The Guide to Road Racing, Part 6: Getting Started - Race Weekend #2

By Bradley Iger

March 31, 2014

After completing Driver School and a race the following day, we set our sights on the next local SCCA race: a two day divisional event at Willow Springs International Raceway. With class in the rear view and racing season in full swing, the training wheels were coming off and it was time to build upon what was learned thus far and expand from there.
 
 
What was different at this race?
 
The most immediate and obvious difference was the change of venue. In comparison with the driver school weekend, where we worked up to the full course incrementally with coordinated guidance from our driving instructors, here we suited up and hit the track in race configuration on our own straight away.
 
We also managed to knock out two of the remaining three race events required to qualify for a full competition license due to the fact that we were able to run two races over one weekend this time around.
 
 
 
What might I want to know about learning a new track?
 
We headed out onto the track with our only frame of reference being a course map and a few laps around WSIR in Gran Turismo 6. While both were of some legitimate use in practice, the only way to really get an understanding of how to run a course effectively with a specific car is through first hand experience, and without some previous seat time on a particular track, you'll likely find yourself taking the course somewhat conservatively for the first few laps while you get a better feel for it.
 
Initially, a big part of getting faster is simply committing the configuration of the track to memory so you can instinctively set the car up for each corner and anticipate what's next. This is where simulators like Gran Turismo are the most useful - while the dynamics of running a course at speed are difficult to replicate effectively through a game controller, having the ability to run an infinite amount of laps in-game will definitely help you acclimate to the layout of the track in a shorter amount of time once you're there in the flesh.
 
Once you know the track well enough, you can start to focus your attention on perfecting your braking zones, driving lines, and understanding how much speed you can carry through a particular corner. Pay attention to the veteran racers too - if you find yourself struggling to get a handle on how to take a particular corner, or losing ground within a pack through a certain section of the course, watch what these guys are doing when you're following them in a pack and try to duplicate it - you can worry about adding your own "style" later on, once you've learned the proper way to take the corner.
 
What was the sequence of events each day?
 
Cars were divided into five run groups, and each group was allotted a 15 minute practice session in the morning. After all groups had their time on track and a short break, each group was sent back out on the track in the same sequence as the practice session for a 20 minute qualifying session to set their grid position for their race later in the day.
 
After all groups were done setting fast laps, each run group headed into the pit area for a short drivers meeting with the race officials. During this time, officials may require subsequent tech inspections of particular cars at random to ensure they're in compliance with race rules. Afterward, everyone headed to lunch. After lunch, each group is sent back out on the track for their group's race, which lasts 18 laps, or about 30 minutes. Once all the groups have raced and trophies have been awarded to podium finishers in their respective classes, the race day concludes.
 
 
Who were we racing against?
 
Aside from one other racer who attended school with us the month prior, our group's field was comprised of experienced racers, which served to ratchet up the intensity a bit. While the more experienced racers are respectful and safe on course, they're also fast and competitive, and a lack of experience does not equate to the rest of the field playing softball around you. Expect to be treated like anyone else out there, because they'll expect you to do the same.
 
Was anything different about the first race on Saturday and the second on Sunday?
 
As we mentioned earlier, the more time you spend lapping the course, the faster you'll get. Accordingly, we were noticeably faster on Sunday than on Saturday. We also sat down with a laptop on Saturday evening after the race and looked up Spec Miata races at WSIR on YouTube to see how our technique around the course differed from other drivers, and that research paid off significantly.
 
A good night's sleep and bolstered confidence from knowing the track well didn't hurt either, so on Sunday morning, we were itching to get on course and see what we could do. As a result, our fastest lap on Sunday was more than four seconds faster than our fastest lap on Saturday.
 
Logistically, Saturday and Sunday's race events are identical, with the run groups and their sequence of practice, qualifying, and race events carrying over in the same fashion from Saturday to Sunday.
 
 
 
What does a race weekend cost?
 
Registration fees for the whole weekend totaled about $400. You'll also want to factor into your budget the cost of food, lodging, transportation, and if you're running your own racecar, parts and supplies for the car as well - at the very least, you'll need to refuel the car in order to run both days. It never hurts to have an extra set of tires on hand as well. You can check out our cost run-down at the bottom of this page.
 
What about the weekend is fun?
 
If you love racing, once you get to the track, almost everything about it is fun. Setting up the car, practicing, getting faster, racing, watching the other groups race - even just cruising around the paddocks and checking out the other cars - both the race cars and what people drove to the track in - is all a blast for gearheads. Of course, your time on the track is the star of the show here - there's simply no comparison between driving on the street and track in terms of intensity, safety, and legality. If you love cars and going fast in them, it's tough to think of a better of a better way to spend a weekend.
 
 
What did we learn?
 
The more seat time we have in the car, the better we're getting at understanding its limits and how it will behave under different conditions. A lot of the learning at this point revolves around refining our braking points, which gear to select for different corners, when to get on the throttle, proper turn in technique, and places on the course that offer good opportunities to pass. (We're also still coming to grips with the fact that more throttle isn't always a faster way out of a corner.)
 
 
What's the next step?
 
After this weekend's two race events, we're one race away from obtaining a full SCCA Competition License. Once that's acquired, licensing with other major sanctions becomes a far easier endeavor, often simply requiring proof of our SCCA Competition License. After that? Endurance racing. Autocross. Rallycross. The sky's the limit, and we can't wait to see what's next.
 

 

 

Race Weekend #2 Costs
 
Race registration fee
$400.00
Tires (1 set)
$936.00
Gas (20 gallons)
$100.00
Pre-race prep (fluid change, corner balance, align)
$250.00
Transportation (100 miles x 2)
$100.00
Hotel
$100.00
Engine run costs (3 hours)
$240.00
Crew
Priceless
Total
$2126.00