I. What is autocross or Solo 2?
It is an exercise in car control which pays big dividends
in safety on the road. It is an opportunity for us
to test ourselves and our cars on a track. Perhaps
the most important part is that the risk of injury
to car and driver is quite low, primarily due to the
fact that the car is almost continuously turning, braking,
or setting up for a turn. Speeds are the same as those
encountered on the streets. The boundaries are plastic
traffic cones instead of physical obstructions. With
little possibility of damaging the car and an entry
fee of about $25, the costs are as low as the risk.
But the opportunity to improve one’s car control
skills is high.
Imagine a course laid out with cones on a parking
lot with plenty of run-off space. You stage in a line
of cars in your class and when it’s your turn,
you pull up to the starter’s flag. When he flags
you on, you start calmly since the timer doesn’t
pick you up till further into the course; no drag race
starts needed. The first thing you notice is a sea
of cones and you have to follow/find the course. Each
time you knock down a cone the penalty is two seconds.
You will probably get lost and miss the turn resulting
in a DNF. If you find your way through, the start to
finish will be less than a minute, and you will get
two more runs with the best time counting for your
results. So that’s the worst of it -- you get
lost and slightly embarrassed, you hit some cones,
you spin out and hit some cones, and you face the fact
that life, again, is not like the movies. On the other
hand, your times improve and you learn the course.
You calm down and think more and lead-foot less. You
smile for a long time. You ponder what it takes to
get good at this game because you’ll be back.
II. More on the cone wars.
Autocross is not road racing. Besides its much higher
safety factor, Solo 2 is car friendly. The slow speeds
put much less stress on the car and tire wear seems
quite acceptable though noticeable. Light, good handling
cars do well and, like big high performance cars, keep
to their own class. There is only one car on the course
at a time anyway. The competition is much more with
yourself. A typical autocross course will have maybe
four times the turning as a road course where the outside
gets used a lot to carry speed. The Solo 2 uses a lot
of the inside to minimize distance. On the road course
the important turn is the one before the straight to
maximize speed. For autocross the important spot is
the slowest turn because so much time is spent traveling
a short distance yielding a fertile area for improvement.
The Solo 2 course often requires you to give up speed
in order to take the shorter route. The balance between
speed and distance makes this a fast thinking game
which you must try to figure out before getting into
Thoughts before action: Here in Honolulu and on Maui,
the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) puts on an autocross
about every other month – currently at the Hawaii
Raceway Park in Honolulu. It’s a very good thing
to get there when registration opens. You will have
to have your car tech inspected which is more for safety
than class. The rest of the time you can walk the course.
You can only walk the course, so do that as many times
as possible. Make a sketch with your own shorthand
for the various gates (turn indicators). Note where
you will enter the turns, which side the cones will
be on and try to memorize the course. Review the drawing
while in your car at the staging area. Learning how
to understand the course, to make your decisions, and
to pre-visualize your drive is key because each outing
will be a new course which you have never driven on.
Learning to deal with these new courses in the game.
You only get three shots at each.
When you walk the course, try not to socialize. Just
concentrate on a short distance path that makes a smooth
arching connection between the turns; there won’t
be any straight lines to concern yourself with. Try
closing your eyes at the end and mentally driving the
course. Walk it again and visualize again until you
run out of time. Review your notes and flow smoothly
between turns with your eyes looking ahead to the next
turn. Try looking ahead 2 gates (a pair of cones that
you must pass through). Try mentally removing the nearer
gate. Would this change your path to the next gate?
If not, this gate has no impact on your course. If
your path would be outside the removed gate to its
right, you must pass just inside the cone with it on
your right, etc.
For autocross, one tries to get half the turning done
before reaching a turn cone (pre-turn). In fact, the
question is, where is the tightest part of the turn?
Often this is between cones, not at a cone, and is
the slowest part of the turn (and therefore an area
of fruitful improvement). Finally, the car will slow
faster than it will accelerate and the braking occurs
in a straight line before the turn, whereas the acceleration
feeds slowly as the exit from the turn occurs.
Next: “Your Run from Start to Finish and the
Constant Process of Evaluation”.
Interested in SCCA Autocross? See the SCCA Hawaii
Region website for the schedule. Interested in standing
at the corners for full course Solo I and wheel-to-wheel
races? Watch the eyes of Scott Schulte, Ron Mishima,
and Lindsey Akamu as they drive their 911’s real
fast as an SCCA corner worker. Volunteers needed! Qualifies
you for $25, 15 laps on the track in your Porsche.