Sandpanther (sandpanther) wrote,
Sandpanther
sandpanther

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Adventures In Driving - Autocross, And Other

This will be one really long entry.



I had to go down to Palo Alto today, so I decided to take the scenic route along Skyline, then down Page Mill Road. Page Mill is awesome, with little traffic at the top, but lots of tight turns on a narrow road. Oh, and a bit of a drop-off into a creek on one side, just to keep things challenging.

One of the main reasons I decided to take this route (other than that it's fun) was because I wanted to check and see how far down the road I look when I'm driving a winding road. This is related to noticing that I don't look very far ahead in autocross, and being perplexed as to whether I do actually look ahead when not doing autocross, or whether I'm just delusional. Well, I'm not delusional. I really do automatically look as far down the road as I can see when I'm on that type of a road. I think a lot of it has to do with knowing that I have to keep a really sharp eye out for oncoming traffic, and judging when it is safe to cut corners and when it is not. Now all I have to do is convince myself that I have to do the same thing when autocrossing.

Coming down was a lot of fun. I got lucky, and didn't land behind anyone slow the entire way down. I did have to contend with a lot of dorks coming up the hill who didn't entirely grasp this "your lane/my lane" concept. One of them I probably startled since he was crowding into my lane, and I didn't have any room on my side to give him more space, as there was a metal fence right there. I cleared his mirror by maybe five inches, accelerating all the way. (I was on a turn, and figured that would be a better way of maintaining control.)

One small entertainment was that part of the way down, I notice a small two-seater coming up fairly quickly behind me. Page Mill is too narrow and has no turn-outs or places where someone can pass. Given that, I decided that I didn't want to totally spoil someone else's fun, and picked up my pace. It was a nice excuse to go faster (since I had been keeping my pace down out of consideration of traffic and tickets.) I can't say that I lost him, but I think I didn't screw up his fun too much. And damn, I love being able to just focus and push the edge of what I can do for a solid section of time. (It must have been a good five or ten minutes he was chasing me.) Definitely cathartic, kind of like a runner's high or something.

Huh, I had meant to look for the car at autocross today, but I forgot. At any rate, it was a black Miata.




From the Rally Finland coverage on Day 3:

Becks: Nicky is looking younger by the day.

Nicky: It's because I'm not co-driving for Colin McRae any more.





I was running really late today. Most of it was because the brain refused to kick on due to a lack of sleep. Some of it was because of the guy at the gas station who took FOREVER to put air in his tires. Honestly, it really should not take that long!

I arrived, registered, and started unloading the car while dithering about whether to unload the car first, or do the course walk first. (Yes, I started unloading the car while dithering about whether to do that first or not. It seemed efficient to get some work done while I was dithering.) Happily, the decision was soon made for me thanks to an announcement that the novice course walk was starting.

We went through the course walk, then had the driver's meeting. I slurped some more of my Jamba Juice then headed out to my station, since I was working Run Group 1. My station was waaaay at the other end of the course, and since I was a little early for getting into position, I took the opportunity to walk part of the course on my way out to my station.

Working was fairly cool. One of the people I was working with autocrossed before, but this is his first time in the area. The other one was clearly an old hand. He knew the names of half the drivers coming through, and would comment on how smooth they were and other features of the car. It was very informative working with him.

I completely missed Run Group 2. I had to finish unloading my car, get it tech'ed, and get on grid. I also chatted a little bit with amirai, who came to watch today. I had meant to watch some of that group, since Ray (the newbie from last time) was running, and the RX-8 was back again. Amusingly, the RX-8 had a picture of Pikachu in the rear license plate holder. (It doesn't have official plates yet.) I did mention that this car is yellow, yes?

I ran into the Focus guys who run in my class over in tech. One of them commented that I didn't make the course walk (since he had invited me to go with them.) I replied that I had gotten up late and was running late, and he asked how the rally was. *snerk* He got it in one. I told him, and told the other guy that I had the tape with the Deutschland coverage on it for him. He was very pleased. I was highly amused.

After tech I pulled onto grid and watched cars running through the course for a while, trying to remember the layout. I chatted with the Si guy about shift points. I realized that some action better start happening soon or I would fall over. (Sorry, forgot to mention that I had only had about four hours of sleep last night, mostly done in one hour increments here and there.)

Soon enough my Run Group started. My first run wasn't bad, though there were a lot of bits that I could improve on -- not the least of which was to keep on the gas all the way through to the finish! They didn't have the timing beam marked with green cones, and I had forgotten exactly where it was located, so I came off the gas and started slowing down way too early. The main point of note on this run was one corner where the back end started stepping out, and I started heading very sideways-ish. That was actually a whole lot more fun than I thought it would be. Need to figure out how to do that more often! ^_^ (Though I'm not convinced that improved my time any... Probably because I could feel that I didn't have a lot of traction, and really I wanted to go forward, not sideways. *points* Course that way, yes?) Oh, and I managed to make it through without hitting any cones.

For that run one of the things I was trying to concentrate on was looking farther ahead. I kept catching myself not looking far enough down, and would chant to myself "look up, look up!" Part of the course I did okay with that, but any time I got into trouble I stopped looking ahead and started focusing on what was immediately ahead of me.

Finished the run, and pulled back onto grid to wait. As he pulled out for his run, one of the Focus guys chatted with me about how it went. Yay! I do much better runs when people are friendly and chatty I've found. I think having the guy running grid talking to me helped as well. I don't know why, but it seems to help.

