Racing Equipment Variety at H2R

One of the things I found interesting was the variety of the different types of vehicles people brought to challenge the track (not each other) at Harris Hill Road (H2R).  Most vehicles were driven there, some were trailered – both of these happen at an autocross event.  One thing that occurred that does NOT happen at an autocross, the ability to take a few free parade laps on the track!

One half of a session group

Here’s an interesting session group of nine cars!

The other half of the same session group

As mentioned in a previous post, this event was originally meant to be a Honda S2000-only event.  Sondra  Sondregger (co-founder of the S2KCA & awesome coordinator of this event)  decided to open this up to any vehicle that registered.  So, there were quite a few S2000’s.  I count at least 10 in this panorama – click it to enlarge…and savor!

The paddock @ H2R

Also there were at least 5(!) Lotuses (Loti?).  Four were the Exige model, and at least 1 Elise model.  Wow, what an awesome sound they made at speed.  The Exige sounded like a lot bigger car.  Check out their introductory video of the Lotus Exige S at their website (I still get goosebumps after multiple viewings!!!).  The next time I attend an event like this, I’ll have to wrangle a ride-along in one of these!

The Lotus grouping

The Lotus business end(s)

Here’s another fun ride that was driven to the event to compete.  It looks to be along the lines of a Caterham 7, and it looks great without any paint!

This has a cool, raw patina

C-7 cockpit detailC-7 engine detail

One thing I did not see in existence, as yet, was the ability to note the timing of a person’s laps.  One could do it with a friendly assistant & a stopwatch.  In some cases, I saw people had their own electronic equipment.  Bo Rivers & Eric Beverding, of Harris Hill Road, mentioned they will soon be installing a transponder system that should be good to the thousandth of a second.  People will be able to purchase a transceiver-like device to install in their car.  This will allow their laps to be timed, not only in entirety, but also divided up into a number of segment times will be capable to be taken.

Tomorrow should be the release date of the new Harris Hill Road website.  I’m glad they are ready to step up their game in this area.  It will be a welcome upgrade to their growth.

If reading about the H2R facility isn’t making you want to become Racing Ready, you need to do 2 things:
– read more here
– find a facility in your locale – just go do it!

Dan

Going Topless, Ontrack at H2R

Yes, this is something different, but not what you might think.  One of the participants at last Saturday’s Harris Hill Road event brought his highly modified topless Miata.

Going topless with a Miata

This was Ward’s first time participating at a non-autocross event – he was having such a fun time & learning lots!

Another topless view 

He was at the Pearsall, TX Divisional event I attend almost 2 months ago (these were my first few posts on this blog, from June 8th, 2008 on). 

Discussing why topless

Ward said the engine is a stock 1.6 liter, although I did see a cold air intake/filter in the engine compartment.  You, too, can see it below, to the upper right portion of his engine bay.

Engine bay detail

This car is legal for the SCCA D class, Street Prepared (DP).  It weighs just about 2000 lbs.  He had 2 rude awakenings:

– Those little Hoosier tires he had started out at 22 pounds psi.  After coming back in from his 20 minute session 3 were at 27 pounds psi, & one was at 28 – I don’t think that’s too bad (considering my ontrack experience I had in Ron’s Spec Miata that I posted 2 days ago)

– You will note he has no mirrors.  In autocross that’s not an issue, in fact they can be a detrimental distraction.  In this racetrack event, he had NO idea he was impeding the passing of others.  Another driver who was out during the session used his horn, but Ward could not hear the beeping, in all his topless glory.

I think I know what Ward’s next minor upgrade will be . . . a couple of simple convex mirrors!

Easy to see inside w/o the top

Straight from the SCCA, here is what they define (in general terms) what the Street Prepared Category is about.

These are cars that are high performance, production based non-street-driven vehicles that usually have gutted interiors and full roll cages.  Cars retain their original design, structure, and drive layout unless otherwise specified in the Solo2 Rules.

Besides this topless Miata, all sorts of production vehicles & those only legal to bring on a trailer participated.  Tomorrow I plan to post a gallery of the variety of the vehicles seen there, among other information.

Harris Hill Road will allow pretty much any sort of vehicle, as long as it is safe, not leaking fluids & has a driver that is already, or wanting to be Racing Ready!

Dan

Ontrack Design of Harris Hill Road

Have you ever seen a Porsche Cayenne racing on a pre-pavement gravel base?  This could be a reference to a section of the Paris to Dakar Rally.  But no, this is what Bo Rivers, of the Harris Hill Road facility did (& with gusto).  He was verifying the proper racing lines and grades for the racetrack course as part and parcel of designing it to be the best as it could be.  Here are some shots from the Harris Hill Road gallery to prove I’m not making this up.

