A Lap Around Memphis International Raceway 944spec

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I want this article to serve as a primer for running the road course at Memphis International Raceway and help new drivers come up to speed quickly. Memphis is a short, rough and very rewarding track to drive with a surprising amount of nuance.

Memphis International Raceway road course track map showing the mathematically correct optimal line for a momentum car. Service courtesy of Race Optimal.

 

Up first is a fast lap video during a 944spec race from early 2020. Clocking in at a 1.18.1s.

 

Turn 1 @ :33s

Turn 1 is called the carousel and is a long right hander with a very slight bank. On the approach there are 3 markers at the end of the main straight on the left wall. I initiate my braking slightly before the first marker as there is a lot of work to be accomplished between marker 1 and 3. Brake application is in the mid range scrubbing just enough speed to smoothly start changing the attitude of the car while blipping the throttle to heal/toe into 4th. This is finished before the third marker where the turn in for turn 1 begins.

The turn in should be slow and smooth carrying a good amount of momentum into the turn. If you feel the need to abruptly turn in you have entered too late and are scrubbing too much momentum.

Start feeding throttle back into the car during the initial turn in. Throttle should be applied progressively as the car is looking to take a set at this point. Use whatever combination of maintenance throttle, left foot braking and throttle breathing you prefer to keep the car balanced during the first third of the turn. Once you feel the car set, start feeding more throttle. You should be full throttle no later than mid turn, the traffic cone @42s. Regardless of entry position, the car should be on the inside of the turn at this point to open up the exit. You need to be full throttle from the exit of turn 1 to the entrance of the M’s.

On exit as the car unwinds and drifts to the outside, make sure to focus on turn 2 on the inside of the track. If you focus on the outside exit it is very easy to run out of track and into the grass.

Summary: Carry as much momentum into turn 1 as you can while maintaining control of the car. ‘Widen’ the exit by arcing towards the bottom of the turn allowing the car to travel to the outside of the turn on exit. And most importantly, balance these variables in a manner that allows full throttle from mid turn to exit.

Turn 2 @48s

Turn 2 is almost a continuation of turn 1. Notice in the video I never fully unwind the steering after turn 1 and instead, follow a gradual arc to the apex of turn 2. Turn 2 isn’t near as important as turn 3 so if you missed the apex, don’t worry too much. It is really just a transition turn.

Turn 3 ‘the kink’ @52s

I see a lot of people lose time in the kink. The pavement in turn 3 undulates and it is a high speed, full throttle left hander where the car feels like it’s fully loaded and bouncing. Not confidence inspiring. The number one issue I see in this turn is a mid to late entry. A smooth, early entry will keep the car much happier. Notice @50s I am already holding a small steering angle allowing for a larger arc around the apex. An abrupt entry means you are waiting too long to turn and unsettles the car more.

Astute listeners will notice I am using a 6000rpm maintenance throttle in this turn. My car will bounce off the limiter if I don’t do this and data doesn’t suggest it being worthwhile to shift to 5th before the turn.

Turns 4/4A/5 ‘The M’s’ @54s

Note: Ignore 3A in the reference map. It’s not really a turn.

Once the car straightens at the exit of the kink it is hard on the brakes while downshifting to 3rd. Focus on the right-side curbing for your entry point and turn in crisply. You are going right, left right in this series. Do not exaggerate these turns. They are subtle and you will be prone to understeer and sudden oversteer. Instead, focus on an early right entry, followed by an early left entry mid series. This will open up the last right turn slightly allowing for earlier throttle application. The most important thing to focus on is the exit speed of this series.

Summary: This one’s hard but you can enter the M’s 10 different times and the car will act different every time. You aren’t going to set a track record in the M’s but you can definitely blow one on the exit. Focus on exit speed with all other aspects of this section coming second.

Additional Notes: A mentor once told me that the M’s are a straight line. I didn’t understand this for the longest but one day it clicked. If done right, 4 and 4A become almost inconsequential and the exit becomes the only turn in this series. It then feels as if the track is rotating around the car.

Turns 6/6A ‘The 90’s’ @1.08s

The 90’s are two left then right 90 degree turns back to back. From the M’s you are full throttle till the first brake cones. Braking is hard and quick staying or downshifting into 3rd. Trail brake into the entry to rotate the car, kissing the inside apex of 6. Bring your eyes through the turn and immediately feed progressive throttle while turning right.

Caution Note: Going from a tight left to immediate right makes the rear more prone to stepping out. Balance the car with a smooth progressive throttle application through the right portion and if the car starts stepping out, don’t worry about over correcting. The outside of turn 6A is lined with cones so swapping ends is relatively harmless should you go both feet in. However, if you lose control and continue to fight the car, there is a chance to hook to the inside and into the drainage or wall.

With that said, you can get pretty aggressive with the throttle in the 90’s once you understand how your car goes through. I get on the throttle immediately after the trail brake phase and use a tiny bit of throttle induced oversteer to help the car rotate a little quicker on exit of 6A.

Turn 7 ‘Grant’s Tomb’ @1.22s

Warning: This isn’t an inherently difficult section but it is the section with the highest consequences on the track. Surrounded by wall on both sides at one point.

Turn 7 is rotates the car a full 180 degrees and back onto the main straight. Unlike the carousel though, entry is through a bit of semi aggressive trail braking. Sacrificing a little bit of entry speed for more control mid phase and more speed on exit. In other words, I am squaring off the entry which makes the arc of the rest of the turn less dramatic, yielding an earlier and more aggressive return to full throttle and throttle steering through the turn.

Summary: Use caution until you are comfortable with the car, your control skills and the turn itself. This is a section that you need to build up speed in. Approach the limit from the bottom.

The Straight

Tighten your belts, wave to the flagger, take a few breaths and contemplate the meaning of this life, etc… It’s a long straight that returns you to the carousel. Start/Finish is at the drag strip timing boards.

Rain Notes

To continue…

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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