Horse Thief Mile at Willow Springs Event – 2-2007

Also inside: The importance of Car setup, and the ultimate blue-tape replacement

We drove the newish Horse Thief Mile course again this weekend, with a twist; we drove it clockwise Saturday, and counter-clockwise Sunday. We were a little worried about driving the course CCW, as we’d never done it and didn’t know anyone who had done it, and it was obvious looking at the track that there were going to be a couple of very dangerous corners CCW if you went off. I’ve helpfully marked that area in the photo below. The off-track in the first turn is maybe twenty feet of rocky dirt, followed by a 15 foot cliff, 50 feet of rocky dirt, another 15 foot cliff, etc. You’re going about 75 mph through that turn, downhill. The really scary turn, though, is the sweeper immediately following it. You’re accelerating through it, going about 90mph, sliding. The off track consists of a 10 ft high 60 degree dirt ramp, which, should you hit it, would probably put you on top of someone’s tow vehicle in the pits, 50 ft away. If you miss the ramp, you’re either simply going through the “timing shack”, which may slow you 5 mph, then straight into the pits at 85 mph, or into the minefield.

The Horse Thief Mile is fraught with peril…I’ve only labled the perils in the D&D Zone, but there are many others, though less spectactular.

Now that said, HTM CCW is massively more fun than HTM CW, which is already a good, fun track. By running it the opposite direction, you get two blind turns, two death defying higher-speed turns, one of which has big-track T9 like pucker factor, a high-speed chicane that really means something, and a better flow to the track overall. It is simply awesome, and I can’t wait to go back and drive it again.

Some people may wonder about the danger of the track, and why we didn’t do something to slow people down, and make it safer. Well, we considered using the chicane just before the first high-speed turn, but we realized that if we used it and someone blew the chicane, they could T-bone a car exiting the chicane. Not something we wanted happening. We considered coning the track to slow people on track as well, but ultimately decided to tell people in the meeting that those turns were very dangerous, and that they needed to be onservative. We coned the apex for people and intended to cone off braking markers leading to the turn, but were out of cones, so the warnings would have to suffice. Fortunately, our past experience told us that when you give people a dangerous high-speed turn, and tell them what a D&D turn it is, anyone with any sense of self-preservation approaches it with caution. There were no incidents in the D&D turns.

An Epiphany about Car Setup
Why I Need a Suspension Tuner

Let’s face it, I’m either very busy, or a lazy bastard, depending on your viewpoint. Fortunately, I’ve got two great kids now (ages 3 and 1), but unfortunately, that means I have no time to do anything with the cars between events. This is, for instance, why the Ultima’s been on jackstands in my garage for a year. I won’t even tell you were the Z06 is. So anyway, I don’t get to experiment with stuff. I’d exchanged a few emails with a fellow Lotus driver, Roger, about tire sizes and setups, but that was about it. In those emails, I argued that my car wants to understeer on corner entry, and I’m runing 205 front and 225 rear tires. He, on the other hand, is running 205f and 245r, which I figured would push horribly.

Well, Roger was at HTM on Sat and he bravely offered to let me drive his 2005 Elise for a few laps. Now, I’m conservative in other people’s cars. I don’t know what brake pads they have, if their cars have bad habits, etc, so I take it easy. I’d run 1:02.6 or so by that point in my car, and I wasn’t going to attempt to get anywhere near that in Roger’s car. More than anything I really just wanted to check out his Penskes, as I’m not overjoyed with the Trackpack suspension I have on my car.

So I go out in Roger’s car and the first thing I notice is that his throttle is stiffer than the clutch in my car, which reminded me that in 2006 Lotus went to throttle by wire. It was amazing how different his throttle feel was. I actually prefer it, but it took some getting used to. The throttle in my car, by comparison, feels like I’m playing a video game. The pedal offsets are actually worse, and require a bit of adjustment from the driver to heel and toe. Part of that may have been that Roger needed to bleed his brakes. The pads were ok, I later learned they were Pagid RS14s. I didn’t like them as much as the PFC 01s I have on my car, but they appear to be a hell of a lot easier on the rotors for street driving.

But I’m getting off-track. So, I’m not totally comfortable or confident in Rogers car, and I’m going decently quick but not pushing it. The Penskes feel great, though I think he has them set a bit too stiffly. I hit a little bump in the D&D zone that I hadn’t even noticed in my car, and his car slid a few feet in reaction. Scary. However, he has NO understeer. His car is perfectly balanced, and the difference from my car is unbelievable. I finish the 5 or 6 laps in his car at a moderate pace, and come in to talk to him about it.

Roger tells me his car started life as a standard Elise (no track pack, for instance), and all he’s done to it are Penskes and the Toyo RA1s. He still has the stock front sway bar, and a little light goes off in my head. I’d adjusted my front sway bar to be 1 hole softer earlier in the day, and the car was better but still pushed on low-speed corner entry. It also was much more tail happy at higher speeds, so I wasn’t going to soften the front bar any further. What I needed was wider rear tires and a softer front bar. Exactly what Roger had. Damn, I need to remember there’s more to adjust on the suspension than just tire widths. I guess those years with the adjustible-nothing Z06 have screwed up my thinking.

Anyway, mildly curious, I go to look at my times in Roger’s car, but he lets me know he didn’t rent a transponder today. He was, however, logging the run on his DL1, and he can look at the times on his laptop. The DL1 uses GPS to record times, and while it may not be as accurate as trasponders, it’s certainly accurate to a tenth or two. So another friend and S2000 driver, Calvin fires up his laptop and starts importing the data. I’m expecting about a 1:03.5 or so, and Calvin starts laughing. I ask him if it’s really that bad, and he says well, you ran a 1:01.0…

Shit, I think I need to get some 245’s and soften the front sway bar…

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