Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The Fifth Element
Brian had been running very well and, following on from his experiences at Byers HPR, even though he didn’t particularly care for the Buttonwillow course, he was always mixing it with the quickest drivers in the group. In talking with Brian, he told me how their Group 3 instructor talked about the “fifth element’ – yes, there’s the exit and working back from the exit, there’s the apex, the turn-in point, and the braking zone. These four elements we are all very familiar with – but a fifth? Yes, you need to be aware at all times of your “position.” There’s no point to blindly master a specific line if you are rarely going to be given an open track!
In a rush, it came back to me. As I laid down laps at HPR only two weeks earlier, and where there had been a lot more passing zones, I frequently had to make adjustments as I approached braking zones, and as I transitioned to the turn-in, from different track positions with every lap. I had been preoccupied with trying to push the car to a spot on the track where I was comfortable, prior to braking. What I hadn’t realized was that I was experiencing first hand the subtleties that come with driving in traffic. I still have so much to learn!
No clearer demonstration of this was given to me then when Fulton came to me late Sunday afternoon and asked whether he could take the ‘Vette out in a Group 3 session and would I like to come for the ride. The instructors were still concerned about the “drivability” of the ‘Vette, particularly when the automatic transmission was controlled by the paddle shifters. Last year, early attempts at smoothing the torque delivery through programming changes had made the car difficult to control. Fulton suggested that if I was serious about continuing with the ‘Vette in 2010, he needed to see just how drivable it could be in the hands of someone more experienced competitively driving a high-torque car.
“I will drive a few laps as though I was a Group 3 driver,” he suggested as we left the hot pits. But after a few laps without incident, it was becoming clear he liked the big ‘Vette. Turning to me, he simply said “sweet!” And then he pushed the car a lot harder yet still below the level I am certain he could have if it had been his own car, and passed every car we came across. Physically man-handling the ‘Vette in a manner it would be many years before I could emulate, Fulton’s driving of the ‘Vette revealed a side that exemplified the true nature of America’s sports car!
The track is no different whether you participate in Group 1 or in Group 2. It’s no different if you are in the more advanced HPDE Groups, either. And it’s definitely no different for the racers. Irrespective of the level of experience any one of us may have, the track remains constant. The only issue I now have is that I am less able to get a clean lap as there’s always traffic with “trains” to join. With the tracks less hostile, and the car more manageable even as I become aware of the fifth element, 2010 should be a blast! Already the planning has begun and the upcoming holiday season looks to be nothing more than a minor distraction!