P4-2019-10-11 – SEM HPDE Rocks at M1
Article and photos by John Dorscht
Here in Michigan we often joke that we have two seasons, winter and construction. As a PCA SEM member living in Michigan year round, there is a further seasonal sub-set in my world, that being “track season” and “dark winter”.
Sure enough, that time has come. It’s the end of another track season, late September and the last HDPE event of the year. Up at 5 am for a planned on-time departure from home at 6:15 am. Check to make sure I have all the required gear, check the track car security within the trailer, check the trailer security to the H2, brakes, hitch, chains, lights and finally good to go. Yes!
The morning air is crisp, it’s dark and the sky is clear judging by the view of the stars and moon. A 6:15 am departure will get me to the gates at Pontiac’s M1 Concourse for the 7 am gate opening. The weather forecast for this September 24th is CAVU (Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited), 70 degrees with light and variable winds. Could the start to this final HPDE late September day be any better? NOT!
The performance track at M1 concourse is located on Woodward Avenue, famous amongst other things for the Woodward Dream Cruise route that ends in Pontiac. The M1 performance track is a 1.5 mile 30 foot wide track with 11 technical corners and 25 feet of elevation change. The $60 million M1 Concourse development is a real gem built on the decommissioned GM Truck and Bus plant property. M1 was built by visionary car guys for car people. The track is tight, with little room for error should you involuntarily find yourself exploring the small tufts of grass separating the track from the tire lined Armco barriers. But, M1 is so much more than a performance track that lies barren through the week during track season. Over 180 top shelf car condos are stuffed with four wheeled hardware ranging from patina laden rat rods to the best cars our automotive world has to offer. Each condo owner enjoys unsurpassed mezzanine or in some cases third floor views of the M1 track. The M1 culture has evolved into a community of like-minded people who enjoy car collecting, track time with their favorite toys, over the top decorating of their car condos, social events and technical sessions.
This will be my second time driving the M1 track, though I have visited on many occasions to view events such as the “Speed Ring” and as a guest of car condo owners for social events.
A little personal history; this HPDE track day did not actually start for me this September morning. Today is the pinnacle event of a journey that I started two years ago when I turned my back on the 996 Turbo S I was driving in HPDE events as a newbie. That Turbo S most certainly that got me hooked on HPDE events, but lost out to the thunder of Andrew Olson’s Coke Car 928 V8 running at the Waterford Hills track. That was the pivotal moment that I decided to focus my efforts on finding a Porsche 928. I did my research. I attended a Munk’s Motors “Other 9’s” event and found my 928, a 1987 that started my journey. As the second year of my journey winds up with my “Rogers Roost” 928 S4, I find myself steeped in reflection on the 40 minute drive to the M1 Concourse. That journey, starting with my simple idea to craft a finely tuned 928 track machine specifically built around my expectations of what a track car should be, not a pretty car fresh off the dealer floor, not a car built for wheel to wheel racing, but a car that would challenge my building skills and outperform my driving abilities. I wanted a car to use at HPDE’s, open track days and for bracket racing events. Ah, how simplicity so easily slips down the slope to complexity without even a hint of realization. We have all seen too many pretty cars, built with hard work and uber dollars, hit the wall and be destroyed in wheel to wheel racing. I did not want to wheel to wheel race. I did that with go karts when I was a kid. HPDE is the perfect venue to learn high performance driving and mitigate the risk to car and driver.
Frankly, it has taken me two years to sort this car out from air filters falling off, trashing transmissions and spinning a connecting rod bearing. In the two years I have owned this car there are few components I have not had apart. My initial build priorities………Safety; achieved. Performance; achieved. Reliability; achieved. Maintenance friendly; achieved. Driving fun factor, duh YES…definitely achieved! Was it worth it? You betcha!
As an engineer, I have designed, built and manufactured a lot of stuff in my life. My take away from these experiences is that you are never really done; while you are close to being done, the mantra is 90% done and 90% to go. Anyone who has built anything understands this. I think of the many people that have assisted and supported me on this 928 build journey, especially my wife Kim. To them, I am thankful.
