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Fake It Until You Make It?

There is a prevalent type of experienced driver who looks fast but isn’t. People categorize then as “over drivers” but in most cases they are going under the actual limit of the cars maximum cornering speed …but they are somehow sliding. It sounds a bit irrational because the car only slides at the limit right(?). Not exactly, the actual point of great driving is to raise the limit of the car by manipulating its balance therefore the car really has a variable limit depending of the ability of the driver.

 

The slow but scary driver (or inducer) lacks the finesse (and often patience) to really seek out the actual limit, they just make the car slide when they “feel” they are at the limit. They do so with more abrupt than is ideal inputs. A good example of this to visualize is a drifter initiating a slide using a hydraulic handbrake or a quick little (Scandinavian) flick to initiate the oversteer. That’s an extreme example but it makes the point. You have to ask yourself, are you patient enough to find the real limit, the perfectly balanced limit where the car slides purely from excessive speed and not from a driver induced slide?

 

The line between the two is pretty fine which is perhaps why it is fairly prevalent, I even sometimes catch myself playing this game especially in the first couple of laps, building tire temp and confidence and in that context it’s (just) OK but it needs to as quickly as possible disappear, replaced by actual knowledge producing real finesse at the true limit (and the flow that results).

 

There are appropriate times to induce a slide but only for emergencies as an avoidance maneuver or even a spin when that might be the best option. It’s a spur of the moment, making the best of a bad situation decision. Even then it is less than ideal, finesse even in those moments will yield better results.

 

That is the trick, have the knowledge to minimize the chance of having to ever induce a slide from the car. Know it’s balance so intimately that you are always making finesse balance adjustments at the true limit. You can imagine the nightmare of engineers trying to set up a car around an inducer, don’t make slow look scary, it might seem spectacular to the untrained eye but the poor results will be obvious to everyone.

 

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The Hardest Mountain to Climb

 

Written By: Paul Gerrard

Photos: courtesy of Dave Liddle

 

It started with a photo on Facebook. A single picture on the Performance Race Industries (PRI) news feed. It showed a rolling tubular chassis with a twin turbo Chevy LS (of course!) sitting behind a tiny driver cell with giant meaty tires hung off a formula style pushrod three spring suspension. “Interesting”, I muttered as zoomed in trying to gobble up any details I could, “that looks like it would be a bonkers Pikes Peak car”.

 

 

My scanning came up with a name: LoveFab. A quick search came up with a YouTube Video, a video with a lot of views and a lot of fire. “well that’s not good…”. Against my better judgment, I didn’t let it go, I messaged LoveFab and got a response from a guy named Cody Loveland… the builder and pilot of the fireball. We exchanged pleasantries and quickly cut to the chase:

 

Me: “is this car built for Pikes Peak?”

 

Cody: “yes”

 

Me: “I’d like to drive it”

 

Cody: “….” (he googles me while I wait for a response)

 

Cody: “how tall are you?”

 

Me: “5’7” “

 

Cody: “OK”

 

The first tiny steps in a journey up a 14,115ft mountain, one of fifty-eight “fourteeners” in Colorado, but this one is special, it has a road all that way to the top and unlike Mt. Evans (which you can also drive to the top of), Pikes Peak happens to have hosted a Race To the Clouds for nearly a century - the only older race in the United States is the Indy 500. Why does this race persevere? Why is it adored internationally? It is impossible, that’s why. You see, it is a public road for 364 days of the year and it moves. That’s right, the paved road physically moves, the whole mountain is constantly shifting geologically. That was OK when it was gravel since it was always graded smooth but the Sierra Club got a bee in its bonnet in 1998 and decided to make a statement on America’s Mountain. It took 13 years until the paving was complete…on top of a continuously shifting and heaving mountain.

 

We now had a paved road - game changer - , no more beautiful arcing drifts performed buy everything from Stock Cars to Wells Coyotes or occasionally exotic Foreign factory built 1000 HP fires breathing AWD monsters (go to YouTube and watch “Climb Dance”). Couldn’t you now just show up with and Indy Car a F1 car or group C Prototype and rule the roost, rewrite the record books?  The mountain moves. You now had more grip but more bumps, the Wells didn’t have the grip for pavement but it had the travel for the bumps while the Le Mans car had the grip but not the wheel travel. Suddenly (well, over 13 years suddenly), there wasn’t a car that could tame the mountain. The mountain is and always will be in charge from its continuously undulating surface to its ever changing unpredictable and often violent weather.

 

 

The fireball guy (Cody Loveland) knew this, in his small shop in rural Michigan he hatched a plan. Build a modern Pikes Peak Special, there have been many Pikes Peak Specials over the hundred years but this one - this one was the first purpose built car to come with the moving pavement in the crosshairs. What did it require? A prototype with suspension travel. Steal all the positive attributes from the old-school dirt cars and marry them to a modern prototypes’ downforce and grip.

 

The Enviate (NSX+V8, an homage to Cody’s prior builds)

 

It’s a hybrid>  Oh don’t worry, not the gas sipping left lane sitting kind of hybrid, the cool kind like a lonely werewolf meets a vampire kind of hybrid… that chugs Sunoco 118 octane like an army of frat boys with beer bongs. It’s got it al: travel, downforce and grip. Perfect uphill weight distribution that lets it launch off corners like it was AWD without the added weight and complexity of AWD. It’s designed for today’s very different and difficult Pikes Peak.

 

If this were your typical marketing story from a manufacturer it would be simple matter now of sending Cody’s bank a rather large seven figure check and then ordering some champagne to spray at the top when the deed is done. We can dream, can’t we? Because I the driver/writer am not employed by a corporation and sitting writing this in a spotless and spacious corner office, I am a dude who likes to drive for a living and has to scrape together every possible potential opportunity that comes my way. Cody knows the feeling all too well but his scars run deeper, yeah, there is the fireball moment but he also has to foot the bill, the car is his, the financial reality of his dream. Dreaming is free but reality is expensive.

 

Day by Day, Dollar by Dollar

 

It begins, we have a car, we have a driver, we have a goal, the 2016 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Now you’ll probably be asking yourself if the year is a typo. No, that’s racing as they say. The best laid plans and all that. Pike Peak is a unique event, you see you have to be invited. This presents a problem to small new team especially if they have already done something quite memorable on the mountain (like burst into flames for example). The problem is universal, we have a dream and an actual rolling car but no sponsors and the one thing any sponsor does not want to hear is that we might get in. Please send us stuff and/or money because we might be able to fulfill our obligations to you is not a strong marking pitch. The other tricky bit is that entries are not confirmed until February only giving you (a practically useless) four months to make it all happen. I would love to see that all become more sponsor friendly in the future but that is today’s reality. So, 2016 was not meant to be but a least we now had a more realistic block of time to get things accomplished.

