Too Much Fun at ThunderHill
By Peter Korn on Sep 01, 2007
One of the things I like to go is go fast (at least in controlled, safe places...). Last weekend, going fast was accomplished (with our own cars) at Thunderhill, a racetrack owned by the San Francisco chapter of the Sports Car Club of America. I went there with my 18 year old step-son, as part of a High Performance Driving Event put on by the Golden Gate Chapter of the BMW Car Club of America.
We spent an entire weekend at Thunderhill - getting nearly 4 hours of actual "track time" (and 3 hours of classroom instruction). There were around 120 of us, divided into 4 "run groups". Group A is made up of the "nearly ready to start racing" folks. Group B is for folks who think they are hot stuff but really still have a bunch to learn. Group C folks have some experience (and retain a sense of humility). Group D is where folks new to racetracks go. With about 30 folks at a time on a nearly 3 mile track, there is plenty of room to find an empty area and focus on honing your skills (vs. working on passing/being passed techniques).
This was something like my 8th weekend of going fast at a race track (in addition to Thunderhill, I've been to Sears Point [er, Infineon] and Laguna Seca). The first half of the first day was about getting reacquainted with the track, its turns, and how to handle my car on them. Just after lunch turn 2 became my friend again. Also around that time I got back into a good groove with turns 10 & 11. Sunday morning I got a new instructor, and he helped me dial in turns 14 & 15 (the most important on the track, because they lead into the longest straight on the track). I also found his suggestions for 7 and 8 to be very helpful. Finally, his turn-in point for 5 made sense to me, and I found it very comfortable (it is almost an early apex, but since the left is immediately followed by an off-camber, downhill right, it makes sense).
In the A group they had been operating with a set of "relaxed passing rules" - with the exception of turns 1, 5, 8, 9, 14, and 15, you could pass at any time (with a point by from the car you were passing). On the second day they extended this to the B group, and after a little concern, I found it worked quite well (and was passing & being passed in turns 2, 3, and 5a quite comfortably, in addition to the "normal" parts of the track). With good speed carried through turns 14 & 15, I found myself heading into turn 1 at nearly 110mph. I was approaching 100 at turn 14, and just over 90 going into turn 9 (which is up a hill).
Toward the end of the day, I had demonstrated enough consistency and prudence at speed (and good awareness when folks were approaching me from behind and wanting to pass), that I was "signed off". I drove the final 30 minute session solo. A glorious ~13 laps at an average of around 70mph. I brought a video camera with me, mounted inside the car, to help review how I did (and remind myself of things if I return to Thunderhill sometime in the future). I've uploaded a video of that first solo lap for your viewing (and listening) pleasure. [you can also watch the Thunderhill official in-car video and their official on-motorcycle video].