WDMS - Chapter 237
CHIN MOTORSPORTS @ COTA
Driving, Fixing, Yelling, Camera Car-ing, Breaking...
After instructing for Chin Motorsports at TWS and doing there technical check-ride guy, I was thankfully included to attend the COTA event. Scratcher did fine at the recent NASA event at MSR-H (winning SU, winning TTU, getting a set of free purple crack) and I was looking forward to playing at COTA. Most of the initial folks who drove COTA all screamed "zomg, F1 track, sooooo cool, better than anything!!!ONE!!ELEVEN!!!". However, some of the real racers I know had been several notches down the scale towards "ehhh....it's okay...gorgeous facility, but still a Tilke track". The "Tilke" reference is for a guy named Tilke who has designed a lot of F1 tracks that some the drivers like, others not so much.
With COTA not too far and my work busy, we prepped during the week and slept at home Friday night, getting up waaaay before dawn and heading west to the only current F1 track in these United States. I was pulling the trailer and Anna was following in her new-to-her pcar. We arrived just as dawn was arriving and slipped into the quiet paddock.
After helping to tech cars and attending the meeting we headed to the grid for the Chin warm-up session. This is a no-helmet session with no passing and greatly reduced speeds, but it DOES allow a great chance to learn the track and I had Marc in front of me and I knew he'd driven here before. We took Anna's 911 and lapped for about 15 minutes on the drying track. Rain had threatened to fall for the whole weekend, but it was a rapidly changing forecast with the promise of some dry track in the middle of the day and that is when I'd bring out Scratcher (if I got her out at all!). Anna rode with me and we had a good time and I realized this was (for me) a very easy track to learn. Clearly it helped that I had Marc right in front of me showing me a line, but the track is pretty simple and I looked forward to going faster later in a hot session.
Saturday went pretty well and I instructed a bit, did a check ride and got to take two short sessions in Scratcher. I was on play tires and one rotor was almost done (put a crack in it at MSR-H) so I mostly just played around. Adding speed made the track that much easier to drive and with it being so wide and smooth, I felt it was damn easy to go fast here, but the track is very hard on brakes. I ended up swapping out the cracked rotor in the afternoon and then putting Scratcher back in the trailer as the dry was going away and rain was looming. If it dried out the next day I'd pull her back out and play some more.
Speaking of opening the toolbox, let me chime in real quick about taking a big trailer to an HPDE. Everyone pretty much assumes you have stuff to fix their busted crap. I think I set a personal best on helping folks this weekend with folks helped. I provided big zip ties (the 1/2" wide ones that can hold down a battery) to a guy to hold some bodywork on, provided medium zip ties to another guy to secure brake ducting (he took some gorilla tape to reinforce), safety wire (it went like this: "do you have safety wire", me: "yes, what size", "uh....there are sizes??" heh) to a guy to secure some hot-side engine stuff, a small piece of abs plastic to another guy (I keep squares and trim as needed) to reinforce and backplate a splitter mount and then I lifted a c7 and pulled wheels to show a vette driver his brakes were fine and with some cleaning he was good to go. I also trouble shot a guys' main switch with my DVOM and showed him how to bypass it correctly. Good times.
Chin Motorsports really does some cool stuff as an organization that differs from all other hpde groups I've run/instructed with. The 30 minute morning warmup is very nice but then at the end of the day, they have the final session an open track session for everyone solo qualified and it is an hour. Plenty of time to string together good laps and have fun. I'd met Matt at the event and we chatted FSAE (there is a pic on our trailer door) because he did that with UT and we knew a lot of the same people. He had driven with Marc in the poorvette at Hallett (I drove it in Colorado) and during some of the heavy rains we chatted in my trailer about racing/work/family/kids in general. He had his P1 there and didn't want to run it in the wet ("new" tires for that car are still damn thin!) so he hopped right seat in the 911 and we went out and terrorized the fast cars circulating. Being a plain NA rwd coupe I assumed we'd be getting passed a lot, but honestly only one or two cars passed us the ~40 minutes we were out there (!!) and we passed an absolute crap-ton of hardware. The track offers LOTS of grip and we were on fresh PS2 Michelins and I just kept refining and perfecting my line while we chatted, passed folks, and had a great time.
