Sandpanther (sandpanther) wrote,

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Autocross Impressions

I'd meant to do this after watching the first autocross event I went to, but I didn't get to it. So, now y'all get two for the price of one.

Okay, a little background. Autocross is a form of autosport where you take a big, empty parking lot and you lay out a twisty little course using a bunch of traffic cones. Then you drive around it as fast as you can, time it, and try to beat each other's times. Oh, and try not to hit any cones (as tempting a target as they may be.)

Folks run a wide range of cars, some with modifications, many basically stock. So while there were a lot of people running nice sports cars (Porches, Corvettes, etc.), I also saw people running Taurases, Maximas, and Saturns. There was one guy running a stock Lexus who was spanking some of the 'Vettes and Porches. (More on him later.) They do sort the cars into classes, so in general you are running against cars that are roughly the same performance level as yours.

Oh, one other thing about autocross. The course changes every meet. Before cars start running there is a course walk-through, and participants are given a map with their registration packet. You get three runs on the course. Try not to hit any cones.

Sunday was the second time I went to watch. I went for a little while a couple of weeks ago, but didn't get to see more than one run group, since I had to leave for class. The class I got to see that time was the modifieds and "super stock" ('Vettes, Porches, sports BMWs and Mercedes, and an FD, red.) That day, the first guy out drove this old '74 Corolla which he had obviously put a lot of work in on. He also had clearly had a lot of seat time, 'cause he was faaaaast. Some of the other, muscle cars seemed faster, but I think it was mainly because they would accelerate harder. This guy, wow, he knew what he was doing. It was a beauty to behold. He set the second fastest time in that group, and was only beat by another guy driving either the same old, yellow Corolla, or by a guy driving another old, yellow Corolla.

After watching that group, I walked away with a firm belief that the really fast guys were not the ones with the screaming tires and the roaring engines. It was the ones that you looked at and thought, "he's not going that fa--aaah! Look at his time!" Smooth and consistent was a lot more important than fast acceleration and burning rubber.

(Anyone else thinking that sounds familiar? Yeah...)

So that was last time. On to this time.

This time I decided to ditch class and catch the afternoon run groups, since most of what I wanted to see was later in the day. I also didn't feel like getting moving too early in the morning. Which is almost a shame, since the weather was better earlier. More on that later.

I grabbed the roommie, and we headed over around 12:30 or 1-ish. I think we caught the last of the morning group, since they had a course walk right after they finished. (They do two course walks, one for those who run in the morning, one for those who run in the afternoon.) I remember next to nothing about the first group, other than that they were really good at wiping out cones, and the course workers were really entertaining -- when they weren't making me worry that they were about to get hit! One of them in particular really didn't get the basics of "always keep your eye on the car". Most of this groups were higher-powered rear-wheel cars, so we got to see a couple of nice spin-outs. One guy really liked to spin out. He made me nervous, since he would accelerate as he was spinning, and he usually spun out in a section of the course right in front of where we were perched.

The next group mainly consisted of, well, cars that I know something about. Integras, Celicas (oh, Celica!), WRX's, a couple of Silvia's, a couple of Civic's, and a violent orange MazdaSpeed Protoge. (Needless to say, we called the latter "Kenta". "Kenta" was a shared car, so two different drivers ran it. Thus, we saw a lot of "Kenta". Neither of "Kenta"'s drivers stood out in my mind beyond the car. But they also did not eat too many cones. Not that one would necessarily notice them anyway, since the bright orange traffic cones would blend nicely with the orange paint job. Still, I've been wanting to see a MazdaSpeed Protoge in action, since I'd heard good things about it. And it was sure hard to miss.)

About this time we started noticing that the announcer was getting punchy. He would pop off with some really quite entertaining comments. Some of my favorites were:

"So-and-so finished with a XX.XXX time. Plus a whole bunch of cones." (Hitting a cone incurs a two-second time penalty.)
"And so-and-so is just about to finish. His last two times were DNF (Did Not Finish), so that shouldn't be too hard to top."

One entertaining conversation:

Me (listening to a really weird-sounding Integra): My car doesn't sound like that, does it?
Roommie: I don't think so.
A moment later...
Announcer: There goes car #XXX, sounding like a kazoo.
Me: *falls off the wall, laughing*
(It really did sound like a kazoo. It was kind of disturbing.)

