Autocross > Resources
Western Washington Sports Car Club - www.WWSCC.org
- contains listing all the other autocrosses in the area
Porsche Club of America - Autocross - www.pca.org/autocross
- PCA National Web site
Sports Car Club of America - www.SCCA.org
Google search for "autocross" - www.google.com
- major Internet search engine pre-set search
- Gary Elwood
Autocross Driving Tips
- Kate Hughes
Go Fast: Get the Picture
- Kate Hughes
Autocross! Questions From a Novice
- Tess McMillan
- Bud Bohrer
2008 PNWR/PCA Driving School
Complied by Bud Bohrer
Many books have been written about driving. Most discuss driving on a racetrack, but a few discuss autocross or Solo, the common names for the sport taught here. The emphasis must be different. Driven by facing a new course at each event, path finding and plan development skills are of paramount importance in this sport and course features are encountered much more rapidly than in racing. The basic driving techniques are far more interchangeable. Most writers are qualified to discuss driving, but some present the subject more successfully than others. All are entertaining and most contain useful insight, so read all you can get your hands on. Some suggestions, in rough order of applicability and value, follow. Prices are approximate and for reference only.
SECRETS OF SOLO RACING, Expert Techniques for Autocross & Time Trials, Henry A. Watts, Loki Publishing Company, 1989.
If you can only afford one book, this is the one, and not simply because it addresses the topic of interest.This is a very good book. It is comprehensive, well written and accurate.It is understandable by the novice and experienced driver alike, discusses line selection/plan preparation and driving technique, describes an approach to a typical event with a checklist to help you pack, discusses tires and car preparation briefly and covers schools and instructing! Minor problems are the illustrations by the author are rudimentary and advanced driving techniques are in short supply. Read and profit.
Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving, The Skip Barber Racing School, Carl Lopez, Robert Bentley, Inc., Automotive Publishers, 1997.
In contrast to most books this one is not the opinion or approach of a single person, but rather the philosophy of "Skip Barber Racing University". Lopez is listed as the author, but the school level of knowledge is obviously represented. The book is beautifully organized and illustrated and uses results from in car data acquisition systems to support the approach.This is the best and most comprehensive book now available – If you can afford only one general driving book, this is it. Defining the plan of attack and finding the line around the course is given first priority but driving techniques are well covered too.
DRIVE to WIN, The Essential Guide to Race Driving, Carroll Smith, Carroll Smith Consulting, Inc, 1996.
Excellent discussions of all the fundamental driving techniques. Carroll barely addresses lines, but his four Fundamental Truths are spot on. His discussion of vehicle dynamics is outstanding as is his observation that "achieving excellence as a racing driver is about 98 percent cerebral and two percent physical". Practical, easy to read and understand with fascinating observations about then current drivers.
DRIVING IN COMPETITION, Alan Johnson, Bond/Parkhurst Publications, 1996, 3rd Edition.
The Classic! The first author to categorize the turn types, prioritize them and describe the interactions in a plan to drive a track. Remains one of the clearest presentations of the approach to driving each turn type. This characterization is not always correct, but it works most of the time.
A TWIST OF THE WRIST, THE MOTORCYCLE RACERS HANDBOOK, by Keith Code, Acrobat Books, 1983.
Yes, a motorcycle book! EXCELLENT approach to defining the plan and the path for a course, highly recommended. Code is founder and director of the California Superbike School. The jargon is thick, but intuitive. When only a layer of leather separates you from the asphalt if you go down, you're motivated to be meticulous. If you implement this approach you'll never hesitate, much less get lost, on a Solo course again!
COMPETITION DRIVING, Alain Prost with P-F Rousselot, Hazelton Publishing, 1990.
Mostly Rousselot, a journalist and test driver with comments by Le Professor, Alain Prost, but worthwhile nonetheless. Very clear and well-illustrated approaches to driving a variety of turns and turn sequences.Good discussions of Rally cars and techniques as well as front and four wheel drive.
AYRTON SENNA'S PRINCIPALS OF RACE DRIVING, Hazelton Publishing, 1993.
In response to the prior book by the hyper competitive Senna? Perhaps.No author listed, but use of an unidentified "specialist journalist" recognized in the foreword. Senna-centric as expected, but good discussions of lines and techniques. Despite the promise "you will learn many of my racecraft secrets", nothing unusual revealed.
