Monday, December 24, 2012

‘Tis the season to be jolly!

When I wrote my final post for 2011 “Memories? Fuggedaboutit!”, you could be forgiven if you came away thinking I was about ready to give up on track weekends. After all, we had a dismal run of luck and as much as we prepared for every event, it turned out to be nothing but one frustrating session after another. However, as we really looked under the hood of our wonderful, supercharged Corvette – the C6 Z51 “auto” coupe, the more we came to realize that, perhaps, this wasn’t going to be the car that would allow us to progress any further. While we had tamed it somewhat and pulled horsepower and torque back from earlier levels, even at the altitude where we most often ran, it still wasn’t a satisfying car with which to tackle track days. The picture above? From a tuning day, just as 2011 came to an end.

Today, the C6 ‘Vette, or Big Blue, as we fondly refer to it, has undergone a remarkable transformation under the watchful supervision of Curt at Corvette Spa, in nearby Longmont. To Curt, it always comes back to durability and so, following the replacement of the shock absorbers (all round) with a little stiffer Bilstein HDs, a new set of brake rotors and pads (Hawk High Performance Street), and where we finally had the brake calipers powder-coated red, a revised alignment to better suit the street and considerable reworking of elements within the cockpit – gear shifter now operates smoothly and the heads-up display has been reinstalled – the ‘Vette runs great. So much so (and yes, even more horsepower and torque was pulled out of the engine program), we now run with “just 500 rwhp” the car has turned into a very pleasant daily drive, and one I often selected for summer and fall evening runs!

Fortunately, if you looked back even further to other end of season posts you would have seen that the final post for 2008, our inaugural session, “
Looking back on '08”, you would have seen the reference and photo of that other Corvette we had in our garage – the C5 Z06. And what good fortune it was to have this ‘Vette available for track weekends. Apart from replacing the original 2003 tires, upgrading the fluids and brake pads, this ‘Vette needed very little attention and yet, proved to be a more than capable car when it came to lapping our favorite tracks in Colorado and California. The single biggest difference was control and, to a lesser degree, finesse. With a manual transmission we were able to select gears we wanted to be in, and being a much lighter car, it just went where we pointed it with the rear end never once stepping out on us. There was never any anxiety about Frankenstein, or perhaps more accurately, Dr Jeckyll’s Mr. Hyde suddenly appearing without an invitation.  

It was also Margo’s year. With a reliable, predictable car to drive Margo’s confidence grew in leaps and bounds and as we spent many a Friday (and the one Monday) at our local track – High Plains Raceway (HPR), east of Denver – with as many laps as Margo was able to reel off, her consistency and speed rose accordingly. Already a seasoned National Auto Sports Association (NASA) HPDE 2 driver, allowing her to be on track now without an instructor, she more than held her own on open lapping days where there were no restrictions on overtaking and where her communication, and indeed predictability, was much welcomed by other participants. On some occasions Margo shared the track with racers preparing for an upcoming “One Lap of America” event while at others, she was in the mix of Radicals and open wheel formula cars.

This confidence manifested itself during her outings with NASA that followed – running consistently as one of the top three drivers at the early summer NASA Rocky Mountain event at HPR, pretty much uncatchable at the mid-year NASA SoCal event at Willow Springs, and able to come to turns with a very unfamiliar track configuration at the year ending NASA SoCal event at Buttonwillow. The big difference with driving the C5 Z06 was that with the manual transmission and the tall final drive that comes standard with the Z06, the first couple of laps in the early sessions would see her comfortably lapping in just third gear – with little to no “bogging” coming out of turns. The ability to manage the torque well enough enabled Margo to remain competitive for much of the session.

The picture above is of Margo running Buttonwillow track configuration 13, counter-clockwise, and shows her exit from the Buttonhook having passed the section of track called I5 and the I5 off-ramp. As for my time on the track, I felt a lot more at ease behind the wheel of the Z06 than of any other car we had taken to the track – it was all about predictability and being able to place the car exactly where I wanted to. As the year progressed, consistently hitting the apexes became more routing, as did letting the car “flow” and not be pinched as I tried to get just that little more from it. In time, I found myself not braking quite as hard and able to roll onto full throttle a lot earlier and the more I worked on smoothing everything out, the faster I was able to go. Again, the instructions from my first outing with NASA SoCal were never far from my thoughts as no matter the track – and yes, I spent a day at Pikes Peak International Raceway for the first time ever, running it too in the opposite direction; clockwise with the oval turns all right hand turns – determine each turn’s exit and then work backwards to where you locate the apex, then sort out your turn-in and finally, figure out just the amount of braking you need to make this all flow!

With five years of weekend track sessions under our belt, there has been another constant as well. The social aspect from joining others with a like-minded passion for driving cars fast and safely has led to many friendships being created. Whether it’s a young driver putting on a helmet for the first time and introducing themselves to Margo and me or an old-hand we have seen many times before, seeing friendly faces everywhere we go now has become a big part of why we enjoy the activity as much as we do. For us, it’s still far removed from being a sport as we are not interested in the competitive side of driving fast, but rather and yet, being able to simply hang-out with those who do take it seriously and, occasionally,  have them ask for a ride-along with either one of us, is all the reward we look for. When we arrive at HPR we are asked about the “line” we prefer and more often of late, entertain requests to participate in a couple of lead-follow laps to better observe the line we prefer!    

However, this year proved more enjoyable than many of the outings of previous years for another reason. During the offseason we bought an RV and a trailer and this has now become our command center when we participate in business trade shows and other user group events as well as our entertainment center when we marketing our company during promotional outings at the track. No more “making the best of it” at nearby motels or having to face long drives back home each evening just to turn right around before dawn to head back to the track. Plenty of seating, too, to more properly entertain the business clients we have had join us, as has happened more than once this year. And to work from as well, as the picture of Margo above so clearly portrays. The evening’s martini somehow proving to be a lot more enjoyable when served this way rather than being imbibed directly from a mini-bar’s miniatures!

Simply acquiring the RV has been a bigger life-changing event than we had ever considered – yes, we had watched others driving the freeways of America even as we mused on how much fun it would be to do something similar – the freedom that comes from being able to go anywhere at any time, pull over and rest should the weather prove inclement, and have a platform from which both of us can work has proved more beneficial for us than we could have ever surmised. And the picture below,  showing us pulled over in the truck rest area atop Donner Pass, California, as we headed to California for the last time only five or six weeks ago, and with snow clearly visible on the surrounding peaks.

However, it would be remiss of me to talk about life-changing events without referencing the upcoming transition Margo and I will undergo when in the coming spring we will become grandparents. Our daughter Anna and her husband Erich are expecting their first child, and we couldn’t be happier. Obviously the downside here is that any plans we may have harbored for returning yet again to Willow Springs for the NASA SoCal weekend event early in May have been shelved. There’s a much more important priority. Fortunately, the RV we elected to purchase is a bunk-house coach with a couple of bunks in place that will be perfect for grandchildren, and with Anna already talking of the possibility of a second grandchild, it looks like we may yet become the “fun grandparents” to spend time with. Should the grandchildren ever express any interest in karting, you just know there will be one set of very supportive grandparents waiting in the wings!

