Shaving two seconds off a sixty-eight second lap time.

“The slow one now
Will later be fast
~Bob Dylan 

The last time we looked at Blackzilla‘s lap times together, back in June, he and I could muster no better than a 1:08:219 around SCR.

But last time, on that crystal clear summer’s day, it was 24°C in the shade and considerably toastier on the tarmac. Also, Jack Frost was still on the distant horizon back then. Of course, this being Edmonton, Ol’ Jacky boy couldn’t help but show up on September 10th this year, rightly fucking the area’s many farmers who still dare to make a living from the land, but thankfully (for these soft hands at least) the earliest snowflakes melted for just long enough so that the 2018 track season could be extended for one final day – a slightly cooler one at that.

So out we went, our small ragtag crew,i to smoke some rubber, burn some petrol, and clear our minds with clean countryside air. Of course, we also needed to take Dreidel home to her warm garage for the winter, as this is one of the very fair conditions of our use of the track, that the indoor parking spaces on-site are for Jay’s use and Jay’s use alone, but such chores of car pick-up and drop-off needn’t be mundane! Still, given that co-owner Adam was a bit crunched for time, that he was the one driving Dreidel back to the city and parking it for the winter, and that the rest of us had nothing to do and all day to do it, I took the GTR alongwith on the somewhat likely chance that the Elise would give us trouble of one sort or another,ii so at least we could a bit of fun at the 11-turn circuit in something more involving than my daily Lexiii or Dave’s minivan.

GTR at SCR - September 2018 - 1So out we went in the sumo-samurai,iv and without really trying to beat my personal best time behind the wheel of the GTR, would you believe that I smashed it by over two seconds ??! I’m talking 1:06:140! In a sport characterised by minute incremental improvements and measured to the thousandth of a second, this is a leap and a bound, all at once!

Obviously, there had to have been some pretty major changes in my driving technique, my mental approach, the set-up of the car, the track conditions, etc. between June and September, but what exactly were the differences between this time and the last time we clicked the chronograph ? What could explain a 3% 50%v improvement, just like that ? Well, six things :

1. Cooler temperatures. The cooler temperatures not only kept the street-attuned and durability-focused all-season Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 rubber from overheating as quickly as before, but the colder air also improved the engine’s performance. I didn’t crank up the boost or anything like that but recall that the GTR has a twin-turbo V6, that air density increases as air temperature decreases, and that intercoolers and turbochargers are more efficient with denser air and cooler temperatures.

2. “Manual” shifting. The “manual” shifting is in air quotes because there’s no driver-operated clutch in this car — the best I can do is flick the flappy paddles behind the steering wheel, which control the double-clutch gearbox, rather than letting it shift for itself as I’d done previously. Why would I ever leave it in “auto,” you ask ? Last time it was so that I could focus on other aspects of my driving technique, namely LFB (Left-Foot-Braking). This time, mostly for the entertainment factor with Dave on-board, I relished in ripping cogs myself. Turns out that this driver-driven approach was faster too, but in general “auto” is far from guaranteed to be slower for rank amateurs like myself. Some DCT/DSG/PDK transmissions are just that good!

3. 170 lbs of me mate Dave in the passenger seat. Me mate Dave, not to be confused with Ali G’s apocryphal buddy by the same name, was in the passenger seat the whole time. Dave had actually never been to a race track before, or in Blackzilla before, so I was doing my darnedest to keep him entertained, and alive, while we did laps together, taking turns behind the wheel. While weight is usually the enemy of speed, either Dave helped to balance the typically asymmetric weight in the carvi or his cool zen demeanour simply balanced my mind and allowed my inner speed demon to run wild.

4. RFB aka Right-Foot-Braking. In practise, this means that in a dual-clutch automatic car like the GTR, my left foot is just hanging out on the dead pedal the entire time while my right foot does all the pedallin’. It’s a bit hard to say that this approach contributed to my faster lap times because it necessarily created a split second pause between throttle and brake with every application, but between trying to put on a show for Dave and “manual” shifting, I just didn’t have the mental overhead to apply to LFB at the time. So I dropped it quite intentionally.

