2008 Volkswagen R32, 2011 SoCal Fastivus at Buttonwillow Raceway

Most images from Steve Vanhap, track photographer at Buttonwillow

Buttonwillow Raceway is located about 35 miles WNW of Bakersfield, CA. It can be a 'day trip' from L.A., but for maximum racing time you'll want to stay in Bakersfield or Buttonwillow.

For the June 12, 2011 SoCal R32 Fastivus event, we used the '#13 CW' track configuration. For reasons I don't understand, they publish their track maps with South up. With VWOA sponsoring the event, the track fee was a laughable $32 (thanks VWOA). Our facilitator was Speed Ventures.

Because I had prior track experience with Speed Ventures, they bumped me up to the 'intermediate' class, and I did not get any ride along coaching. I probably could have been more assertive about this, but I wasn't. I voluntarily went to the supplemental 'beginners' briefing, but it was pretty much a re-hash of the main briefing.

In the brief, they mentioned that the wall coming out of the Esses was soemthing of a 'car magnet' and to be careful through there. I didn't have any problem through that part of the track as long as traffic was clear (the pit exit comes off that section, and sometimes exiting traffic will cross from 'the line' on the right over to the left). Perhaps cars with more HP or less handling capability than the R32 will let the Esses get them unsettled.

Being relatively inexperienced (third track day), I had a hell of a time finding the line on this course. I gave it my usual exuberant try, over-controlling the car and getting it a little loose. On my second outing, I actually left the track at the Sunset corner (the entrance to the front straight) - I was flat out through the Esses and the straight leading to Sunset, and I just plain braked too late, running out of braking and track surface, exiting neatly into the infield at city speeds in a cloud of dust.

Any time you go 'four wheels off', it earns you a black flag. Protocol for a black flag is you are supposed to exit the track at the pit lane and go talk to the 'flag boss' (I think that's the title) at the start / finish line area. He will then tell you what you did wrong (if you don't know) or briefly inspect your vehicle for damage, asking if it handles OK, etc. What was not real clear to me is what to do if you have a full lap to go just to get to the pit lane exit. The answer? Keep driving 'full race' if your car is in good shape. Acknowledge all the black flags with a nod or a wave. If your car is not handling 100%, drive at a safe speed and wave folks by. And if your car is leaking fluids or needs to be towed, get off in the infield and wait.

After being cleared to return to the track, I had the good fortune to 'wave by' a better driver, Ryan E. Ryan was driving a nearly identical car to mine, so any real advantage is ascribed to the 'nut behind the wheel'. Following Ryan, he showed me the line. I instantly knocked 10 seconds off of my laps, and I saw the 'gators' in a new light. Some of them are placed in a way that shows you the line - for instance at Phil Hill, there is a gator at the outside edge of the corner entrance. That's where you want to be as you let off the brake and turn in.

Finishing my session, I returned to the snack bar area to listen to Aaron the Speed Ventures coach 'talk the line' on paper again. Some things began to jell based on what I had seen on the track:

There was a tricky part. What Aaron said about the West Loop is that most cars should be able to manage full throttle through there, all the way from the hard left at Bus Stop to the hard braking on Phil Hill. The exception would be if your car was enormously powerful, like a Z06 'Vette.

In my quest for better lap times, I tried to work my way up to more and more throttle through the broad right hand sweeper known as Riverside. Somewhere in my third run, I went too far... at about 90 mph, I somehow got upset. I skidded sideways, getting hooked a little to exit the inside of the turn, departing the pavement at a yaw of about 30 degrees. It was a very exciting moment or two just trying to work the throttle and wheel to get the car pointed in the general direction it was flying. Once I got it straight, then I hammered the brakes as I bounded up and over the out of use 'Zorros Corners' in a cloud of dust. I was a little surprised to find my emergency flashers on. I sometimes forget that I enabled the euro feature via VCDS - if you hammer the brakes hard enough for long enough, the lights come on all by themselves.