There’s also been another turn of events that has us drawing a little closer to Corvettes that involves just a little more than simply showing up at the track on weekends. Curt and the Corvette Spa have done such a great job with preparing our two ‘Vettes – returning Big Blue to civilian life and equipping the Torch Red Z06 for track duties, that Margo and I have begun a small business undertaking that will further strengthen our ties to the Corvette Spa. Capitalizing on the recognition we are receiving at the tracks in Colorado we attend, we have completed negotiations with A&A Corvette Performance of Oxnard, California, and will be selling the Vortech supercharger package that Andy and the team at A&A have spent many years fine-tuning. Much publicized in features in ‘Vette magazine, we see an underserved marketplace stretching from the Canadian border through Montana and Wyoming all the way to the foot of Colorado for this product.

The RV entertainment center has again helped pave the way for this new business adventure and with Pyalla Technologies “Track Days” decals becoming available (and liberally plastered to our track car and trailer) we are keeping our fingers crossed. If you haven’t already been following the posts to our latest blog, “
Day at the Spa”. Take a look, as I will be keeping everyone informed about our progress. Should you be interested to know the scope (and costs) of these packages, then check out the specific post, “Business Meetings! The packages unveiled ...” Links to this blog are now on the web site of Corvette Spa and hopefully, will soon be on the web site of A&A Corvette Performance. Diversity is good, or so we have been told, and with our consulting business flourishing and keeping us both extremely busy it seems only natural for Margo and me to take on even more work and those readers who keep close tabs on us via LinkedIn will know all too well how really busy we have become of late!

Looking back, if 2011 was frustrating and a year to forget, 2012 proved to be the complete opposite. It was the first full year where Margo and I worked fulltime for our consulting company, Pyalla Technologies. There are still a lot of people who now find it very amusing that given we only need to walk down two flights of stairs to be in our office, we have five vehicles parked in our garages (and driveway – there’s just no room for the Escalade). We still have a pair of cruising motorcycles in addition to the RV, but sometime next spring, there may be something squeezed into the garage that will replace both motorcycles. Anyone for a trike? How about a CanAm Spyder?

Seriously, it has always been a difficult task predicting what will transpire in the coming twelve months. There will continue to be weekends spent at the track – we now so enjoy the C5 Z06 ‘Vette that we see no other role for it than being our track car, visibly promoting our new business interest, Pyalla Technology Track Days. However, we will also be spending more time in northern California where our primary business interest lie, even as we elect to spend a lot more time at home given the arrival this spring of our first grandchild. Southern California will continue to attract us as that is where our many friends live. It would be remiss of me not to call out just how much fun it has been this year sharing many trips with our very dear friends, Brian and Jan Kenny who we met over a Starbucks in Simi Valley, California, several years ago. And yes, with our business interests in Australia beginning to turn the corner, there will be a trip to Sydney late in the year, with Brian and Jan, even as my daughter Lisa, living in Sydney, makes plans to be with us here in Boulder for Christmas, 2013.

And talking of Christmas and the traditional Christmas dinner, the picture above was taken just a short time ago as the turkey came out of the oven. A glorious magnum of Wynn’s 1993 John Riddoch cabernet sauvignon had just been decanted (and about time, too) and the meal that followed a few hours later with the family proved enjoyable. With the year being better than expected and the coming year looking even more promising, Margo and I wish you all the best for the holiday season and look forward to catching up with many of you out on the track once again! Yes, Happy New Year!

Friday, November 30, 2012

It was an ill wind ...


We looked forward to November for a number of reasons. It would be our last Great Adventure of The Year in the RV. Acquired just this year and earmarked to become our home away from home when we returned to California on business and as a hospitality suite on weekends we were at the track, we were certainly taking full advantages of all that it provided – this would be our fourth major excursion to California. Margo has done a tremendous job in turning the RV into an office and a home and over the course of the year we have come to enjoy overnighting in WalMart Supercenter parking lots across the western states.

Our adventure called for us to do an early winter crossing of both, the Rockies and the Sierras, and we had been apprehensive about what we might face, but fortune smiled on us and while our drive across Wyoming was windy, as were parts of northern Nevada, the temperatures remained mild and we didn’t encounter a single snowflake. When I had made inquiries about having to carry chains for the RV I was politely reminded that if we happened to run into conditions calling for chains then we should just pull off the highway and ride out the storm – after all, we were brining our home with us! What more could we ask for? Pulling into an RV campsite in Morgan Hill, northern California, late Monday afternoon we wasted little time in setting up “mobile command center” – out came the laptops the printer and the network hub. We were in business, but not without drama even as we were looking at our business schedule.

Readers of my business blog postings may recall how during the drive to northern California, I managed to spill my martini over my laptop, effectively killing it. As I was to later report, I successfully demonstrated how the WinTel architecture is ill at ease with Apple – in this case yes, it was an apple martini that was spilt.  As the party at fault it would be me this time getting the hand-me-down while Margo purchased a new laptop – something you can read more about on the business blog as well. Check out the post of November 23, 2012, “
Things are not always what they seem to be…”. On Friday, we were once again breaking camp and heading for southern California for a weekend of on-track sessions with National Auto Sports Association (NASA), Southern California, for the very last event of the year. Joining us would be Brian and Jan Kenny, our friends from Simi Valley, and likeminded Corvette aficionados. The picture atop this post was taken shortly after arriving at Buttonwillow, but once again, that night the winds returned to buffet the RV.

We have always enjoyed sessions with NASA SoCal and we have been made to feel welcome from the very first time we rolled a wheel onto the track. It was at Willow Springs, back in 2008, and with the conclusion of this last of the 2012 event it would bring to an end five years of participation with NASA across the western states. For four years we had toyed with different cars. Firstly we ran with our C6 Corvette automatic coupe that we later supercharged, but we even spent weekends in our Viper as well as the Infiniti G37S coupe we owned but briefly. We still have the C6 coupe and we still have the Viper but it was the other Corvette we elected to use during our fifth season and we couldn’t be happier. The brief outing in the Viper taught us a lot about the control afforded from having a stick-shift manual transmission, and with the high torque cars we have driving the manual not only gave us the control we were looking for but just as importantly allowed us to spend laps, learning a course, with just a few shifts – usually just rowing between third and fourth gears. That was it!

Margo now enjoys her time on track as part of the NASA HPDE2 group. The big difference between HPDE1 and HPDE2 is that she no longer must have an instructor with her – she’ expected to know how to communicate and cooperate, and without someone in her ear uttering encouragement she has settled into driving, and while there’s still anxieties she has reached a skill level where she is capably holding her own. Indeed, as noted in earlier posts to this blog, on tracks where she feels more at home – Colorado’s High Plains Raceway (HPR) and the big track at California’s Willow Springs – it would take few additional outings before she could easily circulate with HPDE3 drivers. The picture above is from early Saturday morning as she mixes it with other HPDE2 drivers as they begin to work out the best way around Buttonwillow’s Course 13, running counterclockwise.

While it was now a lot easier for me to watch Margo driving by herself in each of Saturday’s sessions, we did miss the collaboration we enjoyed during open lapping days at HPR. During each of the four sessions Margo would be on track at HPR I would be her passenger, and then for my four sessions she would be my passenger. We spent many days at HPR and with each outing, the conversations saw us encouraging each other and working as a team. This was a huge difference from former times – readers may recall a time when, at Laguna Seca, Margo pulled into the hot pits and ordered me out of the car! But no longer. For me, it made me take a good look at how Margo was driving and to just quietly point to places on the track where she needn’t brake as hard or turn-in as early, and improvement came pretty quickly. As for me, Margo was never shy on letting me know when I had missed an apex. Or two – consistency is still my main problem as keeping focused (and shutting everything else out) is something of a struggle for me.

