PCA Southeast Michigan Region

From the Blog

P4-2018-06 –  HPDE#1 Recap

By John Dorscht

ANTICIPATION and EXCITEMENT was in the air at the first PCA-SEM HPDE driving event of the season at Waterford Hills. Brrrrr! How crisp and cold that air was. In SE Michigan, where we had been enjoying 65°F – 75°F clear sunny days earlier in the week, where the daffodils were blooming, grass was growing like crazy and the swimming pools were open. However today is a harsh reality check. Apparently, Mother Nature had created a black swan for our first HPDE track day of spring 2018.

At 7:15 am when I arrived at the track in my shorts and t-shirt (clearly impractical and overly optimistic), the temperature was hovering at 37°F, the sky was a low deck of heavy overcast and the threat of rain showers or more was rather obviously looming large. The daytime high was predicted by the weather guru’s to be only 47°F, with scattered rain showers highly probable. Was this March or May? This was not a good day for slicks on the 928. Disappointing? Yes!

However, we are a hardy, resilient and prepared lot here in Michigan. Up goes the tent roof, offload the car from the trailer and position the car under the tent. That tent roof will fend off those nasty rain showers from getting into the car without windows while parked in the paddock.

No whining! Just get on with it and acclimate!

The slicks on the 928 were changed out for wets. Notably, the activity from getting setup up and geared along with the handling changeout of wheels/tires, jacking up the vehicle, lug nut torque, all seemed to make it a feel just little bit warmer.

There is an upside to this despicable weather, right? Here is the rationalization…. Yep, that cold, dense and moist fresh Waterford Hills air will undoubtedly punch out a few more engine HP; regardless of our ability to transfer that power from the cold tires to a potentially wet track.

On to the cars……they came rolling in, and a lot of them. Consensus is that this was one of the best attended SEM HPDE events with 17 novices, 13 intermediates, 11 advanced and 21 instructors attending, 62 participants in all.  Mostly Porsche’s of course, 911’s, Caymans, Boxster’s, 944’s, 928’s scattered with a sprinkling of BMW’s, Mini’s, Corvettes, Mazda’s, Mustangs and Alfa Romeo’s. Michigan plates were everywhere, but there were a few brave and hardy souls that had travelled from New York, Illinois and Ontario to enjoy the day at the track.

Waterford Outdoorsman Club bucolic grounds greets you with signs. Most importantly are the signs that post a 15 mph maximum speed limit (and they mean it) with 5 mph maximum speed within the paddock area. NO loud engines are to be run before 10:30 am in the paddock or on the track during weekdays. With the track proximity so close to the residential neighborhood homes we must be courteous to co-exist in harmony with the neighbors.

Once I had parked and was basically setup, it was time to go on a walkabout, do some visiting and get the lay of the land. On my radar and immediately to the rescue was the warm greetings and hot coffee found at the Munk’s Motors tent. Munk’s Motors furnished us all with a complimentary continental breakfast, including fresh fruit, yogurt, toasted bagels and more……all available in copious amounts. Kudo’s to Chris Braden and his crew for taking care of us and our cars! Chris, at the next spring event, please bring a massive propane heater so we can cook up Mother Nature’s black swans.

Off to registration where Gretus Hoogestraat and Chrissy Sweetness efficiently processed us to insure we had met the basic criteria as to event payment, vehicle tech inspection, number assignment, instructor assignment, track and classroom schedule, etc. Don’t forget you will need your vehicle tech inspection form signed off by one of the local shops, otherwise you will not be allowed to participate. Tech inspections from qualified mechanics such as Munk’s Motors insures that we all enjoy the highest level of safety possible on the track. Old is good, new is good. Old junk and new junk is not good and does not belong on the track!

Gretus had a brown envelope for me, filled with all my paperwork for the day, run schedules, instructor assignments, and other stuff, essentially the sum of all the of moving parts it takes to plan, prepare and run a first class HPDE event. The SEM club that does the HPDE organization / operations better than any other track day experience I have encountered. Safe, organized and friendly.