 

Switzerland, Home of Fine Chocolates, Diamonds, Watches and…

 

A simple Facebook photo, it got my attention but I wasn’t the only one. A small village called Hinwil near Zurich appropriately at the base of a large mountain sits one of only two Formula One teams not to reside in the United Kingdom (the other being Ferrari). Sauber, it’s a medium sized F1 team (300 employees) with a long and storied history of being gritty, determined and always punching well above it weight (budget). Out of the 300, many (as you might guess) are engineers and as you might also guess, many have Facebook accounts. Formula One may be the ultimate expression of motorsport but it certainly is not the paradigm of self-expression. Formula One is about two things: Rules and Money. Two things that box all 300 of the Sauber employees into the midfield at best. No dreaming here, just cold hard facts, rules and boxes that the car, the team, had to fit into. Somewhere deep in the inner workings of this fine mid-priced Swiss watch was a cog with an imagination, a cog with a dream…and Facebook.

 

Sebastien Lamour: F1 Aerodynamicist

 

When Cody is sitting in his cold, dark shop in Michigan in the middle of a long bleak Midwestern Winter just looking for something to weld so he might stay warm and hears his cheery Facebook messenger chime and casually has a peek at his phone (which is permanently attached to the front of Cody’s face, welding or not). “Hmmm Se-bas-tien La-Mour, who is that?”

 

Seb: “ello Cody, I work for the Sauber F1 team”

 

Cody thinks “and I’m the president of the United States…” but actually asks for more information and starts Googling immediately…he is legit. Cody answers: “what do you do there?”

 

Seb: “I am an aerodynamicist, I saw you picture and I have always wanted to do Pikes Peak”

 

Cody: instantly sobbing uncontrollably types “yes please”

 

An Unlikely Alliance

 

So, you have an old school tubular chassis (albeit it with perfect geometry, thanks to a guy named Aric Streeter, mated to an old school Chevy LS Twin Turbo, driven by a part time lifetime pro and soon to be wrapped in state of the art carbon fiber designed by one on the best in the business all being done on a shoestring budget by Cody. He had to learn how to build carbon fiber parts but if you know Cody, it doesn’t matter, zero fear in that man, with a talent for learning things nearly instantaneously.

 

Seb is sending CAD files, and running it all virtually in the wind tunnel with the help of college professor Timoteo Briet (whose CFD super computer wasn’t tied up 24/7 like Sauber’s) and Cody and I are out on our own sponsor hunting but we are not alone, we are not the only people who saw that photo. I mentioned Aric Streeter, the cheery race car hobbyist and Sirius/XM engineer as his day job, Manuel Grenier also from Sauber (specializing in suspension and vehicle modeling), Shawn Zimmerman the crew chief, Adam Peeling the engine tuner, Tyler Hassing the engine builder, Nick Jesaitis mechanic, Cole Duran the Colorado Springs shop owner and the jovial Dan Piper, and finally Jessica Crowbridge who gets the unenviable task of making us somehow seem presentable. All of us from different parts of the world with distinctive pieces of a common puzzle, and a common dream - Cody’s crazy dream. He and the mountains cast a spell on us, we had to see the car to the top, the ultimate underdog story. Can David really slay Goliath?

 

Reality Bites

 

While I did sit in Enviate at the PRI show in December 2016 I did not get to drive her until June 2nd 2017>  It didn’t go very well. On just my second lap in the car the throttle stuck wide open. Now if you know driving you know this is not a small thing, especially when you are unfamiliar with the car. Fortunately, my first reaction was to swipe the switches I had just been walked through a few minutes prior and crisis averted. After that was resolved, I was able to sample the awesome pace and visceral power of a car with a one-to-one power to weight ratio, perfect weight distribution, big sticky tires, and carbon brakes. It means in every direction this car, without the aero downforce (low speeds) can generate about 2Gs of force -  that’s accelerating (very rare, usually only drag cars), cornering, and braking, then you add in the aero component and the cars speed very rapidly increases and you soon can corner and brake well above 4Gs. We called it good after the cooling system starting showing signs of overheating, we suspected due to the low speed nature of the IMI track, but as it turns out this issue would haunt us all the way to the top of Pikes Peak.

 

Reality Really Does Bite

 

The next time I drove the car was at La Junta which was once a WWII B-24 base.  It’s rough. Perfect, it would test the suspension and we would see if it would be up to the rigors of Pike Peak (or so we hoped). Again, the car showed staggering speed (close to the track record in a few laps) but as fast as it went, the temps would also rise, which limited us to short runs. On the second run, accelerating over a bump on the exit of the corner, a rear suspension pushrod folded in two, instantly dropping the right rear on the deck. I dutifully slowed the car and the team rolled out to recover me and the stricken Enviate. It was late, just after sunset, and evidently a significant proportion of the mosquitos in the world live at the track and sleep until sunset. We were mercilessly attacked as we tried to load the car with each of us suffering from hundreds if not thousands of bites in what seemed like an eternity getting the bottomed out car into the trailer.

 

 

The car may have been loaded and us on our way but we still had a two hour drive to the shop in Colorado Springs>  Did I mention the next morning was our mandatory official test on the mountain? Did I mention we were on double secret probation with the Pikes Peak officials because fireball? This was the first of many, many all-nighters to come from the crew. We were mere weeks from the race and driving the car in anger for the first time (#teamnosleep became a thing). The ticking from the clock was getting overbearingly loud.

 

The Test

 

Pikes Peak mountain is big - so big that you never get to drive to the top in a single run. For testing they break it into sections to spread people all over the mountain and maximize driving time, albeit one section at a time. We were on the bottom on the first day. They also are pragmatic in another sense, it’s a toll road so they don’t want to lose any potential revenue so we test early, really early. Usually from 5 AM until 8:30 AM, that means we usually have to leave by THREE IN THE MORNING to be set up in time. Somehow Cody Aric and Nick with the help of Cole and Dale had managed not just to repair but completely reengineer the pushrods on both sides and replace the bending heim joints in the rear suspension, re-align the car and get it to the mountain, that’s after being eaten by mosquitos and arriving at the shop at 11PM. The first of many nights catching a few minutes of sleep on a couch (this was to become a really miserable version of Groundhog Day by the time race week arrived).

 

We are in line, I am excited and a bit apprehensive (suspension failures and sticking throttles tend to do that) but my job is simple on Groundhog Day - wipe the slate clean and just drive the car. I have one job - to drive the car at its current possible limit while keeping it on the road (oh and provide feedback to the team). First run and I’m off, and it feels like the car has a mind of its own, darting all over the road. What felt good on a racetrack felt positively diabolical, leaping from side to side while going straight braking or cornering, only under power did it feel just OK. It was a test though I couldn’t just cruise up the segment - they were watching. On the last run, I just went for it taking a huge chunk of time off and as we found out after passing our probation test as we were now officially in! We had made that mistake, that assumption that I am sure countless teams have made: “Pikes Peak is probably about as bumpy as a bad race track”, and “I can go test on a bad race track therefore and get my Pikes Peak setup dialed in without having to really go there”.  Wrong Wrong Wrong - Pikes Peak is so much bumpier (and maybe more important: undulating) that you can’t compare it to anywhere else. We were in but we had a lot of work ahead of us.

