Run groups are a mystery to many who are new to HPDE (and even those of us who've been doing this a while). Broadly, run groups are designed to "clump" drivers and cars into roughly equal-sized groups by how fast and/or safe they are. I've been on track with "zero" run groups (an open test day, just head out when you want) and everything up to and including eight run groups.
I've posted some sample facsimile schedules from the four organizations I instruct with the most. I have deliberately obscured the "times", as I don't want pixel-peepers drawing conclusions about which group offers how many minutes. This stuff changes a lot.
There are some other logistics in getting cars and drivers into the "right" group. A common one is "car sharing". If two drivers are sharing one car, they can't run in the same group. Another factor is what group your instructor is in (again, can't be the same group generally). A third factor is the "back to back" scheduling conflict. It's less than desirable to have the same person and/or vehicle needed in immediately adjoining run sessions. It can be done, but it generally means somebody is going to have to cut their session short by five minutes.
To the right (image topped by "Sunday Lapping") is a fairly typical Audi Club NorthWest (ACNW) HPDE schedule. ACNW names their run groups by color, and the numbers on your car will be that corresponding color.
The White run group has the majority of the instructors in it, along with a handful of drivers who typically have race experience and are qualified to drive solo. The White group is almost always the first group on track each day. This serves two purposes; first, it re-familiarizes the instructors with the track preparing them for teaching. Second, it allows them to report back to the safety focal if there are any localized issues, say standing water in a turn, so that this information can be passed along to those that head out on track afterwards.
The Green run group has the balance of the instructors, along with many of the solo-qualified drivers. If you're listed in ACNW's records as being solo qualified, you will not have an instructor assigned.
There is some perception that the White group instructors are faster than the Green group instructors, but the instructors tend to be sorted into groups based on what students (i.e. what other run groups) they prefer to work with.
Green group is where ACNW "goes shopping" for instructor candidates.
The Red and Yellow run groups are both "instructed" groups. Everybody in Red and most in Yellow have an instructor in the car - it's an easy visual check for the folks who oversee safety and check the vehicles as they're heading out on track.
Red tends to be our early career drivers, those who are moving up to HPDE from Driver Skills. Drivers assigned to Yellow have usually demonstrated aptitude for driving at higher speeds, along with the accompanying awareness of flags, other drivers, and hazards needed to be safe.
If a student is doing well in Yellow ("doing well" is mostly defined as driving safely, consistently driving the student line, and driving at or above the average pace of the Yellow group), his/her instructor can send them out "provisional solo" towards the end of the day. This status needs to be cleared with the Chief Driving Instructor for the event as well as the Safety Steward. This does not permanently move the student to "Solo" status.
If an event is lightly attended, ACNW might condense down to three groups. Rarely, ACNW will run an event with no instruction offered; these might have as few as two groups.
ACNW runs one combination Driver Skills / HPDE event each year, QuattroFest in November at Portland. ACNW runs two other separate Driver Skills days, University of Quattro in February at Monroe, and the Matt Ammon Memorial Driving School (MAMDS) in May. MAMDS was formerly taught at Bremerton, and it's moving to Shelton in 2017.
At left is an image (headed with "Track 1st Floor 2nd Floor") of a typical HPDE day schedule for Audi Club Golden Gate (ACGG) as well as Audi Club SoCal. It should be noted that ACGG runs a Driver Skills event on Saturday mornings at most of their HPDE events - this taps into the same pool of instructors, and this is the schedule I'm showing.
ACGG puts an instructor in every car. If you're not an instructor, then you are "instructed".
"X" and "Y" are both instructor groups. "A", "B", "C" and "D" are all instructed groups.
"A" group are the novices, and they start with Driver Skills on Saturday morning, before transitioning to the main HPDE track after lunch on Saturday (and all day on Sunday).
If a student has successfully completed a prior track weekend with ACGG, but is still a "low experience" student, then they get placed in "B".
The more experienced students, the ones who typically have five or more events under their belt with recognized HPDE outfits are generally in group "C".
The most experienced students are in the "D" group. The D group is where ACGG goes "shopping" for instructor candidates. D group is also where instructors who don't wish to instruct that weekend (many instructors choose to not instruct at a track if it's the first time they've been there) end up. By default, they're still assigned instruction.
An "X" instructor is typically assigned two students, an "A" and a "C". The typical flow is that the "C" student is signed off as "solo" for the event from Sunday noon onward. The C student can opt for instruction for the whole weekend, but in my experience most want a little solo time to absorb what they've learned, as well as experiencing their car with less "downforce" (I weigh a bit over 250#). Obviously there's still some instructor judgement involved; if the C student still needs some guidance to progress safely, the X instructor can hang onto them all weekend. "A" students are virtually never solo'd at their first event.
A "Y" instructor is also typically assigned two students, a "B" and a "D". The typical flow is that the D student is signed off as "solo" for the event around Saturday noon (though the instructor is available as a resource for the rest of the weekend). The B student has the Y instructor all weekend long. A "B" student can be signed off solo for the event if his/her progress indicates - this is typically done around noon on Sunday. It's not unusual for a B student to take one solo session and then maybe touch base with the instructor again for either some advice or another instructed session.
In this way, both the X and Y instructors have a roughly "1.5" student load for the weekend.
Sometimes ACGG combines the A and B groups together on Sunday. This is usually a function of how many students are in each group.
To the right is an image of a typical schedule from a BMW Car Club of America Puget Sound Region HPDE day ("Instructor Meeting" at the top of the image). In 2016, they instituted a "rotation" schedule at the request of their drivers; at each event a different run group is "first" or "last" so that no one group is always the one packing up at the very end of the day.
BMW has four run groups. Instructors are allowed to drive in any group they wish. Most drive in "A", the most experienced group. It's not unusual for the A group to be all instructors, with maybe one or two other drivers who have race experience (similar to the ACNW "White" group).
