You Suck at Aero

Guest post from Mario. Editorial comments in red.

Every year I make the same New Year’s Resolution: 1) drink more water, and 2) stretch. It’s simple, free, and I still can’t fucking do it. Same thing every year. At the start of 2019 I had a crazy vision to do a bunch of aero tests at Watkins Glen. I didn’t call it a resolution (because then I wouldn’t have done it), but I resolved to do the tests just the same.

I wrote the story of Real World Testing Miata Aerodynamics on my website, and so I won’t reiterate that here, but I thought it would be good to give my brother’s readership a fresh angle on the tests, and recap some of the high points. Or low points, as it were.

The resolution I make every year is “talk less, listen more”.

You Suck at Watkins Glen

The three biggest obstacles to testing at Watkins Glen are weather, Armco, and the combination of weather and Armco.

Ian and I grew up 25 miles from Watkins Glen, and have suffered a lifetime of events that have been hampered (or is that hammered?) by weather. Upstate NY weather just plain sucks. Nevertheless, Watkins Glen is an historic track, attains high speeds, and has a great back straight for testing aero. So despite knowing better, that’s the location I chose. Of course I got bit by it.

The night before the test it rained, and the track was still wet track in the first session. I took the opportunity to rush home to get some more aero parts, while the rest of the test team sent the car on track for some initial shake downs. When I arrived back at the track, I see three guys literally hammering on the hood of my car. What the fuck did I just miss?

Apparently they left the hood pins unengaged, and as soon as Anthony entered the track, the hood smashed flat against the windshield.  Thankfully the window didn’t break, so he got to make a full parade lap looking through the gap under the hood. We borrowed a hinge from Evan’s Miata, but we got the hood fixed. (In the tests, the bent hood probably affected the coefficient of drag, but at least it was the same for all of the testing.)

After we got the hood fixed, we had a 90-minute delay due to thick fog. So it wasn’t until nearly noon that we got out first test done, and then the track closed for an hour to break for lunch. So here it is 1:00 pm, and we haven’t done shit yet.

The other thing that’s special about Watkins Glen are the steel guardrails, or Armco. You see these on the sides of roads, and on race tracks that don’t have sufficient runoff. Watkins Glen paints their Armco in a distinctive light blue color that’s not dissimilar from Gulf livery.

Cool little 914 in Gulf Livery at Watkins Glen

Whenever someone crashes at Watkins Glen, it’s a long delay. WGI doesn’t do hot tows, and so they have to close down the track to bring out the tow vehicle and clean-up crew. The Armco virtually guarantees that any crash is a wreck. I know this first hand – I came together with an E30 in an AER race and we bounced off both the inside and outside walls of Turn 6. Both cars were kaput for the rest of the weekend. Armco is not kind.

In a weekend that started with delays, we really didn’t need any more delays. But when you mix a wet track and steel guard rails with impatient drivers in race cars, you get more wrecks and more delays.

Those delays meant we didn’t get to test everything I brought. Most significantly, I didn’t test a stock front end vs R-package lip vs airdam vs airdam and splitter. I also wanted to remove the mirrors and see how much that affected drag, do more open-top tests, and other etceteras. Maybe next time. Maybe never.

If you want all the details, check out my site,, but I’ll recap the high points of the test here.

Really, go check out the site. This post has only a small fraction of what is there.

Open top

I see a lot of convertibles with rear wings: Miatas, S2000s, Corvettes, etc. I’ve often wondered about the effectiveness of a wing with an open top, and now I can answer that question. On my Miata, the open top generated the least downforce and reduced the effectiveness of the rear wing a lot – to the tune of 2.5 times less downforce than an OEM hard top. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a wing with an open top. If you run simulations in OptimumLap using my data, the open top with a 9 Lives Racing wing beats any combination without a wing every time.

