Photography by: ©2014 Ron Avery
Allen Berg is a local Southern California racing school dedicated to teaching race fans, or race hopefuls, how to control a Formula car. I signed up for a One-day Intro to Formula Racing class and headed down to Fontana raceway.
The morning started at 8am with classroom prep, going over the do’s and dont’s of racing these powerful machines. There was the typical over steer/under steer, how to heel-toe-downshift discussions. But as I have experienced at all the other schools I have attended, each instructor teaches differently and with a different angle. I was lucky enough to have Allen Berg himself explain to us how the car operated and what to expect.
We were then fitted in our suits and taken out to see the cars. I required some extra padding because of my size and the fact that you are practically sitting on the frame of the car. And soon after our fittings, an instructor took us around the track in an SUV to show us the tracks line we should be following.
Starting the car is accomplished by pushing the ‘on’ button and then the ‘start’ button, all while pushing in the clutch. When they explained how responsive the car was, I just assumed it would be a little more than my Elise, boy was I wrong! Pushing down on the gas ever so slightly takes the revs up flying. As we started down the line heading towards the track, I quickly learned how to operated the gas, clutch, and brake smoothly. Something I found interesting was how the stick shift was operated. For up shifting you would pull the stick shift toward you, and let go, then for down shifting you push the stick shift away from you and then let go. My first lead follow I was having trouble finding the happy medium between being on the guys bumper in front of me and having more than the three required car lengths between us. After the first lead follow, I felt I was getting a hang of the car. Before our second lead follow, we had another short classroom discussion.
On the second lead follow we were to rotate cars, allowing each driver the opportunity to follow directly behind the instructor.
After lunch, we had our first open lapping session. I was excited to really get a handle of the car and find my limits, not the cars. I decided before I to this school that I was going to try for precision rather than top speed. I would rather have a perfect line than the fastest time. My first session went great! It is really hard to explain how really very thrilling a racecar is. It’s unlike anything else I have ever done. In my daily life, there is never a time where all of my thoughts and worries go out the window and I really just only think about the task at hand. But when I am racing that is my ‘zen place’ you might say. I was so calm and excited at the same time. Thrilled and peaceful. The only place on the track my anxiety started to rise was on the back straight were the road was so bumpy, that when you were flat-out it felt like the car would lift in seconds!
When I came in from my first session, I found out my best lap time was a 1:31-something. I was pretty happy with that considering I was not going for speed. But then the best part came, when I found out how perfect my line was! I was amazed, even in the decreasing radius turn, which is the most difficult, I had a perfect line! I was determined to go back out for my second and final time to work on the two corners where I needed slight improvement. When I was shown the telemetry of my session, my line was overlapping the line of someone who had a time of 1:13! My line was about 98% as good as his. But my last session would prove more difficult.
Not only was I tired and sore, but it was getting late and we had an 1 1/2 hour drive home. So on my last session I was determined to put all of my thoughts out of the window once again and just do my best to improve my line even more. My first lap out on track I spun! I’d taken it slow and couldn’t understand why that had just happened. But I was still determined to do better. So I continued and tried to get my concentration back. But unfortunately I spun again, and again…three times in one session…my last! I was pretty upset with myself. But decided to go extra slow and just try and get my line back. I knew I would not have improved on time but hopefully my line would have been better.
I came in from my last session dreading going over my telemetry. But to my surprise I found out the laps I didn’t spin out on that my line was just as good or better and I was even flat-out on the bumpy back straight, unlike last time.
But before I left, I could not leave the school without asking Allen Berg what it was like racing in Formula 1. Not only did he crack a pretty big smile, but he said it was great. He raced for one year before the cancellation of the 1987 Canadian GP that caused his loss of sponsorship. He said his car, and team, were at a disadvantage being at only 900hp, while the other cars were at around 1,200hp. Even in the turbo era, in the 1980’s, this disadvantage was enough. He says the drivers were nice and he even speaks to some of his fellow drivers to this day. I also asked what it was like to race with Senna, in another form of racing, and he said he was a really nice guy, and just brilliant. I always find it amazing to speak with someone who has had great opportunities we only dream about. Allen was also nice enough to go over some heel-toe exercises to help me improve on track.
I had a wonderful time out there and I hope to go back soon!