Pineview Run, Optimum Drive, and S.Drives

Emergency. We interrupt our series in progress for an important and timely message on performance driving. This guest post comes from my twin brother Mario. Incidentally, if you have content you want to contribute to YSAR, I’d love to post it.

This last Sunday, Pineview Run held its first annual Pineview Challenge Cup, a time trial “race” of sorts. After an initial practice and qualifying session, you got three runs. Each run consisted of a warm up lap, and three timed laps. Trophies and $500 membership vouchers awarded for fastest times and most consistent laps.

For sure my 1.6 Miata on 195 S.Drives were not in contention for fastest laps. Here’s me lining up behind a McLaren 570. There were other fast cars: a Viper, Lotus Exige, M3, 911, etc., and all of them were on wider and stickier tires.

You’ll notice the RumbleStrip lap timer in the photo. Both of us absolutely love this thing. It’s the single best car thing I’ve ever purchased.

So I wasn’t going to be fastest, but I thought I had a shot at putting in the most consistent laps. Until a funny thing happened: I started driving better and better. I’ve been listening to the audio book Optimum Drive, and through some coincidence I had a moment of what the author calls driving greatness. Or what others have called being “in the zone”. In my terms, I started driving the Miata like a go-kart.

And that’s a good thing because I’m decent in a go-kart. Maybe it’s the lower speeds or simpler interface, but I can “zero steer” a kart and eke out more performance than most. In fact, after trouncing too many friends, Ian had a standing offer to pay for anyone’s track time if they beat me. He didn’t lose any money, but I also never translated that kart skill to car driving.

At least not until the Pineview Challenge Cup. Something clicked and I kept getting faster and faster. I enjoyed this so much that I stopped trying to put in consistent laps, and just explored the space, going faster, with less effort, lap after lap.

The less effort part was interesting. On corner entry I’d let off the throttle to shift the weight forward, turn the wheel slightly to tip the nose in, scrub off speed with the sides of my tires, and let the chassis come around on its own. Then I’d get on the gas and spin the rears to finish turning the back around. In all, I did very little steering with the wheel, and most of it with weight balance and throttle control. Some of you reading this might be good at that already, but I’d only done that in karts.

In three short sessions I knocked almost 3 seconds off my time, which is pretty incredible. To put this in perspective, the first time Ian and I went to Pineview, my best time was a 1:27 flat and Ian did a 26.5. I only did 5 laps total that day, but I thought I was doing OK. However, this time I put down an early 24.5, and in the last session I saw a 23.0 in disbelief. But my final lap was a 1:21.7! The kart nirvana I’d experienced finally made its way into my driving game. Man that was fun.

Now I’ve gone on talking about go-karts and Pineview at the same time, and I’ll never do that again. Anyone who says Pineview Run is a big go-kart track is just plain wrong. I’ve been on big go-kart tracks, like Dixon, Wenatchee, Stockton, etc, and Pineview simply isn’t one. There’s a lot of elevation and I think anything but a shifter kart would chuff annoyingly up the hills.  

Neither is Pineview a short race track. I raced Thompson last year, and did a HPDE at Waterford Hills this year, and while they have similar lap times to Pineview Run, they are meant for racing, with long straights and not many compromise corners. Comparatively, those tracks are tame. Boring, even.

Pineview Run run is a workout. It’s a rollercoaster. It’s a training and skills track. A test track. Pineview Run is also a great equalizer. The top cars on this day were a very modified BRZ and a M3, both driven extremely well. But there were a lot of fast cars, all of them so different, it really came down to the driver.

Well, ahem, unless you’re in a stock-ish Miata on 195 Yokohama S.Drives. At 300 treadwear and 10/32″ tread, they aren’t designed for the track. However, they are perfectly matched to my Miata’s 106 whp, and while I would have gone faster on stickier rubber, I wouldn’t have had as much fun. I ordered the S.Drives online at Walmart, and with free shipping and mounting, I was out the door for $200 for all four tires. Hard to beat that on a smiles-per-dollar ratio.

One final word about Pineview Run that Ian didn’t mention in his initial review, which is that it’s not just a car track. Pineview Run is also a shooting, hunting, ATV, snowmobile, horseback riding, and family-oriented outdoor country club. I’d never heard of a country club without a golf course or tennis court, but there you have it. And while I’m not into horses (yet), the rest of it was designed for people exactly like me. It’s an hour drive away on scenic back roads. Of course I joined.