 

The Leap of Faith

 

As a racing driver, leaps of faith are bad ideas. I talk about it in my book Optimum Drive. Be rational and incremental, earn your speed step by step. It is sound advice, but there is a problem. Some setups, especially on aero cars, feel so bad when they are driven slowly that you never feel safe enough, confident enough to get into the window where the car is actually working. Supercross bikes are the same way, the suspension is so stiff that unless you are a Supercross rider that can comfortably hit those jumps with full commitment you’ll swear the suspension is broken, locked solid. Aero cars and racing tires work the same way, they operate in a window that it takes years of experience to reach. OK, now try that on a crazy surface that is much bumpier than any track, and you see the problem. It’s so much harder to reach the operating window so it never feels happy. I had to trust the aero so much more than when I had driven similar cars on smooth track, which, as it turns out, is relatively easy by comparison. The other factor of course is safety. Pikes Peak is a mountain road, not just bumpy, but narrower than a normal race track, about a 1/3 to ½ narrower in fact. Then there is the cost of failure - no gravel traps, paved run-off zones, buffers of any kind, in most places there are no guardrails protecting you from the cliff rocks and drops. So, add the leap of faith comments to the safety comments and you see why driver confidence and comfort pushing the car to the limit are difficult to achieve but essential is success is to be the outcome. Dropping one wheel off could not only hurt you physically but it could do so much damage that you would be out of the event. The pavement may be undulating bumpy and narrow but it’s a good bit better than going off the road.

 

The Grind

 

We had discovered when I had pushed the car on the final run at the Pikes Peak Tire Test that the car was darty, the suspension got better as I pushed harder but was still not nearly ideal. We decided to put in a slower ratio steering rack to reduce the twitchiness. The problem was that the car and Cody were now in Michigan and I was not, and we needed to test it locally. As luck would have it, there was a GridLife event that weekend GingerMan Raceway so I flew out there and hopped in the car for what I hoped was a productive day of testing. Three laps for 20 hours of driving, that’s what I got, two flying laps after a warm up and oil spewing out of the too small catch can then started a small fire that burned ignition wires and ended our day. Was it a wasted trip? Far from it, the steering was much improved, we had taken a large step forward.

 

Race Week

 

#teamnosleep had a list a mile long to complete and very little time to do it, it was race week and we had to test at La Junta one last time before we locked into inflexible Race Week with all its  traditions, procedures (like tech inspection), and finally testing and racing got into full swing. The oil and cooling systems were all getting major revisions, the whole crew had arrived for the most part and it was all hands on deck for the La Junta test. You see we could do 10 minute runs there.  Once on the mountain it would be very hard to tell if we have solved out cooling problems with the mountain segments only being a few minutes. I get in the car, the engine guys have been busy -  the boost is up, we are making serious horsepower now, it makes me smile. I like really fast cars for some reason they suit me, they make me happy therefore more boost makes me happy. I was happy, the car flew.  Power changes cars - it was easier to get into the window, everything came alive, became harmonious, you could feel all of Seb’s aero complement Cody’s chassis and Aric’s (and Manuel’s) setup.  It was glorious until the rear wing exploded at 170MPH. I once again dutifully brought the car back to the pits, it had been less than ten minutes, so we didn’t know about the cooling system and we now had to figure out how to build of rebuild a disintegrated wing in less than 24 hours to pass tech inspection. Back to the bat cave (Cole’s spotless shop, RPM Performance).

 

It was frustrating for everyone - two steps forward one step back but then you just had to remember this is a one off custom design and not some show car. We were trying to progress the car within a few weeks what should have taken months if not years. The fact that there were steps forward happening was a minor miracle. On the outside, the car made every day and every run on the mountain.  If not for the PTSD symptoms displayed by the team each morning you’d think we had simply put in it the trailer each day after we ran it and then pulled it out at the track the next morning…boy was that not the case.

 

Cody is Calm?

 

We were all back at the shop, carbon jigsaw puzzle laying on the floor. We are stressing but we are not talented fabricators… Cody just looks at the mess and knows he can put it back together. I am not so sure, I think back to my earliest days driving and Paul Ricard Circuit, standing at the spot Elio De Angelis died…from a broken rear wing. You remember moments like that all your life. Then I thought I’ll be up on a mountain road in a car faster than Elios F1 car. I made a phone call, like when a doctor gives you news you don’t want to accept, you want a second opinion. This was Cody’s first carbon fiber work he had ever done, but I happen to be friends with a guy that has a resume’ in carbon that has stretched for decades and to the extremes of that magical material. His name is Eric Strauss and he is completely nuts… he fit in immediately. I shouldn’t have been worried, Eric saw the master fabricators work after dropping everything to come a rescue me and simply said…”that’ll work”. Cody is calm.

 

Cody is not just calm, he is also the man. All of this was for him, he is magnetic - everyone there sucked into his dream. We all desperately wanted to make it happen for him like some crazy idea that seemed brilliant at the time, with your best friends, in a tree fort, when you were eleven. Only we aren’t eleven, we had developed skills and resources, we now could actually accomplish things now not just stare up at the branches swaying in the wind and the clouds drifting by dreaming.

 

Dreaming is Easy, Life is Hard

 

As per usual for #teamnosleep, we cut things close and get to tech inspection with minutes to spare. As soon as we roll the car out of the trailer the crowd is there, the cameras are clicking. The car and Cody have a surprisingly huge internet following. It has to do of course with the underdog absurdity of it all. You simple don’t just build a prototype in your shop and take it to Pikes Peak. You build a Subaru or an EVO, maybe a Porsche or a GTR. Those are known cars with a performance backgrounds and strong aftermarket support. You just need money to buy stuff that already exists on a shelf somewhere. That’s not Cody’s DNA. Nothing off the shelf was going to threaten an overall on the mountain, that was done by prototypes and prototypes cost millions to build and run, unless you are Cody who welds like a demon and learns carbon fiber like Neo learns Kung Fu in the Matrix. The internet loves people like Cody, people we can all vicariously live through.

 

The tech inspection team also seems charmed by the Enviate sitting there looking like, well, a million bucks. We breezed through tech, could have sworn I heard Cody say “these are not the droids you are looking for” several times. Whatever, it worked - the only fix was shortening the seat belts slack. We were in shock and Cody was just smirking “told ya’ so”.

 

On Mountain Testing Begins

 

We were feeling pretty good considering. It was dark, cold, 4:30 AM and we at 13,000ft waiting for the sun to come up. Car was ready, many fixes in place, rear wing now stuffed with aluminum and rivets, cooling system, catch can systems all new and improved. Strapped in minutes after sunrise and off we go. What do I notice? Car is all over the place - bumps are yanking the wheel out of my hands and I catching air in places, which would be fine if I was trying to set a world record with Hot Wheels for just distance in a truck (like I did with Tanner Foust in 2011). This though is a car with four very generous (for a prototype) inches of total wheel travel, not a Baja truck. It was the most scared I had ever been on the mountain. Mainly I was surprised - on the racetrack the car was fun, predictable and balanced, but that crazy undulating surface from the tire test was so much worse on the top. We thought we had solved it with the slower ratio steering rack, but now on the bigger bumps on the top section I realized it was much worse that we thought. Luckily this was an optional day and that meant we would get to try the top again before the race on Sunday. Our experienced competitors flew, we were slow with big gaps to the front. This was not going to be easy, I was quiet on the way down, the mountain had humbled me, there was much work to do (#teamnosleep).

