One of the things that I espouse is that when you go to the track, it should be to train. While it’s important to have fun, you should also spend some time working on your technique. So when YouTube suggested this video of cars doing a leapfrog passing drill, I nodded my head in approval. The video shows 4 cars taking turns passing each other as they work around Laguna Seca. The video is sped up 2x probably because it was sprinkling.

And then I started watching the video and the head nodding turned to head shaking. The drivers all seem to think that you’re supposed to crawl around the outside of the track and let the faster cars pass on the inside. I checked my library and the Internet to find the source of such wisdom. Finally I found the source. NOBODY FUCKING EVER. Apparently they’re trying to perfect this technique because they keep dive-bombing each other again and again. In some corners, they are driving around with their point-by hand still out the window. For crying out loud, there could be kids watching!

And what of the POV driver? The last time I saw this much pinching was at a shitting convention.

Cliff Notes

Ever since I started track driving, some 6 years ago, I’ve watched videos of people driving Thunderhill. It’s the closest track to me, and also my favorite (the West side is actually my favorite, but the East side is near the top of the list). In the beginning, I was just trying to learn the track. Later, I wanted to see how my lap times stacked up against other drivers. Today, I mainly watch to analyze driving technique.

When watching videos at Thunderhill, I like to focus on Turns 1-3. Each turn exposes specific driving errors and the entire sequence from the tower to the apex of T4 is under 40 seconds.

The video I have for you today features Cliff, a coach with Audi Club. His YouTube channel features a video from 6 years ago with HoD A and S stickers, so it looks like he got started track driving around the same time as me, or possibly earlier. Cliff is driving a 2015 Golf R with a shitload of upgrades. The Golf R has 292 hp stock, and the Stage 1 tune upgrades this to over 350 hp. The car also features Ohlins suspension, StopTech brakes, and 200TW rubber. The car is properly built for track duty. The description of the video says it’s his fastest lap of the weekend. The video doesn’t feature a lap timer on screen, but from the video timestamps I estimate 2:13.9. Seems like he should be able to go faster. So let’s dive in and see if we can figure out why.

Watch the video and then follow along below.

Some of the things I like about this video are the picture quality and overlays. It’s too bad the camera isn’t mounted inside the car, because it would be great to get an idea of what the driver is doing. Given that most overlays don’t show steering data, it’s useful to watch the driver’s hands to see if he’s fighting understeer or oversteer. I also like watching shifting technique. Oh well, not today.

One of the most useful tools for analyzing drivers is a speed trace. Ideally, your data acquisition system updates at 10 Hz or better. Phone-based apps like Harry’s Lap Timer or Track Addict typically record at only 1 Hz unless they are provided with an external antenna. Since I don’t have data for the lap in the video, I made my own by recording the speed of the car in 1 second intervals using the video timestamps. This provides a low-resolution speed trace (blue) very similar to what you would see from a phone app. I’ve also drawn a theoretical speed trace based on my own imagination, which I’ll discuss below.

Turn 1

In the first few seconds, you can see a major problem. The speed trace has a very rounded top. The car is coasting into the brake zone. I don’t actually subscribe to the phrase “you should always be on throttle or brakes” because people who hear that think it means 100% throttle or 100% brakes. And there are also instances when coasting is actually appropriate. But 2 whole seconds of coasting on the main straight is not one of those times. The amount of time lost is only a couple tenths, so it’s not that big a deal in terms of lap times. But it is a big deal in terms of technique. One should drive the car all the way to the brake zone.

The next thing to note is the deceleration. It’s not very steep. A car with 200 TW tires can decelerate at 1.0g. From observing the G-meter, the car never gets close. It spends most of the time at less than 0.5g. Technique-wise, I also brake more gently in high speed corners. My mindset is that I’m trying to set the corner speed at a specific value rather mash the pedal. But the braking here is just too timid. Looking ahead at other corners, he appears to always brake gently. The car and tires are capable of much more.

