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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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2007/11/16 Thunderhill: Ariel Atom Experience and Team Racing Track Day
π 2007-11-16 19:53 by Merlin in Cars, Ncars

Jason and I had been keeping track of the weather in Willows while impatiently waiting for the day we would be able to each drive an Ariel Atom at thunderhill, thanks to the folks from Ariel Atom Experience . You can see what that car looks like in top gear
The next day, I was able to line up a Bonni track day, making the trip to Willows, even more worth it. The flight there was interesting since it was pretty dark flying up, but I got there within slightly less than one hour, well in time to get some rest for the next morning.

I was impressed by the setup and organization at the Ariel Atom Experience. The organizers definitely cared about safety, customer service, and offering everything they could. Some people first expressed that $1500 was expensive for a track day, but I personally thought it was a bargain to drive a car I would never be able to drive otherwise, and it was without counting the extras that were offered:
  • Access to the cars, obviously. A track day in my car tends to be expensive if I factor in the set of pads I'll be wearing out, the high rotor wear and tear, and the tire use (for the Ariels they had to worry about flat spots since they had no ABS).
  • one on one instruction the whole day
  • GPS equipped cars to generate a video of your last session, showing you on the track, along with 2 separate camera shots of you, the car and track, and your position on the track
  • Headset communication with your instructor, and radio communication with the base if they had an emergency or need to shut down the track
  • Eflags, which are basically a visual representation of flag status inside your car (yellow, black...), so that you can't miss an outside flagger.
  • Oh, and of course, an entire track for 4 to 8 cars (well, not quite, more on that later)

See the other pictures of that day and the video of my best lap.
The "problem" (from my point of view that is), is that the event was marketed to anyone, including people who had never driven at a track (apparently, they even had someone show up who did not even know how to drive a stick shift). As a result, they not only had to make sure we knew how to drive the car (i.e. no ABS, no traction control, a lot of power and fast response, and tires that gripped well, but did not seem to give a lot of warning when they were at the edge of traction), but they also had to teach people how to drive around a track without going off the next turn, or oversteering, going sideways in a ditch, and flipping the car.
Quite frankly, my kudos to the instructors who had to sit along for the ride, and didn't have much control over the car if things went haywire. My afternoon instructor mostly just sat there silently as I went around lapping faster and faster throughout the sessions, and reminded me that I should not stay too close to the people in front of me because I could not expect them to do rational things or not to spin out (good point indeed).
Now, I thought the main problem, from someone reasonably experienced with track days, and the track in question, was that the morning was mostly a throwaway: 3 sessions of lead follow where I only got to pass a couple of cars on the last session, and that session was still very slow. Again, I can't blame them for doing that when some of the other drivers didn't know what they were doing, but I really wish we had been put in skill groups: we only had 4 cars on a half track, and even with equal power, I would lap each of them at least once during each 20mn session (after being stuck behind them for a while).
While I understand they had a chicane in the straight so that people didn't go 130mph+ before trying to brake and turn (which can be hard with wheels that tend to lock up), I really wish we had had the entire track as opposed to a half track. I just have no idea how fast I was going compared to my F430 because I only had half track times which I could not do much with (also, the full track would have alleviated the problem with slower people getting in the way). Unfortunately, they didn't have enough flaggers to man the whole track. I really hope they do next year, especially as I can imagine the half track being a parking lot with 8 cars on it including slow people, instead of 4 (we were on the last day, and they had fewer people then, hence more room for us).
Maybe in addition to making skill groups on each day, since they had 4 days, they could also recommend a day for beginners who've never been at a track, and a day for experienced people. Within that group, you can even split it between people who know the track in question, and those who don't.

All that said, the cars were fun to drive, definitely required driver skill and gave you a sense for the road. Outside of the very mixed driver skill problem, the event was very well organized, and they all really deserve credit for organizing an event where you get to drive a car that you would not have been able to, otherwise. I think it's an awesome idea and I hope other such events pop up with other cars.

After a fun day of driving the Ariel Atom around, I went to chill out for the evening, and came back the next morning with my F430 that Scott nicely drove over for me.
The Pagids pads worked fine, and the Pirelli Pzero Corsa Rosso tires (tread wear 60), were great. For the first time, I brought my Thunderhill lap time under 2:10 (2:09 three times, including one when I passed someone), and I'm pretty sure I could have gone a bit lower still, but I had a problem with pretty bad vibration due to a missing wheel weight, or some other misbalance problem. Driving the car with that shake was a bit worrisome, but traction control and/or tire stickiness kept it on the road. No idea what it cost me time-wise though.
However, the extra speed cost me a lot more pad wear, and I ran out of pad after the 5th session, down to the plate. Doh! But, eh, I can't complain, I was apparently the fastest street car of the day. The flipside is that I ran my brakes pads down to the backing plates by the 5th session. I guess going faster meant wearing the pads faster too :)

Unfortunately, someone in the beginner group apparently had an ABS fluke/failure or some other problem and had his car shoot sideways when trying to brake before a turn, had the car go sideways off the turn, catch a tire in the dirt, and flip a few times. He was ok, but the car not as much.

See the other pictures of that day .
Since I was out of brakes, I decided to call it a day, which gave me the chance of flying home with daylight, which was good since I was able to keep an eye on the weather which was likely to be overcast and/or foggy, making takeoff and landing potentially harder. I turned out to be lucky at that time, and got clear skies for takeoff and landing, but that could have changed at any time.

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