Monday, April 2, 2012

So I hit the road for Putnam Road Course...

I went to my first HPDE this weekend at Putnam Road Course in Mount Meridian, IN. As challenging as I found Putnam, I had a fabulous time.

However, I learned a number of lessons that I hope to take away from these past few days.

First of which, I thought that my dad's car (a 2007 328xi) would be fine on the track because of its ~230hp, and despite its all-season tires. Boy was I wrong.

I couldn't keep up with anyone but the Miatas. As hurt as my ego was by the end of the day (I even got passed by an E30 with no other performance parts than a chip!), I felt I learned more by being so humbled. By that I mean now I know there's a lot more for me to learn than I ever thought, which was evidenced by my total lack of smoothness through the corners. Sure, I can blame a million things on the car, but at the end of the day, I need more seat time.

Another lesson that I learned the hard way was getting to the track. From my house, Putnam is 202 miles, or three hours and 44 minutes away. I completely underestimated this journey. I was reluctant to rent a hotel for the night during the two-day event, and I paid for it in terms of sleep. Oh dear. I left my house at around 3:10 AM and didn't get to the track until about 7:30, no thanks to the time change, one of my Illinois hours evaporated before my eyes! (Cue: massive frustration) And after being away since 1 AM, the clock struck 9, and it was time for me to hit the track. I was tired and rugged. I truly should have thought ahead and left home the night before! I can't believe I wanted to go to Mid-Ohio this weekend! I must have been out of my mind!

So the plan went as follows: wake up at 2:30 AM, drive to the track for 3.5 hours, drive on said track, drive for another 3.5 hours home, glean as much sleep and food for the short time I had to myself as possible and repeat. This was far too demanding of a schedule! On the first day, I was up by 1 AM, only to sleep again at 5 PM, as soon as I hit my bed, I was out! I woke up to the sight of an alarm clock that read "12:50." I thought to myself, "Aww crap, here we go again!" So I ate as much leftover pizza and tortellini as I could manage. I thought carbs would be a good choice for their energy value, then I thought of the fun, yet bowel-loosening ride my instructor gave me twice in his Porsche GT3 RS. I probably should have brought SOMETHING to eat or drink during the first day. I was ever so slightly tempted to take a water bottle sitting on a trailer while no one was looking, because I thought my mental capacities could really use it, but my morals got the best of me (damn you, good upbringing!)

On the track the first session, I was nothing but nervous. Coming in to turn one, my confidence began to progressively decrease. I was super composed for the first few corners because I thought I knew the course like the back of my hand for the number of YouTube videos I watched of people driving on the track. The thing I couldn't get from all those videos was, as my instructor called, "camber," or as I would call, "topography." There was almost no way to make up for this other than plainly and simply learning the course like I would any other.

My greatest complaint the entire time was the artificial throttle feel the E90 sedan had. (I'm curious if E90 M3s have this same "issue"). It felt like it was either completely on or off, little modulation in between. Where the car is civil on public roads, when I drove the car on the track it was nigh on schizophrenic. For which I would receive multiple reprimands from my instructor for.

I never used the tiptronic transmission, nor switched off traction control (both of which, my ego would have probably profited from and thus, made me faster). Also, I sense driving with an automatic makes braking zones harder because you have control over only the brakes, whereas control over the transmission and brakes and using those in conjunction with one another can create far more controllable braking situations in my estimation. And the tires... Oh the horror!

But now on to me. I lacked consistency most of all. I found the course worlds more memorable than the maze-like Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, IL (good luck remembering which way to turn!) But nonetheless, I would confuse what I was supposed to do time and time again. I confused turn four with turn eight. But at my last session, I really showed improvement. What was most frustrating though, was that despite paying for the Sunday session, my dad didn't let him go (and thank God he didn't!)

I wasn't about to drive another 3 and-a-half hours and drive on a race track, only to barely avoid nodding off on Route 65 while driving for 3 and-a-half hours going home. With six hours of sleep no less, staying awake and alert on the track as well as public roads for a cumulative 14 hours for the day is absurd to say the least. To give myself some credit, let's say I would have done worlds better if I had proper sleep, and I did OK. I can only go up from there!

For such a wacky weekend, I met cool people. (PM if you want me to remove you from this name-dropping, but I'm sorry, credit is due!)

Marcelo Areal was an all-around friendly Argentinian who was the first one to greet me and direct me where to go. He and I talked great lengths about F1, WRC, Group B rallying, ALMS, WTCC and NASCAR. He was intriguing to talk to because he told me about his experiences walking out in front of the Group B rally cars when he lived in Argentina, how fascinating this 2012 F1 season is developing to be, what with Sebatian Vettel's absence from the podium and his newfound appreciation for NASCAR, which I found frankly bizarre.

Aaron Leichty was incredibly funny and charismatic. He showed that he knew a great deal about cars from when he spoke about his multiple S2000s and his current Miata. I really wish I had come on Sunday just so I could chat with this guy more! I can't say enough positive things about him!

Matthew R Edmondson was the owner of the E30, which I loved seeing! He was interesting to talk to about his Purdue business degree.

Finally, hats off the my instructor, Pervez Randelia. The owner of a sensational GT3 RS blew my mind when he displayed his driving skills. By the end of his session, I told him he needs to get into racing.

Despite being the only northerner there, I had an absolute blast!

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