Above and below: Pro pics of Anna's pcar in the long damp session that was just stupid fun!
Oddly, as we were going to come in anyway, I ran over the inside kerbing in the esses (intentionally) and the check engine light popped on and the car did not want higher revs over 4500 or so. I took it easy back to the pits and by the time I'd checked it out it was dinnertime and after resetting the ecu the car fired up clean and ran great. Hmmm. Dinner was a place Marc knew in town and Anna and I followed a caravan there in a seemingly-fixed 911 and had a great evening. We drove back to the track before they locked it up and fired up the driod, turned on our small heater and sacked out in the trailer on a pad of moving blankets and an air mattress. The COTA tower was bathed in soft light that changed colors and was really pretty in the quiet paddock.
We woke up already at the track (no commute FTW!) to some slight drizzle that was clearing as the sun came up. The first few sessions had some dampness, but by mid-morning it was nice and dry. Matt and I had talked at dinner about me following him a bit with a gopro on Scratcher's nose for some good vid. The first semi-dry session was before lunch and the forecast was for 'dry' the rest of the day so we decided to do our video session after lunch. I had one instructing session and then one checkride and lunch was fast approaching. I took out Scratcher just before lunch for a short session to ensure the brakes (a used rotor installed to match the other front) bedded in well and the car was running good. I was leaving time on the track by using the old tires and not thrashing on the motor, but was still having a good time. With the long 911 session Saturday afternoon, I'd refined my lines a foot or two here and there and was happy to see the lap timer proving those changes.
Marc put some laps on a new C7z and invited me to ride and had a code-brown moment when we just kissed the inside curb on the last corner to the front straight. I had video going inside and Anna was also practicing with the camera so I got to live the spin, re-watch it from the vid and then found it again when pulling snaps off the camera! LOL!! Car is _very_ quick and capable and was fun to ride in for sure!
Above; Anna's snap, and Below: As we pointed the wrong direction the video caught me brightly saying "HELLOOOooo" to the oncoming cars. :-)
*Side-story* Anna and I have a friend in College Station, Chef Tai, who is a car nut, has two restaurants and a food truck, and is a phenomenal chef. He has been out to see us several times at TWS and hung out with us, put his kid in Scratcher, etc. In fact, when he opened his new restaurant "Paolo's", I put his stickers on Scratcher and won that weekend with him in attendance (lucky sticker indeed!!). Well, on Saturday when Anna saw all the SRS BZNS hardware (GT3RS, AR 4c, MP4-12c,650S, P1, C-GT, etc etc) she took a minute to text Chef and tell him about the event and attendance and he made plans to come over on Sunday to check out the cars and take a parade lap at lunchtime. He and his family showed up a bit before lunch and we all got to chat. Chef gravitated to the garages with the pack of McLaren's and I introduced him to Matt and Chef was just enamored with the P1 (and rightly so) and got to sit in it, and he just gushed. Since I knew the next session was going to be our 'video chase' session I privately asked Matt if he had a passenger for that run and he said no and I asked, if he didn't mind, to invite Chef. So not only did Chef get to see an ultra-rare P1, he got to sit in it, and THEN got to ride in one driven as it was designed to be driven, in anger. 904hp on an F1 track. Oh yes.
Above: Coming off T20 onto the front straight, I'm fully on the gas with a much better exit (and moar exit speed!) than the P1
Below: And it did not matter....904hp is a lot more than Scratcher has and he just walked me...
