Formula Mazda School
at Russell Racing, Sears Point California
In April 1997 I finally decided to get into sports car racing. I rented a Spec Racer Ford from Ray LaRue for an all day practice session at the Pueblo sports car track. It was fun, but very humbling. I began to realize that just driving a car on the street every day of your life has nothing whatsoever to do with the driving skills that must be learned for the racetrack.
I had great fun, chased a lot of other cars, but almost everyone was going a lot faster than I could get the car to go. And it was not the fault of the car. I had a good car, but simply had no race driving skills. But I wanted to learn more.
So, I decided to go back to Russell Racing school at Sears Point for their
Advanced Racing Course in the Formula Mazda open wheel racecars. For three days
in May 1997 I drove this nifty car:
Day One: The first day of this school was just getting familiar with the car. The mechanics helped us get fitted into the car, moving pedals and adding foam in the seats. Then we did shifting and braking exercises to get used to the feel of the car. Next we started working on the first few turns of the Sears point racetrack.
These cars can do a quarter mile dragstrip run in 11 seconds at about 115 mph. They can stop from 60 mph in under 80 feet. Lateral acceleration is over 2 g's. This car only weighs about 1150 pounds and has about 170 horsepower... that's roughly equivalent to 500 horsepower in 3000 pound car. Pretty exciting
The little cockpit is very cozy, with a lot of steel tubing forming the frame. By the end of the first day, I had bruises on my legs from hitting against the frame tubes. That night I went to a sporting goods store and bought some knee pads to wear on my legs. That stopped the bruises.
Day Two: On the second day we did a bunch of very useful exercises. We did a slalom course, using mostly the throttle and just slight steering wheel movements to steer the car. In addition to learning about throttle-off oversteer to slide the car and throttle-on weight transfer to get the rear end to stick.
Then we drove as fast as possible around a small oval course, sort of skid-pad sized, that gave us plenty of experience at spinning the car, recovery from spins and avoiding spins.
Next we worked on threshold braking, accelerating to about 90 mph and then stopping as quickly as possible without locking up any of the wheels. Amazing how quickly these cars stop with the big racing slicks.
By the end of the second day the entire class of fourteen wannabe racers were chasing each other around the entire Sears Point 2.54 mile road course.
Day Three: All day was spent lapping the track. We would do about 10 laps and then come in for a critique by our instructors. Then back out onto the track for more laps. By the end of the day we were all going a lot faster and driving with better technique.
It was actually very tiring to try to concentrate so hard all day long. The goal is to drive the car as fast as it will go, not just fast enough to be exciting, but pushing the car (and the driver) right to the ultimate limits. That is really very difficult and requires total concentration and exacting accuracy. All in all, it is very tiring, and very exciting.