Originally written and posted on May 29th, 2014 at:
The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has many regions across the country, hosting events almost every weekend. Holding competition with standardized practices and classes makes one wonder, who is the fastest of them all? With this in mind, the SCCA hosts special regional events called ProSolo. These events attract the biggest and baddest names in the racing scene, with people traveling across the nation to attend. Dominate the ProSolo circuit, and you have your chance for a spot at the National Championships.
The SCCA hosts one of the ProSolo events at my region’s local venue, El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, or El Toro, for short. With the Pro quickly approaching, I had the realization that despite my years of experience with autocross, I had yet to participate in the National-level, competitive event. After some amount of hemming and hawing, I decided to throw my name into the gauntlet and enter an event brimming with national competition.
Competition makes for good racing, so why was I on the fence about participating in this event?
The format. Unlike a typical Autocross, ProSolo lasts three days. The entire first day is dedicated to organizing the event, the competitors, and explaining the rules that differentiate the event from a regular Solo. As this is a nationally competitive event, and there is sponsorship and contingency money involved, participants have to identify which products their vehicle is equipped with, and run their respective sponsorship decals. This applies to EVERYONE, whether or not they are receiving sponsorship contingencies.
With sponsorship out of the way, the important stuff came next: The rules and regulations for how the event would proceed. Unlike a regular autocross, with one fixed course for the duration of the event, a ProSolo has two courses, that are perfectly mirrored copies of each other. These courses are referred to as the Left, or Right side courses. This means that two cars line up at their respective starting lines and race through their side’s course.
In addition to this, another new factor to consider when racing in a ProSolo, is the use of a drag racing-style Christmas Tree. There are three yellow lights, and a green light on the tree. Each is lighted up in 0.5 second intervals. This means that there is exactly 0.5 seconds between the last yellow light dropping, and then the green. As such, a “perfect” reaction time (“R/T”) would be .500. Having a slow reaction to the light going green means additional seconds added to your time. This is referred to as a “Pro” style tree, and is also used in some forms of competitive drag racing.
But wait, there’s more!
Much like a regular event, cars not racing will be parked in the paddock, away from the competition. However, unlike a traditional autocross, the grid, where vehicles usually wait between runs, sits empty. The sole purpose of the grid at a ProSolo is to organize groups of drivers by lap times, and then hustle them in groups to the starting line. From here, laps are completed, back-to-back, left side and then right, immediately, with no down time. This happens over and over again, until you have completed your 6 total runs for the day.
That is not all! After your group has wrapped up their runs, the cars are shuffled over to the “Lock-down” area. Here, vehicles are required to have their hoods popped, and doors unlocked, should someone contest illegal modifications, or event marshals suspect foul play, or cheating.
Got all of that? Good, because days two, and three are for the competition. Let’s get rolling:
Rather unanimously voted as the “slower” side, the left course, despite supposedly being a mirror to it’s rival course, felt much less pleasurable to navigate. The “far” corner, with it’s gated entry, and diamond shape reeked of understeer. That much I could tell, just from walking the course beforehand. However, it was worse than I thought, as on corner exit, the car continued to push wide, and limit my ability to power out of the corner. The E82 chassis is plagued with an understeer bias that generally manifests itself in steady state understeer. However, the power of the 135i generally means that the understeer is met with snap oversteer occurring at corner exit as the rear tires become completely overpowered by the twin-turbo beast beneath the bonnet.
The left side left a sour taste in my mouth. Putting the power down at the start was damn near impossible. My “fastest” launch occured from rolling off the clutch at idle, and feathering the throttle into a short shift into 2nd gear at 3000rpm, only to have to continue babying the throttle until I had made it to the first corner. From there, the steady state understeer meant more time spent babying the go pedal. So much time left on the table, where other cars could be accelerating, as I was left spinning the rear tires, or having the fronts tires absolutely howling at me in pain as the car understeered wildly.
The right side had it’s own share of pros and cons, interestingly unique to it’s design, which is a rather curious sentiment for courses that should be mirrors of one another.
- Less Understeer!
- Some Oversteer!
My fastest times occurred on passes where I was most judiciously using the go-pedal and throwing some opposite lock into the steering wheel while pitching the car around. In particular, in my later runs, exiting the diamond was a bit of a smoke show, with the car arcing wide. but not plowing wide, as noted on the left course. It is always interesting to note how tame the Go-Pro has all this appear. My fastest run was quite sideways, but you would be hard pressed to tell art this vantage point.
- Run #5 netted a PERFECT .500 R/T!
Adjusted my reactions and perceptions to the actions of the tree until I found the sweet spot. Run #4, I broke out, which is a drag racing term used for leaving the line too early before the lights go green. It was a .490 R/T with my fastest run of the day, but, ultimately it did not count. Shame. In any case, from there on, my R/T’s on were bang on for my last few runs on both sides, consistently setting .5xx-.6xx.
- Still a lot of Understeer!
- Exiting the far “diamond” corner, and coming into the kink, the car routinely exhibited insufficient brake force, and a large amount of pedal stroke-to-relative braking power.
This is an issue that I have been chasing down for quite some time now. Multiple brake bleeding sessions have all been for naught to this point. In a future article, I will elaborate on my findings, and detail the course of action towards remedying this issue.
- Ultimately, still very far off the pace for the “S.T.U.” class.
I don’t feel too bad about this, considering that a few of these “street” cars showed up to the event on trailers. Also, this was a national event, with some of the top dogs from around the country competing. These vehicles are prepared to the absolute limits of the class specifications. My car is VERY lightly modified in the presence of this crew. To be frank, in this company, if I was on their pace, with my car, I would question their talents behind the wheel.
I received a bit of a participation “consolation” prize at the end of the day from my fellow competitors in the STU class, when the WinMax/CUSCO Subaru STi was found to have illegal modifications, making all of their times count as disqualified. The other competitors stated that I ought to petition against them, as I rightfully belonged in their spot. However, I waived away that idea. I did not come here to win, I came to play, and play I did. Besides, moving up from “Last Place” to “Just Above Last Place” on a technicality was laughable. Until the car, or myself is well enough prepared to actually scare the Top 3 Finishers in class, I will just enjoy smacking some cones around, and beating on my car like it owes me money.
Considering the overall raw times posted up by all of the entrants, I did quite well. To be an overall mid-pack finisher among the 217 entrants is about where I expected to be.
To end this all on a happy note, here are my two fastest runs of the event:
While the ProSolo event formatting was a bit off-putting at first, this event was a invaluable insight in terms of expectations for future competition, and as an unofficial comparative talent study, getting to compare the 1’er and myself against some of the best talent that the SCCA has to offer.
Now, someone help me find a bank to steal from, so I can actually be competitive in the land of $10,000 dampers, and $5000 differentials!