The Midfield Report: Observations from an Autocross Apprentice

mike hinton headshot 2011



by Mike Hinton, Redwood Region Member

On August 13, the Redwood Region hosted another Porsche-only autocross event. This event differed in one VERY important aspect from the previous PCA-only event on June 11: the August event was designated as a "Ladies' Day" event. As I only have a couple of years of history with the club, I don't know if this was a first-time event, but if it was, I sure hope it isn't the last one!

The weather gods smiled upon the event too, with unseasonably mild temperatures and brilliant sunshine throughout the day. We had a larger than normal turnout of women drivers for the event, and I have to say that as the ratio of women to men drivers increases, the overall atmosphere becomes more relaxed and enjoyable, at least for me. We had a fair number of first-time autocross drivers in attendance, so all of the instructors were fully-engaged in getting everyone comfortable with the notion of driving their cars to the limits of
their abilities.

This month's course was a fairly quick, flowing course, with a couple of hard-braking zones and optional slaloms to keep the drivers on their toes. All of the women got to run in the same group, and Sharon Neidel and LaVergne Thomas hosted a course walk for new drivers before the event. After the customary safety briefing and rundown of upcoming events, it was time to tackle the course.

I was fortunate enough to work the timer in the timing booth for this event (it's a pretty fun job, until the timer malfunctions). Working the timer allowed me to track everyone's progress throughout the day, and I have to say that I was mightily impressed! We saw many drivers approach the course very tentatively at first (which, by the way, is the smart way to do it. If only I could follow my own advice...), but their times improved rapidly as the day progressed. The smiles seemed to get bigger too!

As a dedicated (if inexperienced) autocrosser, my goal is to learn at least one thing about driving at each event (with my level of "expertise," that's not real difficult!). Being in the timing booth gave me a great opportunity to observe how some of the faster drivers approached different parts of the course. For example, I was astounded to see how many of the fast drivers negotiated the slalom - they were leaving large margins around each of the cones, while I was nearly on top of each cone. Since all of these drivers were much faster than I am, I decided to try that approach. Of course, it's difficult to say if that approach was actually quicker for me (I'm not very consistent with my runs), but it felt better. There were a couple of lessons to be learned there. First, don't be afraid to experiment with different approaches, because the fastest way around the course for you and your car may differ greatly from the theoretically "correct" line that you identified when you walked the track in the morning. Second, the "wider" line allowed me to keep the steering wheel straighter, and I've always heard that
you can go faster when the wheel is pointed straight (or nearly straight) ahead. So I definitely accomplished my goal for the day. I hope you fellow apprentices did too.

As I mentioned in the June column, the Porsche-only events always seem to bring out the cool cars. For this event, we had not one, but two 2.7 Carrera RS tribute cars participating. One was an orange car driven by Jim Hybiske, which I had just read about in the most recent issue of ESSES magazine (the publication produced by the Early 911S Registry). The second one was piloted in part by autocross ace and author Henry Watts, who claimed top time of the day. It was great to see the old warriors (the cars) performing so well. 

Finally, a big shout-out to Dana Wailes of our autocross sponsor Hi Tec Automotive in San Rafael. After the runs were concluded, he was able to diagnose and repair a strange noise coming from James Heisey's 928,
which turned out to be a piece of wire that had made its way into the alternator! Dana's efforts demonstrated again that PCA is not just about the cars, it's about the people too!

Be sure to mark your calendar for September 3, when the next Redwood Region Porsche-only Autocross will be held. I have it on good authority that the event will include an "enduro" (multiple lap) portion. You can pretend that you're qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix! See you on September 3.


Click here for detailed results from Redwood Region autocross events.