The Truth About Cars » summit point The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:42:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » summit point Unsponsored Content: Fifty Dolla Track Daze Yo Sun, 04 Aug 2013 14:30:09 +0000 gt46

It’s one of those too-good-to-be-true things that turns out to be true anyway: Volkswagen is sponsoring a fifty-freaking-dollar trackday at Summit Point’s Shenandoah Road Course. You need to be a VW owner and you need to bring that VW to the track. There are probably a few other little caveats and fine-print things in the registration as well, but generally this is what it sounds like: a stellar opportunity to get on-track with one of the best organizations in the United States.

Your humble E-I-C was scheduled to be an instructor at this thing, but I just got out of the hospital with some pretty fire-resistant pneumonia and I won’t be up to speed in time to come hang out. Have a good time without me, okay?

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Mustangs: Drift v. Race Fri, 31 Aug 2012 15:18:18 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC has some great Mustang coverage coming your way in about a week, including multiple tests of two different Shelby GT500 models ranging from a 168-mph blast down the back straight of Virginia International Raceway to a pedestrian-frightening growl through the streets of downtown Toronto. We’re busy writing apology notes to Ford for the state of the tires on the VIR car — are those cords? — so in the meantime we’ll distract you with this question: What’s faster around a racetrack: a “drift car” or a “race car”? In this video, NASA regional director Chris Cobetto and awesome drift dude Vaughn Gittin, Jr. try to create some suspense out of a foregone conclusion. There’s a more exciting video — for road racers, anyway — after the jump.

Most racers will spend that entire video yelling “COME ON, JUST PUT A FENDER ON THE GUY ALREADY, YOU’VE DONE IT TO EVERYBODY ELSE IN NASA!” Just kidding, Mr. Cobetto. If nothing else, the video shows how difficult it is to make road racing look exciting to an audience which can’t feel just how frightening it can be to ride in a fully-prepped vehicle on the limit of grip. One mistake and you’re in big trouble. Oh, do we have video of something like that? Yes we do:

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Oh, Deer Mon, 18 Jun 2012 17:44:08 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Did you miss “HyperFest” this past weekend? If you did, then you missed out on what is turning out to be a genuinely American tradition: road racing, drifting, beer, open lapping, brawling, bikini contests, and general debauchery, all held at Summit Point’s outstanding Main Course.

The video above shows an incident that had everybody talking: a high-speed meeting with Bambi on the front straight. But wait, as the AutoBiWeek people say, there’s more.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In this frankly surreal video, multiple confrontations occur between police, women, and policewomen, complete with chokeholds and raw “I’M IN YOUR FACE!” drama, interrupted periodically to observe an Infiniti M45 drifting. All it really needs is a giant video screen featuring Kid Rock to complete the picture of our neo-Roman decline into international irrelevance.

So, for all you people who think road racing is some sort of hoity-toity LeMans CirKwee Doo Sarf business… now you know better, eh?

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Trackday Diaries: Consider Phlebas. Mon, 21 May 2012 16:43:49 +0000

In his uneven but interesting book Guitar: An American Life, Tim Brookes notes that acoustic players “pick up a guitar in order to meet college girls but wind up talking to other middle-aged men about their fingernails.” I started racing so I could put my merciless, Edward-Green-shod foot on the neck of other competitors in the twilight zone that separates victory from certain death, but I’ve wound up spending my weekends telling other middle-aged men to unwind their steering wheels at corner exit.

This past weekend at Summit Point’s Shenandoah course, I preached long sermons from the Book of Corner Exit to three of those middle-aged men: a novice in a Panamera Turbo, a prodigy in a C6 Vette, and my own crumbling self, piloting a Coyote-powered Mustang GT in an ultimately futile attempt to outpace a colleague in a new 991 Carrera S. Together we pursued the discipline of the Quality Exit, with varying results. To misquote the poet: “O you who turn the wheel and look to chiclets, Gentile or Jew, click the jump to find out how we did.”

