Last week I went to my first SCCA Track Night in America event. This was held at Thunderhill West. They were running a promotion with a “Buddy Pass” so I was able to go for free thanks to buddy Tiernan. One of the best things about TNIA is that it’s nice heading to the track at 2:00 pm rather than 6:00 am. The downside is having only 3 20-minute runs. But on a short, twisty track like Thunderhill West, that still makes a good practice day. Luckily, Thunderhill is about an hour away. If I had to drive 2.5 hours each way, I’m not sure I’d make the trip.
The event was very well organized. There were lots of people telling you where to go and what to do. For the experienced drivers there was minimal hassle and the novices got a nice packet. They also offered free T-shirts, stickers, magazines, and pamphlets. They didn’t provide bottled water, however, which I found a little odd as most HPDE organizations do that.
One of the unusual features of TNIA is that they don’t allow passengers except during one session where there’s a pace car going 50 mph or less. Drivers and passengers don’t have to wear helmets at this time. I can’t imagine it’s much fun for spectators, but it’s definitely a good time for coaches to talk with students. Speaking of coaching, I dropped in on one of the novice classroom sessions and the instructor was very good.
I think TNIA in NorCal is in a pretty good place. The price is low, the track is great, and the event is well organized. If you’ve never been on track before, TNIA is a very good place to start. I’m sure the quality varies from region to regions, so YMMV.
I really like the simplicity of their run group definitions. It’s all about safety and not lap times.
Cars and drivers
I expected the usual mix of Miatas, 3 series, and 86s, but this TNIA day was a little different. In the Advanced group, there were three Mustangs, three turbo hatches (Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Focus RS), two 911s, one M2, one Corvette, one Taurus (new, and huge), and me in my Yaris. No Miatas, no 3-series, no 86s! I was lapping in the 1:34-1:35 range, and I passed others much more than they passed me. It’s a little surprising to me that advanced drivers in actual sports cars can’t lap faster than 1:34. The rules in the advanced group is point-by anywhere, but I followed the Fiesta ST for 4 laps while corner workers threw passing flags at him and he wouldn’t point me by anywhere except the straights. At which point he would accelerate away from me. That’s not advanced driving. I don’t think he realized he was holding me up 2 seconds per lap. It’s straight out of You Suck at Point-bys. Finally, I put my car on his door in the middle of a corner and demanded him to point me by, which he did.
The other groups seemed to run smoothly. Very few off-track excursions. In the other groups (novice and intermediate) there were a good mix of cars including the usual suspects (Miatas, 3-series, 86s, VTEC Hondas) but also two NSXs, two 1960s muscle cars, and the only car more curious than mine: an old WRX with a cheap eBay wing. It would be fun dominating the faster hardware in that POS.
At most HPDE events around here, the demographic of drivers is about 85% male and 75% white. This event was 100% male and mostly white. This is just a single event, but I wonder if SCCA is marketing their product widely enough.
Yaris power solved
I hadn’t had the Yaris on track in ages and the last time it was running poorly. In the Thunderhill ChampCar race last May my lap times were around 2 seconds off pace. The car also threw a check engine light a few times. So last Summer I replaced the intake air sensor and the CEL turned off, but I didn’t know if that solved the power problems. Mario did some tire tests in September that resulted in a 1:36.x fast lap, but I wasn’t sure if that meant the power was solved or not. Due to my back injury, I wasn’t able to test it properly until now. So I ended up waiting some 10 months before knowing. Good news: the car is back at the 1:34 pace, which means I probably have most of the 100 horses pulling for me.
Here’s a comparison of my lap times and Mario’s. We pulled a little weight out of the car between the events, so I should be a little faster. We were running the exact same tires. If you look at the speed on the straight before T1, you can see I’m carrying an extra 4 mph. But I also exit T10 2 mph faster. The difference in speed isn’t just the exit speed as you can see from the slope. Lighter is better.
The biggest difference in our driving styles is on the high speed corners. Thunderhill West is my home track, and I have the confidence to enter the fast corners faster. I also exit T10 better, probably because I have more experience flattening out the drive wheels on a loosely sprung FWD vehicle.
The data comes from an APEX Pro downloaded into TrackAttack. The APEX Pro is a good data logger and TrackAttack is a good data analysis tool and cloud storage service. Even though I had the APEX mounted on my dashboard, I never even looked at it. The lights are pretty, but I find the device mostly useless in its intended role.