 

 

Qualifying

 

As luck would have it, the very first day of official practice was our qualifying. The field was broken up into three groups, and out of the three days whenever you were on the lower section that was your qualifying run. It happened to be our first day. The bottom is fast and it’s also the longest section from the start to Glen Cove. We had a very robust debrief after day one and fortunately the smart guys on the team (everyone but me basically) had corrected my assumptions on what to do next with the suspension. I wanted to go softer thinking all of that jarring and bouncing was caused by the suspension was too stiff (because it felt so good on the racetrack) but it turns out that our fancy third heave springs were actually too soft and we weren’t too stiff, we were bottoming - we actually needed to be much stiffer. Counterintuitive in a way, but absolutely correct. The car was transformed, with much of the dartiness banished to a bad memory. On the third run we slapped on the soft tires fresh off the warmers at 200F and went for a time. The warmed tires felt amazing and I was finally getting into a rhythm in a 1000 HP high downforce car rocketing up a narrow mountain road. I was sure we would be second or so which would really help our start position race day. Unfortunately, two minutes in, a wire (we later found out) to one of the water pumps got pinched and shorted out, causing the car to immediately overheat.  I nursed it to the finish much slower that the cars potential but still good enough for what it turns out would be seventh overall. From that moment though, failing pump aside, we were competitive on the mountain (not just setting lap records on smooth racetracks), the car worked here, Cody, Sebastien and Aric were right - this missile was a true modern Pikes Peak Special.

 

Fast is One Thing…

 

The whole this about racing that attracts us in the first place is the shear speed. Speed alone rarely ever wins races. It is consistency and consistency comes from two things: reliability and predictability. It is the objective science saying the package is known, we understand it, can control it and therefore predict it. From that we get a feeling: trust.   When a driver can trust the car they can do something almost magical, they can become one with the car they can flow…together. This is where real speed comes from. I know that’s not what people outside of racing want to believe.  They want us to be crazy, but we are not we are more like meditating monks who happen to be controlling something going hopefully extraordinarily fast. (personal plug: if this seems remotely interesting to you pick up my book Optimum Drive). Enviate and I now had the beginnings of trust and the times showed it was, reliability problems aside, the second fastest car on the mountain.

 

Them’s the Brakes

 

One thing I haven’t mentioned was the brake package, common sense tells Pikes Peak drivers not to use F1-style carbon-carbon brakes, the reason is warm up time, they don’t work until about 800F (up to about 1400F) so for the first few miles you have basically no brakes, not good. Rob Smith and RPS Carbon Brakes though had a new process that allowed the brakes to work at 300F, that’s easy to get to, especially if you have 1000 HP, just the odd drag of the left foot while on the gas will get them in range and they are ready to go before you need them (very important point). I’m the lucky guy that first got to try them on the mountain and they are staggeringly great brakes. Power is absurd (with Seb’s aero in full effect), modulation easy and granular release characteristics (for all you trailbreakers out there). They were the best brakes I have ever used and this car demanded no less than that.

 

Middle Section

 

The mountain is very different top to bottom. Curvy, flowing, and fast surrounded by trees gives way to stop and go ultra-narrow hairpins as you climb above tree line. Very different rhythm and challenge. Strangely enough, on paper you’d think our car wouldn’t like the stop and go middle section while in reality it is really good at it. You see Cody and Aric didn’t just replicate a Le Mans car, they knew the minimum speed of Pikes Peak were much lower and on some of the hairpins you go as slow as 25mph. Our car is just rear wheel drive but it has more static weight on the back than a normal mid-engine car and a geometry that optimizes weight transfer under acceleration, so it launches of any corner like it was a drag car and I already told you how good the RPS brakes are so yeah, this thing works everywhere.

 

 

Slow is Fast?

 

So the last day of practice arrives, back to Devils Playground at 13,000ft. Another all-nighter adding this time five more degrees of caster to the mix to further improve stability, nut and bolt the entire car (every night), corner weighted, aero tweaks. I don’t know the half of what gets done to the car every night, you want to know why? I’m sleeping, that’s why<  They kick me out, they want me fresh and ready in the morning, it feels terrible leaving them at 10PM when you know they are going to show up at the house at 1AM only to have to get up at around 2AM, but they are right. It’s a waste of all their effort if I’m too wiped to focus. For this I am eternally grateful to them, the selflessness. So, I go out on my first run, taking it easy, un-warmed tires, just a shakedown like I do every morning. It turns out we go second quickest and are within 1.4 seconds of Romain Dumas…The King of the Mountain. This is getting interesting. Fog rolls in and closes the curtain on a very productive practice week. The car has gone from scary undriveable to a real contender. Golf clap for an amazing crew.

 

Fan Fest

 

Colorado Springs really embraces the Hill Climb and the Friday of race week they shut down downtown and we set up and sign autographs and fire up the car on the two step (a drag launch system that builds boost by dumping fuel and igniting it after the cylinders) crating a serious racket, pretty fire, and sparks that really gets the thousands of fans whipped up into a fervor (hopefully just short of looting or stripping the car for souvenirs). Good fun and a nice change of pace from the never stop, never done mentality of the practice day.

 

Show Time

 

We meet at the gate at 11:30PM and sleep until 2AM then head up and sleep in the car at the start line until 6AM or so than go to the drivers meeting, try to find a place to brush your teeth and have a cup of tea. Ah the glamor of racing right there! So with my uncut hair pointing in ten directions and feeling a bit groggy and sore (not a camping fan, nor a car sleeping aficionado), we wait. The car is ready, I have been driving the mountain every day for hours after practice, doing low speed loops on the next day’s section, endless loops until I can feel my brain shutting off and nothing more to be gained. It’s fun to think as putter around with the tourists how somehow I get to come back the next morning and drive this same section of road in a car that is not remotely street legal and one of the fastest racecars in the world and have the same rangers that watch with an eagles eye for a hint of speeding on public days cheer me on as I rip past them in the racecar at 150MPH. Love Pikes Peak.

 

I’m very relaxed at the start line. I’m not always relaxed before a race but I am today. The universe seems content, the car seems ready, the team confident. What I should mention is that if we flash backwards 24 hours we would realize that the entire thing almost fell to pieces on a private road by the shop and that the car had had a serious rebuild to have me sitting on the start line period let alone calm.

 

That fog from the final day had Rob from RPS a little concerned - you see the carbon brakes like moisture, so if the humidity goes up, the brake rotors and pads both absorb the water and it comes out the next time you get the water to boil. It comes out as steam and creates a frictionless layer between the pads and rotors. Frictionless brakes? What a terrible idea, so Rob insisted we run the car at the shop and get the steam out. Fine idea except we also managed to get a bunch of steam out of the engine and into the cooling system just as Cody’s vision was blurring as the boost hit (true story) on the private road test run. That meant only one thing and it wasn’t good. We had at least one blown head gasket, the engine needed to come apart and we needed to be loaded into the mountain at no later than 6PM for the race the next day. At 5:55PM Enviate rolls through the gates Pikes Peak, one more miracle added to a now rather long list.

