Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
Here's a few clips from my Skip Barber race weekend.

I made a mistake on this video, the start is the last lap of the race; then it cuts to the first lap of the race.

This one is just the exciting photo finish!

Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
The atmosphere of the practice today was totally different from lapping. Between formula cars and MX-5 cup cars, there were five groups and probably 60 or so drivers participating. After the driver meeting, new driver meeting, and group driver meeting where we drew cars, I was on track in the first group of the day.

I was reminded in the new drivers meeting to check the pedal positions. I did so and noticed the throttle was significantly further forward then the last car I drove. If I braked like I did in the other car, I would catch some throttle, but if I pointed my knee to the left more (as is suggested) it was fine. I decided to leave it as is. That's what I've pretty much always done. I don't have a lot of experience in these cars, and maybe I'd like it better. Maybe it would make it easier to blip without releasing brake pressure. If I didn't like it I could adjust it for the next session.

As soon as I got out, I noticed my braking distances were way longer then yesterday; at first I didn't know what was going on but after a lap or two I realized I was catching major throttle during heavy braking. I focused on pointing my knee inwards and that solved the problem. But I'd already lost my confidence in braking. Braking with a different foot position, was a little weird; I didn't feel like I had quite the same control over brake pressure as before, and I had to focus to brake like this while also trying to pick up speed elsewhere. Into turn three, which isn't even a heavy braking zone, I broke a little too late, added brake pressure, locked up, realized I was not going to make the corner and decided to drive straight off. Turn three is a mid speed corner but there seemed to be decent run off straight off. I thought I might be able to stop the car before the tire barrier, but as I pushed the brake harder in panic, I caught more and more gas and by the time I realized it contact with the tires was inevitable. I was not traveling that fast and barely felt the impact, but it was enough to knock down the row of tires. After screaming expletives, I was able to back out and drive back to the pits without being able to see what damage there was to the front of the car.

Fortunately, the mechanics were able to check over the car, adjust the pedals and get me back out in only a few minutes. I was able to make the best of the rest of the session. I picked up speed in a few places but continued to struggle with braking. With the pedals adjusted, now the brake was so much further up, I struggled even more with modulating the pressure and was locking up a lot. Also fortunately, after the session I was able to see the damage and although the nose cone was off and the front wing was bent, it was not that costly.

Regardless, when we got the time sheets I found I did improve my time after the incident. Although I was somewhere around midpack, there was a large variance in times and my best time was almost 8 seconds off the fastest of the session a few seconds off where I wanted to be at this time. Obviously, I felt like an idiot after the session. It felt like it was the most ridiculous place to crash and way to crash. I regretted not having a mechanic check my pedals before going out, and not coming in for an adjustment once I realized I was not comfortable with them. I'm obviously wondering if I would have gone off and/or hit the tire wall if I had gotten the pedals adjusted and how much the incident effected my progress during the rest of the session and rest of the day.

After a long time to think things over with 4 other groups going out before my second session, I adjusted my seat one position back which helped a lot with the braking. The second session was more uneventful then the first, although I did barely run off the track after another big lockup under braking. At this point I'm guessing my front tires are flat spotted pretty good, which could provide another additional challenge for the rest of the weekend. I was able to chip away bits of time here and there and knock of a few seconds off the gap to the fastest drivers, but with no major breakthroughs I still have a ways to go to a competitive pace.

I still feel like I know what I need to do, it is just a matter of execution. Obviously, with a limited budget I don't have much track time to learn and perhaps I am rushing myself too much. It wouldn't be racing if it wasn't a challenge though. In my limited experience, I've found racing to be more physiologically intense then anything else I've ever done. The highs can be high, the lows can be low and that can all change quickly. Who knows how tomorrow will go.
Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
I'm currently at VIR for my first Skip Barber regional race weekend. Today I did a lapping day, tomorrow is practice and Saturday and Sunday are qualifying and races.

I was certainly hesitant this morning since I hadn't driven the Skip Barber car at all in a year, and even then it was only for two days, so I'm likely the least experienced in the car of anyone here. However my two lapping sessions went well. Right out of the box, I felt surprisingly comfortable. Although it's not perfect, I think the iRacing sim helped. I'll have more on that to come. There was a vast speed differential between the fastest and slowest people in the first session, and I was somewhere in the middle. By the second session, things were feeling even better and an instructor even timed me (unofficially of course) as the fastest of anyone in one split. Of course, I capped off the session by spinning off in that turn. I guess there's not much more to pick up there.

