Track Day

I had the absolute pleasure of participating in my first ever track day yesterday, hosted by Club Motori Italia at Baskerville Raceway here in Hobart. What a buzz!

To those of you that think you can drive hard: unless you’ve tried yourself and your car out on the track with a race instructor, it’s quite possible that like me, you’re just a big bag of wind – full of self-confidence based on what might actually be your inability to handle your car smoothly. I make that statement above with complete humility, in the full realisation that I’m now only 98% as bad as I was prior to the weekend.

This was home for the day:

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That may look like a fairly simple runaround to you, but what you can’t see from this aerial photo are the varying elevations. Starting at the bridge that crosses the shorter of the two straights, you head uphill into a seemingly tight right-hander that then tightens even further into another righty as you crest and start downhill, shifting the weight of the car as you then head into the first left and then sweep into the second left.

It’s a decent climb uphill again to a true crest where you head left and downhill again down the back of the course. The corner at the end of this short back straight is crucial, as it takes you into the main straight. Finally there’s a big left hand sweeper through two turns and 180 degrees and you’re back on the pit striaght and the start/finish area.

The day started with a briefing for all drivers, which covered timing, smoothness, cornering etc etc. After an hour or so of that we were ready to hit the course for a few laps with an instructor driving us around. The instructors were first rate. They were quite possibly the key ingredient in making it a successful day. The practical help they gave was invaluable.

Next we got to take our own cars out with an instructor each. All the lads started tentatively, but quickly gained a little confidence as they began to understand what they and their cars were capable of.

As mentioned over the weekend, I left my 99 Turbo in the garage, which was a pity to some extent, but it meant that I could drive a few other cars over the course of the day. I started off in my mate Colin’s BMW 325ci, moved on to a 2003 model 9-3 Vector and then finally had a crack in a 9-5 Aero Wagon. The Bimmer’s pictured in the post below and here’s the Saabs:

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The 9-3 Vector with 5 speed gearbox. Supplied for the day by Motors Saab, our local dealer here in Tassie.

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The 9-5 Aero Wagon, also supplied by Motors Saab for the day. Up until a week or so earlier, this vehicle belonged to a Saab Car Club of Aust member. He traded it in for a new 9-5 Wagon, so we all got to take a spin in his old wheels (he added a performance chip that took it up to 190kW – giddyup!!). The only drawback – an auto slushbox: even in ‘sport’ mode it missed the thrills of the manual in the Vector IMHO.

My first drive in Col’s BMW was full of fear and trepidation. Not only was I driving a mate’s car at potentially damaging speeds on a racetrack (you’d almost invite less severe consequences by cracking on to a mate’s Mrs!! – nb, I said ‘almost’), I had trouble with the pedals and gearbox, which were way different to what I was used to. The drive was enjoyable, but I think the combination of nerves, unfamiliarity and an instructor (by necessity) pointing out my timing, braking and steering errors left it as the lesser drive in terms of sheer fun and enjoyment.

My next drive was in the 9-3 Vector. I had different instructor this time, a little more confidence and a familiar environment.

And what a difference!!

This drive was totally exhilarating. In Col’s BMW I was so focused on my line and braking that I rarely changed gears. The Bimmer is a great car, but I was just too underdone to give it a proper run. In the 9-3 and with a little more confidence I began to really manouvre the car around the track and the difference…..was…..amazing.

I have to say this: It had been some time since I’d driven a 9-3 Sports Sedan and it was a well overdue reminder to me that this is one truly solid motor car. It hugged the road like a bunny boiler and had plenty of pop when you floored the go-pedal. It was a joy.

We took a lunchbreak after that and gasbagged about the various lessons learned. Instructors were optional for the afternoon session, but most of us that were first timers on the track took advantage of their knowledge and drove around with them accompanying us once again.

Quite a few of us also took advantage of the 9-5 Aero Wagon too. I had my final drive in this vehicle, as did many of us including Alex the visiting SCCA El Presidente, and vehicle donor Tony was complaining about hearing a little too much tyre screech. After he took his own final run in the wagon, including a VERY close call on the ripple strip at the start of the straight, we all gathered round to take a peek at the tyres.

This is what your tyre should look like. All the manufacturer’s info written nice and clear on the sidewall:

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And here’s the sidewall on the 9-5 Aero Wagon after a day at Baskerville Raceway:

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As you can see, there ain’t much to be reading there!! It’s fair to say this car saw a fair bit of action over the afternoon.

Other highlights of the day:

Seeing Col in the BMW, facing backwards after taking turn 2 a little too hard!!

Seeing Drew’s 99 Turbo screaming around the track.

Hearing Rob’s Audi S4 go bang and then finding out it was only a busted under-spoiler. Relief!

Meeting some new Tasmanian SCCA members, including Bill, who gave his 9000 Carlsson (below) a fair run.

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This hand-knitted jumper was undoubtedly the non-driving highlight. The automotive equivalent of ‘the moose jumper’ in Bridget Jones’ Diary:

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Here’s most of the Saab lads assembled. What is it with dark clothes and black cars (4 black Saabs on the day!)?

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If you ever get the chance to participate in a day like this then jump at it. The skills to be learned are numerous and can’t be fully comprehended in a single session. The discovery of what your car is engineered to do is totally exhilarating and is only matched by the amazement you’ll have at what you can do yourself with the right advice.

There’s so much still to learn and personally speaking, I can’t wait for the next opportunity!!

3 Comments

  1. Mark, I have absolutely no idea. The 9-5 was provided for the day via our local dealer. I’d have expected the tyres to be adequately pumped up, but it’s an even bet they weren’t.

    They sure were noisy!!

  2. Hi guys question i am buying a 2003 model saab 9-5 2.3 turbo are there any major problems with that model for the year it looks great but the dealer is also giving me an incredible price please let me know if possible

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