The final thing I want to point out is the location of the apex. This is the black arrow. The slowest part of a corner should be before the apex, not after. He’s coasting through the corner trying to hold speed. In the overused phrase “in slow, out fast”, the in slow happens before the apex and the out fast starts occurring a little before the apex. Here, the slow is still after the apex.

Turn 2

Like T1, there isn’t enough commitment to the brake pedal in timing or pressure. But the overall shape is pretty good. I see a lot of drivers mash their brake pedal and over-slow the car. Not so here. He’s using the brakes to set his speed, and then he drives through at the speed he set. Good.

Unfortunately, the mid-corner speed of T2 on 200TW tires is not 61-63 mph. Looking back at some of my data, I drive a couple mph faster in the pouring rain or when joking around on 185/60/14 Douglas Xtra-Trac II tires ($38 Walmart tires with a 420 treadwear rating). On a dry track with 200 TW tires, I’m around 72 mph. Why is he driving so far under the limit? Probably because he doesn’t like the feel or sound of sliding tires. Tires are supposed to slide a little on track. That’s where the optimum grip is. Driving a sliding car can be uncomfortable if you’re not used to it. The way to get used to it is to do it.

While T2 is a carousel with a constant radius, it is almost never the case that one should drive a constant radius. On a long corner like T2, you should use the first half for braking and the second half for accelerating. You may be slightly slower on the way out of the corner, but you gain a lot more by using the first half as part of your brake zone. Since there’s such a short straight from T2 to T3, it’s better to take this as a double apex rather than single.

Turn 3 and Turn 4

T3 is tricky because it’s off camber. There are lots lines through the corner, especially when racing wheel to wheel. Although Cliff’s overall grip level isn’t where it should be, the shape of the speed graph is just fine.

T4 is a typical 90, so the minimum speed should be before the apex. Here, like in T1, the minimum speed is actually after the apex. If you’ve got a car with 350 hp, you should use a driving line that optimizes the power of the vehicle. That means getting the braking and turning done early so you can throttle on a straight line. This is doubly true for FWD cars.

Rant on

It’s not really Cliff’s fault that he under-drives his tires. The E in the HPDE system is totally broken. If you haven’t read “Optimum Drive”, by Paul Gerrard, I highly recommend you do. He talks about how backwards the HPDE system is. I won’t repeat that here. Go get his book. Paul also says that if we want to solve a problem, we need to get to its root. The problem isn’t that Cliff coasts into brake zones or drives at 0.8g. The problem is that he’s not comfortable driving a sliding car. Fix that problem, and all the symptoms go away.

What’s the first lesson we usually teach new students? The racing line. As if that fucking matters. The line is a result of optimizing grip. Teach drivers to feel grip and the racing line will follow. The reverse isn’t true. Fuck the fucking racing line. I’d much rather have students drive in the middle of the track. There’s less chance they go off track and roll or hit something.

When drivers get comfortable just under the limit they reach a performance plateau that’s hard to break through. And the better they get, the harder it will be to unlearn later. Stability control, sticky tires, and 500 hp monsters all conspire against acquiring actual skill. But the students show up in Hellcats and Vipers, and I’m not getting in the right seat of one of those things without nannies.

If you really want to get better at driving, you have to have the right environment. Thunderhill in a 500 hp monster is not the right environment. The consequences of crashing at 130 mph are just too great. There’s a reason that the Kenny Roberts school is on dirt and why the Skip Barber school uses all season tires. Learning car control is safest when tires are slippery and speeds are low. Simulators are cheaper and safer still.

Rant off

On the other hand, not everyone needs to be a driving ace. Lots of people enjoy listening to music. Fewer people play music. Even fewer compose. If someone is having a great time driving around a track at 6 tenths, do they really need to turn it up to 8 or 10? As a coach, my #1 priority is safety. The #2 priority is to make sure the student is having a great time. For novices that probably means teaching them the racing line and “advanced techniques” like heel-toe shifting. As students graduate to intermediate and advanced, they need level-appropriate instruction. And just like with music or anything else, the lessons become less entertaining and more work. Drivers who didn’t start with a foundation of car control will take longer to reach whatever level they are trying to attain because they will have to unlearn a bunch of bad habits along the way. Who cares? It’s just time, and last I checked, time on track is a lot of fun.


