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Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
Day 2 was awesome, and again, better then the first.

The day started with a short review of passing and an on track passing exercise. During the classroom session, I had to admit I'd never formally learned passing at Bertil Roos! In that program all passing is saved for the advanced program. I knew about this difference but figured I could handle it. One thing I didn't know was that in the skippy two day advanced, passing is still generally restricted to the straights; I thought there would be open passing in the brake zones. Oh well. Anyway, for the exercise, we would split up in groups of 4 and follow an instructor around all in the formula cars. We would take turns doing staged passes back and forth with the instructor in the 3 major brake zones on the track for one lap, and after that the session became open lapping. Luckily, I was first in line behind the instructor so I got some extra open lapping while others had to cruise around at a slightly slower pace while others in the group were completing their passes.

The exercise went smoothly, and I moved on to picking up the pace. I picked up where I left of yesterday, and after just a few laps felt like I was faster then yesterday. I was carrying a lot of speed (for me anyway) through the back portion of the course, which is a fast rhythm section where you don't brake, but modulate the throttle through it. I jumped from almost no throttle to full throttle quickly, and before I knew it, I was sliding backwards through the grass at a pretty high speed. Bits of grass were flying everywhere, into the cockpit and my helmet, which I had the visor cracked open. It was my first spin in a formula car; I was pretty shocked and was not expecting to spin there.

I got it going again, pulled into the pits, the instructor near the corner talked to me on the radio, then I got going again. Pulling out, another car and I reached turn 1 at about the same time, and I decided to wave him by before the next corner as I wanted some time to work back up to speed. In a few laps I'd caught up to him; He was close to my speed but I felt faster in a few sections. I started pushing hard and he was too, maybe harder then me as he got it pretty sideways a few times but caught it. There was another car ahead of us, slightly pulling away that we were chasing too. Eventually the inevitable happened. I noticed he was taking a different line from me through one section were he pulled the car hard to the left of the track to set up for the next turn in a left-right sequence. Pulling hard to the left was hard as noted by a big slide there a few laps previous, and I found I could keep up just taking a more straight line. Finally he looped it, I was close behind but it was a low speed section so I was able to drive by. It was a blast finally running with someone of similar speed to me though.

Next we broke up into two groups and one group would watch the other from turn 1 with the lead instructor while the other group was on the track. This was similar to Bertil Roos and I really like getting to watch other students on the track. Phil was providing a lot of feedback, commenting on almost every car passing by. We saw a few spins, a lot of people braking a little earlier then I was, and a lot of people with minor footwork issues. This was confidence building for me as on the first day, I was getting passed a lot, but now, I knew I was better on the brakes then a lot of this group, and I was feeling really confident with my shifting and footwork. Too much confidence can hurt you though. When our group went out, within a few laps I managed to spin it in turn 1. I think having the other students watching had an impact, as I wanted to look fast and cool. I braked late, and carried a lot of speed into the corner, which is something the instructor wanted me to work on. This time, I carried more speed then I expected and the car started to rotate more then I expected as I was trailing off the brake. I made a quick steering correction, but it wasn't enough and the car continued to rotate. Instead of getting back on the throttle like normal, I didn't till it was too late and spun to the inside. I managed not to stall and got going again. I was kinda disappointed in myself as I felt this spin was easily avoidable and I thought I was pretty good with car control. Regardless, I went back out and felt I finished the session pretty solid.

After a quick feedback, we quickly got back in the cars again for a long session! I was feeling a little like I needed a break but that all changed once I got in the car. I ran a lot of the long session by myself and got in a good rhythm. I felt very focused this session, regained confidence from the spins earlier, and was still improving. I felt great after the session and not tired at all.

After the lunch break, we had a short classroom session about starts and restarts. Then went out in the cars to do a few simulated starts in groups of 6. The first start was a little sloppy! I was on the second row and was watching the row in front of me, saw them go and floored it, then saw them back off, then saw that there was no green flag yet, then finally the green came out and we all blasted off. For the next start, I rotated to the front row, and as we pulled on the front straight, I maintained the pace speed and looked down to the flag stand. Problem is, it is kinda far away and actually pretty hard to see. The green came out and the guy on my outside got a jump on me. I guess I need some more work on rolling starts.

