The Midfield Report: Observations
from an Autocross Apprentice
Hinton, Redwood Region Secretary, May 2012
As many of you already know, my
"day job" is as a CPA in private practice. Given that the bulk of my
work involves tax preparation, having an autocross scheduled for April
14 is not ideal from a work standpoint. Nevertheless, I was determined
to participate, mainly because I had so much fun competing in my purple
dinosaur. So once again, it was "early to rise" and prepare for another
fun day at the track.
Proving that even old guys can learn from their mistakes, I made sure
that I had my wallet with me prior to departure. This time, the pre-race
refueling went smoothly, and I arrived at our airport course in plenty
of time. After fussing with unloading all of the unnecessary weight from
the car, passing tech inspection, and getting registered, it was time
for a walk around the track. Interestingly enough, the layout (authored
by Tom Strobel, Autocross Co-Chair) was very similar to one that the
Club had used in 2011. The layout featured a VERY fast slalom, followed
by something that Tom calls a "skidpad section." I call that section a
NASCAR section, because you basically do about 1½ laps of a roughly oval
section, with gates on either side to keep you honest. I remember being
basically terrified of that section last year when driving my 1987
Carrera, because I always felt like I was at the absolute limit of
traction, and knew that if I lifted off the throttle to slow down, a
spin was sure to result. It would be interesting to see how Barney would
take to oval racing.... We noticed some other things on our track walk.
The pavement in the "go kart" section was far more suitable for Cayenne
drivers, as opposed to Cayman drivers. There was a huge crater right on
the proper line through the turns, and other pavement was crumbling
badly. We all made mental notes on how to avoid the worst sections.
Finally, we noticed that the course concluded with a diabolical
slow-speed turn just before the finish, which contrasted with the
higher-speed nature of the rest of the course. It looked like a good
test of driving skills.
I started the morning working in the timing trailer, relaying the
drivers' times to the recorder down in the paddock. As always, there
were a few glitches with the timer, which meant that some people had to
re-run the course. Eventually, we solved the timer problems, and the
first group attacked the course - literally! I can assure you that the
course workers got their exercise in, as it seemed that everyone was
knocking over cones (sometimes several at a time) on almost every run.
After watching the first group complete their 4 runs, it was time to
dash down to the paddock and put Barney in line.
The first couple of runs went relatively smoothly, and I didn't have the
same feeling of terror on the skidpad section. Probably, I figured, I'm
not going fast enough to scare myself. On my third run, I finally seemed
to get the hang of the slalom, and was accelerating hard toward the
skidpad. Suddenly, the engine started a rapid-fire popping - I had hit
the rev-limiter in second gear! The good news was that at least the car
HAD a rev-limiter, so I was less likely to blow it up. As I may have
mentioned before, I never seem to have time to even glance at the
instruments while driving, so having the limiter is a good safety net.
The same thing happened on my final morning run, which meant that a new
strategy would have to be developed for the afternoon.
After the lunch break, it was back to work. Good news for the afternoon,
though: because we hadn't had any major delays in the morning, there
would be 8 runs in the afternoon! Having so many runs in a short period
of time really enables one to learn the course, and makes it easier to
correct mistakes or try new "experiments" in a quest to go faster. Once
our group began our runs, I decided to try to shift into 3rd gear in the
slalom, and see if I could stay there around the skidpad. The first
couple of runs taught me to shift into third early - I tried it once
midway through the slalom, and the car became very unsettled during the
shift. Those runs also taught me that I'd have to shift back down to 2nd
before the skidpad, because the engine doesn't have enough power to push
you through the skidpad.
With all of this new knowledge, the cockpit became a busy place indeed.
Both upshifting and downshifting needed to be done in a (relatively)
straight line in order to keep the car stable. In order to improve my
time around the skidpad, I needed to keep the throttle on, and let the
rear end drift a bit. It's great fun, but that heavy engine is always
lurking back there, just waiting for an opportunity to bite you.
Fortunately, Barney's suspension is set up to tolerate my
less-than-smooth driving style, and no bad things happened. My only
regret on the day was that a red flag spoiled my best run, but, that's
Again, you'll have to check the results for the actual answer, but
Barney and I were right in the midfield again. Barney is fun to drive,
and puts a smile on my face. You can't ask for more than that!
Our next event is May 19th, and I'd love to see all of you out there.
Our first two events of 2012 have been great fun, and the upcoming
events promise to be fun as well. If you plan to participate, please
follow the link on the autocross page of the Redwood Region's website to
classify your car. Doing so will make you eligible to participate in the
"hard-fought" battles for bragging rights!
here for detailed results from all Redwood Region autocross events.