Wednesday, June 15, 2005

SVTOA OpenTrack Event

Now that summer has broken here in Colorado the open-track season is in full bloom. My first event of the year was instructing for the SVT Owners Association last weekend at Pike’s Peak International Raceway. The SVOTA guys put on a pretty good event. Not quite as good as a BMWCCA event – which are run better than many commercial driving schools I have been to – but pretty good.

I had two assigned students and worked with 3-4 others. In Group 2 I had a E36 M3 and in Group 3 a Porsche 996 driver. Both were good, solid students with a firm grasp of the basics.

In contrast I did two sessions with a Mustang driver that didn’t grasp any of the basics and seemed determined not to.

Now a high-performance driving instructor may sound like a cool job, and most of the time it is. However, when things go bad, you are really just a hostage, strapped helplessly into the passenger’s seat with some ham-fisted, club-footed oaf at the controls of a 120+ MPH 2 ton brick.

My Mustang pilot is a prime example of the helpless hostage phenomenon. He claims to have done a half-day driving event and was convinced that he was the next Dale Earnhardt – thoughtfully indicated by the number 3 proudly displayed in the rear window. Sitting at pre-grid I asked what specific areas of driving technique he was looking to focus on during this session. He looked at me like he had never heard the English language before. I knew this was going to be bad.

My first session with a new student, I typically just watch quietly during the first couple of laps, allowing them to focus on driving without interruption. In this case I was providing feedback by turn 2. By then I had seen shuffle-steering, driving with one hand on the shifter, a long lurid power-slide, zero throttle modulation, zero brake modulation, and waaaay too much speed for a f-ing warm-up lap.

After two laps we had yet to see a turn-in or apex point and had a train of faster cars rapidly building behind us. I advised him to point them by, he looked in the mirror (for the very first time) and observed that the 427 Cobra immediately behind us was driven by his brother. Recognizing the situation for what it is I screamed “Point him by right now!” Nothing like brotherly rivalry to get this instructor killed.

After a constant stream of guidance and little improvment for 4 laps I decided that this discussion would be better conducted parked safely in the pits. After a review of the basics of car control – steering, braking, throttle control, turn-in, apex, etc. - we tried the track again. Things were better but I was still hoping for this to be over - quickly.

To reset the karmic balance I was given the privilege of driving a co-worker’s Ferrari F355. Not just with the owner in the right-hand seat but also with my wife there as well. We had a blast, after a couple of laps to get used to the steering and gated shifter we were blasting down the front straight at 100+ MPH and 8500 RPM. They say it’s just a V8 but the sound is indescribable. I have driven a number of Ferrari’s in the past, but had forgotten what a joy they are on the track. The ride was over all too soon. Thanks again Mark, that was the high point of the entire weekend.

The low point was actually during the first Group 4 session on Saturday. After a couple of warm up laps I was just starting to get comfortable when exiting onto the straight I noticed something was missing. Something like 100HP. The boost gauge said ”0” so I knew where my horsepower went. I pulled in to the garage and found that the supercharger’s internal belt had broken (again).

Since the unit was rebuilt with new seals and bearings in February I think I will replace the belt myself. It should take about a day and require only a new belt and a small gear puller.

The SVTOA guys put on a good event, lots of track time, stayed on schedule, good instructors, and no bent cars. Everything this car guy needs.

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