Cayenne testing downhill run

Click on these pictures to appreciate what that Porsche Cayenne (SUV) is doing.  My favorite shot is this downhill shot at speed!

Cayenne testing one of the straights

Bo is one cool & smart dude.  He described to me at length the pains he took to get his dream to reality.  I hope I can do him justice.  He started off with the knowledge of racetracks he knows well from past experience – Sebring & Roebling Road.  He surveyed & reviewed the gently sloping square 1/2 mile (150 acres) tract of land he purchased.  Bo wanted a safe track, with turns that wouldn’t beat up the novice race driver.  He wanted a track that would be kind to tires and brakes, to not cause them major trauma.

Cayenne testing the hairpin

He designed this track so it would not favor cars with a power advantage, saying its a momentum track course.  One of the participants (Nick) said, “This is a thinking man’s course!”

Regarding safety, there’s lots of runoff room, no track barriers.  The track was laid out loose enough to not hit anything.  Some knowledgeable racers may wonder why some of the turns seem off camber.  The entire track is set off at a 2% grade, for shedding water when it rains.  Bo says this track is a blast to drive in the rain!  Then he started to explain the asphault/rock composition type (a “C”-type mix).  Basically this track has better grip than the pavement on your average street.

Aerial shot of H2R, 2007-10-22

Above you can see the beginnings of this racetrack in October 2007.  He bought the land back in January 2005, and spent over 2.5 years working with the local San Marcos City Council & all sorts of other official paperwork.  Finally, it kicked up in high gear when he actually broke ground in September 2007.

Although this is one track, it has 2 personalities.  When I was there last Saturday they were running it counter-clockwise.  Bo explained to me that running the track clockwise, it has less of a flow.  It is choppier and more technical in navigating the best racing line.  I guess he meant it was a tougher course in that direction.

When I started learning about what’s out there for the wannabe racer, I had no idea about this type of facility in my area.  I’m hoping that you are exploring and visiting with other enthusiasts in your area.  Tell me in the comments – what local facilities have you found that you had no idea of their previous existence?  They ARE out there waiting to help you become Racing Ready!

Dan

On Track, First Time At Speed

Picking up from yesterday’s post, the midday parade lap at the Harris Hill Road event with Sondra was more interesting than driving my Nissan in the morning.  It was informative to not only see the track a second time, but to observe the variety of lines taken by the car in front on this 36′ wide track.

The Dam & Mustang curves at H2R

Later, I struck up a friendly conversation with Ron, the owner of this 1995 Spec Miata.

Ron's Spec Miata

His racing background started with ice racing in Wisconsin, during his college days.  Later, life brought him to New Braunfels, TX.  He had been doing Solo (autocross) competitions for 15 years with an ’84 VW GTI, in the ITB (Improved Touring) class, but eventually got tired of the constant maintenance.  He had noticed that Miata driver’s simply drove their cars home after events.  They hardly ever had to fix anything with them (and I’ve heard this from other Miata owners).  He sold his GTI and found this Sepc Miata (SM) in 2003.

So, what’s a Spec Miata?  Its a Maxda Miata (MX5) modified in a minimal way, many non-essentials are stripped out, the engine is left pretty much stock, there is an upgrade to racing type of suspension & specific tires & wheels.  For more SM details, go here.

Spec Miata racing
© www.specmiata.com. All rights reserved.

“Spec cars, such as SCCA Spec Miata, and now NASCAR -and increasingly Formula One- take the car out of the equation and it becomes more driver vs. driver. This is the purest form of racing, and in some cases, such as Spec Miata, it might not draw a crowd, but so what? We’re talking pure sport. I predict that in the next two decades, every major type of racing will be a spec series.” – H.A. Wheeler

With Ron’s extensive Solo experience & enough participation in high performance type of driving events, he became a part-time instructor at the The Driver’s Edge school.  That’s the type of high performance driving education I’d like to aspire to!  I wish I had asked him more questions about that…

Ron making a point

Ron agreed to take me for a ride-along, but first we had to make sure I fit!  I’m 6’2″, almost 250lbs.  He had a 5-point harness & the passenger racing seat was fixed and a little narrow.  With some belt adjustments & my negociating the rollcage, I got in & tightened everything down – as snug as a bug in a rug.  I felt okay , tightly attached to the car, but not uncomfortable.  But once I put the loaner helmet on I was wedged in further, forced down by the helmet restricted by the roof.  I decided that it was a good thing – I wouldn’t have to use my side neck muscles, unaccustomed to the lateral g-forces from the track’s curves, to keep my head upright.

Spec Miata interior The 5-point harness

We got going and Ron wasted no time in getting up to speed.  He held nothing back.  With all the straights, curves & a hill, he used 2nd, 3rd & 4th gear.  Top speed was almost 85 mph.  The sound of the straight through exhaust was exhilarating.  Ron was going through the turns, pedal to the metal, and it seemed like we were close to the point of drifting off the edge of the track, but not quite.  He had the car on the edge of control, but never lost it.  It was confidence inspiring to watch Ron drive.