The time I spent on track Sunday was also enjoyable, as being a part of HPDE3 I can take passengers. First it was Brian riding in the passenger seat and then for the third session, it was Margo. Engaging Margo into the day’s activities helped keep her connected with what was happening, something she really likes to do, and yes, there’s a difference now between the two of us and it’s not just the speed involved when running in HPDE3, but equally as importantly, it’s a first-hand look at just how well the C5 Corvette Z06 performs on track. Running completely stock except for upgraded fluids and brake pads (but with street tires) the level of grip provided comes as a shock to many, and on more than one occasion I had fellow participants stop by enquiring about what we were running. Come Sunday evening as we packed up the RV and headed south, back to Simi Valley, and to further business pursuits, we still had one more race weekend ahead of us and it was to really open our eyes on just what skill is all about. Yes, we would be dropping in to Las Vegas and to the Rio hotel to watch the SuperKarts. It was the weekend of the SKUSA Supernationals, essentially a global karting event and twelve year old Colton Herta, the grandchild of Brian and Jan, would be participating.

Two years ago, in the posts of November and December, 2010, I wrote of how we had finished the year with NASA at Buttonwillow and of how, while joining Speed Ventures for a cold and wet outing with Brian and Jan on the Roval circuit at the Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, their attention was focused further up the interstate as young Colton was participating in the SKUSA Supernationals and that following two wins, Colton had indeed earned the trip to Italy to compete with the best of Europe. Well, now we would be witnessing firsthand all the excitement karting truly represented. And we weren’t to be disappointed. However, two years on and Colton even as a twelve year old was juggling multiple programs, not the least being the transition this year to driving open-wheel racecars. Having competed in his first race in a formula car just a few weeks before, where he competed with much older teens – fourteen and sixteen year olds - Colton had surprised many by finishing second in his very first outing. However, this weekend it would be all about karts and whether this would be the last time we saw Colton in such an event or not, we knew that no matter what happened, he would be competitive.

We were not disappointed with what we saw. Perhaps an even better way to describe it was “unbelievable”. Margo and I had been to ALMS and IRL events in Long Beach as well as to a F1 event in Monte Carlo, and the atmosphere, while not on the same scale of course, was every bit as electric. It was far more approachable – marquee tents had been erected by teams and sponsors and Colton’s kart was surrounded by technicians and a truckload of parts and accessories. This was the real deal. Carrying the number 26 on his kart, a number favored by his famous dad, Bryan Herta (yes, that Bryan whose team won the Indy 500 in 2011), the late night picture inside the pit tent of chassis maestro, seven time karting world champion, Danilo Rossi (of Italy), provides yet further evidence of just how professional the sport has become. With Bryan Herta in the background, left, pictured here are Troy, a Honda Racing Technician, Phil, the Owner of Pits karting, as well as “THE” Danilo Rossi, the multiple world karting champion and owner of Danilo Rossi Karting.

I managed to drop in on the Saturday for qualifications, but unfortunately, the flu bug or whatever that had ailed Brian had just claimed Margo as another victim. Whether it was the winds that kept buffeting us or simply a result of morning temperatures that were definitely beginning to drop, Margo now joined Brian in his state of discomfort. What I saw on track was remarkable – the intensity of the drivers as they battled one another was inescapable. Brian knew exactly where to site and we managed to catch Colton drive his way into contention in a qualification race. However, dialing in these karts is so precise that in the late afternoon Colton’s early competitiveness was mitigated in the later laps as the sun moved behind the hotel effectively cutting off heat from the track. Yes, it mattered that much, and Colton’s kart began losing “grip”, but even so, among a competitive group of racers from all over the world, he held on for a top 10 finish. Colton had moved up the ranks following his success two years ago and just as he now faced in his open wheel racecar events, he was in a group of much older competitors among whom were some from pretty wiley drivers fully aware of Colton’s potential. All the same the picture above captures Colton driving aggressively having just passed another competitor through a series of turns.

Margo wasn’t quite as ill for Sunday’s main event and the winds had died down considerably. Sitting in the grandstand with family members all around us, we were quickly caught up in the excitement. In another heat before the final race, Colton had been hit and punted off the track eliminating him from the results even as the white flag, indicating just one lap remaining, came out.  Yes, he was well-known among the other karters, and as a result he would be starting the main race near the back of the field – something like 25th or 26th. With the wave of the starters green flag, the field exploded down the main straight and as a group they all dived into the first turn – a sharp right-hand hairpin.

Brian had been telling me that the biggest concern that the team had was making it through this first turn. There was a collision in the first turn with karts heading in all directions but as the contestants came back into view, Colton was no longer in 26th, but in 6th with none of the family sure about how he had managed to achieve such a result. He would lose sixth place later in the lap, but as the race unfolded, with only three or four laps remaining, Colton began picking off one racer after the other – moving from seventh to eventually place fourth and at one point, according to the arena announcer, was turning the fastest lap times. Brian had also been telling us of how, in the moments surrounding an event Colton disappeared into “The Zone”, as he mentally prepared for his time on track. From that moment on, nothing distracts him and the picture below captures Colton in the zone, focused intently and oblivious to everything around him, as he walks back from the race.

The drive back to Boulder, Colorado, began early Monday morning. By now I too had caught the very same bug as Brian and Margo. Business meetings had gone well. The weekend at Buttonwillow had proved enjoyable and the weekend watching karts, amazing! As soon as we cleared the border city of Mesquite, Nevada, and climbed up the Virgin River canyon, we once again faced difficult windy conditions. Gusts kept trying to pull us off the road so the speeds came down and our expectations for making it home in one day were put aside. We had been buffeted and we had been sick – and perhaps it had been an ill wind after all - but for the last leg home, we saw nothing but blue skies. So much for winter and yet snow will come, and probably before Christmas. By that time, we will have surely shaken off the ills that have beset us even as we winterize the RV in the full knowledge that our next outing will not be till the spring of 2013.

And we just can’t wait!



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Colorful Colorado

When you drive into Utah from Colorado you can’t miss the billboard that marks the transition, declaring ever-so-subtly that you are “Leaving Colorful Colorado”. However, on our most recent trip west our destination was Zion National Park, en route to Las Vegas, where we were catching up with Brian and Jan Kenny. For all the years I have been in business Brian has been my mentor, helping me to better understand the finer points of running a business. And did I mention that Brian also drove a red Corvette, likes apple martini’s, and was just as fond as I am of succulent bone-in rib eye steaks, slow cooked country style boneless pork ribs, and together with his wife Jan, finds the time to join us at road courses around the western states of America!

The month of October proved to be heavily skewed to travel and it was again the routines associated with travel – the desperate last-minute packing, the stress over plane schedules and the adjustments that had to be made to the loss of control you have the moment you line up for security screening, and thereafter, dealing with airline staff. It seems of late that the first moment of relaxation that you can truly enjoy comes as the airplane door closes – no matter the class of travel you select these days, they are all pretty horrible. So much for the romance of travel!