Chop top

The Treasure Coast “Chop Top” is a partial mold from the OEM hard top. It’s primary purpose is to enclose the cockpit so that you don’t have to wear arm restraints when racing. It also helps aerodynamics slightly by reducing drag and lift. When compared to an open top or OEM hard top, the chop top is slightly faster.

However, once you add a wing, the Chop Top performs barely better than an open top. This is interesting, because you’d think airflow over the roof is considerably smoother than an open top. However, it’s what’s happening on the underside of the wing that’s more important, and the Chop Top roof can’t defeat the turbulence coming from the open sides of the cockpit and going beneath the wing.

I enclosed the sides of the Chop Top, and that makes it about the same thing as using an OEM hard top without a rear window. And so if you have a hard top and you’re not using a rear wing, removing the rear window will make you go a bit faster. Likewise, if you have an OEM hard top and a wing, don’t remove the rear window.

OEM hard top

The OEM hard top generated more drag and lift than expected from published data. This is likely due to the open windows and wide canopy, which turns the cabin into a parachute. The drag is supposed to be around .38 with closed windows, but we measured over .5. Lift is also supposed to be around .30-something, and we measured in the .5s again. Sucky.

All told, if you run simulations in OptimumLap using numbers from the test, the OEM hard top is only a bit faster than an open top, and actually gets beaten by the Chop Top.

However, once you add a wing, the OEM hard top wins by a lot. It’s all about getting clean air to the wing, and most importantly, beneath the wing, and the hardtop crushes them by a wide margin.

Adding AirTab vortex generators reduced the effectiveness of the wing by about 20%, and increased drag substantially. If I can save just one poor soul from adding vortex generators to their top, this test was kinda worth it.

DIY Fastback

My fastback uses the Chop Top for the roof, to which I attached a long sloping back. It’s quite light, weighing about 17 pounds less than the OEM hard top, and when you consider there’s no trunk, it’s lighter still. But weight isn’t why I made a fastback, I did it because it looks cool.

I really had no idea how well it would work, and I don’t mind saying I’m pretty impressed. The fastback beats up every other top and takes their lunch money. Compared to the OEM hard top, the fastback made 20% more downforce with the wing. I suspected that cleaner air to the wing would help, but I didn’t imagine it would be that much.

The fastback also reduced drag by 15%, which not only helps top speed, but fuel economy. Combined, the downforce and drag created a lift/drag ratio that was 50% better than the OEM hard top with a wing.

With the wing removed, the fastback was less impressive. It still beats all of the other tops in endurance racing simulations, but the lap times weren’t that much faster. Also, every top with a 9 Lives Racing wing beat the fastback without a wing.

9 Lives vs Cheap Wing

I tested two wings, a 9 Lives Racing “Big Wang” and a cheap Chinese double decker wing. I had to modify the cheap wing a lot to make it work. Nevertheless, the 9LR wing simply outperformed the cheap wing in every way possible, and it only contributed .03 to the coefficient of drag. The cheap wing, on the other hand, was like dragging an anchor.

There is some reason to use one of the cheap wings, however. At autocross speeds, where drag is inconsequential, the wing helps. I ran a simulation using the 2010 SCCA Solo Nationals West course, and the double decker wing was three-quarters of a second faster than without a wing. The 9LR wing was another .5 seconds faster than that, but still, a cheap wing is better than nothing.


I intended to try four different front ends. OEM, R-package front lip, Supermiata style airdam, and the airdam with a 4” splitter extension. I already mentioned the many delays, and so the only front-end test I got to do was airdam vs airdam and splitter. The splitter made more downforce, adding .38 to the coefficient of lift, and reduced drag by .01. It’s clearly a win-win situation, use one.


I keep referencing OptimumLap simulations because it’s the best way to use the comparative data. Nobody drives every lap exactly the same, the track changes ever lap, and so does the weather. In the end, it’s hard to quantify real-world lap times. Case in point: we had an 11 mph headwind at one point, and that totally skewed the data until we corrected for it. If we hadn’t run environmental sensors, I’d be telling you to buy a cheap double-decker wing. As it is, I’m telling you not to.