Personally, I’m really conflicted about driving education. I firmly believe that car control is the only thing that matters, and if I ran a driving school, it would be mostly drills on a skid pad or simulator. However, I also believe that as long as drivers are safe, they should do whatever optimizes their fun. If I ran an HPDE organization, we’d do burnouts, drifts, jumps, and of course, the racing line.


Last week I went to my first SCCA Track Night in America event. This was held at Thunderhill West. They were running a promotion with a “Buddy Pass” so I was able to go for free thanks to buddy Tiernan. One of the best things about TNIA is that it’s nice heading to the track at 2:00 pm rather than 6:00 am. The downside is having only 3 20-minute runs. But on a short, twisty track like Thunderhill West, that still makes a good practice day. Luckily, Thunderhill is about an hour away. If I had to drive 2.5 hours each way, I’m not sure I’d make the trip.

The event was very well organized. There were lots of people telling you where to go and what to do. For the experienced drivers there was minimal hassle and the novices got a nice packet. They also offered free T-shirts, stickers, magazines, and pamphlets. They didn’t provide bottled water, however, which I found a little odd as most HPDE organizations do that.

One of the unusual features of TNIA is that they don’t allow passengers except during one session where there’s a pace car going 50 mph or less. Drivers and passengers don’t have to wear helmets at this time. I can’t imagine it’s much fun for spectators, but it’s definitely a good time for coaches to talk with students. Speaking of coaching, I dropped in on one of the novice classroom sessions and the instructor was very good.

I think TNIA in NorCal is in a pretty good place. The price is low, the track is great, and the event is well organized. If you’ve never been on track before, TNIA is a very good place to start. I’m sure the quality varies from region to regions, so YMMV.

Run groups

I really like the simplicity of their run group definitions. It’s all about safety and not lap times.


Cars and drivers

I expected the usual mix of Miatas, 3 series, and 86s, but this TNIA day was a little different. In the Advanced group, there were three Mustangs, three turbo hatches (Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Focus RS), two 911s, one M2, one Corvette, one Taurus (new, and huge), and me in my Yaris. No Miatas, no 3-series, no 86s! I was lapping in the 1:34-1:35 range, and I passed others much more than they passed me. It’s a little surprising to me that advanced drivers in actual sports cars can’t lap faster than 1:34. The rules in the advanced group is point-by anywhere, but I followed the Fiesta ST for 4 laps while corner workers threw passing flags at him and he wouldn’t point me by anywhere except the straights. At which point he would accelerate away from me. That’s not advanced driving. I don’t think he realized he was holding me up 2 seconds per lap. It’s straight out of You Suck at Point-bys. Finally, I put my car on his door in the middle of a corner and demanded him to point me by, which he did.

The other groups seemed to run smoothly. Very few off-track excursions. In the other groups (novice and intermediate) there were a good mix of cars including the usual suspects (Miatas, 3-series, 86s, VTEC Hondas) but also two NSXs, two 1960s muscle cars, and the only car more curious than mine: an old WRX with a cheap eBay wing. It would be fun dominating the faster hardware in that POS.

At most HPDE events around here, the demographic of drivers is about 85% male and 75% white. This event was 100% male and mostly white. This is just a single event, but I wonder if SCCA is marketing their product widely enough.

Yaris power solved

I hadn’t had the Yaris on track in ages and the last time it was running poorly. In the Thunderhill ChampCar race last May my lap times were around 2 seconds off pace. The car also threw a check engine light a few times. So last Summer I replaced the intake air sensor and the CEL turned off, but I didn’t know if that solved the power problems. Mario did some tire tests in September that resulted in a 1:36.x fast lap, but I wasn’t sure if that meant the power was solved or not. Due to my back injury, I wasn’t able to test it properly until now. So I ended up waiting some 10 months before knowing. Good news: the car is back at the 1:34 pace, which means I probably have most of the 100 horses pulling for me.


