April 9, 2006

Lime Rock April 8 report

Once again 3/5ths of the Axis were in attendance on a bitterly cold day in northwestern Connecticut. AC CG and Stee did their best to keep warm and were thankful that at least it did not rain or snow!

The AC report

Goddamn it was cold....cold and damp and windy. A day for penguins more than r-compound tires, brutal. Then again, I felt better when I saw two guys pull up in a Caterham and a Ginetta, how very EVO magazine thoughI still have no idea how they could drive with the 23 layers of clothes they must have been wearing.

Of course CG and I were out on the very first session of the day, thanks fellas! Now Lime Rock is a pretty slippery place when it's wet but when it's wet and 35 degrees F. it's positively diabolical.

Needless to say that first session was an exercise in tip toeing while avoiding "Code Brown" situations. Best I can say about it is that the two of us made it through unscathed as did Stee in the second marginally better session. Our friend Michael from MotorsportsNE on the other hand did go looking for turtles after the left hander. The only harm was a few dozen pounds of mud on the race car...and no snapping turtles were harmed in the making of the stunt.

My second session was more like real driving. The MCoupe felt good but I had a little too much air in the tires. I was running a set of Yokohama AO32 soft which are now entering their third season. These tires seem to be happy only between 36 and 37lbs hot, anything over that and they lose grip. But then again it was so damn cold.
My times hovered around the 1:03/1:04 when we got clear laps. I lost CG in traffic early on so I could not watch the 997 S in action as much as I would have wanted.

Session 3 was my best. I was able to run my best lap ever at Lime Rock despite the still sub 40 degree weather: 1:02.1
Also, for the first time I did the downhill turn without braking. Well, OK...if I got a good run out of West Bend I would brush the brakes to set the nose but I was far from slowing the car up as much as I used to.

It's become quite bumpy at the apex of the downhill turn but my car seemed to work very well there. I feel this is fully due to the new stiffer bushings I installed in the rear of the car, both sub frame and trailing arm.
The car now is both more composed over tough bumps like those and will also drifts in a more predictable manner. It's set up to under steer at the limit but that's a good thing! It still is as Stee call it " the Rotation Machine " and I can pretty much clobber anything in turns like Big Bend but it's not necessarily scary.

Lime Rock 1:02 lap

I did have some issues with braking at the end of the straight when I just stepped on the binders too late for the tires and the conditions. After This exciting moment in session 2 where I went exploring what CG calls the "potato growing area" of Big Bend, I decided that if I was in that same situation I would just bail down the escape road rather than put the car off. This I did twice in the last session....no harm no foul.
Other Lessons learned for the day:
Hitting the curb at west bend is not necessarily a good idea
Beware of the erratic driving moron in the Sti who passes without a point by on a non open passing day!

CG was as usual mega fast and turned the same times as I did in his essentially stock 997s with street tires (Michelin PS2). On the other hand I was quite proud of the little MCoupe keeping up with such prestigious company!

Stee's driving really has come along and goddam that M3 looked fast going down the long straight. However I think he should be hired as a test driver because if anything is going to break on a car, it will happen in Stee's. When I saw him put his flashers on and stop at the end of the straight I imagined the worse. Turns out he had lost a rear shock! Not enough care put into the assembly of the rear after a recent check-up was the cause the cause. I'm still trying to figure out how he got through West Bend and the downhill in one piece without a rear left shock....

Finally a word for our friend AP who had a close encounter with the tire wall with just minutes to go in the day: I'm really sorry about what happened and while no words can make you feel better right now remember that you were not hurt and the car can be fixed.

Now on to Pocono and Watkins Glen!

The CG Report

Once again despite the weather being more appropriate for skiing, it was a great track day (Big plus is engine, tires and brakes suffer less in those conditions).
Only big bummer was AP's incident. Feel sorry for him b/c he is a nice guy, but seems that he wasn't going that fast when he hit the wall and car looks repairable.

I had a great day learning the ropes of the "Overengineered Glorified Beetle". Definitively a great Sportscar and a very different experience to anything else I have owned.
Random comments from my day:

- Despite my 20 yards longer than expected drift on the first corner / first lap, the 911 really shines in the wet. There's so much acceleration grip and it is a huge advantage over any other machinery coming out of corners. Slides feel very controllable and the car provides awesome feedback, almost Elise like, with the exception being under braking when you know its 3000lbs+ beast. Lapping 1:08s in that dicey first session felt good in that car. M3 was more of handfull putting the power down.

