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Below is a recounting of various car events I've attended along the years, from car club meets, autocrosses, track events, and enthusiast drives.

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2004/08/29 Track Day at Laguna Seca
π 2004-08-29 14:45 by Merlin in Cars

So, I've always been quite content running my car at Thunderhill. It may not be a famous track (although it's been featured in several commercials, like Mazda's and the Ford GT40), but it's both challenging, familiar (well, for me), and safe (everywhere is pretty much a runoff area, no walls to run into except in the start/finish straights. The only small shortcoming is that it's about 2H away at fast driving pace (or 1h50 if pushing) while Laguna is under 1H15mn away.

turn two, one of the more challenging ones in my opinion

That said, I heard Laguna Seca was a very nice track (which it is, the surroundings are indeed pretty), and well, it's known world wide, so it's always nice to have been able to run there once. Rotarynews had an all mazda track day (sponsored and subsidized by Mazda) for the incredible price of $165 (on a weekend day no less; this kind of price for Laguna is unheard of).
Cars ranged from 4 door saloon mazdas, to RX7 and old concept rotary cars, to of course: miatas (not counting a few odd balls like a ferrari 355).
Since this was an awesome deal, it was sold out almost as soon as I heard about it, except for the most advanced group. While I qualified for that group without problems with my experience, I was still uneasy about it, because I had never driven that track and would get thrown in with seasoned drivers who knew the track quite well (in the end though, I should have remembered that it was really only about being safe, predictable, and letting people pass you as needed, which I have no problem doing)
Anyway, I borrowed a playstation 2 with grand tourismo 3, and a steering wheel with force feedback (from nice coworkers), and used that to practise the track. The big question was of course "how useful would it be"?
Well, my impressions where:
  • The track was rendered really well in the game. I have to admit that it was a very exact replica. This was most likely the most useful part for me as I got to drive the track and its succession of turns many times in my living room before doing it in my car.
  • I got to pick between two miatas in the game: a stock M1, and a later model M2. The M2 was closer to my car's performance, but still short (on power, brakes, and tires). Yet, I felt it'd be a good exercise (if you really play the game, you can buy turbos and add mods to your car to make it closer to mine, but I didn't have the time, nor the inclination to go that route)
  • never quite got the hang of GT3, because you just can't tell how close you are to losing traction on a TV screen, even with a few hints from the feedback steering wheel, you just don't have the "seat of the pants" to tell you what's happening with your car. Yet, I still made better times in the video game than in reality (1:53 vs 1:56 on my very best real lap in my car). This just can't be as my car and driving performance were both definitely better on the track than in the game, so the game was clearly overly optimistic.
  • Their brakes are too good in the game. They were as good, if not better than the ones on my car, however mine were upgraded big rotors with 4 piston calipers and very good racing pads (which none of the original M2 is close to having)
  • GT3 got really annoying when one of its modes (whatever that was) would make the car oscillate left and right multiple times after coming out of a turn. Sorry, but real life just isn't that way, even if you're a mediocre driver: the car's weight settles after one "rebound", not 5 or more.
  • The one thing that seemed accurate, was the rendering of the stock miata's limited HP (making it struggle to go up in 3rd gear from turn 6 to 8), and the resulting speed you got (I had only a slightly higher speed with the turbo, and similar speed if I kept off it)
  • Oh, one good thing was that hitting walls in GT3 is less fatal than with your own car :)

So, for whatever reason, this is the second time in a row that I get sick before a track day, and that I recover somewhat the day before, show up, half-recovered, with red bulls and other things to hopefully keep me somewhat sharp while on the track. Yet, it turned out surprisingly well considering the potential for a bad day.
I was already apprehensive due to the new track, the group I was in, and of course, the concrete walls everywhere (that's why I love Thunderhill so much: nice runoff area just about everywhere, should you screw up), so being very tired and potentially not very alert, wasn't a good addition to the mix.

Yet, either the red bull, being in the car, or both, allowed me to be sufficiently concentrated to do a decent job around the track (pretty much all laps under 2mn, with a best time of about 1:56), and definitely do a better job than the 5 or so people who ended up hitting walls (not head on thankfully).

One of the several RX7 casualties

I sure didn't do my best driving ever, nor did I run around the track, riding with other folks and taking pictures of everything, but I went through the event without any incident (or even getting close to one), and was still able to push the car quite hard (the racing brake pads, as well as the stickiness, consistency, and predictability of my new RA-1s tires, was just amazing, and made for rather fast laps around the track, despite my below average shape and driving)
The highlight of the day were probably doing the 4th session with very little pad left on my front brake pad (if you pay too much attention to my car stories, you'll know why :), and changing the pads in 20mn flat between the 4th and 5th sessions (and boy did I get close to the backing plate and scratching my rotor). After that, I was able to run all 3 groups of the last session (about an hour of track time), and get more than money's worth before going home :)

There sure wasn't a lot left on those pads :)

The other funny part was when I got black-flagged on one of my last laps, pitted to find out what the reason was (maybe they didn't like the drifting I had just done in turn 11 :) and I was told "93.6". I said "what?". "Your car was measured at 93.6db, above the 90db sound limit for today". Turns out (as they had warned us), that this was a 90db day, and that cars louder than that would be pulled off the track after 3 warnings. I knew my car could get a little loud when pushed and hot (which it definitely was with 105F weather outside, I was quite thankful that my cooling system and its mods were enough to keep the car from overheating), but I had no idea that it would end up being as loud as the Ferrari 355 that day. ROTFL :)

The pictures can be found here

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