 

 

The light turns green. I am off, engine feels strong, grip good with a touch of new high speed oversteer. Make a note: Easy on the rear tires, they have to last so I back it down a notch from full kill mode and try to keep flowing. The road is going by fast.  Remember we only do it by sections so it feels very different to drive the whole thing and there are people everywhere waving, this feels cool, this feels special - driving something this fast on a road like this in front of thousands of people. Through the picnic grounds foot to the floor, if I get to the shift lights in fourth that will be around 150MPH which will be (and was) faster than anyone else that day. Turn after turn, they are all weird, unique, not like a racetrack - the mountain decided how this road flowed and it feels nothing like a racetrack, the rhythm is different and better, less antiseptic more real like The Nurburgring, it isn’t watered down. It’s a car that performs like an F1 car on a normal road and we are climbing at an alarming rate as I get up past Elk Park I notice something else climbing at an alarming rate… the oil temp. I then quickly glance to the left and the rock steady 190F of water temp is now 207F, we are in trouble, not even half way up with the stop and go W’s to contend with before the ultra-fast road and thin air at the top section. My mission has now changed from victory to survival, I must finish for the team, too much work and many naysayers, I had to get to the top. That meant short shifting (not going to redline) and once in top gear holding throttle to maximize airflow while minimizing load hopefully meaning the engine stays alive as it transitions from water cooled to air cooled (something it was never designed to obviously do). As I cleared the W’s I knew I was getting close, carving corners, late on the wonderful carbon brakes trying to balance time loss with reaching the top. With my super efficiency mode engaged I was trying to carry more speed where I could because it would help airflow and get me to the top faster, but I was almost fired off the mountain at the notoriously bumpy patches just before Cog Cut. Settle down, re-focus, less than a mile to go. The mountain wasn’t quite finished with me yet though. One more hairpin, Olympic corner is approached by a fast top of third bumpy right hander.  As I exit the corner and line up braking for Olympic I do my little coast to keep the engine alive, then go for the brakes.  As soon as I downshift the engine dies. I release the clutch in second and nothing.  Try it again in first, nothing, then the car just stops. 150 yards from the finish in the middle of the corner. I hit the starter button and the engine barely turns over. I flip off the water pumps (air pumps at that point!?) to give the starter more juice and it turns over faster but still won’t fire.  What to do next? Well I am from Colorado and live on a very steep mountain and there have been many times where I have re-fired a car by bump starting it in reverse. Put it in reverse, let off the brake, cranking the wheel so I don’t back off the cliff and GO! The engine immediately fires, and I stick it in first and blast across the line. WE… HAVE… DONE… IT!

 

The car built in a shop by a guy in a place that has perpetual winter and darkness has just finished 2nd in Unlimited class after sitting on the mountain stalled for over 30 seconds. The last and final miracle has occurred. Cody Loveland beats the mountain or maybe more fittingly shows what can be done if you just believe, have the grace under pressure to stay calm and the perseverance to see it through… until the very top.

Photo credit: Larry Chen

 

Me: “Cody, let’s do it again in 2018, I’m sure with some refinements and testing we can get the record”

 

Cody: “OK” …Cody is calm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

F1 Blog Final Pt.4

The idea behind these articles was to provide a lead-in for the Optimum Drive podcast on FBC. It was also a way for me to tie a few of the book themes into the current hot Formula 1 topics. With so many changes from 2016-2017 it seemed like a good time to chat about the challenges that the teams face as the 2017 season relentlessly approaches.

I have to sincerely thank Paul and Todd for giving me this opportunity. They are amazing guys that do a fantastic job keeping their fingers on the pulse on the racing scene and relaying it to the masses who possess the excellent taste and judgment to follow along.

As a final topic to discuss here we should probably spend a bit of time talking about drivers and their skill sets. To kick it off, maybe a not so obvious statement: We as people are surprisingly different from one another. I say surprising because we spend a great deal of bandwidth in normal life trying to fit in. Society pretty relentlessly demands it of us and we are brought up to try to fit in. Underneath it all though we are indeed unique. You can see it in sports especially at the elite/professional level. Michael Phelps does not try to conform in his swimming, his ability transcends the norms, he gets to determine his own path, to write his own story.

In motorsports it is the same way, they have reached a level where to conform would hurt their individual potential. We are all a sum on one side of our genetics and the other our experiences, there are so many variables in those two sides that the best we can hope for is to say one driver has similar characteristics to another but they are never the same. The only thing we really have to compare them is their results and when you start comparing results you start seeing the characteristics that create champions.

One thing that really pops out is that the drivers that are spectacular to watch (best example Gilles Villeneuve) seldom if ever win Championships. Such a bummer right!?! There is just so much to winning a championship, first in the car having the presence of mind to go as fast as is possible without hammering the tires, knowing how hard to push at any given moment. That takes a very sorted clinical mind, not typically the guy that is all emotion at 11/10’s every time they hit the track.

There is a middle ground though and he is named Senna. You occasionally have someone that is so singularly focused, so developed on the clinical side that they can get the car set up to such a point that when they get on the track they can allow a bit of emotion and put the car right at the limit, driving at 100% when 101 would be over driving and abusing the tires and car. You see, getting yourself to perform at the limit and win championships requires as much work out of the car as in it and you rely on every member of the team to help put you in that position.

It is that very confidence of knowing you are more prepared that the other drivers that lets you be aggressive, be the attacker. Balancing that with what battles you can lose and still win the war. It is much more complicated than the perception, it requires everything of you if you want your moments of greatness and if you want to sustain that level you’ll have to continue to give everything. Greatness is a relative term though, it does not imply perfection, it says you are on a level above everyone else and they can’t define the difference, what you’re doing therefore to them and everyone else appears to be slightly superhuman. That’s the mystery that surrounds greatness. At that moment it’s a puzzle that only you can solve. Not perfect, merely great.

Optimum Drive is about defining each piece of the puzzle that elevates the often-plateaued good driver to the level of great.

The one defining characteristic that is at the core of a great driver is confidence, not necessarily general confidence (think of how shy Jim Clark was for instance), I mean confidence in the moment in the car. If you have that you can think clearly and if you can think clearly you are a rare driver especially if you can simultaneously balance a car at the limit and think clearly, you will be formidable behind the wheel.

What enables that comfort level out there? Simple: car control. If you are able to say “whether the car oversteers, understeers, four wheel drifts, locks a wheel or two under braking… I got it no worries at all”. It is that very worry that takes an intelligent person outside of the car and in the car they’re hopelessly lost and scared. They can’t think if they are anywhere near the limit, the specter of the surprise skid dominates their thoughts whenever the try to go fast.

