A Racing Team is Born

Soon to be at its new home with our new yet-to-be-named race team.

Soon to be at its new home with our yet-to-be-named race team.

What happens when you want to go racing and you’ve been on a 7-year break from your favorite pastime because of real-life responsibilities, but you happen to have a handful of local race-loving friends in the same situation? Well, that’s how a racing team is born!

Owned since new in 1999, this was the car that got me truly hooked, and eventually became a race car... once it reached over 180K miles on the chassis.

This was the car that got me truly hooked, and eventually became a race car… Once I put over 180K miles on the chassis.

The last time I went racing it was in my own street-car-turned-race-car, and while I got the car new in 1999 with the intention of never modifying it, that quickly changed after my first on-track driving event in 2000. I started instructing at HPDEs in 2001, coaching for race-licensing programs in 2002, and then started my own endurance-racing adventures in 2003 at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Addiction had fully set in, and I knew that my street car would eventually become a race car so that I wouldn’t have rent rides anymore. Long story short, that day did come, and it quickly flew by after a single season of sprint racing with BMW CCA. My wife and I decided we wanted a family, so I traded in my racing dream for the dream family – the biggest win of my life!

Of course, that addiction and desire never really dies, but the idea of hemorrhaging money on a regular basis isn’t appealing when you’ve got a whole lot of real life going on around you. Back in 2008, there wasn’t much in the way of endurance race series, at least not to the extent that there is now, let alone the more enjoyable grassroots approach that’s developed over the years. LeMons became a hit for the fun-loving guys, then ChumpCar, and now WRL (World Racing League) among others. The choices are plentiful, the racing is fun, and the driving stints are long. Perfect! And now Project M3 will have a cousin in the garage.

SpecE36 waiting for a ride to its new home

All prepped up by its previous owner and waiting for its ride across half the country to its new home.

As our team of six anxiously awaits the arrival of our SpecE36-prepared BMW 325i, we’ll be coming up with a team name and planning our assault on the 2015 race season. One thing we all know is that we’ll have huge smiles on our faces, and plenty of stories to share. Full driver bios and a team page are on the horizon, as well as stories filled with our fun times on and off track, and most of the stories will even be true.

 

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Lockton Motorsports HPDE Insurance

Porsche 996 GT3There’s a saying when it comes to driving on track, whether it’s racing or an HPDE (High-Performance Driving Event): It’s not a matter of if you’ll wreck, but when. It’s almost inevitable, unfortunately, but the severity can range anywhere from a bent wheel all the way up to completely totaled car, or even death. It’s a fact that many choose to ignore, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

In racing, whether you believe “rubbin’ is racin'” or if you follow vintage 13/13 rules to ensure minimal contact, you’re still left on your own in the end.  The only insurance you have is trust in the other drivers, plus a plethora of always-advancing safety equipment. Sure, there’s the unspoken gentleman’s rule, whereby we all hope that the person at fault will step up to make things right, but it’s certainly not expected, nor is it the norm.  It’s just the nature of the racing beast.

When it comes to HPDEs, however, things are considerably different.  There’s a lot of money to be spent, but not a dime to be won; not even a  cheap plastic trophy.  At best, you want to leave an event with a new level of driving ability and awareness, plus all of your equipment in the same exact condition it was in when you arrived.  Aside from some healthy tire wear, less brake pad material, and a few rock chips and tire boogers stretched across your hood.

Crunched E46 M3

Bad things happen to good people, and sometimes to both ends of a car. Barriers on track are designed to protect others, not to protect a car’s body panels.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned, even for the greatest of drivers. Whether fault lies within yourself, someone else, or a mechanical failure, bad things can happen–and quickly. Many years ago, drivers would get lucky and have their regular auto insurance policies cover any on-track mishaps.  After a fair number of those claims, however, as well as an odd number of vehicles being totaled on “access roads” to tracks, the insurance companies decided to protect their bottom ends.  Most, if not all, auto policies now have exclusions for speed events, whether timed or not.  The jig was up!

E36 M3 wreckageDuring this time, however, a new program was being developed at Lockton Affinity. The Lockton Motorsports HPDE insurance program has taken off in a huge way, and has saved countless people from leaving a car behind, and never being able to pick up the pieces, so to speak, because of the associated costs.

Audi TT on track

Thanks to the Lockton Motorsports program, drivers can have one less thing on their minds when they bring their street cars to HPDE events.

 

996 GT3 up the hill

Because sometimes How-the-hell-did-that-happen moments just happen.

 

Alpine White E36 M3 crash

And because sometimes you fall victim to someone else on track suffering from the fabled “Red Mist.”

