Recently I went to an autocross event at Lime Rock Park. Lime Rock Park is a phenomenal road race course located in Litchfield County, Connecticut. It’s a gorgeous venue and a great track to enjoy racing. I saw Paul Newman win an SCCA race back in 1986. It’s been something that I had wanted to do for a while, but never found the time. Well folks, now that I am retired, every day is Saturday in my world, so I signed up. I had just finished breaking in a ’17 Subaru BRZ, and I was ready to see what this thing could do. It’s a great car to drive. I have a thing for little red sport coupes and this is by far the best one I have owned. I ordered it with a manual transmission, as well as upgraded brakes(amazing), tires (meh), wheels (cool looking) and shocks (freakin’ awesome). A great car to drive around in. It is MADE for driving. It really has no other use. Beautiful lines, very comfortable seating, nice cockpit layout and the clutch and transmission are very light and quick. And it is light! 2800 pounds give or take.
So off to Lime Rock Track at seven in the morning. It was a wonderful ride up, talking, listening to the Beatles on the radio. Beautiful day. We get there and are introduced to the guys that are going to run the event. Great guys; a lot of racing knowledge between them. We are broken up into two groups; the noobs, me and 11 other people, and the people with some experience.
They tell us to inflate our tires to 40 psi to increase negative camber, which is when you see the top of tires canted towards the center of the car and the bottoms are splayed out. Bottom line, it puts more tire on the road, which in turn increases grip, and that’s is going to be something that I want a lot of today because the BRZ is going to get thrashed around and I don’t want to make an idiot of myself in front of a group of strangers with some fairly nice cars. I’ll get to those in a bit. The fairly nice cars, not me making an idiot of myself.
So of course I miss where the air pump is and have to drive around the paddock. Which wasn’t a bad thing because there was a Ferrari Club racing event on the main track. Now THAT is an expensive hobby! And that is coming from someone who has a few pricy hobbies himself. In addition to buying a good Ferrrari, you have to trick it out, suspension, fire suppression, tires, tuneups, parts, spares; the list is endless. And did I mention expensive? But they put on a great show. Fun watching these gorgeous cars racing wheel to wheel. Now I am next to last in the air line. Finally add some air, check the pressure and back up to the course. And of course I miss the walk around on the track. I get there just in time to here the instructors say all right lets get on the track. Ahhh. Ok, I can do this. Luckily I’m in the last group so I have some time to figure out whats what. There is an elevation change, a chicane (sort of like a slight zig-zag in the road, very cool), a sweeping turn and a tight one.
Meanwhile before my turn, I’m checking out the other cars and people. Mostly guys, but a few women were the crowd. A couple of Porsche Boxsters, a Corvette, a Toyota MR2 (I love that car), another BRZ, a really nice ’02 Honda S2000, as well as a few Minis, and this dude who sort of reminded me of Doc in Back To The Future, with a one-off, hand built car frame thing. This “car” was all open, no roof, no fenders, no doors, seriously no car, just a frame with an engine. And he wore a full race suit. Guy must have sweated out gallons; it was an uber hot day. A Mustang GT, and even a lady in a Volkswagen Passat, whom I will come to hate. More on that later. The stars of the day, IMHO, were a perfectly restored ’67 Jaguar XKE, and a ’71 Triumph TR6 (another fav car of mine). These were in mint condition. Just beautiful cars.
Finally my group is getting called to get onto the track. I put my helmet on, snug but comfortable. The worst part is the heat. It was in the eighties that day and very muggy. That bucket on your head heats up right quick. Buckle up and we are off. Hit the throttle, bring the tach up to about 6500 RPM’s and shift to second, and that’s pretty much it. Basically you never get out of second gear. The track it short enough, and challenging enough that second gear is pretty much all you need. However, when they reconfigure the track, third gear becomes an option. But you remember that lady in the Passat? Well, guess who didn’t get a chance to snick it into third gear because of her. That would be me. We will get back to that.
So I’m on the track getting the feel of it and taking the car maybe fifty percent of what I perceived to be the limits of it. Of course I was wrong because that car has skills. The instructor motions me over to tell me a few tweaks to help my technique. Where to brake, turn, what angle I should be taking. I’m so amped up on adrenaline I nod my head as if I’m actually following him, and he sends me off. All right, what the fuck did he say? A few more laps, I’m getting more confident, the car is behaving well and I haven’t spun out. All good.
Mike, the head guy, is another Subaru fan so we get to talking and I ask him to jump in and show me the course. He tells me when to brake, where to break, where to point the car, when to accelerate and when to back off. We go around the track a couple dozen times and every lap I feel more confident and start to hammer on the Subaru. He’s coaching me through every inch of this course. Freakin’ awesome. The car is amazing. I was pushing it to my limits (not the car’s) and maybe a bit more. I don’t believe I scratched the surface on how wonderfully the car handles. Next round I’m on my own. Accelerate, point the car, brake, let up, accelerate repeat. Only once did I feel the rear end breaking loose. I went into the corner a little too hot. I felt the rear end slightly break, but then the stability control kicked up and then sent me on my merry way. Being a noobie, I didn’t want to switch it to track mode. There was literally nothing that could happen there that could damage the car, so you really can have fun without worrying about getting into an accident. The only thing that you could damage would be your ego. Which can’t be said for the poor ( metaphorically speaking) Ferrari guy who crashed his car on the track. He damaged his car and his ego. That, was an expensive weekend for that dude.
Now we are going to do some time trials with the winner getting bragging rights and invited back for a championship run. Cool. Something to work for. You get five laps of which the first one is the warm up, the next three are timed and the last is a cool down. One car at a time and I’m in the back of the pack. Finally my turn. I take a nice, leisurely warm up lap until the turn coming into the starting line. I nail and come in hot. Backoff through the chicane, aim for the cone, stand on the gas, get ready to hit the brakes hard, turn, let the inertia power you the through the turn, accelerate, shoot out of the turn under full power, here comes the other chicane, off the throttle for a nano-second, right-left-turn-turn accelerate, here comes the sweeper, point, wait, brake, turn and so on. Second time through I am screaming through the chicane and SHIT! Hit a cone. Two second penalty. In autocross 2 seconds might as well be two years. Wah, wah. One more run and the cool down lap. My times for this were 21.4, 21.7 and 21.8 (plus two for the cone) seconds. The winner was 19 and some change. It put me in the higher end of the pack. For a first time noob? It’s all good.
Last phase the track is reconfigured to have both left and right turns as well as elevation changes AND a reasonably long straight away that the instructor said that you might want to try shifting into third. Of course I want to give that a try. Get up enough speed to hit third gear? I’m in! Oh, remember the woman in the Passat? She was in front of me. She was driving the track like it was a jaunt to the grocery store. This track configuration was so much fun. But she was In front of me taking her time, hitting the brakes when she shouldn’t have and checking out the scenery. I would slow down, get some distance, then have at it. Nope, she was tootling along, la-de-da and I was running out of track before I could shift into third. Yeah, I know, first world problems, I get it.
Anyway, it was an amazing day. Learned a lot about the BRZ, saw some cool cars and just had a ball. Looking forward to doing that again so I signed up for the advanced course in September. That will be all one-on-one coaching plus skid pad. That is gonna be fun!