Fortunately, business took us to Dresden and Munich, Germany, and to Vancouver, Canada, before we left the “comforts and luxury” of plane travel and stepped into the Pyalla Technologies “Track Days”’ Command Center. Perhaps the best purchase we have ever made, the RV, is proving to not only be an enjoyable escape (from the daily grind) but the ideal way to see the country that lets us opt out from having to unpack, repack, return rental cars and so forth as we pursue multi-city business activities – and the picture above, the tranquility that comes with parking near a stream surrounded by natural beauty, was taken as we pulled into Zion National Park. Colorful Colorado? Well, having spent essentially a long weekend at the park, Zion certainly gives the state of Colorado a run for its money!
October did start out with yet another track weekend – this time, participating in the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) Rocky Mountain region event, held at the Pikes Peak International Raceway, just south of Colorado Springs. The small amount of time we had limited us to the Saturday, so we made sure we arrived Friday afternoon so that we could set up “Camp Buckles”, slowly cook the requisite quantity of country-style, boneless pork ribs, chill out with an apple martini and socialize with out neighbors. As our time was limited Margo graciously stepped aside and let me run all four sessions with NASA.

The team at NASA sprang a surprise on us that proved rather challenging. Even though this would be my first time on track at PPIR, they decided to run the “Roval” counterclockwise. Combining more than half of the former NASCAR oval with an infield road course it felt really strange to be flying up the banking and turning right into turns 2 and then 1. I can just imagine the reaction to the regular NASCAR drivers, if just once, they were informed that they were going to race “the other way around”. Then again, with only a limited number of road courses available to the club, it certainly was a simple way to add variety to the program.

When NASCAR pulled support from this rather small oval course – the Roval NASA uses is about 1.3 miles long and is one of the shortest courses NASA includes on the calendar – the track hadn’t attracted the crowds necessary to support NASCAR, and today, there are signs of decay visible even as you pass the venue on Interstate 25. However, the calendar for PPIR is gradually filling in – first with the appearance of real NASCAR cars as part of the “Petty Experience” and more recently, Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving is partnering with PPIR for a new business venture that brings Bondurant’s world-class driver education to the track. It was hard not to miss their presence and seeing a clone of the famous Aussie V8 Supercars in the pits, it proved too good an opportunity to pass up. The picture above is of the 2 door, and 4 door, variants of the Corvette with Bob Bondurant providing a bevy of Pontiac G8 GTs that were based on the same GM Holden Commodore that underpins the Aussie V8 Supercars. 

 Running the track at PPIR counterclockwise, or as NASA renamed it, RIPP, certainly provided drivers with a completely different experience. The layout of the infield, where rumble strips had been installed, was a little hard to read at first, as tire marks weren’t necessarily indicative of either the student or racer line. It took all of the first session to really come to terms with this layout particularly the counter-intuitive exit from the Oval, where a very late apex for the initial turn was required and where there were almost no cues to capitalize on for either braking or turn in. There were cones set up but these weren’t necessarily a good thing as every driver can tell you, cones have a habit of moving. 

Once again, the vehicle of choice was our tried and true fifth generation Corvette Z06 (C5 Z06), a high horsepower “torque” car that could easily run all day in third gear. Or, fourth gear for that matter.  After a few laps, it became a matter of the Vette driving half the track in third gear and then the other half in fourth. Experimenting with down-changing to second gear only unsettled the car and actually slowed it down when it came time to rejoin the NASCAR oval. There’s still very little substitution for cubic inches, even on short and tight circuits, so this gave me the extra time to work on simply being smooth. And yet, it’s simply not that easy to pilot a powerful car through all the turns as smoothly as I would like, although I have to admit, as the picture above shows, it’s still highly rewarding driving one of the prettiest cars on track.

As this was my first time on the track, NASA assigned an instructor to me and for this I was indeed very thankful. Not only did I get the benefits of someone who knew the track, but with Ric, I received some very opportune coaching. In all my years with NASA, at key times, it seems that the instructor that walks up to me and asks whether they could ride along has turned out to be an excellent tutor, and this time, I was extremely grateful for the input Ric provided.  It took only a couple of laps for Ric to observe that I was sitting back too far from the steering wheel and after a simple adjustment of my seating position, the improvements were immediate. Not only that, but with the Corvette’s stick shift, I was a tad too busy entering critical corners – onto the brakes, select the gear, then accelerate through the apex. Sounds simple but I had been trying to do too much and was suffering missed gears and apexes, as I did my braking too late.
  I had taken our other stick shift roadster out the previous week, as the weather had proved too good to simply spend afternoons watching television. Driving through the front ranges of Colorful Colorado, pictured above, gave me ample opportunity to shift gears as much as I liked, and driving something as cramped as an SRT Viper, I didn’t notice that I was seated much closer to the steering wheel than in the Vette. Ric’s observation proved so good that now I am pulling the seat forward in any car I take out of the garage – the huge advantage that comes with much better seat placement is that I can actually see the fenders and where is the “edge of the car” - something that clearly helps out a lot when you are still trying to master being smooth.

Needless to say, the weekend at PPIR with NASA was a blast. The Vette really proved versatile as it easily negotiated the twisty infield of the Roval, and when it came time to put the Vette back on the trailer for the return trip home, I felt I had improved more in one day than I had all year – an observant coach is well worth running across even for someone exhibiting the occasional ADD, as Margo often points out. There’s always a price to be paid, of course, and as Saturday’s sessions continued, the tried and true Bridgestone tires started to look the worse for wear. Unfortunately, as I unloaded the Vette late Saturday, it was clear that the left front tire had chorded badly, so onto the Tire Rack web site I went and ordered a replacement set. There would still be one more event for the year and the tires just weren’t going to make it.

Once again it was the Corvette Spa that changed the tires for me, and this time, when it came to making sure the alignment was correct, we elected to set up the Vette with GM recommended settings for use on road courses. It will be interesting to see how this works out as there’s quite a bit more “negative camber” and “toe-in” than before, back and front. Hopefully, this will give us more bite as we turn in but we will just have to see. As much as I have welcomed working with Curt at Corvette Spa, our relationship is about to ratchet up a level – over the past couple of months I have wrapped up a wholesale deal with A&A Corvette Performance of Oxnard, California, and over the winter, I hope to be able to launch a new business endeavor for Pyalla Technologies, LLC “Track Days”, as Margo and I will be offering a number of Supercharger “upgrade” packages to local Coloridians.

The month may have started with a track weekend, but as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, it definitely finished on a high note, in Zion National Park. The picture above taken early in the morning shows just how close to the mountain peaks we were able to camp. It had been tough to navigate all the twists and turns through the park to our campsite no matter how close I had the seat to the steering wheel but the end result certainly justified the effort made.

There’s always friendly competition between the states and it’s hard to ignore all that Colorado offers visitors, but chilling out in the canyons of Zion was certainly an unexpected delight. And one we will perhaps enjoy again next year, where we may look at adding a visit to Bryce Canyon as well. Walking up the canyon to where “The Narrows” start is something I would advocate that everyone considers at some point. While we called a halt to proceeding any further, Brian and Jan ignored the cold waters and continued on up for another hour or so and the photo’s Brian took made us rue the chance to have joined them.

