In the previous post I wrote about the preparation for my first ever track day, the drivers meeting, some education on the flags, and the first two sessions on the track, one of which was the progressive lap. I’ll go over session 3 and 4 in this post, and summarize my first track day with NASA at Sonoma Raceway.
Session 3 – Something surprising happened
My instructor Geoff was late for session 2, so he came really early to me on the paddock while I was still waiting. So we pulled out to the pre-grid. The Porsche Track Precision app really didn’t work well in session 2, so I turned it on about 10 mins before the session started (which proved to be very wrong). While waiting on the pre-grid, we were chatting about all the stuff we could talk about – from what I do for work, what he does for work, where I come from, and it quickly transforms into politics and COVID-19. Yes COVID-19 is not only a disease any more, it’s more about politics in the states. And after a few interactions, I knew he’s a conservative. He asked me about how things going in China, if I like it or not. It seems to me right now that he was trying to see if I’m liberal or not. Or how liberal I am. And he said “it seems like some people here want that in the states”. Then he felt really comfortable talking about politics with me.
After a few minutes my phone shut down while we were still waiting on the pre-grid. It was overheated. A few factors played into that:
- It was almost 100 degrees F in Sonoma that day, and the phone was mounted on the windshield so it was heated by the sun directly.
- The phone was being charged.
- The phone has to connect to the WiFi hotspot of the car to get the driving data (Steering angle, throttle, brake pressure, over/under steering, and a huge amount of other information).
It was like a hot potato and Geoff said he could help hold the phone to the AC vent to cool it down. I told him to give that up as I didn’t hold any hope that it could turn back on before the session started.
The following week when I was talking about the track day, a coworker who races his motorcycle told me about Garmin Catalyst. Apparently it could be a much better option as the phone as it probably won’t be overheated so easily. A downside though it has no way to connect to the car to read driving data.
Another option is to use AiM Solo 2 DL + AiM Smarty Cam and connect it to OBD II port. It’s way more expensive and I can’t find any available Aim Smarty Cam in stock online.
On the track
I was constantly stuck behind some other cars in session 3, and I was so frustrated. There was a chance I could possible pass the slowest car in the front, but I decided it might be a bit too late and I might pass him while turning into T7. And Geoff applauded and said it was a good choice.
That slowest car blocking a huge amount of traffic was either a Subaru WRX, which shouldn’t be that slow; or a very old Scion hatchback with very thin tires, so it was not surprising it was so slow. While I was mounting up my frustration, something surprising happened on the track.
First we saw a waiving yellow flag, which meant there was a great danger ahead and everyone should use extreme caution, and no passing was allowed whatsoever. At the moment we saw the flag, Geoff asked me what it meant and while I was thinking, I couldn’t focus on staying on the line.
Then we saw a red flag, which meant something really bad happened on the track, possibly an accident and everyone should find a spot to pull over and make a full stop. That was my first time ever seeing a red flag, and I didn’t know what was a good place to stop. Geoff seemed to already know what I was wondering, so he kept saying “no here, not here” and then “right here”. A good rule for a place to stop is to be able to see the next flag station to identify if the condition changes on the track.
While we were waiting, we did see some fire trucks and ambulances running in the track from outside T7. And then the session came to an end. The flag station in front of us (between T6 and T7) was flying a black flag, which meant everyone should exit the track. It was very soon so Geoff told me it’d be probably a drill. I was completely shocked!
After we pulled into paddock, the car parking next to me (A Kia Stinger) came and asked us if we knew anything happened. The instructor in that car seemed not to know about the drill (or he still didn’t want to tell the driver). Geoff told them he thought it was a drill. In the following download meeting, it was confirmed that it was a drill, and we the drivers in Group 1 got a round of applause because no one made a mistake about observing the flags. There were two car though, two Supras, parked in front of the flag station between T6 and T7, and they couldn’t see the next one. So they had to look at the flag from their mirror.
Although it was frustrating to be stuck behind slow cars, it was fun to see different flags besides yellow and green. Geoff told me next session we’d do lead-follow.
Session 4, the last one in the day
Session 4 of HPDE 1 was also the last one in the day, and I found some cars in group 1 already left. That kinda made me happy cause there wouldn’t be so many slow cars in front of me. But I was wrong.
