Track weekend

Friday 13th

I just couldn’t resist another trip to Buttonwillow Raceway for some more track time with my friend in his Nissan GT-R. Only this time, it was more eventful than the last trip out. What could go wrong on Friday 13th.

Like the last time, we set off in our own cars, around 8pm on Friday, but failed to check the weather forecast in the Grapevine area, which is around 4000ft to 5000ft elevation. I lost my friend on the Interstate 5 so he was a few minutes ahead of me. When we hit the Grapevine area, snow came down hard and the wind battered my car from all directions. Traffic slowed down to 5 mph within 30 minutes and lane markings on the I-5 was non existent. Four lanes turned to two and eventually to one since every driver was naturally following the car in front and staying in the tracks it had made in the snow.

Whenever traffic stopped, it was hard for some drivers to get moving again. Was quite funny to see cars wheel spinning on the spot, including myself. I had to turn traction control off to try to get moving again, but that didn’t seem to have positive affect on anything.

Not long, my car stalled, and it wouldn’t start up again. My hazard lights were not working too so I was a sitting duck at this point in the middle of the motorway. Panic mode engaged! My friend called and said he got off the I-5 to a nearby motel. I got towed by the California Highway Patrol to the same motel in Lebec where the local temperature was -1 degrees Celsius. My car was revived on Saturday morning by a local mechanic who discovered that the alternator needed replacing. He didn’t have a spare, so I’ll have to get this sorted back home. I continued to Buttonwillow raceway.

A view from my motel room in Lebec.

Saturday

Since it had been raining on the track on Friday, the surrounding areas of the track was like a mud pit. If you went off in those areas, there was no way out, and the damage must be pretty bad. You’d have to be towed out.

So many cars went off the track in every session not due to the track condition, but mainly from driver errors, so the session had to be stopped while cars were towed out, the loose mud swept off the track etc. This caused a lot of downtime for all drivers, so on Sunday, they warned all drivers that if anyone had to be towed, they would be disqualified from their next session.

Sunday

That announcement helped a lot on Sunday. Drivers were definitely being more cautious to start with and you could tell from the slower lap times they were posting. I guess everyone had the feeling that if they got towed on their first lap, they would have to miss the rest of that session and the one after, meaning 50% of the day gone. The track condition was much better on Sunday, warmer, track had more grip and some of the muddy runny off areas were easier to get out of so cars that did go off, could at least get themselves back on the track.

The moment of the day occurred later on in the day. A teenager who looked like he’d just passed his driving test took my place and sat with my friend in the Nissan GT-R. He’d never been out on track before. Obviously he’s never experienced the level of G-forces throwing him all over the place, that he managed to throw up once the session was over. Fortunately he had the decency to open the door first.

The journey back home was less eventful than the journey out, but my car made it back home in one piece. So, I’ve learnt two valuable lessons this weekend.

1. Always check the weather forecast along the whole journey

2. Never allow teenagers to ride with you on track day unless they’ve done this before

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A weekend at Buttonwillow Raceway

Track day at Buttonwillow Raceway is the most frightening yet exciting experience I have ever had in my life so far. This is a must for all car fanatics, and the experience is equally as good if you plan to sit in with a friend which is what I did.

Day 1
Me and a friend were both up at 6am ready to set off to the track about 11 miles away. We had to be there at 7am to register, so there was no time for breakfast.

When we arrived, we picked a spot to park up, and every minute that went by, more and more cars turned up, some driven in, and others on trailers. Track time began at 8am, that’s when you would see the first group on track. As one group of drivers went out, another group assembled on the grid. You can always tell when the next group is ready to take to the track, the noisy roars of turbocharged engines like the sound of thunder, the smell of burning petrol in the air, and the crowds gathered at the spectator building.

I didn’t get a chance to my friend’s co-driver since he was taking a few sessions with an instructor, so I ended up spectating on Saturday. There was still plenty to do and see.

Saturday was all about the Nissan GT-Rs, there were about ten of them on the day, and most of them were modded giving those drivers extra horsepower.

Aside from the GT-Rs, other popular cars were the Porsche 911, Honda S2000, Mitsubishi Evo, Mazda Miata, and there were a few Ferraris and Lotuses amongst them.

There were BMW M3s mainly driven by a group of Asians who all seem to know each other, but they ended up being the worst drivers of the day. Whenever you saw a cloud of dust on track, it was always an M3 going off the track. One of their friends had a brand new Aston Martin Vantage, either a very brave person or just an idiot. He looked no older than 20 years old and came off a couple of corners every time he went out on track.

Day 2
Another 6am start for us, only this time the clocks had gone forward. There were fewer amateurs on the day and fewer cars in general, so going out on track wasn’t as crowded as Saturday.

This is where the fun began for me. We had four sessions for the day with the last one starting around 4:15pm. I had rented a helmet and was ready to go in the first session when they called out our group. Each session lasted around 25 minutes on track.

Surprisingly, we were the only one in a GT-R today, but there were about 6 Lotus Elises.
Each session, I could feel the G-Force ripping my face off at every corner, and the acceleration down the straights was simply mind-blowing as we hit 117mph. I can only imagine how fit you must be to deal with the G-Forces in Formula 1. Hard on the brakes would throw me forward like a ragdoll, so I had to hold the door handle tight, but even that would not stop me from being thrown about.

The experience was astonishing! I hope I get a chance to come out here again, and perhaps next time, I’ll have a decent car.

LA Auto Show 2011

It’s that time of year when car entusiasts decend upon the LA Convention Center to catch a glimpse of the latest cars and potential cars of the future.

This year was a poor showing to be honest and I’ve been a few times before. Ferrari never showed up, but I’m not really a big Ferrari fan. There wasn’t that many new cars on show and even the new cars didn’t have significant upgrades from their previous models.

Amonst the cars, there was some strong sports and super cars on show though.

Subaru BRZ Concept – Nissan GT-R killer?

Lexus LFA – They’re nice to look at

A potential electric car from BMW – Looks nice but the world isn’t fully ready for electric cars yet