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Misc, Other Projects, Porsche 944 Track Car

Harvey’s Half Lap of America

The post title is a play on the One Lap of America event that takes place each year. Basically, One Lap hits as many road courses as possible in one week. It is pretty intense.

As an exercise in Bucket List Fullfillment, I have decided to take a more relaxed approach, but still pretty intense by my standards. In the first 3 weeks of September I have lined up the following track events. All are High Performance Driving Events (HPDE), except for the Watkins Glen SVRA, I’ll be a spectator:

Watkins Glen (Chin) 9/2-3
Watkins Glen (SVRA) 9/4-5
Mid-Ohio (Allegheney Region PCA) 9/7-8
Road America 9/10
Gingerman (SCCA Track Night In America) 9/12
Mid-Ohio (Mid-Ohio Region PCA) 9/14-15
Muncie (Visiting relatives)
Mt. Veron, IL (Visiting relatives)
National Corvette Museum Track (Chin) 9/21-22
Home!

So if any of you are at these tracks on those dates, look for a Royal Blue Porsche 944 number 444 and come over and say Hi.

Watkins Glen International Raceway

After a leisurely 2 day tow from NC, I arrived at Watkins Glen International (WGI). This, my first event of the trip, was with Chin Trackdays. Unusual for me, it was a Monday/Tuesday event, with Monday of course being Labor Day. A lot of people have been to this track but for me it was a first. Here are a few impressions:

-Located on top of a hill, they should add a scenic overlook to Turn 1 so drivers can stop and admire the view!
-There is a lot of elevation change throughout the lap, which is really nice.
-This is a great track for my low powered 944, as there are a minimum of straightaways and lots of corners.
-Between the GT3’s and Corvettes, my arm is worn out from giving point bys. Let’s face it, my arm is worn out from pointing by little fiesty Miatas and such. And everything in between.
-The arrangement of the facilities inside the track feels like it was organized by a psycotic 3 year old.
-I purchased a raffle ticket for a 328 Ferrari, to benefit the racing museum in town. Prepare to be very envious of me when I win.

Because my trip has a total of 10 days on track, I am treating each day as an endurance race, rather than an all out sprint. I was running about 0.8 most of the time and was undoubtably one of the slowest cars on track. Whatever, I just get the Kuhmo street tires singing in the curves and sit back and enjoy the ride.

I did have one minor mechanical issue. The coolant hose that goes from the pressure tank to the top of the radiator somehow lowered itself onto the crankshaft pulley and severed itself. Fortunately one of my pit mates spotted the coolant leak (it was just a pinhole at that point). I made a quick run to a local hardware store, got a pipe nipple and 2 hoses clamps, and was back in business in time to make my next session. Could have been much worse!!!

I’m attending 2 days of the Vintage Grand Prix event here and then on to Mid-Ohio!

MId-Ohio

So I have now completed my track weekend at Mid-Ohio. First let me say, the Allegheny Region of PCA put on a very nice event. As a newbie, I received sufficient “hand holding” from organizer Carol Neal and my coach Tom Mueller. Tom and I were able to get out on the track late Friday in his 944 Turbo S to do some very helpful familiarization laps. Within a couple of sessions on Saturday I was feeling confident about the track. ARPCA invests in some quality stickers and free hats. No shoe polish numbers in sight. Also the Friday night track walk was very beneficial. The car did have a weird case of rough running all through the rev range after I pulled it off the trailer. I was getting pretty panicked when it suddenly cleared up. I don’t like random issues with cars but am keeping my fingers crossed. I was able to meet DaddyGlen. I’ll let him make the detailed post but unfortunately his weekend did not go well.

Mid-Ohio Notes
-The tightest twistiest course yet in my trip. It is not as high speed and flowing as Watkins Glen but, that said, the back section starting at Madness is a lot of fun with almost constant steering inputs required.
-Lots of elevation change.
-A scenic setting in the country and close to a real town (Lexington). Pretty close to a major interstate.
-Was fortunate to not have to drive on a wet track because as we found on our Friday night track walk, this track is very slippery when wet.
-The track could use a repave but then again, like Sebring, the roughness gives it character and maybe will chasten those folks who have gone with very high spring rates and shock settings.

My obligatory photo follows. So at both Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio, it is very hard to find signage with the actual track name on it. Almost every possible surface on the tracks that has signage is used for paid advertising.

Road America

Well, the party continues with a trip to Road America near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.  This event was a little different in that it was an HPDE sponsored by the track itself. One difference is that it started at 2 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. I gather they usually start at 9 but someone with deep pockets had rented the track for part of the day. We started by meeting at one of their classroom buildings out by the go-kart track. After introductions etc. we headed out to a parking lot to do some autocross as a warmup. This was pretty basic stuff. Slalom, 270 around a cone, ability to hit a stop box. It was fun and got the juices flowing. Then back to the classroom for a turn by turn discussion of the track. Finally around 5 pm it was time to hit the track.

