Navigational problems notwithstanding, everyone arrived in time for the initial briefing. Introductions were made, and a track order was determined. After the safety briefing, the instructors talked us through the course layout.
Our first course layout was a basic corner + slalom setup. The venue was essentially a large rectangular tarmac area ringed with safety barriers, with the course route laid out with traffic cones. The start and end location was a marked box, and each run was a two-lap affair through the cones.
First up was Zan, who demonstrated that it was entirely possible to generate heaps of oversteer in a FWD vehicle! Coming into the corner a little hot, he lightly touched the brake... prompting the back end to perform a decisive overtaking manoeuvre around the front end. The vehicle came to rest facing the way it had come, and the crowd went wild.
Later in the day, I would find out what happens if you stop looking ahead and simply focus on the upcoming corner...
The other issue that quickly raised its ugly head was that of excessive corner entry speed. I don't know what it is about FTO owners - maybe it's all that time spent on the road taking corners at breakneck speed. Practically everybody on the track found themselves going in too hot.
While it was great fun to enter a corner at 40km/h and try to carry that speed around the full 180-degree bend, it meant that the tyres were fully loaded just keeping the vehicle cornering - there was simply no traction left to use in acceleration until the completion of the turn. As a result, the vehicle would still be doing around 40km/h at corner exit. In reality, it was likely that some speed was scrubbed off by fighting the car, so the exit speed was probably even slower than that.
In the above diagram, the driver is not able to apply any extra throttle until after Point (A). Any attempt to squeeze on some throttle before then will result in the tyres exceeding their ability to provide traction. From the driver's seat, the car feels like it's balanced on a knife-edge... Any extra throttle and you will simply go wide - not an option, as all available track is needed just to complete the turn.
The time taken on the following straight is entirely dependent on the corner exit speed... and the time taken on the straights is the most significant component of overall lap time. As a result, anything we could do to increase the exit speed would get us down the straight faster, leading to faster times around the entire course.
By modifying our braking to enter the corners more slowly, we could turn in more sharply, start to get on the throttle from Point (B) and straighten out the corner exit line. It was entirely possible to be at full throttle by the time the vehicle exited the corner, and to be travelling at close to 60km/h. This increase in speed would carry through the entire straight.
Of course, it takes time to break old habits, and the excitement of the day meant that most drivers (myself definitely included) barrelled into corner after corner at the very limit. Instead of braking more, turning in late and then getting on the throttle, we ended up fighting the car the whole way through the corner, and coming out slow. Spectacular, but not very fast.
As well as a carpark full of FTOs and an MR2, Ray T brought his NX coupe out to play. It proved itself to be no slouch in the handling department, with some competitive times posted. On a course layout like this, the biggest advantage does not necessarily go to the vehicle with the most grunt - it's all about smoothness, positioning and handling. There have apparently been some 500bhp vehicles trounced by far smaller cars, simply due to the way they were driven.
Part way through the event, the course layout was changed to a faster, more challenging route. The slalom was removed, and some extra turns added...
This was a bit quicker, especially with the right positioning when coming out of the 180-degree corners. For example, if the bottom left corner exit leads to a sharper turn to the left, the run through the two "gates" can be taken virtually in a straight line.
In the latter part of the day, the laps were timed so we could compare different approaches. Individual fastest lap times were as follows:
The award for the most consistent times would have to go to Kirsten, while Matt C sacrificed some time down the straights in order to drive sideways at every opportunity!
With only a short time left before the end of the session, I got out there for one last lap. Deciding to give it 100 percent, I took a slow entry into the first corner, accelerated hard after a nice late turn-in and nailed the exit point at a good clip. I was through the mid-course turns before I knew it, travelling significantly faster than I had managed on any previous lap.
We packed up our toys at lunchtime and drove home safe and sound... albeit with a little less rubber on our tyres (and some free sand in my spoiler!).
To get ten FTO owners together in one place was great - especially for a little city like Perth. Seeing everybody hit the track with such enthusiasm was just excellent.
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