Over the past five years, the TrackDAZE crew has come to set the gold standard for East Coast track events. They run on time, they have an extremely low rate of incidents, and they pay attention to the details. It’s part of the organization’s policy to give each student an instructor who is familiar with the type of car driven by that student. This is easily done for Civic and Corvette drivers, but when a fellow signs up for his first-ever trackday and he’s driving a Panamera Turbo… where do you find a club racer with wheel time in one of those?


My relationship with Porsche and its eleven-second hyper-hatch has been a bit fractious, but I do have wheel time in the car and I understand what’s required to get one around a racetrack. Other than a tendency to fade their dinner-plate brakes after a few fast laps, Panos don’t present much challenge to a reasonably experienced driver.

Instructing in one, however, is a different issue. In a perfect world, all driving students would have new Civics with ABS, stability control, and two sparkplug wires pulled to ensure that they can’t go fast enough to keep the instructor from properly coaching/criticizing/texting/sleeping/enduring a particularly vicious hangover. The Panamera, by contrast, typically combines three separate sets of known instructor phobias:

  • The Car That Is So Big It Needs A Three-Point K-Turn To Negotiate Slow Corners
  • The Car That Is So Fast It Will Simply Teleport Its Occupants Into A Concrete Wall If The Student Hits The Accelerator At The Wrong Time, Even For, Like, Just One Second
  • The Car That Costs So Much Freakin’ Money That Each One Of Its Owners Is A Horribly Wealthy Person Who Is So Horribly Successful That They Are Horribly Disinclined To Take Orders From Some Random Dude Who Just Happens To Be Sitting Next To Them For Some Reason And Who Is Keeping Them From Setting The All-Time Racetrack Record For Going Fast And Stuff Which Is Why They Paid All This Money For The Car In The First Place And Hey I’m Gonna Just Hit The Gas And Teleport This Nagging Idiot Into A Concrete Wall Along With My Horribly Successful Self

I always ask new students what they do for a living, so I know what to expect on-track. Reassuring answers include: engineer, programmer, university professor. Mr. Panamera Turbo was a professor, so I knew he’d understand the learning process and have some concept of the idea that it takes time and effort to master a skill. Answers which slightly concern me: salesman, executive, small businessman, attorney. Those guys aren’t always used to taking direction, and they are habituated to learning things without external interference. The most terrifying answer, of course, and the one that causes instructors to vacate the premises under false pretenses ranging from stomach distress to deaths in the family, is “doctor”.

Physicians have been killing instructors of all kinds since long before Beechcraft invented the Bonanza in what many presumed was an attempt to even the score. We’re talking about a profession where simply admitting doubt often gets you hauled into court on a malpractice suit. It’s the only profession that becomes part of your name. Not even pimps get that kind of juice. The most terrifying kind of doctor, of course is any doctor who also gets to call himself a “surgeon”. Being a “surgeon”, I’m given to understand, is like being the doctor of doctors.

My Corvette-driving student is a surgeon, but he’s the exception that proves the rule. He is virtually egoless behind the wheel, quietly analytical, and very focused on going fast. He’s also pretty brave, as he proved at Summit Point this time last year when I had an engine failure on the “ski jump”. We worked on two issues: developing a single, smooth threshold braking motion on corner entry, and that old bugbear, unwinding the wheel.

If you don’t know why we have to concentrate on unwinding the wheel on corner exit, you can find the answer in a long-winded and self-indulgent column here. Short version: the car can’t accelerate properly when the steering wheel is cranked. Once we enter a corner, we need to immediately start looking to the straightest possible exit, and take that exit with a straight, or “open”, wheel. I referred to this as a “quality exit” during one session in the Corvette, and my perfectionist student immediately took this as a mantra. The quality exit. Let’s play Pirsig and capitalize the “q”. Quality Exit.

