The Midfield Report: Observations
from an Autocross Apprentice
June 2012 Redwood Region Zone 7 Autocross
Hinton, Redwood Region Secretary, July 2012
Video by John Jackson
After an invigorating event on May
19, the next autocross event on Redwood Region's (very) busy calendar
was the Zone 7 event that was held on June 23 and 24. That's right, the
Zone 7 events are two-day affairs. I have participated in a couple such
events previously, but I've never attended both days of the event.
Unfortunately, that trend continued this year, as I was only able to
attend on Saturday.
In my experience, Zone 7 events tend to be a bit more competitive than
our "normal" events. I'm sure that the added intensity results from the
fact that Zone championship points are on the line, which means that the
more serious (and faster) drivers tend to participate in the Zone
events. Imagine my surprise on Saturday when many of the "usual
suspects" were not in attendance! It appears that there was an
unfortunate scheduling conflict with a couple of the other Zone 7
regions, which caused participation by the fast guys to lag. My chief
rival, Chris, was also unable to attend, due to a demanding work and
travel schedule. That left Barney and me to fly the midfield flag for
Our Autocross Co-Chair, Tom Strobel, had laid out a course with an
interesting design feature: no traditional slaloms! In all of my
previous events, the course had always featured at least one, and
sometimes two, slaloms, where the vehicles negotiate a series of left
and right swerves around single cones. Instead, the course featured a
few series of gates, which replicated the left-right swerve of the
slalom, but with tighter spacing. Counterbalancing the slower part of
the design were a couple of higher-speed sections (almost straight!),
and our normal rollercoaster ride through the "go-kart" section of our
course. That section had been repaired recently to fill in a gaping
pothole, and the repair seemed to be holding up well. I had the distinct
impression that the first "straightaway" would be too fast for me to
negotiate in second gear, which would create issues....
As noted earlier, our total number of participants was low, meaning,
once again, that everyone would have to work in the morning and
afternoon, and would have to cover a station alone. Everyone was hoping
that the drivers would be precise, in order to minimize cone shagging.
At least the weather was cooperating, with mild temperatures and a
refreshing breeze. After getting our worker assignments and instructions
at the drivers' meeting, I climbed into Barney and prepared to do
While waiting for my first run, I was checking out the times of others
in my run group, and noticed that most times were in the high-50 second
range. Those times indicated that the slow-appearing sections of the
course were just that, and also that the course was a bit longer than
usual. Finally, I was flagged off to start my first run, and I got lost!
I misread the course and began slowing halfway through the long
straight! Totally embarrassing, and not conducive to good times!
Fortunately, we would have 5 more runs in the morning to correct that
mistake. I had mentioned last month that I always rediscover that my
tires are grip-free on their first run, and that proved to be the case
again. After much sliding around on the first and second runs, the tires
finally felt good on the third run. All was well through the first set
of swerves, then about halfway down the straight, there was the
unmistakable "popping" of the engine hitting the rev limiter in second
gear! I decided to try and drive around that problem for the following
three runs in the morning, but had little success in improving my times.
A new approach would be needed for the afternoon....
After our morning runs, it was time to work. Fortunately, the drivers in
the second group were relatively fastidious, as far as hitting cones was
concerned, so there was not too much sprinting required to retrieve
downed cones. We did get to witness a few spins and near-spins, but all
of the participants and cars were able to continue without incident. My
worker station allowed me a good vantage point for one of the more
critical sections of the course, and I was intrigued to see some
different approaches that were taken at that point. I vowed to discuss
that issue over lunch.
During lunch I decided that I would try the "third gear" approach to the
straightaway. I had learned from the April event that shifting needs to
be done in a straight line, so that meant early. Of course, using 3rd
gear on the straight meant that I had to go back to 2nd for the rest of
the course, and THAT meant the dreaded heel/toe downshift (braking while
blipping the throttle to match engine and gearbox rpm). It's easy if you
have 3 feet. Not my strongest point! I also decided to try a different
approach to the back side of the course, after talking to a couple of
the more talented pilots over lunch.
As I approached the end of the straight the first time in 3rd, I was
definitely going faster, but then came the shift back to 2nd gear, and
it worked! The new approach to the back section didn't seem to be as
successful, as I couldn't get the car to turn properly. Also, as the day
warmed up, there seemed to be less grip, so I decided to reduce the air
pressure in the tires, which improved matters. Finally, for the last two
runs, I switched back to my "morning" approach to the back side of the
course, and improved on both runs. All in all, a great learning
Our next event is the Ladies Day event on July 7, which will run prior
to publication of the newsletter. So mark your calendars for July 21 for
Round 7 of the season. I guarantee you'll learn new things about your
driving and your car! See you out on the course!
here for detailed results from all Redwood Region autocross events.