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Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
Day 2 was a blast! The day started with a pretty long classroom session where we discussed braking down the track in detail - changing radius corners, changing camber, etc. Next it was back onto the track for a session in the street cars. The instructor wasn't really grabbing the wheel anymore, like yesterday, probably a good sign! Focus again was on where to look along with the turn in, apexing and getting back on the throttle.

Next a session in the formula cars. The focus was going to be staying on line and finding the apexes. Heading out of the pits, I finally solved my stalling starts issue, and took the first few laps pretty easy, working up to speed and getting a feel of the car back from yesterday. It only took a few laps before I felt faster then yesterday. I was continuing to improve across the board. In the middle of the session, I braked for turn one, hit my two downshifts, then was surprised when the car wasn't turning enough and I was heading toward the weeds! I quickly changed direction and went into the paved run off at the last second. I Turned the car around, got back on track without really knowing why it went wrong. I got the black flag (standard for a spin or 4 wheels off) pulled into the pits and they told me I was on the gas and brakes at the same time. It makes since now! I quickly got sent back out and finished up the session, taking it easy into turn 1.

Lunch break was next, followed by a session in the "slide cars." The slide cars are cars that have rear wheels that turn to give the sensation of sliding. I don't know exactly how it works, but I think the rear wheel steering angle changes with changing input from the driver, either from the steering wheel, throttle or brakes. So basically you have to use your steering angle (controlling the front wheels) as if the car was sliding sideways to keep the car on the track - except everything feels slowed down. There was a demo first then everyone took a few laps in the slide cars. It was fun but honestly pretty easy for me!

Next we had 3 back to back sessions in the formula cars. This really gave us time to start putting everything together. With each session, I was gaining confidence and increasing cornering speed. By the first afternoon session, I was starting to squeal the tires through some of the corners. In the third session of the day, I had someone trailing me pretty closely but I didn't get a blue flag, so I figured we were about the same speed. It did make me push a little harder. I ended up understeering wide a few times... My instructor gave me positive feedback, saying I was ahead of the curve and pacing the field. Some other students also gave me positive feedback, which all gave me more confidence. My instructor encouraged me keep pushing incrementally, working on getting on the power earlier, etc. By the last session of the day, I got the car pretty sideways for the first time at the bottom of the esses, but managed to catch it. Overall, the race car sessions went good and I felt great.

Next was the track walk which I was really looking forward to. Dennis, our lead instructor has been great. He explained subtle things in each of the corners - camber differences, slight differences in track surface, etc. He explained some alternative lines to try out through some of the corners. It was very helpful.

Finally we concluded with a short wrap up session in the classroom. The experience has been awesome so far. Tomorrow, rain is in the forecast, and I'm looking forward to it!

Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
Day 1 is in the books and man, what a blast. The format of the school was interesting, and apparently unique from most other schools. Below is a pretty comprehensive summary.

Showed up to the classroom in the morning and there were 12 students. Ages ranged from 14 to two guys in their 20's or so (including me) to the rest of the class, probably 35-50 or so. The group was very experienced for an intro course - probably 75% had some sort of experience on the track with a car. Many of the guys owned cars they track or race, ranging from a lotus elise, to a ex ferrari challenge car, to some sort of vintage lola prototype (I think) to a formula mazda! Some of the guys just recently got into the sport and had only been on the track a few times though. I'd say there were only a few students with what I would consider less experience then me though.

The day started out with a short classroom session, which wasn't focused on race driving, but more like getting mentally prepared and what to expect. Next, there was a short session in the street cars with the instructors driving. Then it was back to the classroom for the first instruction on driving, mainly what the racing line is. That was followed with another session in the street cars where the instructors showed us the basic line, braking and turn in points and then we each took turns to take a few laps in the street cars. Another classroom session and track session in the street cars followed. Looking far ahead and minimizing steering inputs were points emphasized.

After lunch, we had another classroom session, then a demonstration of getting in the car, shifting, how to grip the wheel, reading the digital screen, etc. Shifting was definitely going to be a challenge for me. The pedals are much closer together then a street car, but not as much as I expected (I think more modern cars are closer). The brake pedal requires a LOT of force to push down so that you can blip the throttle decently. And the shifter has a very notchy feel with very short throws and no gates! Fortunately my instructor explained the first two 15 minuate sessions in the cars today would be mostly to get familiar with the shifting and footwork.

Then it was on to the track in the formula cars! I was in the second run group so we went out to one of the flag stations to watch. Watching from the flag station was awesome; we could see most of the track and everyone looked to be doing pretty good. The VIR south course is just awesome, and a great track to learn on. The front straight is long, and then there's heavy braking into the decreasing radius turns 1-2 complex. net there's a short straight with a kink, then into the esses, which have a massive elevation change. The first ess is a blind turn in at the crest of the hill, then the next few esses are steep downhill. A photo doesn't do justice to what it looks like in real life. Then there's another short straight and a hairpin to set you back onto the track shared with the main course. The backstraight has a slight kick right, then a ballsy flat out if you have the balls left kink, then downhill, then an uphill slight braking into the oak tree complex, which ends in a blind apex right back onto the long front straight.