Yes, it’s even happened to yours truly.  After 11 years without a single on-track incident, I became the victim of the inevitable. Regardless of how well you plan and how aware you are of your surroundings, you might even fall prey to another driver being trapped in their own legendary level of adrenaline-induced Red Mist. I’ll spare you the long story, but if the Lockton Motorsports HPDE Insurance had been available back then, many parts of my own life would have turned out a bit differently.  Not that I’m bitter, of course; “Stuff” happens

See the full story on the Lockton Motorsports program at MotoIQ.com.

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Michelin Pilot Super Sport: Review

Pilot Super Sports T8 Rain

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

We’re in the middle of some rather exciting times in the automotive world.  Car manufacturers are having an all-out horsepower war that’s almost frightening—if you have to occasionally ride right seat at subsonic speeds anyway.  Tire manufactures haven’t hesitated to wage war against one another either.

The line between extreme-performance street tires and DOT-R competition tires seems to grow increasingly blurry as time goes on, and there are street tires now which rival some favorite track day tires.  Add in the extended life of the new generation of extreme-performance tires and that line gets all but erased with the prospect of being able have one set of tires for both street and track.  
Note: I’m not referring to those looking for absolute maximum grip and lowest possible lap times, obviously.

Michelin has long been renowned for their line of high-performance tires, and they’ve been standard issue on many high-end sports cars and exotics for about as long as I can remember.  I don’t hide the fact that I’m a BMW fan (most of us being closet Porsche fans), but I recall vividly when the ’95-’99 M3 was popping up in just about every car magazine you can name, and was always lauded for it’s incredible handling right out of the box.  Michelin was supplying their most extreme tire of that era, the Pilot SX MXX3.  A good deal of the crisp turn-in and overhaul handling ability of the E36 M3 in stock form came from the tires. Most new BMW M cars continue to be supplied with latest-generation Michelins.

The Pilot Sport, which came out next, was known to have good wet-weather abilities, but was never much of a favorite among those looking for ultimate handling.  That, of course, was back when you had to compromise between a tires ability in the wet versus dry.  The original MXX3s, for instance, weren’t the most confidence inspiring tires in the rain.  Not that I’d know (he says with guilty eyes).

Then, at some point around 2004-2005 they released the Michelin Pilot Sport 2 (PS2) in which they seemed to magically blend wet-weather abilities with dry-weather grip.  I had a set and was “stuck” driving on my them for a weekend at Sears Point in Sonoma, CA and  also spent a full lapping day at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, CA.  That set of tires turned me into someone who actually enjoyed driving in the rain.  Needless to say, I came away thoroughly impressed.  Not to the point where I’d leave the idea of R-compound tires behind, but impressed nonetheless.

Michelin PSS on E36 M3 - Alignment

“New” car getting a pre-track alignment after some suspension bushing rehab.

Fast forward to 2013.  I find myself once again owning an E36 M3 with a track weekend on the horizon and in need of some tires.  Being a little further into the age of wisdom now (i.e. I’m getting old), I don’t necessarily want to swap wheels around all the time, nor am I on track a few times a month anymore.  It’s more like a few times per year now, and track rubber doesn’t really like to be stored for long periods of time, so an all-around, run-what-you-brung sort of tire sounded appealing.

Michelins have always been high on my list, but I’d lost touch with keeping up on the street tire technology over the years since I started going with less expensive options in order to maximize racing budget.  With my racing “career” on hiatus, I canvased a few friends in motorsports who’d made similar transitions to see what they were driving on.  The big name that kept coming back  was the Michelin Pilot Super Sports (PSS).  Based on my experience with the PS2s back in the mid-2000s, it seemed like a no-brainer.  Even if they just performed identically to the PS2s, I’d be very happy.

Granted, the Pilot Super Sports aren’t exactly brand-new to the tire scene.  They were actually released in 2011, but remember that the PS2 design was around for several years while others were trying to catch up, and is still available now.  The Super Sports bridge the gap that no one knew existed… Between the PS2 and their race-tire sibling, the Pilot Sport Cups (PSC).  Near-PSC levels of grip plus much-hyped abilities in the wet?  Seemed like an easy choice, really.

Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cutaway

Photo courtesy of MichelinMan.com

The Super Sports have a Bi-compound tread design.  The outer  shoulders are inspired by Michelin’s multiple LeMans victories and offer very impressive dry grip in cornering and under braking.  The inner portion of the tread design utilizes the latest generation of their wet-weather elastomers.  As great as these are in the dry, their wet-weather stability deserves a category of it’s own.  Truly incredible.