"B" group is the next most experienced, and it's where the BMW club goes shopping for instructor candidates.
"C" group is populated with drivers who typically have five or so track days and have demonstrated more awareness and speed than the D group.
"D" group is the BMW entry-level group, where you land straight out of a Driver Skills day.
Note that the order of these groups is exactly the opposite of the California Audi Clubs. Miscommunication happens, like when an ACNW friend of mine, an instructor candidate at the time, told ACGG at his first event that he "normally drives in 'B'." They put him in a slower group than he was accustomed.
In my own mind, I've started to refer to group progression in "high school or college" terms - Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors.
BMW club locally runs a Car Control Clinic (CCC, another term for Driver Skills) at the same time as the HPDE in the parking lot of most of their events. With BMW, you can't do CCC and HPDE at the same event. Instead, they run the CCC students over to the HPDE side for "joyrides" with the instructors in the afternoon. That's how BMW club "sets the hook" and gets students fired up about HPDE.
Instructors at BMW HPDE days typically get two students, an "A" and a "B". It makes for a very full day.
To the left is an image of a typical schedule from a Porsche Club of America / Pacific NorthWest Region (PCA/PNWR) HPDE day ("Run Order..." at the top of the image).
PCA uses three run groups. The Novice run group is the only fully "instructed" group, it's made up of entry level drivers as well as drivers with several track days experience that have not yet been qualified as "solo" drivers.
The Intermediate group is primarily made up of drivers who have enough experience to qualify for solo, and they are not assigned instructors by default.
The Advanced + Instructors group is just what it sounds like, a collection of Advanced drivers and Instructors.
PCA allows instructors to drive in whatever group they like, and I generally drive (as an instructor) in the Intermediate group.
I believe (but am not certain) that the local PCA group is also rotating the order of the run groups from event to event, similar to what BMW has done.
PCA runs their Driver Skills days completely separate from their HPDE days, relying on (for the most part) a separate cadre of instructors, staff, etc.
What Does It All Mean?
We're fortunate here in the greater Seattle area in that the three "marque" HPDE clubs (ACNW, BMWCCA/PSR, PCA/PNWR) all share an instructor pool and student records in Motorsportreg.com (MSR). As an instructor, it means I can pretty easily teach at 12-15 HPDE events a year without driving more than 4-5 hours to each. As a student, you can do the same, but you have to pay annual dues to three different clubs.
What's *not* crystal clear is how students are treated or "slotted in" as they move from club to club.
What typically happens is that the registrars talk to each other to sort out questions on where a student belongs.
As an instructor, if I know a student is likely to be moving between clubs, I'll write up my evaluation to address where they fit in multiple clubs' grading systems. I may say, "Jane belongs in the Intermediate group in PCA, or the 'Yellow' group in a four group ACNW format." These are very specific breadcrumbs for the people who make decisions.
I still get contacted (and I don't mind), typically when my comments don't match where the student thinks he/she belongs.
The other big communication gap is between the Audi Club California groups (ACGG and ACSoCal) and the ACNW clan. Despite all of us using MSR, we approach record-keeping differently. Detailed California records are not available to ACNW, and to my knowledge, detailed ACNW records aren't available to the California Audi Clubs. We can see each others' "student attended this event" level of detail, but not the evaluations nor the instructor notes.
Another disconnect among the West Coast Audi clubs is how we treat "solo" status. ACNW has a pretty strict protocol for signing off students as "solo" on a permanent basis. It's not well understood, but an ACNW student who is demonstrating solid proficiency and safety awareness can be nominated for a "solo check ride" by any instructor. The solo check ride is administered by a Signoff Instructor at the next event. (sometimes referred to as a "Senior Instructor", though this isn't an ACNW term). There are only 15-20 Signoff Instructors in ACNW. Because of this check ride structure, the candidate has to be able to demonstrate the required proficiency at a different track, cold, on their first session of the day. It's a high bar, and generally puts the successful "solo" student on the radar for consideration to Instructor Candidate school in a year or so (assuming they're doing 4-5 events a year or more).
The California Audi clubs don't actually have a permanent Solo status. Many students who have been through an ACGG event and signed "solo" for that event assume that this has a direct impact on their ACNW status. It does not. Conversely, an ACNW non-instructor with ACNW "solo" status will still be paired with an instructor when they sign up for an ACGG event.
I should note that I've seen some "movement" in ACGG on this subject. I have seen ACGG do two different forms of "pre-soloing". The year before I was promoted to Instructor, I ran at least one event assigned to the ACGG "X" group. I had the "X" badge on my car, was not assigned an instructor, and I ran with the X group. I was not allowed to carry passengers (Instructors are the only ones allowed to carry passengers at Audi Club HPDE events). The second approach is that ACGG designates certain "D" students with lots of experience as "pre-soloed". They are not assigned instructors.
I have been approached by an ACNW friend at an ACGG event. She was justifiably proud of ACGG signing her off "solo" (for that event), and she wanted me to help her translate that status to something meaningful to ACNW. It was at the very end of the weekend, and we were both packed up to drive home. I had to tell her that the only way I could say anything meaningful relative to her ACNW record is if I had actually driven with her in the right seat. The ACGG "solo" does not translate into advancing your status in ACNW, except for simply adding more experience and experience at multiple tracks.
Even with all of the "skills and experience" based assignment criteria I've discussed, know that in many borderline cases decisions are made based on load balancing. If the next lowest group has few students in it, the person doing the assignments will move more drivers into that group.
Most clubs allow the instructor to suggest moving a student up or down either based on a before event interview or what we have observed in our first few sessions. Doing this is subject to what I said in the prior paragraph - is there room in that group?
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