Photography by: ©2016 Dito Milian of gotbluemilk.com and @2016 Ron Avery (stated under photo)
Nearly one year since my last Hooked On Driving experience, I was anxious to try out my other car at the famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Last time, I drove up/around/back my Lotus Elise (read about it here). It was a successful day that taught me a lot about my cars behavior on track and how it’s not exactly the ideal long distance road trip car.
This time, I decided to take my more “practical” car…the 2013 Mazda Miata Club. The obvious first thought is that this car would be decidedly slower than the Lotus. It would again, be a great learning experience in how this car behaved on track. One thing I didn’t count on was the serious chance of rain. Not only would this be a first in the Miata, it would also be a first in the rain on track.
The day starts with a gathering of all the groups’ cars on the paddock. Everyone gets their helmets examined and numbers to place on either side of the car. After a brief drivers meeting, each group breaks off with their group leader and has a pre-track talk. Basically just the do’s and don’t’s on track, what the different flags mean and depending on your group, where and when you can pass. Before letting the tires hit the pavement, it’s also important to check your tire pressures to make sure you get the best performance out of the car possible.
Something that most every track goer considers is what happens if the car gets balled up or damaged at the track. As you might already know, your regular auto insurance ceases to exist at the track, which means anything that happens there will come directly out of your pocket.
This time, I opted for specialty track insurance by Lockton Motorsports. This company covers you for everything that happens on track for the full value of your car with the choice of two deductibles. For less than two hundred dollars, I was fully insured for the value of my car (price for insurance varies based on car value).
I opted to run in B group again, which meant we were out first. Unfortunately, the track was still wet from the previous nights rain. We were all urged to take it easy the first session and to assess where water and debris were on track. My first session out was a slow one, slower than I would have liked. Even with the low speeds I was carrying, I still managed to lose traction at the rear more than once (see the below video for some fun over steer). It was encouraging that the car and myself recovered quickly from each loss of traction and I learned where the tricky parts were due to the wet weather.
With each session I grew more confident in the wet, but still wanted a little more instruction of how to get the most out of the car with less than ideal conditions. Lucky for me, one of the instructors happened to own an NA race car and an ND daily driver. He agreed to go out in my little NC during my third session to give some additional pointers.
He first wanted to see how I was driving and let me complete a full lap before offering advice. We pulled off the track to discuss what I could change and improve upon to get the most out of the car. First, I was down shifting too much. In wet conditions, being in lower gears makes the possibility of loosing traction even greater. He advised me on where to actually down shift and where to track out more when exiting particular corners. With the adjustments to my driving made, my next couple of laps that session were quicker and as a result I became more confident. Something I always strive for, before all-out speed, is a perfect line and smoothness, those two I had pretty much had down.
After lunch, we had the opportunity to take our cars out on the figure eight. My dad brought his 2015 Ford Mustang GT and let me experience its massive amounts of torque for this exercise. The car is so well-balanced and engineered that neither my dad or I could get it to completely spin out. Even with traction control off and pressing all the way on the gas, the car would start to slide and with very little steering effort, we were both able to correct.
My last two sessions were relatively dry. Most of the track had dried out with the exception of a few spots. I was feeling much more confident after my ride with the instructor.
Working on lessening my down shifting and tracking out more for various turns I was finding more speed than earlier in the day. The Miata is a really well-balanced car. I experienced little to no under steer, with mostly over steer that was easy to correct. Although the car was among maybe one or two others with less than two-hundred horsepower, the Miata held its own. Quicker in corners and allowing more powerful cars to overtake in straightaways. I have an entirely new appreciation for my car and its track abilities.
The instructor that rode shotgun earlier offered to take me around in his NA in one of the more advanced groups. I was seriously impressed with his skills in the wet, as it started to rain again before he took me out, and even with loss of traction he was able to recover at higher speeds. He was overtaking more powerful cars left and right, including various BMWs. What’s even more impressive is that he later told me the engine was left completely stock and was dyno’d at around 115 HP! Check out the video for a few minutes in the NA.
I can’t wait to participate in another track day soon. Thanks you Hooked On Driving for another great event! What car will I take next time…