I put the various aero combinations into OptimumLap and ran endurance racing simulations at Watkins Glen. You can find those here. Watkins Glen is a high-speed track and drag matters more here than just about anywhere else. If I re-run these simulations at different tracks, the margin between the various configurations are a bit closer, because drag factors into it less.

You still suck at aero

If I come off sounding like I know a lot about aerodynamics, it’s just me regurgitating various things I’ve read. I still suck at aero, but I’m learning as I go. When I look around at other amateur race cars, I see a lot of other people suck at aero as well.

Here’s a quick recap of dumb shit I see all the time.

  • Exposed front tires are a large source of drag. Cover them.
  • Splitters without dams.
  • Splitters that are too flimsy. They should be able to support your body weight.
  • Wings with too much angle. The roof creates downwash, and if that angle combined with your wing angle is more than about 10 degrees, you’re making the wing stall. That means less downforce and more drag. A wing at zero degrees still creates a lot of lift and not much drag. Check it out, planes fly around like that!
  • Wings assembled incorrectly. I saw a Lemons team that had the wing on backwards. Not intentionally, but because it came from China that way. For realz.
  • End plates on the wrong way. The low pressure zone (the important part) is low and forward on most wing shapes. Cover that part with the end plates.
  • Wings set too low. If air can’t get underneath the wing, it isn’t a wing. Get it roof height, at least.
  • Dual wings with gaps that are too large, don’t converge, aren’t adjustable, or are otherwise defeating the purpose of the second element.
  • Cockpit venting done wrong. This is things like installing vents at the base of the rear window, thinking that air will go out. It goes in.
  • Removing weight at the expense of aero. This one is aimed at my brother, Ian. He was chasing weight and enlarged the openings in his front windows and removed the rear windows on his Yaris. This made his hatchback into a drag chute, and we lost 4 mph on the front straight at Thunderhill.

I admit to being (a) curmudgeonly and (b) skeptical about aero. The curmudgeon in me hates race-inspired cosmetic enhancements from fake factory air ducts to stick-on vortex generators. The skeptic in me wants someone to “show me the data”. It’s difficult to model the cost/benefit of various aero components when it’s so difficult to measure exactly what they are doing. You need really expensive equipment and someone who knows how to operate it. So Mario hired someone with his own money and actually got the data. Fuck’n-A.

I’m no longer a skeptic. I still hate ricers though. And while the benefits of a sorted aero package are absolutely clear, I prefer cars with terrible aero. Back in the 60s, sportscars looked like WWII airplanes, and in my mind that’s what they should look like. I don’t give a shit if the shape has a CoD of 0.5 and generates lift. Now you may be wondering why I race a Toyota Yaris, which has a pretty clean CoD and dog-shit looks. Half of that answer is that it’s the cheapest car to run. The other half is that beating the snot out of other racers is more fun when you have no business doing it.

Third Gear No Brakes

Cross-posted from Mario’s Occam’s Racer. Editorial comments in red (at the end).

I don’t know a lot of car drills, and in fact I only do one: “Third gear no brakes.” Leave it in third gear (or fourth on a higher speed track) and don’t touch the brakes, that’s all there is to it. I learned this exercise from Keith Code back when I was a motorcycle journalist for Moto Euro. We did an article on the California Superbike School, and Keith made us do this drill for two sessions at Sears Point (Sonoma), in the rain.

Third-gear-no-brakes is a great way to focus on entry speed, and you absolutely have to use reference points. You will eventually scare the shit out of yourself, but after that, you’ll be surprised how fast you can go.

For example, here are two laps, the red is me, the black is my friend Jim. We are in the same car on the same tires, and he is .2 seconds faster than me. But if you look at the traces, he’s shifting and braking, while I’m staying in 3rd gear the whole time, never touching the brakes.

