Originally written and posted on December 29th, 2014 at:
No, JSR has not gotten too sexy for it’s shirt. We are talking about Randy Pobst here. He is the American racing driver who has slowly become the benchmark sports car driver in the country.
Why are we talking about Randy Pobst, you may be wondering. Well, thank for you wondering aloud, because that offers a great segue into the real introduction.
We are heading back to the track! The course of choice is Streets of Willow, running in the clockwise direction. Have you ever seen an episode of Ignition, or Head-to-Head on YouTube? This is the same track, and configuration that Motor Trend magazine sends hotshoe Pobst out on to put down hot laps in all of the new sports cars that they test.
I couldn’t think of a better benchmark to compare myself against, so I got down to watching all Motor Trends films featuring Randy. Question number one: How is Randy Pobst so fast? Question number two: Could ANY ONE else ever be that fast? Question number three: How soon can I go to the track and throw down?
Answers: Magic; Probably; November 16th.
A handful of friends had all decided on that date, so I made it happen as well. Coincidentally, this happened to be during the same week in which my Dad flew out from Ohio to visit. He was there for my last visit to Willow Springs, as well. Maybe he’s good luck. My good friend Mika would be driving up with us in his FRS. Now, to get up at 3:30AM and cannonball there...We both decided that grabbing a hotel near the track was a better option.
The drive up was uneventful, bar my Dad noting how much traffic there was on a Saturday evening. “Yes, it’s always like this.” Once we were north of L.A. we were able to easily make up time, and we were checked in at the hotel around 9:30.
The following morning, we were met with the chills. Near frozen temperatures had fogged up all of the cars’ windshields, and had one Mika De Coster in a spot of trouble when the FRS acted up and was reluctant to start. Following our rip through the desert, neither of us had the energy the night before to fill up with gas upon arriving, so that was first on the agenda. Waiting at the pump while freezing to death and bemoaning the weather reminded me of home. Try doing this same thing in the middle of November back in Ohio, your track day would be a rally stage covered in snow.
Getting along on the 8 mile drive from the hotel, it felt great to arrive at the track decently rested and ready. Entrance fees covered, and paddock spot chosen, we unloaded our gear and readied the cars for the day ahead. Our motley crew slowly gathered as we were unpacking. Jeff in his Evo X, Jake (the other one) and his MKVI GTI, Zi with the 700 horsepower GT500, and late-comer/surprised guest Shea in the other MKVI GTI.
Registration, driver’s meeting and all of the other morning’s processes went off as expected, which is to say, 15 minutes late. Jeff, being our sole representative in the Advanced run group, was sent out first to throw down and
clean up the track for us...I mean set some hot laps. Even the all-wheel-drive EVO looked to be looser than usual out there. 20 minutes later, back in the paddock, Jeff confirmed, that the track was loose and finding grip would prove tricky.
With that news coming from the driver of an EVO with three differentials and more tire than my car, I knew that things were going to get interesting. I had made a lot of changes to the car, without much chance to shake it down and get a feel for it. My car has always been , err, challenging to drive quickly, so my gut instinct was that today was going to be one long shake down, and not a shot at hot laps. Oh well, I was up.
Lined up in grid, and sent on to the track, leading into Turn #2 a right hander that requires a late apex, I spun. It’s going to be one of those sort of days, isn’t it? I did not feel that I was pushing it all or requesting much out of the car, I may as well have been coasting. Yep, this is a loose track.
“Pull yourself together man!” I said as straightened the car out and accelerated towards T3, and then promptly drifted the whole corner. Right.
I think I spun 5 times in the first session? I am using the term “think” because about half way through the first session I heard an all too familiar and sad sound, BEEP-BEEP BEEP-BEEP BEEP-BEEP, the Go-Pro had shut off. Damn. By the end of the first session, I was able to put together a lap or two without a spin and at least have an idea of what to expect. After arriving back in the paddock, a quick inspection showed that I had forgotten to clear the memory card on the Go-Pro before heading out, and that it was maxed out. Damn, none of the video on there had been moved onto my computer, oh well, I guess it’s all going bye-bye.
Lap times were unimpressive, but at least I had a baseline to work with for the day, 1:34.7.
Session #2 began in much the same fashion as session #1, there were spins, there was drifting, and there was me going slow. Clearly my initial pace was slow, because I knocked off over a second off my best lap time despite the dirty driving, 1:33.4:
Improvement was sure to be gradual as I had never run the BMW around Streets in the CW direction. That for me is an automatic instance of progressively dialing in the pace as I figure out what works and what doesnt. Here is what I hard learned:
What Works: Crank up the rebound/damping on all four corners
What Doesn’t Work: Using the throttle. At all.