Every time I've gotten in a race car I get more comfortable, more confident and feel like I know more and more what's happening, why it's happening, and what I need to do to go faster. The instructors at skip barber provide great feedback, and I'm at a point now where I feel like I know during the session and after the session what I need to work on, and a lot of the feedback is like confirmation to me. My first few sessions in a racecar, I got out with adrenaline pumping but almost in a daze; I struggled to remember much of what I did in the session, even when I felt I was doing well. Now when I get out of the car I have a decent idea of why I was fast in one section slow in another, and am able to absorb and learn much better.

All the formula cars ran in one group (since VIR is 3 miles long, the 20+ cars wasn't much of an issue) and with only one group of MX-5 cars as well, that meant the two 30 minute lapping sessions finished up around lunch. For the rest of the day, drivers can sign up for additional practice, lead follow or computer car sessions. I stuck around for a bit to listen in on a few drivers and instructors going over lead follow and computer data. I took some notes and jotted down what I need to focus on tomorrow. I also walked around and watched from a few corners; VIR is such a beautiful facility and with the great weather and being the only one out there, it felt really peaceful and tranquil.

Hopefully the rest of the weekend goes well. I'll try to post after each day.
Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
Although I've only done one NASA HPDE (High Performance Drivers Education) event so far, I thought I'd compare how it stacks up against the pro racing schools (such as Skip Barber or Bertil Roos) that I've done.

The NASA HPDE allows you to take pretty much any car, from an all out race car to a fully stock street car on the track for un-timed lapping sessions. Drivers are grouped by skill level and the beginner and intermediate groups require you start with an instructor in the car. There are also several classroom instruction sessions throughout the weekend. There are many organizations that host HPDE type events at almost every road course in North America, including NASA, SCCA, Trackdaze and marque clubs such as BMWCCA.

The differences between the track day/HPDE and pro racing school formats are vast. Probably the biggest similarity between the two is the classroom sessions. I run in the level 2 group, so the instruction was not fully comprehensive, but the topics covered were similar.

On the track, things are very different. First off, since drivers are grouped by skill level and not by car, there is a vast range of different cars in each group; a majority of the cars I was running with had two to three times more power then me, although some were on stock or near stock brakes, tires and suspension, so I could carry significantly more speed through the corners. I was concerned about the safety of this going in, but it really turned out to be a non issue. I did have to be aware of when to point someone past me on the straight, but it did not significantly distract me from driving the track, and although sometimes the closing speeds are massive, I did not see any unsafe maneuvers by anyone. Sure, car to car contact is possible, but from my experience I think it is a pretty rare occurrence.

Secondly, having an instructor in the car took some getting used to. I was worried about being distracted from the instructors comments, but in turned out his level of talking was appropriate and not distracting at all. Certainly there are pros and cons to having an instructor in car; an in car instructor can watch your steering and pedal inputs, and provide real time feedback. However, if you've never attended a pro racing school, it is pretty amazing how much a good instructor can see just from standing at a corner or following in another car.

Although I mentioned the range of different cars did not present a significant safety concern, I do think it inhibits drivers progress. Having to slow down to let another driver pass can kill your momentum for half a lap. It is hard to find the limits of braking in a race car when you've got cars with much longer braking distances ahead of you. And naturally with such a huge difference in lap times, there are going to be trains of cars that form and it could take several laps to find clear track. In short, a dozen or less identical cars on the track that I've experienced at the racing schools produces a lot more valuable track time then two dozen or more cars of vastly different performance all getting in each others way.

Another concern I had was the level of instruction I would get with NASA, and the ability of my instructor to help me drive my car. I've mentioned before the excellent quality of instruction I've gotten from both racing schools I've attended, and I believe any pro racing school should have excellent instruction. However, with track days being on such a larger scale, I'm lead to believe the quality of instruction can vary a lot more. During my first event though, my concern was unfounded. I found that NASA does try to assign instructors who have experience in the type of car you are running. And my instructor was also knowledgeable about the track and and able to communicate effectively, both during and after the sessions.