The second run went better than the first, despite the car and I getting into a serious argument on one turn. (She won. She always wins, because I let her. The secret to our relationship is that I do whatever it takes to make her happy, and she doesn't spin out and do bad things. Happily, she's relatively undemanding, so it all works well.) I still had the back end go light and head sideways on that one particular turn. I was wondering if my tires are getting old/worn out/grumpy and that's why I was having traction issue on that turn. Turbo was there today and I asked her about it, and she doesn't think so.

*pause*

*inspiration strikes* Duh!

I just realized what the problem was. That part of that turn had some really chewed-up asphalt. I had noted it on the course walk, and had (obviously) forgotten about that until just now. Duh. No wonder I was having that problem. Geh. Would have been nice if I'd remember that earlier -- like when I still had runs left!

Though I don't think that is the only reason for the sideways problem I was having there. Based on recommendations from the SF Region web site, I was running my tire pressures differently than I usually do, with 45 psi in front and 35 psi in back. After the autocross I forgot to put the pressure back to normal. When I was pulling a U-turn on the way home, I noticed that the back end getting that same floaty, heading sideways feeling I was noticing on course as soon as I tried accelerating out of the turn. I'm sufficiently intrigued by this effect that I think I will leave the tires like that for a little bit, just to play around with it.

Anyway, getting back to the story... I ran the second run clean (no cones were harmed in the making of this run), and managed to knock two seconds off my time. This also met my goal of getting below 60 seconds. Very pleasing.

This run I spent pretty much the entire time chanting to myself "look ahead, look ahead". That helped for looking to the entrance for the next turn as I was going into each turn (i.e., look one turn ahead). It was distracting and probably cost me some concentration. But I think it helped. And I think in the long run eventually I will not need to consciously remind myself to look ahead, I'll just do it.)

(As an aside, I originally learned to look as far down the road is possible by driving to my grandparent's place. They lived up a one-lane country road that wound steadily up into the hills and was poorly maintained. So at any given time, I needed to be looking ahead to see if there was a car coming down, a cow standing in the middle of the road, or a cattle guard coming up. At the same time, I needed to keep an eye on what was directly in front of me to try and avoid bad pot holes, and fresh cow pies. Trust me on that last one, they are nasty to drive through since they make your tires slip and you end up with your car wearing cow excrement!)

Turbo wandered up while I was on grid waiting for my third run. She asked how it was going and we chatted a bit. One of the Lexus's on grid was rather amusing. I guess there were a bunch of people who wanted a ride, so they had five people crammed in! Ummm, okay. I guess that's, um, added ballast on the drive wheels? It might not have been the way to achieve fast times, but at least they all seemed to be having fun, and the rest of us found it amusing to watch.

The idea hit me to ask Turbo to ride along on my last run, and see if she had any feedback on what I could be working on to improve. She grabbed a helmet, jumped in, and we were off.

Before the run she had mentioned that I needed to keep in mind that the weight and balance would be a little different since I had a passenger on-board. At first I think I was too nervous about having Turbo watching my driving to think too much about the added weight. That, and the first right-hand turn wasn't that sharp, and I was concentrating on shifting up, which distracted me. (It frequently does this; I always look forward to getting in second gear so I can quit worrying about it and get back to focusing on just steering.) But the next right-hand turn I took, oof! It took a moment to get things settled back out again, and thereafter I paid a lot more attention to compensating for the extra weight.

(Non car people are probably wondering why I am saying such rude things about Turbo, and if she's really that fat. Car people are probably saying, Duh, you dork! In reality, no, she is not overweight. Driving a car is utterly guided by Newtonian mechanics, and added mass always makes a difference. Sure, a person's weight isn't that large a percentage when compared to a car's weight. But I'm used to the normal weight distribution on my car, so suddenly adding 150-plus pounds is a factor to be taken into account.

This is, BTW, part of why I generally don't like having passengers, and won't drive as aggressively when I do have passengers.)

I again managed to improve on my time for that run -- this time by only about half a second, rather than the previous run's two second improvement. Happily, I made the entire event with no cone-slayage. Yay! Let's see if I can do that again. ^_^

Turbo suggested that I run the pressure in the front tires just a little bit lower (by one or two pounds.) She also commented that I should shift earlier. Makes sense, that run I shifted the latest of the three, and I knew it had caused problems. Actually, thinking about it now, I had the least problem with the crossover on the run that I shifted the earliest. Hmm... She also mentioned that she could feel me compensating for the additional weight -- at one point she was wondering what the heck I was doing so wide on one part of the course. I laughed, and commented that at that point, I had thought to myself, what the heck am I doing way out here?

She said I did the chicanes very well. ^_^ (There were two, which weren't quite contiguous.) Chicanes I can do, thanks to lots of practice scooting in between a parked car and a speed bump in the parking lot at work.

All in all, it was a very satisfying day. I have a few things to work on, and a few ideas to play around with. I have a lot of mental attitude-adjustment to play around with, and I think that's the area where I will see the most immediate returns. Happily, some of that is stuff that I can work on even when I'm not driving in an autocross!

Speaking of not running in an autocross, this round was the end of the championship season. Slush season will start up in September. But we won't have as many events for a while. And I will miss all of the events in October due to being out of town. *pout*

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