Following Matt (and Chef) in the P1 was incredibly cool. We sadly were not at the front of the grid, so we had to wait several laps to clear a lot of traffic, but as it thinned out we ate pavement at a serious rate. Clearly the P1 and the 904hp it hammers into the pavement are a serious step up to Scratcher's power-to-weight ratio, but with wider tires and true radial slicks vs the P1's trofeo R-comps (same tires on Anna's silver supra courtesy of Pirelli and a NARRA win!), Scratcher had much better ultimate grip, turn-in and corner exit. Still, even knowing I could outlap him by many seconds it was still a serious envy-event when Matt would get to drop the hammer on those long straights, the rear wing would automatically lay down for less drag and he'd simply walk away from me. Know I know how most cars feel when they run with Scratcher!!
Above: A screenshot from my low-mounted gopro4
Below: Two snaps of Matt's car that Anna snagged from the front straight (can't you just HEAR Chef saying "squeeeeeeeeeeee!")
...such a freaking gorgeous car...
So I chased Matt for a handful of laps, got some great video and then as we (I had Richard right seat) came onto the front straight to continue chasing again, Scratcher had a momentary driveline shudder and then made a bad restrictive noise. I clutched and revved to try and diagnose, but the noise persisted and I quickly shut the ignition off and faded left out of the way. Having worked enough corners in my life, I try and be aware of the track situation and I wanted to do my utmost to limit any yellow-flags and loss of track time. As I coasted down the front straight wracking my brain (I was pretty sure it was an MSD box or a distributor failure) I eased up the hill towards T1 (we were hauling the mail when I shut it down, so we could have easily gone through T1 and down the hill to T2). I had a flash of an idea and cut over across the blend line (making sure no cars were entering the track) and stopped the car alongside the grass. Releasing the brakes, we began rolling back down the hill towards the pit lane. I hugged the edge so any cars going to the track had plenty of room (F1 track = wide....thankfully!) and we arrived all the way down at the pit-out guy! He was very surprised and said "Wow, we didn't even have to throw a yellow flag...that was incredible!!" Rescue truck was right there, they hooked onto my roof-anchor and pulled me over to my trailer and I simply lined it up and winched it in.
Above: Richard's very slick Lotus and the P1 in the garage on the right
Below: Speaking of Richard, he is riding with Jack in Jack's OLOA Ariel Atom after parade laps...and a snap of the area I backed down to keep the track hot
Near the end of Sunday I was pretty much done. Scratcher was in the trailer and ready to go, I had no more check rides and with it being dry I didn't want to push Anna's pcar and just tear up street tires for fun. Matt and I had talked a few more times and he let me ride during his final session and we had a lot of fun. I probably jumped into coaching mode too easy, but the car has so freaking much speed and brute power it is incredible. First off it is neat to simply see a car like this, but I've got a lot of respect for people who own serious $$$ hardware like this and still go out and use it as it was designed to be. Reminds me of my favorite car (F40) and how Enzo was upset the initial buyers were all putting them in storage so he simply kept cranking them out and many of the owners then tracked/raced them as he intended from the beginning.
I snapped that pic with the iphone on our way out of the track as we rolled towards home. Over the next hour and a half I got to spend some time thinking about this track and how I felt about driving this track.
First off, is it fun to drive? Well, of course. Practically any time you get to drive "flat out" (or close to that anyway) it is fun. The track is just stupid smooth and very wide, plus the facility and paint and such are absolutely top notch. Of course, you pretty much expect that since it is a current F1 track that cost 200+ million dollars, but still. I'd been here a few times before to watch, and knew it would be phenomenal and it did not disappoint. There is a LOT of runoff area for most every corner so putting 2 or 4 off is not that big a deal assuming you are relatively competent. Honestly, I didn't feel the track was very tough to drive and so I spent some time driving the track in my head to evaluate my thoughts on COTA.
