September 13, 2009

Road America, America's Northern Loop.

CG made the pilgrimage to Elkhart Lake for a Porsche Club of America club race at Road America. This is his epic writeup, a must read for any aspiring tracktard.

Road America, America's Northern Loop.
Very excited about my first time at Road America. Until now it has always been a myth only experienced through the races on TV. It is really BIG! Any other regular 1.5 - 3.0mi you can easily reach any point within 2mins in a sccoter. RA is the MidWest's version of the NuburgRing. Massive 4.1mi track that follows perfectly the contour of the terrain. The Paddock is the biggest I've ever seen. I was well advised to rent a Golf Kart. It takes almost 10mins at full speed to cover beginning to end of the Paddock only! Never seen so many Prosche race/track cars in my life. Easily 300 and most of them with big team trailers; and there was still plenty of room in the paddock.

The story continues after the jumps along with more pictures and videos...

Additionally, the town of Elkhart Lake is spectacular, both vintage and contemporary. Great historic racing bar at the Siebkins, beautiful landscapes over the lakes, nice resort lodging and some very good restaurants. Definitively worked for us as a great family vacation-race weekend. My kids only cared about the massive indoors water park at the Blue Harbor Resort on Lake Michigan!.

As I do every time I go to a new track, I've watched almost every relevant Vimeo or Youtube in-car video I found to get a good sense of the track and to my surprise on Test and Tune day the track is relatively easy to learn and be fast in a short time (contrary to scary blind corner places like Mosport).
Spencer Cox couldn't go to the race so I wasn't given the quick ride that's the most helpful for me to learn what speeds are possible through every corner. I compared my first session telemetry (with lap times roughly on pace for the class as per last year's mylaps results) with Spencer's Cup Car telemetry, and found that I was doing OK in the slow corners but needed to pump up the "attachments" a bit more in the 2 fast corners/kinks.

As always, Farnbacher-Loles had perfectly executed on the logistics and the car was immaculate with the tires from the last NASA race, and two new sets ready for raceday (likely need only one but had 4 rear tires thanks to the NASA Hoosier contingency program). It was also great to have Kurt, the F-Loles ALMS crew chief, on board as he has his own very structured (I crave analysis and structure!) methods and made me try different stuff in the setup that ended up paying off. Initially I had the car relatively stiff, working great for the typical 80mph+ LRP. Mosport or WGI fast corners, but Road America is mostly 50-70mph apex corners with some exceptions. Additionally, watching the big ALMS boys qualify on SpeedTV showed the obvious approach "use as much of the track and beyond (as long as it paved)" for faster lap times. Big surprise then when I went a full car-width wide at T5 and almost lost my teeth and couldnt hold the steering wheel in hands; We needed to soften up the car. Softer front sway bar, less rebound and some bump adjustments and the car was a monster in the slow corners but required finesse and smoothness to allow it to take a controlled set on the faster stuff (T1, T7Kink, Carrousel, T11Kink and T14).

From there on I was always worried through the whole weekend about something breaking or coming loose from so much curb-riding. Thanks to the F-Loles guys for permanently complying with the every session inspections. Only the glovebox came off a couple of times.

Unfortunately, my class (H Stock) was unusually low on attendance, but the run group had some faster GT3-4R cars (fully mod, BIG wing P-Cars in slicks), I-J Stock cars (GT3s, 993 Turbo, modded Cayman) and GTC1-2 Cup Cars (964 and 993). Practice Day went smoothly and set up a decent time in Practice 3 that defines the Very important Qualifying session grid (10th out of 50). Had a lot "fun" in the Fun Race at the end of the day. I love starts and re-starts.. I sneaked by in the starts with "cold" tires and even lead the race by Lap 2, until the big boys tires came to temp and ended up 4th after 5 laps

Early change to sticker tires on race day. Clean laps, good weather and was able to set a fast lap of 2:31.6 in the Warm Up, which is the new H Stock class record. Came very happy into pits after 3 laps and ready for Qualifying. Qualifying was crowded and warmer, got in early a 2:32.0, and decided to save tires and car instead of fighting traffic trying to get some tenths off. Road America Tip: You will NEVER get your PB time if you encounter ANY traffic at Road America (any minor lift on the big straights or lack of 2mph out of a corner will kill your time).

We bled the tires a few pounds to compensate for the higher temp later in the day for the race, but that will prove to be not enough due to not having run long enough in Qualifying. I Qualfied 14th on grid first in my class in the middle of the faster GTR cars.

It was really a complicated Sprint race due to the mix up of cars with very different strengths. The Big Wing modded cars had great corner exit (race gearing, more HP) and where faster in the fast corners (downforce), but I killed them braking into the slower corners (Cayman is fast in - fast out) where downforce is low, and my top speed wasn't that bad thanks to better aero and less drag from the lack of Wing but I had a hard time holding the pace, specially in the back straight where they were faster through the T11 kink.