So back to HPDE. It’s 6:55 am when I arrive at the private entrance gate off South Boulevard, whoops the gate is locked. No matter someone will soon pull up behind me and they will have the gate code. Sure enough, not a minute passes and I am in. It’s still dark and I am met by Marc Molzon and Steve Carbary who are busy organizing for the arriving group of drivers. Marc and Steve have been there a while. They said, “Go to the back paved paddock and park, we have 3 or 4 other trailers coming so please keep that in mind when parking your rig”. They don’t have any problem seeing my rig pull up though, a school bus yellow H2 Hummer pulls my trailer. No problem guy’s…Yes, the HPDE day has begun. The M1 paddock is more than adequate to accommodate the 50+ cars participating in the day’s event.
OK, so it’s time to put all that sentimental journey stuff aside and get focused on making my 928 machine perform up to the most excellent weather which we have been blessed with!
On to the routine of unloading the car from the trailer, getting set up and others are arriving. I gather the tech inspection form and my driver license and head up to registration. At registration we are pleasantly greeted by Lisa Molzon who keeps us all organized, she also drives in HPDE. Lisa provides us with an envelope that includes our schedule, instructor assignment, lunch ticket and car number for the day. The M1 staff is also on hand to answer any questions. M1 also requires us to register.
Open the envelope. Hmmm…… so we have 51 registered for today’s HDPE, a good size group. The groups are made up of 11 participants in green, 9 in yellow, 9 in blue and 22 in red. I am running solo in the blue group with 8 others, some I know and a few hot cars. The drivers meeting is at 8:40 am, the blue group has five 20 minute sessions on the track, the first at 9:40 am and a classroom session at 10:20 am. All good. The lunch ticket for the Autocore provided lunch is placed between the vice jaws for safekeeping. Clean the 928 glass and apply the vinyl B01 sticker to the front windshield.
Time for final track prep for the car, torque wheel studs to 90 ft.lbs. and check the fluids, no need for the “Waterford silencers” on the exhaust today as M1 has no noise bylaws to contend with. I will save airing the tires until it gets a little closer to track time and get my drivers gear out and ready. OK, all good.
Time to head to the tent for some light breakfast that is kindly provided by Munk’s Motors. I am greeted at the breakfast table by George Sonas (manager at Munk’s) and Chris Braden (Head Chipmunk and Munk’s owner). We discuss Munk’s recent 50th anniversary party and Munk’s recent 100% rating by Bosch for dealer evaluations. Final conclusion, a good time was had by all at the party and Munk’s continues to be as anal as the guys that drive the cars they repair. I take the 928 to Munk’s for the pre-inspections required for SEM HPDE events. Rick Christian and the guys at Munk’s know my car well from these visits. They have watched the 928 progress with each visit. On the last visit, Rick put the 928 on the alignment rack as I wanted to bump my camber at all four points. Thanks guys I am sufficiently suffonsified until lunch.
OK, back to business of the day, the car is ready except for tire pressures, the driver is ready except for the drivers meeting.
Marc Molzon and Steve Carbary tag team us at the mandatory drivers meeting. We have the usual discussions of safety on and off the track, paddock and track entry /exit procedures, flags and their messages, passing zones, point to pass procedures, track anomalies, etc. No glazed stares back at Marc and Steve here, especially from the newbies. All present are paying attention.
As predicted the weather was fantastic. This was only my second time driving at M1, so I asked Marc Molzon what he thought would be a good time for me to use as a goal to benchmark today’s event. Marc is very familiar with my 928’s capabilities and driving skill level, he said “Shoot for 1:16 that would be a good goal”. OK, so I have my benchmark time to work with-1:16. I use Harry’s Track Timer, a $20 app on my android phone to record track lap times and performance. It is all I need for now (Can you see the 90% creeping in to data acquisition?).
Back to the car to air up the slicks. I am going to start all tires at 25 psi, 320’s on the rear and 305’s on the front. It is still cool out at 60 degrees and I am expecting around 30-32 psi hot. Done. In real estate it’s location, location, location. On the track it’s tires, tires, tires. From karts to F1 it’s all about the tires- compound, tread and pressure baby!
