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With the mid summer doldrums upon us and the Sonoma race next weekend, I thought this was a good time to post this.

From Nov. 4, 2020
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We booked a one week Drink and Drive vacation in Sonoma Ca. in early February for the second week in Oct. And then the pandemic hit. And then the Ca fires hit. And then our rental house had to be evacuated for the fires. We shortened the trip to four days, got $250 airplane tix, stayed in a Hampton Inn with points and rescheduled for the first week in November. And then CV19 spiked.

Time to run some numbers. Cases per day were at 100,000.

Risk of getting CV19 is:

100,000 cases/day /330,000,000 US population X 4 days = 0.0012

Chance of dying if we get it is:

1000 deaths per day/100,000 cases per day = 0.01

Chance of dying if we go on the trip is:

.0012 X .01 = .000012 or 12 times in million trips

Piffle. We. Are. Going.


The Driving part of the trip was the KTM X Bow Driving School at Sonoma Raceway. It comes in 1/2, 1 and 3 Day flavors. The Crossbow is a race car but street legal in Europe. Here is a write up about the school with a lot of pictures of the cars and track.

THE FASTEST KTM WE EVER TESTED & ONLY $105,000 | Motocross Action Magazine

The car is an open cockpit,1700 lb. carbon fiber monocoque, 300 hp, six speed race car with a 140 mph top speed. This is equivalent to 600 hp in your 3400 lbs street car.




191F7C40-1BEC-4899-AEC1-80188F55E836.jpeg


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We were initially concerned that this was a Lead Follow event where an instructor leads you around the track. Unlike other driving experiences we have done where they try to keep you slow and safe ( mockingly referred to as Thrill Rides), this is a race training event where they want you to test all the limits of car control. Locked wheels and breaking the rear end free is encouraged. The pep talk was "This course has the biggest elevation change in the country (160 ft ). It is the hardest course to learn and the hardest course to drive. You never have a chance to rest. Today, we want you to think you are drinking from a fire hose." And if you stay with the instructor, he just goes faster so you never feel like you are going too slow.

There were two other students in the class so with two instructors, one of which was a part time Xfinity driver, we would be having highly individualized training with one instructor leading two students. They started out asking us Why we chose Sonoma and what we hoped to accomplish? We said :"We picked Sonoma as it had the least amount of walls close to the track". They looked at us and said: " You picked the hardest course in the world because it had the least walls?!?"

The school is all about adhering to the proper line in the corners regardless of speed. The message is relentless. First drill was about a half hour in the parking lot with a 2nd gear hairpin corner to show you the braking, not braking, apex and acceleration points marked with orange cones. Second drill was a five gate third gear slalom with a back straight return. Then back to the classroom to go over the track map for a half hour.

Finally, its time for our first 1/2 hr session on the track entitled "Learn the Track". Our first lap is relatively slow with a top speed of around 55 mph with continuous instruction with the radios in our ears for every corner: " First gear, second gear, third gear, lift throttle, leading braking ,straight line braking, down shift, trailing braking , down shift, turn, 20% throttle, 30, 40 60, 80, upshift, 100%, upshift, upshift, breath". We went around another 10 laps ending up with a top speed of around 85.

There were three blind uphills followed immediately by downhill corners. The most intimidating was "The Carousel", a 220 degree corner with a 60 mph blind hill topping in the middle with a blind drop away off camber transitioning to banked and then the fastest straight on the track ( part of the drag strip) terminating in a third gear hairpin (turn 7).

Back to the classroom to talk out all the corners and diagram them. The Instructor asked each of us where we were having trouble. One guy said turns 1 thru 11a. I said turn 11a, a high speed entrance to a hairpin. My problem was there were so many cones, I could not tell them apart. The Instructors advice: "Aim for the 2nd Monster Energy sign, look for the tall yellow cone on the left, full head twist right, look ahead to the tall apex cone."

