The Midfield Report: Observations
from an Autocross Apprentice
Mike Hinton, Redwood Region Member, February 2012
s the calendar moves far too slowly towards our first autocross
event on March 10, I wanted to continue the prior month's discussion
concerning tasks to complete to ensure that you're ready when the big
day (finally) comes.
I seem to find that no matter how early I get up on the morning of an
autocross, invariably, I'm rushing to make sure that I don't forget
something important. So, do as I say, and not as I do, and complete most
of your preparation the night before (seriously, I'm going to try and
follow my own advice this year, and be better prepared!). First, gather
your driving gear in one place. Items such as helmets, gloves, and shoes
can be put in a duffel bag, ready to go. I'd even go so far as to put
the duffel in your car the night before, giving you one less thing to
worry about or forget. Certainly, you'd prefer to have your own helmet
at the event, as opposed to the loaners, right? Next, get out your
driving "uniform" and have it ready to go. Remember that you'll likely
be out in the sun for several hours when you're working the course, so
bring appropriate sun protection (long sleeves, hat, etc.). Finally, get
your refreshments in order. Generally, there's no food available at the
course and, honestly, there aren't many good choices for food nearby. I
find it much more relaxing to bring my lunch and beverages with me to
the course. Doing so also allows more time during the lunch break for
socializing, plotting how to improve your times during the afternoon
runs, or just resting.
Last month, I touched on some of the maintenance chores you can perform
to prepare your car for the upcoming season. Even assuming that you're
satisfied with your preparation, you'll still want to bring some tools
and supplies to the event. Perhaps the most important adjustable
component on your car is the tire pressure. I've experienced significant
improvements in performance from altering tire pressures, and if it
works for me, it certainly will work for you! First and foremost, you'll
need to get a rugged, accurate tire gauge. Good ones are not very
expensive, and accurate measurements are critical to get the most out of
your tires. You also might consider purchasing an "air bottle" (sold at
many auto parts stores) in order to rapidly increase tire pressures.
It's possible to use a portable compressor, but the compressors don't
inflate tires quickly enough to add pressure to all four tires (if
necessary) between runs.
Another, often overlooked tool is white chalk
or liquid shoe polish. These "marking" tools enable you to see how much
the tire is flexing during your runs. The technique is simple: put a
couple of dabs at two points on the sidewall of each tire (continuing
onto the tread) prior to your run. After the run, examine the tire to
see how much of your mark remains. If the marking on the sidewall is
still entirely intact, the tire pressure is likely too high, which means
that you're not using all of the tread to generate grip. If most
of the marking is gone, the tire pressure is likely too low, which also
compromises grip. Grip is of paramount importance, given the fact that
you're rarely traveling in a straight line in an autocross.
Another tool to possibly employ is a pyrometer to measure your tire
temperatures. Unfortunately, it's a trial-and-error process to determine
the optimum temperature for your tires, and it's possible to spend a
great deal of time chasing the ideal temperature, since track conditions
change with each run.
Finally, when you get to the event, you should consider removing all
excess weight from your car. In my case, "dead" weight includes the
spare tire (all of you newer Porsche owners only need to take out the
can of tire sealant!), tool kit, air compressor, and jack. Granted,
perhaps you're removing only 25 pounds, but that has to be worth at
least 0.05 seconds, right? Alternately, you can ignore the previous few
sentences, and leave all of the ballast in. That way, you have a reason
to explain your sub-optimal times!
I'm really excited for the upcoming season! I'm certain that our
Autocross Director, David Bunch, will create fun and challenging courses
for us. So, come on out and try your hand at autocrossing. A fun time is
virtually guaranteed. Hope to see you on March 10!
here for detailed results from all Redwood Region autocross events.