This is the second installment in my series Overdriving America, in which an enthusiastic intermediate overdrives great American road courses in the pursuit of happiness. Last time out, we visited Lime Rock Park, this week it is VIR - Virginia International Raceway.
The event was run by the PCA First Settlers Region and was 3 days over the last weekend. These guys did a great job of pulling this event together and I look forward to going again. I am in CT, so the 3 day event made the 12 hr ride worthwhile. The DE team got the balance between safety and fun just right, and the PCA drivers (in blue - novice) were fast and polite. The group has some very accomplished drivers in some nice machinery. The Blue group was a great group to run with.
The Friday morning was the craziest time I have seen at a track day. First session, a 911 hits a wall and knocks off his front bumper, another had to be towed off as his radiator became unhinged. After that, an attendee complained of dizziness and chest pains and was taken to hospital, meaning the track was closed for an hour while the EMS/Ambulance was away. Once the track re-opened, the second lap of that session, an prepped E36 had his steering wheel unclipped before the bridge at the bottom of the climbing esses, resulting in a wild ride right up the side of the bridge ramparts...I mean right up almost to the road across the bridge. The driver was okay. The organizing team did a great job in reorganizing the schedule and despite the 90 minutes of delays, most run groups got there full time. Thanks to the VIR flaggers who switched lunch and breaks to accommodate us. The day finished with a Corvette popping his engine and going up in smoke. They were picking engine parts off the track and the back end was melted down and destroyed. What a day! I have never seen anything like it.
The classroom sessions were good too. I have to admit that these get a little repetitive, but the instructor was a driving coach and added a new angle on some of topics. The one that stuck with me the most was the detail shared with not just applying your brakes, but also how you lift off so as to not unsettle the car. I am not sure if this is exaggerated in a P-car with the rear engine, but he was saying lift off smoothly so as not to let the weight shift off the front wheels jerkily when you are about to turn in just after (or trail) braking. He suggested moving off 9-3-1-0 (10 is locked up) rather than 9-0!
The track itself is awesome. If you had asked me on Friday, I would have said scary, and if you asked me after seeing the Continental GT race (I saw it when I got back on the DVR)...I don't think I would have gone! There is a mixture of technical sections and some challenging long straights too. It is perfect for our M3s. The back straight after the Oak Tree involves a long climb to a blind summit and a fairly steep drop. If is a gut checker to say the least to go over that hill and you stare at the flag station all the way up. I clocked 145 a couple of times going over the rise. At that point, the road drops away and you have to pause before starting your braking, as your wheels are dropping away, so you have less braking initially but it then rapidly loads up as you compress at the bottom of the dip. It is tough to wait to brake, especially as there is another short rise to a blind summit before the turn 14, 14a and 15 rollercoaster before "Hog Pen". I treated the track with a very healthy respect and tended to do a lot of backing off - I have seen too many VIR crash vids, and it hard not to visualize the infamous Audi R8 (Don't hit the wall, don't hit the wall...Godammit!) YouTube clip everytime you approach the Climbing Esses. Oak Tree was a gear change disaster for me and I never got into second for the turn and even went around in 4th a couple of times. It was the first time I wanted DCT! The last part that made you swallow is the front straight and "The Kink". Having a free run at this section, you get a lot of speed and it is a conscious effort to keep on the gas as you sweep through the Kink and get lined up for the hard braking for turn 1, being wary that a badly timed lift can send you spinning into the field to your left. I had one scary moment where I just made a pass on the right side which put me close to the tree/apex of The Kink, only to see an old 3 series pull up right in front of me with a mechanical issue. It was tough to smoothly adjust my line and make sure I stayed on. It is the best course I have driven, and you have to work all the way around to see the cambering changes and keep a good line. Those that have been there, know this, those who haven't been there - MAKE THE TRIP!
The other good part of the weekend was having a full-time instructor all day Friday and the first session on Saturday. After driving solo for almost two years now, with occasional instruction, I have picked up some sloppy habits. This was a great refresher and I got some stuff straightened out about being smoother with power and braking. I actually dumbed the throttle down to help with this. I will probably not run on "Super Sport" anymore at track days for quite some time. These sessions were really useful because they got me to back off and drive a little more intelligently. I am hoping that they provide a platform to start working on smoothing things out, not hauling the car around and ultimately picking up speed. I felt like I was "plateauing" with my driving, so these sessions will serve as a tonic to concentrate more on becoming a much more competent driver.
My instructor had a 2010 GT3. That car is insane...not necessarily the power, but the brakes are unbelievable. He drove me around for a few laps and I still cannot believe how fast that it scrubbed speed...and then built it up again with its 450hp NA engine. Superb machine. He was trying to talk me through the weight transfer for corners, but all I could think about was the brand new taste in my mouth from my stomach being hurled about for 10 minutes!
Anyway, these are the vids I have edited. The first is my instructor driving my M3 to show me the line and talk me through, and the second and third vids are me driving solo after I got signed off after the first session on Saturday! Enjoy!
Instructor Laps: (that was the sunrise on Saturday morning!)
Saturday Session #3:
Sunday Session #2 with my camera mounted on my helmet:
Later in the June, I will post Parts Three and Four...Overdriving NJMP Thunder and Lightning!