There’s never any competition between drivers participating in High Performance Driver Education events with NASA – that’s not the objective, but as participants improve their skills and move up the ranks from HPDE 1 through HPDE 2 and onto HPDE 3 and 4, it’s never truly far from any drivers mind. How did I do? Did you see my last couple of laps? Wasn’t I terrific staying with that Porsche? There’s no question each and every participant thinks that he or she can do a lot better. And the language that is generated by drivers, as we leave the driver downloads, can be every bit as colorful as Colorado’s foliage. Or Zion’s soaring sandstone cliffs! Nonetheless just as each state vies with every other state, it’s all in good humor with the only tangible result shared with every national park that I know is that yes, we will be back again to revisit the experience. And soon!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

It’s a Friday kind of Monday …

August nights may indeed be hot, but as I observed when closing the previous post, fall is on its way and with the arrival of September we certainly have enjoyed more variety in temperate conditions. And yes, last week, it rained, and heavily at times, but above 10,000 feet there was just a dusting of snow that still could be seen through the weekend. However, we still had one more outing in August and this time, it would be the last Monday of the month – a first for us, as we had never before ventured to the track on days other than Friday, Saturday and occasionally, Sunday. And the picture above is of us at High Plains Raceway (HPR) getting ready to head onto the circuit even as the heat began to make its presence felt.

Margo is working very hard on an event she manages for a non-profit association. As the Chief Meetings Officer (within associations, they avoid the title Chief Events Officer for very obvious reasons – the CEO role being otherwise filled), Margo is responsible for pulling a program together and ensuring that it is properly (and aggressively) promoted, and the weekend had seen Margo working the phones pretty heavily, almost to the point of exhaustion. Heading for the track, I already knew the symptoms but sure enough, once we had set up base camp and unloaded the Pyalla Technologies “Track Days” command center, Margo called it quits for the day. Whereas in all previous outings Margo had run four sessions in the morning before handing the car over to me for four (but usually only three) sessions in the afternoon, I would be in the car all day.

Well, almost all previous outings we had split the day in half, but the very last time out it had been all Margo. Readers may recall how I wasn’t able to be on track the last time out with NASA Rocky Mountains (all my own doing, mind you) and of how Margo had all day Friday and Saturday behind the wheel – some nine or ten sessions, as I recall, over the two days we were trackside – so letting me have as much time on track as I wanted was certainly a situation I was going to take every opportunity to enjoy!

There’s now no question at all about our choice of Corvettes when it comes to a track outing – the older 2003 C5 Z06 that has stood in our garage for more than eight years has proved to be the hands down winner in our books. The C5 Z06 runs so hard all day yet there’s been so little to worry about. Margo had encountered some abnormalities with the clutch last time out, and readers may recall how I had observed that I am going to have to do something about the clutch fluids – it’s just so hot out on the track, and being left without a gear is never a nice experience. Well our good friends at the Corvette Spa changed out the fluid and upgraded to one with a tolerance for much higher temperatures and that seems to have resolved the issue.

We still have a reoccurring issue with the transmission fluids overheating but that will be something we address more cautiously, as it is a well-known issue for C5 Z06s, but it’s also one that is easily resolved – just back off for a couple of laps and wait for the warning light to go out! Will we add a transmission cooler at some point or work on the ducting to ensure better airflow – do the rear brakes really need their ducts? For the moment, this issue is just a discussion point and with cooler temperatures on the way, I suspect we will be fine with what we have. The picture above is of me adding gas to the tank – there are times where I sure do think about the benefits of owning a hybrid as we go through two tanks of gas for each of the days we are on track for more than six sessions.

Fluids upgraded. Brake rotors and pads upgraded. And new tires installed at the start of the year. Yes, it’s the usual, as the immediate priority is grip and being able to stop. The C5 Z06 has more than adequate torque and horsepower for circuits like HPR – yes, I am routinely passed by more experienced drivers in cars more powerful than the red ‘Vette, but for the most part, I have watched my lap times come down to where the magical 2 minute mark is in sight. I don’t have a transponder on the car and I am not participating in any timed events, as I am simply enjoying the High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) experience, but others with me that are timing their cars or filming each lap have started sharing with me heir times and when I am behind them the whole way, it’s pretty easy to extrapolate.

While chatting with other participants I joined in a conversation between a new, first-time attendee who had brought his new Corvette ZR1 – essentially an earthbound rocket of the first order. This is one very serious car and a contender for the fastest lap honors when it comes to flying laps of the Nurburgring, only recently relinquishing the title to final iteration of the Generation IV Viper ACR. But this time around the astute owner brought an instructor with him (complete with the instructor’s C6 Z06), and during the conversation, this instructor made a very pertinent observation. “Gaining seat time and practicing is fine but only up to a point,” he remarked. “Every morning, I sing in the shower but I am as flat as a tack and no matter the practice, I don’t improve. The point with track time is that practice is only of value once you come to recognize the correct way around the track and for the casual, open-lap-day participant, it’s not always obvious whether they even know what the proper line is!”

I took this all to heart and began to rethink my own approach to the track. Cemented firmly in my mind is the mantra “late apex, safety” and yet, the more I looked at my approach the more I came to realize that in apexing as late as I was doing, I was unsettling the car with more extreme steering input. So, at the top of the Prairie Corkscrew, I began turning in just a fraction sooner and began playing with opening up the turn and low and behold my path through the subsequent esses that led onto the main straight saw me carrying more than 80 mph past the start / finish line. Not a whole lot but when improvements now can be measured in tenth of a second, this is a pretty good start. Now I am working on smoothing my passage through turn 10 not to mention turn 6.

All day I was watching my tire pressures – remembering, left side, low! In other words, with the predominance of right hand turns, pressures on the left side of the Vette would always rise faster than the tires on the right side. So yes, after many sessions at HPR, I finally have come up with a formula that ensures that the bulk of laps are on tires where the pressures are equal and where the tire profile produces a tire shape with the most “tire on the track” as possible. But then, just as I needed to put in gas routinely, so too each morning I needed to add more air – returning home after a full day on track I found my pressures were down to less than 20 lbs! Then again, I did four 30 minute sessions before lunch and then another three 20 minute sessions after lunch. As for being on track on a Monday, all I could think about were the words of that well-known song, “It’s a Friday Kind of Monday” with the lines

“I used to waste my time on Monday
Monday was a waste of time
But everything was changed in one day”

Would I sign up for another Monday? For sure! Did I tell you there were far less participants than we usually see on Fridays and did I mention that for one 30 minute session I didn’t see anyone else on track? Adding fuel and air seemed to be a small price to pay and yes, the new brakes continue to deliver and the old street tires continue to provide grip – you just gotta luv Mondays!

At some point Margo and I will take up golf. We have a winter break planned for the period between Christmas and the New Year that includes time in Palm Springs where we are going to give golf another shot – there’s more we want to do than simply hang out at race tracks month after month. And of course, living in Colorado simply rules out being on track for five months of the year, so it’s off to warmer climates and after all the times we just blew right on through Palm Springs on our way to Simi Valley, it seems only appropriate that we take some time off to smell the flowers and yes, the turf, that flourish around the links.

In the meantime, we have fall upon us so it should come as no surprise that we elected to follow our time at the track with a weekend up in the high country – this time in the district east of Aspen’s Independence Pass. It seems equally appropriate that trips like this, to view the Aspen tress turning gold, should be taken in a convertible. So with our Viper SRT/10 roadster freshly cleaned and looking its best, we powered our way up the mountains and enjoyed the scenery. We crossed Independence Pass from west to east only a few months ago with Margo behind the wheel, but this time it would be my turn. And again, the week had been tough on Margo and she simply “curled up in her corner” of the car and relaxed.