To end the day we would do two more short open lapping sessions, with two instructors also out on the track to run with. For the first session, I was chasing down car 18 which was pulling away from me in the morning. Now, I was maintaining the gap to him for a few laps. Then I slowly started reeling him in as he started to considerably slow. I talked to him after the session and he said he got tired and was making a lot of mistakes. For the next few laps, I was all over him, but couldn't find the momentum to complete a pass on the straightaway. A few laps later he pulled over to let me pass. There was also another guy all over me know and an instructor in the mix. For the next few laps I continued to push hard but the guy behind was still all over me till the checkered flag. Afterwards, the instructor in the car running with us gave some good feedback as he was able to follow us around the whole track. It was really fun running close with these cars.

For the final session, me and car 36 (the guy who was chasing me at the end of the last session) agreed to run some laps together. He wanted to try setting up a pass on me, and I wanted to run some laps behind him to see if I could keep up and see if I could learn anything. I took it easy the first few laps and he quickly caught up to me. after a few laps he got a good run on me and was alongside at the start of the brake zone, but decided not to make the pass as to not break the no passing under breaking rule. Next time around, I decided to wave him by. Unfortunately I did not get to follow him for long as a super fast guy and instructor passed me and the three cars started to pull away. I decided not to push too hard as I didn't want to crash in the last session.

It was an awesome two days, and everyone made it through without any damage. I feel my driving improved immensely, particularly braking which was my biggest weakness going in. I know there's still improvement, but, as was evident towards the end of the second day, the faster you get, the harder it is to go still faster. I know I want to keep improving though and I'm absolutely driven to be the best I can.

Oops, I didn't really intend this to be that long. I wonder if anyone will actually read through all of it! And I'll probably write about a few more things later.
Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
Just got done with the first day of the 2 day advanced school with Skip Barber on the north course at VIR.

First off, the school was originally scheduled for the full course. Somehow that changed a few weeks ago, which was kind of disappointing as I really wanted the experience on the full course that all the pro series run, as well as nasa/scca. I also couldn't use my experience at oak tree from Bertil Roos. That's not to say the north course isn't an awesome track though. Like the full course, It's very fast with a lot of sweeping corners and rhythm sections, and many elevation changes.

The class started with instructor and student introductions. The instructors we got were pretty experienced, most with some experience in pro series in either open wheel or sports cars. Like my class at Bertil Roos, the students were on average more experienced with me. At least 3 students were registered for the summer series race this weekend and using the advanced school for seat time at the track. Two guys had extensive karting experience from a young age in south america, and one had run a formula Renault (I think, if I remember correctly) series somewhere for a year. One guy was a NASA instructor. There were two guys that I think have about equal experience to me. For a few other guys I'm not sure exactly what their experience is but I think it may be more then they revealed. There were a total of 12 students. I was also the only student who had never run any skip barber car before.

Because the class wasn't full, Phil (the lead instructor) opted to run everyone in one group instead of two so we would both get a little more track time and be able to finish a little earlier.

After the introductions, there was a short classroom review of the basics, and some pointers on shifting the sequential box. Then a few minute demonstration in front of the car about getting in, starting the car, shifting, etc.

Before getting in the formula cars, we did a quick van around the track for a few laps. Next we did some lead follow with the students in race cars following the instructors in street cars in groups of 3. The instructors took it a little faster each lap. It was a good way of learning the track and working up to speed. However, after a few laps, the instructors Mazda 3 we were following started smoking really bad under acceleration; I mean so much white smoke out of the exhaust I could barely see. The instructor continued on for a few laps before pulling into the pits. In the pits, we stayed in the cars for what felt like a long time before going out for a few more lead follow laps. I thought they were fixing the mazda 3 or finding another car to use. But when we went out again, the mazda was throwing out the smoke again!

Next, a really short classroom session about passing (open passing on the two longest straights and wave bys allowed elsewere) before heading back out for a lapping session with a "stopbox." In the stopbox lapping session, you do a lap at your own pace and then come to a stop on the front striaght, where the instructors who are positioned around the track give feedback (if they have any) to you through the radio. I went around at what I felt was a moderate pace, not pushing it too hard. Apparently I was doing ok as the instructors never had any comments for me! After the seesion, I got feedback from all the instructors and most said I was doing good but needed to work on braking closer the threshold. In terms of my driving, the shifting took a few laps to get used to but was easy after that. Everything can be done in one motion so it is much easier and faster. It was still kind of confusing to remember what gear you were in.