Approach to Santa Rita

On this day the track was run in a counter-clockwise direction.  The approach up the hill to the Santa Rita corner is blind, one you take at speed with faith.  As you climb up, you can’t see over the crest & have to have faith there is still racetrack there.  They named this curve after Saint Rita, as she is the patron saint of improbable causes.  What that says about this corner (in either direction) is that it is tough to master the proper line.  This little diagram below shows the course direction (the green arrow) and the yellow-red line is the crest of the hill, where it abruptly levels off (where you lose your stomach).

Santa Rita corner detail

I think we did 10 laps, maybe more.  I lost count, I was so distracted.  Ron passed a couple of times & he passed some cars, too.  When there were no cars ahead or behind, the fast driving was actually kind of boring.  About 3 laps before the session ended I started to feel a bit woosey.  I was able to keep my lunch, but didn’t enjoy those last 3 laps very well.  Lesson learned – don’t eat and compete within 20 minutes – wait longer!

But I made it & was happy for the experience – I was no longer an ontrack virgin, at least as a passenger…

Me, happy after the run!Me, happy after the run!

Tomorrow I will post more details and information as to why Harris Hill Road is one of THE places to become Racing Ready in South/Central Texas!

Dan

On Track, A Road Course Intro

Yesterday I visited and actually participated in on track activity at Harris Hill Road!  Let me explain…

Harris Hill Road sign

Harris Hill Road is a private road course (based on the club membership model), situated in the Texas Hill Country, just outside the city of San Marcos, TX (about 5 east miles from the I-35 exit, by my odometer reading).

The actual road to Harris Hill Road

I arrived there  a little after 9am with a quick detour to see the Simpson Race Products campus just north of New Braunfels, TX (they were closed). 🙁

Simpson Race Products building sign

After getting in through the gated entrance & up the hill (Harris Hill) to the clubhouse, I parked and started to get my bearings.

Harris Hill Road entrance

Harris Hill Road Clubhouse

Going past these cones (to the right of the clubhouse), down the hill is the “pits” location, currently a parking lot just up from pit road.

H2R drive to the pits

The pits at H2R

While I was arriving a Lotus Exige (cool!) had just slide off the track, scattering dirt & gravel on the course.  They had to stop all on track activity, sweep off the debris and verify the cleaning.  I had just met Bo Rivers, the owner of Harris Hill Road.

He says, “What are you driving, would you like to go out on the course to help me verify that the clean up was okay?”  I started to beg off, explaining that my car has this coil misfiring problem…”  He gleefully cut in & asked, “Is it leaking any fluids?”  I answered no & in 2 minutes I was out on the track with the owner in my 2000 Nissan Maxima, my daily driver!  I was too concerned about doing anything wrong, especially with the “main man” at my side.  So, I went a cautionary 30 to 40 mph, tops.  What a cool track!  I’ll go into the details of the track in a near future post, but suffice to say this course is very well thought out.

Bo Rivers of HarrisBo Rivers of Harris Hill Road Hill Road H2R course map

I was told they had almost 50 participants, broken into 4 groups, identified by color; green, blue, yellow & red.  Generally these groups are formed by experience level, from novice to experienced.  Therefore, the green (“greenhorns” like me) group had instructors accompany them (mandatory) on their runs, optional for for the blue group & not at all for yellow & red.  Each group consisted of about 8 cars, and each session was about 20 minutes.  I’m sorry I don’t have the facts down, there was a lot of activity & it was all new to me.

Lance\'s \'Vette

My second track outing was as a passenger in a Lance’s Corvette, driven by Sondra Sondregger.  She is the co-founder of the S2KCA (the [Honda] S2000 Club of America), and currently their South Central Regional Director.  She had coordinated this whole event, walking around, megaphone in hand, huge floppy brimmed hat undulating in the breeze.  She is very fiendly friendly (sorry Sondra) and helpful.  This track outing was simply 3 parade laps that took place at midday, maybe 50 – 55mph tops.

Sondra coordinating trafficSondra reviewing equipment

I’ll stop here, for now.  This was already quite a bit to digest (& post).  Tomorrow I’ll review my first ontrack adventure, at speed!  I’ll explain some things I didn’t know about becoming Racing Ready!

Dan

Away at Harris Hill Road

As mentioned previously, today I’m spending the majority of my free Saturday time at the Harris Hill Road (H2R) event.  I read somewhere that this was supposed to be a Honda S2000 only event, but later they opened it up to anyone willing to participate.  Therefore, this is a short post.

