The Midfield Report: Observations
from an Autocross Apprentice
All of the regular autocross attendees had a relatively extended
layoff after the August 11 event, as the following event wasn't
scheduled until September 22. Since I missed the August event, my layoff
would be just over two months. I was hoping that I hadn't forgotten all
of the lessons learned over this year's events, but there was only one
way to find out....
Hinton, Redwood Region Secretary, October 2012
One thing I hadn't forgotten was to leave early, allowing time to
replenish fuel supplies on the way. I arrived shortly after 8:00 a.m.,
and was encouraged to see that a good crowd had already gathered. The
weather was looking promising, if a bit warm, and as an added
attraction, there was a dirigible parked on the runway out beyond our
course. That made for a unique photo backdrop!
This event's course was designed by a first-time course designer, our
Vice-President (and my "fierce" rival), Chris Harrell. Chris had shown
me the proposed layout a couple of days in advance, and asked for my
thoughts. I felt that the course would be interesting, as it
incorporated several interesting elements: there was a "Chicago box,"
which rewards very precise driving, a "skidpad" section that would
definitely heat up the left-side tires, the infamous 180-degree
right-hand exit out of the go-kart section (very slow), and two or three
sections where wide-open throttle could be used. I liked the design, but
knew that the go-kart exit would be challenging. On paper, the course
looked like it might favor the lower-powered cars, but the true test
would be in the driving.
Much like the July 21 event, the weather started off relatively cool,
but promised to warm considerably as the afternoon approached. I've
mentioned before that the course surface seems to lose grip as
temperatures climb, and the drivers would certainly get to test that
theory later in the day. The skidpad section would be especially
challenging, as that particular section of the course always seems to
have little, if any, grip, regardless of conditions. The track walk
seemed to confirm that the go-kart exit would be very slow (and
difficult) because the following gate was placed far to the driver's
right - directly opposite to where the car would want to go. A
compromise between speed and car placement would be necessary to
minimize lost time....
At the drivers' meeting, it was encouraging to see the crowd - we had 37
drivers for the event, many of whom were first-timers or novices. The
instructors would be a busy group today. In addition, there was a good
complement of experienced drivers, which is a valuable asset for drivers
who want to improve. I've always found that experienced drivers are more
than happy to help the less-experienced participants to improve their
times and fun quotient. The combination of a challenging course and big
group of drivers meant that a fun day was on tap.
Again, due to work commitments, my archrival Chris wasn't able to attend
the event, which meant that he wouldn't get to drive on the course he
designed! I promised to give him a full report after the event. Our
group was first on the course, and to no one's surprise, the course
seemed very slippery at first. I know that in my case, it's just a
matter of heating the tires up a bit (which takes two runs maximum).
However, even after the tires were up to temperature, grip seemed to be
elusive. As expected, the exit out of the go-kart was punishing - I felt
like I could get out and push my car faster, and I experienced massive
understeer trying to negotiate the following gate. Five runs in the
morning proved to be insufficient for me to solve this problem.
Fortunately, I seemed to have a reasonably good handle on the rest of
the course, so my times weren't horrible. Definitely, there was work to
Fortunately, I was working out on the course very close to the offending
section. Doing so allowed me to observe the line that other (faster)
drivers were using, and I vowed to incorporate those techniques in the
afternoon. Working out on the course also allowed me to admire the
various cornering and acceleration attitudes of a broad range of cars.
For example, the 356 driven by the Powers family seemed to spend more
time on three wheels than four! I've experienced that a bit with Barney,
and it's fun (but I don't know if it's fast!). It was interesting to
watch how the turbocharged cars reacted when the boost kicked in. The
car would become unstable as the tires attempted to cope with the extra
horsepower. That HAS to be a little scary! Finally, watching the way
that Henry Watts skillfully used the throttle of his car to vary its
cornering attitude was a thing of beauty. Definitely something to aspire
In the afternoon, I tried my new approach to the go-kart exit, and
discovered that it improved that section of the course. Unfortunately,
the small amount of grip we had in the morning seemed to diminish in the
afternoon sun, making it difficult to improve on morning times. Out of
the seven runs we had in the afternoon, I had perhaps two that I was
happy with, and indeed, one of those runs was my best of the day! The
lesson seems to be to never give up. The Oakland A's never did, and look
what happened to them!
Our final event of the 2012 season is approaching - it's on October 20.
You don't want to miss it, as it is our annual "Enduro" event. Instead
of completing one lap of the course at a time, the Enduro consists of a
four-lap run. It's sure to get your heart rate up, and always is my
favorite event. See you out on the course!
here for detailed
results from all Redwood Region autocross events