An Photo Essay about DE and Instructors (including Chuck Pierce, our YOS President)
by: Don Chaisson, YOS webmaster (and part time track rat).
Our YOS region president, Chuck Pierce has been doing Driving Education (DE) events for a while… with BMW Owners and Hooked on Driving. Then came work and such, but recently he has gotten back into the “speed events” with PCA. As it turned out, Diablo Region was hosting a DE event March 23rd at Thunderhill Raceway and needed more “instructors”. So,one of Chuck’s friend, Ted Fisher, one of Diablo’s lead DE instructors called Chuck and asked him to brush off the rust on his DE Instructor skills and help.
Lets first talk about “What is a DE?”
I mean, we ALL know how to drive our Porsche’s, right? Well, mostly. But our Porsche’s are a LOT more capable than most of us really understand. But there is no safe place to explore our car’s capabilities on public roadways. So, why not at a “racetrack” and why not with instruction from someone who really does know the limits of our cars and how to safely approach them. That, in essence, is what “DE’s” are all about. So, lets do a deep dive into the Diablo Region’s recent DE at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, Ca. along with Chuck, our region president.
First, you have to have “a car”… of course the default is “your” Porsche. But the organizing bodies are quite friendly folks and often accept applications from folks with other cars, e.g. BMWs, VW’s, Honda’s, etc. The car must be in good working order since it will be pushed a bit beyond what it normally experiences on public highways. Some groups require an professional “inspection”; which can be done at a dealer (I had my Cayman GTS inspected at no charge as part of its annual oil change). Golden Gate Region does “at track” inspections and does not require prior inspections. Same for other organizations that hosts DE’s.
OK, you’ve set the date, got an inspection (if needed), sent in your registration to the region’s website (or Motorsportreg.com) making sure you indicate that you are new to DE. That means you will have an instructor with you for all “sessions”.
Best to arrive at the “track” the night before, especially since there is usually a social gathering/dinner. This a great time to introduce yourself and meet other “first time” Drivers (there were at least 7 new drives at the Diablo event!) or seasoned veterans. Diablo Region also does “registration” at the dinner, passing out schedule lanyards, etc.
Next thing is to get a good night’s sleep — if you can !! Then to the track early to get your parking “spot”. Thunderhill has two large awnings that protect you and your car from sun. Its a great place unload your luggage and stuff, to interact with other drivers and relax between sessions — yea, right, what free time? First, clean out the car of anything, I mean anything, that could fly around in the car or on the floor — inside and out of any “trunk” or “fronk”. Even floor mats that have “catches”. And make sure you have a full tank of gas (at 9 miles a gallon, the tank goes fast).
The first thing a “first time” student does is go to “class”. There are many things to learn just to start being safe on the track, for example the meaning of the flags corner workers and start/finish use to communicate with you. Each flag and its meaning is presented and described.
Next, meet your “instructor”. Instructors have a lot of experience at speed on tracks. Instructors at PCA events generally have direct experience with Porsche cars. He (or she in some cases — yea, some ladies can drive with the best!) will accompany you in every session. Their job is to get you comfortable at “speed”, learn your way around the track (what comes after this turn??) and BE SAFE!. The organizers may set up a “parade lap” or two so you can see the track at a leisurely pace, getting use to visual cues for brake points, turn in points, corner apex and “track out” points. Learning where to “put” your car on the track/road is the first big lesson.
Time to get out to the track.. line up at the “pre-grid”, get buckled in along with your instructor. If you haven’t discussed your “experience level” with your instructor, this would be a good time to do so. Chuck’s student was not a “first timer” and had several track days experience. Generally, it takes a few DE’s to be ready to “solo”. His student knew the basics, but, as Chuck found out, he was a bit hesitant and not very smooth. So Chuck had to transition from an “instructor” going over the basics to being a “coach” on how to get better. One of the most common faults for some drivers, says Chuck, is that they are somewhat digital — either on or off. On or off throttle, brakes, turn in, etc., so he works with such students with the image of a “rheostat” — dialing “up” throttle smoothly, brake hard then modulate the pedal, dial in a “turn” with the wheel, not saw back and forth!
