One of my goals for 2020 is to continue to improve as a driver and the easiest metric for improvement is lap times, so I want to set new person best (PB from here on out). For the second Saturday in a row I’ve been able to set new PB’s (at different tracks).
This Saturday’s event was at Eagles Canyon Raceway which was completely rebuilt last year. The track had been bought by new owners who are true enthusiasts and who wanted to make the track as good as it could get. This meant completely rebuilding the racing surface and altering the track layout. They had a good plan but the weather decided to throw them a curve with the wettest couple of months on record followed by cooler and wetter weather than we’d seen in decades. They just needed a week of dry weather with temperatures above 70F, which in Texas usually isn’t a problem. The track could have reopened as early as October of 2018 but didn’t until September of 2019.
Since the track hasn’t been open long and I’ve only got a handful of days on the new configuration, setting new PB’s there is easier than at the other local track where I’ve done more than half of all my trackdays. To top it off, I needed to retire a set of RE71r’s that I use for autox (I’ve had a new set ready for over a year but since I’ve transitioned from autox to trackdays as my main motorsports outlet it took way longer to wear them out than in the past). Now, both the Hankook RS4 and Bridgestone RE71r are 200tw ‘street’ tires but the stones are much softer and stickier than the RS4's (the RE71r’s are closer to a 100tw tire than a 200tw, while the RS4 is a sticky 200tw). I wasn’t sure if my heat cycled and mostly worn RE71r’s would be faster and there was a distinct possibility that they wouldn’t last the day so I brought my RS4's just in case.
One of the benefits of my BRZ is that it’ll easily fit a set of tires and tools with the seats folded, so bringing an extra set of tires wasn’t a hassle. However, my 10 year old Harbor Freight aluminum floor jack died on me when I was swapping wheels on Wednesday (I got a replacement before Saturday’s trackday and I had a scissor jack that I used to swap tires but it was a bit annoying to just have a tool not work).
The track surface is in great shape; however, there isn’t much grass and the week before the trackday they got 4" of rain followed by 2-3" of snow (very rare for this part of Texas) so the runoff areas were a swamp. The track workers had spent considerable time and effort to clean off the track during the week, the topsoil from one of the hillsides migrated onto the track and had to be cleaned. The surface was damp but clean when we started Saturday (it rained again Friday), temperatures were in the 40's but the track dried quickly and by the second sessions conditions were great. Any car that dropped so much as a single wheel was required to immediately stop and was put on a flatbed to keep the clay from getting spread all over the track (one of the workers had to be winched out of the clay earlier in the week when he sank in past his knees while walking out to one of the corner stations, his boots were lost to the muck).
A couple of the morning sessions were cut short due to cars going off track and the rule that all off track cars had to be towed in (most of the cars could have made it in under their own power but they would have spread enough slick mud and clay on the track to guarantee more off track excursions). By the afternoon sessions everyone had figured out how to stay on track and conditions were perfect for setting times (aside from traffic). I’ve been running the Novice classroom instruction, so I miss out on running with the other instructors in the instructor run group (that’s when the novice class is) and at Saturday’s event I was also doing in-car instruction with one of the novices (in an Audi R8 v10!), so I had to either rush to grid late for the “Advanced” group and/or run with the “Intermediate” group. I tried both.
One of the biggest perks of instructing is that you can run in any run group as long as you don’t miss any of your coaching duties. I took advantage since I had tires to burn through. I ended up running in all 4 Intermediate sessions and 3 of the 4 Advanced sessions (the first advanced session was a single lap and I gave a ride to my Novice student in another, but I got plenty of track time).
The “Hoosier-stones” were definitely worn but they had at least as much grip as my fresh RS4's (braking data showed the same maximum braking force but lateral grip might have been slightly better on the RE71r’s). Running the Bridgestones at the track feels a bit like cheating and I avoid using them for track work since they wear very quickly and have a tendency to overheat with hard track use. Mine were heat cycled which kept them from overheating (and made them useless for autox). This new PB has a bit of an asterisk for me, I don’t know for sure the tires were completely responsible for the time I found but I’m pretty sure they helped. I’ll just need to match the time on the RS4's (or improve it) to remove all doubt.