2008 Volkswagen R32, 2012 Audi Club NW 'Veloren Gehen' at Oregon Raceway Park

From the Seattle area, I drove across I-90 to Ellensburg. The weather was changing constantly, which was of at least *some* concern since I was wearing my track-worthy summer tires. Minor snow flurries aside, the pass passed without incident.

On a drive like this to a track day, I can't resist the urge to take a hard look at every European car I pass (or who passes me). Sure enough, Tony Fackelmann and I crossed paths several times, exchanging waves. With the car on cruise control for much of the trip, I enjoyed just taking in the scenery. I am reminded that folks will travel to the Northwest with the intention of touring around to see the views that some of us take for granted. With that in mind, I elected to not take I-84/US-97 South from Ellensburg in favor of SR 821 through Yakima Canyon.

Going through Yakima Canyon added about 20 minutes to my drive, but the scenery was stunning. I was rewarded for the detour by the appearance of a flock of Bighorn sheep in the roadway. Like a National Park, you have to keep a close watch on your fellow drivers as the brake lights come on and the smartphones poke out the windows for photo opportunities. SR 821 re-joins I-84/US-97 just North of Yakima.

There are "no services" between Toppenish, WA and Goldendale, WA (our lodgings for the night) a distance of 50 miles or so. This is probably no surprise to seasoned road warriors, but if your prior track day experience is limited to shuttling down I-5 to PIR, you have been warned. Goldendale is still some 41 miles north of Oregon Raceway Park in Grass Valley, so at first glance one starts to wonder what Carrie Stewart was smoking when she picked the Quality Inn in Goldendale. Once you start walking in her footsteps (or is it Google-steps), you quickly realize that there's not any significant population center closer to Grass Valley. ...Or at least not one with lodgings that meet our needs for a decent rate, willing to work with the club.

Those of us who arrived the night before track day elected to gather at The Glass Onion in Goldendale for dinner. The Glass Onion turned out to be a marvelously eclectic place specializing in locally sourced food. I can heartily recommend the duck breast. I think all of us 'city folk' were fumbling around trying to understand how a place like this pays the bills in Goldendale.

Saturday morning we saddled up and drove the 41 miles down the road to ORP in Grass Valley. Several of us missed the turnoff to ORP as we entered town, despite it being marked with a friendly readerboard stating, "Welcome to Audi Club" with a big arrow to the left. My onboard GPS was simply set for "Grass Valley", and once I had doubled back and made the turn, my GPS was pretty certain I was trailblazing through road-less wheat fields (it's probably time for a map update).

ORP itself is set among rolling wheat fields. We were fortunate to have clear sunny weather, though it was a bit on the cool side. The views in every direction were remarkable, and a spirited round of "name that mountain" ensued.

At the driver's meeting, a show of hands revealed that for 75% of us this was our very first time at ORP. Troy Brogdon, our "event master," was among the speakers highlighting how challenging the course was. Troy shared with us that on his very first lap through the turn 3 / turn 4 complex under yellow flag conditions he still managed to spin out a little bit due to the off-camber corner and just misjudging how tight the track was. "Right", I'm thinking. "Don't be like Troy."

This is only the second event at ORP for Audi Club, so the qualified instructor cadre was too small to make it an organized instruction event. You needed to be pre-qualified to solo drive in order to register for this event. An effort was made to match up the few instructors that were in attendance with those who needed them most, but since they were in short supply the most effective way to get instruction was to ask for a ride in an instructor's car. I thought about doing this, but ended up not doing so for a couple of reasons:

A few times at the 'line of departure' between paddock and track I was given the option to either wait for five minutes for an instructor to free up, or to go out by myself. I always chose to head on out. I got great advice from several folks about taking it easy and learning the course slowly before building speed, and that's exactly what I did.

As the day progressed, each of us learned the track and its secrets at a different pace. ORP has a number of blind turns that accompany the elevation changes. Once you learn the basics of the track, you begin to expand your 'envelope' of speed, delaying braking until later and carrying more speed through certain corners. I happened to follow a Mini (which may have been driven by John Ewald, though I'm not certain) through turn 7, and was surprised to learn that I had been severely over braking there. Armed with that little nugget of wisdom, I began to carry more speed there. Couple that with getting a better 'launch' up Valkyrie Hill from figuring out turns 4 and 5, and it became more common to top the blind rise at turn 6 at 90+, with the intention of braking slightly before turning in to 7. However, one needed to be on the lookout for folks who were still figuring turn 7 out. There were a couple of occasions where I topped the rise and found cars braking slower and earlier than I had anticipated, and I had to change my plan in a hurry.

Late in the day with an open track, I found that the 'dip' between turns 7 and 8 made a perfect high energy braking zone. I have not personally performed an arrested aircraft carrier landing, but I imagine it feels a bit like this. Add in a touch of steering input during the braking (changing from left to right) and you have a very entertaining bit of track.

The "half pipe" in turns 9 and 10 has to rank right up there among the best road course turns on the West coast. I chose to clip the apexes low in both turns, but I watched others take the turns at "mid-bank" or even higher, and they seemed to be making a similar time through the turn combination as I was. I'm still not certain what the 'fastest line' might be through the half pipe, but they're all 'fun lines'.

Coming off of turn 10 one of my fellow drivers briefly touched the dirt with two wheels off, two cars in front of me. The dry dirt made a spectacular 'poof' enveloping the car in front of me, which gave new meaning to the term 'blind corner'. When I asked the man later about this little Baja excursion, he said a bat flew out in front of him - that's his story, and he's sticking to it...

All in all, ORP is a track I am very eager to return to. If you have not yet made the drive out to the wheat fields, I encourage you to do so.

Blank ORP comment sheet

Comment sheet with notes from April 7, 2012

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