DRIVING AT SPEED
The Costs and Risks of High Performance Driving Education and Time Trials
Before you jump off a high bridge into the river below it would be for a reasonably prudent person want to know how deep is the river below before they take the plunge. The same applies to this hobby with the two most asked questions how safe is it and how much does it cost.
Well some hobbies are very risky like sky diving and mountain climbing. Motorsports fall below that into the risk categories of surfing and skiing. It is ironic that one of the greatest race divers in the world, Michael Schumacher, was left paralyzed and in a wheel chair not by competing in Formula One racing but by a skiing accident while on vacation with his family during his retirement from the sport.
Still driving fast is a risk and the faster you go the margin for error and ability to correct your error requires recognition of that this fact. So you need to be very aware of your abilities and limitations when you begin.
Vintage car and World War 2 aircraft restoration as well as competitive motorsports racing are insanely expensive. A restored WW2 fighter like the P-51 can run over a million dollars. While HPDE and TT is not racing it still requires a certain level of discretionary income. A lot depends on the car you plan to drive, can you do mechanical work yourself, and how many events you plan to do in a year. My advice is to come up with a budget first and then plan your expectations around that budget.
Let’s first start with safety. All track events require a helmet some might allow a motorcycle helmet well others only allow a racers helmet. Racing helmets are certified every 5 years by the Snell Memorial Foundation. The last certification was 2015 and are known as SA2015 helmets. You can’t wear a helmet over 10 years old so racing helmets older than SA2010 are not technically allowed. Some organizations will have rental helmets available but may not have your size. You need a proper sized helmet! A lose footing one is almost as bad as not having one and a tight one is so uncomfortable. It might be better to just buy an economy helmet as a starter then can go from under $200 to $300. True a professional carbon fiber helmets with all the bells and whistles can run $5,000 or more but your basic helmet will fit the minimum safety standards and at the beginners level this is adequate. Next come shoes, no flip flops or leather shoes that can slip. You need something not slippery running shoes give traction but you lose the feel of the pedals. A thin rubber sole shoe will work but even better an economic racing shoe which can run under $100 would be the best choice. Finally, you should wear a long sleeve shirt, cotton or wool pants, and socks anything that is fire retardant which is in your wardrobe. If you desire to splurge and get a racing suit, there is also an extensive range for the budget racer to over $2,000 for a professional racing suit.
Now let’s look at the out of pocket costs for your track weekend. First is the track fee depending on the organization and track they run between $300 and $500. You might also want to rent out a transponder that keeps track of your track time. For TT this is mandatory, so expect to pay another $20 to $30 for a weekend rental, The track generally charges an entrance fee of about $10 for the weekend as well. Now comes the cost of fuel. You are not going to get 20 miles per gallon on the track expect about 6 or even less. So going back and forth to the track therefore one can expect to pay another $200. Now if your risk averse, you might want to consider insurance. Your car insurance does not cover your car on the track but there are insurance companies that will insure your car for HPDE and TT. The rate can vary depending if you want a 10% or 15% deductible but expect to pay another $60 to $75 per $10,000 worth on your vehicle. Add lodging for a night or two and you run anywhere from $600 to $1,100 for a two day track weekend.
Now depending on what car you are driving and if you can do it yourself (DIY) repairs. You will wear out brake pads, rotors, and tires much quicker when tracking so you need to budget this accordingly along with the standard maintenance of oil change and bleeding your brakes. The point is you need to factor this if you plan on doing this more than twice a year and your car is a daily driver.
Finally it all boils down to passion. Those who have it will spend their last dollar to challenge their skills and car to the limit and those who don’t simply will not think it is worth it.
Improving your Driving Skills through the Internet
By Mike Quigley
The use of the internet and applications on our cell phone can dramatically increase the skill level of a novice or low intermediate driver in a relatively short period of time. Let’s first begin with cell phone apps that record track lap data and then to YouTube.
There are many phone apps that can be used on IPhone or Android. My only experience is with Harry’s Lap Timer but there are other phone apps that also perform the same functions. Most will record lap times, how fast or slow you current lap time is using the fastest lap time of the session as a benchmark. In addition at least for Harry’s Lap Timer, you can record it on video and later after the session superimpose the track and it will show your speed and will highlight the slowest speed on the corner and fastest speed on the straightway. You can then download a lap or laps to your Facebook or You Tube accounts if desired. There are many additional functions as well as integrating simultaneous with a Go Pro Camera. Still for the beginner, I would recommend to start with the basic application and get a good windshield mount.
1) Track Videos
Even if you are going to your first track day at this track or have been to the track a hundred times. It is worth reviewing phone app videos of the track you will be attending. Preferably you should look at videos with the same type of car and have faster times than you do. First it acclimates your vision to a higher speed, second gather reference points so you can learn to brake and accelerate more smoothly. Being smoother means more grip more grip means faster lap times. Eventually, you should be able to identify what part of the track the car is on immediately. Along with a track map in which you can take driver notes of what gear to use on corners and key reference points for braking and tracking out will improve laps times considerably.
Another aspect to look at are videos in which cars go off track. Take notice of where in the corner entry when the mishap happens. You can tell by the approach into the turn or the apex they are way off visually from what you have seen when cars successfully complete the turn at even a higher speed.
2) Instructional Videos
There are literally thousands of videos from how to heel and toe, track cars, to more technical issues on racecraft. I have broken this down to the best sites for the novice, low intermediate, and high intermediate with about two years or more experience.
a. Novice – The Racing Line Motor Trend Channel. Hosted by Randy Pobst.
He does not look the part of a rugged handsome race car driver in the likes of Mario Andretti, James Hunt, or Michael Schumacher. In fact with his horned rim glasses he has sort of a geeky look. Still do not confuse his looks with his ability. Besides being a racing journalist, he is a two time class winner in the 24 Hours of Daytona. His videos of this series are professional. They are made to be sort of cheesy but entertaining. Still he presents the basics thoroughly and you will have a smile on your face learning. Even if you have a significant other that is not committed to the hobby will get a better understanding of what you do and why you like it.
b. Low Intermediate – RR Racing Rationalized
This is not a professional presentation but basically it is a guy wearing a black helmet with a white chalk board to add visual clarity to his presentation. His discussions are clear and to the point. His discussions go beyond the level that novices are generally not prepared for until they get a couple of track days experience.
c. High Intermediate – Driver 61 by Scott Mansell
This young Brit knows his stuff. He raced at a very young age and is also an instructor. His presentation is completely professional and thorough. He uses a massive board that highlights the current topic of conversation. He also uses track videos of various tracks in the UK and Europe in which he drives an open wheeled car known as a radical. He points to the visual references of each track as part of his instruction. Next to personal coaching on the track it can’t get much better than this.
d. Low and Intermediate Level – Speed Secrets by Ross Bentley
Mr. Bentley from Vancouver, British Columbia is one of the most respected performance and racecar driver coaches in the world. He has coached novices to professionals. His Speed Secrets book is a must read for anyone with a remote interest in motorsports. His videos are a reflection of this attitude to high performance driving and his coaching style. Want to increase you time by that extra second? Listening to his videos, they may put you on the correct path.
In summary, the internet provides tremendous opportunities for the HPDE and Time Trial participants to learn off the track. Nothing takes the place of seat time but learning before you are on the track will only make your experience that more productive in terms of reduced lap time and pure enjoyment of the experience.