For those not that familiar with Colorado, the drive to the lakes, appropriately called Twin Lakes, takes us past Dillon with its secondary roads leading to Breckenridge and Keystone ski fields, on to Copper Mountain where we turn southwest and head to Leadville. All the while, the climb continues and the trees begin to turn golden. You catch pretty much every shade of green as the leaves die and the corresponding colorful quilts that cover the mountain’s flanks are not to be missed should you be in Colorado at the right time. It’s no mistake that Colorado greets arrivals on the interstates with the slogan Colorful Colorado. And the picture below? It was one of the times that Margo unwound herself from her seat and stretched her legs – and yes, the postcard-like scene was only inches away from the main road.

With our last outing at HPR we may be even tempted to agree with the songwriter that “everything was changed in one day” – the opportunity to enjoy an open lapping day free from the traffic that so often shows up on the Fridays was not just surprising but also a reminder of how much fun it can be to go fast. We buy the cars we do today that are so well-engineered for speed that it is a shame that the majority of drivers never get to experience what they can do – and circuits are now being developed across the country.

Still, the Corvette C5 Z06 is proving itself the ideal car for track days. It’s light, turns in well, and is easy (and comparatively cheaper) to maintain – when the season finally winds down, apart from changing the fluids, all we have done to the red ‘Vette is replace the brake rotors and pads. New tires had gone on late last year and this was a part of routine maintenance, as after eight years the original tires had long ago passed the point of providing the grip the car deserved. Bridgestone tires have worked well on this car so we just replaced our Michelins with them on the blue supercharged ‘Vette and when it comes time to replace the tires on the track car – something we will need to plan for early 2013 – then it’s hard to look past Bridgestone tires. Well, perhaps we will take a peek at the Kumho Ecsta XS tires that other Corvette drivers are seeing provide them with even greater value.

For the remainder of the year we have plans to return to the circuit at Pikes Peak International Raceway – a “roval” circuit combining part of a NASCAR style oval with an infield road course (of the same variety as the one we have experienced at Fontana, California, but not as long) – as well as one final foray into southern California to close out the year at Buttonwillow.  There may be one more opportunity to spend time on the HPR circuit, but this is still very much a day-to-day proposition and if it means we will be out of tires before Buttonwillow and we will pass on any further outings. But will it be a Friday outing should we return? Or a Saturday? All I now know is that if there’s any more Monday sessions on offer it might prove real tempting and just what we need to leave up the weekends for the actives we really want to pursue. After all, what else can you do on Mondays!


Friday, August 31, 2012

Hot August Nights!

With August’s oppressive heat bearing down on us it was good to be able to take the RV to the track. Readers may recall that in my last post I complained bitterly about not having the RV with us, writing about how we had to suck it in and take the 105+ temperatures as best as we could. And this was just two weeks prior to our return for this weekend, early in August. While fortunately the temperature didn’t return to these levels it was still extremely hot, and being able to retreat to the cool, air-conditioned, Pyalla Technologies Track Days command center made the outing enjoyable. The weekend’s activities would be centered on the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) Rocky Mountain Region event and to prepare ourselves we elected to arrive early Friday morning to take advantage of an open lapping day and the picture above is of me, the red Corvette and the RV.

The High Plains Raceway (HPR), to the east of Byers, Colorado, has now become our “home circuit” that both Margo and I have already visited four or five times, and where Margo has really blossomed from having enjoyed a lot of seat time behind the wheel, coming to terms with the many turns this circuit provides. Settling into the red C5 Z06 Vette and becoming more familiar with its manual transmission has given Margo a lot more confidence and her pace around the circuit has improved almost out of sight this year. Each time she returns to the pits, she has more questions as she looks to better understand how to propel the red Vette smoothly up and around a track that has been carved into a small ravine.

This weekend is circled very early in the year as it is the time when our friends from Simi Valley, Brian and Jan Kenny, join us for the festivities. And with the RV available for our time at the track we would be overnighting with them and enjoying the benefits from camping right alongside the track. This wasn’t their first trip to Colorado, but it would be the very first time that they would trailer their own track-ready Corvette, another red Vette, but a highly modified C6 coupe. In the past they had relied on either a “loaner car” that we provided them or their red Vette (but in street trim with street tires and brakes) and it had been the plan for some time to check out just how well the track-ready red Vette would perform and as the cars were unloaded from the trailers early Friday morning, Brian’s expectations were already easily readable on his face. He just wanted to go fast!

The plan had always been for Margo to take the car for the morning, with me taking over for the hotter part of the day. And that this would be all the time I would have behind the wheel for the weekend. Having registered to participate in NASA Rocky Mountain Region’s HPDE 3 sessions for the Saturday, only the week before the event was to be held the association returned my money and precluded me from any participation in the event. It had been the very same event last year where I had been very disappointed in my own performance, and unfortunately, my disquiet over my underachievement of the day flowed into late night emails that I just shouldn’t have sent. So, no, I wasn’t welcome at this year’s event.

Much to my surprise on arriving on the Friday, an open lapping day, I found that my disqualification from participating in the NASA event also included the Friday, and no matter how strongly I appealed to HPR’s management, there was little they could do to help me. The NASA requirements were firm – the track would only be open to those participating in the sessions on Saturday and Sunday. This would now be a weekend where I would be assisting Margo as she gained even more seat time. The picture above is of me, making final adjustments to her seat belt harness prior to her first outing on Friday. The car  looked well-prepared and the recently installed brakes were certainly proving to be a worthy upgrade, and yet, relegated to playing a supporting role just didn’t sit well with me watching, as I had to, everyone else enjoying the day!                                                                                             

Brian and Jan shared in my sense of loss – this was an unexpected turn of events. As much as I love to be out on track, particularly when it’s an open lapping session as is often the case with Friday’s, taking on the role of “wrench-hand” relegated to torqueing the wheels, checking tire pressures, and releasing the seat belt straps (and making sure, too, that plenty of fluids were on hand as Margo returned to the pits) wasn’t what I had been looking forward to and yet, there was no one else I could turn to and point a finger at; there’s just those times when you know you had behaved badly and when it comes to being on track, there’s little tolerance for anyone who isn’t prepared to play by the rules.
Apart from Brian and Jan joining us for the weekend at HPR, we had also extended an invitation to a client of Pyalla Technologies, comForte, a well-known software vendor within the HP NonStop community. Brad Poole, who lives nearby and with whom Margo and I had worked back at Tandem Computers, Insession, and then again at ACI Worldwide, decided to visit us to see just what really goes on during these track sessions and he brought with him his camera. Over the years, Brad has documented many of the activities Margo and I have undertaken and photos he has taken of us are liberally sprinkled through many of the business postings that I have made to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View. It’s hard to miss the T Shirt Brad is wearing – yes, we were all wearing them (even Brian and Jan) - as they were the “Fools for NonStop” T Shirts we had made for the recent HP Discover 2012 event in Las Vegas, and with Pyalla Technologies the major sponsor, they seemed to be the appropriate clothing as we entertained some of our favorite clients.

The picture above is of an early morning session, Friday, with Margo behind the wheel while I occupied the passenger seat. The surprise for me was just how quickly Margo came up to speed and just how much she had retained from our previous outing just two weeks earlier. There were a few nervous moments on the opening laps as lines were adjusted and turn-in points recalled, but it was all very impressive driving by Margo after just a few laps. For the third session of the morning, Brad put his camera to one side and donning a spare crash helmet we brought with us – one we think was left behind by our good friend and former colleague, Andrew Price - and set out with Margo to taste firsthand what it was like to be behind the glass of a fast-moving Vette laying down laps on a race track.