Here’s a comparison of my lap times and Mario’s. We pulled a little weight out of the car between the events, so I should be a little faster. We were running the exact same tires. If you look at the speed on the straight before T1, you can see I’m carrying an extra 4 mph. But I also exit T10 2 mph faster. The difference in speed isn’t just the exit speed as you can see from the slope. Lighter is better.

The biggest difference in our driving styles is on the high speed corners. Thunderhill West is my home track, and I have the confidence to enter the fast corners faster. I also exit T10 better, probably because I have more experience flattening out the drive wheels on a loosely sprung FWD vehicle.

The data comes from an APEX Pro downloaded into TrackAttack. The APEX Pro is a good data logger and TrackAttack is a good data analysis tool and cloud storage service. Even though I had the APEX mounted on my dashboard, I never even looked at it. The lights are pretty, but I find the device mostly useless in its intended role.

You suck at point bys

The winner of the YSAR Author Contest and RumbleStrip lap timer was Steve Danielson. I think you’ll agree with me that his post is as good as anything else on YSAR. Informative content, animated videos, in-car video, humor, check, check, check, check. Thanks Steve, you knocked it out of the park with this one.

How many times have you heard the following at a driver’s meeting: “If you see a car in your mirrors that wasn’t there before, at the next passing zone lift off the gas and give them a point by”. Seems to make sense, right? But how many times have you caught up to and then been stuck behind somebody that just wouldn’t give a point by? Is it because they are a jerk or have a big ego and can’t be passed by a lesser car?

Let’s take a look at it from a different perspective. You are at the track driving, and in one of your sessions, a Miata starts catching up to you in the corners, but you always manage to leave it in the dust once you get to the next straightaway. The battle is on! They are getting close, sometimes even quite close, but you are able to get away after each corner. As you pull in at the end of the session you are thinking “What a great session! Toward the end they sure seemed to get aggressive and really on my tail in the corners, but they still couldn’t catch me!” After the session you go and find the other driver to share stories about your “epic battle”, but as you approach you hear them talking with their buddies along the lines of “That session sucked, I was stuck behind some $%^& for half the session”. Why didn’t they seem to have the same great session that you did? What happened? Turns out, you were holding up a driver that was running faster laps than you until they got stuck behind you. You suck at point bys, and didn’t even know it.

Why does this happen so often?

Fallacy: When a lower powered car catches a more powerful car in a corner, often no point by is needed, because the power of the “faster” car balances out the faster cornering speed of the “slower” car on the next straight.

Reality: Power and handling only balance each other out if the two cars are running the same lap times. And if that is true, the two cars will likely never come within sight of each other. If a car catches up to another car on track, it is because the second car is running a faster lap time.

Here’s a simulation of a high powered car and a low powered car driving a lap with the same lap time. Even though one car’s lap is based on power and the other based on handling, they stay on opposite sides of the track and never catch up to each other.

Here’s the same simulation, but with the car positions overlaid. You can see where one car or the other pulls ahead briefly due to power vs handling, but they make it to the start/finish line at the same time, because they are running the same lap times. Sometimes at the very start of a session, cars can get bunched up similar to this, but usually after 1-2 sessions folks can figure out who is faster and get it sorted out in the first lap or two, or by gridding near the front or back.

What happens when a lower powered but faster driven car catches up to a more powerful car, and gets stuck behind it? Say a Miata is running a string of 89.3 second laps and catches up to a more powerful car, let’s call it a 6000 SUX, that is running 92.9 second laps. Due to being held up in the corners and losing all its momentum, the Miata will now be running laps even slower than the 6000 SUX. That truly does suck…

Fallacy: If a lower powered car catches me in the corners and I point it by, I will just be stuck behind it on the straightaways.

Reality: If you lift off and give a point by, you may have to ease off and not go full blast for the duration of that straight, but once you get into the next sequence of corners, you are not likely to be held up any longer and can resume your normal pace. In order for a less powerful car to be running faster laps than a more powerful car, it must be cornering much faster. And in that case, it will most likely leave you behind after the next set of corners. Let it by and maybe you can learn something by watching it.