I should also mention the difference in the environment of a pro racing school and a NASA type event. The combination of a lot more different things happening at the NASA event, the varying mentality of the drivers (some are serious about racing and some are just there to have fun or push there street cars to the limits) and having to worry about running my own car meant I found it more difficult to focus on improving my driving during the HPDE vs. the racing schools.

In closing I think that HPDE type events do teach you performance driving and can be a lot of fun as well. However, if you are really serious about racing, I would highly recommend you attend a pro racing school as well.
Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
I recently got back from the Bertil Roos rookie camp. The program is kind of like a race weekend limited to inexperienced drivers with extra coaching. Here's a pretty in depth review of what went down.

We met up at the Roos main office which is a few minutes from Pocono International Raceway, were the program would be held. Among the students, experience level varied; but some had run the Roos series races before, but at least a few had no wheel to wheel racing experience, and I believe a few guys had only done the equivalent of the 5 day school like me. The camp started out with filling out an evaluation form where we rated ourselves in different areas – there were about 50 different criteria in areas covering racecraft, car control, mental preparation, etc. The first day would target what we individually wanted to work on.

So we got to the track and did a few drive arounds with the instructors in the street cars. We would be running the south course in the clockwise direction, which no one had experience on. On paper the track looks very boring, but in real life, it's a lot more technical then it looks. The front “straight” sweeps around turn 1 of the big oval course, backwards obviously. NASCAR considers Pocono a pretty “flat” banked track, but turn 1 of the oval does not look so flat in real life! After the front straight, turn 1 of the south course clockwise is the drop down on to the infield section, before you get to the main oval pits. The actual track is a pretty fast, wide, slight transition, but they had some cones up to make it a much sharper corner, which provided a much better passing opportunity. Turn two is a mid speed right, then there's a short straight into turn 3, a pretty fast right, which heads right into a tight left hairpin. Then there's a pretty slow right with a tricky camber dropoff, then the fast turn 6/7 which puts up back onto the oval right before the track bends right again for NASCAR turn 1.

The day would consist of 4 practices of roughly 20 minutes. We broke up in two groups and went out for the first practice. I was in the second group, so we went out to a corner to watch. I think watching first was probably a good thing. We saw the group overall get up to speed pretty quickly, but there were A LOT of spins, a lot of near spins, a lot of sloppy shifting and a lot of inconsistent lines. When it was my turn, I was hoping to not repeat the mistakes we saw, however, I was feeling pretty sloppy, particularly my shifts, which I thought would be second nature. Seems that the sequential in the skip barber cars spoiled me – that and just being out of a race car for about 3 months. Fortunately I kept it on the track, barely though.

For the rest of the day, each student would be running with their instructor for part of each session. In the second session, I cleaned up my driving quite a bit and dropped my lap times around 2 seconds (The electronic data system which shows your last lap time it pretty helpful BTW). I also picked up a few things from following my instructor. For the third session, my instructor and I worked on racecraft more, as I'd never raced wheel to wheel in cars. He let me pass a few times then repassed me, then did a few “intentional mistakes” to see if I could capitalize. I made a few mistakes myself and he got by me a few times. Overall it was fun, and the closest I've ever run with another car, although I was somewhat disappointed that, between the dicing and trying a new line in a few corners that took some getting used to, I did not improve my times.

For the final session of the day, the plan was to continue doing the same. Unfortunately, my instructor had a mechanical issue with his car so I didn't get to run with him. At one point, someone was tailing me for a few laps but unable to pass, but I decided to wave him past. I pushed it hard, and to my surprise, I was able to hang with him for a few laps and trim half a second or so of my times. Eventually I lost him when I got mistakenly blackflagged. By the end of the day, I was feeling like I'd gotten the basics of the track figured out, and was feeling pretty confident. Certainly I knew there was still more to the track and the car, but I was happy with my progress. The day went by really quickly and I was feeling very fresh at the end, way better then I had after a day of driving then ever before.

Woke up the morning of day 2 and was surprised it was wet outside! Somehow I overlooked checking the weather the night before. Regardless, I wasn't too worried because I did decent running in one damp session during my intro school, and always thought racing in the rain was cool anyway! The day would consist of a optional trackwalk first thing (with no instruction), a warmup session, qualifying session, then three races.

