CSCC Solo 2: 2 March 2003
Hollywood Park, Inglewood
Sorry, no pictures from this weekend. But I figured that I had enough to write about anyway. The weekend before the event, friends and I installed installed my new Tokico Illumina adjustable shocks on Car 814. The installation went smoothly, except for some downtime caused by a failed spring compressor. The improvement was immediately obvious on the test drive. The old shocks (factory units with 130,000 miles) allowed considerable nose-dive even under moderate street braking. The Illuminae, at setting 3 of 5, controlled nose-dive very well, and turn-in was perceptibly quicker even during mild maneuvers.
On Friday, 28 February, I attended an Evolution Performance Driving School, Phase 1, held at California Speedway in Fontana. The instructors were Tom Kotzian and Ron Bauer. The course for the Phase 1 school is very tight, and takes about 30 seconds to drive. You begin with a slalom, and make a right into a 270-degree or so, very tight carousel. You exit the carousel toward an apex cone, which you turn around, and charge toward a small right-hand sweeper. Exiting the sweeper, you do a right-left-right through a tiny Chicago Box, and head back toward the carousel, which you circumnavigate in the opposite direction as last time. The course is divided into five segments, with split times recorded for each.
At the beginning of the day, you drive the course thrice by yourself in order to establish a baseline. I had tremendous difficulty finding the course, despite walking through it a couple of times. The course is marked with the bare minimum of cones; there are no "walls" alongside the course to point the way. While this arrangement may be typical in some parts of the country, our CSCC autocrosses are throughly coned, and it took me a long time to adjust to the sparse layout.
The school is limited to 12 students, who are split into run groups of two (each student gets one instructor). In the morning, the emphasis is on car control--getting through the slalom without getting behind, keeping the car tight to the inside during the carousel, and so forth. In the afternoon, the theme becomes "looking ahead," and the instructors constantly tell you what distant landmark you should be finding. The notion is that in ordinary street driving, you normally focus on the "big picture" and your brain puts the car there smoothly and easily. By looking ahead, rather than at the cones right in front of you, we should be able to do the same in autocross. Probably true, but it's also a hard adjustment to make
That said, I did improve considerably during both the morning and afternoon sessions, taking more than 4 seconds off my time and feeling a lot smoother doing it. During one of the last runs, I took a problematic turn so much better than I had before, that I carried too much speed into the next turn and spun, doubtless forfeiting my best time of the day.
On Saturday, I continued my autocross-filled weekend with the CSCC practice at Hollywood Park. Art Rinner had designed an amazingly convoluted course. After spinning on my first run (I guess the course was still dirty), I was turning in times about 40 seconds slower than in the February championship, which used about the same amount of land--a testament to the serpentine nature of the circuit.
I improved steadily throughout the morning. After a work shift, pulled up to start my afternoon runs, nervously noting that the field had generally picked up 10 seconds since my earlier run group. As I was wondering where I would find 10 seconds to trim, I learned that a pair of hairpins had been deleted from the layout, and were replaced with an almost-straight. Relieved, I made my runs and continued to improve. I'd been running the Tokicos at setting 3 all around, but decided to try setting 4 for the afternoon. The car didn't seem to have any trouble with pavement irregularities at setting 4. I've not yet tried to alter the steer characteristics by using different settings for the front and rear.
Sunday, of course, was championship day. I drove in the morning, and despite feeling smooth and in control of the car, I turned in unimpressive times that were just as far behind HS leader Chris Lyon as they had been before. I was hoping for some immediate improvement from the Evo school and the shocks, but it was not to be. I have, however, made an important discovery. At the Evo school, and at the Saturday practice, I made significant (0.5-1.0 second) improvement on every run, even after 10 runs or more. The results show that winning drivers, in general, will improve from the first run to the second, but then stabilize, suggesting that they can reach near-optimum driving by their second run. If I can figure out how to reach my "plateau" in two or three runs, instead of ten, I think I will be much more competitive in HS.