Here’s a simulation of our Miata catching up to and getting stuck behind the 6000 SUX. After a few laps of holding up the Miata, the 6000 SUX gives the point by. After letting the Miata by, the 6000 SUX does get close on some of the straights but is not held up, and shortly after both cars are back to clear track and running at their own pace.

Fallacy: When I catch up to another car and they don’t give me a point by, it is because they are a jerk.

Reality: Sometimes true, but maybe it is an educational issue. A lot of times they really think that their extra power on the straights balances out your extra cornering speed, and so they don’t know that they need to give a point by.

I was at an event a few years ago and was in a run group that had about 10 Challengers. A couple of them were very fast, and I never saw them except when they zipped by. A couple of them I never saw at all, because we were running about the same lap times, as illustrated in the first simulation above, and a couple I would catch up to, but they would rocket away on every straight, and if they did give a point by, they didn’t lift and so I had no hope of completing the pass.

In this example it was an educational issue and not because they were a jerk. At lunch the event organizer talked with them, and it was totally resolved, with very courteous track etiquette after that.

It is a lot of fun to catch up to other cars when driving at the track, but can be frustrating to get stuck behind a slower car that won’t let you pass. Sometimes you can drop back for a few moments to build a gap, or you can roll through the pits to get some space, but it is better when it doesn’t happen. We’re all out there for the same reason, to learn and to have a good time, so when someone catches up to you, lift off the gas and give a point by. Try and keep up and you might learn something, and you just might run your fastest laps trying to catch back up. Don’t suck at point bys, and you won’t be this guy:


Didactic vs. socratic teaching

Reminder: you could win a Rumblestrip delta timer by entering the YSAR author contest. See the Contest link above.

On Facebook, I belong to the HPDE Instructors group. I like this group because nearly all of the content is nice people genuinely trying to make a positive difference in the world, in as far as improving high performance driving instruction makes the world a better place. One of the topics that has come up several times is the difference between coaching and instructing. The dictionary doesn’t make much of a distinction, but the group members do. Instructing, they say, is like lecturing or demonstrating while coaching is more active and probing. I believe most of the group thinks they are coaches. The distinction between the two types of teaching is actually very old, at least 2,500 years. Given that this is the case, I will use their proper names, and not those of the HPDE Instructors group.

  • Didactic method – Presenting information to the student with materials prepared ahead of time. Examples include books, track maps, videos, seminars, etc. In the didactic method, the student is a vessel into which knowledge is poured. Most classroom education is didactic because there is an efficient student to teacher ratio.
  • Socratic method – Challenging the student with questions about their own beliefs and experiences. Examples include asking students where and when they brake, where they are looking, how they think they can go faster, and which corners they think are most dangerous. In the socratic method, the instructor and student engage in a dialog in which the instructor provides prompts. This is relatively labor intensive as it is difficult to parallelize for multiple students.

Last week, one of the coaches wrote in with the following problem.

I’m in the middle of the toughest instructing day I’ve ever had in 15 years of doing this. My student, with trailered-car autocross experience, and go-karting experience, is driving a 2014 GTI and cannot grasp the concept of tracking the car out on exit. He says he understands what I’m telling him, but he simply won’t do it. He’s also divebombing corners with his shitty-ass HP+ pads despite agreeing wholeheartedly that we would spend the session focusing on line instead of speed. Lap 2, he’d warped his rotors. I have never not been able to get through to a student and I’m about at my wits’ end. So…tips/tricks/advice?

So what kind of advice did the group give him? Here are some ideas, some of which were mentioned several times.

