The Washington DC Region (WDCR) of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) held its annual Spring Drivers School this weekend. It started with registration, training, and a written test on Friday night. I liked the way they ran that – as it forced the students to learn and prove they understood all of the flags and their meanings before they were allowed to go out wheel-to-wheel with the other students. This drivers school is part of the SCCA program to allow wheel-to-wheel club racing that I am preparing to do in 2009 starting with MARRS 1.
Saturday morning started early, but it was not as bad for me as the car’s tech inspection was handled by Meathead Racing. Since my 2001 Z06 Corvette’s rollcage was not ready, I decided to rent a car to attend Driver’s School since it required a full “race ready” car. As you can see in the photo below, it also required a full fireproof race suit, racing shoes, gloves, socks, and helmet. As one of the other drivers said to me that morning when I emerged with my brand-spanking-new driving gear on, “it is not often a man gets to wear a new pair of bright red shoes”. That is for sure! And at least not believe he looks “manly” in them. Too funny. More photos of my SCCA Drivers School are posted on Webshots.
New red suede shoes aside, ahem, I also “manned-up” with my rental “Spec Miata”. The Spec Miata class is what I would call a “driver’s class”. The Spec Miata drivers are all in almost identical cars. So it is not about who has the biggest checkbook and more about who can drive the car the best. Your accelerator pedal can not make up for the fact that you corner inefficiently or brake too early and scrub off precious speed.
Boy was I in for a mental re-calibration! My “newer” 2006 Z06 Corvette has 505HP. The Spec Miatas run about 90HP!!! That is less than my snowmobile or Harley Davidson. Don’t let that fool you though. On short tracks with a lot of “corners”, it is all about cornering and not scrubbing off speed – and the Spec Miatas hold their own against the less nimble big-block behemoths (like Corvettes and Vipers). If there are some long straight-a-ways though… It is “Z” you later to the Miatas.
So Day 1 of WDCR SCCA Spring Drivers School was filled with alternating class room humiliation (very necessary less anyone thinks they are the next Dale Earnhardt) and practice sessions. It rained all day. So with a new car and a wet course, even the practice sessions were somewhat humiliating to me as I realized that most of these Miata guys were able to kick my butt. So much for thinking I was fast in my Corvette. This was my third time on Summit Point “Main” and I was not impressing myself (or my instructor either really). The good news is that I: a) did not wreck the rental car, b) did not slide off the track, and c) learned a lot in the process.
One of the things I really learned was that every mistake is amplified 10x in a Miata. You just cannot make up time with the engine. My biggest weakness is knowing how “late” to brake for a corner. If you brake too early, you scrub off speed that you will never get back. I am also not sure I am entering corners at the maximum speed (ie. braking too much). You need the speed into the corner to be sure you have optimal speed exiting the corner for the next section of the track. It is all about momentum in a Miata.
My other weakness is that I am so focused on the track and other cars, I do not always check each flag station to be sure that nothing has changed ahead on the course. The instructors (especially mine) get really cranky about missing a flag. This is a bit of the old, “the sun was in my eyes”, excuse, but the rain definitely was a distraction causing me to hyper-focus on the other cars more than the flag stations. Bad driver! So much for making a pass during the yellow flag. I knew it was too easy! Needless to say my brain, credentials, and desire to continue to play well with others came under close scrutiny. I sort of feel like my cat must feel like when I catch him right after he pees in the corner… He is now banned to the sun porch for eternity. But hey, he is a cat – and I can learn to read the flags and brake later if I can just get back out there and practice!
The day ended with a general overview of how we did and what we need to work on. Numerous horror stories were shared of knuckleheads that did not listen in drivers school and flew through the air, only saved by their roll cage and fireproof underwear (and one who unfortunately was not). While this is fun, it really is serious stuff, and no one likes junking their car because someone was ignorant of the flags or excellent driving skills.
Tomorrow starts early again and we get an actual race in as well. Let’s hope it does not rain all day.