NASA Midsouth Regional Championship and Track Record: Hunka Hunka Burnin Rubber at MIR (Nov 2019)

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Most of my goals revolve around racing in some fashion and I’m always looking for new ways to push myself. And since I secured the 944spec Regional Championship back in August, I needed something new to focus on. I started by maintaining my intensity while the pressure was off. I’m very happy with the progress in this department. Going almost undefeated the last half of the season. But then something else came along that piqued my interest

Controlling the field through the M’s on lap 1.

There is a long standing 944spec record set eons ago before I started in the series. Legend says this record, a 1.17 and change was set running a slightly altered course in the tight ’90’s’ section at Memphis International Raceway by a former national champ. It just so happened, we were running this configuration during one of the last races of the season. That meant a new goal, break the track record!

Preparation

To me this was a mental challenge. I have never raced nor really seen the alternate 90’s config at MIR. What I am used to is a heavy braking zone with a 4th to 3rd downshift on approach to the 90’s. Making it a slow 3rd gear 90 degree left immediately followed by a 90 degree right. The transition from left to right is a patience turn. Too little throttle and the exit is too slow, too much and the car loses traction and the exit is … too slow. Trail brake in, maintenance mid turn moving to progressive throttle with full throttle on exit is the proper sequence of events.

But what would be the proper sequence of events if this area was opened up? Instead of consecutive 90’s, what if they were more 45’s? I needed to answer this question and start working on a new mindset for this race in order to break the current record. It doesn’t seem like a lot of work but I was also working against hundreds of laps of muscle memory.

What if the 90’s were opened up?

That’s pretty simple to answer. It would no longer be a slow 3rd gear turn but a much quicker 4th gear turn/kink through a rougher surface that would be a little unsettling to the car. Meaning my brake and shift points, entry, throttle application, etc… would all be wrong.

Fortunately, I’m a visual thinker and have been blessed with a viviud imagination. This is a huge benefit when it comes to racing although socially I have been accused of being ‘stuck in my head’ on occasion.

With a good idea of how the turn would change, I went back to some of my more recent videos at MIR. Specifically the 360 ones. I would pause the video at various places through the standard 90’s, pan the camera to the sides and start building a picture of what the turn would look like when opened up. Where the car should be placed, when to brake and how much, (if at all) and how aggressive to be on the throttle.

The car goes where the eyes go. Transitioning through the M’s my eyes are already focused on the next turn. Even as the wheels transition from the opposite direction.

In the end, I settled on two areas that would give me a distinct advantage. First, using the minimal amount of braking to rotate the car on entry and second, get on the throttle as soon and as hard as possible. These two thoughts are the antithesis of how this turn is usually approached but would also yield the biggest gains.

On the days leading up to the race, I would close my eyes and visualize myself driving through the new turn at the limit. Playing with different lines and entries in my head so I would be prepared for anything. Pausing my mental ‘video’ to check my steering input and throttle position. Again, the vivid imagination pays huge dividends here.

This all was basically a form of mental programming. On race day, I had a mental map and strategy of how to approach a new obstacle on track. And since the body follows the mind, I had a pretty good advantage going into the race.

(If you’re wondering, I settled on slight brake before initiating entry, early and slow rotation with maintenance throttle then full throttle as soon as the turn begins opening.)

Results

Results speak for themselves and on lap 1 I was already attacking the new section to the tune of a 2 second advantage. Not only did the track record fall on lap one, I was then able to shave close to one additional second from that. At the end of the race I was p1, set a new track record by close to a 2 second margin and lapped over 1 second faster than my quickest competition. All on an unseen (to me) track configuration. Setting the new 944spec record at a low 1.16 at Memphis International Raceway. Woohoo.

Awards (Regional Championship)

After that, I hurried to the farm to put the chickens up. (Yep, that is a real sentence.) And made it back to the track just in time for the awards ceremony where I took first in 944spec for the second year running.

Midsouth 944spec Regional Champ for 2019. Myself (Christopher Simmons)

 

 

 

By Chris Simmons

Chris Simmons is a race car driver, instructor, business owner and all around gearhead. His passion for motorsport started in the drifting community over 10 years ago and progressed into wheel to wheel racing of all kinds. When off track Chris can be found training and working on a myriad of projects. After a hiatus from writing, he is back to share his passion, knowledge and experience in regard to motorsports on and off the track.

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