Next up, instructor introductions to the students, followed by each instructor completing an “in paddock” vehicle inspection with a general walk around of their student’s car with the student present. My instructor was Andrew Olson, a newbie this year to the instructor ranks, but a very familiar face at the SEM events, more about Andrew later. Questions from instructors about the car in the paddock…………. Are the wheels torqued? Brake lights work? All the loose items, floor mats, coins and stuff out of the car’s interior and trunk(s)? Do the windows roll down? Door locks work? Tire and brake condition? Hood latched? Mirrors? Loose or hanging parts? Any overlooked safety issues? Numbers in place? Anything else I should REALLY know about your car before we take it out and pound on it? Hmmm…., here the instructors not only develop a first impression of their student’s vehicle knowledge, driving experience and skill level, but also evaluate the students ride. This is where the instructor can develop their strategy to provide the best possible driving HPDE experience with safety for all being paramount. Yep, it the instructors butt in the seat too!

Regarding the instructors, these are people that volunteer their time and take a day off work for the love of the game. Each instructor is filled with a passion; that being to drive and instruct with excellence. Each has their own style. Much can be gained from their differing insights and unique perspectives. Their motivation? My take is to simply enjoy a day driving their own rides and instructing their students at the track. No hidden agendas here! These instructors are to be commended. Think about it! Really? Getting into a car that is largely unknown to them, with a driver that is equally unknown to them without a 2nd set of controls in front of them to affect a potential catastrophic outcome. All this in a high speed, high performance and at times I am sure a high emotion environment.

From my perspective as a general aviation pilot, I have received and given many hours of dual instruction, albeit I always had the safety net of a second set of controls that were fully operational in the co-pilot seat. Initially, this HPDE instruction concept sounded “absolutely” crazy to me. To think that any sane person would voluntarily do this? But they do! They mitigate their risk by relying on their years of experience, their confidence in their skill set, and their deep specific knowledge. Undoubtedly, we as students wholly benefit from their expert instruction and for this we should be thankful to them. With time, my acceptance of this HPDE concept has grown on me largely due to my observations as to the operational level of safety and control exercised by the instructors, each relying on their tailored strategy to mitigate the risk. Still, my logic yields that it is still just a “little” crazy…..

Next up, our SEM HPDE group is led by Steve Carbary for a walk of the 1-1/2 mile long Waterford Hills track. Steve explains that Waterford Hills track is often referred to as the “washing machine”, a very technical track, narrow in width, with a plethora of challenging corners. Not raining yet and the group is large for the 45 minutes of pure insight. Steve’s footsteps is a cookie crumb trail of his “best line” as if he is actually driving with you on the track. The track walk is an interactive, informal session where anyone in the group is free to ask questions or comment on their experiences.  Steve points out the “do’s and do not’s”, what you can expect to experience in your car due to varying track surfaces, elevation changes, cambers, corner visibility, entry and exits points, etc. Today, there is much talk about the pending rain and how it might impact your line. Where will puddles form and other areas to exercise caution or be avoided? The changes in track adhesion on the concrete surfaces vs. the asphalt?  As an aid, traffic cones are strategically placed at the apex of each corner, along with double traffic cones that mark the start / finish of passing zones that are determined by the driving groups skill level. The point to pass rule is explained, a one point / one pass system that offers everyone a safe and organized method to maximize your track and learning experience.

