The Midfield Report: Observations from an Autocross Apprentice

mike hinton headshot 2011
by Mike

Last Autocross of 2012
video by Bob Schoenherr
 Hinton, Redwood Region Secretary, November 2012

October 20 was the date of the Redwood Region's final autocross event for the 2012 season.  Aside from being the last event of the year, the event was special in that it incorporated an "enduro" component for the afternoon session. In Redwood Region parlance, an "enduro" event is one in which the participants complete multiple circuits of the course (usually four) at a time, as opposed to the single-lap runs that we typically do.


For me, the enduro events are the most eagerly-anticipated events of the year, for several reasons.  First, and most important, is the fact that completing four circuits of the course in succession gives me the opportunity to truly learn the course, and allows more "real-time" fine-tuning in search of the fastest way around the course. Secondly, because of the multiple lap approach, the courses themselves are usually more free-flowing, which allows a driver to establish a rhythm, and drive more smoothly. Finally, the intense concentration associated with 3+ minutes of flat-out driving is simply invigorating.


This event's course was designed by our intrepid Autocross Director, David Bunch. David's design featured the typical slalom, and twisty ride through the go-kart section, as well as a fast, sweeping section through a series of cone walls that was similar to a long slalom. The course didn't feature any truly slow elements, which meant that the faster cars would be able to stretch their legs a bit, and less-powerful cars like 914s and my 911T would probably run out of breath in second gear on the fast sections. From a pedestrian's point of view, the course looked like a lot of fun, but the "wall element" would severely punish any untidy driving through the long sweepers.


The weather started off cool and damp. In fact, the fog was so thick that the far end of the course wasn't visible from the starting grid. The weather forecasters had promised warm and sunny weather for the day, but you know how accurate Northern California weather forecasts can be. Weather forecasting seems to be the only job (except for that of a major league batter) where you can be wrong 70% of the time, and still get paid! As all of the participants shivered in the mist prior to the driver's meeting, we all hoped that the sunny skies would eventually arrive.


By the time the morning runs began, the fog began to lift, and it appeared that the sun would shine after all. The format of the morning session differed from the usual practice of one timed lap per run. Instead, for the first run, drivers completed an untimed warm-up lap, followed by a timed flying lap for the first run. For the second and third runs of the morning, the drivers started at a different spot on the course, and then completed two consecutive timed laps. This format was excellent preparation for the big four-lap enduro that would constitute the afternoon session.


Our group was the first to tackle the course, and given the chilly weather and lack of sun, it was no surprise to discover that grip proved to be elusive on the first untimed lap. However, conditions seemed a bit better on the second lap, and I was optimistic that times would improve in the second and third runs of the morning. During the bench-racing session that occurs between runs, everyone I talked to felt that conditions would improve as the course warmed up. Sure enough, the sun finally overpowered the clouds and fog, and my times improved steadily - about 0.2 to 0.3 seconds per lap, which was gratifying. The course was outstanding, technical enough to be challenging, but not so tight to be frustrating. Great job, David!!


With the exception of one off-course incident involving a new driver, the morning session for the second run group ran smoothly. Working as the starter, I was able to watch all of the competitors, and noted that very few cones were being sacrificed on the altar of speed. Soon enough, the lunch break was over, and it was time for the main event.


As you know, an autocross event is designed to reward fast, precise driving.  Ordinarily, I'd say that my personal bias is towards the "fast" aspect. After all, driving Porsches fast is fun! I hate hitting cones, but with up to 14 or 15 runs available at an event, a fallen cone or botched run won't ruin your entire day. Enduro events are different - they're more like qualifying for the Indy 500: you basically get one chance to drive four near-perfect laps. With that in mind, I decided to switch my approach to "precise" and (relatively) smooth. The actual four laps were somewhat of a blur, and I think I remembered to breathe at least once per lap! When the dust settled, I managed to keep the car on the course, and avoided all of the cones, meaning that the outcome was a success. My times were a bit slower than in the morning, but my laps were much smoother. Next year's task: combine smoothness with more speed!


On behalf of the Redwood Region, I'd like to say thanks to all of the drivers, spectators, and volunteers who participated in the 2012 events. I hope to see all of you again in 2013. I would also encourage any non-participants to come out and give autocross a try. Short of being on an actual race track, I believe that autocrossing is the most fun activity available to Porsche drivers. Hope to see you next year!


Click here for detailed results from all Redwood Region autocross events