We now return you to our previously scheduled programming (check back next week where we pick up the “It’s raining lies” series).

Track Review: Pineview Run

Have you ever been to an executive or par 3 golf course? With typical distances 100-200 yards, there’s more swinging and less walking per minute. To me, that also means both more fun and more practice per minute. The strange thing is, there aren’t that many short courses. For some reason, people like full size courses. It can’t be because they like walking, as most people use golf carts. It can’t be because they like hitting their long clubs, because nobody says their favorite club is their #1 wood. It can’t be because they’re working on their game, because if they wanted to do that, they’d be on the driving range or putting green. I guess it’s because real golfers play on real golf courses. However, if you want to get better at golf, you’re better off working on your short game. And this is true in the car world too.

Pineview Run is the executive/par 3 of road courses. It’s short, twisty, and low speed. Perfect for working on your short game, if you will. You spend most of the time in 2nd gear, a little in 3rd, and none in 4th. It’s ridiculously fun to throw you car around this twisty ribbon of asphalt. Some people might describe it as a hilly autocross. Others might say it’s a kart track. There’s some truth to both these statements. It’s really tight and not that wide. But that doesn’t diminish its appeal to me or it’s utility as a training tool. Ultimately, it’s a driver’s track. It’s where you go to hone your muscle memory. The low speed makes it safer and less intimidating for the novice, and its technical nature makes it an ideal practice ground for more experienced drivers.

In order to get access to the track, you have to become a member, which means plunking down a sizable chunk of change (minimally $2500) for several years (minimally 5). After that, the track time is quite reasonable and works out to something like $100 per track day. I think that’s a smashing deal considering how much one could improve their driving there. I worry a little that the clientele Pineview is courting isn’t going to sign up. The kinds of people with the money for a country club membership drive Porsche 911s, not Miatas and 86s. The 911 crowd wants to let their dog hunt, and that just doesn’t happen on a 2nd gear track. People with cars capable of 150 mph don’t want to drive a track where their top speed is less than the highway they arrived on. I see this attitude all the time at my favorite track: Thunderhill West. People complain that it’s too twisty, too blind, too off camber… too much work. Most track organizations host events on the East (3 mile) track instead. I want to ask them, “do you even like driving?” Then I remind myself that apparently drag racing is a thing.

The problem is that Pineview is even slower and more twisty than Thunderhill West. Who wants to drive their sports car on a kart track? Well, besides me. Autocrossers, that’s who. Pineview is the middle ground between a parking lot with cones and Watkins Glen (a famous high speed track located about an hour away). However, the autocrossers spend even less money on track time than the HPDE crowd and are unlikely to purchase memberships.

So Pineview finds themselves in the difficult situation of having a business model that doesn’t fit with their track. How will this work out? Well, hopefully, people wake the hell up and realize that twisty driving is fun driving. I don’t see that happening. Hopefully Pineview opens up some public days and partners with some local autocross clubs.

Here’s what the track looks like from inside my brother’s Miata. Sorry about the sound. Even on low setting the wind noise sounds like someone ripping on a bong (not my phraseology). First 3 laps are me. Second 3 laps are Mario.

P.S. The APEX Pro is kind of fun to watch don’t you think?

Track Review: New York Safety Track

The original plan for the weekend was to race my brother Mario’s Miata at Calabogie in the AER series but the car wasn’t ready so we made alternate plans and took his street Miata on an HPDE safari. While racing is always a great rush, the first few laps at a new track are such a special experience that I didn’t mind the change in plans. The first track we hit was New York Safety Track (NYST). NYST is a relatively unknown track that caters more to motorcycles than cars. It’s a family run business that’s been open for only a few years. It looks great on paper/video so I was eager to check it out.

My normal preparation for driving a new track is to run a bunch of laps on a simulator. Laser scanned tracks are accurate to the centimeter, so you have a pretty good idea of how to drive the track when you get there. But real life is always a little different than virtual. You perceive elevation changes much more in person, for example. But there are other, more subtle differences that add up to a unique ‘feel’ in the real world that can’t be duplicated in simulation.

Unfortunately, NYST doesn’t exist in the simulator world, so I couldn’t prepare that way. So I did my homework by watching youtube videos, marking up track maps, and imagining myself driving the track. There’s a saying that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. It’s sort of like that with track preparation. What may seem like an ideal line on paper can be suboptimal in real life. So whenever I go to a new track, my main goal is to explore the space a little. As a result, I overdrive the car a little rather than trying to optimize lap times.