It’s amazing to think that there are drivers in Formula 1 that have this fear. Let me say this clearly, only a handful don’t have this fear. Only the few top drivers (in any championship) have complete confidence in the moment. You see it manifest everywhere but especially the drivers that spin a lot and they do it because the skid was a surprise to them and they had to react, that was too slow and it many cases too much and spin. Now in their defense some of the cars are very hard to drive and snappy which is the nature of poor mid-pack and back typical design but they knew that when they got in the car so it’s still their fault. Bad car control is everywhere, it’s why people crash, it’s not an instinct either, it is focused practice and training.

Car control is the very foundation of great driving but it can be abused, the Gilles Villeneuve example earlier works well here, he needed the temperament to know what was enough and what was too much, you can rely too much on car control, it can make you lazy knowing “you got it not matter what” and it is that Senna (and several others) ability to say not only “I got it” but also be fanatically obsessed with making the car faster at the same time. I think Gilles would have turned into an amazing complete driver if he hadn’t lost his life so tragically so early. We all would have loved to see what he could have done with more time.

Maybe the other interesting point about race car drivers and their individualism is how they race. How they handle pressure and how they provide pressure. Always amazing to see someone rise to the occasion as well as the shock of seeing someone who is very fast but is a hot mess when racing wheel to wheel. What it boils down to is that it is hard…very, very hard to get anywhere near great, there are so many factors in and out of the car to deal with. Being amazing at one or two aspects is not nearly enough, you’re just scratching the surface.

Their job is to make it all look easy, after all Michael Phelps is just swimming faster but what got him all those golds is a backstory where every detail was given equal attention over a lifetime focused practice.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my particular take on what’s going on in motorsports. I also hope you have a listen to the podcast and put any potential questions you might have in the comments so we can answer them.

Paul Gerrard

 

F1 Blog Pt.3

Imagine the Wright brothers on their first flight, all the testing with kites and models had reassured them that lift was a real thing but testing a model is one thing climbing aboard an actual aircraft yourself for the first time, that’s a different level of believe altogether. It’s an amazing thing to realize that the idea of flipping the wing over to create downforce would take an additional 60 years to really stake its claim in motorsports.

Downforce & Drag

That tardiness to the party didn’t diminish the impact. It changed the sport forever, cars didn’t just need to be streamlined they also needed to make downforce and do it efficiently (there’s that word again). Downforce is not free, it comes with a negative attached called drag. Drag is aerodynamic friction or resistance, drag slows the car down as the downforce attempts to make it faster. The idea, obviously, is to have the downforce gain be greater than the loss from drag giving a net increase of speed around the track.

I say net increase because the downforce will lower the cars top speed on the straights, the net gain comes from it being faster everywhere else. It also increases at a square of the speed so the faster you go, the more downforce (and corresponding drag) you get. Generalizing a bit, measurable downforce starts being really noticeable at a bit under 100kph (62mph) and starts getting serious soon there after reaching the amazing “stick to the ceiling” numbers above 160kph (100mph) in top tier aero car.

Grip & Load

Downforce makes the car faster due to another relationship: grip and vertical load. This is of course directly describing the load sensitivity of tires. Everything about the setup and driving of the car is derived from understanding load sensitivity—more load, more grip. That’s why the drivers main job is dynamically and continually balancing that load as they drive and if the car produces downforce its invisible hand is also pushing down on the tires (through the car) as well.

Downforce adding load is really cool because it doesn’t add weight to the car, now this is kind of interesting to imagine. You might be sitting there thinking if adding load gives me more grip I should just strap manhole covers to the floor of the car and I’ll have more grip and not just when the car is going fast. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it’s not the same due to the extra weight the car has to carry vs. downforce. Downforce is load, not weight and that means that when you brake, corner and accelerate the downforce doesn’t add mass to the car (like the manhole covers would) and that means downforce doesn’t add inertia or momentum like the weight does. Other than the associated drag it is just free grip.

The ideal then is maximum efficient downforce with the lightest car possible. Wait… I think I just described a Formula 1 car. Chuck in a 900hp power unit and you have then most capable land based G machine on the planet.

They could actually pull more G’s though and even though we shall probable see those 2004 lap records fall this year, the cars are still extraordinarily restricted, just like a 10,000+ HP Top Fuel dragster is restricted. It only seems like these sports are at the very limit of what can be technologically done but that is not even close to being true.

It is typically a balance of safety, budget and spectacle. This year’s considerable bump should produce more physically demanding racing which will test the driver’s fitness (as we talked about in Pt. 1) and the tire construction should allow the cars to be pushed (not babied) for their entire life. It is definitely a move in the right direction as long as the disparity between the teams has not gone the wrong way.

Why the 2017 regulations may work

The tires will actually play a crucial role in determining if the increased downforce of 2017’s rules package will be effective. If you’ve been watching the broadcasts for any amount of time you’ll have heard the word “graining” used by the teams, drivers and commentators. It is usually caused by pushing a tire that you can’t (or haven’t) got up to optimum temperature yet. Driving through understeer on a cold tire. The old tires where very susceptible to graining because Pirelli intentionally made the tires overly sensitive and delicate (at the request of the FIA) in a questionable effort to control disparity and improve the racing. These tires also grained in another situation that is very important to any hope of real racing, the ability to follow closely.

As soon as the cornering speeds get aerodynamic, the ability to follow closely is hugely effected by the wake of the car you are trying to follow. If their wake causes your front wing to lose downforce it makes your car understeer and when it understeers the tires are susceptible to graining. Graining basically sheers the rubber off the tire without the adhesion the tire needs to get into operating temperature range. That is why the tires in 2017 are not just bigger their compounding and construction will resist graining by being more tolerant of understeer.

The other way the FIA is trying to close the field up, besides tire improvements, is that they are actually adjusting the wake of the leading car. Race cars make downforce in two distinct ways; air going over the car and air going under it. Remember when we were talking about how the FIA restricts everything earlier(?), well one of the big adjustments they made in the rule book is the shape of the floor under the car, along with the ride height and the size/position of the wings, it’s another ratio they can play with. The air under the car (which exits the diffuser) leaves a relatively “clean” wake while the wings leave a relatively “dirty” wake.

In 2017 by increasing the diffuser size the teams will hopefully run less wing front and rear therefore even though they have increased cornering speeds considerably, the wake the following driver needs to drive through to pass or follow should be cleaner and provide more downforce to their front wings while the tires are now better at coping with potential graining.

Just like Orville and Wilber continuously refined their aerodynamics and adjusted lift to drag ratios depending on available power as their experience base grew, the FIA and the teams are furiously competing on the world’s stage that is Formula 1. Over the course of the Winter they have simulated and modeled countless combinations hoping to “out efficiency” the other guys. They have had their wind tunnels working 24/7 since the 2017 rules package was released and ran the cars on “shaker” rigs simulating every track on the calendar while the drivers drive every possible variant on the driving simulators. Just a little bit less efficiency in the aerodynamics can mean a losing season for the team especially if it is a fundamental flaw in the shape of a part of the car that cannot be altered once the car has been FIA crashed tested (for example).

If the culprits are little trim bits and pieces, then the season can be salvaged but if the package is fundamentally inefficient or unbalanced they are in trouble. Fortunately, they have at least unlocked the engine development which could help level the playing field (assuming Mercedes does not simply progress at the same rate).

