A Lap Around Buttonwillow Raceway Park
Here’s my track guide to Buttonwillow Raceway Park’s configuration #13 (clockwise). I’ll also detail my track day on April 28, 2007 more here. Enjoy!
Here’s a video Patrick from www.hpdedriver.com shot from his 2005 Subaru Impreza WRX STi (not stock and much faster than mine) on April 8, 2007. I met Patrick at my first track day at California Speedway on March 5, 2005. In this video, he turned a lap of 2:09.xxx. My best (recorded…more later) lap was a 2:12.215.
I think it’s best if you watch the video first, read what I wrote regarding a lap around the track, and then watch the video again to get an idea of what I was saying. What you hear isn’t quite along the lines of what I hear while I’m driving because Patrick’s STi has a 6-speed transmission whereas my (lowly) WRX only has a 5-speed.
Crossing the start finish line, I’m traveling at about 90-92 mph depending on the exit I got out of “Sunset” on the lap I’m completing. If I got a really good exit out of “Sunset,” I’ll be going fast enough to shift from 3rd gear to 4th gear before I cross the line. If I didn’t get a great exit out of “Sunset,” I’ll upshift to 4th right after the line.
Barreling down the front straightaway, I start braking from 100-105 mph about mid-way through the “strip” of cones on the right that close off an access road. One of the things I don’t like about Buttonwillow Raceway Park is that there are a lot of turns that don’t have brake markers or other usable reference points for braking. I’ll get the car slowed to about 60 mph in 3rd gear for “Sunrise.” The car gets a little “loose” (back end gets squirrelly) going through here sometimes, but it’s nothing giving a little gas can’t solve.
I’ll accelerate out of “Sunrise” to about 75-80 mph before I have to start braking for the “Off Ramp.” It’s a tricky turn in that I make sure the car doesn’t get onto any of the curbing on the left that could upset it and thus extend the braking distance for the turn. Once the car is slowed down to about 20-25 mph in 2nd gear, I can get back on to the gas really early because of the car’s all-wheel drive.
Going along the “I-5,” I’ll upshift from 2nd to 3rd and get up to 85 mph or so before I have to start braking again for the “Cotton Corners.” Here is another braking zone where I don’t have a good reference for a braking point and instead must rely on where I “feel” would be good to start braking. The “Cotton Corners” are probably the most difficult turns on the track because I know I lose a decent amount of time to better-handling cars there. Braking is done to slow the car down to about 40 mph for the right-left combination. Sometimes, I’ll quickly tap the brakes for the left-hander to transfer weight to the front of the car to get the tires up front to bite better. Climbing the hill, I shift early (also known as “short-shifting”) into 3rd gear knowing I’ll be in all the way to “Riverside.”
After cresting the hill and coming down it on its left side, I lift off the gas and go to about 50% throttle for “Grapevine” at 60-65 mph and do almost the same (lift and go to about 65-70% throttle) for “Club Corner,” which is taken around 70 mph. If I turn-in too late for “Club Corner,” I’ll have to lift off the gas more and kill more of the momentum I want to carry through the “Bus Stop.” I found it was best to turn in early and try to clip the small curb on the inside of the turn.
Once out of “Club Corner,” I’m flat-out through the left bend of the “Bus Stop.” If I didn’t get through “Club Corner” well, I will usually have to lift a little to get through the same left bend because the line the car is taking is off the ideal line. I’ll get up to 80-85 mph before I have to stab the brakes for the left turn at the end of the “Bus Stop.” By stabbing the brakes and turning the car to the left quickly. The rear end of the car will usually slide a litle going through the turn and exiting it.
The “Truck Stop” right-hander is taken flat out leading into “Riverside.” At this point, the car is going about 90 mph. (“Riverside” is the location of my first ever spin off the track. It was drizzling on the morning of January 14, 2006. The car had extremely worn (less than 2/32″ of tread) rear tires on it (with no tread left, I was hoping to use the tires as “cheater/poor man’s slicks”). I turned in going only 50-55 mph and the back end quickly came around to where the front had once been resulting into a trip into the dirt run-off area.) A slight lift off the gas allows the car to rotate, back end stepping out slightly, as the car goes through the turn around 80-82 mph. Because of its banking, I can start getting on the gas well before I reach the late apex of the corner.
Shortly after exiting “Riverside,” I’m going fast enough to upshift to 4th gear before I take the next left turn before “Lost Hill” (some drivers call it “Magic Mountain”) flat-out. I’ll get to 100 mph, sometimes slightly over, before I start braking for “Lost Hill.