So we were going to do lead-follow instructions. I thought I’d follow him all the time on the track. However when I was waiting on pre-grid, I was told that he’d follow me. And I didn’t think much about it. So I pulled out and went in. The first few laps were a bit frustrating because there were always cars in front of me, but I got very comfortable passing them so passing made it exciting too. Then I saw Geoff behind me making some signs to me, I thought he wanted me to pass more so he could observe me more accurately. So I tried my best to pass all the cars, then I found him missing after I passes a few before T11.
I kept driving on my session and passed more cars till there was no one in front of me, and I was so happy. I wanted to make a personal record on Sonoma (which was 2:17 in session 2). But as soon as I passed T1 I saw checkered flag. So I couldn’t finish a whole lap. That was a bit disappointing, but I got a lot of excitement from passing other cars.
Geoff showed up right next to me when I pulled in the paddock. He explained to me that his signs meant he wanted me to allow him to pass me so I could follow him. When he said “lead-follow” and I was told to follow him at the beginning, he meant I should be followed by him for the first few laps and then follow him. He would know my lines and know what went wrong with mine. Then I could follow him and be corrected.
In conclusion, he said he thought I was ready for HPDE 2, since I was driving alone all by myself in this session. And NASA would be back at Sonoma in October. He said I could just go with HPDE 2 and find him (I actually never knew where he was on the paddock)and we’ll do lead-follow in his way again, in any session next time. I think he’s really nice and he really cares about how I drive, my progress and making me a better driver on the track.
There are a few things I think I could be better prepared.
On the Paddock
Northern California could be really hot in the summer. It was 100 F in Sonoma and the indoor area of the cafe was closed because of COVID. So everyone either hang out on the paddock or around the cafe, where the outdoor area has some shade.
Josh went with me this time, and while I was on the track he always sit on the paddock where I parked and it was under direct sun. He had to use his jacket to provide him the shade. Every session was 20 mins long, and I couldn’t believe how he could endure the heat, as he hates warm weather so much. He truly loves me.
So, next time I come to Sonoma, check the weather. If it’s gonna be hot, bring a umbrella to provide some shade on the paddock. It makes huge difference.
Porsche Track Precision App
The Porsche Track Precision app was really convenient to use. It’s free and records a ton of data. But it is not necessarily reliable. For example:
- Session 2, I don’t know why it recorded lap times but didn’t record video or any data from the car.
- Session 3, the phone got overheated so there was nothing
- Session 4, the app recorded video, but the data from the car got disrupted for 1 second every 5 seconds or so. And the first lap when I crossed the finish line, the app doesn’t register it as the first lap.
So for my next track day (I already signed up for October 9-10th with NASA at Sonoma Raceway), I’ll probably use the Garmin Catalyst, which seems to be the easiest solution.
On the Track – Driving
I was much more patient with throttle when Geoff was with me, maybe because I knew he’d appreciate that. However, when I was driving alone I wasn’t so patient. There were several times I was focusing on passing other cars and forgot about the line, and I carried too much speed into the turn and missed the apex I was supposed to hit.
That was a problem when I was with Porsche Experience Center LA. I was doing lead-follow all the time so it wasn’t so obvious. Session 4 was actually the very first time I was on my own on the track. Since HPDE 1 and 2 are basically the same on the rules, and they often go out together on the track, I wouldn’t expect the traffic condition to be improved next time. However, HPDE 2 goes out pre-grid earlier than HPDE 1, so it could be better.
I’ve been always the one passing, and I’ve never been passed. I’m sure there’ll be a time, maybe in group 2 next time, or group 3 in the future, I’d be passed by faster cars or better drivers, or both. I am still not sure how I would allow others to pass – what kind of sign I should give etc.
I already signed up for NASA track day for October 9-10th – yes I’ll go both days. I’ll book an Airbnb or a hotel which allows dogs. It’ll make the track day so comfortable.
I had a lot of fun on my first track day, and it wasn’t so scary as it sounds. Every one was friendly, especially NASA staff. They were always happy to answer your questions and they never looked down upon beginners. I was so self-conscious and worried I’d look like a fool on the track. But it turned out I was among the best in the beginners. As I discovered, most people in group 1 were not comfortable with full throttle, even on straight lines; and most of them drove in wrong lines. The Academy program with Porsche Experience Center in LA was really helpful in terms of that. That was the reason why Geoff thought I’d practiced on Sonoma Raceway before.
I swore I would never do a track day when I woke up at 5:15 am on that day. But I felt it totally worth it when it came to an end. It brings so much excitement to my life, and I am so happy that I finally made the first step.