They use a lead-follow format. This was basically a first for me, if you discount the lap I did in a stock car at Charlotte many years ago. The lead car is a Corvette. 3 cars follow. They are selected to try and match performance. I was grouped with 2 Miatas, which considering some of the alternatives (Ferrari, Porsche GT3, Tesla sedan) was just fine with me. They start out at a slowish pace and build speed over the session. At the end of each lap, the lead car of the 3 drops back to the rear spot. That way everyone gets a mix of placements in the group of 3. As I have found, you have to force your brain to look through the cars ahead of you and just hit your marks as you normally would on an open track. There are two “trains” on track at a time, roughly 1/2 of a lap apart.

The other train on track with us consisted of the Tesla, a Cadillac CTS, and a VW Golf Type R. They went out before us. Much to my surprise, within a few laps we were reeling them in. They have a provision for this where the group that gets caught has to roll through the pits to give the following group a pass by. Maybe all the drivers of those other cars were total newbies but it was a sweet moment for our little underpowered group!

I think each session on track was about 20 minutes. We did 3 sessions on track. I had been skeptical about lead-follow but I found it actually to be quite a bit of fun. I noticed a dynamic in that the car right behind the Corvette in effect set the pace for the group. If the lead car screwed up a corner, the other cars just had to adjust. But if the last car screwed up a corner, the Corvette didn’t wait. He just had to claw back his gap as he could, which is difficult in an underpowered car. Again, it was a lot of fun. By the time we were done, the sun had set and it was getting hard to see but it all worked out with no one having any major incidents. I did suck down the fuel at a great rate, since there is a lot of full throttle motoring on this track. I had to go back to my tow vehicle between the 2nd and 3rd sessions to add a splash of gas. But it all worked out.

Road America Notes

Historic track in a lush setting. Gradual elevation changes.
-More of a classic layout with long straights separated by distinct corners. Only one section with connected right-left-right turns.
-The Carousel is a nice constant radius 180 degree turn which is good for checking the steady state cornering limits of your car.
-The famous Kink: they warned us in class to treat it with respect. Based on the skid marks and damage to the barriers, it has caught out a number of drivers.
-Probably not the best track for a low power momentum car.
-Great job done by the RA HPDE staff!

So it’s on to Gingerman in Michigan. I’ve sprung for a ticket for my truck and trailer on the Badger
car ferry. Not cheap but if it allows me to avoid the interstate system between Milwaukee and south of Chicago, it’s worth it.

I took the big car ferry from Manitowoc WI to Ludington MI, in order to avoid Chicago traffic on my way to Gingerman Raceway. I had envisioned a sunny cruise but no, it was stormy and I had to work hard to keep breakfast down. I survived. The ferry, the SS Badger, is maybe the largest boat (ship?) I’ve ever been on, as I am not a cruise person. They were originally designed to carry loaded railcars across Lake Michigan but now everything is on rubber tires. The staff backs every large vehicle on the boat at the departure and then drives them off at the destination. Here is an unusual perspective on my rig, taken from the back of the boat as they drove it off. For what it’s worth, the only guy on the staff with an actual naval uniform personally drove my rig off the boat. Probably because he knew how picky Porsche people can be 🙂

As a side note, there is a very nice maritime museum in Manitowoc. I especially liked the tour of the WWII submarine that they have tied up next to the museum.

Gingerman Raceway

I attended a SCCA Track Night In America event at Gingerman Raceway on Thursday. This is my first time for a TNA event. I have only favorable things to say about how the SCCA has formated these events. Low key but safe. Starts late enough in the day that you only have to leave work a little bit early and can get back the same day. Self tech on the cars is allowed. It looked like they had a robust program for the drivers new to track events. I got three 20 minute sessions.

Gingerman was fun. It is clearly a “club” track but has lots of different, challenging corners. 90 degree corners at the ends of the 2 straights. Everything else was a mixture. The track is pretty flat but that in itself allowed me to learn the track very quickly. I had a lot of fun here!

Gingerman Track Notes
-Short 2.14 track with 11 turns
-Flat, with a variety of corners
-Generous runoff areas. A great track to explore the cornering limits of your car.
-Expansion joints make themselves evident
-Low key atmosphere

Mid-Ohio (Again!)

After attending Gingerman on a Thursday night, I drove back to the Mid-Ohio track for a second weekend. This event was put on by the Mid-Ohio Region of the PCA. After skirting rain showers all week, the weather turned up gorgeous for the weekend. That is good because Mid-Ohio is pretty slick in the rain. MORPCA put on a nice low key HPDE. Of course there were many nice Porsches in attendance as well as the other usual brands (Corvette, Mustang, Camaro, Miata). My car performed well throughout the weekend. Again, my mindset is to run about 8/10s at these events but there are still a lot of pulls to redline, hard cornering, and one hard braking zone at the end of the straight. As I found in the previous weekend, M-O is a fun, technical track for the 944. I thoroughly enjoyed the event.

