Revenge of the ‘Rex
In November 2007, my first trip to Laguna Seca Raceway didn’t quite go as planned. Since that time, I thought the place owed me one until I could make my return. I say the place owed me because my mistake of running over the Turn 6 apex marker like many others didn’t seem that egregious. A mid-January discovery of an open track day on February 25th with the Green Flag Driving Association (through MotorsportReg.com) paved the way for that return.
The weekend before the track day, I got a new set of Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec tires (P225/45R17 90W) (nuts…the Tire Rack has a $50 rebate on these right now until March 31st if you buy a set of four) mounted and balanced. Before putting the new shoes on, I changed the front and rear brake pads from the EBC Red Stuff Ceramic pads to Ferodo DS2500s. I didn’t change the rotors because I just replaced them the previous month with the EBC pads. And thanks to the Motive Products hydraulic brake and clutch pressure bleeder I got from RallySportDirect.com, I was able to bleed brake fluid by myself for the first time using a fresh 500 mL bottle of MOTUL RBF 600 high temp fluid.
After unpacking the car, adjusting the Koni strut inserts to nearly full stiff in the front and 1/2 stiff in rear (the latter required the removal of the rear seat (six 12mm bolts) to access the tops of the rear struts), mounting a video camera to the rear windshield, and slapping on some magnetic numbers purchased from izoomgraphics.com onto the front doors, the car was ready to hit the track. I was assigned #16 because my last name was probably sixteenth on the alphabetical list of people registered for the intermediate group at the time the numbers were determined.
I naturally used the first session to get re-acquainted with the track. After three or four laps, I figured out the braking points and lines I wanted to use. As I approached Turn 6 for the first time, I felt a little apprehensive, but knew it was time to exact my revenge! I drove through and took a mental snapshot of the turn to refer to when approaching it every lap.
Above is the video I recorded in the first session. I spent much of the early part of it following a Nissan GT-R whose driver appeared to be learning the track. Later in the day (Session 7), I let him by to see how well (or poorly) I could keep up with him/the car. He checked out on me in about half a lap! The ‘Rex and I could hang with him in the turns but didn’t have the beans to remain in touch on the straights. At the six minute-mark, I let a Porsche 911 997 GT3 RS–just like Chris Walton’s favorite car–blow by me going up the Rahal Straight. Soon after, you’ll see me get mired behind the slowest S2000/driver combination ever (they make another appearance at the 21:00 mark, too)! I don’t know what was going on with them throughout the day. However, I will give the driver of the S2K (black helmet) credit for seeking instruction later in the day (evident when the car was on the track with two people with him riding shotgun). The only allowed passing zones for the beginner/intermediate group that day were the front straightaway, the stretch between Turns 4 and 5, and the Rahal Straight.
As the first session progressed, I felt the rear of the car was too soft. After the session was completed, I stiffened the rear Koni inserts and also reinstalled the rear seat bottom. Its absence explains the clicking and clacking heard in the video above when the seatbelts were moving around in the turns.
Session Two had the distinction of being the only beginner/intermediate session with an incident. A first generation Mazda Miata somehow found its way into the kitty litter (gravel trap) on the outside of Turn 11. To begin the session, I left the pits behind a Ford Mustang (A GT350 replica? Kurt or JDP can definitely enlighten me here.) that let me by at the end of the first green lap. Two laps later, the session was stopped to get the Miata out of the sandbox. Once its wheels were back on the tarmac, it was able to restart and return to the pits using its own power. After the session resumed, I had the sheer pleasure of catching and receiving a point-by from a (stock?) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X GSR a little less than 10 minutes after I left the pits. Two of the faster cars I let by in the session were an ex-Bondurant school Ford Mustang (Cobra?) and a Porsche 911 (997 Carrera S?).
The third session began with me leaving the pits behind an older Porsche 911 (964? 930? Little help here?). I had even more fun chasing this car than reeling in and passing the Evo in the previous session! The fun lasted until the 8:30-mark when I got stuck behind a 996 Turbo Convertible. The person driving it was nice enough to let me by between Turns 4 and 5, but the other 911 had already checked out by then.
During this session, I determined the car was a little more squirrelly than I’d like when transitioning from an on-throttle state onto the binders. As a result, I softened both of the rear Konis a smidge after I had returned to the paddock.
