Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My trip to Road Atlanta

I signed up for a three-day racing class at Road Atlanta. The course is taught by Panoz. The class details are here. There were about 24 people in the class and 7 or 8 instructors. Everyone was wonderful, friendly and interesting.

I had a lot of concern about whether we would get to spend much time in the cars. No problems here. We got to run a lot, and other than some very reasonable safety preparations, there were few limits of what we could do. My skill provide enough limits though. It is quite the rush coming down a hill at 100+ mph and have to make a left hand turn at the bottom that looked like the corner of any city street. Road Atlanta has a lot of interesting curves and elevation changes.

We got an education on the basics: braking, turning, heel-toe driving, and controlling skids. They have a nice skid pad that feels way too much like driving a car on ice, but with an instructor yanking up on the emergency brake.

As you can see below, the cars were GT race cars, but running on street tires. They were tuned to understeer, apparently because that makes for a safer teaching tool. It felt very different from driving a normal street car, even a high performance one.

At the end of our second day, the instructors rode in the cars with us for a few laps. Then they drove, with us in the passenger seat. This really gave you a view of how fast and aggressive the course could be driven. That didn't bode well for our third day.

Everyone came out driving hard. One guy put his car into a concrete wall with a fair amount of speed. He was OK, but to get his car on the flatbed truck, they had to bring out a fork lift. I thought that would slow people down, but no chance. We had a number of people sliding off the course or spinning the cars. Several cars didn't brake correctly or enough and slid into what they call the "kitty litter": big fields of gravel that act like truck ramps to slow a car down very quickly. Go into it straight your ride comes to a noisy, but safe halt. Slide in sideways and your car is almost certain to flip and roll.

On to the pictures....
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