Lunch followed which was provided free. Then we did a long open lapping session. Phil said it was going to be 30 minutes, much longer then any session I've done before, even in go karts! I started out moderately and slowly worked up to speed. Although I felt I was progressing pretty quickly, pretty soon, I got passed by a few cars, and couldn't keep up with them. I started pushing harder and was getting the car sideways in a few places but well off the pace of them. Even though I knew a lot of the guys were a lot more experienced then me, particularly in these cars, it was slightly discouraging. Towards the end of the session, I didn't feel physically tired but I was making more and more mistakes, not putting the car exactly where I wanted it, etc. Also some of the foam I put to hold myself in the too-big-for-me seat came loose and interfered with my left arm. I drove through it to the checkered flag. I didn't see any spins but saw a few cars off and a few yellow flags. Feedback for the session was again positive and again I was told to continue working on braking.

After a short break, we did another open lapping session. This one was a little shorter. I continued to progress, going later and harder on the brakes, carrying more speed in some turns I was tentative in earlier, and I also felt like I was able to carry more speed in a few places by adjusting my line slightly and adjusting the throttle and brake amounts and positions.

Tomorrow more lapping sessions and some practice passing and starts/restarts. should be interesting.
Category: General
Posted by: Mike
I'm at VIR today watching star mazda, TDI cup, FBMW and Skip Barber national run before the skip barber 2 day advanced school monday and tuesday. This is my first time spectating a pro road race live. A few notes:

I didn't get a race program or anything, to know what series were running and when, or how to get around the track, or where the bleachers are located or what good places to watch are. I've been here once before and printed my own schedule, so I kinda knew what I wanted to do but probably still looked kinda lost. If people who didn't know much about racing showed up at the track, I think they'd be completely lost.

There's a decent amount of people here. By decent, I mean in the thousands. However, a majority (over 50%) of the people seem to be associated with some driver, team, the track or some program running. For example, guys wearing racing team shirts, people with Volkswagen cards hanging around their neck, etc.

There are a lot of places around the track where you can see a good portion (like over 1/4) of the track. I've seen a couple passes and a few incidents. Still, its hard to follow whats going on and honestly it's kind of boring. I prefer watching races on TV, were the commentators know exactly whats going on and the cameras capture a lot (but not all) of the action.

The track announcers seemed ok but they didn't have a full view of the track either, so didn't really know everything that was going on. I went near the south paddock for the FBMW and Skippy races, and there is either no announcer for those series or I can't hear it from here.

The paddock is completely open and you can walk right up to all the cars. I saw the TDI cup guys pulling into the Volkswagen area of the paddock after the race, and listened in for a minute to the Skip Barber National Series drivers meeting. Pretty neat.

Volkswagen had a nice display near the entrance of the paddock of a few cars and were giving out free posters, and a girl talked to me as I walked past.

iRacing had a small trailer with demos. When I walked up the guys were friendly but didn't pay any particular attention to me, ask me any questions, etc. I waited for a few minutes and my turn came. It was really neat to drive the skip barber car I'll be driving tomorrow in iRacing. The sim is awesome, way batter then rFactor. Anyway, apparently I was doing decently because the guy asked me if I was a member after a few minutes. They didn't pay any real attention to me until I expressed interest in buying.

A lot of people seemed to leave after the race they were associated with was over. In the south paddock for the Skippy race, I only see a few dozen people left watching around here and the oak tree area.

I enjoyed taking pictures of the cars passing by.

In conclusion, I wonder if there's a way to make watching road racing live more exciting?
Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
Track maps/diagrams are not always accurate. During the classroom session of the first day, I looked at the big track map they had posted on the wall, and quickly memorized it. Not only was the map not to scale, but it didn't reveal that many of the turns were increasing or decreasing radius. When I got out on the track, I couldn't tell the increasing or decreasing radius of all the corners. The instructors probably went over it but I wasn't paying attention. For much of the second day, my instructor kept telling me to apex turn 7 earlier and earlier, I did but he said I was still missing the apex. It didn't make since to me as I had the inaccurate track make ingrained in my head. Sometime on the third day I realized it was an increasing radius turn and it made sense.