And then it was out for the next half hour session. I had no repeatability in line or gear selection ( it had double paddle shifters which I had never used before) but braking repeatability was good. Throttle repeatability was fair. Then one lap from the end of the session, I was entering Turn 9a at 85 mph and both front tires locked up during brake application. And the car was still driving forward with almost no speed loss. And no steering because the tires were locked. The throttle was stuck!

Turn 9a is a chicane as known in Europe or in the US the feature name is Bus Stop. They are usually after thoughts on straight aways that prove to be too fast and have dire consequences if you overshoot the next corner. A Bus Stop leaves the straight away for a bit, turns and comes back on for a right-left-right quick combo to slow you down. Turn 9a is shown below. The solid purple line is where you are supposed to go. The dotted purple line is where I went. The black boxes are tire walls: three, five foot tall banks of used tires lashed together to stop you from t-boning someone on the other side.


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So I am heading off the track at a tire wall around 80 with no steering, tires smoking. About two car lengths before hitting the tire wall, I let off the brakes to free up the front tires. I regain steering, right-left-right thru the tire wall series missing them by about an inch max. I may or may not have soiled myself. (Who knew that my chance of dying in the race car was higher than dying from CV19?). I hear the instructor come over the open frequency with " I see some of you are testing the braking capability". Everybody is a comedian.

I notice that the throttle is no longer stuck and realize my fat effin' size twelve feet must have caught the edge of the throttle in the tiny footwell pushing down both pedals at the same time. But my confidence was shattered at that point. When I got out of the car, I walked around it to make sure all the wings and fenders were in one piece and undented.

In the next debrief when I 'fessed up to the "oh shit" moment, he looked at my feet and said "yep". He also pointed out as they were running shoes, the soles flair out 1/2" all the way around for running stability unnecessarily taking up even more foot well space. And its off to lunch for an hour.

The one hour lunch break at the track cafeteria was enough to for me to regroup mentally. Good thing I signed up for the full day course as it would have been awfull to end with that screw up. Sessions 3 and 4 were much better as I got my repeatability down. I usually knew what gear I was in. In session three, exiting the third gear Turn 7, I broke the rear end loose twice learning why you have to roll on the throttle gently till you are straight. And the skid mark I left going into the tire wall was impressive.

In Session 4,I felt confident enough to brake later and accelerate earlier. I was entering the Turn 7 hair pin at 111 mph. On the next to last lap, the guy in front of me ran out of talent and learned why you only do straight line braking, especially with a rear engined car. Entering turn 10, he braked while turning, the rear end kicked out in a long (150') lazy smoking skid, caught, and spun in the opposite direction for another 150' taking out ten or twenty cones. I gave him the thumbs up as he peeled off to pit road. It was a lot of fun all freight training together around the course driving the car at our limit. And I loved banging thru the gears from turn 11a over the finish line and up the hill under the bridge.

Marys ( Sn00Fun ) day was mostly uneventful. She kept out of the dirt, out of the grass, off the wall. Her ear buds fell out in one session and she broke the ass end free by over accelerating out of turn 7 once. Her confidence was high after the last session going into turn 7 at 105. Also the last lap on the last corner her instructor ( who will remain
nameless) locked up the front tires going into turn 11a and spun out. She had to take evasive action thru the smoke and cones.

All in all it was about 48 laps around the 2.5 mile course for 120 miles total.
I would have to put in the top three things I have done in retirement. We may sign up for the Day Two course next year. But I will take the belt sander to my soles next year.

Next up … two weeks of quarantine. Uggh!


PS The hardest thing to learn was how to start the car.

1. Turn on Master Switch (console)
2. Punch the Stop Button (console) till you hear the Fuel Injection click
3. Punch the start button (console)
4. Hit the Mode Button (steering wheel)
5. Put on the brake (foot well)
6. Hit the Start Button (console)

PPS Ours was not the only program going on. The Ligier LMP 3 Lemans 24 hr car was being rented. The cost: Starts at $15,000 per day.
 

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Wow! Excellent write up!
 
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