If you look at the time graph along the bottom, you can see I make up most of the time in the middle of the graph. This is the “knuckle”, a triple-apex corner. I have to shut off the throttle right at the end of the corner, and that long sloping line is me coasting downhill, waiting for the blind hairpin. At the same point, Jim’s trace looks like a mountain, with strong acceleration upwards and hard braking coming back down.

Jim isn’t a bad driver, he’s taken racing classes, and has raced wheel to wheel. He has strong inputs behind the wheel, and an aggressive driving style. But he slows down too much and my Miata doesn’t have a lot of power to overcome that.

This is what third-gear-no-brakes looks like from the cockpit. It’s not very exciting. I edited out the part where I went three wheels in the dirt!

One of the most common phrases you hear at the race track is “in slow, out fast”. I like making fun of this phrase because it does more harm than good. While I could mention that again here, I’m going to examine another common myth: “the most important corner is the one that leads onto the longest straight”. At Pineview Run, the “S Trap” leads onto the main straight. This is a super-slow left-right combination that is positioned at about 3600-4100 feet in the graph above. The black driver goes “in slow, out fast” and ends up with superior speed on the main straight. Yay. This leads to a couple tenths advantage at the end of the straight. Big fucking deal.

Now let’s look at something that turned out to be more important than the straight: the S Trap itself. Going into the S Trap, the black driver has built up a nice cushion (you can see this in the time graph as the big red hump). The reason for this is clear, the red driver wasn’t using any brakes on the approach and consequently has a huge speed disadvantage. From 3250-3750 the black driver is going a lot faster. But all the time gained in this 500 feet is lost in the next 200. Why? Because contrary to popular opinion, the slow parts of the track are critical. Going 1 mph slower in the slowest corner of the track is a lot more costly than 1 mph slower in the fastest corner. Why? Simple math. Going 99 mph in a 100 mph corner is only 1% off but going 49 mph in a 50 mph corner is 2% off. Given that slow corners tend to have long arcs, you can spend a lot of time going slowly.

The 3rd gear only exercise is one of the best things you can do on a practice day. With the focus on momentum rather than engine, your minimum corner speed will be higher. Like all drills, this isn’t the end of the story. You don’t want to drive like this all the time. If your minimum corner speed is too high, you will have to lift at the exit. Not only does this make your lap times longer, it’s also dangerous. But you can’t get to the end without getting through the middle, and 3rd gear only is an important part of the middle.

Time Trials on 300 Treadwear Tires? Yes!

This guest post comes from Occam’s Racer.

Pineview Run holds a time trial series on Wednesday nights, called the Challenge Cup. This is a great chance for non-members to run the track, and for everyone to engage in friendly competition. The series has a unique classing system which uses the UTQG (Uniform Tire Quality Grading) treadwear value as the sole determining factor. The three classes are split like this:

  • Street: 300+ UTQG
  • Track: 200+ UTQG
  • Race: under 200 UTQG

The UTQG rating is supplied by the manufacturers, and is thus total bullshit, especially in the 200 treadwear (TW) category. But everyone knows this, and so it’s still a level playing field. If you care about winning, just make sure you’re on the best tires in the category.

I’m interested in the Street category, mostly for the convenience of it. “Run what ya brung,” is how the saying goes, I’ll call it lazy and be fine with it. Also, my 1993 street Miata has only 110 hp, and this class is about the only place where high-horsepower cars won’t stomp on me.

My daily tire is the Yokohama S.Drive, but I recently purchased some Continental ExtremeContact Sport for racing in the rain. And I also have my RS4 race tires on hand. So I figured I’d take them all to the track in advance of the Pineview Challenge Cup, and see how the tires measured up.

Yokohama S.Drive

My 195/50-15 Yokohama S.Drives have a bit of use on them. The tread depth measures about 6/32″, from the 10/32″ they started with.

Yokohama S.Drive 195/50-15, TR C1M 15×7 +30, 31.4 pounds.

