Viper Nation

Supercar Dodge Viper site with pictures, technical info, experiential stories with a few other winter action extreme stories posted.

RTTTTed On November - 17 - 2010

 

So,  You Think You Know How To Drive?

by Ted Hlokoff

 

I entered a Viper Club of America “Mountain Climb Rally” at Revelstoke, BC last year and came in second. The event had a 50mph speed limit – speed and you’re disqualified. Really slow speed driving for an 850hp Viper.  Now I’ve entered a VCA Track Day event. I decided that I’d better see how my driving skills are at the track. Well … they need improvement.

Not getting much ‘driving on the edge’ experience on the street, I decided that before entering any events, I would take a professional grade driving course to improve my driving skills. June 20th is a VCA track day and June 5th was my appointment for “beginner High Performance Driving School” in Portland.

I drove my Macedo Motorsports supercharged Viper to Portland, Oregon to take the hi-performance driving course. My car needs some tuning and was losing power at anything past half throttle (so the power level was about stock Viper level). I bought some NEW Pilot Sport 2 tires and had them installed on my car before the “ground school” Thursday evening. This allowed me to run the course with premium street tires on Friday. The rain was off and on the entire 1850mi. trip, including the track experience day. I learned a lot about cornering and control of my car. I got some serious experience with dry and wet high speed conditions. I found out how great the new Michelin tires are both in rain and under extreme driving conditions.

First timers to “High Performance Driving Instruction” are required to spend a few hours in a classroom with video, driver’s manual and basic instruction on “the line”, safety issues, safety flags and car physical dynamics to mention a few subjects. When I found my classroom at Portland Community College the video on the big screen indicated I’d found the right room. After watching it for 10 min. I was questioning if I was doing the “right thing”. The in-car camera was showing the view from inside a 2006 Black Viper. After a few minutes one car come from the right, hit the front fender ($2,500?) and bounced away. After completing a tight corner and starting down the straightaway it looked as though this beautiful Viper slid along the cement wall for a space ($6,000?). Another few minutes and it looked as though a Mazda suddenly appeared inches in front of the Viper, a few seconds after that, a bump seemed to indicate some ‘rubbing’ ($5,000?)? A couple corners and a pair of cars spun in opposite directions away from each other, off of the track. At the checkered flag the driver of the Viper was honking the horn, shaking his fist out the window and hollering … I guess he won the race. I hope it paid well as the potential for damage was a lot of money. Not sure if the Viper driver actually did hit anything other than the first car, but since he was sooo happy the driver obviously found the best part of the race was the win. Obviously not a driver’s training video, but an actual championship race.

7am was track time and I was there. “Viper Jon” was my instructor’s nickname and that was a great indication of his Viper experience. The man that owns "Partrack.com" was my driving instructor. He’s also the guy that sold me the new tires! I don’t think I could have gotten a better instructor for myself. Jon worked with me on my sudden steering inputs as a Viper is too easy to control? Requiring less than 25% of the input of all non-sports cars, the Viper is a dream for a race car driver, but a nightmare for a ‘normal’ driver. Myself, I rate between the two. Vipers are high powered and designed for high speed driving. It’s impossible to learn to operate one properly unless you take it to the track. My problems were mostly that I either gave it too much throttle, or too little. I started my turns with quick movements of the steering wheel and applied the brakes too suddenly. Jon also needed to tap the back of my hand to remind me that both hands go on the steering wheel, not resting on the shifter. On the drive home I was a better driver because I rested both hands on the steering wheel 90% of the drive. Driving experience is simply an advanced driving school. It improves all of your driving abilities and higher speed (read emergency response) driving as well. These courses are similar to what Police take to improve their driving skills.

Jon Brobst had 3 students that day and also spent the time to drive the student (me), the TV camera man, and the security guard around the track for a few laps at everyone else’s lunch break. Spending all that time in high traction cars (BB vette & 2 Vipers) all day gave Jon a case of motion sickness by the end of the day! When I got home a few days later the first thing I did was order EBC “Red” brake pads from Jon. It worked out that the “Green” pads only needed a couple hundred miles to cover my wheels with black dust. “If it fits on or in a Viper” is Jon’s business motto and the pads were on their way to me within an hour! Thanks Jon!

The other ’01 Viper at the track was owned by Doris Rose and was the seat for the TV cameraman that was there shooting a documentary on PIR, CSCC and the driver’s course. Turns out that you’ll get to see my Viper if you catch the show on TV or ‘podcast’ on the internet. Doris said she usually comes out for the track experience about 3 – 4 times a year. One of her drives was really exciting as she did a couple spins through the Chicane. She didn’t allow that to slow her down … much, she merely got her Viper pointed in the right direction and was off again. With a little rain on the cement Chicane corners (tightest cornering of the track), I did a whoopie/fishtail the run before her spin. “Good recovery,” was Jon’s only comment. Right after Doris’s spun out two more cars did the same thing, with one of the Mazda ‘Pro’ cars tagging tire barricade in front of the wall. 2 other cars spun out during the driving event making the total spin outs 5. No injuries and only minor damage was incurred for the Mazda, nothing for anyone else. The Mazda was “testing and tuning”, not part of the Driver’s Instruction.

Doris used her Yellow Viper to Pace-car the Sunday race. A fellow Viper owner was there to watch his friend race and both he and his son had the privilege of accompanying Doris for a few Pace-car laps around the track in her Viper. I imagine that would probably be a once in a lifetime experience for a ‘man-child’. During the rest of the week Doris is a CPA (doris@dorisrosecpa.com).