Horsepower!

That brings up my last point: Horsepower is downforce. I am not talking about blown diffusers and the like, I am referring to the well proven fact that if you have more horsepower you can set the car to run with more downforce and drag. The straightaway speeds will be around the same but your braking cornering and accelerating will be improved as will relative tire wear…it is the sneaky and smart way to win races and championships.

Whether you are a fan of aero or not, there is no denying the influence it now has in any form of racing, now that we know the benefits of downforce no matter the rules, teams will shape the car (within those rules) to maximize the downforce to drag ratio and produce the optimally efficient car that basks in the winner’s circle at the end of the race.

 

Why Coaching Drivers Reveals Unique Insights

When trying to understand human nature typically you have people who study behavior in clinical and controlled circumstances. They want to control the environment to of course eliminate the variables. They use observation and objective measurement to develop a hypothesis and draw conclusions. These studies can last hours, days, weeks and sometimes years, the longer you run it the more subjects and the more you can rely on the data.

For over 20 years I have been running the same experiment. I sit next to people, all kinds of people and in a really fun way, in a matter of seconds my environment will reveal who they really are. We are actually two people, the real us and the us we pretend to be. We don't really think about this much because it is part of our normal routine. Many cultures have names for the "inside man and the outside man" that I'm referring to. Who we really are vs. what we think society expects to see of us.

It is a bit alarming and initially awkward for them to sit next to a stranger and have them learn your deepest secrets but at the same time it can be liberating as a journey of self discovery.

The unique thing about my experiment is its accessibility. Just about everyone can drive a car and most do on a daily bases. Learning within that familiar environment makes it attractive, it's sneaky that way, people don't realize as soon as the car skids it will instantly trigger "fight or flight" response in everyone that hasn't experienced it before.

As soon as fight or flight is triggered you are dealing with that persons subconscious, the inner person. As uncomfortable as this may sound it is actually pretty fun for the student, much like a roller coaster or a scary movie. 

The difference is that it's a teaching environment as well. This means I am observing and measuring the individuals reactions to come up with the most efficient course of action for this person. 

It is amazing how different people are, some are overtly boastful before, some meek and humble though most of course fall somewhere in between. What is interesting is that it has absolutely no correlation with how they actually are. The person we act as can be vastly different to who we really are. Since we are consciously adapting to circumstances we can only do it in environments where we are so comfortable that we can stay one step ahead.

The skidding car shatters the facade, think of a friend that has a really funny laugh (or maybe a snort!) that comes out only when they are genuinely surprised by something hilarious. There are many more things we can repress. Look at the definition of repression:  "a mental process by which distressing thoughts, memories, or impulses that may give rise to anxiety are excluded from consciousness and left to operate in the unconscious"

"Left to operate in the subconscious", Houston we have a problem. burying a problem works as long as we feel we are in control, specifically no surprises (the snort laugh). 

So with students I have the honer of seeing them as they really are. We then form a bit of mutual trust (I will only use this knowledge to help you) and we start making progress step by step. For each person though the steps are different, different sizes, different shapes and sometimes in a different order. The clarity of not having to filter everything though the conscious facade makes the progress super efficient and quite pure.

Again an absolute honor and of course I must add I am the same, with the same issues. I realized all of that after years of teaching that in a way they were teaching me because I would see the same traits mirrored in myself. I feel that's when it hit me, I had developed a sense of empathy, I could bring up things anticipating what they needed next so we could avoid stalling the progress. 

I went from a facilitator to a actual teacher and soon thereafter I realized I need to write a book. Optimum Drive is about this cathartic journey of self-discovery and insight into what actually makes us tick. I understand now why people plateau, I can see their potential but they can't, my job is to clear the clutter we all put in the way of our own journey. I truly believe we all have to potential for greatness within us.

-Paul F. Gerrard

F1 Blog Entry 2

Tires: Of all the components of motorsports from the teams to the drivers to the cars and the tracks the humble tire stands out from the rest as the single most important point of focus in racing. As an example, you hear more talk of tires than any other topic during the commentary of any race. In racing, indeed everything matters but also everything must go through the tire. It is the single point of convergence in racing. What happens where the tire hits the road surface is simply all that matters.

When I was contemplating writing Optimum Drive the thought that really compelled me was the epiphany we’ve selfishly always set the car up for the driver. What we should always be doing is setting the car and driver up for the tire. Winning is largely accomplished by being more efficient with your tires. 

Sometimes people struggle with the concept of efficiency in racing, it seems a contradiction in motorsports. Motorsports appears to be all about wasting things on the surface, you burn through everything at startling rates in motorsports compared to road driving, that part is true. The crucible of motorsports and how it pulverizes and punishes everything at an alarming rate is the very thing that makes it interesting and useful (and expensive and frankly fun). Want to know how your car will hold up in a hundred thousand miles? Just race it for a hundred, you’ll go though all the tires, brakes, clutch, engine wear, you name it and then some. 

So racing is hard but why is it efficient? Due to the stresses it places on everything, if you can get those thousands of components of the car to just last a little longer than the other guys you gain a huge advantage (whether it is 100,000 miles on the road or 100 miles on the track). The two that matter the most are: Fuel, if you can have the same straight line speed as the other guys and use less fuel you have a fantastic advantage due the less frequent fuel stops and less weight in fuel that you have to carry. The second is of course the topic here; tires. If you can produce the same grip but at the same time do less wear (called degradation in engineering terms) you, just like the fuel efficiency example, have a measurable advantage. As the others consume at a higher rate, their speed difference (or delta) between the first lap on the tires and their last is greater. By the end of the race or stint on those tires (if it’s a race with tire changes) they will be a sitting duck. This is due to a result of the degradation; the tires get slower every lap after they have reached operating temperature. There may be a small plateau of a few consistent laps but then the degradation inevitable sets in. 

If you’ve ever wondered why a car that qualifies well slowly drifts back in the race you now have your answer. It is relatively easy to get a set up in the car that is fast over one flying lap and much more tricky to reduce degradation relative to the other teams. The qualifying setup is about efficiency of speed over one lap while the race setup is about the fastest average lap time over the life of the tire. Two very different goals. That’s what the teams are doing when they talk about “focusing on long runs not lap times” during testing and practice. It’s tempting for teams to go for the glory of topping the test times for the day but that’s a bit short sighted because winning races is about reducing the degradation delta and giving in to the absolutely most important component of the car… the humble tire.

The humble tire is actually quite complex, as I wrote in Optimum Drive, I, like many other racers, didn’t think tires were that complex or that different. Man, was I wrong, all it took was doing some work with a tire manufacture, it’s actually more complex than any other component on the car as well. The vast sums of development money and overwhelming number of choices (variables) in their construction make the rest of the car seem like it comes from the Stone Ages.