So I headed to the track early to do the trackwalk in light rain. I Had enough time to walk most of the track both ways. I was looking mainly for camber and elevation change, as well as grip changes, particularly in the wet. Even though I was led through a trackwalk during my intro school, doing my first walk on my own, I don't think I was able to pick up everything. Still it was helpful, if anything just to understand what I missed from talking to the instructors later.

Back in the classroom, we had a brief rain driving lesson, then a drivers meeting where we went over the rules and format of the upcoming 3 races for the day. Next we had a drive around with the instructors to point out some rain tips.

First session of the day was a 20 minute practice. Group 1 went out and the session was surprisingly clean, I think there were actually less cars spinning off then in the dry! It looked like the track still had decent grip. There was a sweeper/blower running on the track during the trackwalk, so the track was wet but no standing water. The guy I was sharing a car with said his laptimes were 4-5 seconds slower, so that was a good reference. I went out and worked down from around 10 seconds slower then my lap times the day before, to around 5 or 6. I was gaining more confidence with how much speed I could carry, however, I was also aware the conditions were changing, rain was beading off my visor at a much higher rate, and I could see much more spray coming off the other cars, so I couldn't get my times down any further, but I was maintaining the same range. During the session, I had my only spin of the two days; I carried a little too much speed into the tricky turn 5, almost caught it but ended up spinning to the inside and stopped with my front wheels still on, so no black flag!

We quickly moved to the 10 minute qualifying sessions which would set the field for the final main race. Group 1 went out and it was much wetter then their first session. We watched from a new position, the outside of turn 7, where the cars transition back to the oval, which is probably the scariest part of the track, in the dry, let alone the wet! In the dry it's flat out if you get it right but there are a lot minor dips and slight elevation changes, so line choice matters and you can feel you are near the limit. In the dry, I got it sideways there before which isn't too comfortable with the concrete wall to the outside. In the wet there were puddles everywhere so you had to dial it back and also feather back on it when you were back on the oval. During practice I got it pretty sideways jumping on the throttle too quick and we could see most guys in group 1 having the same issue. A few times it looked like guys were about to eat the wall! We could also see some guys that just manhandled the cars and powerslid out to the wall every time!

I got in the car for my qualifying with the knowledge that my car partner had apparently gotten the pole for group 1. My goal was to run close to his fast lap. Feeling pretty confident from the rain practice, I planned to get right on it by the 2nd or 3rd lap to get a good time in, then try to improve with a little more risk towards the end of the session, from my instructors advice. I myself had planned to take it easy the first half of the session, then hammer it towards the end thinking perhaps the track condition would be better. I was glad I took the instructors advice though. By the second lap, I already within a few tenths of the group 1 pole time, and few laps later I turned a lap about 2 tenths better then group one pole. I could start to tell the track was drying up just a bit as the rooster tails were a little smaller and the rain was not hitting the visor as much, so track condition was in fact improving. I felt I could drop another half second or so still. However, coming around turn 2, I saw a car parked to the inside with smoking coming from the rear. Not feeling safe going full bore right past that, I had to sacrifice the next few laps until the checkered came out before the car was cleared. I was glad I got a few good laps in before the yellow. The instructor was right, you never know what may happen if you wait! I thought my lap time was pretty good, but knowing the skill level of the other drivers and the drying track condition I had no idea where I had qualified. I didn't learn till close to the final race that I had infact gotten my first pole ever!

Next was the first race of the day which was a short 6 lapper with a random draw start. Our instructor drove the pacecar and we rode along, so it was cool to watch the group 1 race from that perspective. We then parked in turn 1 and had a great view of the action into the heaviest braking zone on the track. The race was short but there were a few nice passes.

After that, it was a big moment, I was about to race wheel to wheel in a car for the first time in my life. How long had I been waiting for this! But since we were rushed as more bad weather was coming, I quickly strapped into the car as soon as group 1 finished without the chance to overthink things or second guess myself. I would start second with the random draw. Coming to the green flag, I got a decent jump on the polesitter and thought I would be in a good position to lead my first race! However, out of the corner of my eye I see the third place car dive to the inside and make it 3 wide. He has the inside line into turn one so I had to slot in behind. For rest of the 6 lap race, a gap of about 1 second stayed the same between him and me. So I finished second in my first race ever, not bad. I did find out that he had to switch cars before the race, and the new car had brand new tires with full treds, great in the wet, but not as good as an almost slick worn tire in the dry!

