Thursday, May 13, 2010

Changes aplenty!


Last weekend I was walking through the local mall looking in shop windows and I was surprised by the number of people that were there shopping. If I was an economist I would have no other choice than to say the amount of optimism across California is definitely on the uptick! In case you are wondering why I would spend time at the mall and actually look forward to visiting it – our local mall now includes an Audi showroom as well as toy shop full or Lamborghinis. Real ones, not toys, and where on any day, you can see a colorful mix of Gallardos and Murcielagos. The photo at the top of the page is of me taking a good look at a very orange Murcielago and checking on the quality of the interior.

Nothing screams cars more than a modern Lamborghini! A Ferrari will always be a thing of beauty and there’s almost no way Ferrari can mess up the glorious lines that always differentiate a Ferrari from everything else. Just as a Porsche will always be recognizable, whether it’s a simple coupe or one of the specialty track models. On the other hand, if you are looking for a car that is in your face, that screams excess, then it just has to be a Lamborghini. It’s still too early to talk about changing cars, but if the business I am now building meets with any success, I may just change my mind!

In the previous post, “A father's advice ...” I talked briefly about our weekend at the Long Beach Grand Prix and of how, on a weekend when National Auto Sport Association (NASA) was holding an event at Buttonwillow, we had headed in the opposite direction. From what I heard later, it was a pretty successful weekend for the NASA club and I suspect that much had to do with the mild temperatures they experienced. For us, however, the change of plans had us spending the weekend at Long Beach and it had proved to be particularly special as it was the very first time we had been up close and personal with pro drivers from the Corvette racing team.

The picture below is from photos posted to the Autoblog.com web site as part of an April 18th, 2010 post by Frank Filipponio and it was taken from almost directly in front of where we had been seated. We were among a large gathering of Corvette supporters who somehow were squeezed in with an Aston Martin group, which was only too happy to provide us with green Aston Martin flags that we all dutifully waived when the new Aston Martin - Lola prototype, roared past. These flags have now been added to my growing collection of track memorabilia.


Spending time hanging out in the Corvette Corral allowed us to mingle with many fellow Corvette drivers and to sit in on a couple of presentations. The highlight for me was to listen to Ron Fellows and hear his perspective on the incident involving the Corvette team, new to racing in the GT2 class in the American LeMans Series (ALMS), and the Porsches of the veteran Flying Lizard team. The venue had been Laguna Seca circuit, just outside Monterey, California, and as the last laps unwound at the last event of last year, the Corvette and the Porsche took it to each other.

After being told by race officials to give up his position after a pass on the main straight, the Corvette bit back hard and spent the final lap hounding the Porsche. Coming out of the final turn and heading for the Start / Finish line, the Corvette bumped the Porsche, as the Porsche clearly “brake-checked” the Corvette (a perspective not shared with Porsche drivers, mind you, but all the same, what I saw as I watched replays), and then proceeded to drive the Corvette into the pit wall.

The impact spun the Corvette around and drove it headfirst into the wall on the opposite side, so as the Porsche went under the checkered flag it was just the wreckage of the Corvette that careened across the line. Both drivers earned probation for the start of this year, and it was clear to all who listened to Ron Fellows, there was no prospect of anyone other than the Porsche driver being at fault for the spectacular year-end incident.

Ron Fellows wasn’t the only speaker of note! Just before he talked to the Corvette throng, ALMS Race Director Beaux Barfield, came on stage. It was his decision that led to the Corvette having to relinquish its position in the closing stages of the Laguna Seca event, and it was his decision not to disqualify the Porsche of the Flying Lizard team. It was a tough crowd but after viewing many replays, Barfield was adamant that he wouldn’t change his decision. One of the most critical aspects of the job of race director is to remain consistent and to rule on on-track incidents quickly. He knew he had upset a lot of Corvette fans but he also knew that there would be no changes!


To top off a good weekend, when it came time to drawing the winning raffle tickets, and the Corvette Corral provided quite a few, I happened to be the lucky winner of a ceramic-topped box autographed by last year’s Corvette racers. For some time now I have been thinking about adding Corvette memorabilia to the other collectables I have, and this certainly was a good way to start – check out the box in the photo above! However, no matter how exciting the weekend proved to be, it still was a poor substitute for actually being out on the track, and while it remains a highlight in terms of race day spectacles, plans are now moving ahead quickly to return to the track.

In ten days time we drive back to Boulder. Our time in Simi Valley has been the longest we have spent away from Boulder for some time but the time was broken up considerably with weekends spent in Northern California and with several great drives along the Pacific Coast Highway. The return trip to Boulder always excites us and at this time of year, as the seasons change, the local tracks begin to open up and the long weekend will see NASA Rockie Mountains host HPDE events at the new High Plains Raceway (HPR), a track I visited for the first time last year. Check out the post “The Fifth Element” of December 2nd, 2009.

We will drive the C6 Vette back to Boulder as it’s never been to the circuit and Margo and I are anxious to see how it performs at these altitudes. Supercharged, it shouldn’t face too many problems but any time you change your track environment there’s never any assurances that everything will go smoothly, so we will be treating this outing with some caution. Hopefully, as was the case last year, Brian and Jan, our good friends from Simi Valley, will join us again but this time rather than relying on a friend’s car, they will be bringing their C6 Vette. Perhaps we will see other Vette drivers participating and we will be able to assemble our own Corvette Corral!

