Yes, today was the start of the autocross season for the San Francisco Region. From what I saw it wasn't too much of a boondoggle, but since I left after the second run group, it was a little early to tell.
The day started off with rain, which settled into an annoying drizzle, and then eventually stopped altogether. The course was a lot less wet than last time, but still was very far from dry, even after two run groups were done with it.
The course designer did something cool this time. Usually the starting line is off to the left, and the finish is off to the right of the area (when looking at the course from the motorhome.) This time they were reversed. It made things feel a little different from usual, even if it wasn't actually a major change.
Since I had two other commitments for today and was in the second run group, I opted for helping with course set-up and getting that to count as my work assignment. Unforutnately, this entailed getting there long before the sun came up. Bleh.
Set-up went quickly, and without too much wet. I skipped the driver's meeting in favor of getting my car tech'd and on grid, then wandered over to a conveniently-placed electrical tower to watch the first group.
I don't know why, but despite the rain, we keep not having really spectacular spin-outs. The first run group was exclusively rear-drivers (Miatas, MR-2's, and a couple of S2000's), but for the most part, they were able to keep it together on the wet. There was one guy who was just trying waaaaay too hard who provided some entertainment. First he spun coming out of the slalom, then he nicked some cones followed by taking out most of the showcase corner. I didn't catch if he managed anything else for an encore, since I was watching the guy behind him.
That fellow also spun. But he ended up in happy-land: the course workers were still messing around with trying to set up the course again, and he ended up screaming to a halt, wondering what the heck all the people were doing on the course. That must not have been a fun moment for him. Getting another run after he spun must have been nice, though.
That group finished, and my group was up. They put GS and HS in with the Street Tire group, thus making one humongous run group. I sort of wish that we didn't have such large gaps, since it's easy to lose concentration between runs when you have to wait twenty-odd minutes before you get your second chance. It does, however, allow lots of opportunity for socializing, which was cool. I chatted with several drivers who I knew from previous events. I also met a guy who is in GS-N who I didn't know, who drives an RSX Type-S.
Huh? I hear you say. A Type-S is supposed to be in D Stock, right? Well, no. It turns out that they re-classed it, so now it's down in GS. Yipee. I envy him the width on his tires -- the RSX comes with 225-45's stock. *sniff* I would have to change classes to get that kind of tire width. Must think on that for the future. (Er, and figure out if I can fit that wide a tire -- mine comes with 195's stock.)
I had two big goals for this event: Drive a little uncomfortable, and look ahead. The "look ahead" part is pretty straightforward. I know I have a problem with not looking far enough down the course. I've been spending time during normal driving over the winter trying to get comfortable with trusting my peripheral vision. I know I can do it -- and even know that under certain circumstances I DO do it. I just don't while autocrossing. Need to fix that.
The "drive a little uncomfortable" part is from a book Steffan has on competition driving. In it the author comments that if you're always feeling comfortable when you're driving, then you're not driving fast enough. To get really fast, you have to drive a little scared. Obviously this only applies in competition driving -- in normal street driving one should ALWAYS feel completely comfortable while driving. But he has a point. I know usually I autocross conservatively,and it costs me time. This needs to stop.
The first run went well. I spent a lot of time looking ahead, and a lot of time feeling a little nervous. Nothing serious, just not entirely comfortable. I nearly lost it at the end of the slalom, when the back end went left when I was trying to go right. I managed to pull it out just in time -- and failed to knock out the cones at the end of the slalom -- but I knew I lost time on it. I spent the next part of the course chortling to myself about pulling out that bobble, and was in a fine mood when I crossed the final timing beam. Based on the times I'd seen in the first run group, I had set an event goal for myself of getting below 60 seconds. My first time was a 60.899. Good start toward the goal. And hey, it beat that Skyline's last time!
