About this time each year – actually about a month ago – Lura starts to get really fed up with Colorado. I feel the same. We love living in Colorado and don't really want to live anywhere else but by April we have had enough winter. We usually go down to Scottsdale for a long weekend just to get-us-through till spring.
Also this time year the race-track-bug starts to bite pretty hard. A couple weeks ago I made my normal pilgrimage out to Spring Mountain Raceway. A group of us go out this time every year and do one of the driving schools they put on out there.
Previously we had done the stage 1 and Stage 2 Lotus schools where you drive Lotus Elise's. These are excellent track cars. In fact, that's about the only reason I would buy one as they are a bit rough around the edges for daily driving.
This year the group did the Stage 3 Corvette School. This is departure from both my normal track days in my Cayman and the Lotus cars. The biggest difference of course is horse power and a lot of it. I drove Z06's about half the time and normal C6 Corvettes the other half. Both have substantially more HP than my Cayman and the weight of the two cars is pretty similar to the Cayman. I believe the difference in weight can be expressed as roughly half the weight of a fat balding guy wearing gold chains. It was a lot of fun to be able to get more out of certain situations with almost unlimited wheel spinning capability. You could hardly go wrong to choose a Z06 as your track-car; it's a really fun car to drive fast.
Having been doing this now for about 4 years I have to say that I think the best drivers are the people that have more modest HP cars. When you have less horse power you tend to learn the line of the track better and how to carry more speed through the corners. People who learn to drive on the track with high horsepower cars tend to incorrectly learn to just over-slow the car then jump on the gas hard to get the car back up to speed in the straights. Over the last four years I have met countless people that could take a very modest car, say 170Hp and consistently turn much faster lap times than the folks in BMW's, Porsches and Corvettes. This is actually the attraction of Motorsports Racing to me is that most of it comes down to skill. I talk to people all the time that ask about taking their car out on the track but don't want to because they have a lower horsepower car. Until you're a very good driver HP actually has almost nothing to do with it. Any car is really fun at the limits of its performance.
If you have never tracked your car, you have no idea what it can or can't do. I highly encourage anyone interested to jump in that Toyota Corolla and come to the BMW, Nissan or Porsche Club driver education events. It's a fun day and great way to safely explore the need for speed.
So the bug is biting pretty hard this year. This is partially because last year was the first year that High Plains Raceway was open. HPR is only about an hour and twenty minutes away which is close by racetrack standards. With this new accessibility has come an increased ability to drive more often, get better faster and increase the outer limits of my perceived vehicle inadequacies.
Last week with the help of some friends I put a brand new pristine set of rotors on the Cayman. This kind of modification is largely just normal maintenance of course. Until now I haven't done too much mechanically with the car. Last summer I did buy a separate set of track wheels and tires. Part of this was just to control the degradation of my daily tires and part was to explore putting more grip and power down to the pavement. As a friend mine pointed out, once you start increasing the capability of one element of your car the next weakest link is exposed. For me that was the brakes and suspension. I'm going to order more aggressive track brake pads soon. I'm using track pads on the front brakes now on track days and that alone makes a huge difference. The Cayman rotors are pretty good size so going to a more aggressive pad on all four corners should make a sizable difference. The suspension is a little trickier. I had several track days last year where I was getting fed up with some elements of the suspension. But then I had a great day in Pueblo where I know the track better than HPR. As a result, I'm waiting a bit on the suspension until I get more days under my belt at HPR. I'm not a fan of modifications that don't address a real limitation *I* have found. If you're making those kinds of modifications I think you are doing it blind.
The big change I'm making in the coming weeks is to add a Limited Slip Differential (LSD) to the car. The Cayman was released in 2006 with an open differential. An open differential hampers performance when a drive wheel lifts off the pavement as all the power is directed to the spinning wheel (not useful). An LSD locks the spinning wheel to the wheel with traction once a certain difference in the two wheel speeds are achieved. There are also torque based differentials on the market but as I understand it they are best for autocross use where wheel speed based LSD's are best for track use. When the Cayman first released it was bantered about in the Porsche community that the open differential was the weak link in the cars performance and Porsche did this on purpose to 'detune' the car to distant it (in the negative direction) from the 911 cars. With a mid-engine design the Cayman had the ability to be an overall better platform allegedly. I didn't start to really notice this limitation until the last year when I actually had the guts to turn off stability control. Having an open differential feels exactly like stability control when exiting a hairpin with the gas mashed. When the inside rear wheel loses traction the entire car loses acceleration.
It's promising to be good track year here in Colorado. My office start is next Saturday with the BMW Driver Education Event. This year is the first time the event has been held at HPR so that should add some new excitement. For more information on what happens at these events see this. If you want to just go out and check out what happens, just drive out and take it all in. Better, yet volunteer to be a corner worker for the event.
See you on the track!