KART DRIVING TECHNIQUES, Jim Hall II and Steve Smith, Steve Smith Autosports, 1999.
Lines per Alan Johnson, but a good basic book specific to kart (solid rear axle) driving techniques.
PORSCHE HIGH-PERFORMANCE DRIVING HANDBOOK, Vic Elford, 2nd Edition, Motorbooks, 2008.
A good book, many useful discussions, and a very broad range – race/rally, ice/gravel, rear/front drive – that offer many helpful insights. The second edition adds many color photos of races and Porsches on glossy paper, and discussion of new Porsche technology. This edition is a bit less Elford-centric than the first, but loses some of the relations with other drivers and teammates.Not always accurate, especially regarding the traction circle and vector force representations.
AUTOCROSS PERFORMANCE HANDBOOK, Richard Newton, Motorbooks, 2007.
This book covers events, classes, tuning and modification and driving. It emphasizes color photos of cars of all classes and components, and many quotes from competitors. The discussion of classing is extensive. It shows not only typical cars, but shows the class structure for Porsche, SCCA and BMW with useful matrixes of allowable modifications for the first two.The driving section, 20 pages of 154, has only words and photos – tough to describe a late apex or traction circle in words.
There are many other driving books. It's important to note that cars have evolved over the years, as has our understanding of how to drive them. The older books are not always current and accurate as we currently understand the process. If one strikes your fancy, by all means read and enjoy. Even if the theme is "Fast Harry at play with friends on race tracks around the world, and, by the way, here are a few crumbs of driving techniques", it can still be enlightening and entertaining.
By Kate Hughes, with thanks to Josh Sirota and Andy Hollis
(from the PCA Editors Digest)
You must be able to keep track of the autocross course in your head. If not, then you can't drive it to its fullest potential. Knowing how to walk the course is the most important step in being competitive and staying ahead of the course. Usually, you'll want to walk the course at least three times.
Your first walk will be to get the general layout, and is often a social walk. Next, get away from friends and walk the course alone -- concentrating on memorizing the layout. Think of it in sections, with key cones marking the turns, such as: 1) start straight; 2) slalom (enter on right); 3) decreasing sweeper to the left; 4) little snake, then big snake; 5) right-hand curve (look for three pointers); 6) thread the needle section; 7) tight right, then tight left; and, 8) finish.
Stop every now and then and run through the course in your head, from the beginning to where you are. Get down; the course looks different from a seated position. This will give you a better picture of what the course will look like at speed.
Pace off the distance between cones in a slalom. Some course designers vary this distance, and it's good to know before you arrive whether you will have to vary your speed in a slalom. Take a note-pad if you like, and make notes such as pavement changes, camber change, bumps, sand, etc.
Repeat this step over and over until the picture is perfect. How do you know if the picture is perfect? Sit down by your car and try to draw the course on a blank piece of paper. Include the key cones you want to recognize while you drive. If you can't draw the course, you will want to walk it again. Once you leave the start line in your car, you should not be spending any time figuring out where the course is.
Do this while walking the course again. Now decide exactly how you want to drive the course. Driving the course perfectly involves two things: coming up with the correct plan; and, executing the plan correctly. If you don't have a plan, you can't possibly know where you didn't execute it correctly. (It's hard to know if you performed this step correctly, but Step 4 will be where you can work on this.)
The plan involves the line you will take for the quickest way through the cones. Note, I didn't say shortest. Think about the characteristics of your car; does it corner better than it accelerates, or the other way around? That will tell you whether to slow down so you can get through the corner in control and onto the throttle as soon as possible, or whether to try to carry speed through to keep up the revs.
Before your run, while you are in grid, go over the course again several times in your head -- executing the plan you made previously.
Sit in your car and go over your run. Figure out where you didn't execute the plan. If the plan was to be near a particular cone and you were five feet from it, then you didn't execute the plan correctly; a red light should have gone off in your head. Maybe you need to adjust the plan because you were going too fast in the slow parts. Decide at this point whether your next run needs to be a better execution of the plan, or a modification of it.
Basically, don't use the car as an excuse. You will see a big difference in your times when you drive a course that never surprised you.
