As you may know. Last year I won the Jalopnik and Blipshift T-Shirt contest thanks to my "Smoking Permitted" design and the grand prize was a one day, High Performance, Skip Barber Racing School. I Registered for the course at Road Atlanta on March 18th, and hit the road!
Working through the Process from winning to claiming my prize was a breeze thanks to Matt Hardigree, here at Jalopnik and Sebastian Ruta, from Blipshift. They helped me finalize the design and register for my course setting me on the path to the absolute best day of my life.
After a six hour drive, from Oxford, NC to Braselton, GA, we arrived at our hotel to get a good night's rest. I brought along my awesome parents to experience this day with me and they helped take the photos and videos I'm sharing with you now! To start the day sign in was at 8:30 in the classroom at Road Atlanta with my head instructor, Casey Carden, who was just one of the amazing individuals that helped us sling around expensive cars in the safest way possible. After a short morning lecture, about braking and steering, our small class (only 9 people) packed into the Skip Barber E-Series Van and headed out to test what we had learned.
The Skidpad was the first driving experience of the day and I must say that it was amazing! They had a large circular patch of asphalt with an irrigator placed in the middle to create a radius of slippery wet hoonage. I soon found out that my Skid Pad instructor, Gray Upchurch, was an East Carolina University graduate and from that point on we had a heck of a time on and off of the driving surface. Upon the start of this exercise I was having slight difficulty with slide recovery and spun the car around a few times, but as the day progressed my slides became more controlled and I quickly tamed the RX-8. Thanks to Gray's input the skidpad quickly became my favorite event and by our third trip to the slippery circle drifting with the tiny rear tires was a breeze.
Next on the agenda was the Braking exercise, where I was put behind the wheel of the powerful Lexus ISF. This car was a monster in a straight line and I was tasked with flooring it towards a lane of cones and standing on the brake to a complete stop. The weight of the car coupled with the amazing sound of the Lexus V8 under the hood allowed for a great illustration of weight transfer. The second half of this tasked you with making a turn at the end of your braking line further testing your ability to handle the swift changes in weight distribution to successfully use your full braking power.
The next exercise was where we put it all to the test as we strapped on helmets and hit the track for some paced laps in the cars of our choice!
Of course, I chose the bright red Porsche Carrera 911(Porsche 991) with the 7-speed manual and hit the track! My parents were lucky enough to be invited for a ride in the, Mazda Speed 3, pace car with Grey and was allowed to get the awesome shots of me chasing them around the beautiful curves of Road Atlanta.
With it being my favorite track to drive on Forza, I was extremely excited to sling the car through the esses and get to turn 7 just to give it all she's got out of the turn and onto the straight. However, the pace car kept us from going over 105 and had us follow the controlled line and take every intricacy of the racing surface into account. Having played the video game, I knew generally where the line was, but coming under the bridge and down onto the front stretch while breaching that blind hill is a lot more comfortable when you're in the video game and don't have to worry about swinging it too wide off of the hill. Other than the slight fear of that blind spot on the track every other corner was a blast and It was everything I could've ever dreamed of. I also was able to drive the ISF around the track too because, thanks to our small class size, we were able to swap cars for a second round on the circuit.
After the track we piled back into the van and headed down the street to Buffalo's Cafe, where we were treated to a delicious lunch and got to converse with our classmates and instructors over lunch. This restaurant was excellent and gave us a nice break between events to recharge and get ready for the afternoon.
We then split up for a second round of Skid Pad with a U-turn exercise that involved entering through a gate on one side and sliding thru to exit on the other. This was my favorite trip to the Skid Pad, because we got to test our hand at a little Dorifto!
Car control was key here as you threw the Mazda Rx-8 sideways and held it at full lock. Driving out of the side windows and keeping your eyes on the target cones allowed your hands to follow and gracefully pull it back straight to accelerate through to the finish. Finding that happy medium between understeer and excessive oversteer was extremely fun and really allowed you to tune into that connection between your butt and the seat. Once those feelings were recognized a consistent routine was created and slides became a breeze.
Our final event of the day was the autocross course where we put the full variety of cars to the test and determined who was the fastest of the group. Switching between the Porsche and the Lexus on this small course really allowed you to feel the differences in weight distribution and torque. The 911 was a breeze to sling around the corners and precisely hit every apex, but the controlled nature of it almost made it boring to drive, however the torque of the big bodied Lexus allowed for a little oversteer off of the corners and that seat of the pants feel when you floored it into the straights. Faster times were turned in the 911, but on the overall fun meter the Lexus got an 8 and the Porsche got a 6.
After it was all said and done on the Autocross course I came out second overall by an extremely small margin. My time of 27.12 lost to a 27.08 which happened to be another driver in my half of the class. This meant that I was split off into the smaller group to make the field even for the final competition, The Autocross Relay.
The Hyundai Genesis Coupe was lined up in a starting box at the entrance to the course and the groups four competitors lined up 10 feet away to begin the relay. We placed ourselves in order from slowest to fastest, with me being the anchor to tie up the loose ends and finish the race strong. Luckily my group was all roughly the same height and the first one to the car was able to adjust the seat to fit all of us comfortably. Once you got to the car you had to buckle your belt put it in gear and take off for a single lap coming to a complete stop in the starting box. Once you made the stop you had to hop out and tag the next driver to do the same. My three teammates had nice clean runs and had me setup for what should've been an easy run to finish it out, but in my excitement I overdrove the big swooping turn and then stopped outside of the starting box which accrued a 5 second penalty.
Once both groups finished we drove all of the vehicles back to the paddock and headed back to the classroom to wrap up the day. By the time we made it back the suspense was killing us and had us on the edge of our seats, waiting to see who's group had won. Casey began writing the numbers on the board as we sat there holding our breath.
Before the penalties we had won by a considerable margin with the time of 3:10.6, but because of my rough finish we had to add an extra 5 seconds and left us with a 3:15.6. However Group 2 had come up just a little short with a 3:16.0 giving us the win despite my mistake!
It was an awesome day with a comfortably small class which allowed everyone of us to receive plenty of time behind the wheel while giving us the best day of our lives.
Once again I want to thank Jalopnik and Blipshift for this amazing opportunity and I can't wait to take another class from Skip Barber in the future! And if these pictures weren't enough action for you then be sure to scroll back to the top and check out the video!
All photos and video captured with my iPhone 5 in the Optrix Video Pro case and my Canon 60D. Special thanks to Rick and Amy Lue for (being amazing parents and helping me pursue my dreams and) the photography.