Road Atlanta experience: Round 3
It's been almost a month now since I finally have had the time to unwind from yet another amazing trip to Road Atlanta with Global Time Attack and Formula Drift. It's always a challenge for me to digest events of this nature just due to the extreme quality of the events and fast pace that they come at you as a driver. I have put this short writing together to sum up my thoughts of not only the trip, but also the things I have learned at Road Atlanta to hopefully help fellow drivers navigate this daunting and challenging racetrack.
Every Global Time Attack: Road Atlanta event starts for us with months of preparation on the car in efforts to be ready for the torture test at the track, but that being assumed, we’ll move on to the bigger challenge. The 1900 mile road trip to Road Atlanta is never straight forward or without issues. This year was no different. Our schedule initially was to leave Tuesday Morning and to arrive late Wednesday or early Thursday at our destination. In the week leading up to the trip, we had anxiously been watching the weather reports at Road Atlanta to see if the gamble for rain would be higher than in the past. While rain in May in Braselton isn’t unheard of this time of year, it's usually more of a threat than a reality. Rain quickly will come out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. In this case though, we noticed the rain was coming from Texas this year.
But wait, we have to drive THROUGH Texas! And then we looked more closely at the weather reports and saw numerous areas of tornado watches and warnings, as well as large hail. This is one of those curve balls that causes teams to have to think about their options very carefully to minimize risk to the end goal. Our options were pretty straight forward. We could leave Tuesday morning on either the I-10 or I-40 but would risk getting caught in some absolutely torrential weather. Or we could leave immediately. As in right now. This exact second.
To take a step back, its 7pm at night, everyone had just gotten off work and was contemplating a nice restful evening. Thankfully I had prepared the truck and trailer in advanced and the car was already loaded. Besides my personal gear, we were ready to go. So after studying the weather again and again and weighing the options of either choice, we decided to jump in the truck and go. My team scrambled to get their personal gear together, and get on the road.
Our goal was simple and clear. We needed to get thru Shreveport before Tuesday afternoon or we would likely get stuck in Texas and be delayed 1-2 days. We had two drivers which definitely was key to getting this task done. We arrived just outside of Fort Stockton Texas just before 4am Tuesday morning. We had a head start. After 2 hours of sleep in the truck we kept pushing on. As the afternoon rolled on, we cleared Dallas without incident. The high winds were damaging the trailer though with a panel coming loose on the right side so we had to stop and repair the issue before it caused serious damage. In the mirror the storms were looming and the sky was darker than ever. It seems though we had accomplished our goal and beat the storms across Texas.
We slept someplace in Louisiana, and the next morning while getting coffee we saw on the news that Shreveport has been mostly flooded with many roads and highways impassable. Bullet dodged! Minus a little more weather, the roads were clear and safe all the way to our destination. We arrived almost almost 8 hours earlier than expected which is far better than the 1 day late it could have been. Like I said, the trip to Atlanta never lets us down and always commands proper planning and preparation.
This is our 3rd time to this track with Global Time Attack / Formula Drift. So expectations for us as a team were higher than in our first or second year. The car was prepared and the weather was clearing.
The NSX as it stood when it ran a 1:39.9 back in 2017.
I had previously ran a 1:39.9 at this track and My goal was to try to get near the 1:36’s this year with no changes to the car other than a rear wing change. I planned on doing this with the help of an APEX Pro unit and really studying what the car was doing at specific corners that we could use to an advantage. We know we are slow between turns 8-10, 5-6 and 12-1 relatively speaking so we wanted to maximise 1-5, 6-7, and 10-12.
My approach to the course this year would be a little different than before. I do not like to just push as hard as I can to see where I will make mistakes. Mainly because those mistakes often can lead to injury or damage to the car itself. And seeing as we don’t get paid for these events, damaging myself or the car aren’t options I take lightly.
Thursday was used purely as a day of making sure the car works and getting my eye back onto the courses braking zones as well as studying the new repaved area. We did collect some data using our APEX Pro device as well for review with Andrew Rains while he was on site for the day.
The NSX has always been a bit of a weird machine in the sense that it doesn’t react quite the same to inputs as alot of other cars, which of course is to be expected due to its MR layout. One concept that I have been focusing on with the car is to roll as much mid corner speed as possible. Duh right? We all try to do that. But what's critical is if I do NOT maximise mid corner speed, the front end will always understeer. Essentially if I come into a corner to slow, I will either have to coast to the apex or expect a mild understeer. Neither of these tend to translate into faster lap times for me, so I really focused on not over braking and scrubbing speed / rotating the car towards the apex and being on the gas just before I arrived. If I was able to hit the gas much earlier, I definitely was leaving entry speed on the table.
Turn 1 and 2
This concept was particularly important for turn 1. While a lot of folks were having great success braking hard and late track left, every time I tried that method, the cars speed up the hill was greatly reduced. So I started braking fairly gently (slowing from 125 to about 105) and using ‘soft hands’ to bring the car towards the apex…. The car would initially understeer on the off camber bit on the entry but if you commit to it, you’ll quickly arrive at the positive camber section. At this point I had fully committed the throttle to the ground and rode the positive camber out to where it flattens slightly mid way up the hill. This placed the car slightly track left and more or less parallel to the left side curbing. This allows turn 2 to be a very slight minuscule directional change grabbing just the SMALLEST amount of the curb. If you have ever driven Atlanta before, you realize how this uphill process will have significant impact on your lap times as your path through turn 3 will dictate your entry into the Esses.
