Lead photo courtesy of Austin Boynton.

Autocross #2 is in the books! I think the most interesting thing about this event was the course layout, which was quite odd. There were the two long, sweeping turns towards the beginning that were difficult to get right, and then there were a lot of slaloms that led into sharp turns which I kept forgetting existed. Nothing like coming out of a slalom at full throttle only to realize you need to be turning hard left! As is somewhat typical with me these days, my fastest run was a morning run, and I simply couldn’t match it in the afternoon, despite significantly improving my line in several areas. Regardless, that morning time was good enough to hang onto 1st place in the afternoon, so at least there’s that! Halfway through the event, I was actually 19th in PAX, which is pretty damned good, but since I didn’t improve in the afternoon, I dropped to 29th by the end of the event. Still pretty good for a field of 155, though. Overall, a good day!

Date: Sunday, May 28, 2017
SCCA Chapter: Chicago Region (Event #2)
Location: Route 66 Raceway, Joliet, IL
Weather: Partly cloudy, 70-75 degrees F, < 5 MPH breeze.
Car: 2015 Subaru BRZ
Class: 345 STX
Wheels/Tires: 949 Racing 6UL (17×9)/Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R (245/40R17)
Brakes: AP Racing Factory 4-Piston Front BBK w/ APF404 Pads (Hawk 5.0 Rear Pads)
Suspension: KW V3 coilovers, Raceseng Cas/Cam plates, Velox LCAs
Exhaust: Fujitsubo Authorize R Catback
Raw: 59.066 (1st of 10 in Class)
PAX: 48.552 (29th of 155 Overall)

An Interesting Course Layout

This might be the most interesting course I’ve done – at least in recent memory. Right off the bat, when walking it, it felt “weird.” There were several things that contributed to this, I think. First off, there were several cone walls that were quite heavily populated with… cones. They happened to be placed in positions where they made it a bit difficult to pick out one or two key gates. While I didn’t have a single DNF all day, many people did – some had more than one. I think that was one of the reasons why.

Another reason why was probably because there were quite a few extremely sharp turns that always seemed to have you turning just a bit more than you expected. In autocross it’s always important to look ahead, and in this case, looking ahead at the next cone meant looking straight to the right/left out your side window. If you didn’t look far ahead, it was very easy to miss the last cone in a very wide turn and get lost. I saw this happen quite a few times to other folks – mainly newer, less-experienced autocross drivers.

The third oddity of this course was that there was more than one slalom where the last cone to the slalom was actually an apex cone that set off a very sharp turn. You can see a good example of this at the 0:32 second mark in my video below. When you come out of a slalom, your natural inclination is to get on the throttle, but in this case, you needed to be hard on the brakes before that last cone, and planning your left turn. Even though I heard this from someone before I even did my first run of the day, I still found it to be an instinct that was hard to break. The run below was my third run of the day, and you can see that I’m still completely overshooting that turn. It was a mental thing that I only solved when I started to take the course seriously enough to recite a few key things I needed to do while approaching the start line to remind myself!

I know some people weren’t particularly happy with this course, stating that it was too confusing, or that some of the turns were too long, but I loved it. Figuring the course out is part of the challenge of autocross, and I think it’s fun to have a course that’s so strange that it “resets” your brain and forces you to really concentrate on what is going on. I’ve also noticed that every time there is a weird course that some people don’t like, I tend to do better overall in PAX. I suspect some people struggle with more complex/confusing layouts, and that gives me a slight advantage so… bring on the weird courses!

Getting the Hang of 3rd Gear

There was one stretch of the course today that allowed use of 3rd gear; the return run from the far turnaround. 3rd gear isn’t always necessarily worth it since the increased speed has to be worth the time you spend shifting, but if it seems like it might at least break me even, I try to do so, because it’s good practice. I always struggle with the shift up 3rd gear under the pressure of an autocross run (at last weekend’s event, I missed 3rd, wound up in neutral, and overshot a slalom as a result), and I’m even worse at downshifting. I’m getting better, though! Check out the run below, and note my shift to 3rd gear, and – more importantly – the downshift back to 2nd. I managed a pretty smooth downshift, mid-turn, while wrestling the wheel one-handed, and I didn’t overshoot the next cone! That’s definitely a big improvement for me!

AP Racing Big Brake Kit

I’m still holding off on saying much about these brakes because my pads are still mis-matched, but I have definitely noticed a more “confident” feeling in the brake pedal since the swap. I’ve also discovered that I can minimize the weird brake bias issues I currently have due to the different pads by dragging the brakes down pit lane to the start line. That heats the pads up, which makes the front pads work much better, and allows them to do their job much earlier on, rather than after the first few corners on course.

Anyway, here’s my best run of the day – which was still pretty terrible. Not particularly close to the cones, and I overshot quite a few turns (especially the hard left after the first slalom that I kept forgetting about). I was able to significantly improve/tighten my line in the afternoon, but as usual, I still managed to be slower in the afternoon than in the morning. Dunno why I always do that!