2008 Volkswagen R32, 2011 Audi Club NW 'Quattrofest' at Portland International Raceway

Most images from Jeffrey R. Dahl, photographer at Quattrofest 2011

The Track
After all of us 'novices' had completed our classes, we met our track instructors. Tony introduced himself to me. I had not seen him all morning, as he had been shepherding one of the other two classes of novices, and we simply hadn't crossed paths. It turns out we're practically 'neighbors' here in Woodinville, he lives maybe two miles away.

First thing we sorted out was that I was to leave ESP engaged while on the track. I had never before done this intentionally, as it's a little harder on the brakes and can interfere with maximum corner exit speed.

We headed out onto the wet track with a mild drizzle coming down. The usual drill your first time out on the track for the day is to take it a little easy, making sure your brakes and tires are up to spec before you really push it. It's also an opportunity to familiarize yourself with all the corner worker stations. They like to see you give them a little wave as you go by, acknowledging that you see them. As we completed our first lap, the 'flag boss' made a gesture like, "I see you", pointing his V-shaped fingers at his eyes, and then at me. Thinking he wasn't happy that I wasn't eye-balling all the corner workers, I returned the gesture back at him, "I see you."

Halfway around the next lap, I see the 'meatball' flag at the corner station entering the back straight. I was almost even with the station when it registered in my conciousness, and I turned my head and looked right at him. He moved the flag in an unmistakeable, "This one's for you, pal!" motion, and I lifted throttle a little and "three-quartered it" back to the pits. I told Tony that I was getting a 'black-flag-mechanical', and my heart sank again as I told him about getting black flagged earlier for the fluid leak; "Maybe I really *do* have a fluid leak."

We headed into the pits to see the flag boss.

"What does *this* mean?" he said, giving us the V-shaped fingers to the eyes gesture again.

"Um, 'I see you'?"

"Nope. Turn your headlights on. It's raining. Somebody wasn't paying attention when we discussed the signals."

Back out we went, chagrined and wiser. Having Tony show me the line was a huge advantage, especially in the rain. I improved a little each lap.

Ride-along, I
After my run session, Tony went out for some track time of his own. It's fairly common for 'your' instructor to offer you a ride-along in 'his' car to show you more technique and the details of the line, but Tony and I agreed that I'd be a tight fit with my helmet in his BMW Z4 Coupe (I'm 6'-06"). I grabbed my helmet and headed for the pit area, not really sure if I'd try to grab a ride with somebody else or not.

As it happened, Pat (the outgoing club president) rolled up in his 'track rat' Audi (I'm not good at ID'ing historical Audis, looked like maybe an original 'Quattro'), and there was a moment where a young lady looked at me like maybe I was there first, but I waved her on to go ahead and jump in.

Not a minute later, David (not my former instructor, another David) rolled up in his brand spankin' new Audi R8, with the V10 motor (and paper plates). He asked me if I wanted to go for a ride, and I said, "Hell yes!" It was a snug fit, and I was trying really hard not to bang my helmet on the door frame, but once inside, the seating position was comfortable with the lateral bracing just sort of naturally keeping you in place.

My first impression of that R8 was that it just has a phenomonal amount of 'pull' from 90 to 130mph on the front straight. In the rain. David got it a little twitchy coming out of turn 3, and that was interesting to experience. Short wheelbase, relatively low polar moment of inertia; the car changes direction very rapidly when it's loose.

Because of the higher speeds, David was braking the R8 in places where I hadn't bothered to use the brakes on my R32. Because of this, I could feel the weight transfer and realized that even if I didn't absolutely need to brake for speed reasons, braking to set the car up properly would help me get some more speed in the corner.

I think David gave me four laps, and then we pitted so he could pick up the next guy. It was a ton of fun and I learned a lot, but it's a little hard on the stomach.

Back in the driver's seat
On my next run session, I discussed what I'd learned from David with Tony, and my laps got faster. My learning curve was definitely faster than most of the other 'novices', and we passed just about everyone in my run group, including some notably 'fast cars' (S4's, a Porsche, an RS4).

David, the instructor on my lane change drill was riding on the track with a fellow who had a shiny new S5. I reeled them in something fierce.

Instructor: "You're going to have to let this guy pass you on the back straight."

S5 guy: "He's faster than I am?"

