Well it finally happened. After a couple of years of saving, building, waiting, breaking, fixing, and more waiting. The time had finally come. It was time for me to experience my first track day. While it wouldn’t be in the car I intended, I was still excited. Many years of preparation on video games, casual go-karting, and rally cross had all led up to this point. It was time for start a new chapter in my driving story. So I grabbed the pen an eagerly set about spinning a new tale. Saturday, July 2nd would be a day of reckoning for the Afterburner crew.
With a call time of 6:00am EST. to meet up and leave for the Chicagoland area once again. There was an issue, Brenden was an hour late with our truck and we hadn’t heard a word out of him all morning. After a small fiasco with some dead batteries on our support truck. He arrived and we rushed to load up all of our camping gear, tools, and power generator into the back of Courtney’s Dodge Ram. Then headed out into the dew filled morning, on our way to GridLife Track Battle Round 2. Held at Autobahn County Club in Joliet, Illinois.
On the way west to the track, surprisingly, we only had to stop once to get petrol for the Mazda. I had heard horror stories about bad fuel mileage when it comes to rotary engine equipped cars. So decent fuel economy on the highway was a happy occurrence. Being my first time road tripping the car after purchasing only a month earlier. I took it easy, the time would come later in the day to open her up and see what she had on offer.
Once we arrived at the track, we only had just under an hour to set up our paddock pit and get the car tech’d and certified to go on track for the duration of the weekend. Always the consummate professionals, the Gridlife crew got everyone through tech with speed and proceeded to wrangle up all the drivers for a quick meeting before officially opening up the circuit for the weekend.
While this wasn’t our first time attending a GridLife event at Autobahn, it would be our first time actually participating in the event. When the regular drivers meeting concluded. All of us beginners and instructors gathered in the South Course’s timing tower to go over the rules and guidelines for the weekend. It was at the end of the meeting that I was given my pass to go on track for the day and I was paired up with my own personal instructor for the weekend.
Knowing that GridLife recruits the best instructors around from the various racing sanctioning bodies, I knew I was in for a treat no matter whom I may have been paired with.
I happened to be paired with a fellow BMW driver in the form of NASA (The National Auto Sport Association) Spec. E46 driver Bill Griffin and his Turner Motorsport sponsored 330i. After meeting with him, exchanging pleasantries and informing him that we in-fact wouldn’t be driving my 318ti, but my Rx-7 instead, we climbed into his car and went out for some sighting laps on the North course at Autobahn.
While I was out on track getting pointers from Bill. Brad and Brenden set about scoping out the circuit and the pits, getting a feel for how the weekend would go. They took some pictures of some of the HPDE and Time Attack competitors.
The Ramblers Racing guys had reconvened for another GridLife event. To show guys in all the classes that you don’t need an R35 GT-R or 800 horsepower to be fast around a circuit. I love watching these guys out on track and to see them all in their pit Sunday was a real treat.
After having a blast driving the first few sessions on the North Course. Getting a grip (get it “grip”) on a whole new style of driving for me and feeling out the Rx-7 and its capabilities, there was another meeting for the beginners to give us an overview of the next layout that we would be driving on for the rest of the day. With the mid-day break and course changeover completed. The drivers moved onto the nearly four mile “Full Course”, that combines the tight and technical North Course, with the fast, sweeping South Course.
Eager to go out on track again, I half-assed checked the car over before heading out on track for some more fun with Bill in the Mazda (More on this in part 2). I was noticing that the car was losing power and cutting out at the top of fourth gear. Passing it off as the car just being slow and falling on its face, we continued to work on my braking and corner entry. Bill realized off the bat, just as I did, that the car wasn’t going to be a force to be reckoned with on the straights. So late braking, corner entry, and hitting my marks were his teaching points for the weekend.
And it was working! On the tighter sectors of the North Course, I was catching guys in the corners and setting up passes on the straightaway. With a car that had dismal power compare to the others in my group. I got so good at it that I even ran down the 996 Porsche Turbo in our group, and passed him (albeit he was slowed on a straight and just let me by)! But, I’ll chalk that one up as a win!
Wanting to conserve the car, as I still had to drive it home after the event concluded the next day. I skipped my last on track session of the day, grabbed my camera from the truck and posted up on the braking zone for the first corner of the South course. So that I could get some pictures of glowing brake rotors as the Time Attack competitors headed out for their last practice session of the day.
It was at the conclusion of the last on-track session of the day, we were greeted by one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen in a very long time. Not one to rest on my laurels, I shot some pictures of the cars snaking their way back to their pits for the last time that evening.
After that, we went and grabbed some food, then turned in for the evening. To rest up and prepare for the craziness that was to come with the next sunrise.
More to come in part two!