Monday, August 21, 2023

Autocross Report from Michelin: Fastest Porsche of the Day!

That's a BIG tire!

On August 20th I headed for the Laurens-Mountville South Carolina Metroplex, (total population of 9,394: includes the 75 people in Mountville) and the Michelin Proving Grounds for another autocross competition. This event was sponsored by the Carolinas Region Porsche Club of America, in conjunction with the BMW Club of America. The big attraction was the large rectangle of asphalt at Michelin, referred to as the "Black Lake" since it's pretty darn big! How big? Glad you asked! According to the proving grounds website, it's 14 ACRES of ASPHALT! Here's a video of my fastest lap:

Where are we?

Michelin Proving Grounds is home to nine test tracks, so you might have even seen some videos or TV shows filmed there like Top Gear. While it's kind of out in the country, it's also not too far from the BMW factory up in Greer SC, so my guess is that BMW might use some Michelin tires on their SUVs built here in the USA. I'd been there several times to autocross when I lived in SC from 2009-2014, so it was cool to return and drive with another club this time. Here's a link to the facility for more info:

It was hot so I brought my own shade. 

Autocross wise, we had a small group of dedicated drivers, and enjoyed making 10 runs on the Black Lake with 5 before lunch, then 5 after. One fun part of this event was a lunch break (not all groups do this) which was in air conditioning and included free pizza! Hmm, driving cars, pizza, AND AC during a 95-degree day, what's not to like?

Dead Sexy Cayman!

Another unique part of this event (to me anyway) was that after the driver's meeting (which every group does) we could drive the course at a slow pace all together, just to help make sure we knew the course and wouldn't get lost out there. Driving the course before competition is strictly NOT allowed in every other club I've driven with, so it was kind of fun to do a low-speed dry-run. Note however, that on my first run I missed two parts of the course, and so my first time didn't count. So much for learning from the drive-thru!

Merkur XR4Ti: You don't see these every day!

During my driving I was again focusing on going faster, thinking about where to brake LESS, and get on the gas MORE, and gradually reduced my time. Other than the first DNF, I only hit 1 cone on the 10 runs, so overall that helped, since you get 2 seconds added to your time for every cone you hit. 

BMW 135isM, nice license plate!

After my last run I got to work out on course, picking up cones when other drivers hit them. One great part of this, on such a gigantic course, was that the club had canopies set up where we could stand in the shade most of the time. If you've ever stood in the middle of 14 acres of pavement on a hot August day in South Carolina, you know that shade is a good thing!

Sitting in the sun, my car reads 98 degrees. Trying lower tire pressures lately, my fastest run started at 27.

After a dozen Porsches, about six BMWs, one Camaro, one Merkur XR4Ti, and one VW finished driving, we met in the air-conditioned room again to see the results. The very fast driver in the VW Golf R had the fastest time overall, 57 seconds and change, and he was the only driver to get under 1 minute, so that was awesome. Behind him, in 2nd overall on raw time, and fastest Porsche of the day, was the NMS #77! I was kind of surprised, since I hadn't seen how the times were stacking up all day, so that was nice! This makes TWO great results this year, combined with fastest Porsche on PAX at my last event in New York. 

VW Golf R, driven to the WIN by Randall Wilcox. 

My last of 10 runs was my fastest, so I have to conclude that I kept finding places to go faster. Either that or I started super slow! Nah, it's a big mental challenge to evaluate your performance in between runs and find places to improve. Drivers can control their own performance and not influence others, so that's the fun part of trying to get better. 

P911 license plate for a Porsche 911. 

There were a couple of spots on this course where I was braking on the first run, and either the next run or soon after I managed to negotiate those spots with no braking. That felt good and certainly made the times drop. Of course, the worst thing that can happen in autocross is usually you hit a cone, so it's not exactly risking life and limb or taking a chance on rolling over or hitting another driver. Courses are set up and drivers are spread out to make it very safe. With nothing like that to worry about, your only limit on how fast you can go is usually just driving your best and not holding back. 

Drivers listed by class, I'm first in a class of only 2, and fastest Porsche, 2nd fastest overall on RAW time for the day. No PAX standings. 

Did I mention it was hot? I drank a lot of water before, during, and after, and even threw in a Gatorade for the heat. Normally I think Gatorade still has too much sugar, calories and crap in it, so I tried some new version. Tasted like grape Kool-Aid!

A Fast Porsche 944!

During my first work assignment I got to be the starter, so that's always a fun job, where you are watching cars on course, and making sure they are far enough along before telling the next driver to go. You also have to watch the workers on course, and make sure they have re-set any cones and gotten out of the way before sending that next car. This is kind of a dual job with the person working timing on the computer, so you're always paying attention to as much action as possible and keeping safety in mind. It's also fun to chat to the drivers, remind them what run number they are on, and even just make sure they have their seat belts and helmet on, just in case they forgot! 

Herr Wolfgang I assume?

In between runs I was looking at my timing app on my phone and could see how I'd done on the previous run. This shows some basic data like your top speed at various points on the course, so it was a great way to see how things were going, and where I needed to improve. 

Do You Tinker?

Sometime later this week I'll break down each of the runs and compare split times. Since my fastest run was 1:00.6 or so, I'm just curious if I combined my best sectors all day if that would have gotten me under a minute. Either way, it was nice to finish 2nd, but man that fastest driver was over 3 seconds faster than me. Plenty of room to improve. 

2nd fastest driver on the day imitates Michelin Man. 

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