Instructor: "Yes. He is."

~~~~~~~insert Wookie roar here~~~~~~~~

S5 guy: "What the hell is that thing?"

Instructor: "It's a Volkswagen. Why do you ask?"

In fairness to the S5 guy, he upped his game after 4-5 track sessions the next day, and made it more of a fair fight..... It turns out that he too is a 'neighbor', out in Duvall.

At the end of the first track day, Tony, my instructor, signed me off at level 2, which felt pretty good.

Finishing the first day of track time, we headed back to the hotel for a banquet. Ross Bentley was the guest speaker, and he was quite entertaining.

Ross also showed up for the second track day, giving us a little 'group coach' activity. I got a couple good tips from him in those sessions:

  • Braking in traffic for corner entry, I found myself getting fixated on the car in front of me, and not really paying good attention to *my* turn in point and clipping the apex. Ross's tip - don't *look* at the car in front of you, just *be aware* that it's there, and concentrate on *your* line. Your (near center) peripheral vision is really all you need to keep track of that other car.
  • The problems I was having in turns 6 and 7 can be corrected by turning my head an exaggerated amount to 'see the apex' early.
  • Ride-along, II
    Somewhere in here, I picked up my second ride-along. This was with Rodney, a younger guy who had driven up from Sacramento (where he attends college) specifically to attend this track day. Rodney is qualified as an instructor with ACNW (a prerequisite for taking folks for a ride during these events).

    Rodney was driving a Mitusbishi Evo RS, a car vaguely like mine - relatively unassuming, but a somewhat light, small, AWD performance car. I was keenly interested to see how Rodney approached the track, since this was closer to my car than the R8 I'd ridden in the day before.

    Rodney introduced himself, told me a little about his car, and called it a "gen-u-ine rice rocket", which I thought was pretty funny, though quite accurate. Rodney attacked the track with a smooth violence while I held on for dear life. You can see me 'strap hanging' in these photos - the seats didn't offer much lateral support, and I didn't find my usual 'leverage points' for pressing legs or elbows against the interior to brace myself. As it happens, I had muscle soreness from my fingertips all the way up to my shoulder for a week just from that ride....

    I spent most of the ride with Rodney in silence, just taking in what he was doing. I think it unnerved him a little that I was not asking many questions. It was good to watch how he turned in, and how he trail-braked to set up the chassis.

    Truth be told, my time with Rodney left me a little queasy, and I had one more thing to respect the ride-along instructors for - it's pretty unsettling to be on the track without the controls in your hands.

    Armed with more knowledge, more track time, and helfpul input from Tony, I started to solve the mysteries of this track. As I got corners 'dialed in', I started rolling into the throttle earlier and earlier.

    Tony offered encouragement, and had me attacking corners with more energy. The weather cooperated, and we got some sun and a dry track. After lunch, I asked Tony if it would be OK to turn off the ESP (VW's name for Electronic Stability Control) now. Tony thought about it, and said he thought it would be OK, but that I should be wary that the car will handle differently without it. He asked me if I had ever driven with it turned off before. I told him, "I never really drive with it *on*." Of course he was fine with me turning it off after that.

    In my second to last run session, Tony started telling me he thought I was probably ready to be signed off at level 3. This was a key goal for me, since level 3 allows you to drive solo. Some ACNW events don't have instruction available, so my 'solo ticket' would allow me to participate in those.

    In my last run session, I'm thinking over and over again, "Don't screw this up. Just hold it together, and you'll get your solo..."

    Tony continued to push for improvement, and in particular we pushed harder and harder on Turn 6, the 'carousel', a turn that had vexed me in the early going. Turning my head very early helped, and I made some progress on the corner. With Tony egging me on, I entered Turn 6 faster than I had before, and rolled into the throttle very early.

    As sometimes happens when you're pushing the edge of the car (and driver's) abilities, the car got loose, and the tail swung out about 45 degrees in this moderately fast turn. I stayed in the throttle and instinctively opened up the steering angle (turn into the skid) until I had gathered it back in, all the time yelling inside my head, "Crap! You lost control, and now you won't get signed off!"

    Tony says (to my surprise), "Looks like you're ready for level 3!"

    "What the hell?", I'm thinking...

    ...and Tony continues, "Yeah, seeing you lose control and then gather it back in shows me that you're ready." The world of the track has its own rules... Tony was quick to point out that I would benefit from more instruction, that I should seek it out whenever practical, but he said he was comfortable signing off on my 'solo' level.

    In hindsight, I realize it takes a very even temper and maybe 'big brass ones' to climb into a car with a near total stranger, an unproven one at that, and ask him or her to drive near the limits of control. I don't begrudge the use of ESP in the early stages, particularly in wet weather at the track.

    Blank PIR comment sheet

    PIR comment sheet w/ notes from Pat Martin chalk talk

    My session notes from Feb 26, 2012 'Son of Quattrofest'.

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