S.Drives are a popular tire on Miatas, possibly because they’ve been around a long time. There’s nothing exceptional about them, except the ridiculous sale price I got. I ordered them online at Walmart, and shipping, mounting, and balancing was free. Out the door they were $50 each, which is insane. I keep looking back for another sale like that, but haven’t seen one. Maybe this was a closeout. I don’t see this tire size on Tire Rack, there’s a 195/55-15 or 205/50-15 instead.

I’ve tracked the S.Drives a few times at NYSTand Pineview, and while they are on the slow side, I like the way they communicate. You can hear the howl reverberating around the facility. The S.Drives have a 300 treadwear rating, and these were what I planned to use these at the Pineview Challenge Cup races for the Street class.

I set the S.Drives to 29 psi cold, and on track they come up to about 35 psi. My laps are typically in the low 1:24s, but the track can be a lot faster if there’s some rubber down from other cars. We get a lot of rain in Central NY, so the track gets washed clean quite frequently. On this day my best lap was a 1:24.1, and so right in the expected range for what I consider my control tire on a clean track.

Continental ExtremeContact Sport

The Continental ExtremeContact Sport (ECS) are a newer tire that’s supposed to be a great rain tire, and also good in the dry. I had set them aside as my racing rain tires, not really intending to daily these. They have a higher treadwear rating of 340, but as you probably know, that’s not always a meaningful number.

The ECS also start at 10/32″, and the tires were brand new at the test. The other tires have had some use, so factor that into your armchair calculator.

Continental ExtremeContact Sport 205/50-015, Konig Dekagram15×7.5 +35, 31.2 lbs.

I started the Conti ECS at 30 psi, which was definitely too high, as the center of the tire got significantly hotter than the sides. Nevertheless, they were faster than the Yoks, by a full second. I then dropped the pressure 4 psi and gained a half second, putting down a 1:22.6. That’s 1.5 seconds between the Yoks and the Contis. Wow.

The Contis feel a bit vague on turn in, but that could be me just not being used to them. They are also loud, but not quite S.Drive loud. They are on 7.5” wheels because I keep thinking I’ll autocross in the STS class one day. But I’ve said that before, and I just never do it. Anyway, I wonder if an 8″ wide wheel would stiffen up the sidewall some more.

Hankook R-S4

I just finished a two-day aero test at Watkins Glen with my race car and was curious how a 200TW would stack up against the 300s. The 225/45-15 Hankook RS4s are pretty well stretched on a 9″ wheel, but this is what a lot of Miatas use.

Hankook R-S4, 225/45-15, Konig Helix15×9 +35, 33.4 lbs.

My best time on the RS4 was a 1:21 flat, 3.1 seconds faster than the S.Drive, and 1.6 seconds faster than the ECS. I expected the RS4 to be a good deal faster than S.Drives, what I didn’t expect was that the Conti ECS would split the two almost in the middle.

I’m probably not driving the RS4s to the limit yet, as they are only about half as loud as the other tires, and I expected more talking back. Maybe there’s another second in these, but that’s not enough for me to switch over into the 200-TW category against RE71Rs and Rival 1.5s.

Here’s a video of my first session on the RS4s. The 11″ steering wheel and manual rack make this tight course a bit of an upper-body workout.

Simulating G-forces and lap time

Just for kicks, I want to see the approximate lap time all three tires would do on different tracks, and to get that, I need the lateral cornering Gs so I can plug it into Optimum Lap.

I use an AIM Solo for data, which shows me how much grip the car has in every part of the track. But I don’t drive every lap or corner exactly the same, and the values spike here and there, so it’s not easy to get a steady-state value.

So I plugged my lap times into Optimum Lap and started adjusting the grip values until I got the lap times I got in real life. I started with the S.Drives and called that 1.0g, which is about how much Race Studio shows they grip, and also because it’s easier to view other tires as percentages when you start with 100. This makes the ECS 1.04g and the R-S4 1.09g. Another way of saying that is the ECS had 4% more grip than the S.Drive, and the R-S4 had 9% more.

