This month, resident Miata pilot Carson Orud is going to give some insight on how to cope with wet and slippery conditions. Carson is 2015 Rookie of the year, 2017 S2 Champion and a regular top PAX finisher at OR-SCCA events.
Living in the Pacific Northwest and loving autocross you may be thinking ‘I didn’t choose wet weather racing; wet weather racing chose me!’ Have no fear – today we’re here to develop some thoughts and strategies to mitigate all that moisture on course. Let’s get to it!
One concept to think about when racing in the wet is that your power-to-grip ratio is much greater than in the dry, so you have much more power to put down per the grip that you’re used to when driving in the wet. This means you’ll need to be ever so slightly more cautious when rolling on to throttle, just to give the tires that extra fraction-of-a-second they need to continue gripping as more power is applied. If you’re in one of the under-powered Street classes this means you won’t be able to use your throttle as an on/off switch as you normally do.
Feeding in smooth and punctual throttle will also prevent your car from bobbling on corner exit which even if slight, eats up precious time as you gather up the car and speed down to the next feature. Whether your car understeers or oversteers, one way to envision wet weather corning (vs dry) is to picture your car weighs an extra 500 lbs. Imagining your center console filled with dark matter, you wouldn’t be able to pitch your car into corners like you normally would, so how do we compensate?
This is where altering your line comes into play. In general, a wet course presents minimal opportunities for carrying significant speed. Most of the time, it is usually best to simply cut distance and be as tight to the cones as you can. However, any opportunities you do have to carry speed become all that much more important! Let’s say you have a moderate corner leading onto the longest straight section of the course. You might take a wider entry to this corner and allow the car to track out wider than you normally would, just to make the most of the fast section of course. Remember when you have reduced grip, whether caused by a wet course or by the super-heavy space particles in your console, the less you crank your steering wheel the better. Less steering input equals more grip you have in the bank for cornering speed. A wider entry and exit onto the longest straight allows you to account for the low grip conditions while maintaining speed at this critical feature.
Playing out this wet weather course a little further, let’s say the long straight leads up to a relatively tight turnaround. In dry conditions you may do some trail braking as you bleed into the corner, getting every last bit of speed off the previous straight. In the wet it will likely be more efficient to get your braking done in a straight line so the car is already settled as you set your pace for the corner. Threshold braking in the wet is hard enough, and working in trail braking, at least coming off the fastest straight, affords you very little margin for error.
Now that we’ve covered some helpful wet weather racing concepts and cornering tactics, you might be thinking “OK, now what about car setup?”. I thought about diving into this but candidly, I do nothing different. The rain racing setup in my E-Street Miata consists of making sure the defrost ducting is secure so my windows don’t fog up, so I’ll leave this advice to other folks in our club. Unless you have a separate set of tires just for the rain, I would say your time is better spent on the driving concepts, and to that end I hope I’ve helped!
We are going to be trying something a bit new in this space. Each month, we will have a guest author discuss something they are particularly knowledgable or passionate about, and share their knowledge with the auto-x community. Stay tuned for some excellent features over the coming year!
This month, Zack Morgan of PRE (Performance Race Engineering) will share some tips and tricks on getting your race machine into top form for the coming season. Enjoy!
Race season is almost upon us! Here are some tips and tricks to get your car going and make sure it stays fast all season long.
For the Stock guys, you don’t have a lot to worry about. However, that means what little you can do with your car is critical to get an edge over the competition.
Alignments on stock cars are very important, and should be done at the beginning and halfway through the season for best performance. It is a very good idea to mark any eccentric bolts on your cars suspension with a paint pen stripe, this allows you to immediately see if something has gone amiss and you can get in and get it fixed! It is also important to mind any of the bushings that contribute to camber and toe compliance. These bushings take a pounding, and even though you can’t upgrade, stock replacements might be in order to keep your car fast and save your tires from premature wear.
Street prepared, street touring, you guys have a lot more to look after. This is the perfect time to re-grease those poly bushings and replace the ones that are showing wear. These bushings do wear! Damage to the control arms or other things can happen if left alone too long, and of course the performance you get from them goes right down the drain without proper maintenance.
All clutch type limited slips should have fluids changed twice a year, sometimes more if you happen to have a FWD or AWD car that has a differential in the transmission. The material from the wearing plates can wreak havoc on synchros and bearings.
I always recommend getting the ride height, corner weight, and of course get your alignment checked before the start of every season. This especially applies if it is still a daily driven vehicle.
The rest of us. We probably should have entire checklists of things to look at on our Street mod and prepared cars. Spherical rod ends are high on the list of things to check and clean. Marking jam nuts after alignments is solid practice, and dis-assembly of struts should be done to check that they are still operating smoothly.
Hopefully your car wasn’t stored with a full tank of E-85, if it was you may consider getting some fresh stuff in there before putting the hammer down!
A couple closing notes and things I see done incorrectly all the time. Sway bar installation sounds easy, but screwing it up can really hurt the performance of your car. With your endlinks off, the sway bar should move with very little effort. If you seem to need a lot of force to move it after verifying it’s greased properly, consider shimming the mounts until the bushing bind is released.
Tires are the absolute king in auto-x, proper care is important. Do not overheat them or let them freeze, and they shouldn’t sit on any porous surface such as concrete or asphalt! Buy a pyrometer, learn how to use it. You can learn a ton about your setup, when to spray your tires down, and more.
Having a fast car at the track comes down to the 90% of the work you do before you get there, be prepared!