First session, a couple laps to warm up the 928 and slicks, others pass me by. I will not be swayed from warming up. I have learned this lesson driving around on slicks that perform like hockey pucks. You find the grass very quickly. My first assessment of the M1 track; hmmm…. it seems tighter with shorter legs than I remember. The surface is a little slick and that BMW, flat crank Mustang and Camaro are all fast. The track is hugely marked up with drifter tire residue and whatever vehicle fluids were inadvertently dispersed from the previous weekend’s Speed Ring event antics. Turn 1 is haunting me as last year I was a whisker away from heavily impacting the wall, yep all 4 of them skidding with a mind of their own (no anti-lock brakes, not that it would have helped). Note to self, be extra cautious on the speed entering Turn 1. Grass is no place to adjust for either speed or direction. Still, what a pleasure to drive this M1 track. End of session, best lap 1:21.94. That’s 6 seconds off my goal, not good, that’s a big chunk of time to shave off. Return to the paddock for cool down, check tire temperatures and pressures while they are still hot.
Next up at 10:20 am is the classroom session for blue group. The full group was there. Marc Molzon led the group and introduced a special guest speaker, David Nikolas, a seasoned racer who brought his IMSA GTP Fabcar to our event. Between Marc’s intimate M1 track knowledge and David’s technical insights and analysis of each corner there was much to be learned and importantly duly noted! So you might ask what insights at the blue level….? i) How about discussing corners that offer the best opportunity for throttle steer exits ii) Completely ignoring certain braking cone locations on the track iii) Discussing a completely unorthodox line for the keyhole corner entering the long straight.
Classroom session over and back to the paddock. 928 checked for track worthiness and on the grid at 11:15 am. A couple of warmup laps and it’s time to put into practice some of those classroom lessons I just learned. End of session, best lap 1:18.77. Who says nobody in the blue group listens in classroom sessions? It’s just a rumor. Getting closer to that 1:16 target…. 2.7 seconds left to go.
Next up hot lunch buffet with chicken, pasta and salad compliments of Autocore. A definite upgrade from the usual (not complaining) and great breaking bread round table discussion over lunch. Laughs, track and driving discussion and resolving world issues, the usual. Oh, and the guy who was ready for a nap, you know who you are!
After lunch I thought it would be appropriate to complete a detailed analysis of my best lap time of the day. Harry’s Lap Timer has a lap time analysis tools that shows you missed opportunities, speed on straights and corners, plus it generally makes you focus on areas for improvement. Not overly sophisticated, but it works.
Next up session three for the day at 1:30 pm. Track assessment, the track has warmed and tires are sticking well, time to light it up? Yep, and then a full four wheel off track, luckily without hitting any barriers. Again, good fortune and ? has spared me and my 928 at M1. Tricky little track that can make a fool of you in a heartbeat. A trip to pit lane for tire/wheel and lower body inspection, all good and back on the track. The track workers advised Marc Molzon and he informed me at the end of the session that I had two off on more than one occasion. No problem Marc, I’ll clean it up. Note to self that I will be especially cognizant of keeping all four on the track. As a general aviation pilot, I was trained to land precisely on the runway center line regardless of the size of airplane I was flying or the width of the runway. If you don’t hit center line, it is a bad landing regardless of whether you landed safely or not. I will use this warning from Marc in the same way. You may be safely back in the paddock buddy, but you were on the edge. End of session, best lap 1:16.37, getting closer.
My friend and 928 technical expert Dave Kowalewsky arrived to visit Andrew Olson and myself at the track. The hood immediately went up on the Rogers Roost 928 to show Dave the most recent fuel system improvements. He suggested and we discuss other improvement opportunities. See that 90% come creeping in again?
Next up session four, with one session to go I decided to make this an on track learning opportunity to observe and follow the lines of others in my cohort. There is much to be learned in the classroom sessions, however following others to determine the best line for your car is highly informative. End of session, best lap 1:16.38, same as last time but I have a few ideas and know I can do better in the final round.
Next up, the fifth and final session. Track conditions are ideal, 74 degrees with light wind, track warm, tires sticky and car running excellent. All the right stuff to achieve the goal, variable is clearly now the driver, no excuses. End of session, best lap 1:15.81 YES! Beat the goal of 1:16.
What a satisfying day at the M1 track.
But wait there’s more.
All the participants were invited to Jonathan Finstrom’s trackside car condo for a rooftop afterparty to celebrate the day. Drinks, buffet, live band and great hospitality. Thanks Jonathan for hosting and the opportunity to share the day’s fishing (driving) stories with friends.
So folks, the 2019 “track season” has ended for SEM PCA and it was a resounding success in my books. A heartfelt thanks goes out to the many people who make this all work!
For now we must deal with “dark winter”.
The Go Pro videos and F1 racing, football and hockey will need to suffice.
Spring is just around the corner. See you next “track season”.