By on May 26, 2014

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Porsches and drugs are similar vices. They’re expensive, rather addictive and always fun to try — at least once. But there’s always a “gateway” drug, a low-risk and easily accessible drug to just get a sniff of what the air smells like outside of the box. To the Porsche Club of America, whose events mostly comprise of High Performance Driving Events (HPDE) and track days, they needed a gateway race to warm Porsche owners up to the idea of exploring their car’s potential. What was needed was an autocross, a low-risk and affordable taste of motorsport.

Full Disclosure: Lone Star Region Porsche Club of America provided the 1990 911 Carrera 2 and entry fee for this event.

Enter the Lone Star Region Porsche Club of America’s (LSRPCA) refreshed autocross program. After a mild hiatus, the region restarted the autocross program to draw in new members; and partly to have another reason to autocross, these events can be as fun for the instructors as it can be for the entrants. The morning started at about 7:30 am, I arrived a bit early to talk to a few friends and meet the crew running the event. The staff was compromised of PCA members of all skill levels, from local autocrosses to seasoned factory Porsche racers.  As participants rolled in, the shape of the field began to take shape. There was a gaggle of Miatas, of course. I followed a white first-generation Boxster into the event. A pair of 1LE Camaros made an interesting appearance. A yellow 946 Turbo even made it in, and a venerable array of air-cooled and late model 911′s made up the last half of the field. As a truly open event; even one of the regular rallycross AE86 Carollas nearly made it to the event, but when the alternator quit alternating while driving to Houston, they had to give up on the trip.

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I met up with my friend, Seth, to meet the this 911 I’d be attempting to not ruin. A  beautiful red 1990 Carrera 2 sat in the middle of the lot, basking in the golden-hour light. The car is a clever compromise; the wife’s daily driver, and his weekend toy. With an agreed amount of mechanical sympathy, he shared the keys with me for a day. The ’90 911 Carrera 2 is a time machine. Not knocking on a modern Porsche, but the air cooled ones smell and feel like they’ve just rolled away from a craftman’s hands. Thoroughly brilliant driving dynamics wrapped up in a classic suit. Occasionally the mood is interrupted with a few gimmicks of the era, like a popup cassette tape holder, but you still can’t help wanting to don a smoking jacket and cigar after stepping away from the experience.

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Just look at it. Post-80′s bumper covers really did bring the styling of the then-new 964 up to spec of the modernized chassis. And that RS wing? A little gratuitous, but so perfect. The event is structured like an average SCCA Autocross. Registration and tech inspection are quick and painless, and there’s ample time for course walking at your own pace. Seth and I were walking the course, and talking about how to approach the course with the 911′s quirks in mind. We spotted a rookie pretty quick, a tall fellow in a salmon shirt and white Dockers, and went along to go introduce ourselves. Seth did a course walk around with him, one-on-one, to give a quick run through on course memorization and how to approach each section. We eventually caught up with the main group of instructors, who were leading a group course walk for all interested drivers.  While not a habit for SCCA Autocross, LSRPCA found it beneficial to set time aside to run the groups through and give an introductory lesson.

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The event is ran like a typical autocross. Entrants were given work assignments, a required job using the body count of entrants to help staff the event, mostly as corner workers. Autocrosssing regulars of the region make up the more critical elements the event; like handling lap timing, organizing drivers in grid, and timing the starting gap between drivers, as the course crosses itself in one section. Corner working is simple enough: keep an eye out for cars that have hit penalty cones, radio in the offenders, reset any dislodged cones, and generally be the eyes-and-ears of the event. My morning started running timing, experienced from helping run our local rallycross events. We started on time, and the run group was even keeping to schedule, something that can be difficult with new drivers figuring out the pace and rhythm of the time between runs. Things like drivers being unready when it’s time to queue up, slow driver changes with a shared car, little things.

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The diversity is refreshing. A healthy level of competitiveness is brought out of some drivers when a purple MX5 starts knocking down faster laps than a newly-bought 911. Most of the newer drivers were quick to adapt to the autocross format, and quickly found more and more time. Instructors were available two ways: They can drive you (in your own car, or one of their’s), or they can ride along and provide instruction. I wrangled Steve Bukowski, Performance Driving School Chair for LSRPCA, to help me adjust a bit quicker to the 911′s quirks. With in two laps, I had dropped around 3 seconds off my consistent, but slower early runs. My issue is a common one is a common one of mine. I regularly compete in rallycross. While it teaches a lot about weight transfer, corner entry is a different record in the juke box. My natural habit is to enter hot, upset the chassis, and rotate the car into corner with the nose facing the exit before I even reach the apex. This isn’t how you play autocross, and the Porsche would revolt with sobering understeer.

