I kissed a cone and I liked it (sort of)

I just entered my first ever SCCA Solo competition as a Novice in the H Street class. Am I an autocross novice? Yes. I’ve really only done one autocross before, and it wasn’t a competition. It was freezing and rainy, and I didn’t bring rain gear. I went home after a couple runs. This time, the weather was the other extreme: HOT. Despite bringing an umbrella for shade and sucking down bottle after bottle of water, I still ended up dehydrated and miserable. But this time I stayed for the whole event.

C30

This was my first time driving the C30 in a spirited fashion and I had no idea how it would handle. So on my first run I thought I would wring its neck a bit and see what it felt like at the limit. As I was in the Novice class, they put an instructor with me. I think he thought I was unprincipled and a little bonkers. However, my major goal for the event was more to give the car a shakedown than to do autocross well. Unfortunately, the C30 doesn’t like to rotate off throttle or even with some trail-braking. I pumped the rears way up for the second run and it didn’t improve things much. I think the handling could be improved with a harder compound rear tire or maybe a really stiff ARB. It felt like the stability control was still on even though I had defeated it at the power source. Hmm and Grrrr.

Event

I think the event was run pretty well, and if you’re into autocross, then the Finger Lakes region of the SCCA is a fine place to do that. All of the people I met were really friendly and passionate about autocross. The location was good. It’s an old airfield rather than a parking lot, so there’s a lot of space.

Driving

Autocross represents an interesting driving challenge. You don’t get to see the course much before you drive it and you don’t get many runs. So learning the course quickly is really important. I’m normally good at learning new tracks, but not when they are marked by orange cones. It’s really alien to me to see a field of cones ahead of me and perceive the path through them. I can honestly say that it was difficult. Like any other sport, you have to train and I have zero training. I’m pretty sure that after a few events I would get better at learning the course and recognizing the various motifs. However, I’m at the stage where I can recall driving straight at cones thinking “which way do I turn again?”.

Standing

I once asked a surfer what surfing was like. He said, “swimming”. If you ask me what autocross is like, I will say “standing”. The event lasted 8 hours. My total driving time was 7 minutes. The driving part of autocross is fun, but the part where you’re standing around all day is not. I think the event was about $50. On the one hand, that’s cheap. But in terms of my time, 8 hours plus transit time for 7 minutes of driving is not worth it. I don’t understand why there’s so much passion for autocross. Does everyone else love driving so much more than me that it’s worth all the standing? Or do I hate standing much more than they do?

Competition

One reason to do autocross is that it’s the cheapest form of competitive auto sport. If you get some kind of thrill from competing against others, maybe that’s what this sport is really about. I saw one car run in the morning, set the fastest lap by a mile, and leave. So people do autocross for the trophies more than the driving? Honestly I don’t know. I’m not really into trophies. This time, I did stay long enough to pick mine up though. Unlike most trophies that sit on a shelf collecting dust, at least I can drink out of this one.

Simulation?

It occurs to me that autocross would make a great driving simulation. It might go something like this:

  • Generate a random course
  • Observe a drone fly-over
  • Run the course 3 times

That would be amazing. I recently bought software for making race tracks. Maybe my efforts will go that direction eventually.

4 thoughts on “I kissed a cone and I liked it (sort of)

  1. I spent a few years autocrossing about once a month, and IMHO the key to enjoying it is to go with a group of people that you know. That way instead of it being like “standing”, it’s more like “hanging out with your friends”.

    But yes, if you want enter a competitive, timed motorsport that involves turning, it’s substantially less expensive in terms of cash outlay than the next best option. (Drag racing can be similar, but the “standing around” to “driving” time ratio at drag racing isn’t any better)

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  2. yeah, i tried autocross a couple of times and my impatience prevented me from continuing. same w/ fishing i guess… good for a car check out though… first thought it’d be a bummer to run different types of tires front to back but i don’t think i’ve ever really swapped front to backs that often aside from Lemons… for normal track days the fun factor outweighs the slight inconvenience / money optimizing…

    now that i’ve got the SRF i’ve been thinking maybe trying a couple races, if i can get them to give me a license, but same problem –> 15min Qual, 20min race on Sat, and same on Sunday… less driving than even a bad track day…. ugh…

    here’s a pretty cheap one.
    https://www.elevatecars.com/elevate-volvo-c30-rear-anti-sway-bar-vertical-tabs-with-17-5-spacing.html

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    1. I would rather do time trials in an SRF than race one. I think any event that has timing and scoring will have less track time and more hassle than a lap day.

      I may try that Elevate ARB. Not sure how much money I want to put into the car though.

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