Wednesday, May 23, 2007

AutoCross School article for NORPCA

NOR PCA has published the article so I think it is okay to post this now . . .

NORPCA AutoCross School

The night before the AutoCross school there was a late snow fall. When I looked out at the roads before going to bed, I was concerned the event would not be held. When the alarm clock rang at god awful in the morning, I was SURE the event was cancelled. When I said as much to my wife, she replied “you just want to sleep longer”. This changed my mind. My sloth was not going to keep me from some fun with my “new” 911. Even if all I did was drive 45 minutes out and 45 minutes back, I was going.

On the way to the event I spotted a white 944. I was glad to have confirmation that others were making the trek. When I arrived at the event site / parking lot, there were a number of other cars there. All of the drivers and instructors were out in the cold, doing the tech inspection on the cars. For my car, there was some concern about my battery – it was not tied down and the terminals were close to sheet metal. Luckily Gino lent me a tie down and some racer’s tape to correct the issues.

After the tech inspection was a drivers meeting. The morning was very cold. All of the drivers and instructors huddled inside the bus stop / shelter during the drivers meeting. The instructors reviewed the rules of the event, gave a basic walkthrough of how the day would progress and what we would learn. There were enough instructors available to provide one for each car. The class concentrated on demonstrating some of the common features of an autocross course. We had amble opportunity to run the course, with feedback from the instructors on how to improve.

I had mixed feelings as we lined up for the walk through of the course. I was a bit anxious about the day. I had little chance to drive the car. Having heard about “tail happy” 911’s all my life; I expected the car have a wicked and unexpected over steer. Previously I had driven front wheel drive cars prone to under steer. I had concern about showing poor car control. Also, I was excited to begin learning more about how the car would handle and I was looking forward to having some fun with the car. Walking through the course reduced my fears. As we walked through the course, each feature was explained. Details on how to approach that feature, the best way to keep speed up through the feature and common mistakes were explained in detail. This instruction reduced my fear and I quickly realized that the walk through was a valuable way to improve your time.

We then drove through the course at a slow pace. I was able to take the car through the course without incident. Each time through the course I picked up the pace, trying to listen and apply the instructions and critique I was hearing. Soon, I was able to get the car up into second gear. It is amazing the amount of fun I had driving, for the most part, less than 30 mph. I did discover that my fears of over steer were … overstated. At no point did I lose control of the car due to over steer. Under steer, on the other hand, was the bane of my existence. I just could not let up on the steering wheel enough to get the tires to bite. Especially not when there were cones in front of me. Of course all I was accomplishing by turning the wheel harder was skidding into those same cones. It was great fun!

Because of the high instructor to student ratio, we were able to do a run, hear the feedback, and then do another run right after it. This seemed to be the best learning experience for me. I never really had a chance to over think the course. Not having too much sideline time kept my nerves down.

After lunch, the course was reversed. This made for a really interesting experience. Seeing the same curves, slalom and “garage” from the other direction changed the whole experience. By the end of the day I was much more confident with my car. I knew how it would react in different situations and had lost some of my concern about car control. I think the event taught me a great deal. I would recommend the autocross training to anyone who is interested in knowing more about their car and how it handles. I had to have the grin surgically removed from my face. I cannot wait to do this again.

1 comment:

Philippe said...


Great seeing you yesterday. Your 911 is beautiful and you got a very sweet deal. it for a great price.
I look forward to seeing it in person one of these next weekends in Pittsburgh when you take your class.
I'd also like to send you some pics of my toys (Nomad, Chopper, my ex-Corvette). Shoot me your email addy. Mine is
Have a great Memorial Day and talk to you soon.