The 911 is a an interesting car to drive. They behave like nothing else, and if under-driven, will fight you in every direction. With poor weight transfer at lower speeds, it’ll understeer at turn in; and with poor throttle commitment will step out the rear like a rudder if you pull back. I knew that going in; never-lift was the contingency plan. If you trust it, and shift weight forward for just a second, the rear tires build a little slip angle, just enough so that you dial the steering wheel back to center. This is how the edge of a master chef’s knife feels — smooth, sharp. If exploited correctly, you can make a 911 truly dance wherever you want. But it takes work, it’s a state of mind. A break in concentration, or a lack of commitment, and it fights you.

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But it was easy to build confidence with the LSRPCA instructors, including Seth, my loaner 911′s owner. With an approachable, while still technical approach to instruction, his strength is in getting drivers past the mental barrier of entering performance driving. Raceday jitters can paralyze a person, and such was the case of a particular Boxster owner.

After my runs, my work assignment was to help operate the timing system. The system uses a two pairs of light sensors that start and end a unique timer for each car as they break through each pair of sensors. The times are automatically recorded by AX Aware, timing software ran on a tiny netbook. Raw times and raw penalties are separately recorded on paper, as backup.

If a run’s time exceeded 100 seconds, the timing system would begin to miscount the number of cars on course. This should never happen — but it started to happen during my work stint. We quickly identified the driver, and Seth approached him. He was making a common autocross-rookie mistake: Getting lost. Though Houston Police Academy has a nearly figure eight shaped road course, it connects to an open parking lot. Taking that parking lot full of cones, and visualizing a course in it is one of the toughest aspects to autocross. It can be infuriating when, despite the best attempts, the cones never translate into sense.

With the problem now identified, Seth worked with the driver over the next few runs. First thing was course navigation, second was keeping his eyes up, looking forward to the next turn — instead of looking down at the turn he was currently navigating. While the first run with Seth still timed out the system, his next run had dropped his time down into the mid-70′s; a remarkable 30 second improvement. Slowly, the driver began to enjoy himself. His fastest run came down to a clean 68 second run.

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This is who the LSRPCA wants to capture. The Porsche owner who has yet to truly explore their car correctly. It was later mentioned by another racer that our problem Boxster driver had been blasting through traffic that morning, perhaps a bit recklessly, on the way to the autocross. No doubt the autocross was a humbling, though productive experience for him. As drivers become more comfortable with high performance driving, they can easily step up to LSRPCA’s more regular track day events to further hone their skill. The autocross program, from its catered lunch to the friendly instruction, provides an attractive start for Porsche owners. If you’re around the Houston area, and have a Stuttgart speed machine in the garage, look into the Lone Star Region PCA’s website, here, to find out about future events.

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19 Comments on “Capsule Review: Lone Star Region Porsche Club’s Every-Man’s Autocross With A 911 Carrera 2...”


  • avatar
    photog02

    Not a mention of that square-tail 2002? What a tease…

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Wow, 2nd comment. Is it fair to say that the ‘racers’ among us need to stop acting like anyone else gives a flip? The B&B seem mostly interested in junkyards and distaff posters, not motor sport.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Unfortunately this seems true. Folks around here talk about their car’s handling, acceleration, etc, but most can only speak from driving on the street. My Z became a complete different car on the track, its actually kind of depressing when Miata’s blow past you. Lack of experience plus weight are my enemy. Hopefully people reading this will get interested enough to attend a track day. Its truly a blast! My HPDE experience sounds very similar to this article: great mix of vehicles (ranging from Civics to Vipers), everyone super friendly… and the personal pucker factor getting up there.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        Racing takes a level of commitment that most people just aren’t up to making. I’m not real sure why more people don’t track their cars, maybe because they’d have to accept the harsh reality is that they really aren’t all that good of drivers after all.

      • 0 avatar
        imag

        The most common misconception among novice track drivers is that their car dictates how fast they will go. In beginner run groups, it is common to see top-spec Ferraris get passed by Miatas, as the speeds have very little to do with the car’s capabilities.

        Starting out, the important thing is to have a car that is reliable. I’d rather have a car with fade-free brakes than high horsepower.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “its actually kind of depressing when Miata’s blow past you.”

        I remember taking my 2013 Charger R/T Track Pack to it’s first lapping day and getting my doors blown off in the turns by a Mini Cooper S with sticky tires. It required a lot of work just to hold off the Solstices. I knew going in the car wasn’t a corner carver, but it really showed the difference between a full size sedan with sporting intensions and truly sports oriented cars. It was still an absolute blast though.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      There may be some truth to that, but part of it is there’s not as much room for commentary and debate re: autox or hpde.