(What Skyline? I hear you ask. It turns out that we had a right-hand drive Skyline running today. It completely boggled me when I first spotted it, and I spent quite a while having a debate with myself along the lines of "That looks like a Skyline. Nah, it can't be a Skyline. But it looks like a Skyline. But it can't be a Skyline. Any chance it's a Skyline, 'cause it really looks like one. Oh, no, it can't be a Skyline." Well, it was a Skyline. A kind of slow-ish Skyline -- I expected a lot more out of one, even if it was a GT-S (which I don't know if it was or not since I never did figure out the exact model.))
I creamed a cone in the slalom on the second run. Feh. I also made a mistake toward the end where I tapped the brakes when I didn't mean to. Since I was coming out of one turn and setting up to go into another one, it caused the back end to step out. Feh. I controlled the slide with no problem, but it did lose me time. Bad foot, keep off the brake! If I hadn't creamed the cone, that would have been my best time of the day. As it was, it was a bit slower than the last run, thanks to my evil friend in orange.
I think I lost concentration on the third run. I thought I was pushing hard, but I think I was doing more push hard then brake too hard. At one point after I finished the slalom, I noticed a courseworker running out to replace a cone. Huh? But I didn't feel hitting any! Oh well, there wasn't anyone else near by, so it must have been mine. *sniff* Of course, the very fact that I was noticing courseworkers running around on parts of the course behind me tells me that I wasn't focusing as hard as I should have. I made a mistake early in on the course (though I can't remember what), and hadn't been pushing as hard as I could. Ignoring the cone, time-wise it was between the first and second runs. With the cone, it made my worst time of the day.
Thinking about the last two runs, I think that I was pushing too hard in the wrong way. I would accelerate hard, then brake hard for the corners, rather than carrying a lot of speed through the turns. I think this is a reaction to the "drive a little scared" thing -- or rather, an avoidance of it. It doesn't take a lot to go fast in a straight line. But going fast through a turn can be a lot more scary. I think my brain was trying to avoid having to deal with the scary hang-on feeling through the turns by convincing myself that I was driving a little too fast by going hard on the straights and the braking into the turns. If that makes any sense. At any rate, the "accelerate half way - brake half way" isn't my style. In normal road driving I work hard at adjusting the speed so that I don't hit the brakes. I need to get that same style to apply on the autocross course. It's something to think about for later.
All in all, I am very pleased with this event. I looked ahead on the course a lot more, and I think that was starting to show a little in my times. I have consistently had a problem where I will start very slow and cautious and build up speed and confidence. This is fine -- if I have six or seven runs. But my region's style is to get it right in just three runs, just like at Nationals. I need to work on really going for it on the first run, so that I can take that experience and improve on it for the second and third runs. Basically, I need to do on my first run what I would normally do on the third. From my first run being my fastest time, and from how little of a gap I had in straight times between all three runs, I think I made some progress in that area. (Normally I would have at least a two-second gap between the first and second times, and if I had a clean day, then I would have an additional second and a half gap between the second and third times. Usually by the sixth run, I'm getting into competative times.) And it was all a heaping ton of fun.
I played around a bit with my camera, and trying to improve on shooting moving cars. I need to look up how to use some of the more advanced features on my camera, but I think I have a little bit better of an idea on how to get the camera to shoot what I want in focus. I haven't downloaded the pictures yet, so it's hard to tell for sure how well anything turned out, but I think some progress was made there as well.
I also had a lot of fun chatting with folks. I think this is one of the first events where I actually felt like I belonged with the group, and that there was a real sense of community. While folks are friendly enough if you approach them, I've always had kind of a hard time feeling like I fit in. This time I spent a lot of time chatting with folks -- both folks who I knew already, and with new folks. I spent a while talking tires with a guy who runs in my class in a Civic Si (and totally trounces me, but hey, he's nice and it's all fun. He's always checking out everyone else's tires, and it kind of reminds me of some bits from Rally Catalunya where everyone was spying on each other's tire choices. But then, I am easily amused.) I was amused by one of the newbies who -- upon seeing me walk up to my car in the grid -- asked "are you driving?" in a startled tone of voice. I took great pleasure in telling him that yes, I'm driving, and yes, I've been coming to autocrosses for a while now.
So all in all, it was a good day. Need to check out when the next event is. I think it's going to be a few weeks.