One small point to make, but well worth mentioning it all the same,  Margo had been Brad’s manager on more than one occasion and I have to believe, all those years ago, he never thought he would be sitting alongside Margo as she piloted the track car. It wasn’t as much bravery on Brad’s part as it was curiosity. For several years Brad had tolerated many an evening dinner as Margo and I talked of our track experiences and I have to believe that at some point Brad must have thought “enough, already”, and given some consideration to experiencing for himself, first hand, just a little of what it is like to have the limits of daily driving removed. I would have given anything to have been in a back seat for those early laps as Margo hurtled down the back straight at over 120 mph.

As the day progressed, the more Margo really enjoyed her time on the track. On the Friday, the lack of really good clutch fluids in the car gave her some problems with the clutch pedal itself as a couple of times the clutch pedal wouldn’t return from off of the firewall and she was left between gears. But Margo stuck with it and worked out how to compensate and typically, following a couple of slower laps, the temperatures dropped and all was well again. On one occasion Brad was in the car with her and at no time did Margo do anything to unsettle either him or the car simply dealing with it and working her way through the problem. No, there were never any reports of Margo throwing both hands in the air or pulling off the track – she was just enjoying the day way too much to do anything like that.

The picture above is of Margo crossing the start / finish line, right in front of the hot pits and across from the paddock where everyone sets up camp. At this point, Margo is on the gas and her speed is somewhere between 80 and 90 mph as she heads towards the high-speed turn, one that rewards those drivers prepared to maintain speed through the turn – something Margo has now proven adept at doing. With 16 to 20 sessions (and almost 200 laps) behind the wheel it came as no surprise that when Saturday arrived, Margo pulled onto the track for the very first session with far more confidence than I had ever seen of her in the past.

Whereas former sessions at tracks in other parts of the country, rather than focusing on ensuring other participants were enjoying themselves, giving them point byes at every opportunity, Margo this weekend was all business - head down, eyes up and very focused on her lines. And her improved performance was evident to all who watched her completing yet another lap. ON track with Margo had been Jan driving the much more potent track-prepared C6 Vette coupe and she too had been all business except in her case, she was doing her utmost to ensure nothing happened to the car that would in any way take away from Brian’s enjoyment on the Saturday. It was certainly a very observable case of running eight tenths whenever Jan was on track!

My fall from grace last year came about as I endeavored to qualify for running in HPDE 3. After four years with NASA, two each in HPDE 1 and 2 I was looking forward to moving up the ranks. Participating with other clubs I felt comfortable driving in their more advanced groups and having experienced track sessions shared with real racers on open lapping days, not to mention the full day on track at Germany’s famous Nurburgring, I believed the time was more than right to move to the next level. However, that outing twelve months ago proved disastrous as I made just about every rookie mistake possible, blaming everyone else but myself in the heat of the moment. With this in mind, it was rather pleasing to hear how those watching Margo’s performance this Saturday came to her suggesting she take an instructor with her for the closing session – only to be told that with her performance on the day, at this track she was borderline ready for consideration to drive in HPDE 3! “Just continue a little deeper into a couple of the turns,” said the instructor, “and lift your speed just a tad more” was how I recall Margo explaining all the advice she was given following a session with the instructor.

As for Brian and Jan, their red Vette (it’s just a coupe, mind you) really took to the track. I was able to ride with Brian a couple of times (indeed, as did Brad Poole) and the difference between our two different generation Vettes was remarkable. While I have no real idea what times Margo and I record, Brian keeps a very careful eye on his times to ensure “improvements” are being made all the time. In the past, Brian had never really enjoyed driving at ten tenths, holding a lot back in reserve either because the car wasn’t his or because the car he brought wasn’t truly track prepared, but this wasn’t the case this weekend and he was able to drop down into the 2 minutes 5 second range. Pretty good and gauging on how it felt, a good ten to fifteen seconds better than what either Margo or I was capable of recording.

But more importantly, and a lot more relevant, Brian and Jan have really taken to this place and Margo and I know that when it’s time to pull the calendars out and look at what we all will be doing in 2013, they will be back for another weekend. Looking at this final picture snapped while we were at the track, all I can think of is the David Bowie song “All the young dudes” – well, maybe. We have our BBQ, our Eskie (as in “let´s skull another VB from the eskie!” for all non-Australians that are reading this post), the cars locked up for the night, and while the scene above may look serene, Brian was hard at it grilling some of he best slow-cooked country-style boneless pork ribs. It’s a shot taken Friday night by Brad as from the drink Brian is holding (and no, it’s not an Apple-tini), it’s a soda as he is headed out onto the track the next day. But having our home on wheels has certainly changed the whole perspective on weekends at the track.

August nights are hot in Colorado and with the recent fires the rest of the world has become more familiar with the carnage that can so quickly envelope our front-range communities. The seasons quickly change, and even as we now contemplate the imminent arrival of fall, and wonder how many more weekends we will have before the snows finally descend, long hot evenings spent at campsites surrounded by race cars is certainly an intoxicating mix. And yes, I am going to have to do something about the clutch fluids – it’s just so hot out on the track and being left without a gear is never a nice experience. I have to work on building fences with the NASA team as well, and hopefully we can come to some understanding in the future. After all, it was all my fault with words hastily spoken in the heat of the moment. A very hot August night!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Has the time come to slow down? Nah!

What began several months ago as a possible side-excursion in Las Vegas, while we waited for a Computer trade show to start, took on a life of its own in the lead-up to the event. We had been considering renting a couple of modern-era supercars from “Exotics Racing – the ultimate driving experience”. The more we looked through their garage of cars, and before we finalized the deal (Margo had already decided on the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the Porsche 997 Turbo S while I had gone down a different route choosing instead the close relatives, the Audi R8 V10 and the Lamborghini Gallardo), the more we thought that this might also appeal to our good friends from Simi Valley, California, Brian and Jan.

However, during the time that they visited us, to help us come to terms with our new RV, they purchased an Aston Martin of their own. In the post of May 22, 2012, “
Three weeks to remember ...” I developed a story line around this momentous occasion, including how over the course of the weekend we spent time in their Aston as well as in our Viper before returning a week or so later in our Nissan GT-R. But in the closing remarks of that May post, I may have tipped my hand about what was to come as I wrote of how even though the Aston Martin is such a thing of beauty, perhaps replacing one of the Corvettes with something else may not be an unreasonable consideration. An Aston? A Maserati? A Lamborghini? Something else?

Coming completely out of the blue, so as to speak, Margo received an invitation from Jaguar to join them for “Jaguar Alive Driving Experience” being held in the Bronco’s Stadium parking lot and it was an offer she immediately accepted. I was registered as Margo’s guest and as much as Margo and I preferred cars of other manufacturers, we were only too happy to give the Jaguar a chance. After all, there was a certain serendipity to being back looking at Jaguars as it was ten years ago that we walked from the Jaguar showroom floor, our checkbooks still firmly in our back pocket, after an over enthusiastic Jaguar salesman showed us the latest addition to the dealerships portfolio – Aston Martin! The picture above is just a small sample of the handouts Jaguar provided on the day.

At the “Jaguar Alive Driving Experience” Jaguar folks did their very best to impress us – there was an open buffet when we arrived, and arriving a little ahead of our scheduled time we elected to join in the fun earlier than we expected which meant, unfortunately, we missed sitting through the promotional video. Next time, perhaps? With only minimal fuss we were ushered into the parking lot where we were invited to try one of the XJ sedans and without a moment’s hesitation, I headed for one of the short wheelbase models that was supercharged. Equipped with a forced induction five liter V8, just tootling around the back streets seemed to be complete nonsense for a cat with this pedigree but it turned out to be impressive all the same.