Quality Exit has a mortal enemy: Hasty Entry. If you go into the corner too fast, you can’t get out of it quickly. This was my ‘Vette student’s problem: he is brave, so he naturally takes a lot of speed into every turn. We then spend a lot of time burning and scrubbing that speed in the midcorner with excessive steering angle. After what seems like an eternity of dicking around while the tires squeal and the nose of the car points nowhere productive, we manage to rotate the Vette around in the correct direction. Once that happens, we are supposed to unwind the steering wheel and accelerate in one smooth motion. Then we can hustle. Until that happens, hitting the gas just sends us off the track faster.

In a Panamera, this is particularly true, so my novice student and I discussed the idea of the “steering wheel string”. Imagine a string tied on the steering wheel’s center spoke on one end and the driver’s right foot on the other. As the steering wheel is turned at the entry to a corner, that string pulls on the right foot and lifts it off the brake pedal. While we are cornering, we use light throttle. At corner exit, we press the accelerator down, which pulls on the steering wheel and unwinds it properly. Get it?

The TrackDAZE folks won’t let me actually tie strings to the students — something about insurance and fatalities — so we just use this as a concept to guide steering behavior. Mr. Panamera and I spent three sessions imagining a string. It started to click. I will say this for the big Porker five-door: that thing can exit a turn. Time and time again we were crowded in midcorner by an Evo, STi, or M3, only to have them just disappear in the mirrors as my student unwound his wheel and called all five hundred horsepower into action. Bye-bye. On Saturday, we were the slowest car in the session; on Sunday, my student executed a flawless, hundred-mile-per-hour pass on a Corvette Z06. His four-year-old son stood on the bridge across the back straight and watched Dad thunder past with an absolutely serious face. Later on, the boy told me “Daddy is going fast.” It occurred to me that these are the kinds of things sons remember.

Meanwhile, my Corvette student was methodically pursuing the Quality Exit. He was close, but I sensed that he wasn’t completely convinced of the superiority of losing midcorner speed in order to gain it down the next straight. “Let’s take a ride,” I told him, and we hopped into a 2013 Mustang GT on P Zero Nero all-season tires. I had two goals in mind. The first was allowing my student to coach me through the turns and thus gain some better understanding of what he he needed to do on corner exit. The second was less admirable. A fellow journalist had brought a new 991 Carrera S to the track, and I had passengered with him earlier in the day and recorded a pretty decent lap time on my hand-held stopwatch. I tossed that same stopwatch to my student and told him to click it every time we passed the white line. Maybe we’d take a Stuttgart scalp in this American pony. It was all in fun, of course: any time set with a passenger on an open trackday is slow and cautious by default. Still, it would give us an idea of how the two cars stacked up.

After a Saturday of showboating and drifting, the Mustang’s P Zeros were smoked and the brakes were soggy. I figured we’d get maybe two laps to set a time, with a cooldown lap in-between, before the car simply became too sloppy to make it happen.

My first corner of the first lap was miserable. The car plowed and plowed on its
decomposed all-seasons. “Patience,” I said to my student, and I worked the throttle to bring the tail around. The Mustang is strong enough to do this kind of ad-hoc rotation but doing so just makes the back tires useless for the rest of the lap. Now we had front and rear tires that were too hot. It was time to be truly disciplined. I entered the next four or five corners at what I felt to be about one mile per hour too slowly and used that slack to focus on my exits. The five-liter did its melodious work and the front tires came back to me slowly.

Over the Shenandoah “ski jump” the Mustang briefly went four-wheels-up into the air before landing at a minor angle. We corkscrewed down to the entry for the mini-Carousel, the back tires and brakes too hot for the ABS to properly control. Into the concrete and out with a thump, but I was focused on “Big Bend” ahead of us. I didn’t think we’d be able to take it flat. Many students and instructors early-apex the Bend when faced with that situation, but I took a bit of a risk and left-foot-braked the Mustang just slightly sideways at the entry. Back on the throttle. The white line approached. Beyond that, there was traffic. This would be our only chance to do this.

“Line!” I yelled, and I couldn’t see the stopwatch. “What did we get?” My lap felt a lot slower than the 991′s had earlier in the day. In the second or so before my student called out the time, I regretted each and every corner jointly and severally, as they say.