I was really looking forward to the 2nd and 3rd races after a short lunch break. However, fog quickly moved into the area, and in the matter of minutes visibility was down to maybe a few hundred feet. Everyone waited it out, but after a while we were starting to wonder if we would be able to get the races in. After over an hour, the fog started to lift a bit and group 1 rushed to get into the cars and race. As they were out on their second race, the fog suddenly completely lifted and it was perfectly clear again!

So I got in the car for my 2nd race. It would be inverted form the finishing order of the first, so I would start second to last. I was feeling pretty good and got a decent start, but the winner of the last race again got a monster start, and snuck up the middle of the whole pack, and with it 3 wide already, I didn't have anywhere safe to go so I decided to stay at the back through the first corner and then try to pick off some cars. However, the track was drying now, and somehow, I was a bit off the game. It was really cool that there were not really any slow drivers in the whole rookie camp; in our group, everyone was probably within a few seconds of each other. So there were no easy passes, and being a little off, I was barely able to even hang with the tail of the pack, let alone pass! The six laps went by fast and I finished dead last!

My car partner asked me what happened and I was a bit dumbfounded and couldn't explain why I was so slow! My instructor said something along the lines of, “I hope you were just taking it easy since you have the pole for the main race.” But I wasn't! While I was pondering what went wrong, Group 1 went out for their final 12 lap race. The first two races we watched had some good racing, but this time, the intensity stepped up 5 notches! The pack barreled into turn one on the first lap and somehow made it through. For the next few laps the top 3 dove into turn one, swapping positions but somehow not wrecking each other and running two abreast though sections of track where we'd never seen. After a few laps we heard on the radio there was contact between two cars in the hairpin but could not clearly see what happened from our position in turn one; however, one of the cars involved was mine! However, my partner was able to continue on and at the end of 12 laps, ended up with the win! And fortunately, the only damage to the car was a slightly bent rim, and the mechanics were able to change the wheel in a few minutes.

So the pressure was on me now for the final race. I was on pole, but on the outside, was the guy who won the first race, moved from last to 2nd in the 2nd race and managed to run two seconds or so faster then me in the second race. I could tell he was obviously pumped and he should be! I was not feeling so confident anymore. My plan going into the rookie camp was to win the main race, but now I knew it would be a challenge. I knew I had to get a good start, and thought my only hope was to stay in the lead and somehow hold off the pack for 12 laps.

So much happened during the race and immediately afterwards, everything was a blur, but here's how I piece it together from my perspective. The green flag drops and I get a good start and a jump on the outside polesitter. Into turn 1, I brake at a moderate point and hold the middle of the track. I think I've got the lead of the race, but as I look to turn in, I see someone moving up my inside, and he's almost even with me. Looking back I think it was a nice move that took advantage of catching me off guard. But at the time, I was frustrated as my plan for the race was foiled. I rather stupidly decided in a split second my only hope is to try to hold the outside and somehow find my way back around before turn two. We'd seen this attempted a few times in race 1 and be successful sometimes, but it was always a near collision between the two cars. I hold the outside and am near alongside him, slightly back as we approach the tight slight left kink between turns 1 and 2. He holds his line and is moving closer and closer towards the “apex” cone (it's not really a true corner so you are usually a bit off the cone). I don't even know if he sees me. At the last moment, I realize this is not going to work out, and move down, smashing the cone with the left part of my wing. I didn't realize it, but apparently I was dragging that cone around for the rest of the race! By the run up to turn 2, I've managed to loose two more positions and I'm down to 4th.

Well, the start gets me fired up and I immediately start pushing 100%. The track is pretty much completely dry now and something just comes to me. Suddenly I'm able to just put everything together, what I was unable to do in the last race. The next few laps, I manage to make the pass for 3rd into turn 1 and for 2nd when the driver makes a small mistake out of 1. So after a few laps I'm back to second and third place is all over me, with the rest of the pack probably not far behind. Out of 7, I get a good run, and am in the draft of the leader. With the rear wing all the way up, these cars seem to draft really well down the long straight. I catch up before halfway or so, think about popping down low but decide instead to lift slightly to time my move further down into turn one so he couldn't repass me. Unfortunately for me, 3rd position takes advantage and moves down low to pass me. I don't remember the next few laps exactly, but the two front drivers end up swapping the lead a few times. Eventually the 15-year-old-kid ends up in front of winner-of-the-first-race for a few laps. I'm going to school on them and realize both me and the kid are getting a better run on the other driver out of 7 onto the straight, but me and the other driver are better under braking into turn 1. In fact, the kid overshoots turn one a bit a few times which is the cause of some of the lead swapping. When he doesn't overshoot though, and ends up in the lead for a few laps, the result is 2nd place going to the inside and closing a huge gap on the leader under braking but not coming close to making the move due to being too far back from a lack of run out of 7. Him going to the inside means there's little room for me to try a move, even though I am right on his gearbox. During all this, another guy is right behind me in forth filling my mirrors and ready to pounce at any mistake.

