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AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH I’M GOING TO DIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEE.
Which is what was shrieking thru my head as I flew into Roebling Road’s turn one 5mph faster then I absolutely knew was possible. Just sure as heck this was about to become really bad. I was a couple seconds out from being a pile of much loved German sheet metal in the trees. I was scared. Oh, I forget myself. I meant to say that I was legitimately concerned. Really Really concerned. In a legitimate, not scared, sense.
Ok, so how did I get into this situation, you ask……
As most everyone who I could trap for 30 seconds conversation lately knows, I bought a dedicated “race car” a couple months ago. It is an ‘87 BMW 325 and races in a “class” that allows very few modifications. Pretty much only some specified suspension and safety mods. This means that everyone’s car is essentially the same. So there can’t be some other deep-pockets guy in the class who kicks your butt because he’s poured $100k of custom work and testing into his car. In a contest of deep pockets, I’d do poorly. That makes it a contest of drivers. And in a sheer contest of drivers, well, I’m going to do poorly. So as you can see, I have all this figured out.
I started this track madness in a Porsche 911 street car. But by last summer it was becoming increasingly clear that the scheme of trying to make the 911 into a competent track car, yet maintain reasonable street-ability, was worth re-evaluating. This re-evaluation idea may have first occurred to me last May as I sat 7hrs from home with $15k worth of blown Porsche motor. Doing anything with a Porsche is a lot more expensive then it really needs to be.
The Beemer handled tremendously differently then the Porsche. It had more traction with it’s softer compound tires, half as much horsepower, and an engine (crazy, but true) in front. I knew all this, so I’d not expected to be surprised by the differences. Yet here I was struggling like a newby with turns I’d done thousands of times. Moving the weight of the engine to the front had taken me from cocky to a world of suck.
My 4th or 5th trackday with the Beemer there was another guy at the track with the same car. He was very good. But I eventually found that if I was at the top of my game, I could keep up with him except for turn 1. Every time we screamed down that straightaway and dove into turn 1, he pulled 3 car lengths on me in the turn. I watched him do it time after time. It was irksome.
So after we pulled off of the track we talked about how the heck he was going into turn 1 so fast and not ending up in the trees.
The issue turned out to be the fundamental difference between front heavy and rear heavy cars. Go into a turn too hot with a rear engine Porsche and the rear will get out from under you. And that is going to make you really busy. It can also make you really anxious, depending on your personal finances.
But front engine cars behave so docily at turn entry that going into a turn too fast can be the plan. If you go in a little too fast, the car is just going to want to turn a little less then you thought it would, which is to say understeer. The heavy front end causes the car’s front end to “wash out”. That washing out scrubs off some speed and soon enough speed is shed that the front tires will be able to hang on.
So the rear engine 911 has to go into turns with some caution, but when you go into a turn with front engine car, if your not terrified, you’re too slow. In defense of Dr. Porsche, a rear engine car can accelerate out of a corner like crazy.
But back to the adventure. I was used to going into Roebling Road’s turn 1 at 80mph in the Porsche. But watching that other guy showed me that apparently I could take the Beemer into turn 1 faster. And survive. And I was determined to make it happen.
On the next lap, as I flew down the straight away towards turn 1, I formed a plan that would take me into the turn at ludicrous speed. The plan was simply to release the brakes a bit early and so go in faster. I hit the brakes at the usual point, did a leisurely clutch in, heel-n-toe to blip the gas, released clutch and brake, and turned in. I was going scary fast. I was certainly way above 80mph. I checked the speedo. 80mph. Crap.
“Ok, the next lap I’m going to make myself go in faster”, I thought to myself. 1:30 later I flew down the straight away towards turn 1. Then I hit the brakes at the usual point, clutch, heel-n-toed to blip the gas, released clutch and brake, and turned in. This time I was certainly above 80mph. I looked at the speedo. 80mph. Oh for crissakes.
I was getting pissed. I was going to fix this. For crying out loud this was ridiculous. Why couldn’t I force myself to go in 5mph faster? Who was in charge here anyways? Well I was going to fix this, believe you me.
And then I did the same exact thing for a couple more laps.
“What the @#@$&** is my malfunction”, I thought disgustedly. “I can’t seem to make myself go in faster”.
It was kind of like standing on the edge of a cliff. You can tell you legs to jump, but they might just say “no”. Your conscious mind isn’t always the final arbitrar of what gets done. Just ask your wife. I was trying to tell my right foot to get me into that turn faster, but it just wouldn’t do it.
I needed to do something different. My new plan was to set my speed well early and force my damn right foot to stay on the gas. Seconds later, well before the turn, I got my braking and downshifting done, set my speed at 85mph, and headed for the turn.
IT WAS F@!#@$@%G TERRIFYING. Every fiber of my being was shrieking at me to lift my foot off of the gas. My foot was desperately trying to lift off the gas a bit. I made my right foot go rigid as it fought to lift and I forced it to stay on the gas. I gritted my teeth and silently exclaimed “I’M NOT GOING TO LIFT, I’M NOT GOING TO LIFT. I DON’T CARE IF I F@#$$!&#G DIE, I AM NOT GOING TO LIFT”. Knowing that I was going into the trees, I turned in, checked the speedo, and it said 85mph. And I stayed on the track. It could be done.
So I did another dozen of those so I could get to the point where 85mph would produce only manageable levels of terror.
Then I started working on 90mph.
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