We were four-tenths of a second slower than the 991.

Boo hiss.

I took two cooldown laps and tried again, but that lap was two-tenths slower still. Time to call a halt to the fun and come in. I still had a six hour drive home to do. From her perch in the passenger seat, my infamous companion Vodka McBigbra said, “I can see why you do these trips. The weather’s nice and everybody is very nice, too.” Of course, she’s wrong. None of us, from the cautious professor in the $150,000 sedan to the meticulous surgeon unwinding his steering with million-dollar hands, is here for the weather. What did Eliot say?

My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms


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Trackday Diaries: Distraction, the street-steer mindset. Fri, 16 Jul 2010 14:00:51 +0000

Hmm… quite the contretemps yesterday with regards to Web-surfing while driving. Honestly, if I’m endangering any of you by looking at my phone while driving on a freeway so empty that I can’t see a single set of headlights behind me or taillamps ahead, I apologize. And I don’t even own a Martin Backpacker. In a perfect world we’d all be driving in completely silent cars, alone, well-rested and emotionally stable. In my real world, I cover 40,000-plus miles a year on the road and track. Most of those miles are affected by some sort of distraction, whether it’s a phone conversation, personal stress, or trying to sing Douala phonetically along with Richard Bona records. I try to be honest with TTAC readers about what I do behind the wheel. Most of the people in this business are writing whatever they think will ingratiate themselves with the readers or — more commonly — the advertisers.

As it so happens, the one above-parking-speed automobile accident I’ve had since 1988 was directly related to distracted driving. My brother and I were rolling my VW Fox down Cranston Drive in Dublin, Ohio, about eighteen years ago. I was doing about 30 mph. There was a pizza guy in front of me, driving a Tercel. He made a left out of my way. Right then I saw the finest-looking teenaged girl to ever put on a pair of tiny shorts and jog down Cranston Drive. While I watched the shorts, the pizza guy changed his mind and literally backed up into the road. I saw it out of the corner of my eye but was still carrying about 10mph when I hit him. The cop cited us both; me for assured clear distance, him for reckless op. Worst of all, the girl kept running and I never had a chance to share my personal testimony with her.

This article has some of my favorite on-track oversteer photos, from Autobahn Country Club and Waterford Hills respectively. Notice how everybody likes to put up oversteer photos, but nobody ever puts up understeer photos?

Oversteer is cool. Understeer is lame. Yet very few of us really ever deal with oversteer issues during dry-weather trackdays in modern street cars. Nearly everything money can buy, from the Chevrolet Cavalier to the Ferrari 458 Italia, has designed-in understeer. If you want designed-in oversteer, you will have to go racing. I set my Plymouth Neon race car up with narrower tires in back, 650-pound rear springs, a big swaybar, and rear toe-out. When I turn into a corner, the back end steps out naturally. If I do not correct it a tiny bit, the car will crash. Do you want a car which will crash in any turn where you do not apply the proper amount of high-speed correction? No you don’t. For the record, I don’t want it either, but when you race against Miatas and Civics that have a foot less wheelbase than you do, something has to be done to keep you from falling back in faster corners.

Back to your street car, which has one of the following two features:

  • More weight over the front wheels than the rear (everything up to and including Bimmers)
  • “Staggered” tires with more width in back (Loti, Porsches, Ferraris, and so on)

There are a few exceptions, but not many, and most of them are Pontiac Fieros. The rest of us are driving cars which will understeer on corner entry.

Every student I have ever had, without exception, has made the following mistake on track. I’ve done it too and will continue to do it, and I’ve seen Lewis Hamilton do it on television, so read on. You are not immune.

When we drive cars on the street, the amount of steering we get from the front tires is directly proportional to the amount of steering we request at the wheel. Every once in a great while, like in heavy rain or when we are “hammering a B-road”, we might experience mild understeer. Let’s say that happens one time out of one hundred, and that’s being generous.