It is still very cold and damp but not yet raining. Now, at 9:45 am it’s time for the mandatory drivers meeting at the start / finish line. The drivers meeting is led by Marc Molzon, flanked by the large group of instructors. Instructors are introduced to the student group. If you still haven’t met your assigned instructor, now is the time to put the name with the face so you can meet with them after the meeting. Questions and interaction at the meeting is welcome. Marc opens the meeting with the question “Who’s ready to race”? Best answer from experience?……….should be no response. However, the first timer’s enthusiasm and anticipation is feverish, their energy levels are riding high, no doubt fueled by copious amounts of caffeine to fend off the foul weather. The “Who’s ready to race “question always yields the answer of a few students who raise their hands and respond yelling out “we are”. Yep, when they are singled out with their hands in the air and yelling out as the rest of the group does not respond, they got caught and they know it. Marc emphatically explains that we are not here to race. Our purpose is to insure the best possible driving and learning experience for each of us, with rules and protocols set out that are paramount to the safety of all. Marc’s next question “Who all wants to go home with their car in the same condition as when you arrived? Best answer is, you got it “all of us”. Marc goes on to explain………..where, when and how to enter / exit the track. Here we also get demonstrations of hand signals and interacting with track personnel, the flags and their meanings. Communication and situational awareness as to the track and changing conditions is critical. The track position of other drivers, location of track personnel stations, traffic cone positions, landmarks and braking signage all play important roles. Further, the Waterford Hills track personnel are very experienced. They know their track! They know cars! If they observe a car operating beyond what they deem to be a safe threshold of the driver, that driver will be black flagged and brought into the penalty box for a frank “discussion” as to the future of continued participation. With fervor, the 2 new “rookie” instructors for this season, Andrew Olson and John Agrusa demonstrate the proper hand signals for allowing a faster car behind you to pass.

All this and more can be found in the new SEM HPDE handbook on the SEM website (sem.pca.org) under the Drivers Education tab. The manual was developed by SEM club members Michael Eblenkamp, Garen Nicoghosian, Marc & Lisa Molzon, Jerry McDermot, Jeff Amos, and Steve Carbary and I am sure will be the “gold standard”, likely to be adopted by other PCA clubs. I wish I had this as a resource when I was a novice!

At the drivers meeting I spotted George Spanos, one of the service managers from Munk’s Motors. In speaking with George he is wide eyed, smiling and completely stoked to share that he is participating as a driver for his first HPDE event. Albeit, he is driving a borrowed car, a 944 graciously provided by Erik Ohrnberger who runs in the blue group. Awesome Erik! What a great gesture by you and what an opportunity for George. If you have yet to experience HPDE, it will undoubtedly be remembered as one of your life’s remarkable experiences. If you ask George, I am sure he will agree.

All in all, it was an informative drivers meeting, setting the tone for safety, the learning experience and more importantly–fun. The drivers meeting breaks up. It’s off to the classroom for the green novice group.

It is now sprinkling, but nah, it’s not going to rain. Our HPDE group is now in full blown weather denial.

At 10:30 the track is open to the cars. The red group runs the track first. Today’s schedule is setup to run each group Red (instructors), Blue (advanced), Yellow (intermediate) and Green (novice) for 20 minute sessions. Sessions start / end every 20 minutes and run systematically like they are on a Japanese train schedule. When first pondering the driving schedule as a novice, I thought you are kidding? All this hoopla for 80 minutes of driving! Now hold on folks, your first HPDE event is an intense experience where at the end of the day, I guarantee you will be spent. On any HPDE hot day staying hydrated is an absolute survival requirement. Today, hmmm, not so much. The green and yellow groups get 2 classroom sessions during the day. Blue gets 1 classroom session.

Not 10 minutes into the first Red driving session, the rain begins. Not a hard and driving rain but at a rate that quickly soaks the track and grounds and all that stuff that was removed from the cars. Most of that stuff that is sitting on the ground gets completely soaked, some from the bottom up depending on where you parked in the paddock. It’s a good idea to bring a tub if you have the space or a blue tarp at a minimum to shelter your stuff from foul weather. Our groups weather denial now changes to a weather reality. Yes, you still drive the cars in the rain. Yes, both windows must still be down in your brand new Porsche for the 20 minutes. Yes, regardless of how hard it rains. Who knew?