Finally it was my turn. I got into the car and another student helped me get belted in. Slipping in and getting the belts on is a tricky process, yet somehow it almost felt like I'd done it before. I sat belted in for what seemed like a long time, before I got the signal to fire up. I was desperately practicing my downshifting during this time. Shortly later, they signaled me to go. I let up a clutch a bit, gave it some gas... and stalled! Ooops. So I tried it again and stalled again, and again! It took me 5 times to get going. Kinda embarrassing but I wasn't really focused on getting moving, more on what's about to happen on the track.

Pulling out of pit lane, I immediately punched the throttle straight to the floor, and went up through the gears, no problem. The acceleration was very fast, but not, OMG I'm gonna die fast. There are no rev limits or pace car in the school. Got to the first corner and let off pretty early, then, naturally, proceeded to panic and botch many downshifts the first few laps. I first few laps were very hectic, there is so much going on in the car - brake points, downshifting, turn in point, apex, track out - etc; if you don't know much about racing its hard to believe. Looking back I probably should have taken it a touch slower the first few laps. Fortunately I was cornering way under the limit, so when I popped the clutch mid corner once I didn't spin out! A couple other times I just pushed the clutch in around the corner as I was unable to get my downshifts done in time. Towards the end of the session, I was just starting to get a bit more comfortable. Nailed some good downshift sequences and was able to start focusing on actually driving a good line.

Although I was kinda struggling I actually found myself passing several cars. Although the school advertises "passing on the first day" its not real competitive "I outbraked you into the corner!" passing. Passing is allowed on the front straight, and only if the driver being overtaken has been given a blue flag.

So after the session my group of 3 headed out to a different flagging station to watch. This time we had a close up view of the cars approaching the blind turn in and downhill through the esses, awesome! It was great seeing the lines people were taking through there and hearing the blip and the throttle input through there. Our instructor said people will likely start to push over the limit in the second session, and what do you know, we saw several spins and dropped wheels...

Then I was up in the car again. My instructor told me to focus on getting the downshifts done before the corner. I was having trouble in the two places you have to downshift twice form 4 - 2 quickly; the 1-2 complex and the approach to oak tree. Heading out of the pits, this time I only stalled once! Already I was feeling better though, and gaining confidence with every lap. I actually caught someone pretty close behind me spinning in my rear view mirror into 1. Somehow, I found it slightly funny and it made me more relaxed. Slowly i was able to concentrate more and more on putting everything together and my cornering speeds were slowly coming up, and my downshifts continued to improve. I improved turns 1-2 a lot, but was still struggling approaching oak tree.

To wrap up the day we had a short classroom talk with a few more tips. The instructors were great, the cars are old but seem great for learning, the track was awesome, the classroom sessions were generally interesting and helpful.

I'm pretty happy with how I did - learned a lot and managed to not drop wheels or spin! Can't wait for tomorrow... How am I going to be able to sleep!

03/29/2009: Racing school

Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
It's been a long time coming but tomorrow I'll finally be on the track in a race car for the first time. I'll be attending the Bertil Roos Racing School at Virginia International Raceway, driving a "vintage" F2000 car!

A few things already haven't gone as planned - I'm a little under the weather and I managed to leave my driving shoes at home - oh well. I'll be blogging after each day so stay tuned...
Category: Indoor Karting
Posted by: Mike
My first season of indoor karting (and the first real wheel to wheel racing I've ever done) is over, and after it all, I managed to tie for the rookie of the year award and 9th in the championship!

Participating has been a blast. Competition is great - averaging around 30 drivers per event, and in the last race, 28 of the 30 drivers were within 1 second of each other! And the whole season only cost 500 something bucks to run! And I definitely learned and improved a lot throughout the season.

Thanks to Allsports Grand Prix and NCCBMWCCA for organizing and hosting these events. I plan to do it again next year, whether or not I am racing other things.
Category: Indoor Karting
Posted by: Mike
I've read a few things about this topic recently. In particular, check out this thread from The discussion is about the relationship between indoor (arrive and drive) and outdoor (traditional, bring and work on your own equipment) karting, and if the indoor variety is real racing.

Although there are a variety of opinions, there are several people - who as far as I know have a long and involved history in the sport - that think indoor karting is not racing and insist there shouldn't be any relationship between indoor and outdoor.

And its the logic that's quite ridiculous to me. Below are a few of the claims. These are paraphrased ideas and perhaps slanted for effect but read the thread for yourself if you don't believe it.

Indoor Karting is not real racing because its not dangerous enough and doesn't cost enough money.

It is useless to promote outdoor karting through indoor facilities, because there is little/no interest and the time/money should be spent promoting elsewhere.

The first claim is just too ludicrous for me to even try to respond too. As for the second, I cannot fathom a better place to promote karting. Would you seriously think promoting karting at a football game would be a better idea??

As I've said before, I believe lowering the entry barriers to racing is a key to success and growth in the future. Making indoor karting a first step in the ladder is a great way to do this. Apparently, some within the sport can't understand the concept.

If your interested, read through the whole thread, its informative and there's quite a lot I agree with.