Along those lines, I realize now that increasing or decreasing radius turns greatly change where to apex the corner. If I was just driving myself, I would have continued to apex many of the corners like they were constant radius and would have thought it felt fine probably. Satellite images are a good way to determine the exact layouts of the track.

What you can't tell from the satellite is subtle differences in grip in different places and slight camber changes. Even with my limited experience, I could feel on the third day how much moving off the traditional line through the downhill esses at VIR south was much faster. No video game I've played can emulate this accurately.

Looking far ahead is extremely important, it helps you put the car where you want it and more consistently. In video games, especially older ones, you cannot really look that far ahead due to pixelation. I knew this but still have to consciously force myself to do it.

I still need to work a lot on braking. I wasn't able to work on it as much as I hoped because the braking exercise got rained out and instead became a rain driving/car control exercise. The brake pedal on a cheap set for computer/video games is not progressive at all and it is really hard to get a feel for the threshold with them. Brakes in street cars are significantly different from race cars as they are power assisted and the pedal travels a lot. In indoor karting, brakes are barely used and make a very minimal difference it lap times.

Race cars are pretty difficult to launch smoothly, but who cares about launching smoothly anyway! For me its not so much that the engagement travel is short, in fact in these cars it didn't feel that short, but because the pedal was so firm, it was difficult to modulate the pedal through the engagement zone.

I feel pretty confident with my car control. I never spun out in 3 days despite getting it sideways a few times. It's very instinctive to me and I just feel I can feel the rear of the car step out and make a steering correction faster then most. I honestly think playing video games, driving a rear wheel drive car with crappy narrow tires on the street in rain and snow as a teenager, Indoor karting on a very slick track surface, and watching a lot of onboard video from the internet and TV have helped me with this.
Category: Fitness
Posted by: Mike
I know that driving race cars is pretty physical - more physical then the layman would think. Here's a couple interesting threads about the topic:

The conclusion from the limited research I've done on the topic seems to be that the arms, neck, shoulders, upper back and calves are important muscles used for driving race cars. Conventional resistance training covers most of these muscle groups with the exception of the neck. The threads above mention some ways to build up neck strength.

My workouts are honestly pretty light and often few and far between. I usually do 20-30 minutes of cardio - usually running or an elliptical machine, and few resistance exercises - mostly the normal bench, rows, pull ups, leg press, etc. The most unconventional exercise I do is the "neck curl" described in the karting thread. Basically I lay on my back and/or sides with my head hanging off a bench or my bed with a weight on top of my head, and pull my head up and down or side to side.

After my first 3 days in a formula car, I found my back and shoulders were pretty sore, my arms weren't really sore at all, and my neck was just barely sore. The rest of my body was not sore at all, besides a few bruises I had on various parts of my body form banging into unpadded parts of the car. Surprisingly, my neck was not as sore as i expected it to be, although I don't think an older formula car on street tires pulls that many g's in the corners. I'm sure a modern F1 or Indy car would be a different story. Also surprisingly, my most sore muscles were my right hand fingers, from my death grip on the shifter! I could barely make a fist with my right hand a few days later.

In terms of fitness, I wasn't physically tired at all after any of the sessions in the car. Then again, I was only in the car 15 minutes at a time, with long breaks in between. Mentally, I knew that it would be very strenuous, but it was even more so then I expected. Although I did not feel mentally fatigued or spent like I used to in college or sometimes at work - at least not immediately after getting out of the car, I think it was just adrenaline keeping me going during the day. I was passing out pretty early back at the hotel. Driving the car - I don't think I've ever been more focused on anything else in my life, and it is draining.

So overall, it was less physically demanding and more mentally demanding then I expected.
Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
Its all over now, but each day just got better and better. The day started out with a long classroom discussion about fixing mistakes - what mistakes are and how they happen, steering, line recovery, how to spin, how to crash, etc. helpful stuff. Then we went out in the slide cars to practice some of these techniques. I made sure to get in the other slide car (there were two) that I didn't drive yesterday, as I heard they have a slightly different feel. The car today was definitely a little snappier. I did well, but was correcting a little TOO fast. I realizing this is an exercise to practice recovery in slow motion, and the idea was to be slower but smooth! Anyway the recovery techniques would come in handy later in the day!