“Lost Hill” is my favorite turn on the track because it can be taken faster than it looks. I’ll brake from 100 mph or so down to 65-70 mph and downshift to 3rd for the right-hander (no brake markers here either). When you’re climbing the hill, it’s hard to see everything you would like to be able to see. As a result, I’m not always able to hit the apex I want on the curbing on the right side, but there’s enough grip in the turn allowing you to not be affected much by that. Coming down the hill, I’ve already got the gas pedal to the floorboard and will clip the curbing on the left at the very bottom of the hill.
The left kink that dumps the car back on to the “Dragstrip” can be taken flat out. Right after that kink, I’ll shift into 4th gear as I head for the “Sweeper.” The car will get up to approximately 95 mph before I have to brake down to 55-60 mph or so and downshift into 3rd. I take this turn with a partial amount of throttle and the back end lightly sliding through most of the turn. This turn is very tricky in that it has a really late apex and is decreasing in radius. Thankfully, there’s a cone set up on the left side of the track to serve as a reference for when you want your last turn-in to be. Sometimes I’ll lift off the throttle a little more to rotate the car and tuck the nose in so I can turn the car to the right to set it up for the “Esses.
The “Esses” can easily be taken flat-out. I’ll upshift to 4th at about 90 mph before I go through the last part of the “Esses.” While I’m going through the “Esses,” I get the car up onto the curbing for each part of the complex except the last left hander of the “Esses.” That last part can sometimes upset a car and cause it to exit wide. I think I made that mistake when I last drove at Buttonwillow on May 20, 2006. Because I didn’t handle my mistake properly, I ended up spinning out and in the dirt. I almost kept the car from spinning, but wasn’t quite able to make the full recovery at 80-90 mph.
The short straightaway from the “Esses” to “Sunset” is the fastest part of the track (for my car) where the car will get up to 105-110 mph. The approach to “Sunset” actually has brake markers set up on the right side, but my and all the others cars I’ve followed through it seem to need to start braking before we even get to the first brake marker. I try to get the car slowed down to about 55 mph in 3rd gear and hit a late apex. The late apex for this turn is extremely important. If a driver turns in too early for “Sunset,” the car they’re driving will usually exit wide and often get some wheels into the dirt. With some wheels on the dirt and some on the asphalt, cars will sometimes try to “hook” and be sent into a spin. “Sunset” is the most popular place for people spinning off the track. It’s also the most dangerous because the pit wall starts shortly after the turn’s exit.
Leaving “Sunset” I’ve got the pedal to the metal on the front straightaway as I head for the Start/Finish line to do it all over again.
Good times, good times
I had a wake-up call (after having about four hours of sleep the previous night and probably just running on adrenaline) of sorts on my very first lap on the track. The Mazda RX-8 in front of me got “loose” at least a couple of times on our warm up lap. I had a feeling its driver didn’t have a good handle on the vehicle. One thing led to another and the driver spun out exiting Sunset as we were completing our warm up lap and start our first session of the day. The driver barely missed the pit wall that separated the front straightaway from pit lane and brought to the car to a rest in the pits.
I had a great time throughout the day when I was able to get clean laps where I didn’t get held up by slower cars. I started in the “green” group which was the “slower” intermediate group. I chose that group because I knew the “black” group, the “faster” intermediate group, had cars that were faster than mine on paper. I also don’t want to think too highly of myself when I’m at the track because I don’t want to end up inconveniencing others and killing any of their good laps. Later in the day, I switched to the “black” group hoping to get more clear laps. It was a tremendous help!
Earlier, I mentioned that a lap time of 2:12.215 (lap speed of 73.517 mph) was my best recorded lap time. The timing transponder I rented stopped working properly during my first afternoon session. As a result, I had a whole session where my lap times weren’t recorded. I actually think it was my best session too. I spoke to the event organizers and they said I could run with the next “green” session to make up for some of that. I spent the next few minutes getting the unresponsive transponder off (Swiss Army knife > zip tie…getting it off resulted in a skinned left middle finger top knuckle (the one closest to the fingernail) so much that it started bleeding), putting another transponder on (I mounted the transponders in the lower grille area both times…a person can’t see it recessed there and with my front license plate helping to hide it), and tending to my minor “injruy.” I also had to get more gasoline (100 octane of course…only ~$6.00/gallon) for the car before I headed back on to the track for that session. By the time I got back onto the track, a fourth to a third of the session had already been completed. Since they had already been running however, I was able to come on to the track without any cars around me since they had been strung out over the whole course (~2.7 miles).
I stormed out on to the track and everything was feeling good. I completed my “out” lap (lap coming out of the pits) and was at “maximum attack” for my first timed lap of the session. I thought I put in a great lap (but I thought it wasn’t as awesome as some of the laps I turned in the session none of my lap times were recorded). After that “flyer,” I had another nice lap going when I came upon a silver 350Z at the rear of a small train of cars. I figured that was enough to kill that lap. At the same time, my right (I think) contact lens shifted on me and obviously made it difficult to see well. I figured instead of staying out and being a risk to myself and others, I should bring the car into the pits and move the contact lens back into place using the good old visor mirror. By the time I finished doing that, the session ended and leaving one more session remaining for the day. In that last session, I completed seven laps but only had a best time of 2:12.888.
