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So I finally did it: I raced in a sanctioned auto race this past weekend (Aug 2-3). It was at Road America in WI with NASA in my (FINALLY finished) Porsche 944, which I had prepped for the 944spec series (as apposed to 944Cup which is more open). Each race day is three sessions: Practice (20 mins), qualifying (20 mins) and a race (40 mins to give us enough laps since RA is a long track at 4 miles/lap). I should note that we ran with several other classes for a total of more than 30 cars on the track at once, with more than a full minute separating the fastest car from the slowest.

While I have been driving DE's* for the last 4 years, as well as attending SkipBarber 3 and 2 day racing schools, this was my very first w2w racing ever. I took a whole week off from work so I could get the car ready/finished -- which took working on it 12 hours a day for 6 days.

Day 1: Friday, Aug 1
Leave home at around 5:30 AM, having packed everything in the trailer the night before. Arrive at the track around 11:00 AM and head into registration. Friday was listed as a "test and tune", and while I was registered for the races on Saturday and Sunday I wanted to get as much time in the car before hand so I signed up for the TnT right there -- giving me two 20 min sessions to get my feet wet in this car. Also, since I just finished the car the day before, it hadn't been inspected yet so I first inquired about getting that done. Found out it wasn't really necessary until Saturday and I could run Friday as-is.

So the first thing I find out about is why you take someone along to help. Getting ready to go in a fully prepped race car is amazingly difficult by yourself, and I was the only 944 guy there at the time. I'm not talking about just getting into the seat. I mean getting to the point when you are ready to get out on the track. With the rollbar padding and racing seat bolsters, it is VERY hard to move around (by design) to get to anything you need. You need to turn left to secure the window net -- which is extremely difficult with the seat bolsters. Then there's trying to get the belts over the HANS device, and getting used to attaching the quick release tethers to the helmet, which took a lot of practice since you have to do it by feel. It took me a few times to get the easiest pattern down (which was: put helmet, HANS, gloves, steering wheel in passenger side, climb in, secure net, put on HANS, helmet, belts, gloves, steering wheel -- in that order). Again, that was by myself. With a helper, it is MUCH easier. Not to mention I forgot to turn on my kill switch so I had to undo everything, climb out, hit the switch, and do it all over again. :panic: However, once you are securely in place, you don't notice any of it and feel very much part of the car.

The two sessions were uneventful (a good thing) and I just tried to get used to the car as this was the first time I had driven it over 25 mph. I noticed it was very squirrely under braking and wanted to drive off the track while tracking out. I was forced to go much slower through the turns than I felt was possible and I suspected it was the lack of a proper alignment (or any kind of alignment, for that matter).

Around 7:00 PM I took the car to have it inspected. I needed to get a full annual inspection and my car's logbook. Their chief inspector was there doing the work. Stereotypical grizzled old racer who wasn't too happy about the 7 or 8 of us that waited until the end of the day to get it done. So I was expecting him to really nit-pick my car apart. Not so. He only found two minor issues that he let go with just a comment that I need to do them at some point. And as he was finishing, while looking at his book he said, "This is a good car. You did a good job." :coolnana:

Day 2: Saturday Aug, 2
Get up at 5:30 AM to make it to the track in time to go over the car making sure tire pressures, oil and fuel are OK. Driver's meeting was at 7:30AM with the practice session starting at 8:00AM. The driver's meeting was pretty good, with the race director noting everyone should avoid any contact since there wouldn't be a big pot of money at the end of the race and contact just costs money, so you do the math.

Practice went well, but I was still noting the wild handling. It was an eye opener to drive wheel-to-wheel in such heavy traffic. This was the biggest item I would have to get used to. I wouldn't say I was scared, but it was nerve racking to have 5 cars (not in my class) fighting to get around me, all the while trying to drive a squirrely car at the limit. I was just a rolling chicane only getting a best lap of 2:59.xxx.

Qualifying was even more nerve racking as everyone got more aggressive (understandably so). I just tried to hold my line as much as possible, and since this was my first time, I let up a few time just to get guys away from me while coming into some trickier corners. I did ok, too, qualifying 3rd out of 5 cars in my class. I get my best lap time down to 2:57.4xx.

The race was very fun and I ended up taking 2nd place. Mainly because 2 of our guys were late to grid and had to start from the pits putting them 45 seconds behind. The whole race was just me trying to get used to driving my line, handling a squirrely car, and dealing with faster traffic. I did manage to pull of some good passes against more experienced drivers, so I was pretty happy overall with a best lap of 2:56.9xx.

Soon after the race, I had VFC Engineering (who were giving track-side support at a very reasonable $175/day) give me a full alignment with corner balance. And wouldn't you know it: I had 7mm toe OUT in back! :eek: They were pretty impressed that I managed to drive the car all day without spinning and was able to qualify 3rd -- just 0.3 sec behind 2nd place. They adjusted height, toe and camber at all four corners. Time for some sleep!!