Since we get a precise and directly correlated steering amount 99-out-of-100 times we try it, we come to expect it. So, when a student goes bombing too fast into a corner and cranks the wheel too much, he gets understeer. I tell him, “Unwind the steering wheel.”

He can’t do it. He is convinced that if he unwinds the steering wheel a bit, the car will STOP TURNING. He thinks this because if you do that on the street, at reasonable speeds, you will go right off the outside of the turn. Try it! (No, don’t, and please don’t yell at me for suggesting it.)

At racetrack speeds, the steering wheel is a suggestion to the tires. Nothing more, nothing less. Ross Bentley, who coached me in 2007, says “At the limit of our tires, the steering wheel slows the car down, while the throttle and brake steer it.” Chew on that a bit. I’ll explain why it’s so in a future article.

With most of my students, I end up having to reach over and unwind the wheel for them a bit. They realize that unwinding the wheel actually produces more turning force because they aren’t as far past the effective slip angle of the tires. The light bulb goes on, usually around the tenth time I do it.

Sometimes the student is exceptionally intelligent and he will ask why I’m better at finding the available traction with my left hand, reached across the cabin, than he is with both hands in front of him. The answer is twofold. First, I’ve done it a zillion times and he has not. Second, I use a relaxed grip and keep my palm off the wheel.

You’ll never win a race against solid drivers if your palms are resting firmly on the wheel. It kills your ability to sense traction. The steering wheel is vibrating in your hands at a specific frequency. That frequency is generated by the vibration of tire on asphalt. Want an extreme example? Go out to a wet parking lot and deliberately steer the car too much. The wheel will vibrate heavily in your hands as you pass the traction limit. That kind of feedback is available to you, at a much lower volume, all the time.

Michael Schumacher did special strengthening exercises so he could steer his F1 car using only his fingertips. We use fingertips to steer, where possible, for the same reason you don’t do calligraphy by locking your elbow and moving your whole arm. Precise motions require precise muscles.

After a nice relaxing night, I was in much better mental shape for my second day at Summit Point and prepared to turn out some decent laps. I get distracted pretty easily during 9/10ths driving. I tried to sneak an iPod into my race car for an enduro event a few years ago but the crew caught me. I just wanted to hear some music for what would be a two-hour stint without much drama. Oh well. In my Boxster I have the stereo, but I turned it off and put my head down to do ten of the best laps I could put together.

For about fourteen minutes I was completely focused, trail-braking every entrance, feeling for grip, kicking up a tiny puff of dirt at every exit. When you’re at your personal limit, it’s wonderful. Time disappears, the chattering backmind is banished. There’s nothing but you, the motor, the tires, and the track. Nobody can touch you and you cannot make a mistake. Is two days of grinding it out worth fourteen minutes of pure focused fury? At the very least, it’s a ticket away from distraction.

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Trackday Diaries: the long night, street habits on the track. Thu, 15 Jul 2010 16:22:13 +0000

If you want to spend fifty days a year on-track, or even twenty, every dollar must be watched. A decent hotel can run eighty bucks or so, including tax, near most East Coast venues. Two hotel nights an event, ten events a year, will run you sixteen hundred bucks minimum. A few years ago I came up with a way to save at least eight hundred of those dollars: drive to the East Coast the night before. Playing a bit of “pickup ball”, to be coarse, can save the other eight hundred. It’s also possible to sleep in bathtubs for free if you have generous friends at the event, so pack a pillow and thick blanket along with your torque wrench and HANS device.

Sunday night passes into Monday morning and I am on the road at 12:30AM to cover the 371 miles to Summit Point’s Main Course. There’s less traffic at night anyway, making it easier to read Wikipedia whenever I have 3G signal. I’ll pick a topic and wander through. From 2AM to 5AM or so I’m reading about the late Michael Bloomfield and the story of the “Super Session” record with Al Kooper and Stephen Stills. A few reviews, a variety of technical diatribes about the ’58-’60 Gibson Les Paul. The maple top is glued to the mahogany body, which stresses the maple under most conditions of heat and humidity, causing the guitar to resonate a bit more. Fascinating stuff. Yes, I read and drive. You’re not allowed to do it in press cars, but I hold the title for the Boxster and therefore if I want to spend the whole trip playing a Martin Backpacker on my lap I’ll damn well do it. If you want me to devote my full attention to the road, raise the speed limit to 195 and give me a plastic trophy for arriving at my destination before everyone else.