Finally the kid overshoots turn one and this time drops some wheels and drops to second again. Next time around I see one of them get a black flag, I'm not sure why but the kid pulls off and that makes my job a lot easier. Apparently he was called in for dropping 4 wheels which is a stop and go penalty. It was certainly close and he said after the race he didn't think he dropped 4, but the last thing I was paying attention to was who had how many wheels on the track. Regardless I knew I needed to get by the leader now, I knew I could do it and I knew my advantage on him was out of 7. I get a good run and take him under braking into 1. So it's come full circle, I'm back in the lead and it feels great. In the closing laps of the race I pull a small gap and take the checkered. It was quite a feeling, something I'd been waiting for for a long time. Just to actually take part in a auto race itself felt like a huge accomplishment, and to win the main race, especially after feeling pretty desperate and lacking confidence before the race, was just amazing.

It was an awesome end to an awesome two days. The racing was awesome, the drivers were all great and the racing was fast, hard and clean. Plus I obviously continued to learn and improve and I somehow managed to win! I just couldn't ask for anything more.
Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
Bob Bondurant school of high performance driving has announced a new racing series. The series runs from September to April and utilizes several tracks configurations all at Firebird Raceway in Arizona.

The cars are standard Formula Mazdas with racing slicks, a pretty high performance car for a school series, and the pricing seems reasonable.

It's nice to see more options for people considering running in school races, especially since Bridgestone Racing Academy stopped running their series a few years ago. Currently in the US, there's the Skip Barber regional and national series, Bertil Roos FF2000 Championship and Jim Russell Championship Series

Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
I've just finished up the Bertil Roos 3 day school and Skip barber 2 day advanced school. Since I didn't do the same program at both schools, I can't provide a perfect comparison, but here are a few:

Bertil Roos provides a lot of open lapping in their intro program. They don't use lead follow sessions or rev limits to get you up to speed. If you already have an idea of how to drive a race car, or you have previous racing experience already, I think this method can be beneficial.

Bertil Roos does not do passing exercises in their 3 day school. Because of this, you need to do the whole 5 day program to get an SCCA Regional License, while with Skip Barber you can apply for the SCCA License after the 3 day school.

Roos has no damage liability in their 3 day program, and a lower damage liability compared to Skip Barber for the advanced 2 day.

Roos cars have digital display instead of a analog tach. The display includes shift lights which help for learning the shift points. It also displays speed, although you shouldn't really be looking at that anyway!

The Skip Barber F2000 used for all advanced programs use a 5 speed sequential transmission, while the Bertil Roos F2000 uses a 4 speed crashbox. The sequential transmission is significantly easier to shift.

The Skippy intro schools use the "Formula Skip Barber" which is basically the same as the F2000 but with a 4 speed crashbox and without wings. I don't think having wings or not in an intro school makes a big difference, especially on a course without a lot of high speed corners like VIR south. Unless you have a lot of experience, you probably won't be getting everything out of the car at the end of 3 days anyway.

Bertil Roos cars have a large windscreen so head buffeting and bugs on your visor are not an issue, like the Skip Barber and most other formula cars.

I felt the Skip Barber cars handled a lot more neutral while the Roos cars understeered.

I thought my instructors at both schools were solid and helpful. I would say my instructors at Skip Barber were more experienced at higher levels of competition.

The roos programs are a little cheaper then skippy.

Both programs were pretty flexible in terms of modifying the schedule as necessary. I had read with skip barber some felt held back by the slower students, but I don't think that's the case, at least not in the advanced school

Otherwise, there was a lot similar between the two schools. I would highly recommend both schools, and I don't feel there are any significant downsides to trying both programs.
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: 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.