This event represents the start of a number of changes for our driving program. Sorting through our own commitments and the availability of weekends at the track, we have decided to participate in a weekend event at Laguna Seca. This time it will be with the Speed Ventures organization rather than with NASA. We continue to enjoy great fellowship with all who drive with NASA, and will return to a couple of their events later in the year, but we are going to give Speed Ventures our support for the next couple of months.

Readers may recall that Margo and I went to Laguna Seca as spectators last year. Check out the post “Give me a “brake” – concentrate!” of September 18th, 2009 where I described the experience. Much like how we felt watching the ALMS event at Long Beach, our time up at Laguna Seca made us only more anxious to participate. Driving the circuit at Laguna Seca presents a number of challenges, so as part of the preparation, we have had bright red Pfadt tow hooks installed front and back of the Vette. We hope we never have to rely on them, but the circuit is liberally surrounded by gravel traps and wheels-off situations often end up with the car stalled and needing help from the tow truck!

But Laguna Seca also presents problems with noise – there’s a decibel limit and all cars have to pass by a monitoring booth: cars that exceed 92 decibels are black-flagged and forced out from the track. Racers often go to extreme measures to ensure they aren’t black flagged, with some drivers simply lifting off the throttle as they tip-toe past the monitoring booth, while other racers reroute their exhaust to come out the left side of the car and away from the monitoring instruments.


Corvettes are far more civilized, of course. For some time now, Corvettes can be equipped with mufflers that, for normal driving including Laguna Seca, can have their exhaust gases pass through a partly baffled muffler, and yet can be opened up fully via a bypass switch operated from within the cabin. Pictured above are a set of Z06 mufflers that A&A Corvette Performance are holding for me that can operate in this fashion - Andy will cut off the pipes aft of the muffler, gut them, and equip with a valve - and we will be looking to have these installed following our trip to Boulder.

We have been reluctant to change the mufflers, but it’s no longer an issue of gaining extra horsepower no matter how small, although this is likely to be a byproduct, but ensuring the supercharged Vette just breaths better at mid to high revs. We have taken a set of American Racing 1 7/8ths headers and fed them into a 3”collector and long pipes, and run them all the way back to the stock mufflers where there’s only one small exit to a dual exhaust tip. By going this route we will more than double the volumne of exhaust gas that can exit through the muffler.

This event is scheduled for July but rather than turning up to Laguna Seca without any prior experience driving with the group, in June we are planning on spending a weekend with Speed Ventures out at Willow Springs. This is one of favorite tracks where Margo and I have spent many weekends and where we will be able to gain a measure of our capabilities, as compared to the other participants. It will also be a great way to introduce ourselves and to become familiar with those drivers we will likely meet at Laguna Seca. We are extremely grateful for all the time NASA instructors devoted to us and we are sure going to value the effort they made.

Some months back, as we flipped through the calendar of events, we saw that the Laguna Seca event in July was to be followed by an August weekend back at Auto Club Speedway. This is a circuit we would like to explore more, and to really improve our driving skills. Over the past two years at NASA events on this track, we have come away with mixed feelings and know we can do a lot better. Perhaps an outing with Speed Ventures, and among the drivers we will have been on track with for the previous two months will help us. The big Vette certainly feels at home on this track and I was pretty impressed with the way it handled earlier this year, so perhaps we will finally come to terms with the tracks infield “Roval”.


Of all the changes we are anticipating over the coming months, perhaps the most exciting will be our first event out of the country. For our annual vacation we will be going to Europe where we will be renting a car and driving through Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and Switzerland. As we near the end of the vacation we have booked a day on the Nurburgring north loop, the famous Nurburgring Nordschleife. Cars frequently turn up at our NASA track events with decals showing the outline of the fabled track and it’s just been one of those things we have always wanted to do.

Rather than trying to sneak our rental cars onto the track, we have reserved Lotus Exige S 240 track cars for the day, and we will be joined by Brian and Jan. Ron Simons, Director and Chief Instructor for RSR Nurburg (http://www.rsrnurburg.com/) worked with us to set up the day and the picture above is from his web site – it’s the famous “karussell” and one of the more challenging parts of the track! Ron has a Lamborghini Gallardo available and it was a close call but after visiting the local Lotus dealer and checking out the Exige, it’s going to be a day that will not be forgotten!

The changes we are making are not being undertaken lightly. We don’t change our cars all that often. Recently, however, we have come across deals that we simply found too hard to walk away from. Changes to our track car, on the other hand will continue but scaled back a lot from what we did earlier; now it’s just one item at a time. A situation that’s a lot more manageable and where we can quickly assess the benefits provided.

Margo and I are coming to the realization that track days will not become central to our lives as there are so many other things we want to do, but we are happy with the progress we made over the past three years. We wanted to be able to drive our cars a lot closer to their capabilities than can be achieved on highways, and we are doing that. We wanted to experience world-class tracks, and now we are doing that as well. The mantra at NASA has always been to drive fast! safely! have fun!

And there’s no way either one of us can deny that we have done all three and because of that, we will always find some time each year to pay down a couple of more laps. Somewhere! Anywhere! And among friends we would have only met in pursuing this pastime.

2 comments:

Dan said...

Did you also book the chiropractor/winch to help you in and out of the Exige! :-)

Richard said...

Know exactly what you mean - after leaving the local Lotus dealer where the Exige had a full roll-cage, I ached ... Margo on the other hand, slid in and out easily, with little problem! I will need to study her technique …

Definitely not the car to ever take out on a “first date” and hope to impress! Needs to be the 4th or 5th car in the garage ….