Autocross School and "The Tortoise and the Hare" Autocross – March 29-30, 2008

It’s been a long time coming, and I’ve finally gotten my ducks in a row and got a car together so that I can go out and play. With my first event being a school, I started things off right.

The school was put on by CENLA Region of the SCCA. It was a great way to get some seat time, dust the cob webs off the driving gloves, and shake down any bugs in my car. They set a cap of 36 drivers, which were divided into three groups of 12. Each group of 12 was then divided into six drivers and six course workers, which would swap half way through the heat. The three groups each took turns on three different courses, and then everyone got a short autocross at the end of the day. As far as I’m concerned, I got to run the courses in the most favorable order, from good, to better, and finished with the best.

First up was an acceleration and braking course. A simple straight line where you accelerated as quickly as possible, then broke at the last possible moment to get your car stopped before hitting a cone at the end of the straight. It seems pretty simple, but most people (myself included) seemed to brake too soon the first few runs, and ended up with 30 or 40 feet to the cone. With six cars in the drill, you get to go again almost as soon as you get off the course and are able to make the loop back around through the grid. Making a guess, I’d say I got in at least a dozen runs, probably a few more. This course brought out my car’s first flaw – too much rear brake bias. At first I wasn’t too concerned, thinking I could just adjust it out with a quick twist of the bias knob. Unfortunately, the rear brakes already were tuned to the least amount of rear bias possible. Even having to manage the rear locking with no ABS, I got zero brake fade and modulation was very good.

The second course my group got to run was a slalom. Imagine a very tight oval where one straight was a slalom, and the back straight was the grid. Again, with only six cars running the course at a time, it seemed like you were running again almost as quickly as you could pull through the grid. The course was a little tight as the U-turn leading into the slalom was so tight I couldn’t get enough speed to enter the slalom as quickly as I’d liked to have, meaning I was actually still accelerating through the first couple cones of the slalom. If I’d had a lighter, less nose heavy car, I probably would have been fine. But not with my pig. Here I noticed the lack of turn-in response in the Sumitomos I was running. We got a light sprinkle during the middle of this, which I think actually helped because it put more emphasis on “smooth.”

The third course set up was a short straight with a constant radius loop to the right, then to a decreasing radius turn to the left once you crossed back over the center line. Here the Sumitomos impressed me with the level of grip they had for such an inexpensively priced tire. I was also very impressed with the car’s very neutral handling around the loop, as I was expecting quite a bit of understeer. But then on the decreasing radius that followed, a second problem with my car popped up; it seemed as soon as the rear started to step out, I was getting some massive axle hop. The axle hop was causing the car to lose it’s composure and the whole thing would wash out into a slide until it’d scrubbed off enough speed to regain its grip. This emphasized the reward on smooth driving, because as long as I was smooth and not over aggressive, the rear wouldn’t step out and I wouldn’t get the axle hop.

Then came our little lunch break. What followed was the final event, a short autocross that put everything together. Up to this point, the Ratty Little Mustang ThatCould had been run continuously the whole day. It got driven during my runs (duh), and because I was running with a co-driver, when I was corner working for a course, the car was being driven by him. We autocrossed over 3/4 a tank of gas out of the car between the two of us that afternoon. Other than the brake bias and axle hopping, the car took everything we threw at it. Quite a testament for a $4100 (at this point) underachiever. The short course was around a 30 second course, and my times were right in the middle of the pack.

I’ve got to say that CENLA put on one hell of a well organized event, and gave all of us in attendance plenty of good instruction and seat time. I’ll probably do it next year.

I was on a high all the way home, as well as the rest of the evening in anticipation of Sunday’s event, “The Tortoise and the Hare.” And this event didn’t let us down. Even with 64 drivers, we were still able to get in five runs each. That’s right, five. This shows how well organized and how good these guys are at holding these events.

We got there a little early on Sunday, and decided to try and tune out the axle hop by seeing if we could soften up the rear shocks. While doing this, I made a little discovery. It seems that while very diligent in checking the nuts and bolts under the car and in the engine compartment, I completely skipped over the shock bolts in the hatch area. When I put the shocks in, I apparently only tightened the nut to where the shock body started turning, and never went back with a pair of wrenches and snugged it down. This, obviously, completely cured the axle hop problem. However, with the solving of one riddle, up pops another. When the car was sitting in grid, it started running a bit hot unless someone kept their foot on the gas to the tune of about 2000rpm, at which point the fan would keep the air moving through the radiator quick enough to keep temperatures at bay.

Over the runs, with the exception of a spin, I got a little faster throughout the day and my final run netted a time of 51.562. While good enough to rank 38 out of 64 in the Pax, it only got me a fourth place finish in ESP’s class of five. The good and bad of it all is that first and second in ESP seem to be quite competitive in the region, ranking third and sixth overall with some very respectable times of 45.318 and 46.018. These guys shared the same WRX, and a second WRX took third. Yes, I got beat out by a station wagon.

All runs available here:

Other times of note were a few other Mustangs in SM, who got best times of 47.494, 49.558 (very neat 08 Roush), 51.511 and 52.104. All in all, I am very satisfied with the outcome of this event. I have a few bugs to work out of the car, and I have a lot of improving to do if I want to keep up with Matt and Damon. A lot of improving. On to the next one…

Car Setup
Unless specified, parts are stock on a well-used 128k mile high option 92 GT.
Springs: H&R Race f / BBK r
Struts/Shocks: Koni SA Sport struts f / Koni DA Sport shocks r
Brakes: sn95 13″ (93 Cobra R spec) f / SVO r, sn95 booster/mc, Maximum Motorsports stainless front lines and bias knob
CC Plates: Maximum Motorsports
Alignment: 0 toe, -1.4 camber, and 1.22 caster. (More camber and caster could not be had as the chassis was twisted.)
Wheels/Tires: 17×9 Bullitt replicas w/S197 offset, 1/2″ Maximum Motorsports spacers (f), ARP studs, Sumitomo HTRZ II 255/40s
Intake: BBK cold air filter kit
Exhaust: Unknown shorties, 2.5″ h-pipe, and Flowmaster 2 chamber cat back (and some really stupid LX tailpipes modified to work with the GT rear facia)
Rear: Fresh Trac-loc w/carbon fiber clutches and 3.27 gears
Gauges: Assorted “boy racer” gauges: oil pressure and water temp in pod on a-pillar, Monster tach flimsily mounted to the side of the gauge cluster housing on the dash.
Seats: Corbeau VX 2000