(Editor's Note: These tips are part of "SOLO II NOVICE HANDBOOK", copyright May 1996, compiled by Kate Hughes Glen Region, SCCA. Josh Sirota, San Francisco Region, and Andy Hollis, Houston Region, are also members of SCCA. Hollis is a four-time Pro Solo and Solo II National Champion.)
By Kate Hughes, with thanks to Josh Sirota and Andy Hollis
(from the PCA Editors Digest)
Seat time, seat time, seat time. That's the best way to go faster. They say, "Before you fix the car, fix the driver". There are so many techniques to improve your driving, it takes seat time to learn them all, but once you do, someone without those skills would have to spend a lot of money on their car to beat you, and probably still couldn't.
Here are a few techniques to get you started. Don't try to apply them all in your first run; you'll be too busy. But read through the whole list, then work at gaining these skills one at a time.
I repeat this out loud while I am driving. It's so easy to forget, but makes such a big impact on my driving. It all relates to hand-eye coordination. Look where you want your hands to drive you, and look far enough ahead to take advantage of the feedback. If you're looking at that outside cone that you're afraid you'll hit, well, you'll hit it. If you're looking ten feet in front of the bumper, the turns will keep surprising you.
Slow Down to Go Fast
A common problem when you're starting out is trying to take the tight sections too fast, and not staying in control. I still remember finishing a run and saying, "Well, I didn't go very fast, but it sure was smooth", only to find out I'd gone faster by a full second!
Brake Hard For Corners
Go ahead; squeeze the brakes hard. There's no morning coffee on your dashboard, or eggs in the front seat. Once you decide to slow down for the corner, don't waste any time. If you find yourself at a crawl and you're not at the corner yet, why, you've just found out that you can brake later. Locking up your wheels will not make you stop faster, so squeeze the brakes and let them do the work, not your tires.
Don't ask too much of your tires. For any tire/pavement pair, there's only a certain amount of traction. We'll call that 100% traction. You can use up that traction with your throttle, your brakes or your steering wheel. So if you're going into a corner, using 100% of your traction to make the turn, what happens when you ask for more traction by applying the brakes? Either you won't brake or you won't turn. Or both. The same goes for accelerating out of a corner: ease in the throttle as you ease out of the turn. So use full throttle and full braking only in a straight line. This goes back to slowing down to go faster, and brings us to...
You may have noticed that I used the phrases: "squeeze the brakes", and, "ease in the throttle". This is where you have to change your mind-set about inputs to controlling your car. You need to convince yourself that you can make your car respond better by squeezing the brakes hard instead of standing on the brakes; by rolling in the throttle rapidly instead of stomping on the gas; by turning the wheel quickly instead of cranking it around. Subtle, but it will show up in how often your car is in control instead of scrubbing off speed pushing around a corner. And it will take a lot of practice to become second nature.
Shift Near Redline
On the street, we don't usually shift near redline (high rpms); however, in autocross, you want to be making the most of the power available to you. You'll learn to hear the motor as you drive and stay in a low gear longer. Most courses will be in second gear for stock cars. If you're shifting to third, you're shifting too soon, and giving up power (ask local drivers if this is true in your region).
Don't worry about the blinkers, wipers or horn; you're bound to hit them as you drive. Don't let it throw you. We've all done it!
More Later. . .
There are many more techniques for getting better times; but, start with the ones listed above. After you've learned them, you'll be ready to buy a book on autocrossing or attend a driving school and learn the advanced techniques of heel/toe, shuffle steer, late apex, and more.
Attend as many events as you can. Go to the ones with the toughest competition; winning something local is fun, but losing to someone fast will probably teach you more. Attend driving schools in your area, or travel to another region. Always remember to have fun, even when you are being stomped by some national hotshoe. You'll never stop learning; the best drivers will tell you this still applies after ten or twenty years!
(Note: These tips are part of "SOLO II NOVICE HANDBOOK", copyright May 1996, compiled by Kate Hughes Glen Region, SCCA. Josh Sirota, San Francisco Region, and Andy Hollis, Houston Region, are also members of SCCA. Hollis is a four-time Pro Solo and Solo II National Champion.)
An interview with Jodi Fordahl by Tess McMillan
Jodi Fordahl is a force to be reckoned with in the world of autocross. She competes and instructs individuals involved in the sport. At an autocross school sponsored by the Bremerton Sports Car Club, I had the opportunity to ask her some questions about our club's autocross events. She 'demystifies' the sport with her responses.
