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Learning a New Race Track #4: The Race Weekend

Greg Troester March 8, 2023 0 comments

This article can be read on it’s own, but feel free to check out the links to the other parts of the series!


  1. Introduction & Method Overview
  2. Studying the Track
  3. Getting Tech & Registration Squared-Away
  4. The Race Weekend (That’s this one!)
Unloading at Chuckwalla on Thursday at 4pm After a 10-hour Tow

The Days On-Track

Friday Practice Was Crucial – I Got Faster Every Session

This was just as crucial as anticipated. There was a total of 2.5 hours of track-time made available to us in 30-minute sessions (3 AM, 2 PM) and it made all the difference in the world.

Despite having to sit-out in the PM due to chasing brake caliper/rotor issues, I was able to clock a 2:06 lap time on day one, with my brother snagging a low 2:05. These lap times put us at the pointy-end of the mid-pack spear for Saturday and we got even faster on Sunday.

Some key areas of this track that I found tricky to capitalize on

  • Using all of the track-out on T3 and T14.
  • Carrying enough speed — in general. Super-fast track with tons of 4th Gear utilization
  • Carrying speed through T11–12 — a tricky set of curves that went down a hill and into the bowl of T13 were the highest-speed comb corners of the track. Took a mixture of caution and guts.
  • Entering the bowl of T13 fast, rotating early, and getting the hammer down

Never mind all of the other corners, which took constant mental-queuing and discipline, these were areas that I found the most speed in throughout the weekend. Chuckwalla is a very fast and flowing track, with just enough precision required that you can’t get away with sloppy driving and carry good speed… If it weren’t for Friday’s low-pressure Open Track sessions, I’d have been well below the 1/2-pack mark this weekend.

Saturday’s Qualifying and Race

NASA SoCal ran a more-compressed schedule than what I’m used to, with only three sessions: a 7am warmup, a qualifying session, and a 35-min race — we were done racing by 1:40pm. Talk about fast turnaround!

Shaking off the sleep took a bit longer than ideal, as I was fighting a cold that had just started to peak, but I was feeling good by the time we were in the grid for our race.

My first race was cautious and a bit more tentative than I would like to admit. I started P10 and, in retrospect, was a bit too cautious at the start. Looking back at video, I was leaving lots of room on track-edges in the first few laps and left the door open on Lap 1 to get side-punted to the back of the pack by an overeager local (who was later awarded fault and DQ’d).

I chalk my caution and opportunities up to my lack of track-time at CVR — being able to properly gauge track position was tricky and I tended to leave a car-width when in doubt, which unfortunately didn’t help me avoid contact! Fortunately, the contact was minor (door roughed-up, but operable)

Despite my Lap 1 misfortunes, I was able to get my lapping-pace down to low 2:07s, work my way back up to P11, and turn in a 2:06.04 in Lap 12 as I cleared the last pass I made of the race.

Very happy with my pace potential, I decided to not make car alignment adjustments because… frankly, I was beat. The focus was on cleaning up and getting to bed early for Sunday. That said my tire wear told me that I was working the outer-edges of my left-hand tires. Despite having a decent asymmetric alignment that favored a clockwise track, it just wasn’t enough — I would need to be smoother with my weight-transfers and manage it.

Damage was fortunately minor — bit of door wrinkle is all that remained after buffing-out the yellow paint

Sunday’s Warmup, Qualifying Race, and Main Race

Warmup on Sunday felt… fantastic. The cool air and confidence from yesterday led me to turn a 2:05 that felt very comfortable — almost accidental. The goal of the warmup was to focus on using all of my track-out in aforementioned corners, focus on smooth weight transitions, and get into a groove. Between the relaxed approach and cool, dense air, it resulted in some major pace improvements. Mission accomplished!

The Qualifying Race grid was set based on our fast lap from yesterday’s race. This helped me overall, promoting me up from P11 to P8. With this positive turn of events, I bolted-on the sticker tires — it was time to GO!

I learned something that, in retrospect was again obvious but somewhat surprising at the time — my tires were like hockey-pucks for the first five laps, despite the day being sunny and 70*F. What I’ve determined is that my home garage temperatures drop way too low in the winter (often down to about 20*F. I’ve decided that finishing the insulation and installing a heater in my garage is on the docket for this fall — until then, fresh hoops are getting stored in the basement.

