In the run up to Christmas I was over in California to visit some family and as part of the holiday I got to race in an Autocross event in San Diego.
To break it down quite simply, the event is held in the parking lot of the San Diego Chargers Stadium(which is bloody massive) a course is devised and then marked out with cones, timing beams set up and then it is just a case of fastest through the stage wins. (although there are categories based on performance and mods)
Everyone is split in to four groups and then each group gets three sessions of 10 laps (two practice and one final) with the time in the final counting towards your overall result. Each group also does a stint of marshalling when they are not running.
The event was a “run what you’ve brung” affair and as long as your car passed a basic scrutineering and you had a helmet, you were good to go.
There was a great spread of cars at the event, from the high end, (Corvette ZR1 & ZR06, Ferrari Dino)
Highly modified, (stripped 924s and S2000s)
What you’d expect (lots of flavours of Porsche, Lotus Exige)
to the silly (VW Beetle, Ford Taurus)
and I was lucky enough to be handed the keys to a 2012 Porsche 911 GTS for the day.
The course itself was set up to reward precision and handling over sheer power, which helped to level the playing field. A full throttle left hander off the start led on to a second gear right, getting the corner spot on meant you were able to hit about 80mph before braking hard in to another second gear right. Another 85mph straight took you the start of the more challenging part of the course. The top section of the course was on quite a gradient and was set up with most of the corners being off camber. The first was a double apex left hander into a 90 degree right with a surface change where a big pot hole had been filled in, which upset the balance of the car. Next up was a section that was like taking Graham Hill bend and then Druids in reverse, great fun and just perfect for drifting round. After that was a downhill right and then flat out left (also downhill) into the slalom section which not only tightened towards the end but was also a corner is well which helped create a few spinners during the day, all finished off with a tight right and left to the finish. All in all a great course that really meant you had to be on top of your car all the time.
As this was my first Autocross event with the club, I was required to have an instructor with my during my first session and once I’d managed to translate what he was saying (“Grabbing”= Understeer, “Humping” = Going very fast and “Bitchin” = Jolly good show old chap) it was a useful addition to the day, especially the passenger ride in his car, a stripped out 924 on semi slicks, which helped with spotting of the course and not getting lost in all the cones.
First session of the day was in the wet. Which instantly put me at an advantage over the southern Californian guys who barely see rain. To be honest though I spent most of the session seeing just how far I could get the back end out and how smoothly I could drift round the Druids corner. As the day went on the track became bone dry and the serious driving took over. Given the most sold thing you would hit was a bunch of cones, you could really push to find the limit of your car without much risk.
The thing I took away from the practice laps was just how hard you have to brake in a 911 in order to get the front end to really bite. But once I’d mastered that, the car was a joy to drive.
So my times – Given that I’d never driven the car before, I had all my racing driver excuses ready (unfamiliar car, steering wheel on the wrong side, etc, etc) but my fastest time of the day was a 1.05.86 which put me first in category, in the top 20 overall (out of 114 registered runners) and most pleasingly 3 seconds faster than the owner of the car I was driving, which given he had just been on the GT3 Cup car course at the Porsche driving school at Barber, I was dead chuffed about. The fastest time of the day was a low 1.03 in a 2012 Boxster Spyder on full slicks.
Now here is where things start to get a bit depressing for us in the UK, first off the price of the event.
The entire day, with all the timing, organisation and instructor training cost…….
$50 (around £30)
Just compare that to how much a track day costs over here, it also begs that question that if you can do this sort of thing over in the states, the most litigious country on the planet, how come we don’t really have it over here? A day’s racing for £30 (even if it is only really charging round a bunch of cones in a car park) would be awesome and the low cost coupled with the ability to drive anything you want could take a lot of the racing off of the streets and into a controlled environment. (Part of the thinking behind the event in San Diego and why the stadium also has a two car drag strip for open events to be held on as well)