Tess: What is the sanctioning body for the events and what are the
Jodi: The sanctioning body is PNWR PCA; we have our own rule structure. We look at the PCR's for some guidance, but the rule structure is so
convoluted, we decided we needed something a little simpler. The different levels of preparation are: Stock (S); Production (P); GT; and Modified, with
corresponding women's classes. The stock classes are just that: stock. Can't even run 'R' rated tires. Production allows many suspension modifications --
along with being able to change things like exhaust, intake, flywheel, etc. The GT classes are pretty highly modified cars that still run on D.O.T. approved
tires. You can switch engines, transmissions, add flares, etc. Modified classes are pretty much race cars running on slicks with gutted interiors.
Tess: How are points accumulated and what is the rationale for points distribution?
Jodi: The winner in a class is awarded 100 points. The rest of the class's points are awarded based on the winners time -- figured using a straight percentage. Some clubs used to award 10 pts. for 1st, 7 pts. for 2nd, 5 pts. for 3rd, etc. This didn't work since if someone won the first few events, nobody could catch him for the rest of the year, so there was no point to trying to contest for the year end win. Points are accumulated for year-end trophies, and some of the battles are pretty heated. Some championships are decided at the last event of the year, which can be quite exciting!
Tess: Why would a woman enter, say, an S class as opposed to an SW class?
Jodi: I personally feel the Women's classes are pretty important. We know that there is no physical reason for women to go slower than their male counterparts, but many of them do. I feel that if we want the women to come out, especially to begin with, we need to offer them a place to play where they don't feel they need to be ultra competitive to have a chance to win. All women have the option of running in either the open classes, or the women's classes. Some of them will run in the women's classes until they have some experience, then switch to the open classes. I find the level of competition to be better in the open classes, but continue to run in the women's classes because I would hate to see them go away. I just compare my times to the men's classes.
Tess: What is the logic behind entering the different classes -- is there any advantage to being in one class as opposed to another?
Jodi: The classes are all based on car preparation levels, although you can run a stock car in the production, GT, or 'mod' classes if you wish. Bill Buetow's car is completely Stock except for tires so he could run in the Production class quite legally -- but he finds more of a challenge running in GTO. I'm sure he feels it will make him a better driver to be running against people whose cars are far more prepared than his is. He usually manages to do quite well in GTO! Actually, until this year, Darryl Havens's car was legal for Production, but he chose to run GTO for the same reason.
Tess: Do participants need to enter all events for a given year?
Jodi: Participants do not have to enter all events for the year. You can drive as many or as few events as you wish. We have a total of 8 points events, two of which are tossed. This means that you could miss 2 events, and still get a perfect score (if you won all the remaining events). We toss the 2 worst events which could be just the two lowest points events, or one or two events that you missed. Each individual event stands on its own, but points are also awarded for your best 6 finishes for year end awards.
Tess: I had a little trouble 'reading' the course -- gates, single cones, pointer cones.... Do you have any tips?
Jodi: Most of the time gates are used by the course designer to restrict the line and to delineate the course. The course designer wants you to drive the course he designed, not one you make up for yourself. It would be very difficult to find your way around the course without the gates. Think about crossing from one side of the track to the other. How would you remember where to cross over if there was just one cone there and how would you remember which side of that cone you were supposed to drive on? Many courses are completely outlined in cones, many others are outlined in chalk. Nationals type courses are always lined in chalk to make it easier to tell where you are going. It becomes much easier to concentrate on your driving if you don't have to worry about finding the course. We don't do it locally because it is a lot of work and takes a lot of time to do. (We would also need to get rid of the chalk at the end of each event which is not an easy thing to do!) Pointer cones are usually placed where there is the most chance of confusion or if the course designer wants you to start a slalom on a particular side. If you are supposed to cross over to the other side of the course, sometimes there will be a series of cones laying on their sides to make you look in the right direction. Being able to read the course is not easy. It takes time to become familiar with the process. In the meantime, the more you can walk the course the better. That means concentrating on the course as you walk it, not walking in a big group of people talking and joking. Walking with an experienced autocrosser can help a great deal since they can point out what to look for.
