI Meet East, there was a pretty good turn-out for a mid-week event.  We got really lucky with the weather given all of the flooding of the past week.  We just caught the last two laps of the first race but were there for all of the second.

At the start of the second race, Steve Diniz got the jump on Randy Webb into the Karussel and took the early lead.  They were running neck-and-neck going into the back straight, but when the came out of the hairpin Randy was back in the lead and pulling away.  It was a very close race for the first 5 laps or so.  Steve seemed to have the advantage in cornering and Randy in horsepower.  Going into the Karussel, Steve was a little late on the brakes and took a brief off-course adventure around the outside of the turn.  He was very fortunate not to visit the tire barrier.  It looked like Randy had the second race wrapped up and then he disappeared on the backside of the course.  I heard he may have run out of gas which is a disappointing end to an excellent race.

Many more photos on Flickr.

Tighten the Nut Behind the Wheel

There’s an old saying in Motorsports that if you want to go faster, you should start by tightening the nut behind the wheel. It’s easy to blow a big chunk of cash on go-fast goodies for your car, but if you can’t find the line through a curve or you just aren’t smooth, you’ll never be fast.

I’ve recently taken up Autocross. Although I’m waaaaaay at the back of the pack (and unfortunately classified in the mod-till-you-drop Street Mod class) I’m having a blast. It started with a desire to improve my general driving skills. The more time I spend on the freeways around Washington DC, the more I’m convinced most of my fellow drivers are morons. One in four seems to have a cellphone surgically attached to their head. Of the remaining three, two are tail-gaiting each other at 85 MPH in SUVs with under-inflated tires.

Figuring a good offense is the best defense, I started to think about my own driving skills and my ability to avoid bad situations. In the asphalt jungle of “fight or flight” the MINI driver’s only defense is flight. It started with a highway safety course at the Jefferson Circuit at Summit Point put on by the local BMW club. That was followed by a high performance driver’s course on the same circuit.

This past weekend, I attended another driver’s school on the Shenandoah circuit. Now I’m hooked. These are not racing schools. There’s no wheel-to-wheel competition. It’s all about control and knowing your (and your car’s) limits. I hope the skills I’m improving on the track will improve my autocross skills as well.