By on May 5, 2011

Paragraph “A” of Section 2.2 of the SCCA National Solo Rules clearly states, “Turns should not normally allow speeds in excess of 45 mph in un-prepared cars.” By contrast, it’s not unusual for club racers to enter Mid-Ohio’s Turn One at ninety miles per hour, often lifting an inside rear wheel and/or making vigorous contact with other drivers at the same time. WRC rallyists often see corner speeds in the 70-80mph zone, although those speeds are attained on corners which simply wouldn’t fit in an autocross course or within Mid-Ohio’s boundaries. Nor should we forget stock-car racers, who are completely comfortable exceeding 130mph on banked turns. In the world of motorsports, 45mph is slow.

Why, then, do some well-informed people consider SCCA’s National Tour autocrossers to be the best drivers in the world?

The answer is precision. Losing one mile per hour in Turn One won’t cost you a club race, and losing one mile per hour in any individual turn of a road rally is utterly irrelevant, since entire minutes can separate places on a particular stage. Do it on the National Tour, however, and you will have just fallen off the podium. Do it twice, and you’ve probably cost yourself even a chance at a trophy.

When I started road racing, I was told that I needed to hit my marks within six inches if I wanted to succeed. The very best autcrossers frequently drive over the bases of the cones which define critical portions of the course, perhaps one quarter of an inch away from knocking them away and suffering an unacceptable two-second penalty. To make decent time through the slaloms which are part of almost every event, the best drivers are frequently steering “one element ahead”, relying on their intimate knowledge of their car’s shock rate and tire elasticity to manage an oscillation which may exceed one g in two opposite directions within three seconds.

You get the idea. These guys, as the old PGA ad used to say, are good. I am not. I’ve competed in five SCCA National Tour events since 2006, never finishing in the top half of my class or the top quarter overall. I competed in the National Championships once, in 2007, and finished 661st in a field of approximately 1300, albeit in a car that I drove 600 miles to the event with used tires in the trunk. I did not autocross at all in 2009 or 2010, choosing to concentrate on road racing and driver training.

Still, when opportunity knocks it’s best to answer the door. Jadrice Toussaint and his team, Changed Mon Motorsports, may not be the Red Bull Racing of National Solo autocross, but they are at least the Mercedes GP and possibly the McLaren. In the past two years, Toussaint and his mercurial co-driver, Marc Pfannenschmidt, have taken multiple wins and podiums with his pair of Moton-equipped Honda S2000CRs. My brother, Mark, sold his B-Stock RX-8 two years ago and joined Changed Mon, touring the country with them and collecting a few trophies himself. This weekend, Mark and I will be “first drivers” for Marc and Jadrice. “First driver,” as opposed to “first violin,” is the lower-prestige seat, since first drivers are expected to warm tires for the “second driver” and permit them to run later in the session when there is more rubber on the course surface. Still, Jadrice’s meticulous approach to preparation and specification makes this my best- ever chance to win a National Solo event.

Don’t expect it to happen. I’ll be lucky not to finish last. When I was a competitive shooter, some twenty years ago, we used to say that rifle shooting was a durable skill but pistol shooting was a perishable one. The kinesthetics are different, you see, so while the top Camp Perry guys didn’t need to practice every days with their M-1As, solid IPSC pistol competitors needed to shoot a few times a week to stay sharp.

Road racing and autocross share a similar relationship, in that the faster hands and larger-scale steering motions required for autocross don’t stay in muscle memory as well as the fingertip corrections needed to balance down the final turn at Road Atlanta. More importantly, autocrossers don’t get much practice time. A road racer might get eight practice laps Friday morning before qualifying, for a total of fifteen minutes. In autocross, fifteen minutes could mean half a season. Seat time is critical.

At the very least, I’ll get five minutes of seat time in Atlanta this weekend. I’ll be reporting on the event over the weekend and discussing some of the subtleties involved. If you’re around the Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, stop by. I should be easy to spot: I’ll be the idiot wearing the same top-vent helmet as Kyle Busch, doing something a little less than 45mph in a turn.