Despite this, I had a decent Quali Race, losing 3 positions due to an error in following closely to a driver who had passed me, but parked it in the bowl of T13 — opening the door for Blake to shuttle by on the inside, then losing-out to a car that followed the inside line left open as I attempted an over-under over the same car who passed-then-parked. Lessons re-learned — I can tell I’ve been out of the driver’s seat for two years!

The Main Race was a blast. By far my best result and also leaving me feeling confident that I was wringing what I could out of myself and my car that day: a P7 finish. The tires were feeling good, now, and I had the confidence of knowing where the cars ahead were weak. The result was being patient and working the long-game that resulted in only one pace, but places gained mostly by not screwing up — and pressuring the drivers ahead (though I can only take credit for two of those).

I ran in the 2:06s rather than 2:07s in the laps I wasn’t fighting for position in and turned my fast lap after the midpoint of the race — a clear signal that I have capacity for more speed by simply getting more time on that track.

Racing Reflections

By 4pm Sunday, we were loaded and towing home. I was left with the same feeling I have now: happy and hungry for more.

My pace improved every day, which is exactly what I expected of myself. Furthermore, it’s leaving me with a clear sense of what setup changes I will experiment with before my next trip back. It’s also giving me confirmation of my suspicions from last October’s return to SM racing — more negative camber is required!

AiM Race Studio spit out a theoretical best of 2:03 — which I take with a grain of salt — which is also a clear indicator that more seat time will result in better consistency and I’ll be able to whittle-down the tenths lost due to the cost of having to think about certain corners more than is optimal, not having a clear visualization of where I’m at on-track, etc.

Would a Sim have helped? I’m ambivalent. My brother has picked up a used rig relatively cheaply, so I’m going to give it a shot, but I’m not ready to shell-out $5k to start with, knowing that the upper-end rigs run more like $15k! For me and my budget, that is multiple seasons’ worth of driving — at all. So I’m not going to give up actual racing in favor of the Sim. Furthermore, my previous experience with Sims has been lackluster — lack of g-forces, limited force-feedback, and variance in track accuracy has left me dubious that I’d want to toss that much cash at a “maybe”. I’ll spend money on a driving coach before I spend it on a Sim.

Other Things From the Weekend

Aside from the actual driving, I’ve come away with some other thoughts and musings that have confirmed it was worth it to do the homework and prep long in advance of the weekend.

We Used Many Spare Parts

Between Friday and Saturday, the group went through a few parts due to a mix of wear-and-tear, bad luck, and random chance:

  • Front brake calipers and rotors (one side’s pads were 50% more-worn than the other! Bit of a Hail Mary, but worked well)
  • Left Rear CV Axle —just a torn boot, but had to coordinate a run to the town 90 minutes away… Made for a late Friday night!
  • Left Front and Rear Hubs — some deferred maintenance, possibly, but we’ve found hubs on the SMs to go from “happy” to “unhappy” in rapid fashion.
  • A bent wheel (hit curbing in a bad spot)

All easy fixes, but had we not had the quantity of spares on-hand that we did… could’ve resulted in multiple 90-minute trips and certainly resulted in a lot more lost track-time.

I’m Feeling Sharp for March

Shaking off the rust that accumulates over just three months has made a big difference. Now, as I roll onto track for March’s Friday Practice, I’ll be confident in what I’m testing for myself and the car, as well as have a plan to confirm/adjust my car setup right from the get-go.

With a first-weekend (for me), I’m apt to keep things simple and get up-to-speed. By being up-to-speed already… It is go-time! I was competitive with the field at a new track, with clear opportunities to go faster.

I Really Liked the Class-Specific Driver Meetings

Something SoCal did was have a main drivers meeting, then a break-out for each class right after. This was great, because I was able to put faces to names, we could talk class-specific nuance, and got the most-important info in regards to our races. Beautiful.

Race-Specific Award Ceremonies Right After the Race

Though it’s fun to see what my buddies in other classes accomplished in their races… It was pretty sweet to be able to pack up and hit the shower (or the road) right after my race. It freed-up my time and allowed people the flexibility to get home as quickly as possible, if that was their priority/necessity for the weekend.

Something to consider.

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