I wondered what the lap times would be for larger tracks, so I used Optimum Lap to simulate two local tracks, NYST and Watkins Glen. I’ve included my simulated Pineview Run laps, which will let me play with other things like drag, lift, power and weight, at a later date, and find out the differences those changes make (a subject of a future post).

Tire Pineview
S.Drive 1g 1:24.1 1:23.95 1:50.70 2:33.06
ECS 1.04g 1:22.61 1:22.54 1:49.27 2:31.41
RS4 1.09g 1:21.06 1:20.94 1:47.15 2:29.15

The 3-second delta between S.Drives and RS4s at Pineview Run becomes 3.5 seconds at NYST and 4 seconds at WGI. That’s somewhat surprising to me, I expected a larger gap because the tracks are roughly two- and three-times longer, respectively. But at Pineview Run, you’re on the sides of your tires all the time, so I guess it makes sense.

Conclusions and post-test notes

  • Pineview Run is a really good place to test tires! You can get in a lot of laps to normalize the data, and it’s cheaper than most tracks. I’ll do more tire reviews in the future.
  • This was only my 3rd full day at Pineview Run, and I’m still leaving time on the track. To keep the simulations accurate, I’ll have to fudge the values to reduce track grip in Optimum Lap.
  • Even though the Conti ECS are 1.5 seconds faster than the Yok S.Drives, I probably won’t do the Challenge Cup on the Contis until I wear out the Yoks. Partly because I’m cheap, but I also want to keep the Contis at full tread in case I’m racing in the rain.
  • When the Yoks are all used up, I’ll buy a new set of Conti ECS and use them for everything.


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.

Pineview Run, Optimum Drive, and S.Drives

Emergency. We interrupt our series in progress for an important and timely message on performance driving. This guest post comes from my twin brother Mario. Incidentally, if you have content you want to contribute to YSAR, I’d love to post it.

This last Sunday, Pineview Run held its first annual Pineview Challenge Cup, a time trial “race” of sorts. After an initial practice and qualifying session, you got three runs. Each run consisted of a warm up lap, and three timed laps. Trophies and $500 membership vouchers awarded for fastest times and most consistent laps.

For sure my 1.6 Miata on 195 S.Drives were not in contention for fastest laps. Here’s me lining up behind a McLaren 570. There were other fast cars: a Viper, Lotus Exige, M3, 911, etc., and all of them were on wider and stickier tires.

You’ll notice the RumbleStrip lap timer in the photo. Both of us absolutely love this thing. It’s the single best car thing I’ve ever purchased.

So I wasn’t going to be fastest, but I thought I had a shot at putting in the most consistent laps. Until a funny thing happened: I started driving better and better. I’ve been listening to the audio book Optimum Drive, and through some coincidence I had a moment of what the author calls driving greatness. Or what others have called being “in the zone”. In my terms, I started driving the Miata like a go-kart.

And that’s a good thing because I’m decent in a go-kart. Maybe it’s the lower speeds or simpler interface, but I can “zero steer” a kart and eke out more performance than most. In fact, after trouncing too many friends, Ian had a standing offer to pay for anyone’s track time if they beat me. He didn’t lose any money, but I also never translated that kart skill to car driving.

At least not until the Pineview Challenge Cup. Something clicked and I kept getting faster and faster. I enjoyed this so much that I stopped trying to put in consistent laps, and just explored the space, going faster, with less effort, lap after lap.

The less effort part was interesting. On corner entry I’d let off the throttle to shift the weight forward, turn the wheel slightly to tip the nose in, scrub off speed with the sides of my tires, and let the chassis come around on its own. Then I’d get on the gas and spin the rears to finish turning the back around. In all, I did very little steering with the wheel, and most of it with weight balance and throttle control. Some of you reading this might be good at that already, but I’d only done that in karts.

