Track Day

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Greg Reddick

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On August 9th, 1998, I attended the Porsche Club of America (PCA) Driver's Education (DE) event at Seattle International Raceway (SIR). On August 11th, the one year anniversary of picking up my Boxster, I returned to the track for the Barrier Motors Track Days.

This was actually my second and third time at SIR, the first being about eight years ago, when I was driving a Toyota Celica at a Microsoft track day in conjunction with Barrier Motors and the Peteressi Driving School in Portland.

It actually started with a two hour ground school the previous Thursday that went over the rules, flags, arm signals, and car preparation. Then, on Sunday, I arrived at SIR just after 7 a.m. I was assigned my number for eternity, 259, and painted on my windows with white shoe polish. They performed a short technical inspection (a longer one having been done at Barrier earlier), making sure the wheels were still bolted on and that my helmet was up to snuff (Snell '95). The cars were broken into five groups: white, red, yellow, green, and blue. The whites were first-time drivers at a PCA event, and the blues were instructors. Whites must have an instructor in the car until they get signed off to move into the red group.

We then sat in the grandstands (near where it says "Pits" in the diagram below) and got a rundown of the track conditions, and a reminder of the meaning of the flags.

sir.jpg (6439 bytes)

[SIR is composed of 9 turns. Starting at turn 1, the track goes downhill until you finish turn 3b, and is quite steep through 3a and 3b. Then it is relatively flat though turn 6, where it climbs up though turn 8. Turn 9 leads into the straighaway.]

After that short meeting the excitement started. The instructors went out to warm up their cars. The instructors are the only ones allowed to drive non-Porsches in these events. One guy had a Ferrari F40. The chief driving instructor went out with him to qualify him as an instructor. On completing the second lap around, he lost traction in turn 8, fishtailed through turn 9, then spun in front of the grandstands, right in front of me. The tail end hit the wall and punctured the gas tank, and immediately the car burst into flames. When the car came to a halt, the two inside bailed out, one getting slightly burned. The car was totalled. See Death of a Ferrari F40 for more pictures. The two guys went to the hospital to get checked out, but other than the burn, were okay.

f40.jpg (7527 bytes)

After cleaning up the track and hauling off the remains of the F40, the day proceeded a little behind schedule. The first-time drivers met, then got in our cars with an instructor driving. The instructor took me around the track four times at progressively higher rates of speed, showing me the line. Then I got to try. I drove about three laps at progressively higher speeds.

After a break while the red, yellow, and green groups got to drive, we went out again. The laps continued to get progressively faster as I learned to drive the line, shift smoothly, and brake appropriately. I immediately noticed that the Boxster handled exceptionally well through the turns. On the turns, I would be right on the butt of the 911s in front of me, unless they were exceptionally good drivers (especially in turns 3a and 3b). On the straightaways, the 911s would pull ahead, but I'd catch up again in the turns. It took me a while to figure out the right gears to be in for each turn. PCA has cones marking braking points, turn-in points, apex points, and exit points of each turn.

Ideal Boxster Gears if no traffic:

Segment Gear
Turn 1 5th
Turn 2 3rd
Between 2 to 3a 4th
Turn 3a 3rd
Turn 3b 2nd
Between 3b and 5a 4th
Turn 5a 3rd
Turn 5b 3rd
Turn 6 3rd
Between 6 and 8 4th
Turn 8 3rd
Turn 9 3rd
Between 9 and 1 5th

The third time out, I went around twice at which time the instructor thought I had learned enough to sign me off to move into the red group. He got out, and I drove on alone. Again at progressively faster speeds.

Between the third and fourth sessions on the track, I had to run out to get gas. My perception of speed was entirely distorted, as I was going 85 on the freeway and it felt slow. I was getting a little over 13 mpg for the day up to this point.

By the fourth session, the track was largely deserted, as many people decided to leave early. I had entire laps where I didn't see another car. This was good because the 911s were slowing me down! I peaked at about 120 mph on the straightaway, and hit at least 92 on the stretch between 3b and 5a. Each session was about 30 minutes.

At the end of the day, I was soaked in sweat, exhausted, and grinning from ear to ear.

Then on August 11th, I went out again. This time I convinced Tami to join me as a co-driver. The day was put on by Barrier Motors as a service to their customers. I paid $125, but heard later that Barrier had subsidized the two-day event to the tune of $7000. Barrier had contracted with the ProFormance Driving School to run the day's events. Don Kitch, a driver in the 24 Hours of Daytona was the chief instructor. Many of the drivers were again first timers. Don gave about an hour and a half ground school. Then we went out for some exercises.

The first exercise was a slalom event to get the drivers looking far down the road. A guy would wave a flag, and you had to miss a gate. Then there was a braking event to do a controlled brake using the ABS, steering around an obstical. Then a accident avoidance maneuver to miss an obstical and either come to a stop in the rough to the right or get back in the lane to the left. An instructor would give directions at the last second on which of these two avoidance procedures you had to do. Tami did great in these events, especially considering that she hadn't driven my car much to that point.

After lunch, we proceeded to the track. The class was divided into two groups. Our instructor first went around the track showing the line. The line showed is exactly the same line as what is used by PCA, so I was quite familiar with it. Then I got to go around. There were three sessions of 20 minutes each. I concentrated on braking smoothly, shifting smoothly, turning smoothly, and accelerating smoothly. I burned a whole lot less rubber and brakes than I did on Sunday!

Between sessions, when Tami was on the track, Don would give a brief lecture. I got to snap the photos below during those breaks. Tami had a blast and at the end of the day had the biggest grin I've ever seen from her! These two days were the most fun I've ever had in a car.

Below is a photo gallery of this day. All photos of the black Boxster are of my car with Tami at the wheel.

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