Things that rule #5: slow cars

Today, I took my 1996 Z3 to Thunderhill West for a track day hosted by Turn8 Racing. This is the first time I had ever been to a Turn8 event. They have a really interesting event schedule: from 9-1 they run the usual 20 minute run groups, and in the afternoon they have an open pit. There was a last minute deal advertised a few days ago for just $75. How could I not sign up?

From a power:weight perspective, a 1.9 Z3 is very similar to the original 1.6 Miata. And the on-track performance is nearly identical according to Best MOTORing. My Z3 is a little better than stock, so I was expecting something around NA8 performance. Looking back at previous data, our Lemons Miata used to run 1:32 on a variety of 200TW tires in 205/50/15 (RT615K, NT05, RE11A). Today I was on “new” tires: Maxxis VR1 in 205/55/16. Maxxis has overstock of these tires from the original manufacturing 4-5 years ago, and you can buy them for $59.99 with free shipping. The VR1 was never the fastest 200TW tire, and given that they are 4-5 years old, I expected them to perform similarly to the older 200TW tires. My fast lap was a 1:32.2. That’s pretty much exactly what I expected. I had just filled up the tank, and I’m pretty sure I would have been in the 1:31s with 100 fewer lbs. On a cheater tire, I’d probably break 1:30.

A 1:32 at Thunderhill West is not slow, but it’s also not very fast. I think it represents a fun speed. You can catch fast cars that are poorly driven and hang around most Miatas. In my thinking, I don’t really need to go any faster. You won’t see me mounting cheater tires, stripping the vehicle to remove weight, or adding a splitter. Why don’t I want to go faster?

Slow FTW

  • Safety – If not for speed, I’m guessing the main danger in motorsports would either be the car falling off jack stands or towing-related accidents. The faster your car, the more dangerous it is, and the more safety equipment you should have installed. I see a lot of novices in really fast cars, and that just doesn’t make sense to me. You’re less likely to die or cause someone else to die in a slow car.
  • Economy – Faster vehicles use more fuel, tire, brake pads, etc. Faster cars are generally more expensive to fix too. Swapping out brake rotors on a new Corvette will cost more than my car. I’m having just as much fun as the guy in the Corvette and my rotors are under $100 for a complete set.
  • Challenge – Driving a slow car fast is a great challenge. One of the reasons it’s so much fun to race my Yaris is because it’s fun beating up on much faster cars. Now I’m sure driving a fast car at the limit is an even greater challenge, but that comes with a lot of financial and physical risk.
  • Perspective – I think the whole point of driving is to play around at the limit of grip where you’re balancing engine, brakes, and steering. You can have that at low power, and it’s safer and cheaper than at high power. If you can’t make it happen with low power, it’s probably unsafe for it to happen to you at high power. You can have more fun for less money and be safer too. Just get a slow car and change the tires to tune how much grip you want.

Video

Here’s some video of the event. This segment has a little traffic, but as you can see, the advanced group wasn’t very crowded.

5 thoughts on “Things that rule #5: slow cars

  1. I think that it impacts track design as well. My home track Harris Hill is very Miata friendly – no straight over ~300m, with two sections more like 550m at full throttle in the Miata but including turns. To contrast, one of my favorite tracks with technical turns is Eagles Canyon, but between the turns are several 500-600m straights, all but one uphill after a slow corner. I don’t have to have the fastest times to be having fun, but pointing everyone by gets old. Same with COTA – turns 1-9 and 12-19 are a blast in a slow car, but the 1km straight just grinds.

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    1. True. I wouldn’t even go to COTA. I’ve been to Watkins Glen a couple times and I have no intent on going again. Would it be more fun in a high powered car? Probably, but I wouldn’t want to absorb the expense for that. You can have just as much fun on a smaller track for less money.

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      1. I think that COTA in a slow car is still worth it, the trick is finding a track day with lots of other slow cars to play with. The “main” DE group out here serves a clientele where a modified C7 is probably the baseline, with a stack of McLarens and Porsches. Coming out for the WRL test and tune day was way more fun – and cheaper too.

        But yes, a day at COTA costs substantially more than a month at Harris Hill.

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    1. I don’t have one on in this car. The car has stock seats, seat belts, and air bag. The other recommended configuration is harness, no air bag, race seat, and at least a half cage. This isn’t that kind of car. For “normal” cars, the Simpson hybrid makes a lot of sense, but I don’t own one.

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