  • Take him as a passenger in your car to show him the line
  • Make the student put a tire on the exit curb (even if it means going out of the way to get there)
  • Let him make mistakes if he’s not endangering others, mistakes are learning opportunities
  • Narrate every aspect of the track while he drives it
  • Tell him, “you’ve paid for the track, use all of it”
  • Warn him that if he doesn’t do as you say, he’s done for the day
  • Don’t be afraid to get out of the right seat, it’s your life
  • Give him maximum RPM and MPH limits
  • Have him draw the track on paper from memory with his eyes closed, he probably doesn’t know it
  • Slow him down and make him stare at the exit
  • Explain track-out with the string method (an imaginary string is attached to the steering wheel and throttle pedal – no throttle without unwinding)
  • Establish an end-of-braking point
  • Send him home?
  • Agree on what you’re working on before the session and if the student deviates, take them back to the pit and discuss
  • Autocrossers have a different driving style… he may be too set in his ways to change
  • OSB – other sports beckon, as in, some students aren’t worth the time
  • Trade students with another instructor
  • Smack him in the back of the head

How much of this advice is didactic vs. socratic? Or in the groups’ words, how much of the advice suggests instruction vs coaching? Drawing the track on paper from memory is definitely socratic but the rest? Not so much. For a group that is keen to provide coaching, their advice is mostly to bully the student into submission. I don’t subscribe to that way of teaching. Here’s what I wrote.

I suspect the problem is that he thinks performance driving is about mashing pedals. Two drills that might work are (1) drive some laps without using the brakes except for emergencies (2) drive some laps in 4th gear only. In both these cases, mashing pedals doesn’t make you go faster. You have to think about line and momentum. Instead of telling him what to do, you can make him figure it out by posing a different kind of problem.

I would never throw up my hands and say “other sports beckon”. One part of my job is to be a teacher, but another part is to make sure my student is having the best day of his life. I’ve had a few students who couldn’t drive for shit and didn’t improve at all from one session to the next. I can only think of one time where we didn’t have a great time, and for that I blame myself. I think the day could have turned around but he left early and I never got a chance to make up for my early impatience. It’s a learning process for the coaches too.

Passing Thoughts: Part 1

There are basically 3 kinds of passing: HPDE, endurance, and sprint. HPDE passing is generally done with a point-by even if not required in the run group. Cars aren’t supposed to be racing and the drivers may not have full safety gear (e.g. HANS devices) or roll cages. That said, there are crashes that occur in HPDE sessions due to poor passing etiquette. If you’re the faster car, wait until it’s safe, like on a straight. If you’re the slower car, you’re supposed to drive predictably, which means staying on the racing line. Let the faster car work around you. You can make some room or lift, but not so much that you become unpredictable or put yourself in a dangerous situation. Here’s my favorite video of HPDE passing gone bad.


Endurance races are sorted out over many hours. Position doesn’t matter nearly as much as running consistently fast laps. Cars running at different paces should make way for each other. A slower car can help itself by orchestrating a pass and then holding on to a fast car for as long as it can. Passing in endurance races is not that different from HPDE. The main differences are (a) more traffic (b) more driving off line.

Sprint races are very much about position. Passing is aggressive. You see a lot more dents in sprint races than endurance or HPDE. I’m an amateur driver who pays for everything. So I’m not inclined to do much sprint racing. Turn 1 is often an adventure, but the jockeying for position can lead to wrecks even before you get there…

In the next few posts, the focus will be on how to pass and be passed. In the past 5 years, I’ve done over 20 endurance races and there’s only 4 times I’ve had contact with another car. I recall each one. No real car damage, and none were black-flagged, but they could have been.

  1. Driving an MR2 with asymmetric suspension (a quick paddock repair with the wrong model year parts). It lurched to the right in every left-hand corner. It lurched into another car and swapped a little paint. Avoidable by not going 2 wide through corner.
  2. Passing on the outside of a corner, the slower car tracked out to set up the next corner and we rubbed doors. Avoidable by making myself more visible.
  3. Rear bumper hit when I slowed for a yellow flag and the person behind me did not. Possibly avoidable.
  4. A car behind me went off track and drove into my side. Not avoidable.