Day 3: Sunday, Aug 3
Up again at 6:00AM, eat, and at the track at 7:00AM. I'm excited to see what a difference the alignment made. VFC makes sure the car is all set with tire pressure, oil, fuel, brake fluid. The first practice session is amazing. The car was so much more stable. I was able to confidently trail brake in every corner and carry much more speed through them without the car trying to drive sideways into the wall. I end up 2 sec a lap faster after only one session with the setup -- that's 2 sec a lap faster than the setup I had 5 sessions to get used to. Best lap: 2:55.0xx.

Qualifying goes better as well, with my confidence in both the car and traffic growing. However, as usual, I get a bit overconfident in Canada corner and try to see how deep I can go before braking. I didn't spin, but did get the car swung out to about 89 degrees ("What? This isn't a drifting competition?"). That was shame, too, because I was on what was probably my best lap of the weekend :( . Oh well, I still ended up 3rd in class with a 2:54.7xx.

The race was exciting to say the least. We ran with an inverted class so I was 2nd on the grid. At the green flag I maintained my position pretty well, with only our spec director (last years national 944 spec champ) getting by me after T5. I'm doing my best to keep up with him and manage to maintain a 3-4 car length gap as we go around the first lap. And then after Canada corner his car becomes a huge ball of white-blue smoke. For a split second, I wondered why he was lighting up the tires on what is effectively a straight (for our cars). Then I realize he's lost his engine or something. Then I realize I'm sliding all over the place as he's dumping oil on the track! :crazyeyes Somehow I managed to keep control and moved off line while he went into the grass. Later I learned he blew out his oil filter gasket.

Now we are under full course yellow and following the pace car around. After 1 lap of that, I notice my giant "!" idiot light on my dash is lit. Not being familiar with the car, I decided to go into the pits and see what the problem is. One of the VFC guys checks me out and says since I have good oil pressure and temp to go back out. OK, I go back out but now I'm at the back of the whole pack. The pace car is still out at this point. After a quarter of a lap, I now see the issue: My voltmeter is reading low -- I've lost the alternator and am running on the battery. My battery is a small Odyssey brand. I prayed it would get me through the race. The pace car goes out and we are back to racing. Now I'm driving like hell to catch up and eventually work my way back to 2nd place in class -- all the while watching my voltmeter slowly falling. With less than 1 lap to go, the car dies with no battery :( . I end up 3rd, with a best lap time of 2:54.4xx. Turned out one of the alternator belt tensioner bolts came out which caused the belt to loosen and come off. So I just need to get a bolt and belt and should be ok.

Summary
All in all, it was a great time and a HUGE learning experience. Getting used to driving in traffic as a slower car is tough and will take me a while before I feel comfortable with it. I'm pretty good at overtaking but not so much with being overtaken. It unnerves me when I'm in heavy braking and I can see someone making a move to the inside -- especially if it's someone in a car that is close in performance to mine. I was only bumped once all weekend. It was coming into T5 under braking. I had a spec Miata right on my bumper and he just misjudged the timing slightly. It was very minor and didn't even leave a noticeable mark.

So it was a winning weekend for me: I'm alive, I didn't wreck the car and I didn't cause anyone else to wreck. :)

*DE = Driver's Education, also "HPDE" (or High Performance Driver's Ed).
 

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there is no going back to hpde.
glad you took the step into racegroup.
I will be taking the spec 944 out for the first time in sept.
My DB-1 weighs ~ 1,100 lbs with me in it, the 944 is 2625 minimum weight coming off the track.

just some advice about getting passed, be predictable on your line, and if they are out of class, just make it easy for them to go by you(point by like in DE), they will appreciate it............ your not racing them anyway.

your life just changed for the better, racing is very addicting.
 

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Congratulations!!!! That was a real pleasure to read...best of luck to you on your future races and please keep us updated on your progress.
Be good,
TomK
 

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Awesome. I plan on doing some spec racing at some point and its good to hear that it is as fun as it looks.
 

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Hi, Conan,

That was a great writeup. I'm in my second year of DE's and love it, and would like to try racing in a couple more years. You gave a great feeling of what's involved. Thanks.

Wendy
 

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I had VFC Engineering (who were giving track-side support )
Good idea. You can't work on your car and race it.

The cost of club racing is far more than HPDE (IMHO about 5 times as much).
 

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a great writeup.
i envy the heck out of you.
after racing wheel to wheel, driving will never be the same.
there's no experience i've had that equalled the unbridled pleasure of it.
it doesn't matter what you drive, it's just wonderful fun.
enjoy!
sam, a has-been
 

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cool, welcome to the wonderful world of w2w! What are the fastest Spec944's doing RA in?
 

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Fun read, Good luck with your racing. Competiton changes everything.:clap:
 
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