I had a good start and sneaked in as many positions I could in T1, T3 and T5 under braking and was running 9th ahead of where I should be. We screwed with the Tire pressures and didn't drop them enough for the warmer longer race session, so ended up fighting big oversteer after 8-9laps and lost 3 places in the last 3 laps (didn't want to be a jerk either and block them aggressively not being in the same class). I basically allowed them to run side by side into the corner if they held there under braking. On several occasions i was able to hold the outside line (curb and rumble strips included! Check the pcitures of T8 where I prevailed despite the massive outside line!) and hold the position but once the overheated tires are beyond their optimal pressure (4-5psi by the end of the race). I oversteered/drifted wildly ALL the way out into the rumble strips to hold on for position. At the end I had to give a 964 Cup the inside line on Canada Corner, but oversteered all my way beyond the rumble strips! (check part 2 of the Video). Gave the position one lap before the last. Finished 12th, 1st in Class and 1st Stock class car.

The Enduro Race day started great. It looked very promising for an overall win until I learnt the bumped I class into our Enduro and a new faster competitor that won his Sprint race in a 944Cup switched classes to run his fast I Class 996 in the Enduro. Wait and see what kind of times he pulls in Quali. Warm Up session objective was to make sure the tires were still up to their max pace. 3 laps, mission accomplished. Qualifying was rougher than expected. Despite having P1 on the grid and planning on having a 2nd and 3rd clean laps and be done; a good portion of the 944 grid decided to come out late and jump in just in front as I was crossing the finish line. Arrrggghhhh!!! Agony! 2-3 laps of frustration, whenever I thought I had 500-800yds of clean space ahead, it prooved not sufficient around this 4.1mi monster track. Calmed down and went into the pits to calibrate tire pressures and time the best exit possible. It worked. Got 2 clean laps and down almost to my PB with a 2:31.655 (check the video), good for P2. The I class 996, very well driven, qualified P1 with a 2:29.9 and he obviously chose the inside line for the start.

The 996 accelerated faster than I expected on race start and was easily 3 car lengths ahead by T1. He even made a mistake in T3 and ran wide of the apex but got on the gas soon and no chance to get close. Closed some distance on him braking into T5 and Canada corner and was on his bumper when we encountered a back marker. Never had a chance to even annoy him, but the good thing is that running those clean laps meant P3 was nowhere to be seen in my mirror after a few laps. In lap 7-8 encountered back marker 944 traffic and a oil smell appeared. I blamed the older cars and kept pushing. Temp was fine, top speeds felt the same so nothing to worry about until lap 10 when I got the meatball flag. Came into pits, Kurt checked the car; lots of oil between engine and gearbox and hopefully it is just the typical Porsche RMS failure.

After 5:30 hours of track time, the weekend was still a huge success despite my first DNF of the race season. Had lunch and proceeded to watch the Cup Car / Crazy-Fast car Enduro. Leader Quali times where in the 2:15-17 range. It is great to see 50+ 996 and 997 Cup Cars at the same time. Can't imagine why in the future I would want to race in any other series when there's so much competition in the Cup classes in PCA where usually you get 2-3 Pros thrown into the mix every race weekend. Had the chance to meet the night before the gentleman who was now leading the race in a 997 Cup only to learn that in lap 29 had a terrible accident with a backmarker, forcing the race to be stopped and both drivers airlifted to the hospital. The cars were in very bad shape but safety systems did their job and both drivers will recover in a few months from their several broken ribs. punctured lung and massive bruises. this ending really puts thing into perspective and reminds me of being very picky on the safety of my equipment, the race venue, the race organization and the other drivers.


  1. OUTSTANDING POST. Thank you for sharing!! I miss living two hours from Elkhart...

  2. OK. I have to say it. I don't have a full race car but I've run this track on two wheels and 4 many, many times. I run over rumble strips on the INSIDE all the time, but not on the outside. I can't help thinking you're losing time on the outside of these turns. Hold on to that inside apex a scosch longer where your wheels are unloaded and don't spend so much time on the outside where the very rough rumble strips are on the loaded side of the car. Even with a soft suspension, you can't get much power down or turning done out there. OK, I'll shut up now.

  3. Oh, and GREAT videos!!!! Oh, and GREAT Commentary too!!!

  4. Anonymous, I fully agree that going deep into the rumble strips is not the fast way around that track. Running that wide in that picture and the Part 2 Video of my Sprint Race is a consequence of running 2 wide into the turn (giving the inside line to the faster class car) and a big oversteer slide in some cases.

    However, I do believe the right line is the one I show in the Qualifying video running 2 tires into the rumble strips and if you see the telemetry that doesn't impede being 100% throttle from the apex onwards. I would say that the ALMS, GrandAm and IMSA Pros run even a bit further than that in their hot laps (almost into the dirt towards the end of the gators)

  5. BTW, this is the video from the accident I describe at the end of my write-up. It is from the racer in the Cup Car that it made through the spinning car in the T11 kink just before the leading Cup Car that was about to pass him and ended up hitting the spinning car at 120mph+


  7. I prefer the outcome here


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