I oversteered into the tire wall, but more importantly, I learned WHY I oversteered into the tire wall.
What would you do if you had a whole race track and a professional driving coach to yourself for a day? I’ll can tell you what I did; I worked my ass off. As part of our business-consulting-for-driver-coaching deal, my coach made a stop in Atlanta to coach me for the weekend. Racing Analytics got us on track at Atlanta Motorsports Park (AMP) (where their shop is located). I worked so hard and I saw so much progress! And I learned a lot, too.
The biggest thing I learned was that my car had something wrong with the suspension all along. In my first session on track, as I was warming up and gradually picking up my pace, the car snapped oversteered on me faster than I could catch it. I shot right myself into the tire wall. (Lucky for me, the damage minimal, so we quickly pulled the fenders back out and got an alignment from Racing Analytics, and I was back on track.) Towards the end of the day, my coach talked Brad into driving my car. Brad assumed it would feel just like his, since they are, after all, spec cars. My coach seemed to have a hunch that might not be the case. When Brad came in, he said, “Now I see why you hit the tire wall. Your car is twitchy and really lose. I think something is wrong with it.” There was no time to dig deeper before our race on Sunday, but my curiosity was piqued. What did that mean for me if there was something wrong with my car? (It turns out a lot. More on that in a minute.)
What’s the rain line? Stay out of the puddles.
This is really a story about Carolina Motorsports Park’s (CMP) strange pavement. The asphalt at CMP is made up of small, very pointy, sharp rocks. On the track’s surface, the tar has worn away leaving all the tiny pointy edges of the rocks sticking up, making the track less grippy and harder on tires. I knew all this going into the weekend. But what I didn’t know, and what no one else knew either, is what this track was like to drive on when wet. Somehow it hadn’t rained on a race weekend here in recent memory. This was the weekend it finally rained on us at CMP. And we all learned that CMPs grip levels don’t seem to be correlated to how wet the track is.
Look at me, actually racing someone!
Road Atlanta is one of the more intimidating tracks in North America. It has big hills, blind turns and tall concrete walls. Being fast at Road Atlanta means keeping your foot flat to the floor when you can’t see the track in front of you. Road Atlanta is also my home track and the track where I’ve turned the most laps. I was nervous about this event, because earlier this year my lap times there had hit a plateau. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get below the 2:00 mark, and that is nowhere near a competitive time in a Spec Miata.
When I was in the beginner HPDE group (where I spent what felt like an eternity before getting promoted up), I noticed that there were these guys (and they were always guys) who would show up for their first HPDE event, spend a couple of events in the beginner group, and then get quickly promoted to the intermediate group. When I talked to them, they’d all say, “Yeah, this is my first track day, but I’ve played a lot of racing games.”
This was a strong enough pattern that I had to investigate. I hated video games, but I discovered that you don’t have to like video games, or even be good at them, to use them to your advantage as a racer.
This is me learning something in iRacing that I won’t have to learn on the real track now!