One thing I noticed by the end of the day was my first lap or two after my “out” laps were usually my best laps of each session. My reasoning behind that was that the tires and brakes were at their optimal temperatures on those laps. The tires and brakes performed fine on the successive laps but on a marginally weaker level.
I actually didn’t find out about my 2:12.215 lap until the end of the day when I looked at the printouts posted in the meeting area. I said, “Yeah!” in my head because I had accomplished beating the 2:12.678 time I set on January 14, 2006 even though the track conditions were more difficult (heat). I think I may have broken into the 2:11s (the times some Evos were running) in the session that I didn’t get any lap times recorded, but I was still overjoyed that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I give the tires a lot of the credit for that feat.
I didn’t have any spins while I was on the track. When I was driving the car at 100%, I was pretty “dialed in.” Despite the heat, the tires (shameless plug for Bridgestone Potenza RE-01R tires here) held up really well. I mis-shifted a few times into 3rd gear, which caused some grinding. I was trying to rush my upshift in the heat of the moment and as a result, didn’t direct the shift lever from the 2nd gear gate to the 3rd gear gate properly. As a result, it seems it’s more difficult to get the transmission into 1st gear ever since that track day. It’s far from impossible and I can still get into first on a regular basis, it just has been a minor issue that I never had before. It’s like the ol’ saying goes, “You’ve gotta pay to play.” The brakes (Ferodo DS2500 front brake pads, stock rear brake pads, stock brake discs, Goodridge stainless steel brake lines, and Motul RBF 600 high temp brake fluid) were fantastic throughout the day except I experienced some fade one or two times going into the “Off Ramp” (see track diagram above). I still made the turn without scaring myself or going off the course. As to why the fade occured those couple of times, I don’t really know, because the brakes worked completely fine on the next lap!
One thing that I thought was really cool about the day was that there was a 1998-2002 Camaro SS on the track. That was the car I wanted before I knew what the Subaru Impreza WRX was. The 2002 Camaro SS has a Corvette-derived LS1 V-8 churning out 325 hp and 340 lb.-ft. of torque. What was really cool about seeing this car on the track was that I was turning faster laps than the laps its driver was producing!
How I, not Stella, got my groove back
On Saturday around 5 PM, I stepped into a cage for the very first time. No, it wasn’t “The Octagon.” It was a batting cage at Montebello Batting Cages at Rea Park (600 Rea Drive, Montebello, CA 90640 – (323) 721-3572). The old batting cages I used to go to in Glendale near Colorado and Louise closed down about two years ago. Their fastest speed was only around 82 mph, but I loved the fact that they had machines with the “arm” that comes over the top. I called the Montebello cage on Saturday afternoon to find out what kind of machines they had and what speeds they threw. When I found out that they had the arm-type machines and that the fastest speed they had was 90 mph, I got very excited! I had never hit any balls traveling that quickly before! The price is $9.00 for 15 minutes (approx. 135 pitches), which is about the most I can handle at one time.
You may be wondering why the arm-type machine is important to me. For me personally, I see the ball a lot better coming out of it. It’s a lot easier for me to get my timing in sync. Batting cages that utilize a machine with a spinning wheel to “spit” the ball are exponentially a lot more difficult for me to see the ball from my perspective (left-handers’ batter’s box) because there’s often machinery and other things that block my view of the ball before it’s pitched. I can make some contact in those cages right-handed, but I can’t take anything resembling my normal swing when I do that.
It was great being able to hit ~90 mph balls with some consistency! It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be as I still ended up pulling more than 90% of the balls I hit. I was able to iron out a few quirks with my swing-mainly that I was opening up too much. Since I already knew the “remedy” to this “problem,” I adjusted my batting stance to a more “closed” stance (front foot closer to home plate than the back foot instead of them being parallel to each other). By using a “closed” stance, I natural am go into a “regular” stance after I step toward the pitch. The only reason I already knew how to do this was because it was something I had struggled with in the past previously. I have to say it was quite a workout taking hacks for 15 minutes straight. If I designed my own conditioning program, it would involve time in a batting cage and a go kart on a regular basis!
Things I still need to write about:
- Getting lost in Hawaii / Driving my aunt’s bugeye WRX Sedan (automatic transmission)
- Mitsubishi Outlander XLS driving impressions
- Toyota FJ Cruiser driving impressions
Is there anything ya’ll would like to read about first?