Here is me doing a lovely pirouette in traffic coming into the front straight. This corner was throwing a lot of folks for a loop:
With Streets of Willow being a more technically demanding course, the stiffer suspension with less travel exacerbated the open diff issues, and it felt like more of a trade off had been made instead of an absolute improvement. Cornering was much flatter, and it could clearly be felt that the tires were working better on corner entry, and mid corner. However, putting down the power made become near impossible unless the car was aimed completely straight, which, when you’re at a road course, is a bit difficult.
These three corners in particular, I could not seem to find the “correct” way to exit these corners without either drifting through the corner, spinning through the corner, or coasting through the corner and waiting to put the power down. When coming out of a corner, assuming that there is a traction defecit, the standard course of action is to dial in throttle as the steering wheel unwinds. That’s great in theory, except that even at 1/4 throttle, the car still wanted to turn that inside rear tire into molten tire fire.
Here’s an example at the “Skidpad” demonstrating the issue at hand:
This is me going through the Skidpad, approximately mid corner, about to try and get the car set up for corner exit. I knew that the car would push, so I took a wider line and eased up on the steering. The car is only going to turn so much before it begins to plow forward.
This is the corner exit. I am tracking out about as wide as can be safely done. Go any wider here and you’re out of the line where the track is dusty. The issue with this, yes I took the wider line to limit understeer, however, I am now spending more time with under partial steering as the wheel is just coming back to center at this point, so full throttle is impossible until after this. I am losing a lot of time in these corners waiting for the car to come around the bend so I can get back on the throttle. The car needs a limited slip diff (and a better driver).
That said, I was picking up time in the braking zones in this session. I believe this is the majority of the 1.3 second improvement, it was in not over-slowing for any given corner. However, the traffic issue was unavoidable, even in the higher up run groups.
Session 3: Traffic.
How does one sum up 12 minutes of high performance driving in one breath? Like so: “Move, move, move, move, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, MOVE.”
There were a lot of FRS’ at the track today. This is important to note because an FRS has a much different set of strengths and weaknesses compared to a 135i. The FRS will corner faster and generally carry more speed through the technical sections of the track. My 135i will blitzkrieg an FRS through high speed sweepers, and anything resembling a straight line.
That’s an issue because an FRS will sit on my tail through the corners and get pissed that I am holding them up. Conversely, as soon as I let an FRS pass, I have to hit the brakes to avoid rear ending them in the straight aways because they lack the acceleration to hang with me. This means I did not go any faster. I tried pulling into the hot pits ask requesting a gap, only to be shown that the track was clearly overcrowded with cars and there was only so much that could be done.
1:33.5, within 1/10 of a second of the last session. Not amused.
Session #4 right away felt much better. I finally had some breathing room. Not open track, but breathing room. Let’s get to work:
It was pretty late in the day, but I finally had the means to play around with my lines and drive the car without having to babysit other people. My driving becomes a bit erratic in instances like this since I am still trying to suss out how much to manhandle the car around the track. however, this paid off and times were dropping, 1:32.2, with a handful of 1:32 laps. I like where this is going.
Oh yeah, got to do this too. When your friend in the 700HP GT500 Mustang gets loose due to the dusty track and let’s you pass (I’ll enjoy it while it lasts):
Not pictured was Parade Laps. Something that I was looking forward to immensely. I had come prepared this time, with a spare helmet, so that my Dad could ride along with me around the track. Taking my Dad around the track, even if it was only at half pace was beyond cool. It felt like I was able to share my little slice of crazy with him in a way that he would understand. Also, the corner worker took a blind eye to me doing some teeny tiny slides coming through T3-5, and didn’t make a fuss. Good on ya, man!
Session #5 was throwaway. The Go-Pro had died, and the sun had begun to set, with the Winter winds closing in on the track. The grip simply was not there to go faster.
Oh well. My day ended with a string of 1:32’s, best being 1:32.2. There is a lot of room for improvement, and I want to pilot the car into the 1:27 area eventually, so 1:32 is a good baseline for my first event at Streets of Willow - Clockwise rotation. I wanted to go faster of course, who doesnt? But this is decent starting point. Time to come back and shoot for 1:30. The drive home was a combination of “Hizzah, no traffic!” and “How do I beat Mika next time?”
If there’s a will, there’s a way.
So you made it all the way to the end, eh? Or, at the very least, you skimmed your way to finish. Kudos to you, here’s a quick bloopers reel from some tankslappers at Streets, enjoy: