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MC Motorsport Performance Driving Day, June 8, 2002 - Article by Richard H

"Let's see how well these things handle..."

In what was undoubtedly the biggest Perth FTO meet to date, no fewer than ten FTO owners turned up at Perth's MC Motorsport for a half-day performance driving event. Two instructors, Brian and John, were on hand to take the participants through several autocross-style courses.

The day started early, with about half of us meeting up at the usual Scarborough Beach mustering point and travelling in convoy to the course location (right at the northern edge of Perth's suburban sprawl). The remaining attendees came direct to the venue, with only a small minority getting hopelessly lost!

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.

Course Schematic 1

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.

Lining Up

From a standing start, we had to negotiate the first corner, take the following straight directly to the next corner, then take a run through the slalom each way before bringing the car to a halt in the box.

A course order was arranged, and the first drivers lined up in preparation. The rest of us watched from behind the barriers, and waited for the fun to begin...

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.

The advantages of operating in a controlled track environment quickly became apparent... Everyone was able to fully explore their limits (and the limits of the car) without significant risk to either. Much better than trying it on public roads!

Each driver took an instructor along for their initial laps. Consequently, each issue of car control could be analysed on the spot while still out there on the course.

And They're Off...!
Corner Exit

The actual lap driving was a real blast. The FTO acquitted itself quite admirably, with the kind of handling and balance that made the course a joy to navigate. When cornering at the limit, throttling off would prompt mild oversteer - quite controllable. Squeezing back on the throttle would make the back end start behaving itself again.

Video Footage of Slalom Course

Explanations

Both Brian and John were happy to tailor their instruction to suit each driver. Personally, I found the quickest way to learn was to be talked through the course step by step as I drove it. Others were happy to take their best shot through each lap, and then afterwards discuss areas that could be improved. At one point, Kirsten handed the instructor the car keys with the comment, "Don't tell me what I'm doing wrong, show me what I should be doing!". It must have worked, because her course laps looked pretty slick after that.

One of the two main vehicle control issues addressed was that of vision. If a driver is looking only at the bit of tarmac at the end of their car bonnet, they won't position themselves well enough though the coming turns. We were all continually encouraged to "lift our vision" and look ahead through the course. Part-way through the braking zone, focus on the turn-in point. Before reaching it, focus on the corner apex. Before reaching the apex, focus on the corner exit point, etc.

Ready for take-off

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.

Course Schematic 2

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.

Course Schematic 3

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.

Anybody growing weary of the action on the track would have plenty to look at in the staging area. With ten FTOs participating, a constant parade of these tasty coupes glided by the onlookers.

Interestingly, all ten were GPX models - not a single GR, GS or GPvR in sight. A MIVEC-only affair...

Traffic Jam
MR2 In Action

Not everyone brought an FTO along. Craig took his turbo MR2 out and gave it some serious stick around the course. A fine looking motor indeed... It was also great to stand just a few feet away from these cars while they were in full flight, and listen to those high-revving Jap powerplants zooming by...

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...

Course Schematic 4

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:

Craig 51.83
David 51.13
Jonno 53.88
Kirsten 52.23
Leigh 52.03
Luke 51.92
Mark 49.66
Matt C 58.24
Matt R 52.69
Ray 52.69
Richard 51.02
Zan 50.13
RalliArt!
Reflections
Thumbs up to Mark A for nailing the only sub-50-second course time.
Zan came in a close second.

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.

Unfortunately, that was as far as I had been looking ahead. I ran out of plan at that point, spent precious time keeping the back end under control before locking up the front wheels - right where I should have been turning towards the next corner...

Whoops! It's always a good idea to stay on the tarmac bit.

Running Out Of Tarmac!
Back On Terra Firma

I only exited at about 10km/h, but it was enough to bury the front wheels in soft sand. Boy, was my face red.

There was much general hilarity as the group pushed me back out onto the black stuff. Fortunately, there was negligible damage - except to my lap time!

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.

John Clark from MC Motorsport commented that the morning's participants were "a really great bunch of people". He was genuinely surprised that it was not an incorporated car club, but was simply an informal group.

Many thanks to everyone who attended. I'm sure we'll get to do this again...!

One happy guy...

(c) 2002, All Rights Reserved