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23 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: Preparing for DFL....”


  • avatar
    faygo

    “and losing one mile per hour in any individual turn of a road rally is utterly irrelevant, since entire minutes can separate places on a particular stage.”

    haven’t been paying much attention to the WRC lately, huh ? last event was decided by 0.2 sec after 2 days of running. being a tenth or two faster per km on stage is considered a decisive advantage these days. tho there are really only ~5 drivers (2x Factory Ford, Citroen + Petter Solberg) capable of extracting the full performance from the cars.

    have fun dodging cones, I’ve never had the patience nor talent for such shenanigans.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      0.2 seconds can cover ten positions in National Solo, but yeah, I don’t watch WRC, I’d rather stare at a blank television.

      • 0 avatar
        faygo

        that _is_ watching WRC :-)

        IIRC it’s not really on air here, except for tape-delayed by a week or two on one of the HD-whatever channels. HD Theater. which is going to be re-branded as something else shortly I think.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    I know as much about racing as a cat knows about Opera, but I will say that when I grow up, I want an S2000 like the one in that picture.

    • 0 avatar

      The ironic part is that Jack was really dismissive of S2000 a year or two ago when I asked. It’s probably in the TTAC pile of comments somewhere. I do not remember the reasoning though. Seem to dimly recall it being “gutless”, so maybe this “Moton” thing addresses that.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        It doesn’t. I cannot stand the S2000 and I wouldn’t own one under any circumstances. It is gutless, it is outrageously heavy for its size, and the interior was seemingly created for double-amputees.

        With that said, it is the car to have in SCCA B-Stock, so that’s why Jadrice has two of them, and it’s why I am excited about driving it.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        I have an arm/body length ratio not too dissimilar to that of a double amputee, and I can honestly say I have never sat in a car that fits me better than the S2000. It was love at first sit. Everything is exactly where I would have put it if I had the luxury of having the car built around me. And the windshield is even upright enough so the frame doesn’t rest on my forehead, the way it does in most contemporary convertibles.

        The gutlessness can be fixed with a blower (or wasting one’s youth driving freeways in third in a vtec Honda :) ), but for road, as opposed to track, use, a bigger problem is a too tricky, short travel and alignment sensitive suspension.

      • 0 avatar

        As Jack said, it’s not for particularly tall people. Learned how to fit my 6’4″ self into one from Jason Saini, who before moving on to MX-5 Cup and World Challenge, autocrossed the hell out of an S2K. Jason is also taller than I am and one of the mere half-dozen people on the planet with bigger feet than I have, so his advice was valuable:

        – Tilt seatback forward. This is mission-critical as the seat won’t slide all the way back on its tracks if the seatback is in its normal locked position.
        – Slide seat as far back as it can go.
        – Tilt seatback back to latched position.
        – Fold yourself in as best you can. You only have to be in the car for about 5 minutes at a stretch.

  • avatar
    JJ

    “Why, then, do some well-informed people consider SCCA’s National Tour autocrossers to be the best drivers in the world?”

    Yeah…I don’t know about that one. Always an arbitrary thing to say. I used to think F1 drivers would naturally be good (even great) at other motorsports disciplines as well. And yes, I’m fully aware that those 24 guys on the grid are not the 24 best drivers in the world and have all been in some way fortunate to get the necessary funding to get there, but almost all of them have at least enjoyed impressive results in the junior formulae, so you’d think they’d be immediate frontrunners in ‘lower’ forms of motorsport like for instance DTM (touring cars, run on a lot of the same tracks as F1) or IRL (at least the roadcourses).

    However, quite a bunch have gone those routes in recent years and the results have ranged from ‘not quite lived up to expectations’ to ‘failed miserably’. At the same time Bourdais won some ChampCar championships but than got crushed in F1, as did Zanardi and to a lesser extent Da Matta before him.