H2R Logo

I’m sure I’ll meet some new competitor friends, interview participants about themselves & their cars (to post), show people the CG-Lock device (along with giving out my $5 savings coupons), take some good pix for you to see here later, and maybe even a ride-along…

There will definately be a bunch to share with you, I’m sure, so come back soon.  We’ll see what impressions I have to give you on Sunday, when I’ll be Racing Ready to relax!

Dan

Test Drive – Fun With Control

Last year I was inspired to seek a test drive in a 2007 Saab 9-3 2.0t model at a local dealership.  This inspiration came from daily reads of a blog that I have come to highly respect.  This is TrollhattanSaab.net, a highly regarded Saab marque enthusiast’s blog penned by Steve Wade (aka Swade) out of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.  I started reading this guy’s blog (a little over a year ago) after researching that a Saab would be an appropriate (step-up) replacement for my fading 2000 Nissan Maxima SE.

TrollhattanSaab.net Blog

Anyway, back on topic.  This test drive was a fun time and a learning experience.  I was impressed by 3 things:
– the initial turbo rush (I was a turbo virgin – blush…)
– the enthusiasm of the Saab dealership sales manager (she wanted me to push it, not carefully pussyfoot it, saying that it wasn’t necessary to take it easy at the start of a Saab ownership relationship)
– and, I found a fun, twisty, 2 mile loop to enthusiastically drive on that was less than 10 minutes from my house (& I’ve been back since).

Tejas Trail Google Map

I e-mailed my test drive impressions to Swade.  A couple of days later I was surprised to read that he posted this:

This will be an interesting series of entries to keep an eye on.

Dan S currently owns a Nissan Maxima and I get the impression that he’s been pretty happy with it. Dan’s interested in a 2008 Saab 9-3, but as there’s been some pretty big offers on the 2007 model – and because it’ll be good to compare with the 2008 anyway – Dan lined up a 2007 test drive with his local Saab dealer last week.

Here’s his thoughts:

I was most impressed with my test drive of what I thought would be a humble MY07 2.0T 6-spd this evening. It compared very favorably to my currently Nissan Maxima 3.0L V6 rated @ 200HP. It was so smooth & tight & WOW, that comfy seat.

The drive was about 15 minutes long, but my salesperson (the Saab sales Manager) was very good, & allowed me to dip into the turbo more than I would have thought allowable for a test drive. Another bonus – she showed me a wonderful, curvy & hilly 2+ mile countryside loop road I hadn’t yet discovered, only 5 minutes from my house! I’m going to have to check out that drive to learn it better….

I can now better appreciate what the road test auto journalists are writing about when they rave about the smooth driveability of a Saab. I loved the oozing power of the turbo, so COOL! It seems to come from nowhere & gets you up to steam with no effort.

Having 1 extra gear to play with seemed a bit redundant – I guess 6th is best for the drawn out highway runs… I thought this 2007 model was fine in the quiet department, therefore the 2008’s should be even better than what is good already.

Toward the end of the test drive, doing a turn around she said, “Go for it!” and there was hardly any tire spin/chirping going around that corner. FUN with control! Can’t imagine how much more controlled it will be with 280HP and XWD!

And in relation to his Maxima, Dan offered the following in a subsequent email:

My daily driver is a 2000 Nissan Maxima, 3.0L, 5-spd factory rated at 200HP, with about 86,000 miles on it – its tired, but still willing. Last year the replacement of the standard air filter with a same sized K&N filter made it feel better than 200HP, like more torque. But the 2007 Saab 9-3 2.0L turbo just felt better.

Last night, I remembered one of the statements you made that rang true. This Saab, even with the smaller motor would have me looking for excuses to drive out of the way detours again!

That’s what it’s all about. They joy of driving. And that 2.0T engine is an absolute cracker. You might think of it as a humble base engine, but remember it was the Aero engine just a couple of years ago. It’s got zing, baby!

Allow me to quote Olav, a 9-5 owner from Norway, and the signature on his emails:

From Olav, who always takes the long way home.

Dan, we’ll be looking forward to your local dealer getting some 2008 models in stock. Thanks for telling us your impressions and keep us posted!

I was pleased to be “published” on the web for the first time!  But, what does this have to do with this blog? When you are wanting to do a test drive of a vehicle that really interests you, cultivate your relationship with a dealership.  Let them know you are both serious and knowledgeable about the car you are seeking out.  I had already talked, visited and established a professional relationship with this Saab sales manager for a couple of months before doing this test drive.

To date I have not yet acted upon this Saab consideration, but I know I would give a strong recommendation to anyone considering a Saab, Cadillac, Hummer purchase at this Batchelor dealership.  Ask for Carilyn!

This has inspired me to test drive some other smaller, more autocross appropriate cars soon – but now I’ve to get Racing Ready for my event visit at Harris Hill Road tomorrow.  Should be good, & you can be assured I’ll be posting about it!

Dan