Round 1 Recap: Autobahn Race Weekend

Posted: April 20, 2011 in Racing

This race weekend was the first in my experiment of arrive & drive convenience.  I left Thursday morning and took a nice short flight to Chicago where I had curbside pickup by my Dad.  I can’t even express the gratitude I have of how much he’s been there for me over the last several years with my hobby.  I would not be where I am today without him (yes I mean that both in fig/lit fashion).  For instance, he’s flown down to KC where he’s helped co-drive on several long tows, helped pit crew (even at my comp school), run various errands like running tires over to get changed for $40 at Walmart (instead of $120 trackside) and subsequently chasing Hobie when Hobie went inside the Walmart when the automatic doors opened, getting gas for the car, and most importantly his generous moral support.

So this weekend I wanted to celebrate my new found free time by adding in extra time to visit and help around the house.  I seem to become with both my parents and in-laws an IT Helpdesk technician.  By the time I left, my parents are now in the current century with a nice 46″ 1080p LED TV, a blu-ray player, a Wii with Netflix / Internet on it and Skype up an running on their laptop.


Thursday evening I head out to the track and meet up with Nick and Dennis to help set up and flag off the pit area for our race weekend.  Nick Miller is the owner / proprietor of Bennington Motorsports, where Dennis works in his employ, and we also have a 3rd mechanic Jim who also joins us from the Chicago area.  Nick has been a cornerstone to the success of our series and growth we’ve had over the last several years (including convincing me that I should do the arrive & drive program with him).  He plays the part of expert mechanic, organizer of making sure tires / pressures and repairs are done – in fact in the last 3 years of the 89 cars he’s supported only 1 car has not started a race (of course this doesn’t include practice and qualifying sessions – but in the end the race is the most important).  Some accomplishments include doing a clutch, transmission or engine swap over night so the racer had his car ready to go for the next race.  Nick also hauls to the track a rental car regardless if its rented or not.  In fact one race another driver went off during morning warmups and rolled his car totaling it – we subsequently nicknamed this driver as “Flipper”.  Well he was able to race the same day in the rental car.

Autobahn Country Club - South Course (Joliet, IL)


Friday Autobahn held a competition racing school (Autobahn has their own competition groups that race solely at their track) that NASA allowed several drivers to attend and if pass successfully race they could then apply for a provisional license and race the very same weekend with NASA.  We had two new 944-Spec drivers attend the competition school – Ken and Anita.  Ken had painstakingly built a gorgeous 944-Spec car over the past year (see link to his build here), but unfortunately during the first practice start in the first corner another student thought he could out brake everyone on the inside – in the rain, spun, and then hit Ken taking him out of the race (fender was bent in rubbing on the tire).  Anita was also new to the class and she was renting the BENMS rental car – however she could not race with us as another racer had rented the car to race with our group (more on that later).  Ken and Anita passed and did their first races this weekend (Anita running in the rental car in the thunder group).


Cleaning out Lisas OPRV.

Mother nature had it out on us as Saturday morning it rained heavily off and on and there was a wind growing colder by the hour.  About thirty minutes before morning warmup I went to start up Lisa and the oil pressure read only 1 bar (~ 16-18 psi) and you could hear the lifters who were loudly protesting (as they are at the highest point in the engine).  I quickly shut her down.  As I sat in misery of last years low oil pressure / engine failure (also at Autobahn) thinking of the worst, the gang went out and raced.  However, Nick quickly diagnosed the problem as a sticking oil pressure relief valve (OPRV) – a quick removal, clean as there was some sludge on it, and re-install I was jumping around in joy as it read 5 bars after Lisa came to life and she purred like a youthful cheetah eager and ready to run.  Seems with early 944’s the OPRV is a 3 piece model and it can stick leading to too high or too low an oil pressure – a problem Porsche later fixed with one piece models.  Upon return my friend Karl had an early model 944 1 piece OPRV that I quickly procured.  Whilst in the pits we had our first off course excursion by Michel Dalton – who was then awarded his very own “Go Play in the Dirt” sticker.

After that drama was over I made it out for my first laps of the year in the rain at Autobahn.  There is nothing like driving in the rain on a race track.  Ironically, I started reading Gareth Stein’s “Art of Racing in the Rain” that same weekend where I was applying advice in the book such as treating the brake and gas pedal as if there were an egg in between and I was not to crush it.  In the rain three elements are crucial to do well: be smooth with the controls (steering, braking and acceleration); drive off line to find grip; and slide the car in a proactive (not reactive) manner.  When you drive in the rain your car will slide frequently and often catch you buy surprise.  There is a way to counter this by anticipation of a slide by inducing the slide you want (be proactive).  You will always be better prepared when you are creating your own slide than one you have to react to.  Taking this advice into consideration I went out and did my best.  After many almost offs and almost spins, and considering I hadn’t run morning warmup I was ok with my times…I qualified 6 out of 8 cars in my class and 17 out of 28 overall (best lap time).

Casualty of war or mother nature is not an Illini neither!