Tess: How do you score the run, and does a winning run have to be a 'clean' run?
Jodi: The runs are scored by elapsed time using an electronic timing system. Times usually go out to 3 decimal places. Many times are actually close enough to require a thousandth of a second to decide the faster run. A winning time does not have to be clean, but it can be very difficult to overcome a 2 second penalty. For Porsche Club events we add 2 seconds for each displaced or knocked over cone, and 10 seconds for each missed gate. We usually call a run a DNF (did not finish) for more than 5 gates. On a National level, there is no such thing as a gate penalty -- if you miss a gate it is called Off Course or DNF.
Tess: I watched you taking new students through the course. What do you generally tell them as you're going out onto a course?
Jodi: I don't generally talk to my students while I am driving unless I am trying to point out a specific problem. I am actually trying to show students what it looks and feels like to drive the course at speed. When we come back in we usually sit and talk about a couple of specific points that the student needs to work on. Sometimes I tell them where I messed up and not to do it that way!
Tess: What car do you normally drive when you compete, and do you find it necessary to use different driving styles if you drive different cars?
Jodi: Last year I drove a 1995 Carrera in GTW. This year I have driven a different car every weekend. Greg and I are not sure what we are going to end up with so we are having fun switching cars. We are hoping to have a project car done at some point this year and then we will settle down for a while. At the last PCA event I drove Colin Watson's 1995 RS America which was loads of fun. It is definitely necessary to change your driving style in different cars. The principles remain the same across the spectrum, but rear engine, mid engine, and front engine all behave differently. Front drive, rear drive or all wheel drive are different, and different preparation levels all change the characteristics of a car. If you are used to a front engine car, switching to a rear engine car can be difficult to get used to and vice versa.
Tess: Could someone with automatic transmission really enjoy this and be competitive?
Jodi: I know of quite a few people who drive automatics quite successfully. There is a many-time SCCA National Champion who drives an automatic 1989 Corvette. It can be lots of fun, but once again takes a slightly different driving technique.
There you have it: a key for understanding the sport. Now all you need is a helmet and the directions to Bremerton Raceway, and you're on your way! By the way, autocross is almost as much fun for spectators as it is for competitors, so even if you do not wish to compete, you can still come out and join the fun!
By Gary Elwood
It's a beautiful sunny day and you're out for a spin in your shiny Porsche, enjoying the country roads, the scenery, and especially the curves that are letting you put the car to work. As you round the next bend, you suddenly realize the corner is getting tighter, and you're going maybe just a little too fast. What do you do? Scenario 1: Not a problem, as you have done skills day and been out to the autocross course for the past few events and are used to decreasing radius turns, so you know what to do. Scenario 2: You panic, lift off the throttle and stab the brakes, the rear end comes around and tries to pass the front end, it catches in the gravel on the side of the road, and before you know it, you're in the ditch, cell phone in hand, calling AAA to get a tow.
Sound impossible? Sure it could happen, but not to you? You've been driving for years and you know what you're doing, right? Right! One of the things I've learned as an instructor with skills day and with autocross, is that there are a lot of drivers out there who have very little clue what to do when the unexpected happens. That can also be interpreted as having minimal control of their car most of the time. To watch some of the better drivers on an autocross course is absolutely amazing when you realize the control they have over their cars at all times. At one event I was riding with a relatively new competitor, and she commented on how great it was to watch Jodi drive, and watch the car slide through almost every corner. I agree. When Jodi runs, she is driving at 10/10ths, and she is fast, very fast. She definitely has the car under control. Would that everyone driving on our roads had that kind of control. There would certainly be a lot fewer "accidents". And I'll guarantee you Jodi is not on her cell phone when she is traversing an autocross course.
The point is that when you become an autocross participant, you become a better driver. Autocross courses are not just a haphazard series of cones set within the confines of the track area. Each course is different, but they all include certain features that represent different challenges one faces on the roads, such as lane changes, increasing and decreasing radius curves, braking and acceleration zones, and much more. These are the things you don't learn in high school drivers ed. Being able to hold your car at the absolute limit of adhesion is a skill most drivers will never learn. In fact, most drivers will never come close. But like most things, with practice you get better, and that's one of the advantages of becoming an autocrosser.
