Pit Lane at COTA

When I got an unformatted, early draft email for the first ever Track Night in America at the Circuit of Americas I immediately began planning my trip. I was a little hesitant at first since the track night happened to fall on the third day of school (I’m a high school Physics teacher) and I wasn’t entirely sure that I could get out of work. I forwarded the email to a couple of friends, not too many just to ensure that there would still be a spot for me, and after sleeping on it I decided that missing out was not an option.

I set a few reminders and alarms for a couple of minutes before registration opened and waited. I made it into the first round of registration and was locked in for a spot on a real life Formula 1 track. The registration filled in under 10 minutes; demand was so high that they ended up opening up an additional morning event. A healthy number of my fellow Texas Region SCCA friends managed to snag a few spots and we spent the next couple of weeks waiting.

Then Harvey showed up. The event came into question and the opportunity to run at COTA was thrown into question. I felt bad worrying about a trackday when hundreds of thousands of people were (and some still are) in actual danger and whose lives were in chaos. Enough people had to cancel their COTA plans that registration reopened a few days before the event and they even offered to let a couple people from the morning sessions come back for the afternoon sessions.

Luckily, the weather for the event was perfect. I took a half day at school and drove straight to COTA from school. I knew I wasn’t going to have time to change tires at the event, so I drove the 210 miles on my RE71r’s. The paddock was packed, but I managed to meet up with a couple of fellow DFW autocrossers who were packing up after running in the morning session. They gave me some helpful advice and practically oozed with sheer joy from their experience.

After a quick drivers’ meeting we paraded onto the track and did a full lap before gridding up in pit lane (the Pirelli World Challenge teams had their garages open and we got a great view of some real racecars). The parade lap itself was enough to justify the trip. We unloaded the cars, and I bleed off 10psi from each tire to go from travel mode to track mode. By the time I finished with the tires and screwed in my tow hook, our first session was about to start.

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I was nervous. The parade lap and a handful of youtube videos constituted my entire COTA experience, I was signed up for the advanced group, and the number of high horsepower cars was a bit higher than I’m used to (usually the horsepower cars are relegated to the novice/intermediate groups, but not at COTA). Usually the first lap is done under caution (no passing); however, I found out at turn 10 that this was not the case. To add to my nerves, the advanced group was given the okay to pass anywhere on track with a point-by rather than just in the designated passing zones (the straights).

The long back straight gave me plenty of time to settle down and remember to breathe. My friends were ahead of me in their Scion FRS and Lotus Elise, this was getting epic.

The checkers came out before I knew it, and even as I was heading into the pits I still didn’t feel like I knew the track. The hill heading into turn 1 was so much steeper than I had imagined (video flattens out the 133ft hill so that it looks manageable, but in person it is imposing), and the track samples corners and sections from some of the best circuits in the world. I was enthralled. I gridded up behind my friend in his Lotus Elise, this was his inaugural outing in it and my goal was to pass him (I had already proved to myself that my friend and doppelganger in his FRS had too little track experience and confidence to keep in front of me).

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The Lotus is only slightly down on power but is significantly lighter than my BRZ, which gives it a healthy power to weight advantage. I was going to have to rely on my familiarity with my car and a bit of bravery to get a point by from the Lotus and claim a moral victory. I didn’t have any live timing at the event (my brother’s dog broke my phone and it was in no state to run any of my track apps), so I had no way to know how my times compared to my friends’. The second session started after what paradoxically felt like both an interminable and impossibly short amount of time.

The Lotus was vanquished! I lost focus after passing him, but after chastising myself I finished the session strong. I had my moral victory, but a usurper had appeared. Another DFW autocross friend of mine snuck in front of me in grid in his STR prepped NB Miata. I was confident that my STX prepped BRZ could handle the little NB (the back straight is a full kilometer, .6 miles, long) but we had enough time to throw shade before the session started that I had some work to do to back up my mouth. I had mostly learned where the track was and I had some confidence, but I know that COTA charges you by the foot for the Armco and I had to be at school in the morning (I only have the BRZ, but at least I’ve got 3 sets of wheels and tires for it). The final session is always an exercise in restraint.

I want need to go again.