The Midfield Report: Observations from an Autocross Apprentice

mike hinton headshot 2011
by Mike Hinton, Redwood Region Member, October 2011

I had a difficult time sleeping on September 2. The following day, the Redwood Region was hosting another Porsche-only autocross as a "make-up" for the March 26 event, which was washed out by torrential rains. The September 3 event had a special feature, which was an "enduro" component. As participants and regular readers may know, our autocross events usually feature one-lap runs, with as many as 12 runs in a single day, depending on the number of drivers. The enduro events are different:  usually, the morning consists of the standard one-lap runs, while the afternoon features four-lap runs. I participated in an enduro event last year, and remembered it as the most exhilarating and enjoyable event of the year, which accounted for my insomnia.

As usual, many participants arrived early, hoping to have enough time to plot a route through the very twisty course designed by Membership Director Bob Schoenherr. My good friend (and der Riesenbaum Editor) Chris Harrell and I tried to enhance our knowledge of the course by assisting with the "chalking" of the cones that delineate the course. Each cone on the course is outlined with a chalk mark at its location. If a car knocks the cone over, or moves the cone outside of its outlined location, the driver is assessed a one-second penalty per cone. If you're trying to improve your overall placing, or beat your best buddy, those cone penalties add up fast and wreak havoc with your time. Chris and I figured that if we knew exactly where the cones were, we'd be less likely to hit them. It sounds good, at least in theory.

Following the drivers' meeting and safety briefing, the first group began their runs. After a couple of events doing the physically undemanding tasks of working in the timing booth, I worked out on the course, retrieving cones as necessary. It was a good day to be working out on the course, as the timer display malfunctioned, and couldn't be repaired (we later determined the cause of the problem, and the timer display works fine now). Once the first group had completed their runs, I talked to some of the drivers in that group and, uniformly, the verdict was that the course was quite challenging, with a couple of tight, slow-speed sections. I must confess that I prefer the faster, more flowing courses, because my car (a 1987 Carrera) and I have difficulty with slow corners. I have this suspicion that the problem may not be with the car...

Since there were only two run groups for this event, there was a lunch break following the morning runs. As the bench-racing session continued among the drivers, we noticed that Bob Schoenherr and Autocross Director Tom Strobel were out on the course, moving cones around! Apparently, they decided that some of the turns should be less severe for the enduro component in the afternoon. That change certainly pleased me (and many others), but it also meant that when the enduro started, each driver would be driving the new course for the first time. Oh well, we're here to learn, right?

The format of the enduro is simple: instead of completing one lap of the circuit and returning to the grid, a driver completes four consecutive laps, and then is finished for the session. The times for each lap are added together to give a cumulative time. There's only one real catch: if, for any reason, you go off-course at any point in your four laps, you are classified as did-not-finish (DNF), and receive no time. It's just like qualifying at Indianapolis - if you hit the wall on lap 3, you don't qualify. Accordingly, a bit of caution is in order. The first run group completed their laps with no DNFs. Then it was our turn.

Chris and I have a bit of a rivalry going on, completely by accident. Every time we participate in autocrosses together, it seems that our times are almost identical, which leads to a lot of good-natured ribbing and trash talk. This event was Chris's first enduro, and I was hoping that he'd complete all four laps without incident. I started a few cars after him, and watched as he finished up in fine fashion. Since the timer display wasn't working, I had no idea what his total time was. Finally, I was at the front of the line, and the green flag waved. Immediately, I noticed that the formerly slow, tight turns had been opened up, allowing much more speed. Of course, more speed means more braking at some point, and those of us without ABS need to sneak up on the proper braking point. After four laps, I felt like I had it down pretty well. When I crossed the finish line, it almost felt like completing a 10K race - my heart rate was up, and I was breathing hard. I remember saying to myself "I don't care what my time was. That was awesome!" I'll let you check out the results to see exactly how Chris and I did, but suffice it to say, it was close as usual.

Once again, one of the cars had a mechanical incident during the event. Bob Schoenherr's 914 broke its engine mounts during one of his runs. The situation looked dire, but Andy Brian came to the rescue with spare mounts! Many other members pitched in with tools and jacks, and soon enough, the new mounts were in and Bob was back on the road. We have the best members in the PCA!

I'll report next month on the PCA/ESCA shootout and our next event, the Zone 7 autocross, which will be held on October 8 and 9. Come out, and watch the best drivers from Zone 7 tackle our course!