The Midfield Report: Observations from an Autocross Apprentice

mike hinton headshot 2011
by Mike


 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 racing

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!

Mike

Click here for detailed results from all Redwood Region autocross events.