“If the circumstance even eventuated where we wanted a stylish, high performance sedan ever again, then this would be something I would like to take a longer look at,” was the immediate response from Margo as we left the car. Having both driven perhaps two miles in the big cat, it certainly exuded all the requisite class you would expect from a premium brand such as Jaguar, but these weren’t the models we had come to check out even though they proved quite photogenic as the above snapshot reveals.  

In short order we then each took turns behind the wheel of a very rare XKR – S coupe, a highly tweaked special edition of the more familiar XKR coupe that now put out 550 hp. We were able to experience what this translated to as we took them down a test route set up to demonstrate just how quickly they could accelerate to 60 mph before we slammed on the brakes to test the reverse, 60 to zero. The one memory I took away from this was the exhaust note from a really wicked cat under open throttle – remarkable! In short order we then drove a XF Super Sport with 510 hp through a street obstacle course before wrapping up the day behind the wheel of a “regular XKR” lapping an autocross circuit defined by cones and again, a completely new experience for us both.

As much as we tried to be enthusiastic about Jaguars, we just couldn’t do it – nice cars and definitely vehicles to stir the souls. But not this weekend! Just a tad too sedate for us but perhaps, in a couple of years time? It would only take five days, however, before I was back at Sil Terhar, talking with Steve , our salesman to explore whether they truly would let us test a couple of their more exotic cars. At the time Brian and Jan bought their Aston Martin, Jack TerHar had told us of the dealership’s decision to not only add Lamborghini to their franchise but Maserati as well. Sure enough, walking onto the lot that fateful Friday, a couple of examples from Maserati were on display and for a brief moment, I had the real pleasure of driving a wonderful example from their latest line in coupes – a convertible Maserati GT – S.

It only took a short spell behind the wheel, pulling the paddle shifter just to hear the rasp of its exhaust, before I was hooked.  Catching up with Margo we decided to return to Sil TerHar first thing so Margo could experience the convertible – after all, from the time Margo had seen an early iteration of this coupe in 2009, this had become her dream car. As we drove to the dealership, we both felt that this would be it, and unlike Brian and Jan, we did bring our check book along with us for the ride. Steve suggested that to better experience the convertible we spend most of the day behind the wheel. “Take it up into the mountains, experience all it can do, and when you are ready, bring it back and let’s talk!” Settling in for her first real drive of a Maserati, Margo was all smiles as the picture above so clearly depicts.

It was only a week or so earlier that we had been driving Jaguars around a football stadium outside Denver, and before that, behind the wheel of an Aston Martin as we drove the northern portion of the famous “peak-to-peak” highway leading to Estes Park. But here we were behind the wheel of a Maserati taking the same route up to the peak-to-peak highway only to head this time south to Golden. Seventy to eighty miles of some of the best scenery in all of Colorado and we were in an open top Maserati with an exhaust that opened up every time we rolled onto the gas. The picture above is of Margo alighting from the convertible, roof firmly in place, as we came to a stop in Golden. We certainly needed a cup of coffee!

Unfortunately, the drive back to Steve left us with mixed emotions. This, after all, was the first drive by Margo of what for the past couple of years she had told family and friends was her dream car. However, after having spent the time we had in the Jaguars, the finish in the Maserati was anything but classy – the majority of the material used in the cockpit was plastic. In a $150,000 Italian luxury car? You have to be kidding. The thing was that when I expressed this sentiment to Jack TerHar, even as Margo was having a quiet talk to Steve, he didn’t miss a beat. “You’re so right,” he said, “while these cars hold a certain appeal they are still mass produced coming off a production line and the use of leather, for instance, is down to just two hides! How would anyone perceive that as being luxurious?”

Fortunately, there was still enough light in the day to keep trying new cars. The scorecard to date? A Viper, an Aston Martin 8 Vantage, the legendary Nissan GT-R, the extremely rare Jaguar XKR-S and now the Maserati GT-S convertible! So when Jack suggested that we don’t leave before taking a test ride in a brand new Aston Martin V8 Vantage S we consented and had him pull one into the driveway. First impressions continue to influence Margo and me immensely, and no sooner had we seen the car being prepped for us, we knew that this would be something completely different. Without giving me a second look Margo jumped right in, taking the driver’s seat.

There’s something beguiling about the prospect of love at first sight but one look at Margo and it was unmistakable. It only took a short drive and a brief encounter with a series of sharp turns leading through a back way to the Boulder Turnpike, and Margo was hooked. We did little else but run the car for four or five miles before heading back to Steve and Jack. As the picture above so clearly depicts, after all the cars we had driven, this was it! Margo knew really what she wanted but as we began to negotiate with Steve, in those very last seconds, we backed away. The checkbook was going to stay in my pocket and with a huge sense of loss, sucking in deep breaths even as we sat in the showroom, the timing just wasn’t right. We would have to put off the decision until we had a more realistic view of what really were our priorities. We were definitely no ready to give up our Nissan GT-R, not even on Aston Martin. But that’s another story to be told later.
The days that followed saw us once again immersed in business but all the same, work was being done on our track car – our 2003 C5 Z06. Coming back from Willow Springs, we knew that with the increased speeds we were carrying it was probably a good time to upgrade the brakes and to improve on our safety. Now the Z06 has a harness bar with six point harnesses for both driver and passenger, and the rotors and pads have been replaced with new, thicker premium rotors from NAPA and HP+ pads from Hawk. Courtesy of our good friends at nearby Corvette Spa. Remarkably, after outings with National Auto Sports Association (NASA) at Pikes Peak and Willow Springs as well as  a couple of lengthy open “lapping days” at High Plains Raceway (HPR) the tires looked remarkably healthy and continued to surprise us with the grip they provided – for tires with a treadware of 380!

Friday we were again participating in an open lapping day at HPR. It was supposed to be one more opportunity to experience track life from the air-conditioned comfort of our new track-side command center, the Allegro Open Road RV. However, the late arrival of a component needed to complete a routine service meant that we wouldn’t have it back in time so we would just have to suck it in and take the 105+ temperatures as best as we could. Margo took the morning sessions while I was to swelter under the onslaught of the afternoon sun – it was miserable for both of us. The Vette never missed a beat, although late in the day when I started selecting second gear for more aggressive corner exits, the transmission temperatures did begin to climb excessively so we ended the day before my fourth session.

The picture above is of the Vette on its trailer behind the venerable and much-abused Escalade “tow vehicle” just after we returned home. It would be the next before I completed the unloading as I was completely spent. Even as we both tried to stay hydrated through the day, it sapped every bit of energy that we had. With all the cars that we had driven over the course of the month, it was our oldest car, the Vette pictured here, that ultimately gave us the most fun and to be hanging out with other drivers even younger than our children well, as the commercial so succinctly sums it up, priceless!

The C5 Corvette Z06 is now firmly entrenched as our weekend fun “day-at-the-track” car and, looking back on our adventures of the past four years, life could have been so much easier if we had of made the switch earlier. Well, what do you know! However, when it comes to quieter, more leisurely driving, the Aston Martin sits firmly atop Margo’s list of dream cars so somehow, someway, I am sure one will find its way into the garage – it’s just that it will not be any time soon. As for slowing down, then yes, we need to play more golf …