    One Pablo (classic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPYcStboHgE) manages to do just about ok in NASCAR (frankly I don’t know what to make of his results and whether it’s good or bad in NASCAR, but I guess he’s still driving the car so it must be good enough) and of course Kimi gets a few points here and there in the WRC, which is good but still trails the 5 mentioned in the above comment by minutes.

    So…There are bound to be some transferable skills but different cars, different disciplines will IMO usually yield different ‘best’ drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      There are probably some professional landscapers who can place the mowing decks of their Dixie Choppers within a fraction of an inch every lap too.

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      Well it’s all about opinion of course. For what it’s worth I think the top rally drivers take some beating for skill….to drive a car sideways on mud/gravel/ice/snow (often on the same stage), between trees or with severe drop-offs with no guard rail (often in the dark or fog) at speeds in excess of 130 mph takes skill and guts beyond anything required on an asphalt track.

      Just my humble opinion but whenever “special events” match F1, IndyCar, SportsCar and Rally drivers together it is usual that the rally drivers win.

  • avatar
    ComfortablyNumb

    A rare moment of humility for Baruth. Now if you can just admit that you also won’t bag any supermodels this weekend…

    Kudos for admitting it, Jack. If I had just gotten over myself back when I was autocrossing, maybe I could have learned something. Instead I just kept endlessly searching for the right tire pressures to match my obviously flawless driving.

    • 0 avatar

      “A rare moment of humility for Baruth.” -hahaha, Agreed.
      Best of luck, Jack!

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I’m not even leaving the motel Saturday night. The last time I went down there the guy I was driving with dropped nine hundred bucks at the Cheetah and disappeared into the VIP for two hours. I spent the first 45 minutes of that time smoking my cigar and the 75 following avoiding the eyes of all the thugged-out former running backs who clearly wanted to steal my empty-but-for-one table in what had become a standing-room-only club.

      I get no love in the ATL, yo.

  • avatar

    I look awesome in that pic. Unfortunately, I finished 18th of 52 that day :(.

  • avatar
    jimbowski

    Jack, any details about the mods on the S2000? Is it in ‘B Stock’?

    • 0 avatar

      The two cars are pretty identical in setup. Both are still B Stock legal. One was a Delete model from the factory, the other had the radio and AC legally removed. The Delete model is running T.C. Kline Koni shocks, while the non-Delete is running Motons. I believe both cars have the Gendron front sway bar. We run 275 Hoosier A6s on all four corners, with Koseis up front and TR Motorsports wheels in the back.

      That’s about it :)

  • avatar
    tedward

    I’m fascinated. I’ve started paying more attention to local autocross lately, mostly because I think the modifications they embrace are the most relevant from a street car perspective. Seriously, these guys aren’t putting ridiculous low profile tires on for a very good reason, something that I wish enthusiasts would note before they attempt to turn their Jetta/Civic into a DTM lookalike.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Yes, practical street mods like super stiff damping to compensate for the inability to change springs, and crazy toe-out alignments for better turn-in. They also aren’t putting big wheels on because of class restrictions.

      Yes I do agree, the kids could learn a thing or two. But I have also learned hanging around on forums, they actually don’t care if big wheels and slammed suspension is worse than stock performance, they don’t care at all about racing.

  • avatar
    JMcD

    Link for live timing: http://sololive.scca.com/

    They also had live audio broadcasts for the last couple tours on Ustream: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/SCCASolo

    Remember, look ahead!

  • avatar

    Good luck, Jack, even if you’re driving a car you don’t like. I am curious about your comments on the S2000 as it seemed pretty close to a non “S” Boxster in specification and actual performance. The early ones tended to be a little tail happy, but it seems a rare bit of character for a Japanese car…

  • avatar
    DrBiggly

    I’ve seen Jadrice’s car run firsthand a number of times while autocross speed is slow, this car is not. Best of luck. :)

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