By Leon Lewis
I finished my last article for the P4, writing about how I was disfigured permanently from my experience driving in the HPDE at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, —I now look like the Joker from Batman—can’t wipe the smile off of my face. I learned a lot on that track about car control, smoothness, and driving the best line for corner entry and exit, threshold braking, and hitting the marks for corner apex, late apex and for sure avoiding an early apex, which some of my fellow drivers didn’t do so well, as they went off track on several excursions into the wall! Three of my track sessions were run under caution. I also attended the Bondurant Racing School a few years back so I ran Laguna Seca without an instructor and did well, made good times, and avoided any perils the corkscrew could throw at me.
So last week, I attended my first HPDE with SEMPCA at Waterford Hills, and you might think I would find that track less challenging and heaven forbid, I might think my last name was somehow related to the Andretti’s. I searched ancestory.com but couldn’t find any Andretti/ Lewis links in my family, so I avoided any further delusional thoughts and grounded my-self again. Now many of you may not know, but I used to fly aerobatics competitions, and my flight instructor gave me some great advice when I received my pilots permit—this is your license to learn—when you stop learning ground yourself. So I used that advice to approach my time with the great club instructors we have in SEMPCA and approached the event at Waterford Hills humble and with an eye to learning something new. The track was new to me, and Waterford may not be a high speed monster like Laguna Seca, but it is a very technical track that is narrow in width, with many varieties of turns that place an emphasis on car control, smoothness and maintaining a good line.
I was placed in the novice group initially, which was a little too slow for me—in the first session with Jim Stevens as instructor, I listened to him about the line as we drove around the track at about 45 miles per hour and I didn’t even realize it was a session since everyone was driving so slowly. He quickly moved me to the next run group and we had some good runs and I used his suggested techniques about car placement on the track, braking on top before turn-in and smoothness on brakes, throttle and steering inputs. “Braking on top” is to apply the brakes firmly near the end of the straight and complete braking actions before corner entry.
Next, I ran with Marc Molzon and he suggested a different line for several turns, some of which I preferred, and we also worked on braking again—I was carrying too much speed from the two straights into the corner entry and trail braking through the corner, which worked, but I was near the limits of my car’s suspension and the tires grip. Taking their suggestions to get the braking done on top I was much smoother setting up the next corner entry, which also proved to be faster overall. After a few more laps I was running on my own and following a more experienced driver around the track, which really helped my line. I also was able to process Jim and Marc’s advice on my own, which enhanced my learning. I experimented as well with ideas from my previous training, some of which worked on Waterford and some that was not so great. I want to thank Jim and Marc –they are great to work with and now I have an imprint of Waterford on my brain—each turn is seared into my memory with braking points, corner entry, exit such that I could rerun the track in my mind. I had the same experience at Laguna Seca. So my next time at Waterford should be even more exciting since I should be even faster around the track. Now about the next time—for all of you still on the fence, get in your car and drive to Waterford for the next HPDE on September 11th, –you will discover what owning a Porsche is really all about!
What can you expect when you arrive? HPDE is an opportunity to enjoy your car in the safe, controlled environment of a race track. You will improve your car skills in areas such as looking further ahead, awareness, car control in a skid, proper line on the track, threshold braking, to name a few. You will drive your car at a higher level all the while grinning from ear to ear. You will find it challenging, fun and rewarding.