In three short sessions I knocked almost 3 seconds off my time, which is pretty incredible. To put this in perspective, the first time Ian and I went to Pineview, my best time was a 1:27 flat and Ian did a 26.5. I only did 5 laps total that day, but I thought I was doing OK. However, this time I put down an early 24.5, and in the last session I saw a 23.0 in disbelief. But my final lap was a 1:21.7! The kart nirvana I’d experienced finally made its way into my driving game. Man that was fun.

Now I’ve gone on talking about go-karts and Pineview at the same time, and I’ll never do that again. Anyone who says Pineview Run is a big go-kart track is just plain wrong. I’ve been on big go-kart tracks, like Dixon, Wenatchee, Stockton, etc, and Pineview simply isn’t one. There’s a lot of elevation and I think anything but a shifter kart would chuff annoyingly up the hills.  

Neither is Pineview a short race track. I raced Thompson last year, and did a HPDE at Waterford Hills this year, and while they have similar lap times to Pineview Run, they are meant for racing, with long straights and not many compromise corners. Comparatively, those tracks are tame. Boring, even.

Pineview Run run is a workout. It’s a rollercoaster. It’s a training and skills track. A test track. Pineview Run is also a great equalizer. The top cars on this day were a very modified BRZ and a M3, both driven extremely well. But there were a lot of fast cars, all of them so different, it really came down to the driver.

Well, ahem, unless you’re in a stock-ish Miata on 195 Yokohama S.Drives. At 300 treadwear and 10/32″ tread, they aren’t designed for the track. However, they are perfectly matched to my Miata’s 106 whp, and while I would have gone faster on stickier rubber, I wouldn’t have had as much fun. I ordered the S.Drives online at Walmart, and with free shipping and mounting, I was out the door for $200 for all four tires. Hard to beat that on a smiles-per-dollar ratio.

One final word about Pineview Run that Ian didn’t mention in his initial review, which is that it’s not just a car track. Pineview Run is also a shooting, hunting, ATV, snowmobile, horseback riding, and family-oriented outdoor country club. I’d never heard of a country club without a golf course or tennis court, but there you have it. And while I’m not into horses (yet), the rest of it was designed for people exactly like me. It’s an hour drive away on scenic back roads. Of course I joined.

We now return you to our previously scheduled programming (check back next week where we pick up the “It’s raining lies” series).

Track Review: Pineview Run

2020 Update: Check out the Pineview Run website. In the 2 years since this article was written, there have been a lot of changes at Pineview Run. While memberships are still a great deal, they have all sorts of programs for non-members, like half-price Fridays, Ladies Night, and Drifting.

Have you ever been to an executive or par 3 golf course? With typical distances 100-200 yards, there’s more swinging and less walking per minute. To me, that also means both more fun and more practice per minute. The strange thing is, there aren’t that many short courses. For some reason, people like full size courses. It can’t be because they like walking, as most people use golf carts. It can’t be because they like hitting their long clubs, because nobody says their favorite club is their #1 wood. It can’t be because they’re working on their game, because if they wanted to do that, they’d be on the driving range or putting green. I guess it’s because real golfers play on real golf courses. However, if you want to get better at golf, you’re better off working on your short game. And this is true in the car world too.

Pineview Run is the executive/par 3 of road courses. It’s short, twisty, and low speed. Perfect for working on your short game, if you will. You spend most of the time in 2nd gear, a little in 3rd, and none in 4th. It’s ridiculously fun to throw you car around this twisty ribbon of asphalt. Some people might describe it as a hilly autocross. Others might say it’s a kart track. There’s some truth to both these statements. It’s really tight and not that wide. But that doesn’t diminish its appeal to me or it’s utility as a training tool. Ultimately, it’s a driver’s track. It’s where you go to hone your muscle memory. The low speed makes it safer and less intimidating for the novice, and its technical nature makes it an ideal practice ground for more experienced drivers.

