Racing School - Skip Barber Three Day Racing School (Day 1)
|If you want to become a better road racer, the Skip Barber Three Day Racing School is a course that can help you to improve your skills. After participating in six open track events, I realized that I needed some objective feedback on what I was doing correctly and incorrectly. Since I never learned racing theory (other than the basics), it was a good opportunity for me to learn it while getting critiqued by the Skip Barber instructors.
As the name implies, the school is three days long. It runs from 8AM to 4PM each day. They provide you with a helmet, a racing suit and the racecar. All you need to do is show up with some racing gloves, racing shoes (or wrestling shoes) and lots of enthusiasm.
-Vehicle Dynamics Discussion
-Racing Line Discussion
-Heel Toe Discussion
-Heel-Toe Double Clutch Downshift exercise
-Neon Lead/Follow on the track
My class had students from the the whole country! The age of the participants ranged from 25 to the early 40s. Some lucky guys received this class as a gift from their wife. If I were only that lucky ;-) The reasons for taking the class varied just as much. A few drivers just purchased high powered cars and wanted to learn how to drive better. A few of the students, including me, took the class to go for a SCCA Regional Competition license. The Skip Barber School is one of the national driving schools that "grants" SCCA Regional Competition licenses. It's not cheap, but if you don't have a race car and you don't have the driving equipment (SA rated helmet, nomex suit, etc.) the Three Day Racing School is the perfect fit.
Looking at the requirements at the above link, two driving schools, two race car rentals (for two schools), could cost you just as much as the Three Day Racing School. But I digress.
Vehicle Dynamics Discussion
The first classroom session covered vehicle dynamics. Smooth. Smooth. Smooth. On the track, everything must be done smoothly. Getting off/on the brakes, getting off/on the throttle, and steering must be done smoothly. The smoothness of each transition will keep your car balanced and get the weight transferred correctly. Since I did several track days before attending the Skip Barber School, I already knew these points. The only change I needed to make was my braking technique which we practiced on the autocross course.
Racing Line Discussion
After the Vehicle Dynamics Discussion, we got a quick tour of the Forumla Dodge racecar. The Formula Dodge is an open wheel purpose built race car. After the quick tour, we then split into two groups. One group did the autocross and the other group did the Racing Line Discussion. The Racing Line Discussion covered the theory behind the correct racing line. Anecdotally, I knew what the racing line should be, but when they described it again using diagrams, everything I learned previously made perfect sense. They gave us a formula - 1.5*G*R=(MPH)^2 or simply R=MPH. (G is the g rating of the car, R is the radius of the turn, and MPH is the miles per hour of the turn). With the correct measurements, you can figure out the maximum speed through any turn.
We also discussed three types of turns: Entry, Exit and Compromise turns. Entry speed turns are turns where you care more about the speed you enter the turn than the exit speed. Entry speed corners are those that come after a long straight (ie Turn 2 at Laguna Seca). Exit speed is the opposite and are any corners that lead to long straights (ie Turn 11 at Laguna Seca). Compromise turns are where you sacrifice one turn for another turn. Most turns are exit speed turns. Slow in, fast out. Those are exit speed turns.
After the Racing Line Discussion, we swapped places with the first autocross group. The instructors did a brief overview of the car again and sent us on the autocross course. The instructors restricted the autocross course to first gear. After a few laps, I got used to the driving position and the inputs.The Formula Dodge is barebones. There is no power steering nor power brakes. You will get a nice workout if you drive one of these cars for a full day. Braking was the hardest part. When you go for the brakes, you have to hit them hard, really hard. Steering was fairly easy, but my arms kept hitting the inside body panel when I tried making turns. You will realize very quickly that unlike your street car, you don't need to turn the wheel very far to turn a lot.
Heel-Toe Double-Clutch Downshifting Discussion
After lunch, the instructors discussed how to heel-toe double-clutch down shift. The Formula Dodge cars do not have synchros so downshifting requires a heel-toe double clutch downshift.
Heel-tow downshifts are hard enough, and if you add the clutch in/out double clutch it makes life even harder. Luckily, you can get away with a normal heel-toe downshift without the double clutch.
Vanpool Track Tour
We then swapped again. Our partners went on to do the heel-toe downshifting exercise and the rest of us hopped into a Van and took a tour around Laguna Seca. Since this was my third time at Laguna Seca, this part was not as exciting. Seeing the corkscrew the first time is amazing. However, the discussion about the line, braking points and turn in points was useful. The instructors thoroughly discussed each turn on the track.
Heel-Toe Double-Clutch Downshifting Discussion
After the Vanpool, we swapped with our partners and did the downshifting exercise. For me, the hardest part was upshifting!! I was able to hit every downshift with no problem, but for some reason, I kept grinding on the upshifts. I even had difficulty getting into gear sometimes. Thank goodness for synchros! My guess is that my poor street driving upshifts was the cause of the problem. I believe that I was either adding gas before I shifted from neutral to the gear or I did not depress the clutch in far enough. We did have one accident during this segment. A driver in the other group slammed his car into the tire wall at turn 11. He didn't brake hard enough.
Neon Lead/Follow on the track
For the last exercise of the day, the instructors drove Dodge Neons while the students followed. Each instructor had four to five students following. After each lap, the student right behind the instructor would fall back onto the end so that everyone would get the chance to follow the instructor's line. Driving the Formula Dodge racecar was much different that driving my S2000. The biggest difference is the fact that the car is mid-engine. It is really easy to get into a spin and I almost spun out at turn 2. I accidently lifted slightly off the throttle while doing the second apex (trying to slow down because I was catching the car in front of me) and the rear end started to slide out. Luckily, I saved the car from a spin.
The drive home
When I first got back into my car, everything felt wrong. The seat was too comfortable, my line of sight was too high, the steering wheel responded to quickly to my inputs, and the brakes were too sensative. It took almost 10 miles of driving for me to readjust to my car!