There wasn't a lot of great excitement in that group that I remember. The fastest time was put down by a guy in a WRX (with gold wheels -- nobody does gold wheels like Subaru), who was so calmly smooth that one of the other spectators standing near-by me didn't believe that it had turned that time for a minute. I think his was one of the four fastest times that I saw that day. (I did not see the fastest time being set, as it had been done earlier in the day.)

I don't remember a whole lot about the group afterwards, other than that the announcer had a lot of fun making comments. Particularly comments about the numbers on the cars. "And there goes a black S2000 with UNREADABLE DARK GRAY LETTERS." (The numbers being difficult to read was a particular pet peeve with the announcer, and he made it a point to either compliment or mock each car, depending on how readable their numbers were. The drivers, of course, probably could not hear his comments. The spectators were quite amused, though.)

Oh, the cars in this group were mainly rear-drive, two-seaters. A couple of Porches, several S2000's, some MR2's, and a whole heaping ton of Miatas. The large presence of Miatas might have been why I don't really remember a lot of this group.

No, wait. The presence of the FOG moving in was probably why I didn't remember much of this group. It turned steadily freezing. About this time I realized that I couldn't feel my toes any longer. I was contemplating sending out a search-and-rescue squad to see if they could locate my missing toes when my roomie asked how much longer I wanted to stay, and commented that she would need to get her coat out of the car if we were sticking around for a while. We were almost at the end of that run group, and the group behind it looked to be mostly grocery-getters (i.e., non-sport passenger cars.) I figured that it was getting about time to head out, so said that I wanted to catch the end of the group we were watching, but figured that I was a little too cold to watch a bunch of Civics. (The comment was unfair -- there were very few Civics in that group, and they were generally fairly good. And I was eventually glad we stuck around, because the aforementioned guy in a Lexus with hot pink, totally readable letters ran. IIRC, his best time was better than the aforementioned WRX with gold wheels. I guess the guy is a regular, because the announcer commented several times that the guy was just too darn fast, and he was embarassing people with fancier cars by putting in better times than them in a car that was several classes lower. It was quite amusing to listen to. His driving was really awesome to watch!)

Not long after, they moved that group out to get lined up for their turn. Those cars cleared the secondary grid, and a few minutes later (while the previous group was still running), the group that would be the last run group of the day started lining up. I didn't think anything of it until my roommie pointed out that there were some intersting-looking cars in the next group. I turn around and look. Yeah, there's a pretty blue FC, an MR2... Oh. Yeah. A white Corolla GT-S hatchback. Not quite a double for the Tofumobile, but close. We ponder the relative merits of feeling in our extremities versus watching a Hachiroku running. A minute later, the first Corolla was joined by a couple of other friends. Um, yeah. Toes can wait. We go back to the car to get more warm things.

(We probably could have just pulled the car up close to the barriers seperating off the track, and just sat inside and been warm. But I guess then we wouldn't have been able to hear the announcer, so that wouldn't have been as much fun.)

In the end there were three different white GT-S hatchbacks, and another three or four notchbacks. Tofu heaven!

... Not!

Sadly, we decided that pretty much all of them got their tofu licences revoked after the first run. A couple of them got them back on the second run, but most of them stayed in the "no tofu for you!" category. They probably could have benefitted from a cup of water, since watching them, you could tell that they had a bit of polishing to do on their weight shifting.

(Weight shifting, by the way, was something that was very clearly demonstrated by the part of the track right in front of us. You could tell who kept their balance well and who didn't by how cleanly they could take that section. It was rather fascinating to watch. I wonder if it was as clear when one was driving it.)

As one of them was finishing out its last run, I happened to notice that it's front licence plate was a Japanese plate! Ack!! Why couldn't I have noticed this earlier?? I thought, no problem, all the cars have been driving past us as they come out, I'll just check it out then. Well... heh. This one didn't. There was another part where they could drive out, and out he went. I didn't realize it for quite a while. I spotted him on the way out, but wasn't close enough to read anything pertinent off the plate. (Like, well, anything.) I firmly resisted the urge to be an utter dork and pull up next to him to look. Rest assured that I will do my best to stalk him the next time I go to an event! Mwahahaha!!

For those interested, the next event that I'm planning on going to is on March 23, at Candlestick. I'm trying to get everything together so I can actually run in that one. Then I too can compete for the title of Coneslayer, Bane of Traffic Cones!

I think that's just about everything of interest that I remember. I know there was a lot more interesting stuff going on, but I just cannot remember it right now. Oh well. There will be later.

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