In order to get access to the track, you have to become a member, which means plunking down a sizable chunk of change (minimally $2500) for several years (minimally 5). After that, the track time is quite reasonable and works out to something like $100 per track day. I think that’s a smashing deal considering how much one could improve their driving there. I worry a little that the clientele Pineview is courting isn’t going to sign up. The kinds of people with the money for a country club membership drive Porsche 911s, not Miatas and 86s. The 911 crowd wants to let their dog hunt, and that just doesn’t happen on a 2nd gear track. People with cars capable of 150 mph don’t want to drive a track where their top speed is less than the highway they arrived on. I see this attitude all the time at my favorite track: Thunderhill West. People complain that it’s too twisty, too blind, too off camber… too much work. Most track organizations host events on the East (3 mile) track instead. I want to ask them, “do you even like driving?” Then I remind myself that apparently drag racing is a thing.

The problem is that Pineview is even slower and more twisty than Thunderhill West. Who wants to drive their sports car on a kart track? Well, besides me. Autocrossers, that’s who. Pineview is the middle ground between a parking lot with cones and Watkins Glen (a famous high speed track located about an hour away). However, the autocrossers spend even less money on track time than the HPDE crowd and are unlikely to purchase memberships.

So Pineview finds themselves in the difficult situation of having a business model that doesn’t fit with their track. How will this work out? Well, hopefully, people wake the hell up and realize that twisty driving is fun driving. I don’t see that happening. Hopefully Pineview opens up some public days and partners with some local autocross clubs.

Here’s what the track looks like from inside my brother’s Miata. Sorry about the sound. Even on low setting the wind noise sounds like someone ripping on a bong (not my phraseology). First 3 laps are me. Second 3 laps are Mario.

P.S. The APEX Pro is kind of fun to watch don’t you think?

Rev-thrashin: part 1 of 2

Check out this awesome 1980s movie poster.

I weep every time I see this poster, partly because I grew up in the 80s, a time of particularly embarrassing fashion. But now I also weep because I just learned that Pamela Gidley recently died. She’s probably most famous for “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” but I’ll always remember her as Cherry 2000. However, the real reason I’m bringing this poster poseur to your attention is that the wrist guards are on backwards. Wearing them like that would do more harm than good. Obviously nobody at the photo shoot had any idea about skateboarding. Why am I talking about skateboarding. Oh, I don’t know…

Whether you call it rev-matching, blip shifting, or heel-toe-shifting, this technique is often categorized as an advanced skill. I agree, but not because it’s difficult to do, but because it doesn’t have much effect on lap times. It only becomes really important when you’re searching for tenths of a second and not whole seconds. That said, driving enthusiasts love to display their rev-matching skill on the street or track. Like the Thrashin’ movie poster, sometimes they do it so wrong that it looks like wrist guards on backwards.

Let’s look at an idealized corner depicted as a rainbow of colors.

  • Red – Threshold braking zone. All brake no steering.
  • Orange – Initial trail-braking zone. Ideally, this zone is really small.
  • Yellow – Trail-braking zone. The car is rotating as the mixture of brake plus steering puts more weight/grip on the front of the car.
  • Green – Nadir. This is the point where the right foot is moving from brake to gas, and the point of minimum speed. Ideally, this zone is really small, but some corners do benefit from a little coasting.
  • Blue – Throttle zone. The position and angle of the car are controlled by a mixture of steering and throttle.
  • Violet – Straight. All throttle no steering.

At what point along this path should you downshift? Your perspective may be different from reality, so if you have some video of yourself driving, observe your shift points. Ask yourself “what are the consequences to the driveline and handling of the car?” Tune in next week for some discussion.

P.S. The image above is from my upcoming book, “In Slow Out Fast (and other lies of the race track)”. This long-awaited sequel (by me, not you)  to “You Suck at Racing: a crash course for the novice driver” focuses on the intermediate driver. Due out this Summer and available from Amazon.