- First dry session: Traffic became a huge issue. LRP is very short and a 5sec/lap speed differential is enormous, so its quite hard to plan how much space in front is needed for a clean sub 1:04s lap. Impossible not to hurt a laptime with a point-by-pass, it's a huge momentum track, irrespective of what you drive. Nevertheless the 997S showed its strenghts. It really likes the tight stuff, if you play the weight transfer to your advantage. Great turn in helped by using rear weight for rotation, and power early thru the apex has a new meaning.

- Other sessions:
Still, lots of traffic and most cars in our run group where probably above 1;05-1:06 so it became a challenge to get clear laps. however it was good to have once again a fast straightline car to pass uneventfully. Felt very comfortable playing with the car and trying new stuff (trail-braking, wide arc turn-in, tight-hard turn-in, etc.). As long as you know that total lift-off is a big NO-NO, anything can be done or undone if needed. Basically the 911 loves changing forces (turning-in, tracking out) but is more of a handful at the limit in steady-state situations like 100% braking or steady state cornering. The rear end just want to keeps moving....

Braking on the front straight, more than once I had to give it almost 90degree lock each side twice!! Nevertheless, irrespective of how bad it moved under braking (it still braked very well), the car still turned in when commanded.
Steady state cornering was similar, the slip angle of front and rear is just different. I guess the car just doesn't 4-wheel drift as any other thing on 4 wheels. . The rear ends just moves more, and that probably caused me to not use max possible speed on the fast long turns (West Bend, Downhill). The gearing was unfortunate for LRP on street tires, as on almost every I hit redline 50-100yds before braking.... Maybe Stefan Bellof can teach me a thing or two. I need to work on the fast turns on a 911, but definitively is no midengine beauty.

At the end I was surprised that the car wasn't that much faster than what I recall the E46 M3 (and the laptimes I did on that car OEM - 1:02.2 vs 1;02.7, both OEM just properly aligned). The E46 gearing is perfect, and the last 1000rpm on each gear I believe it is as fast as the Carrera S due to lower gearing, and can't deny the advantage of SMG. I'm sure an Octopus or a better driver will be able to do twice 3-4-3 and 4-5-4-3 that I couldn't do comfortably all in 50-100yds at 105mph and 135mph respectively.... , My best laps were all running on the limiter... (Couldn't afford that much gear changing while needing both quick hands while braking.
IMO, DSG is a must at these level of performance and with such braking behaviour.

Other downside, is the fact that it still is a 3000lbs Mcpherson strut car. Both Left tires have now well rounded shoulders with no tread....
Awesome car, but the Elise/Exige still is THE "Track-Machine"

I hope it will be very fast at the Glen (2:14 - 15?), but I'm sure it will shine on the twisty Pocono East. Maybe I take Friday off and run the 997S, and the Elise that Saturday as planned...????? OMG the Track BuG!!!!!

OK, I have some more regarding my fellow Axis mates:

- Other than the first session (and a couple of laps of the last one, before he decided to "test" the runoff area), didn't have a chance to run with AC. Would have been good to see from behind where the MCoupe was stronger than the 997S). Plenty of track days left to try that...., but that Video of AC makes the MCoupe look very good and composed. Definitively a well setup car and driver.

- SK looked really good. The E46 M3 was one of the fastest cars I saw down the front straight (meaning great exit speed out of the "car- killer" downhill turn). Riding on the passenger seat, made me realize how good his car works with R-Compounds. The extra grip really makes the stiffer lower suspension work better than with the "slidey" streets. Car felt much better and smoother than 2 weeks ago. Also SK, took well my comments and he was smoother running wider arcs (than two weeks ago) through the faster turns, unwinding the wheel gradually after apex. Again, with his pace, traffic was a huge issue to be able to go for the ultimate Gun-ho lap. Seems that the bigger front brakes cure the only big downside of that car, and it felt very good under braking

- I tried showing SK ALL the available track and realized how BIG and HIGH are some of LRP kerbs. Nevertheless the 997S felt very composed under take off and landing, but I would only use those lines in a race / cost-no-object scenario (not in a DE). West Bend kerb puts you easily two wheels up in the air. Another big surprise was the behaviour on the Uphill. i expected the 997S to be more composed on the jump b/c of the rear weight bias, but that wasn't the case. The opposite lock required was a lot more than in the M3 or Elise. Still not sure what's the explanation (Maybe the gigantic rear tires), but the rear really jumps sideways despite the car going straight.

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