They put all the n00bs in one class together and we got about an hour of lecture and discussion before hitting the track. It's a very twisty and hilly 1.3 mile track roughly in the shape of a public toilet seat with two hairpin turns at the top and "the toilet bowl" in the middle. We learned about track ettiquite regarding flags, conditions, hand signals, warnings, etc. They broadcast over FM radio so that they could yell at us for messing up while we were on the track. We had our windows all down for safety reasons, and at top speed, it was very chilly this morning with me in a t-shirt. There were 7 20min sessions with 40 mins in between for cooldown and classes.
The first session was a low speed inspection of the track, familiarizing us with all the turns and where the best lines were to take through the madness. The second session, they had a brake test, where you get up to about 70mph and then slam on your brakes just to see what it does. This brake test area was followed by a slalom course, which I particularly liked. After 7 or 8 laps through the cones, we broke for more class where we learned how to optimize our brake technique. Basically, we learned that when approaching a turn, you set yourself up so that you can be going straight when you are on the brakes, then turn out of it after you are no longer braking before gunning it out of the turn (slow in, fast out). This was the main theme of the day it seemed. The third session was just driving and practicing braking deep into turns (and building enough cojones to wait until the very last moment). I ended up doing some advanced technique when I ran out of road and had to turn some while still braking, sliding the ass-end around as I was slowing down. That was fun. We officially learned that technique later.
Either the third or forth session (I don't remember) started with the instructors driving our cars for a few laps. That was very handy to see somebody very familiar with the track showing me what my car will do in that environment. At lunch, I noticed that many of the other people had removed their spare tires, so I did the same. Removing the almost 50lbs of spare tire and car jack changed the dynamics of the car, and my first lap back from lunch sent me off the edge of the track. There is one blind turn over a hill where you go up it at one angle and down over the crest at another. If you don't set up for it properly, you spin over the crest like a ballerina. I misjudged that and was still trying to turn while going over the crest and landed on the other side pointing at the wrong angle and in the wrong spot going the wrong direction. Instead of risking spinning out from over-correcting, I went off roading for half a sec. It was enough to put a few rocks onto the inside of the lane, but not really in a hazardous way. After that, we just progressed for another 3 sessions getting faster and faster each time.
By the last lap, I was getting tired and just took it easy. There were a few guys that were kind of afraid of turns it seems. Throughout the day, I would get stuck behind one of them and he would ignore his mirrors while cars collected in his rear-view. I ended up stuck behind one for most of the last session, but that was just as well since I was fatigued.
All in all, I had a great time. I learned about what my car does when I'm really stepping on the brakes, too. It seems that having good, predictable brakes is probably better for racing than having a powerful engine (though powerful engine and sticky tires certainly help). Me overtaking a corvette a few times was definitely telling of this. My instructor made note that I had *really* good brakes and handled very well for a daily driver car compared to most cars that people bring out there. There were only a few cars that consistently passed me: a souped up stage 2 Subaru STi (probably fastest on the track), two Mercedes SLK and toward the end of the day, a heavily modded Audi Quattro showed up in my rear-view. Though it was not a race, if somebody is in your rear-view, that means that you're in their way and you should let them pass.
I learned very little that I can actually use while driving on public streets. Maybe having more comfort with what the car does as it's at the edge of the braking limits will help me someday in an emergency, but for the most part, it's not something that you can really practice on public roads without risking damage to someone/something. Therefore, I'll chalk this up to just fun. I'd like to do it again, too. Maybe I can get somebody else to go and have a n00b experience while I have a "graduate" experience (grads get more track time / less instruction).
Update: when I got home, I noticed that la_bitessa sent me a text msg saying that her parents were at the same event. I wonder which of the 25 people were her parents :)
The track (we went around counter-clockwise):
Me in the background just after the second hairpin turn. The car in the foreground was a beast. It was lapping people all day long. I tried to keep up with it for a while, but just didn't have the muscle to keep up.
Me heading into the pitstop lane
Not sure where this one is, but based on the skid marks, I'd say it was at the end of the straightaway.