I spent the day wallowing around Willow Springs International Motorsports Park last Monday. I was supposed to be doing anything but wallowing, but wallowing was pretty much all I did. I was participating in a PCA GPX Region Day Away From Work event. Cumulatively, it was my fifth day of high performance drivers education. A dispassionate observer would perceive it to be my fifth day starring in the movie Groundhog Day, as I seem to have to start from ground zero every time.
The event was billed as a drivers education and autocross day. We drove clockwise on the Streets of Willow track. Streets is the small, technical track at Willow Springs. Willow Springs describes the Streets track as useful for testing and tuning. In our case it was useful for learning—at least for some of us. Willow Springs has another track, Big Willow, which was built for speed and for more experienced drivers. I doubt I will ever drive on it, and that is okay with me.
Most participants experienced the day as billed. For me it was yet another humbling attempt at circumnavigating a race track in a proficient manner. I participated in the education portion. I did not even consider the autocross portion. Don’t get me wrong. I had a blast. I really enjoyed the event, which was really well implemented. I also had the chance to meet and hang out with many really nice people. But, as usual, I was painfully aware that I just do not have the desire, personality or skills to excel at this.
But I do have a car that does. My 2015 Porsche Cayman GTS is an amazing all around car. It is good on the street, and, in theory, good on the track. I am not sure I will ever drive my car too much beyond five tenths of its limits, as I am way better suited to being an accountant than a driver. My instructor for the day, Ian, never considered being an accountant, and it showed. Ian started life as a fighter pilot. He sees the world very differently than me. On top of that, he is a track junkie. He also has a Cayman GTS. Not surprisingly, he spec’d his for the track, eschewing most options that added too much weight. Options that I would deem absolutely necessary. After my first less than stellar lapping session with Ian, he offered to drive me around the track a few times in his car at what he felt was seven or eight tenths.
The time I spent in the passenger seat in Ian’s car was very instructive on many levels. I learned that Ian can drive, with a capital D. I learned that he could actually follow the line around the track that kept vanishing like a mirage for me. As my brain fired off warning signals, continuously triggering my fight or flight hormones, I learned that the Cayman GTS is a helluva car on the track. To be fair to Ian, his skills were spot on. His technique was excellent. His line was precise. I never felt like we were out of control. I just never felt comfortable that the car could do what Ian was asking it to do. Boy, was I wrong! I did learn one other lesson—I had no interest in ever going around the track that fast. That does not mean I did not want to get better, though.
What made Ian a good instructor for me was that, despite his uber macho fighter pilot training, he was able to understand my needs, and we shifted focus from speed to smoothness. It turned out that besides being slow on my first lapping session, I was also abrupt and jerky in applying inputs to the car. For the remainder of the day we focused on smoothness, starting with steering and then touching on accelerating. We ran out of time before we tackled braking, leaving me something to work on next time. We also worked on my seat and hand position, as I have a bad habit of shifting my hands out of the preferred 9 and 3 o’clock positions.
I definitely improved during my next three lapping sessions. Some of my improvement related to learning the track. Some related to working on what Ian was telling me. Some related to the confidence I had in the car. When I finished my last session, I realized that I had improved dramatically during the day. For a couple of minute at a time during the third and fourth lapping sessions Ian actually did not perceive the need to pepper me with constructive comments as I drove, a sure sign I was improving. I was reminded yet again that smoothness comes first. Speed follows.
My day ended when the autocross began. I was beat. I had arrived at the event hotel the afternoon before. I sat through two hours of ground school where I listened to a lot of information that was well organized, well presented, well intended and, through no fault of the speakers, ultimately not well processed, though I did get it into my head that I needed to get cotton socks for safety reasons. After ground school was over and before the group dinner, I trekked over to Walmart to buy some socks. I was beyond shocked at how crowded Walmart was at 7:30 pm on a Sunday night, but that needs to be part of an entirely different story. I was up early the morning of the track day. During the four lapping sessions I had spent over 75 minutes driving on the track. I was done. I took a few pictures of the guys doing the autocross, cleaned the painter’s tape off my car, put all my luggage and loose items back into my car, and headed home.
My ride home was pretty uneventful, and it gave me the opportunity to keep my hands in the 9 and 3 o’clock positions, something I have been working on all week, and even used during the 100 plus miles I put on my 89 Carrera this weekend. Pam came home after I got home, and after verifying that I was okay and that I had a good time she asked, “Why did you leave tape on your car?” I had no idea what she was talking about. I was sure I had removed all of it. I was wrong. I guess I was so tired before I left that I missed a few spots. Her next words were, “What did you do to your front tires? The tread looks disgusting!” I guess I did a little less wallowing than I thought.