Now, the track is rain soaked. Caution prevails, back it down a few notches. Car handling is dramatically impacted due to reduced adhesion. Visibility is reduced. This was my first session. Andrew Olson was acting as my instructor and yes it was in the rain. Andrew was relieved that my slicks had been changed out for wet’s. Yep Andrew, only a single wiper on the driver’s side of my car. Every available pound has been stripped out. A strong argument for using Rain-X window cleaner to bead up the rain on the instructor’s side. Andrew has been running a similar 928 to mine. It is known as the Coke car largely for the red /white paint scheme. Andrew and Dave Kowalewsky, are members of the 928 Michigan Shark Club and both have been instrumental in assisting me in the buildup and upgrades to my 928 track car. This is my 3rd event of the season in this “new to me” car. I purchased my 928 in Nov 2017 from Dave Osborne, the track chairman for PCA-UCR (upper Canada region). This is my first time operating this supercharged beast on a wet track. My immediate first impression is that getting the power to the pavement in a controlled manner is extremely challenging, whoa boy, hang on! A huge difference from running the Pirelli 305/645/18 slicks on a hot track with great adhesion. Finesse and modulation of the throttle action (no traction control) and braking action (no anti-lock) on this slippery surface is definitely at the front of my mind. By the end of that first 20 minute session, Andrew and I both agreed we had a successful session.

After my session I was curious whether I had generated any heat in the tires, NOT! Air pressure was acceptable, re-torqued the wheels, checked the oil, engine and other systems for integrity in preparation for the next session. Then I checked out my sessions track data record on my phone. I have Harry’s track timer app on my android. It is an insightful method of looking back to analyze your run. Highly recommended and reasonably price for around $20. Grabbed the umbrella, watched some of the other groups run on the track and it was time for lunch.

A variety of sandwiches in a box lunch format was served up at 12:10 pm. The lunch was generously provided by Stephen Cramer at Autocore Performance. Thanks so much to Stephen for sponsoring lunch. Autocore builds and services high performance street and race cars. They also do the PCA tech inspections on cars.  Most of the HPDE group huddled up for lunch in the classroom where the obvious attraction was that the room was heated and dry. The enthusiasm, energy level and chatter of the group was high. The hope of the group that the rain might end was higher.

After lunch there was some relief from the rain, but not the cold! The track never really did dry out.

Track sessions began at 12:50 pm. My classroom session was with the blue group immediately after lunch. The classroom session was led by Jim Stevens. The focus of the session was the wet track conditions, the variable of adhesion on the different track surfaces and how the Waterford Hills and other tracks “wet line” can be substantially different than their “dry line”. Very informative, a lesson that I could immediately test and exercise in my car on the wet track.

So the rest of my day was spent dodging intermittent rain showers, visiting and comparing track day stories with the cohort. At 2:50 there was a break for the corner workers and track personnel. Their posts were attended with great care, regardless of the wet and cold. It was a Carhart and raincoat day for the track personnel. Thanks to all of them, for keeping us organized, on schedule and safe.

After the last session Andrew Olson shared a story with me about his student in the novice group he had instructed during the day. His students name is Candice Mack. Candice’s ride was a BMW 128i. Andrew’s synopsis was that Candice was not only totally stoked by the HPDE experience but showed great promise as to mastering the lessons. Andrew is confident that Candice will be back for other HPDE events.

Let’s face it, the more new faces we get to the track the better our shared experience, and the better for the SEM chapter. You don’t need a Porsche to participate in a PCA HPDE event, all you need is the desire to improve your driving skills and enjoy your car at an elevated level of performance.  BOTTOM LINE: If you own a Porsche, do participate in the next HPDE day. Friendly people, great experience, practical skills building and your ride will get the exercise it was built for………… :))

About the author -This is my second year of tracking a Porsche at local Michigan tracks. I have been participating in a multiplicity of driving events at various tracks; PCA HPDE events, open track days, invitation days and bracket racing. I am presently tracking my third car, the first being a 911 Turbo S that is now relegated to a garage queen, a Cayman S that I use as my daily driver and a supercharged 1987 928-4S which is my “new to me” dedicated track car. My wife Kim has a Boxster S. It was Kim and the Boxster S that got me hooked on Porsche’s. And it was an HPDE event that got me hooked on tracking a Porsche. Hooked? You bet……  🙂