They also employ their new Twaron belt technology which increases stability at high speeds and keeps the wear even across the tires.  (They have some videos available here.)  I can attest that they are extremely stable at speed, and even with a camber-challenged car at the moment, I didn’t get the amount of wear on the outside shoulders that I was expecting after a few days at Heartland Park of Topeka.  Of course, a good chunk of that time was in wet conditions, so time will tell…

Michelin Pilot Super Sport Tread

Photo courtesty of MichelinMan.com

Most people expect a good wet-weather tire to have some sort of a V-pattern for water evacuation.  Just looking at these Pilot Super Sports you wouldn’t think they were designed for anything more than light rain.  Having tested them on track in heavy downpours with standing water, however, I can honestly say these are easily the best tires I’ve ever experienced in wet weather.  They’ve obviously put some sort of voodoo magic into them.  It’s to the point that I was laughing to myself as I could seemingly break the laws of physics while testing them at Heartland Park of Topeka…

“Test” Weekend – Heartland Park of Topeka

While the car was relatively “new” to me, it’s a chassis I’m incredibly familiar with, so getting in touch with the car itself wasn’t a problem.  Luckily, the first day of this 3-day event provided as much wet-weather driving as one could ask for, so, after a warm-up session to get reacquainted with the track, it was all about getting a feel for the tires and where their limit was in the wet. 

E36 M3 Michelin PSS HPT T8 Rain

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

It was the first day of a non-competition weekend and I was in my daily driver and I forgot to sign up for track insurance in time for the weekend, so 10/10ths was definitely not on my to-do list.  That being said, I wasn’t exactly driving Miss Daisy around either, so try as I did, I was never able to find the absolute limit in the rain.  A couple of other fellow racer/instructors who took rides with me also commented on the prodigious grip in the rain.

E36 M3 Michelin PSS - Wet

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

Later in the day as the rain continued to dump on us, it got to a point where you could drive the car as if it were on dry asphalt.  Sure, you still had to avoid painted surfaces and be comfortable with the car moving around a bit under threshold braking, as well as moving a bit through the one heavy river running across turn 8, one of the faster parts of the track, but the overall performance of the PSSs in the wet was jaw-droppingly good. 

E36 M3 Michelin PSS T4 - Damp

Photo courtesy of Ryan McManama @ Rollingstockphoto

What about the dry, where most people really care about performance?  Well, the Super Sports are no slouch at all. I’d go so far as to say that they’re the best street tire I’ve driven on track.  Getting the hot air pressures right takes a bit more patience than with R-compounds, but once dialed in (I found 34-35 hot to be about the sweet spot on these), they felt great.  Even with a car on stock suspension for the time being (only minor negative camber added to the front), I was surprised at how little understeer there was.  And this is on a chassis which is known to push hard in stock form.  

Yes, you give up a little bit of ultimate grip to DOT-R tires, but not as much as you’d expect and their extremely easy to drive at their limit with just enough slip angle to be really enjoyable.  The only places where they give up an edge to real track tires is under heavy braking in the dry and initial turn-in response.  

While turn-in isn’t quite as crisp as R-compounds,it’s still not bad at all.  You simply take a slightly different initial set at turn-in and all is well.  On the street this is actually a good thing, as it means the front end isn’t darting around on the road.  Factor all that in with only needing one set of wheels and tires and not having to change anything at the track, and these become a no-brainer decision.

Another ridiculous plus to these tires is the UTQG Treadware rating.  The old Pilot SX MXX3s were very good in their day, but lacked wet-weather confidence and tended to wear down rather quickly with spirited driving.  They had a treadware rating of 140.  The PS2s I used to love so much were great in the rain, very good in the dry and had a pretty decent life expectancy, though the price made you want to eek just a little more out of them.  They were rated at 220 and had a 20,000-mile warranty.

The Pilot Super Sports, which take after the PS2s but do everything better, have a 30,000-mile warranty and a UTQG rating of 300!  That’s better than some of Michelin’s luxury performance tires, yet you can spend weekends on the race track with these.

Michelin PSS SidewallSome may argue that there are other choices on the market which will edge these out on a dry track or autocross course.  That may be true, but there are really no compromises with these.  With most other choices in this segment, it seems you have to choose 2 out of 3 qualities you want, but here you get fantastic dry performance,  ridiculous wet-weather capabilities and a comfortable and quite ride.  

 

 

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HJC Si-12: Lightweight Brain Bucket

FatherSonDay_cover

As the saying goes, “How much is your head worth?” Don’t skimp on the safety equipment.

More often than not, expiration dates on safety gear can be a real pain. Sometimes, however, they can be a blessing in disguise.

“Luckily,” my old Snell 2000 helmet was expired, and not just because of the stench of over 10 years of heavy use. I was forced to find something new, and it wasn’t going to be the same make or model this time around.