The most enjoyable things I worked on over the course of the day were trail-braking and figuring out how to get through the Rainey Curve (Turn 9) well. I found I could work on the former most when braking for the Andretti Hairpin (Turn 2) and Turn 3. Almost every time I drove through Turn 9, I remembered Josh Jacquot’s advice not to lift when driving through it. Since I’m a) not as skilled as Josh and b) not driving whatever rocket ships he may have driven at Laguna Seca, I would usually go to a partial-throttle state when driving through the turn. For some odd reason, I seemed to feel more G-loading when driving through Turn 9 this time than my first track day at Laguna Seca. Because of that, I figured I consistently carried more speed through there.
Session Four provided me with the most clean laps out of all the sessions I drove that day. Because of that, I probably turned my fastest laps during it (no timing transponders were available for rental that day). I suppose I could extract each lap’s time from my recordings, but that would be inaccurate and take a long time. I’m guessing I turned faster laps compared to my first trip because of the upgraded suspension components (JDM STI springs and Koni strut inserts) I had this time. During this session, I also had the pleasure of feeling I had the car’s setup totally dialed in as it responded to all of my inputs in the way I hoped and expected.
The driver of the 2005 Subaru Impreza WRX STi I caught and passed told me he had been experiencing brake fade the entire day. His car was also shod with Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec tires (although his tires were 245-width) and stopped by Ferodo DS2500 brake pads. My car was using the stock rotors whereas his car was equipped with DBA 5000 two-piece rotors. I think he was using the ATE Super Blue brake fluid.
The Direzza Sport Z1 tires held up great on the track. They didn’t seem to provide as much ultimate grip as the Bridgestone Potenza RE-01R tires, but definitely didn’t wear as much either (perhaps a visual confirmation of its 200 treadwear rating compared to the 180 rating of the RE-01R). Adhesion felt consistent throughout each session with no signs of becoming greasy or going “off.”
At the end of the fourth session, I heard a scraping sound coming from the rear. A closer inspection revealed that I had used up the left rear brake pads. Not wanting another track day at Laguna Seca to come to a premature end, I donned a pair of gloves and began one of the quickest brake pad changes I had ever performed. The change would’ve been even quicker if I didn’t have to be careful handling the hot pads’ backing plates. Now you may be wondering how I used up the rear pads before the fronts. The front brake pads were a new set of Ferodo DS2500 pads. The rears, however, were used for my track days at Buttonwillow Raceway and the Streets of Willow Springs in March and April 2008, respectively. I thought there was going to be enough pad material left to get me through the day. I obviously thought wrong.
The rear brake pad change was completed in about 40 minutes. I missed half of the fifth session, but was glad I could enjoy the rest of the track day. I didn’t bring any spare rotors with me to the track. But I didn’t care. I was determined to turn more laps even though the rotor had been warped and scored. The vibration produced by the rotor was quite significant, but braking effectiveness seemed largely unaffected.
Another issue that arose in the afternoon was the beginning of the demise of the tranny’s fourth gear synchro. With 108K (hard) miles under its belt, the transmission has served me well. Upshifts over 4,500 RPM from third gear to fourth gear began producing a light grind sometime during the fifth session. I began shifting more deliberately and making sure I was shifting “straight” and not “diagonally” to see if things would improve. They didn’t. (I got a quote of $1,200 for synchro replacement the next day. I’ll probably just live with this for the time being and try to drive more conservatively…at least in third gear anyway.)
Sessions Six and Seven were pretty much more of the same. Because only 30 cars registered for the event, the organizers thought it would be good to combine the beginner and intermediate groups. I was initially concerned when this was announced in the morning drivers’ meeting. An upside of the merge, however, was that everyone would get more track time. The original plan was to run five 25-minute sessions. The new plan allowed for six 25-minute sessions and one 15-minute session.
At the 11:20-mark in Session 7 (see video above), I let the Nissan GT-R by me on the Rahal Straight. Watch as it runs away from me by the end of the lap! Near the end of the session, I didn’t drive as well and started to get a little sloppy. After the session was done, I deemed myself fully satisfied with the day and felt exhausted. It had been a great day!
A full gallery of the day’s photos can be seen here:
The other videos from the day can be seen by viewing the “More From User” and/or “Related Videos” in Google Video.
That’s all for now (especially since the ‘Rex has an ailing tranny)! I would love to hear from others about their open track day experiences! Or if you’d like more info on tracking your own vehicle, I’d love to help!