Going down the front straight you see the entire T1 complex and then you climb the big hill to get to it. Visibility is excellent through the corner and you've got good reference marks on the right to use for braking and turn in. One thing you will do a lot of at COTA is brake so get used to it and make sure yours are in great shape and bring spares. The corners here that are after high speed sections really slow you down and T1 just sets the agenda early. Although you can get up to a really good clip on the front straight, you brake nearly all of it away in order to take the 135 degree (or so) left-hander and begin coming down from the highest point on the track. T2 is a less-than-90 right and it is, again, in full view. Messing up T2 would require a special kind of stupid for any driver of even medium talent (save mechanical failure of course). This puts you on a short straight leading into the 3-4-5 esses which are (again) pretty easy to see and fun. It took me a few laps to get my turn-in point exactly where I wanted it to start T3 (using the overhead pedestrian bridge as a reference worked great for me) but the rest flows easily and sight lines are good. In a few laps you learn to give up the entry of T6 to hug tight and get a run on T7 (again, all of this is easy to see) and then give up the entry of T8 to hug tight and get on the gas early to run through T9, the slight bend that is T10 all the way down to bleed-off-all-the-speed-again T11. So far the only "blind-ISH" turn is T10 and even that is simple to learn the timing of when to bend the car left prior to gaining full visibility down the hill.
Above: A pro pic of Scratcher (that will be a poster!), a damp paddock pic I took of Anna's car
So now you're headed down the hill to T11 and again you've got great reference marks on the right to use and you simply slow way way waaaay down, put it in first and then use the biggest arc you can to make another tight turn and then lay on the loud pedal and wait. Now, since it felt like a long arse straight in Scratcher, I can only imagine what it feels like in a car with 150-300hp. Those folks, I'm sure, were checking stock prices, updating their computer operating system, and alphabetizing the apps on their smart phones, twice. So, after a time of running through all the gears you have and then waiting as the track blurs under you, you get to the point that you can see the corner up ahead and....of course.....it is a painfully slow corner. Again. You've got good markers on the right and so you brake hard, go way down the gears and turn greater than 90 degrees and head to the "stadium section" of the track, with your brakes all kinds of pissed off.
Below: Anna really REALLY needs to let me dip her car this scheme for a few months...
The stadium section of T13-14-15 is pretty fun, but still the sightlines are pretty easy to follow and the speed is pretty low. Exiting T15 you finally, finally, get to build up some speed and NOT piss it away. Yes, T16-17-18 is a connected series of right hand turns under the huge mullett-tower that are, for me, the best part of the track. You're actually going quick and you get to turn the steering wheel and since you cannot see the entire corner, it takes a bit to hit the correct marks while carrying maximum speed and ending up with the car in the right spot for a very fast exit and a short straight down to T19. T19 is less than 90 degrees and you can see through it easily and it can be taken a bit faster than you initially think. Then a short straight to the final turn, T20, and the opposite is true. It is a little tighter than 90 degrees and it must be taken a little slower than you initially think. By the second or third lap, T19 and T20 should be easily mastered. Then, you are on the front straight again, looking to build up as much speed as possible so you can turn 90% of it into expensive brake dust. Again.
So yeah, that's the track. It is indeed fun to drive as it is wide, smooth and has a few nice punishment/reward sections and the lovely T16-17-18. However (and you knew this was coming) the track is pretty sanitized and I don't internally rate it alongside epic tracks like Road Atlanta (even post-neutering it is still epic, just not quite AS epic as it was), VIR, TWS, Lime Rock, Watkins. These are tracks where you actually turn the wheel while hauling the mail and the subtle nuances and battle scars of the tracks translate to character and mystique that I just don't see COTA ever attaining. I like COTA and will go again and smile as I attack it....but it does not move me in the way a few other tracks do.
Below: A great snap of Scratcher heading out to play with the added bonus of Anna on the far side!!!
Once home, I had some time to check out the issue with the motor and it turned out to be a failed (cracked at the tip) rocker arm. It was one of the original ones from 2007 and was replaced quickly and easily. All good for the next outing at TWS in April!
Bonus: Video of me following the P1 playing camera car: https://vimeo.com/121105533