The last seventy or so miles takes place on a variety of two-lane roads. Now the morning trucks are out. Passing traffic in the Boxster avec trailer is tricky business but it must be done. Finally I’ve arrived and can get set up. Ugh. My latest set of $25 front tires is an inch too tall. They’re 40-series instead of 35-series. Makes a difference. I travel with a prybar for these occasions. I use the prybar to bend the spring mount on the shocks so the wheels will turn and head out.

Summit Main is an old-school track. It’s killed racers, and it’s even killed an HPDE participant as recently as 2007 or thereabouts. I encourage students to treat it with respect. The question I ask them is: “Where is your nose pointed when you are accelerating out of the corner?” Too often, the true answer is “at a wall” instead of “down the track”. If you are pointed at the open track or a nice safe runoff spot when something bad happens, you are likely to still be doing trackdays next year, rather than waiting for the orderlies to come change your diaper and move your arms to a different position for you.

Turn Four is one of my very most favorite places in the world. I’ve borrowed these photos from the Alfa Club.

What you cannot see is that it is seriously downhill and off-camber. Spec Miatas don’t need to lift for it, but they are also usually a bit iffy about full-throttle on the way out. This is what you see at the exit:

The tires on the left are calling your name as you head down the hill full-throttle. I drive this section with full commitment. It’s hard to beat the Boxster through this section; even the well-driven Ariel Atom ahead of me in one session swells a bit in the windshield as we dive to the inside of the 180-degree Turn Five. Once we reach the front straight he blasts off like a tube-frame Space Shuttle.

I have good students this weekend; a fellow in a 993 Carrera and someone with what amounts to a NASA GTS3-class BMW M3. Both of them suffer from what I think of as “street habits.” The first big street habit has to do with brake pressure. Imagine you are coming off the freeway toward the stop sign at the bottom of the ramp. How do you slow the car? Obviously, you start with light pressure on the brakes and build as you come closer to the stop sign. Your maximum pressure on the pedal probably happens right before you stop. That’s a street habit. All novice and intermediate drivers do it on the track as well.

What we should be doing is to quickly apply the maximum possible brake force at the brake marker and hold that pressure until we’ve arrived at the proper corner entry speed. Most people have never done this in their lives; maybe once, when a deer jumped out in front of them and stood there waiting for impact. On a racetrack we do it every corner, every time. If you brake too early… well, it didn’t kill you, did it?

Another street habit is unconsciously maximizing g-force in a corner. Imagine that you are at the Tail of the Dragon with all the jerkoffs in their S2000s and the neon rolling GSX-CHICANES. You’ll take each turn in a manner designed to press you into the seat with all the g-force possible, which means going in a little too fast, riding the outside of the corner, and not accelerating until you’re way past the exit. Your brain feels that cornering force and says, “Awesome! We’re really booking along, dude!” Meanwhile, I’ve slowed down more than you did, turned more than you did, and I’ve accelerated out of the corner while you’re marking time.

Both of my students acquire a lot of speed during their eight sessions and pass a lot of their session-mates. This becomes addictive so they start to get a little crazy when cars appear up the road ahead of them. They want to push harder, and the old subconscious tells them they need to go faster in the corners. Without really meaning to, they start turning in early without braking as much. That’s too fast so they correct by turning the steering wheel more, which slows the car. It feels very fast, but now the Corvette ahead of us is getting smaller, not larger. When in doubt, relax and drive your line.

By the end of the first day, I’ve been awake for 22 hours in solid heat, six of which I spent on a racetrack, and I’m totally ready to sleep in a bathtub. Good times! Tomorrow we’ll talk about two more street habits, and how tire heat affects the speed at which you’ll hit a tire wall.

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