Sunday at my home track, Summit Point, was a very warm day in the upper 80s, bright but slightly windy, no moisture on track. It was hot by any reasonable standard but July in the Mid-Atlantic can be brutally muggy, and this day was a pleasant exception.
The event was lightly attended and I felt like I had the track to myself most of the time. Even so I've gotten to the point in my modest career where I know several drivers at every event. We're always glad to see each other, to commune with fellow enthusiasts of an amateur sport that most folks back home find tedious after the initial thrill of someone else's adventure wears off.
Each group had four 30 minute sessions and the day ended with a two hour open track session that anyone could drive in. One of my several driving fantasies is to someday race in an enduro with a team and the two hour session was a chance to see how consistent I could be beyond the usual 20-30 minutes at a time you get at most track days. During my first two sessions I had issues getting my tire pressures dialed in. The tires are still new and exotic to me, R compounds, a big upgrade after tracking street tires for a year and a half. During the first session the pressures were too low, the next session too high, but by then I figured out that it's easier to err on the side of overinflating and let some air out in the hot pit when the rear end gets squirrely. The tires were great on most of the track but felt greasier than they did at their inauguration at NJMP Lightning a few weekends ago. The weather was definitely warmer and in hindsight I was overdriving at times, probably had a lot to do with how slippery the tires sometimes felt.
Most of my experiments concerned T6 and T10. Even after I got the tire pressures about right I still had to fight understeer in turn 6. I tried more and more trail braking to rotate before the apex, perhaps too little and too late to matter. But I was impatient, I didn't want to slow down to the right speed, I wanted to fly AND rotate the car. Typical immaturity by a green driver. I never really got the car in the attitude I wanted in the corner without lifting on throttle until the exit. I had an all four off at T6 but it was as safe as one can be, two left pedals in when I realized I had lost it and stopped 20 feet off the curbing. I was foolishly trying to keep up with a much more powerful car. The off was a harmless but effective reminder to drive my line, my lap, not anyone else's.
I have a healthy respect for turn 10 after the stories I've heard. Some drivers overcook the turn or apex too early and run out of track. This doesn't have to end in catastrophe. All the wisdom I've heard about what to do in this situation is to just go off for a little while, maybe with two wheels on track, keep it straight while you bleed off some speed, then when you've slowed down significantly and there is no one around you get back on track at a very shallow angle. Of course that disciplined response might be hard to remember in the 10ths of a second you're instinctively fighting to save it. The unfortunates try to solve their problems with too much steering and/or lifting. Then they compound their troubles by trying too long to save themselves from the snap oversteer and end up going across the track into the pit walls. Data from my smartphone laptimer app showed me that my lateral acceleration in T10 was far from what I was getting in other turns. This hard evidence gave me confidence to carry more speed into T10 and I took another 0.3 of a second off my best laptime from earlier in the day. Most importantly my line through the the turn felt more graceful, not as lumbering and twitchy.
One problem I had in T10 was a good one to have. I was getting so much faster out of T9 that I starting hitting my rev limiter in fourth gear for the first time ever, about halfway through the little straight between 9 and 10. I had planned on working on left foot braking through T10 in fourth gear, but switched focus to trying to play with the gear change. I've learned that it's better for me to put mental shift markers on the course just as the tach starts hitting redline, otherwise I usually hit the rev limiter without benefiting from the few extra ft-lbs of torque I squeeze out at the top of the tachometer. I started shifting to fifth about halfway down the straight, but then what? I experimented with heel-and-toe shifting down to fourth on entry, but I slowed down too much, a fault that I could improve on with practice. I also tried just staying in fifth gear through the turn, rotating the car with left foot braking, then getting on the now feeble throttle as soon as possible. My slow little car was starved for the torque on exit that fourth gives me, but my final speed at the end of the straight (which is just a measure of how well one drove T10) ended up about the same whether I did my awkward heel-and-toe to fourth or just stayed in fifth. First world problem, one I'll overcome. At least I was getting more lateral acceleration at midcorner in T10, definitely raised the bar for myself.
Another "problem" was that I couldn't get as fast on the straight. Formerly my top speed at the end of the half mile straight was 113 even with my formerly more conservative T10 approach. With these stickier, wider tires I couldn't get any faster than 110. Even so...
By the last session I had cut my best time down to 1:32.9, a full four seconds less than my previous best a couple of months ago. I'm just starting to drive in the intermediate run groups and laptime improvements of several seconds aren't at all uncommon in these beginning stages, especially after some mod to the car like the new grippier tires. I was able to move all my brake points in, and in some places braking became a matter of rotating the car, not slowing it down, though that probably explains the T6 understeer. The tires gave me a lot more confidence in the corners, and I even felt more confident at higher slip angles, something I've mostly avoided before. It wasn't often pretty, but many times I modestly slid on all four tires and controlled it decently.
I don't know quite why, maybe it was exhaustion, but later in the day I started doubting myself, wondering if I should even continue going to track days. Wasn't it just the tires and not me that got the better lap time? How much more could I improve? Wasn't this becoming routine, just becoming the same exercise every time? On the way home I vividly remembered that some of my best moments, life-affirming mountaintop experiences, have happened on the track. And that there is a long path with ever widening views before me. My despair was just some arrogant, sophomoric weariness. I haven't gotten close to my best experiences at the track. I resolved to prepare more, approach track days more thoughtfully and be my own coach more instead of depending on instructors to hand me relevant wisdom.