After negotiating turn 2 as parallel as I could minimizing the amount of left input required, I was able to apply a mild brake pedal and downshift and immediately attack turn 3, using a healthy amount of curbing on the right side. I found that working on this section and looking at ways to fully committed to the gas pedal AT 3 would yield a significant increase in entry speed into 4 / the Esses.
Apex Pro Notes: I found that on the entry to 3 I would see a quick transition from red to full green LED’s. On the Track out the bar was nearly solid green on my fast laps as I transitioned to the entry of Turn 4.
Turn 4 - Esses
Visually, it's hard to see why there is so much time to be had in the Esses until you’ve seen them from the turn 5 perspective. It is such a steep hill that the amount of speed you can roll through them is mind boggling. With a correct entry, it is possible to virtually straight line them as well so bringing tons of entry speed and committing to the series of corners is a must. I find that the first right hand esse will always tempt you to come in to early due to its blind nature. Stay track left through turn 4 and focus on anticipating where the corner actually is. If you wait till you see if you will be too late. But if you dive in early without really finding a reference point you’ll be to early and have to let off the gas to make the next left hand esse.
Apex Pro Notes: Honestly going through here I was focusing to much on the task at hand to really utilize the unit to its potential, but in post data, I saw that I was able to achieve nearly full green LED’s in each esse, and then as you transition from left to right you’ll see a brief flash of Red LED’s. On my faster laps, the red LED’s were lit for less time indicating a quicker directional change it seems!
Turn 5 is very deceiving in nature, just like the esses. As again, you cannot see how steep the elevation change is while IN car. The amount of speed you can carry through 5 is tremendous and I still need to work on carrying more. Realizing that the turn in is at the BOTTOM of the hill and that the car will lose a ton of speed heading up the hill is an eye opener. Braking before turn in should be minimal in most mid to lower power cars, mostly just to set the front end on turn in. I cannot stress enough, do NOT try to hold the car track left. Let it track to the right, use a bit of the curb if necessary. If you try to place the car too far to the left I've seen quite a few cars get unsettled and the wall is closer than it looks. Also, be careful not to brake with your outside wheels on the curb as locking up is very easy!
Apex Pro Notes: When I was able to carry more speed through here, my Apex Pro data would show light green. If you are over braking here you’ll most likely see more yellow and red in your data.
Turn 6 is another intimidating turn that you can carry WAY more speed than you suspect. Again, looking at the corner from outside of the car is very helpful. A hundred feet roughly before the entry you’ll notice a depression which can’t easily be seen in the car. This depression is an excellent spot to brake while the vehicle is under compression. If you brake just before this, you actually risk a light lock up / slower braking performance due to the downwards sloping terrain. I also found that over braking here was fairly easy to do and I had to really practice going in with less brake pressure than expected to really roll speed. This turn works well with a ‘soft hands’ approach and trusting that the excessive amounts of camber will keep you firmly planted. I tried to be full throttle once I turned in all the way to the entry of turn 7.
Apex Pro Notes: This is one corner that I found TONS of time with the Apex Pro’s LED system live. I progressively used the brakes less and less and pushed more speed through the corner until the Greed LED’s are all I saw. I can tell you that the speed you can carry through here is quite uncomfortable at first! #trustthelights
What more can be said about turn 7 than this is where you will lose grip of time if you don’t nail it. It leads up to the longest straight away on the track so it will penalize you for a poor entry. Initially this corner would tempt me with an early entry which of course you’ll just run out of space and be on the throttle way to late to achieve your lap time goals. Once I started watching some of the faster competition entering later and essentially ‘straightening’ out the corner, I started to see lap times fall. Turn in for me was about the 2nd to last colored piece of the strip to the left of the corner entry.
Apex Pro Notes: With proper thresh hold braking and a late turn in, the post session fast lap data would reflect nearly all green from turn 6 to turn 7 with a slight flash of red when transitioning to the brakes from throttle.
Turn 8 and 9
I actually had trouble finding these turns initially because of how straight you take them.
10a and b can be tricky and again, a lot of time to be lost here with an improper course to begin with. I suggest ‘giving up’ 10a a bit and focusing on staying track left as you get through 10a. This will allow you to get on to the gas EARLY going into 10b, which will increase your speed over and thru turn 11 and also have you going relatively straight over the hill. I find that if you focus too much on the corner speed for 10a, you’ll be far track right going into 10b and in turn will be going slower through the following 11 and 12
This one is simply a confidence builder. If you have been working on 10a/b as discussed before, you more or less will be going full throttle over this hill. I found myself shifting into 4th right on the other side of the hill and driving straight over towards the left side curbing. Once you have crested the hill and get most of the way down towards 12 you’ll notice the track starts to flatten out quite a bit. This area is your turn in. If you turn in early, you’ll likely bump the apex strip at 12 which will send you cross track to the left side wall. If you turn in late, you’re just going to run out of room and have to slow down… or yep. Find that pesky wall.
That's it! That is my quick walk through of my trip to Atlanta and some tips to read before going to the new folks out there or those trying to find more speed.
I highly recommend using an APEX Pro device if you can while learning these tracks as its live feedback and after the fact data is invaluable.