Upcoming… rules vs. best practices, the inside line, favorite strategies

The danger of demo rides

Turn 5 at Thunderhill, aka the Cyclone, is like a smaller version of the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca. The track rises to the right, turns quickly to the left and then plunges down to the right. Being a technical corner with a lot of elevation and turning, the Cyclone is typically the slowest corner on the track. Well, unless you’re flying 3 feet over it at 70 mph…

Friday, I was coaching with Hooked on Driving, which is probably the most successful HPDE-only company in the US today. They have a great program that features a lot of in class instruction as well as skid pad drills and of course track time. My favorite part is coaching the figure 8 drill. I’ve blogged about this before.

My student had 7 previous track days and had been to Thunderhill before, so he wasn’t a complete novice. Watching him on the skid pad, I could see that he was a pretty careful driver and not a hooligan. I generally prefer that. Once we got out on track, I found that he approached almost all the corners the same way: drive fast to the inside of the corner, jam on the brakes, and drive mostly around the inner radius. I wasn’t too surprised as he was doing the exact same thing in the figure 8 drill.

We switched positions so that I could drive a lap or two. I was eager to do that because his car was a Subaru BRZ with a lot of go-fast parts that included a supercharger, wide RE-71R tires, big Brembo brakes, low/stiff suspension, and a splitter. I had never driven a BRZ before, much less one in this state of tune. My first thought was “wow this thing has torque” as I accelerated from the pits. But that thought quickly turned to “the grip is freaking amazing”. I took a second lap and pushed it a little harder. Getting the car to slide through the corners required quite a bit of speed, and I found the experience pretty exhilarating.

We switched drivers again and I had a brief talk with him before we started again.

“Look, you may have seen me do some things in the car there, but I don’t want you trying to copy me. I want you to focus on safety”.

Yeah, like that was going to work…

He left the pits briskly. T2 was a bit faster. T3 was a good deal faster, but he backed off for T4. Then he started up the hill to the Cyclone. I thought he was going to do what he usually did: brake really hard and crawl around the corner. Nope, instead he went straight over at 70 mph. I can still see in my mind’s eye the view from 3 feet above the track as we were in mid air. Our attitude was slightly nose-down, which was fine because the back side of the hill had the same angle. We hit pretty square and the landing was much less dramatic than I had expected. This could have gone really, really wrong, and we’re lucky we weren’t hospital bound.

Why did this happen? From a very local sense, I think it’s because he had momentarily forgotten that the track was using the Cyclone configuration. The Bypass does go straight over, and he had previously run the Bypass more often. How does someone forget the shape of the track from one lap to the next? Possibly because he was so focussed on driving faster that he had no mental capacity for anything else. Keith Code talks a lot about this in “Twist of the Wrist”. That’s a motorcycle book that somehow isn’t part of my library page (see link above). So why was my student so focused on driving faster? I think because I drove the demo laps too fast. It might be inspiring to watch skateboarders fly through the air in the X-games, but it takes years of training before one can do that safely. Performance driving is nearly as difficult, equally dangerous, and about a thousand times more expensive.

This experience has me reflecting on the plusses and minuses of coach demo laps. On the plus side, the students have a lot of fun. It’s like a rollercoaster ride. They can also learn a lot by watching. Coaches also enjoy it because the students look at them like superstars. On the minus side, some students may become so emboldened that they are no longer safe. To me, that one minus outweighs all the plusses. Safety is the #1 priority. No more fast demo laps for me.

BTW, the rest of the day was great. We both learned some valuable lessons that day and had a lot of fun doing it.

GRX: alpha test 1

Today, I took the GRX (Generic Racecar Experiment, 2007 Toyota Yaris) for a test-n-tune day at Thunderhill West with Ace Robey’s Exclusive Track Days (which despite the name is rather inclusive). I had 2 goals for the day (1) test the RaceCapture telemetry device (2) learn how to drive the Yaris more aggressively.

The RaceCapture is a tiny device that you plug into your OBD2 connector. It draws power from there and then broadcasts telemetry data over a Wifi signal. It reads various car sensors over CAN bus and has high resolution GPS and accelerometers on board. It’s not available to the public just yet. I got my unit early as part of the beta test group. There are some bugs to work through, but it’s clear it’s going to be the most bang for the buck in racecar telemetry.