I had the pleasure of hanging in the pits next to 2 Old Farts Racing, who were also running a 944 similar to mine. Their car was fun to watch in the Carousel where it lifting the right front tire a good 6″ off the ground. Unfortunately the car suddenly refused to fire/start on Sunday morning. Our basic diagnostic efforts could not find a cause, so their weekend ended early. It is easy to say but if you are going to track a 30 year old car, there are a lot of systems and components that need to be brought up to grade in order to have a trouble free weekend.

I have a 5 day break before I arrive next weekend at the National Corvette Museum track in Bowling Green, KY. I have some planned visits with relatives in the interim.

Auburn-Cord-Dusenberg Museum

As a non-track related side trip, we visited the Auburn-Cord-Dusenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. This museum holds an extensive collection of these cars, most produced between the First and Second World Wars. The museum is very well put together. If you take the time to read the informational plaques associated with each car, you will understand the nuances of the various models and some of the design and technology attributes that these cars brought to bear. And they are all beautiful cars. The Dusenbergs tended to cost $10,000 to $15,000 when many of the Cords sold for $995. So they tended to be the most amazing cars. The museum also did a nice job of explaining the business and sales aspects of the facility where the museum is housed, which is the original Art Deco showroom where the rich and famous came from all over the world to view and buy cars. If you are in the area, I would highly recommend a visit.

My friend Tony, an architect, liked this car owned by Frank Loyd Wright.

National Corvette Museum Track

This track is in Bowling Green, KY and is situated next to both the National Corvette Museum (NCM) and the GM plant where all Corvettes are built. The track apparantly is designed to throw at lot of different corner patterns to the development engineers for the Corvette. It is 3.2 miles long and has 23 corners! Of course, with 23 corners to learn, I had my work cut out for me in the initial track sessions. By the 3rd session, I was getting things figured out and was able to pick up my pace. The track is very technical and once I got my bearings, I found it to be very entertaining. Also interesting, as the sight is in general flat, there are several corners that are totally blind. Corners 5 and 16 are quite fast and once I gained a confidence level, they were quite exciting. As I will discuss in my wrap up, my 944 performed flawlessly and I ended the weekend driving onto the trailer, no issues.

NCM Notes:
-Technical track with 23 corners. Entertaining.
-Nice use of what little elevation change was available on the site.
-Next to the National Corvette Museum, which is worth seeing.

Wrap Up

So, all in all, a great trip! It was of course great to get so much track time over just 3 weeks. It was great to be at such iconic tracks like Watkins Glen, Road America, and Mid-Ohio. It was a lot of driving (see Stats) but I was fortunate to have 3 weeks to devote to my quest. A bonus was I got to see great swathes of our country that I had up to this point spent little time in. All I can say is there is a lot of corn and soybeans being grown in NY, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois!

Which track was my favorite? That is hard choice. In a high powered Formula car, I’d have to go with Watkins Glen. For my 944, I’d give Mid-Ohio the edge. But they were all fun. All the tracks were completely new to me so it was challanging and satisfying to learn each track as I went.

I was on edge before and during the trip about mechanical issues that might spoil my venture. As it worked out, the car performed flawlessly. My oil was topped off when I started. By the end, after 22 hours of hard running, it was down 1/8 of a quart! I don’t know about you but I think this trip has dispelled the belief that a 944 is subject to oil starvation. I exposed it to every corner type possible and it did fine. I will admit that I drove most of my laps at 9/10s. The way I suspect any endurance racer at Lemans would have done in the day. I was running street tires, which aren’t as quick as specialty rubber but give me great feedback (tire squeel) as I learned the tracks. A good tradeoff, as far as I am concerned.

So, a great trip, a great time, and a great experience. I’m already planning a similar trip next year. I’m thinking COTA, Leguna Seca, and Sonoma would be fun 🙂

Stats

1985 Porsche 944, track prepared
-22 hours of running time over 10 events.
-1/8 quart of oil consumed.
-Fuel consumption??? Probably 5-10 gallons per day.
– Kuhmo Ecsta AST 225/50-15 tires.
-Paragon 944Spec suspension.
-2400 pounds with 3/4 tank of fuel.

Tow vehicle: 2016 Ford F150

-2.7 litre Ecoboost engine
-Best truck I’ve ever owned. Pulls like a 5.0 litre V8.

Trip Stats
-3600 miles
-72 hours
-14.8 mpg

I went to 10 track events and all I got was these wrist bands!

 

 

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