Where else can you practice these skills in a controlled and safe environment? In all the years I've been autocrossing with PNWR the worst I've seen is a little mud and grass caught in the tire bead when a car slid off the wet pavement onto the grass. Oh yes, there is also the risk of "cone marks" on the side of the car, but that is nothing a bit of Meguiar's #9 won't take care of. Believe me, I know from experience, many times over.
So, what is an autocross? For those who have never experienced or seen an autocross, perhaps I should explain. An autocross is a driving event on a closed course, defined by traffic cones. It is run one car at a time, against the clock, so the drivers can see the improvement in their driving based on the timed runs. There is competition within the various classes, which are determined by a number of factors such as engine size and power, modifications to the engine and suspension of the vehicle, and also tires. The "slowest" class is usually the stock class, which allows no modifications from the factory, and is further divided based on power to weight ratio. At present there are four stock classes, S1, S2, S3 and S4. For those who wish to modify their cars slightly, there are the "production" classes, based on the stock counterparts. For the highly modified and race cars, there are the GTU and GTO classes, as well as Modified. For the beginner, these classes are basically out of the question, as most of those cars are not daily drivers, and many are not even street legal.
The objective of an autocross is to drive as quickly as possible through the prescribed course. The day starts with registration, at which time each participant is given a map of the course and then allowed time to "walk" the course, usually two or more times, to become familiar with it prior to driving the course. One of the latest ideas implemented is to provide a "guided" walk-through for beginners, and anyone else who wishes to join the group, led by an experienced driver who will give instruction on how to dissect a course, plan an attack, and how to drive each portion of the course. That instructor will point out nuances of the course, when to accelerate and when to brake, how to attack slaloms, and other bits of information about the course. Most beginners find this to be helpful, as too often on their first run of the course it appears to be nothing but a sea of cones. Since this can be discouraging, we try to provide every possible means to avoid this and provide a happy, exciting and meaningful experience for the drivers. After all, autocrossing should be a fun learning experience, not a trial. While the drivers are doing their walk-through, a tech crew checks each car for any obvious deficiencies such as a loose battery, badly worn wheel bearings, loose lug nuts, etc. Any problems are reported to the driver at the drivers' meeting.
Following the walk-through time, a drivers' meeting is called and the chairperson goes over the rules and regulations, discusses assignments, points out instructors for those who are new and don't know most of the people, and generally welcomes everyone and answers any questions. The group is then divided into their classes and "run groups", of which there may be either two or three, depending on how many cars are there for that day. With a hundred cars, it is necessary to divide into three groups or it would take far too long to get each group finished. While one group lines their cars up in the grid to drive, the other group works. Work assignments are handed out following the drivers' meeting and consist of starter, grid marshal, timing and scoring, and corner workers. For the beginners, working the corners can be a great learning experience, as they get to see how the better drivers attack the course, and what happens when mistakes are made. When the first group finishes their turns at driving (each driver usually gets five runs on the course), the groups switch. Depending again on the number of participants, there is often a lunch break at this time. After all groups have had their turns at the timed runs, the course is opened for "fun runs". These are timed, but not entered for the competitive "points" portion of the event. Again, the group is divided in two, this time not based on classes, and while one group works, the other runs, and once again the switch is made. This is a great opportunity to practice more, and a good chance to get additional instruction, if so desired.
Then there is the social aspect of autocross. Even though there are often over a hundred drivers at our events, the friendly atmosphere and helpfulness make you feel like a part of the group even your first time out. There are lots of instructors willing to help, and I've never known a participant not to be willing to give advice and share their secrets of how to get that extra second cut off your time. In fact, most of the drivers even help their closest competitors. One aspect of the social scene has been gathering after the events at one of the local eateries to talk about the day's event and get to know each other better. After all, everyone has to eat, right? So why not join a bunch of club members and get to know each other?
The autocross season usually consists of ten events. The first, generally in February, is a practice event that does not count towards season points for those who choose to compete for the season. This is a great opportunity for newcomers to try the sport, as there is no charge for the practice event, often sponsored one of our club supporters. Then there is basically one event per month through the year, with the last event in November. Weather does not affect the running of the events. We have even held them with snow on the ground. After all, most of us drive every day and, living in the Northwest, it is great to have an opportunity to practice our skills on a wet track so we will be more confident and competent on the wet streets.