In the morning there were also two track sessions. There were a few things I wanted to try. Clutchless shifting, a different line though turns 3-7, and using first gear through some of the corners. Clutchless upshifting was a breeze as soon as I pulled out of the pits for the first session, as expected. Clutchless downshifting was surprisingly easy as well, I thought it might be tricky to get into gear if the rev match is not perfect, but actually its not that bad. The only risk is locking up the rears, and I reduced this by shifting sequentially. During the track walk yesterday, we learned a new line through the downhill esses which involved straight lining it much more and hugging the inside all along the looong turn 6. Intuitively this line would be slower, as the line though 6 is not optimal, and this leads onto a straightaway. Supposedly, there is actually more grip on the inside, partially due to different camber. I started using this line and could feel I was gaining more and more speed through that section. One time though, I straight lined a little too much and clipped the apex cone. Got black flagged and warned, but no biggie! Another new technique I was trying was rotating on entry into turn 7. Unfortunately I wasn't able to really nail this all day. I think I wasn't trailing off the brake enough, so when I cut the wheel in I only got understeer. Starting to use first gear was a pretty amazing difference though. The engines feel torquey enough to pull in 2nd at low RPM, but using first definitely pulled more speed down the straights, maybe 5-10MPH! I was feeling great for the lunch break. I was continuing to pace my group (albeit it was the less experienced one) and I was continuing to improve by leaps and bounds.

Things got interesting after lunch when the rain rolled in. We knew it was coming but didn't know when and how much. The first group went out and it was sprinkling a bit but it was still a complete dry session. However, by the time I was belting in, it was coming a little harder, but the track still looked dry. I went out and took it easy for the first lap or two, then started picking it up. I grabbed 1st out of oak tree and wow, major power oversteer! I eased out of the throttle, countersteered and managed to save it. The guy behind me told me he though i was going for a ride in the weeds for sure! Undaunted, I continued at a relatively quick pace through the other end of the track, and found the grip was there. Out of 7, I took it close to my full speed and up to the fast left kink. I just started taking this high speed kink flat earlier today. When taking it full speed, you can feel the car moving around a bit over the bumps but it sticks. This time, in the unknown conditions, I decided to just barely dial the throttle back to maybe 90% and hold it constant through. I get to the apex fine, feel the car start to move over the bumps, but then it keeps moving and the rear steps out at close to 100MPH! I quickly snap the wheel right as soon as I feel it and somehow, I'm still on the track! wow. That one made me finally decide to dial it back much more for the rest of the session. The track conditions were definitely deteriorating. Reality was, one side of the track (turns 10-11) was much slicker then the over, (turns 1-7), but I didn't realize this.

By the time I pulled into the pits and got out of the car, I could see all the pavement was dark from being wet! The next group got in and prepared for a wet session after a short wet driving lesson (a little late for our group!) By the time they went out, the track was completely wet, but not so much that the cars were throwing up rooster tails. We had a view of the action from the top of the downhill esses, awesome! we saw many spins at the bottom of the esses (turn 6) a few good saves, and a few spins in turn 7 too. By the end of the session, some guys started picking up the pace.

When I got into the car for the next run, it had completely stopped sprinkling so it was apparent we would be on a drying track, but I had no idea how fast. I took it easy at the beginning of the session. I could feel the car pushing around much of the track as the front did not want to bite on the still slick surface. Halfway though the session, I started to notice a dry line starting to form in some places and started to pick it up in these places.

The other group went out to a new pretty dry track. By the time they came in they said the track was completely dry everywhere. So we had a dry session for as our final session, a nice way to wrap things up. I focused on putting everything together. I was carrying more speed then ever through a lot of corners, I was working on a few things my instructor pointed out (slightly missing the apex at oak tree for example, and shortening my braking zones.

Overall, what an awesome experience that has really confirmed that I do want to continue to pursue racing on some level. What level that will be and how I will get there, I'm still trying to figure out.

There's a lot more that happened in the past 3 days that I missed writing about. I probably have a few posts in the coming weeks about some specific topics related to my experience in the past 3 days. Feel free to ask any questions.