      I tried to get out once or twice a year for autox when I had the S2000. Would have done more, but a 3-4 hour round trip plus an afternoon standing on summer asphalt kicks my butt. I never ran fast enough to hurt the car, but I did bald a set of rear tires one infamously hot day at ACU4.

    • 0 avatar
      NotFast

      My open track career ended once I started having kids…

  • avatar

    If you want experience, do a couple of Lemons races. You’ll spend 1-2 hours a day seat-time pulling your shift, and you’ll learn most of what you need to know in a weekend – including confidence.

    • 0 avatar
      Phillip Thomas

      Lemons is a very high level of amateur motorsport to the layman. Wheel to wheel is not for everyone, and autocross serves as the least detrimental way to enter motorsport for your wallet, car, and health.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I flagged this article at lunch, looking forward to reading the comments later on. Its now 930pm and there are 4 comments?? Yeah, @mitch is right, most people here must just not care at all about any competition events. I have a blast at autocross, and I just did my first HPDE, I LOVED it, definitely have been bitten!

  • avatar
    PonchoIndian

    I used to autocross often, although it was mostly in nose heavy large FWD American cars.

    I miss it. I would love to have a track puppy like that hot little Porsche. I’d love it even more if my wife would learn how to drive a manual so I could let her daily drive the little beast.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    Autcross is a hell of a gateway drug.

    I started in 2006, and while I was never able to devote enough time or money to it to get terribly good, I’ve always held my own and had fun.

    Moving from autocross to HPDEs was the best move I ever made though. When you compare the seat time you get ($30-40 for 4-6 minutes vs. $250 for 2 hours), the speed, and the fun of actually being on a real racetrack, it’s a no brainer.

    Open track days are more taxing on the car and will coast you more in tires and brakes, but I feel like I’ve become a much better driver in 2 years of them versus the 6 I spent doing autocross only beforehand.

    And I definitely have to agree with JMII, most people who think they’re “fast” would definitely be humbled the first time they have to give the point by to a Miata. Hell, I’m sure the guy in an Aston who gave me a point by in my old RSX-S felt the same way.

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    What sort of abuse should one expect to put their daily-driver through if they wanted to do some autocross with it? I’d think accelerated wear on tires, brake pads/fluid if it’s a faster course, clutch if you suck, am I way off?

    • 0 avatar
      PonchoIndian

      Speaking from my perspective and experience…

      I only went through brake pads and rotors, but the brakes on my cars were typically undersized for normal driving. Other than that the car really doesn’t take much abuse unless you do something stupid on purpose.

      Tires used to “chunk” once in a while, but that never seemed to have much effect on longevity or performance. Never had or hear of any mechanical problems, but I only did it half a dozen times a summer.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      Depends on the daily driver ;)

      If you are wearing the clutch, you are doing something wrong. Learning to heel toe is key. The best place to learn that is actually driving around town, where you don’t have to stress about being fast.

      Other than that, I agree with Poncho.

      • 0 avatar
        brenschluss

        I don’t really like to practice heel-toe in public, since getting the brake to where I can also blip means pushing it to almost the end of its travel. I think this is because I wear big clown shoes but I’m probably just doing it wrong.

        I’m able to get 82-83k out of OEM pads driving with some vim and vigor, so maybe that wouldn’t be a huge problem…

        Is there a class in which one could be competitive in a little FWD tincan on all-season tires?

        • 0 avatar
          PonchoIndian

          Once again, just my opinion…

          Don’t go into it thinking you’re going to be competitive. In all honesty, I really never was. I used to go with 3 or 4 close friends and we used to like to compete among each other. There was no chance any of us were going to touch the M3′s and Porsches that would show up to play.

          Go and have fun with what you brung. We’d have guys show up with base Taurus’s, Dodge Intrepids, had a Lightning and 96 Impala SS show up a few times.

          Once you get the bug, get some experience and possibly get some money saved then you can worry about being competitive.

          Check out to see if you have any local clubs that do Autocross days. I used to run with the Local BMW, Viper, Porsche and Taurus SHO clubs.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Depends how hard you want to push it. If you take the course at 7/10ths, you’ll probably be able to drive home not much worse for wear. If you run it 11/10ths, then you’ll probably noticeably scrub down those all seasons and possibly warp the rotors.

      My suggestion would be go out and give it a try with the stock hardware and see what the limits are without pushing it over the edge. If you like it and want to do better, invest in some tires and decent brakes.


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