By Emma Vossler
The tires were howling as the car exited the corner. I was back on the gas and then slamming on the brakes before turning again as my instructor laughed over my headset. “You like those corners, don’t you?” I couldn’t help the smirk that appeared beneath my helmet. The week before had been full of excitement and nervous anticipation for this moment. I had been wanting to drive on a racetrack ever since my dad had let me participate in local PCA autocrosses.
My first track weekend had arrived. Like any eighteen year old, I was eager to get behind the wheel on a racetrack, but quickly learned that starting by riding a few laps with my instructors was the best idea. After all, it’s one thing to talk about how to approach corners, look out for braking landmarks, and checking for corner stations, it’s another to actually see them on the track. I even got the privilege to tackle a good old fashioned stick shift in my Dad’s GT4.
Today I would get to line up amongst the handful of other new drivers and head out on the open track to go as fast as I wanted, or as fast as I could control. I wasn’t alone of course, I had an instructor riding passenger with me the whole time and I was grateful. Being a novice meant I had lots to learn about what lines to take, what gear to shift into, and what corners to be cautious of spinning out. Like my fellow novices, I started out in the classroom, learning about passing zones, how to watch for corner stations, and how far ahead to be looking.
My first session was yellow all around and being naturally anxious, I was all gungho about starting. After a first few laps my instructor, Angie, suggested that she take me for a ride and show me about how to approach corners and what to look for in a racing line. Talking about corners and theory was great, but nothing could compare to seeing how it was supposed to be done first hand. After seeing the lines it became much easier to see how to position the car, what to look for as braking landmarks, and looking up enough to see the corner stations.
Between run sessions, we had classroom time. Here we talked about the two and a half mile racetrack and the corners that were giving us trouble. We learned how to see a fourteen turn course into having fourteen straights, as well as getting advice from the instructors that drove with every one of us. Personally, as an engineering student, I found the discussions over chassis balance and tire grip enlightening. Most of the things I had learned when building an open-wheeled race car with the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers at the University of Minnesota.
Getting out on the track was everything I had ever dreamed it to be and more. It was just the kind of excitement that makes you giddy, keeping you bouncing on your toes wanting more. It was the little things, like signaling a car that it can pass you that really made the whole experience feel alive. There was nothing like grasping a steering wheel with one hand and the other arm at full extension out the window at eighty miles per hour down a straight. That same straight that ended in a blind turn had been the location that a car spun out earlier that same weekend. After a while things got into a rhythm, my braking zones became more defined and looking at corner stations became more natural. Nothing made me happier than getting to pass cars, while also feeling more in control. Being in the same run group for the weekend meant I got acquainted with the cars that were about my speed and one of them was a Ferrari 488. Most of the session I was able to stay ahead of him, but I stood no chance against his horsepower on the straights. That didn’t mean he could catch me in the GT4 in corners though. I remember literally bouncing with joy after I finished a run session without him being able to pass me. Our back and forth continued all weekend and even extended to being incorrectly black-flagged for the Ferrari.
Now things were never too predictable by any means. There was still plenty to keep you on your toes. I was looking at my exit cone, just out of turn three, when up ahead I saw a slight glint of orange under the blue car in front of me. Quickly I gained on the car through the next two turns and my instructor commented that the car in front of me had a cone underneath it. I looked up from my line to see a Subaru smoking with an engine issue and slowing down to take a service road off the track.
Throughout the weekend, I built my speed up over consecutive sessions. As speed crept up, more things started to run through my mind. Shifting gears was an added challenge at first, but by the end of the last day, I had found a rhythm. Third was a great gear, but it wasn’t up to 107 mph on the front straight. Over the course of the track’s fourteen turns, I would drop down to second gear and work my way back up to fourth gear without ever having issues. One thing I did have issues with was weight transfer. Going into a corner too fast made the car push wide or even kick the rear end out on power.
I was amazed that my Dad and I could drive the GT4 in back-to-back sessions and the car didn’t care. It had no issues over the entire weekend. I’d heard that you could pound Porsches on the track, but didn’t fully understand how much until that weekend. After all, there was no way my daily driver could have survived that track without breaking something.
One of my best experiences that weekend was when I rode with one of the instructors during their session. When we got up to the blend line while getting out on the track in his GT3RS, I realized that this was going to be fast! The instructor’s driving was very smooth, easily doing twenty to thirty miles per hour faster than I had been at all times, but with none of the chassis upset. That was the fastest I have ever gone in a car in my life. There is nothing like the wind roaring through the open windows, gripping the door panel for my life, and praying that there would still be track beneath the car when we crested the blind turn alpha zero. That was one of the greatest weekends of my life; even now, days after as I write this, it’s almost all I can think about.