Well, today was my first day on a road race course since back in November at the VIR 13 Hour. I'm in Fort Worth, TX, right now, but I'm getting some seat time at the Texas Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, TX. Why the heck am I in Texas in January? Good question. Seemed like it might be warmer here than in NC, but that hasn't been the case. I think it was supposed to be partly cloudy and 47F today, but instead it was all cloudy and about 40F. I think tomorrow will be worse.
It's not really bad even in a topless car, though. I only notice it when I first head on to the track, but after that I suppose the "workout" one gets while driving at this level is enough to overcome the effects. Well, that and I'm wearing about 72 layers of Nomex. Okay, it's not really 72 layers. In fact, it really only seems like 72 layers when it's hot outside, which is most of the time I'm racing, I guess.
I'm out here getting some instruction with Team MER, which is the group that fielded the cars for the last two MX-5 Cup champions. I'm happy to call Jason Saini and Juliann Pokorny good friends, and they really are great folks to race with. I did three races in the MX-5 Cup series last year by renting from them. While I don't think MX-5 Cup fits with my plans in 2008, I do feel like they're great cars and great learning platforms. Plus Jason is an excellent coach.
So I started out and did a session on my own, which was really just feeling the place out and finding my way around. Then Jason used a track map to show me a few things I should work on. So I went out again and dropped a chunk of time, but as I planed out I came back in so we could look at some data. Jason had taken this particular car out for some hot laps before my first session in it so we had a baseline for comparison purposes.
After getting some good information from the data, I did another session and was about two seconds back from Jason on a 1:22 (MX-5 record time) course. I was relatively happy with that for the short amount of time we had been out there. Then Jason grabbed another car and headed out with me for some lead-follow work (with us able to talk on radios while driving). Only problem was Jason couldn't seem to slow down enough for me. He decided to take a few hot laps to see what the car could do only to find he could now run a LOT faster than me. Hmmph. His reasoning? The car I was driving had a soft motor. This particular car was a newly built car with a non-sealed (and thus non-competition) motor. So we swapped cars. BINGO. I immediately dropped two seconds and very quickly dropped another second to get to within two seconds of that track record (which Jason set). Jason, myself, and another fellow who was running yet another MER car some all got to racing a good bit in that session, too. Jason was in the soft car, so it seemed to even us all out nicely. We ended up with fast laps within two tenths of one another (with me the fastest!) and about 2.4 seconds off the record time for the track. Of course, Jason set that record earlier in the day in the same car I was driving in this session. *cough*
I feel really good about doing that in just one day of driving on a track (less than two hours of total seat time) considering Jason has days and days of time on that track (their shop is located on the premises). I'm here for another day where I hope to drop another half to full second relative to Jason.
More importantly than the numbers, I'm trying to learn one of the hardest skills for me in road racing. That's the art of braking. I can whoa a car down and make it go through a turn relatively fast. But there's a bit of art to making a car do it as fast as the car can physically do it. You have to brake at the right point with the right amount of force. You have to come off the brake in unison with your turn. In some cars, this is just before you turn. In many you are both turning and releasing the brake at the same time in just the right ratio. Then you have to know when and how to apply the throttle. Too early? You push. Too hard? You push or oversteer (car and position dependent). Every corner is different. Bumps, surface changes, camber, and dirt can all affect how you want to attack a given corner on a given lap. Oh, and that little thing called other cars.
Anyway, my achilles heel last year was braking a little too much and often too early. I never could make myself trail brake the MX-5. I also was almost always too aggressive with the throttle. I seem to have fixed the throttle part here, but I do still over-slow sometimes. I'm getting better, though. And that's the point of being here...