The weather turned for its worst by getting even colder and our start was mired with occasional sleet / snow (where in our series we do not have a Blizzak tire option).  At the start of the race the experienced / fast guys pulled away quickly and Lisa and I were doing our best to keep up.  I was following the rental car which was driven by Dan Pina (Dan is a professional racer and drifter, founder of Drift Patrol & Drift Techniques) and he was sideways half the race and easily pulling away from me.  I didn’t know about his background at the time and felt really slow I was gapped so quickly.  I built up a comfortable gap from Ken who was doing well keeping up with me as I was then pushing a little bit harder and experimenting with lines.  On lap 2 in turn Turn 7 (a kink on the long back straight) I hit a puddle on the right side of my car which caused Lisa to jerk to the right and then proceeded to lose control ensuing in the highest speed spin I’ve ever had – neatly coined “code brown”.  Instinctively, I got both feet in to protect the transmission, clutch and engine from various shocks caused by the spin, and the real benefit is it locks up all four tires causing you to slide straight and somewhat predictably considering the situation.  Ken who was behind me had to take evasive maneuvers and also spun.  I was able to get Lisa back under control pretty quickly even though I was playing in the dirt too.  I got back up to speed and kept on playing with different lines even trying to compress braking zones leading to a nice little 4 wheel off in turn 1 (I was able to go off slow and maintain control and quickly get back on track).  After many laps of driving alone, I caught up with Sid who earlier went off and tapped the tire wall in turn 1 but was able to get back under way with minimal damage (Autobahn uses brand new tires for its tire walls – I guess used tires don’t perform as well for some reason).  I was preparing to pass him when I decided to change lines quickly (track was drying a little as the rain stopped) – which lead to another creative but slow speed spin.  Mental note – just because it looks dry, doesn’t mean it is.  Neal who was leading the race had issues all his own as his alternator died and he was running off a small battery – and just two laps from the finish it died on him and he had to park the car.  I finished 4th out of 8 in my class and 18th out of 28 (please note the Spec Miata’s started well before our pack so it is hard to compare how I did overall as many other cars in our run group started about 1/2 a lap ahead of me).


Sunday started out strange as there was no rain (wet or solid) and a funny looking orange thing in the sky peaking through the clouds.  Today I set the goal to try out my new toy – the Traqmate.  I used one last year in a fellow racers car I co-drove for an enduro and was able to see its value.  I asked Neal if he could analyze my data – one great tenant with our group is the willingness of the fast guys to share their Traqmate data with others.  To make the morning even stranger – NASA decided the first session out on the track will be Qualifying (normally the day is warmup / qualifying / race).  In the dry I did much better qualifying 16th out of 29 cars and 5th out of 8 in class with a fastest lap of 1:48.392 with an average speed of 69.747 mph.  Eric set a blistering pace of 1:41 and qualified for pole – however his session ended shortly with a broken cv joint on his axle as he was chasing down a pro driver in a Spec Miata.

After the session I was able to sit down with Neal and go over my lap times.  By looking at the raw data I was able to see I was not threshold braking for several corners and “chicken lifting” for a couple other corners.  The 1st half of my lap I was w/in a quarter second – but the 2nd half of the lap I was 2.75 seconds slower.  After learning this data I went over the track map and mentally prepared for what I needed to do the next session in practice.

Practice rolls around and I have my sights on improving my times.  I worked on corners 1, 6, 8 and 11 to get better threshold braking – and for corners 1, 8 and 11 to trail brake into them to help bleed off speed but get to the apex faster.  What happened was great as I was able to cut my best time down to a 1:46.051 with an average speed of 71.286 mph and my time was 11th fastest out of 22 cars and 4th out of 8 cars in my class.


The race starts great and I’m able to stay very close to the lead group for 5 laps.  I was doing well as I was keeping up with Ray and Dan until a thunder roadster ran me off the road in turn 6 (I gave him the inside line and was side by side but he then drove all the way to track out making me take avoiding action – He did come find me in the pits and apologize, though so that was nice).  After that my race was uneventful and alone for the next 20 so laps.  My best lap was a 1:44.511 with an average speed of 72.337 mph.  I finished 5th out of 8 cars in class and 20th out of 29th overall (again a little misleading as the Spec Miata and PT class cars all started a half a lap before the rest of my group).

As the weekend ended it made me realize as I am working on getting better – so is your competition.  I can’t wait for the next race weekend May 13-15 when we may have up to 15 cars in our race group at the Putnam Park Enduro / Crossover event.  Watch out for Zenspeed Racing in E3!

On the green side I also installed a couple rain barrels to offset my actions.  I will post my efforts on this at a later date.

2011 Season Standings after First Round

1 Eric Kuhns 944 Spec Porsche 944 190 100  90
2 Ray Freundt 944 Spec Porsche 944 170 90 80
3 Dan Pina 944 Spec Porsche 944 170 85 85
4 Neal Agran 944 Spec Porsche 944 168 68 100
5 Joel Karns 944 Spec Porsche 944 155 80 75
6 Team M.I.B. 944 Spec Porsche 944 145 75 70
7 Michael Dalton 944 Spec porsche 944 139 70 69
8 Sudhir Chhikara 944 Spec Porsche 944 104 69 35
  1. Eric Kuhns says:

    Nice write-up, Joel. I’ll use some of this for the race report.
    Great progress this weekend!
    1:44’s are moving pretty good at this track! Neal has just raised the game this year, too. He destroyed the lap record by 1.2 seconds!

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