5. Reading Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets newsletter. Ross Bentley is the amateur race driving coach and he’s written several outstanding books on the basics of the sport, some of which I have at home on my shelf. But arguably more importantly, he publishes a weekly newsletter called Speed Secrets with tips and tricks from some of the best drivers and driving coaches in the world. Published on Tuesday mornings, it’s phenomenal at framing the fundamentals and it’s a steal of a deal at $24/yr. Some digital things are just worth paying for! You can subscribe here.

6. Jay showing me the line. Jay is, of course, the patron saint of SCR, and he just so happened to be there while we were attacking his track at the end of September. Being the generous soul that he is, Jay offered to show Dave and I “The Driving Line,” and who were we to turn down this former Formula 5000 driver’s expertise around the track he designed himself ? It couldn’t possibly have hurt, especially with the surprisingly wide line needing to be taken at Turn 11 to set-up Turn 1 properly. It’s hard to believe it until you see it from the passenger seat with The Man Himself driving.

So let’s compare the Track Addict data so see how these six factors contributed to two motherfucking seconds shaved. Out of only sixty-eight! My new PB is on the left in WHITE and my old PB is on the right in GREEN.

GTR at SCR - September 2018 - 2GTR at SCR - September 2018 - 3GTR at SCR - September 2018 - 5

 As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Next year in the 1:04s!

___ ___ ___

  1. It’s always more fun to go to “my” private racetrack with new friends, or really to do anything that is objectively kick ass but has perhaps lost some of its subjective amusement from gross repetition by seeing the whole experience through the eyes of a friend. It’s like getting high for the first time all over again!
  2. Dreidel, unsurprisingly given that it’s British and that’s it’s tuned to the nines, had one or two things amiss. Thankfully nothing in the “lemon” category, just a completely dead-as-a-doornail battery and a non-functional speedo. The latter wasn’t a big deal but troubleshooting the former (ie. making sure that the alternator wasn’t also toast and that we could find a spare battery to get Adam home) ate up the hour or so that was allotted for track time. So no laps in Dreidel on this last track day, but that’s why the GTR was there!

    All told, I think we had 4 track day sessions in the Elise this year ? I dunno if that’s good or bad by your reckoning but as a hustlin’ father of two who’s entirely new to this sport of car racing, I wasn’t the least bit displeased. Those four sessions exceeded last year’s three sessions and matched the four times I teed it up on the golf course this year. That’s a pretty solid summer! Especially given how much traveling I also packed in to the last 3 months.

  3. It has to be said for Jay, my daily LS460L, not SCR’s owner, that he’s aging the way only Asians can. It’s not his fault Asians don’t raisin! After 218`000km (135`000 miles), he feels as if he had half that number on the odo. You’d swear he dyes his hair he looks so good for his age! And yet I’ve still had ol’ Saddam on my mind this week. Not sure that I’ve ever had a car that suited me as well as that creaking, rusting, burgundy vault-on-wheels. I’ll have to find a mint condition example one of these days, if even just to admire from my living room window as it sits parked on the street outside my house. Of course, prices for the best 560SELs are going parabolic at the moment, but if any fuckin’ air-cooled 911 coupe with a stick is worth six-figure sums these days, you’d better believe that minty Mercs from the post-(Gerald)-Ford, pre-Chrysler years deserve some love too.
  4. “Sumo-samurai” only sounds like a juxtaposition until you drive the R35. It’s brutally weighty in every input and yet it’s always self-contained, always balanced. The twin-turbo engine and sophisticated AWD systems grab all the headlines but it’s the chassis balance that deserves the praise for keeping everything working coherently, flattering the driver instead of tripping him up. It’s a minor miracle in something weighing 3`800 lbs without driver or passenger!
  5. While two seconds out of sixty-eight represents a 3% reduction in total lap time, there are hard limits on the lower bound, which I estimate to be sixty-four seconds a lap in the hands of a pro driver with the same car and same tires on the same circuit. So I actually just cut the gap in half! Then again, the gap could really be to 1:02… but that’d still be a third lopped off in one fell swoop!
  6. That Dave balanced the weight in the car isn’t impossible given the tight and transition-heavy circuit layout, but MY2013 was also the first year that Mizuno-san fitted the GTR with asymmetric suspension to compensate for exactly this problem! Namely that the driver’s weight isn’t directly aligned over the spine of the car, as would be distributionally ideal.

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