My biggest priorities this time were quality and lightness followed by comfort, but the price had to be realistic, too. I came across many carbon fiber helmets in my search, but the prices were often a bit shocking or the quality looked like it might be a bit sub-par.

Then I started finding a constant theme when searching for lightweight helmets… The HJC Motorsports name kept coming up, and specifically the Si-12 model. Surprisingly enough, HJC has a carbon fiber helmet which looks extremely cool, but the Si-12 is actually lighter… Their lightest, in fact, as it features their “Advanced Super Lite Composite Weave Shell,” and I can attest to how light it is.

HJC Si-12

HJC’s super lightweight and extremely comfortable Si-12 helmet.

Holding my old helmet in one hand and the new Si-12 in the other, you quickly notice the Si-12 being much lighter, but it’s not until you put it on your head after wearing something else that you really notice the difference.  When the weight is being supported by your neck, even ounces make a difference.  Compound that with the momentum and inertia of the normal forces on track (cornering loads, acceleration, braking), let alone the amount of force generated if something goes awry on track, and those differences are magnified exponentially.  Fatigue is obviously the most prevalent benefit of a lighter helmet, but neck-snappy safety is the real concern.

The true test for me was three back-to-back days on track after being missing in action for just over a full year. With combined driving of my personal car and instructing/coaching for three out of four sessions on a busy, high-speed track with some long sweepers, I ended up with precisely zero muscle soreness in my neck at the end of the weekend.

It used to be that I’d get sore after just one day with my old helmet if it had been a while since I wore it, and I work out regularly, so it wasn’t a weak neck so much as a ridiculously heavy helmet. It doesn’t hurt that the new helmet just looks so much better than my old one, and it also has actual working ventilation (Advanced Channeling Ventilation System), which seemed non-existent on the old one, despite the slots it had. It’s also pre-drilled for a HANS device and comes with a very nice hemet bag/case.

Of course, aside from just the lightness, comfort and even looks, I’d have to say that new-helmet smell is a pretty big plus at this point.

HJC Deluxe Bag

HJC’s helmets come with their Deluxe Helmet Bag at no additional cost.
Photo courtesy of HJC Motorsports.

HJC Si-12

HJC Si-12, also available in rubbertone black for those who want a well-heated head in the summer and like the matte black look.

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Curves: Soulful Driving

Dream RoadsWhile there’s no hiding the fact that I love cars, it’s not always just the mechanical, technological, aural or aesthetic aspects I love most.  In fact, depending on the car, any one of those aspects falls a distant second to the one thing I love most about cars… Driving them.

Anyone with a passion for driving has a favorite road or two, but even those of us with a mental notebook of our personal favorites also have the dream roads we’ve never driven, which we keep on our driving bucket list.

While we have some pretty good mountain roads in the U.S., and some that are genuinely great, it’s hard not to acknowledge some of the absolutely incredible roads and mountain passes across Europe.  Some of it is just the scenery, but that’s a big part of what makes these roads so amazing.  The curves and switchbacks are obviously a huge part of the equation.  Part of what makes these European dream roads so extraordinary is that they seem to have been constructed around the European landscape, rather than through it, as is often the case in the U.S.

As I was doing some recent road day dreaming I happened to come across the Curves-Magazin website dedicated to these exact roads, and to what they refer to as “Soulful Driving.”  They publish periodicals with some of the most breathtaking images and they also have route maps, key places to visit and even recommended hotels and restaurants. 

I ordered up CURVES 2 Borders – Soulful Driving and it arrived within just a couple of days—you’ve got to love international air shipments.  The book shows some of the most spectacular mountain passes between Italy and Switzerland, including the rather famous Stelvio Pass.  As you can see in the sample gallery below, it’s rather easy to spend a lot of time simply staring at the photographs and letting your imagination run wild.  As much as I’d like to understand the text, it’s really all about the pictures anyway… At least until you actually book your trip. 

It’s a 224-page softcover book with 150 stunning photos.  The only problem (for me anyway) is that it’s all in German, so it may be time to invest in some Rosetta Stone language lessons.  The reality is that it doesn’t matter what language it’s written in, though.  It’s really all about the images… Until the European road trip gets planned anyway.

 This is just 20 of the 150 awe-inspiring photos:

Curves 2 Borders - Soulful Driving

Available at Curves-Magazin.com

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GRAND-AM: No Place Like Home

Kansas Speedway recently finished up testing at their new road course and just announced that the trio of GRAND-AM Road Racing, Rolex Sports Car Series and Continental Sports Car Challenge Series will lay down their first layer of rubber the weekend of Aug. 16-17, 2013.  

Anyone who’s experienced August in the Midwest will appreciate the fact that this will occur under the lights.  

Sports car racing at night and KC BBQ?  I’m there!

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