When I started doing tire testing for Michelin I was handed a “subjective handling sheet”, I had seen these before doing vehicle validation and testing for vehicle manufactures and you assume since the vehicle manufactures sheet (since it included not only the tire but the entire car) that it would be longer, only makes sense right? Wrong, very wrong, you know the saying that the Eskimos have 100 words for snow? That is Michelin and tires, the subjective handling sheet was pages long and had many, many terms (and sometime made up Michelin words that were an interesting mix of French and English) to describe all of the individual characteristics of the tires in stunning, vivid detail.

I learned over time that they all had a subtlety different connotation that were not only measurable objectively but could, with considerable practice, be felt. Add them all up and those differences really started to matter, to define the character and performance of that particular tire. They had sliced it up so many times that you could start to define the feel and confidence that particular tire provided. It was far beyond what I had seen any vehicle manufacture do, it was just part of their “so much is riding on your tires” culture they had refined and perfected over the course of a hundred plus years of continuous development.

There are many variables in tire construction, there is also considerable technology. Those two statements would be a pretty big surprise to most average consumers (but you are not average are you). They think tires are all simply “round and black” and the premium ones are just overpriced, overhyped versions of the cheapest ones. Perhaps the saddest thing I see at “Cars & Coffee” is a wonderfully complex, lovingly developed vehicle with $40 tires on it. Tells me all I need to know about this undeserving owner thinking they are smart and savvy by saving money on tires. I have the same comment for people who live in snowy climates and are too shortsighted or misinformed to put dedicated Winter tires on their car. No people, even the best All-Season tire does not preform nearly as well as a good Winter tire.

The bottom line here with all of this tire talk is that whether we are setting lap records, winning races and championships or perhaps just out on a Sunday enjoying the finest piece of machinery we can modestly afford or maybe just out getting some milk on a snowy night, nothing has a greater influence on our joy and success than the humble tire.

 

F1 Blog Entry 1

What better way to highlight the upcoming release of a new book on driving than to have the author, Paul Gerrard, do a series of pieces and a podcast interview for FBC discussing some of the finer elements of driving? In a new series, we are calling Optimum Drive with Paul Gerrard, we will focus on some intriguing parts of Paul’s new book coming out this April. You can pre-order the book right here from Amazon. If you’re a fan of the art of driving, this book is a must-have and we are very honored to be working with Paul on this special series just for our readers/listeners.

Paul Gerrard:

Paul F. Gerrard is an accomplished professional racing driver, precision/stunt driver, advanced driving instructor, vehicle evaluator and presenter. His career started in Europe winning a prestigious Winfield Scholarship that lead to successfully racing formula cars in both Europe and the United States. He made the transition into racing sports cars and simultaneously started instructing a wide range of drivers from military special forces to aspiring racers to teen drivers.

Next on his progression was television appearing as an automotive expert and driver on shows such as Top Gear (UK and US editions), MythBusters, Speedmakers, Supercars Exposed, Ultimate Factories and many others. He has presented on every automotive topic imaginable and specializes in make technology and driving easy to understand for people at any level. Paul is also a sought-after expert witness in high-level automotive court cases.

He has continually raced winning several national championships along the way racing everything from Pikes Peak to just about every professional road racing series all the way to being ranked number three in the world in vehicle jumping distance for a 2010 Hot Wheels Stunt.

Also under his belt is over two decades of racing driver coaching and director level responsibilities at some of the most advanced racing schools in the world. While his passion is and always was racing, Paul has cultivated and created a career that allows him to not only enjoy his passion but do something that is perhaps even more satisfying… share that passion for what he considers the most accessible and highest level mechanical interaction possible… a car and our uniquely human ability to connect with it.

Optimum Drive:

Optimum Drive is a book about achieving driving greatness. Its focus is not on the simple mechanics of vehicle line and calculated corner speed but about the granular dynamic balancing a great driver can do to actually up that speed above what most people think is possible. There exists a secret handshake of sorts for the greats, an elite club at a level that almost seems superhuman. The process in this book exposes and describes the steps anyone can take to gain access into the most elusive step a driver can take…turning what they do with three simple controls into art.

The Art and Science of Test Driving and Testing

Good usable repeatable laps that is what the team wants the driver to do, seems simple enough but so few are really good at it. For a driver, it takes a lot of restraint to do repeatable useable good laps, the very mentality of a competitive person is to be aggressive not show restraint. You’ll see teams favor certain drivers for certain testing tasks, the lower down the totem pole you are, the more menial the driving task all the way from only straight line running to correlate wind tunnel with real world to individual testing/running of vehicle systems. The initial running is seldom done anywhere near the limit so those duties usually fall to the “Friday drivers”.

I mentioned the word correlation a moment ago and that is what the teams need to establish, a baseline. While the car may be turning its first real laps it, in fact, has probably done a whole season virtually over this Winter. The teams need to take all that virtual data and see how close it is to actual data they collect during the test. That is the all-important correlation they are after. Is the car behaving exactly how the simulations predicted?

To do this they break everything down as much as time will allow. The fairly recent draconian (cost cutting lol) restrictions on testing have made the reliance on simulations greater so there is a lot of pressure to get them right because the car is turning less laps and later in the process and that makes everyone very nervous. They don’t have much time to correct things if the correlation is poor. I wonder if a car has ever turned out better than they predicted? Usually of course the opposite is the case and there is always a team or two flying in some bits while the car misses some crucial track time or is embarrassingly off the pace relative to last season.

Through it all, the test driver (not the race driver) hat is on dutifully driving the car as precisely as possible so they themselves are not make the data harder to be correlated due to them being on their own driving program (like trying to go too fast and therefore perhaps being inconsistent).

The time for speed will come though some teams will fly under the radar until unleashing the cars full potential in Melbourne qualifying. Others (usually those who have something to prove or are still sponsor hunting) will go for a lap at the end of each day to show the world that this year is going to be different and generate some short-lived but important pre-season buzz.

The bottom line is that everyone is on their own program, some will be frantic, some restrained and others quietly confident. Meanwhile the drivers circulate with engineers dutifully checking data, all with fingers crossed that the car is living up to its virtual potential as it’s turning ones and zeros into actual physical form…untold millions invested, eight meager test days, then only a month to Melbourne…what could possible go wrong!?

The difference between two distinct yet necessary driver types: The test driver vs. the race driver.

Now, it is safe to say any good, let alone great, driver should be able to do both. One sets up the car and the other races it. The test driver is like a robot, they put the same good known input in (within reason) regardless of output (understeer, oversteer, lock-up, or wheel spin), and the engineers adjust and re-adjust the car until the output is as close to perfect as possible.

That’s how you set- up a car to maximize its performance. The more consistent the test driver’s inputs, the more accurate the engineers’ data, and the closer the can get to the ideal compromise in the car’s set-up. Then the race starts and the driver switches modes; the car’s set-up is now pretty fixed (just usually brake bias, anti-roll bars, and tire pressures, and wing adjustments at the pit stops), so the driver now needs to not be the rock-solid robot doing exactly the same thing every lap. They now need to be focused instead only on the output, continuously adjusting their inputs to optimize the output. The whole idea of our role being that dynamic car balancer is us in race mode, but the test (mode) driver balances the car and repeats the run exactly as the engineers tweak.