A B-Spec Yaris doesn’t really have much you can tune. There’s tire pressures and that’s about it. So the test-n-tune day was more about testing and tuning the driver than the car. I did a little research on B-Spec lap records, and they tend to lag Spec Miata by +6-8%. That is, if a Spec Miata can do a lap in 100 seconds (1:40) a B-Spec would take 106 to 108 (1:46-1:48). My mostly-stock Miata on 200 treadwear tires tends to run about 5-7% off SM pace. So I need to get my Yaris times close to my Miata times. No rush though since I am aiming for the 2018 SCCA Runoffs. I have about 2 years to get my driving to the National level.

The day started with rain, which was a little unexpected for early October in Northern California. The initial rain after a long dry spell tends to be extra slippery because of the oils rising off the pavement. As advertised it got very slick. Most of the cars decided to park, but some of us stayed out and had a great time.

In the second session, the track was drying, but I was fiddling around with the RaceCapture and missed most of it. I decided to put it away and work on my driving the rest of the day.

Session 3 was just before lunch. The track was now completely dry and the weather was perfect for lapping. I looked at my lap timer mid-session and was surprised to see 1:34.1. I was hoping to break into the 1:35s and there I was knocking on the door of 1:33. In the last lap of the session, I got a great drive out of the last corner but fumbled the upshift. Crap. Another 1:34.1.

I had a light lunch and then when back out with the rest of the open passing group. Everyone was behaving themselves really well, and I was able to find some space for a few flyers. I got a couple more 1:34.1s and then tried a new line through T1. Driving the Yaris is different from the Miata, and I’m learning the nuances. It’s not just FWD vs. RWD. One difference is that the Yaris is geared tall with huge spaces between gears. It’s ANNOYING! But I’m adapting. And I threw down a 1:33.7. When I checked the timer and saw the time, I literally screamed all the way through T1. I don’t have that on video because the damn 12V adapter kept falling out. Thankfully there was a track photographer.


So how does a 1:33.7 at Thunderhill West compare with my Miata? About 1 second off. Not bad. Not bad at all.


One of the first things they teach you at an HPDE (high performance driver education) event is the racing line. Of course, there is no line painted on the track, and what line means is the path the car takes around the course. HPDE organizations generally teach a single racing line. Being able to follow that line is one of the requirements to go from the novice to intermediate levels. And when it comes to passing, the driver in front is supposed to stay on the line and give point-bys to the faster cars going off-line. That’s a safe way to run an HPDE event, but blindly following the racing line is no way to drive on race day!

In the video below, watch as the gray #77 car obediently follows the outside-inside-outside racing line. The POV car backs off when it gets cut off, but the next car isn’t so lucky.

Budget endurance racing is a mix of fast and slow and experienced and inexperienced. You have to be ready for anything. If your excuse is “I didn’t see” (IDS), then maybe you’re not ready for racing. If your excuse is “I didn’t expect” (IDX), then you’re not doing your job very well.



Driving at a HPDE (high performance driving education) event usually means staying on the typical outside-inside-outside driving line and giving point-bys to the faster cars on the straights. Take that attitude to a race track and you’re bound to run into trouble because people will try to steal your apex if you don’t defend it. You can run into even more trouble with an IDL (idiotic driving line). If you’re driving so oddly that people can’t tell what the hell you’re doing, you’re going to get hit.

The Solstice that gets skewered drove a bizarre line through the chicane. It’s like they wanted to get hit. The Del Camino (no, that’s not an El Camino, but a Honda del Sol art car) obliges by locking its brakes in a typical moment of PBU (panic braking understeer). You can see the puffs of smoke off the tires. Ah, nothing like a little noob-on-noob action for light amusement.

I’m sure nobody wanted this to happen. But a part of me looks at this clip and says “if you’re going to bring a theme-less Solstice GXP to a LeMons race, you deserve to get skewered by an art car while being filmed from a crapcan with a stuffed chicken on its wing”.