Another technique is for the student to “allow” the instructor to drive the student’s car (usually not at 10/10ths!) — to show the line and demonstrate just how stable the car is at reasonable speeds. This is something that some students — and instructors are not comfortable with. Chuck preferred to drive his student around the track for a few laps in his CaymanS. This is Chuck showing his student the exit of turn 13 onto the back straight. But the best improvement is often just repetition in one’s own car with suggestions by the instructor. That and downloads with other students by the chief instructor after each session on track. There, students can unwind, share thoughts/concerns, compare experiences with other students. If the student has been observed to be erratic, the chief instructor will reinforce what the individual instructor has been whispering in the students ear!
At the end of the day, there is no better feeling than that of experiencing your own “Porsche” in the manner it was designed, face down personal hesitancies and monitor your progress in controlling your car at speed.
NOW, “my turn” on track !!
The weekend was not only Chuck instructing for Diablo Region, but Chuck and Don participating in a DE put on by Golden Gate Region. We were joined by Carrie and Jon Stone and Dennis Fay who came up to Thunderhill to “spectate” and see just what a DE was all about. Chuck and Don got back to the track, early, to get settled in under the awning, take all manner of stuff out of the cars (we’ve been through all this yesterday) and head over for “our” mandatory driver’s meeting. Yes, no matter how many times you have done a DE, there is a mandatory meeting to go over the rules of the day: including a review of flags, schedule, any unusual track conditions, whatever.
After the meeting, back to the pits and get ready. My group is called to pre-grid, I get in line. At the five minute warning, we start our engines, make sure we are buckled in with helmet securely tightened. At two minutes, we are poised to be directed onto the track, then, we file out, single file onto the “hot pit” lane, waiting for the starter to signal, GO as we approach the S/F area. We “ride the rim” of turn one, to the right of the merge line — something we are mandated to do anytime entering the track — even with no one else out yet. It is really important to stay out to the right with a HOT track because cars are coming down the front straight at full speed (@120+ mph for me) and it would be really uncomfortable for a car on a hot lap to try and occupy the same part of turn 1 with a car “slowly” coming from the pit lane!
Interestingly, Diablo and GGR teach slightly different “lines”… GGR more emphasizing a “racer’s” line, while Diablo teaching a “DE” line except for seasoned veterans. It takes a couple laps for “me” to get used to getting back to speed — good thing our first “lap” of the day is under a “standing yellow” flag. I watch my tire pressure build to my “hot target” pressure, then start focusing on line: break point, turn in, smooth corner arc’s, then the apex’s, squeezing the throttle for track out and set up for next corner. OK, for me, I have to keep my eyes on my mirrors for the faster drivers coming up on me. I checked my ego at the track entrance, so, no problem — “point by” entering one of the allowed “passing zones” allowing the faster cars by. I get to pass a couple people, who kindly return the favor. Checkered flag, session over, cool down lap and back to the pits. Same for Chuck.
Carrie and Jon and Dennis find our pits (OK, somewhat easy to find a YELLOW car in the lot). We show them around, take them to the track building and get an overall view of the facility from its 3rd floor. They kindly took some photo’s of Chuck and I “at speed”, wandered around the pits for close looks at the “Club Race” cars here and there and some of the ends hardened “track rats” take — one fellow in a Cayman pulled in with a trailer hitched to the Cayman carrying his racing slicks, ramps, various tools, etc.
We got to see the Club Racers do some practice starts and a 35 minute “sprint” race. A “GT3 Cup” car was in the field and was the class of the field — easily lapping a couple seconds faster than the next car — which was in a less powerful and slower class.
At the end of the day, we all packed up and headed south, stoping in Williams at Granzella’s for dinner. Ask Carrie how the lasagna was?
Not sure if Chuck and I infected our “spectators” with the “track bug”, but Carrie and Jon did seem to take an extra long look at the day!