Here’s what I wrote ahead of time about NYST. In red are comments I made afterward. Video follows text.

T1-T2: The T1-T2 combo is taken as an increasing radius turn with a lot of slowing early and then full throttle as soon as possible. The main straight climbs gradually into the braking zone. The apex is right at the peak of the hill, at which point the track turns down and opens. It’s important to get on the throttle early and use the whole track while unwinding the steering.

The braking point is ludicrously deep. You can brake at the 100 marker and then flick it over the hill.

T3: Double-apex carousel that is half descending and half ascending. Set up wide at the entrance, brake through the first apex, maintain throttle through middle, and gas it out to the exit, but be careful because there is no exit apron (here or anywhere).

As expected, the exit pinches in, so you want to let the car drift left a bit before hitting the second apex.

T4-T5: Flat out. T4 and T5 are slight bends right and then left, but the racing line is straight through. The apex of T5 is slightly blind.

T6: Another descending-ascending double-apex carousel. Unlike T3, the apexes are really far apart and the track-out is held tight to set up for T7.

I liked this as a double apex rather than holding a tight line. I feel like the exit speed is better. Too bad I didn’t have my RumbleStrip with me to test.

T7: Flat out. T7 is a blind right-handed bend that should require no turning if the exit of T6 is held correctly.

This turn feels a little like Buttonwillow Phil Hill. Turn it in before the hill and just go straight over.

T8: This is the highest speed corner of the track. Set up track right on entrance and stay mid-track at the exit to get ready for the esses ahead.

T9-T11: Rolling esses. As soon as you pass the apex of T8, get the car straight and unloaded. The braking zone to T9 is short. Brake just a touch into the hill. T9 is a blind right-hander that is quickly followed by T10 (left) and T11 (right). Like any esses, sacrifice the exits, except for the last one. Track all the way out of T11.

There are two ways to handle this complex. You can shift down to 3rd before or after 9. My guess is staying in the high gear is better because downshifts often end up with too much braking. But downshifting before gives you a great run up to 11.

T12: Descending decreasing radius 120. The track will start to descend before the braking zone to T12. It’s tighter and longer than it looks and continues downward. Get rid of speed early since it’s dangerous to do so mid-corner. Stay tight the whole way around.

The corner is so damn long that it’s possible to brake through some of the corner. It is off-camber, so you don’t want to run too wide. This was a surprisingly fun corner.

T13-T14: Long left. One might think of this pair as a single decreasing radius turn, but the exit of 14 is kinked, so there’s no point in holding out for a fast exit. Just go around on the inside and manage traction. It’s possible a double apex line is best.

The geometry of the turn invites oversteer, which you can see in the video.

T15: Sharp 90. This sets up the climbing section, so the exit is important, especially in a momentum car. The entrance is kinked. Should one try to get all the way track right, which requires additional braking, or does one enter mid-track at higher speed? In either case, running out of room at the exit will hurt because there is no apron.

It’s a slow rotation corner, so optimize the angle by getting as far right as possible before the turn.

T16: Flat out. T15 is so slow that the slight right bend at T16 is not much of a turn. Run over the berm here and the next turn.

T17: Uphill. This is the steepest part of the track. Maintain as much speed as possible with an early apex and fight to keep all the momentum and traction as you continue up. Use as much track as you can.

T18: Cresting left. The braking zone is before the crest of the hill, as is the apex. It doesn’t start to flatten out until the exit. Exit speed is crucial since the main straight follows. So the apex must be late enough that you don’t have to cut throttle if you start heading into the grass on the exit. The apex berm and blind nature of the corner conspire to make you want to take an early apex, but wait on it.

Indeed, the corner invites an early apex, but be disciplined and wait for it.

NYST is a fantastic track. I’m ranking it as my 3rd favorite track behind Thunderhill West and Sonoma. Despite the ‘Safety’ in it’s name, I don’t think NYST is especially safe. Some of the trees are a little to close to the track. Also, the motorcycles drive way too fast in the paddock.

OMG, I tilt my head so much when driving. I’ve got some homework to do there.

Video: Thunderhill West

This week is another new feature on YSAR: a video guide to driving Thunderhill West. It starts out with a turn-by-turn walkthrough and ends with some wheel-to-wheel action. In the video, I talk about the racing line, danger zones, passing zones, predictive lap timers, and a little endurance-minded race-craft.