Took a deep breath and took stock. The car is running, it's still shiny side up, it seems to roll straight without noise or vibration. Time to return to the track and collect my second black flag. The flag boss looked at me and said, "You again?" He looked me over, asked if my front grill was like that already (I remove part of it for racing, it's where the tow hook goes) and cleared me for more mayhem. I gave it about 'nine/tenths' for the remaining laps in that outing, as I was still a little rattled.

In my fourth and final outing for the day, I managed to get close to the speed I departed the track in that turn, and I turned in my best lap time (and block of lap times) for the day.

At the end of the day, I was laying on the ground to remove my tow hook and replace my grill. I saw a solid line of weeds tucked into the front edge of the aero skirt. My R32, the 90 mph lawn mower.

Follow up: I sent an email to Aaron at Speed Ventures, sharing my 'departure from controlled flight' based on his coaching. I had looked at an online video of Alvin T, a 2004 R32 owner and instructor driver, and I was pretty sure he was holding 'part throttle' in the section where I lost it.

Aaron's response: 'Alvin must not have been running race tires.' For street tires, my 235/40/18 Dunlop Direzza Star Specs are pretty good on the track. I'm pretty sure Alvin was running race tires (I saw them that day, and noted that they were just about shot). Looking at this video again (not sure if it's the same one), he may have been warming up.

In any case, I add this experience to my tool belt - "If you try to emulate a far better driver / rider, it might get you killed."

Event Results
FASTIVUS SoCal R32 Track Day! (6/12/2011)
Timing Name LapTime Speed Make Model Year Tires HP
Steven Kraft 68 02:02.4 83.8 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Slicks 250
Raffi Kazanjian 02:03.2 83.3 Volkswagen Golf 2001 Race 370
Chris Mora 02:05.0 82.1 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Race 0
Viken Kazanjian 02:05.9 81.5 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Race 265
Drew Padilla 02:09.3 79.3 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Race 250
nedzad zagovic 02:09.3 79.3         0
JoeBanga 02:10.1 78.9 Volkswagen GTI 2006 Street 210
DaveT 02:10.2 78.8         0
Alvin Tolosa 02:10.2 78.8 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 240
Ian Frechette 02:10.3 78.7 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 400
John Asplund 5 02:12.4 77.5 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Race 0
Armando Rodarte 02:12.4 77.5 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Race 250
James Strawson 02:12.8 77.3 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 350
Lizander Pandy 02:13.1 77.1 Volkswagen GTI 2010 Street 320
Frederick Gaudreau 90 02:13.4 76.9 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Race 0
Ryan Escamilla 02:16.2 75.3 Volkswagen Golf R32 2008 Race 255
Jeremy Kermit 02:18.0 74.3         0
zmoney 02:19.7 73.5 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 0
Mike Hearon 02:20.8 72.9 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 0
Dan Hastings 02:20.9 72.8 Volkswagen GTI 2009 Street 200
Todd Peach 02:20.9 72.8 Volkswagen Golf R32 2008 Street 250
Kenji Watabe 80 02:21.4 72.6 Volkswagen Golf TDI 2010 Street 140
Larry L. 02:22.3 72.1 Porsche 914 1974 Race 110
Jared Franco 02:22.9 71.8         0
jonny yuan 02:23.3 71.6 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 240
Mike Croutcher 02:24.6 70.9 Volkswagen Jetta 1990 Street 0
Matthew McGinnis 02:25.2 70.7 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 241
Eric Martens 02:26.8 69.9 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 0
Peter Hradilek 02:26.9 69.8 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 250
Matt Gabe 02:27.4 69.6         0
Jason Datoc 02:27.8 69.4         0
Fernando Martinez 02:31.6 67.7 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 240
Jason Mealins 02:32.6 67.2 Volkswagen Golf R32 2004 Street 0
Mike Wong 02:36.9 65.4 Volkswagen Jetta Sport Wagon TDI 2010 Street 0
Erik Ruggels 02:37.8 65 Volkswagen Golf R32 2008 Street 250

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