Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Club Racing—Almost the Real Thing
When you’re ready to get really serious and want to find out what it’s like to cope with the added variable of other cars on the track at the same time you are, trying to hit the same apex that you want, you’ll be ready for wheel-to-wheel racing. MINIs are regularly raced in Sports Car Club of America, and BWM Car Club of America Club Racing. MINIs are even professionally raced in the Grand Am Cup Series.
Each of these organizations has defined classes that allow you to race with a MINI that is close to its original showroom specifications, or modify your MINI to run in relatively more unlimited classes. The Spec Classes are a great place to start racing without finding a deep-pockets sponsor or breaking your own bank. In the words of the BMWCCA rules, spec racing places “the emphasis on driving skills while offering a finite capital expenditure’ by racing cars that are still street-legal.
Monday, October 3, 2011
Organized Track Day Programs
Track days can be a fun and relatively safe way to enjoy your car’s speed and handling capabilities. Driving around a race track, at speeds sometimes in excess of legal road limits, is a pretty cool thing to do.
However, if you continue to do it with no real goals in mind, and no help in meeting those goals, it’s as if you were out by yourself, simply whacking a ball around a golf course without worrying about whether it got into the holes, much less how many strokes you took each round. You’d never do that if you wanted to master the game of golf. You’d get a pro to give you lessons, critique your swing, and help you learn which club to use.
So why would you think that you could become a better driver, much less a race driver, without any more help than following other people around a race course. You wouldn't But there is help available, even after you’ve completed an advanced driving skills course.
At least one organization, the National Auto Sports Association (NASA), offers an excellent program called the High Performance Driving Events (HPDE) at tracks in northern and southern California, Arizona, and Nevada. These programs offer opportunities for novice drivers to work with experienced racers to improve their driving skills on the track.
The HPDE program divides drivers into four classes, ranging from first-timers through experienced track drivers, with the instructors deciding when you’re ready to move up to the next class.
In the first level, you have an instructor riding with you, or you are following an instructor, during every session, with lots of off-track time for tips on finding the fast line, getting through corners, shifting and braking. Passing is very limited.
At the second level, you drive without direct supervision, but are still given critiques on your technique, and passing is permitted in specified areas of the track. At the third level, speeds increase, the number of cars on the track increases, and passing is permitted in most areas.
By the time you are judged to be capable of driving in the top level, your skills are at nearly at the point of racing. Passing is permitted everywhere on the track, but under the standard practices of any amateur racing group. The only difference between level 4 driving and actual racing is that you aren't trying to beat anyone over a specified number of laps, so there are no grouped starts, or sprints for the finish line.
Progress from group 1 to group 4 typically occurs over a number of track events, so each driver can move ahead at their own pace as they acquire more experience and skill. NASA also sponsors the International Touring Car Series, and is currently working with BMWCCA on racing events with classes that includes the MINI Cooper S, so graduates of the HPDE activities can move up to wheel-to-wheel racing within NASA if they wish.
For more information about NASA HPDE, check the NASA website: www.NASAProRacing.com. Also, check with race tracks in your region to find out if similar programs are offered at their tracks by other organizations.