Doris Rose took the track pics for me and did a better job than I did taking pics of her Yellow Viper. I took a few pics of her, but at speeds of 150mph+ her car was already gone by the time the camera shutter closed. I drove a half throttle run down the straight out of a ‘perfect corner’, used full brakes to pull down 150mph to 30mph into the Chicane. That one high speed run down the straight was worthy of a huge adrenaline shot, full throttle (next time) will be scarier than a bunji jump.

I spent most of my track time trying to perfect ‘gentle, smooth’ control as my Viper is over-powered and gentle is something I have a serious problem with. “Treat her like a lady” is my new motto. However, I did go from my initial 40mph through the turns to over 60mph slightly sliding around all the corners (huge improvement). I learned a huge amount about my driving skills and my car’s control, both technical and practical during the day. Karen Stimson (RX7/CSCC Driver’s Co-ordinator/Novice of the Year ’07) was all over the place making sure everything ran smoothly and safely, which it did. The on-site EMTs and their Ambulance had absolutely nothing to do all day. Karen and Gary Bockman (Mazda spec champ./ICSCC Driver of the Year ’07) repeatedly informed all students that safety was the most important criteria at the track and any dangerous behavior would get you removed. They both put a lot of time to help out with the club and public.

The people were great and like all the other students I was treated extremely well by the Cascade Sports Car Club. While emptying my car for the track, I hid my wallet so well I couldn’t find it at lunch. After realizing I had used over 3/4 of a tank of gas Jon told me to go get gas quickly. When I mentioned my wallet, he pulled out a $50 bill and said, "This should be enough." I got gas and made the last track run instruction which took a 1/4 tank of gas!!! I also found my wallet later.

I learned that tire temp makes a huge difference and have since bought a Tire Pressure Monitor System so that I can see temp differences in my tires. Traction is much less until the tires warm up and rain cools the tires off immediately. Jon stated that the Michelin Pilot Sports II will run 145F at track speeds. After the race I looked at my front tire and could see the rubber had accumulated onto the top of the treads from the heat. I took the entire day being careful and other than a couple of ‘slips and wiggles’ felt safe and under complete control. I also got to actually push the limits of my car and see what it could do above highway speeds. Humility is another of my learning experiences of the day, and that it’ll take more Driver’s Instruction to be comfortable saying, "I’m a good driver." When people ask me, “How fast is your 850hp Viper?” I often reply, “Faster than me.” Speaking to Gary Bockman (a race champion) I learned that Traction Control can turn a ‘normal’ driver into a safer, but slower driver, a great driver is ALL SKILL. On the track … Traction Control merely turns you into an “also ran”. When I got home I jumped into the wife’s Dodge Charger and went for a mediocre run down our gravel road. I tried to go fast, but the traction control used the brakes so much that my “high speed run” turned into a slow/mediocre run.

I kept up with a slicked Pro Mazda race car through a set of corners and Jon informed me that I’d need a set of slicks to surpass the Mazda’s abilities through the corners. That a street Viper can keep up to even a ‘Pro’ Mazda Miata is really quite impressive. Of course the straightaway is a whole ‘nuther story. It would be fun to actually race a car often, but I certainly couldn’t afford to campaign a Viper, I’d buy something cheaper to repair. There was all types of race cars in the pits. I saw a couple of 60’s MGB 46hp race cars as well as high and low hp open wheel race cars. I wonder if I could fit slicks to my extra Stealth R/T TT cheaper than street tires?

As with many race tracks many people living close to the track would like to close the PIR complex, as it’s “too loud” and a “Public nuisance” (?). Cascade Sports Car Club (www.cascadesportscarclub.org) and Friends of PIR (www.friendsofpir.com) would appreciate your support in keeping their Premier Sports Racing Facility open and available for students, racers and spectators. The amount of local business and financial advantages to the surrounding area and Portland itself are a necessity during these financial times and jobs would be lost if the track was closed. The excellent safety record of the CSCC is exemplary. Public safety is enhanced by providing a place for competition as well as these Driver’s Instruction Courses, available to all.

Crossing the Canada/US border on my way home the Canada Customs pulled me in and emptied out my car. Looking for drugs? I don’t know, but they only held me up for about 20min. and didn’t scratch my car so all’s good.

I learned so much about how to improve my driving skills that I’m going to put my slightly modified Turbo Shelby Daytona into the garage for a quick once over then insure it so that all 4 of my kids can take the High Performance Driving Course in what is a great beginner car for the course. A lightweight good handling car with enough power to enjoy, but not so much that the experience becomes a ‘learning to control all that power’ adventure instead of a driving skills improvement experience. I know that at least one of my daughters has a “driving to school on the ice and spun a couple donuts down the highway story.” My oldest daughter has a “looked into the back seat and rolled through the trees” story. This course may possibly save them more of that type of story? The course teaches about over-correcting and Windshield Attention Deficit Syndrome (WADS), which seems to be prevalent with many drivers on our highways lately.

All in all, I had a great day, learned so much that it’ll take awhile before all the new information “gets straight in my head”. I met a lot of great people and even had a good visit with Bill from Barrett’s Automotive. No scratches or repairs required for my car after track experience and I found that it’s a great way to spend a couple hundred bucks and a full tank of gas! I’m also planning on doing it again.

An email from Sean Roe (www.roeracing.com) solved my ‘crapping out’ at full throttle problem. Thanks Sean!

Categories: Technical Story

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