We are going to talk tires. First off, FORGET everything you think you know about what sticky tires are. Is it gone?? Ok good! When you are getting into autocross, tires should be the first big investment you make for improving your car. One of the biggest mistakes new drivers can make is to listen to hype on a car enthusiast forum. This is one of those “the proof is in the pudding” things. When you look at national results, they will show you what tires everyone is racing on. Take a look at the class you plan on running in and see what most of the racers are running on. I promise you, you will see a pattern.
The tire manufactures are always working on improving their tires. It the Stock and Street Touring classes, you have a tread wear rating to 200 you have to stay at or above. As of this article, there are 4 players in that category. The Dunlop Direzza ZII Star Spec and the new Hankook RS4 are number 4 and 3 respectively on the list. Both are good tires, and will be a good tire to start on. Right now, the 2 top tires on the market are the BFG Rival S, version 1.5 and the Bridgestone RE71R. The recently released Rival S 1.5 is a great tire, but not the best when it’s cold, or chilly out. And the tire you will see on cars the most is the Bridgestone RE71 R. The Bridgestone is a great tire, but don’t expect long life out of it, especially if you intend to daily drive the car and tire. A great option, if your budget allows it, is to invest in a second set of “race only” wheels for your autocross tires. Keep in mind, you want them as light as you can find. The major thing you need to watch when looking at wheels, is to make sure the size and offset specs will not bump you out of the class you intend to run in. In stock classes, you may go up or down in wheel diameter 1” only. And you may not go any wider than your stock wheels. This is one rule some racers might overlook. So make sure you are staying in that rule limit when looking. With so many tires on the market, don’t let yourself get talked into getting something that a tire shop says will be fast. 99% of them have no idea what works best in our type of racing. Know what you are buying before you buy it! And know what size tire you are looking for. Ask around at a local event. See what sizes other in your class, or in a car like yours. Never be afraid to ask your fellow racers questions. We are always willing to help!
Last month, it was about the cars, this month, lets talk about the best way to get started once you have your car picked out.
The 2 best improvements you can make to a car are:
A) improving your driving skills. As a driver, you should never stop improving, and pushing yourself to find ways to go faster. With a great group of racers here in our region, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for one of them to go for a ride along, and get some pointers. We hope to be offering some instruction at the tail end of our PIR events, so keep a close eye out for that info to come.
B) TIRES! Most people want to go right for throwing parts on your car, Sway bars, intakes, and exhaust are all great options, but these could throw you into a new class. Tires are the BEST modification you can add to your car right off the bat. With a handful of great options out there, you will notice a HUGE performance increase when swapping out your stock tires for a set of good race rubber. If you can afford it, picking up a second set of wheel s for your race tires is a great investment as well.
Please if you have questions please feel free to send them to us, and we will try and cover them here in the next issue. Remember, you may not be the only one with that question, so please ask!
With that, we head out into the 2017 season later this month! Look for an event recap, and the next installment of “Starting to Autocross” in April. Until then, have a great month, and Lets Race!
If you have not tried autocross, I know some of the thoughts you may be having. Is it worth my time? I love lapping, how can this be any fun after running at 100+ mph? It may not have the long drawn out effect of a lapping day, but for your time on course, you are being pushed to the limits every second. While you have time to relax running down the front stretch at PIR, or take a slower lap to catch your breath, in SOLO you are on the edge of every cone, pushing your car through every slalom, looking for every thousandth of a second to improve. It’s a competition like no other. Only your first 3, out of 5-7 runs, count towards competition points, so you don’t have a chance to practice or take your time. You can walk the layout before the event, and you can do so as many times as you want. But once you hit the start line, your adrenaline skyrockets knowing you only have 3 runs to get it done! We average between 5-7 runs at every event, so you have the chance to continue to improve on both your car, and your driving style. If you do not want to run for points you can still enjoy 5 to 7 runs so you can learn or polish those driving skills. We even have senior drivers that are willing to help you polish those skills.
Most of our events take place at either Portland International Raceway (PIR) or up north in the town of Packwood, Washington. If you have never had a chance to visit Packwood, you are in for a treat. Once we are done racing, there is always something going on. Whether it is a group lighting up the BBQ grill, heading out for an evening hike up on Mt Rainer, or going to the local pub for dinner, drinks, and karaoke, you will never be lacking for fun times to do! With racing on both Saturday and Sunday, it makes for a great weekend out of town. You can choose to either camp onsite or stay at one of the local lodges. Elk viewing in Packwood is easy since you can see them walking through the middle of town every day. Its just great family time.
I'm sure by now, you have already outlined your game plan for changes and improvements on your current “steed”. And hopefully you have already begun to work on the list. But for those of you who will be going into your first season, let’s talk over a few things. There are a few things to think about before starting your racing path.
If you already have a car to prep.
What class does your car fit into? What mods have you done to the car, and how will that affect your classing?
What do I want to add to my car, and how will that affect your classing moving forward?
Do I want to be competitive in my class, and what will that look like?
What is my race car budget for the year?
If you are looking at picking up a car
What is my car budget?
What class do I want to compete in that fits the kind of car I want to purchase?
How competitive do I want to me and what will I need to do to a car to facilitate that?
What will I need to do to the car I choose to allow me to get to where I want to be?
Getting these questions answered will help you get started in your autocross racing career. And we are available to help you get those answers. You can reach out to us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/groups/orsccasolo) or drop an email at email@example.com. Now all you have to do is ask!!!