“Yes! That’s it!” my instructor Alain van der Heide exclaimed when I finally used the full track and got all the way out to the rumble strips on turn 7 of High Plains Raceway in one of our rain-interrupted afternoon sessions. Things that he and Jeff Machian, my Saturday instructor, had been telling me for two days. Of course, now I was coming in too hot for turn 8 and missed the apex as usual, but I definitely felt like I was improving and it felt pretty good.
I’ve wanted to drive on a racetrack for a long time and after a number of false starts, this past weekend’s RMC BMW HPDE finally all came together.
My journey started way back in the 90s when I’d bought a beater MGB and autocrossed it a couple of times, which was generally good for two or three runs before something would break. Eventually, I got an M Roadster and looked into doing the HPDE, but was dismayed to discover that convertibleswithout full roll cages were not allowed. Once, I did try out a half-day open lapping, but that was pretty intimidating. I signed up when I first got my ’01 330Ci, but issues found in tech inspection knocked me out. Last year I did a few autocrosses but couldn’t make things work for the fall school. Finally this year, I was determined to make it work and got the car tech’ed early so I could deal withany problems and I signed up for both days.
Saturday morning I arrived at the track, excited but also nervous. Whatwould my instructor be like? Would my car perform? Would I be the slowest one out there? Will there be any issues with my tech inspection? Where should I park?
I ended up just parking out on the outer edge, found Barb to check in, then emptied all the crap from my car. Then it was on to the safety briefing and our first classroom session. Yellow flags, checkered flags, late apexes, smooth turns. Yep, got it. Or not. It was a blur to be honest. At the end of the session, Friso said that we should have gotten an email with our instructor pairings. I found it on my phone and to my dismay discovered I was doing lead/follow, even though both of us were vaccinated. No matter, Friso talked to my instructor Jeff who was perfectly happy to do in car. Yay!
For the first session, Jeff drove around for a lap showing me the line, then we pulled into the hot pit and switched seats. I nervously drove around, missing the line in every corner for the first lap or two. We got into a cadence of Jeff saying, “brake, brake, brake…turn in…unwind…” that worked pretty well for me and I felt like by the end of the session I was at least approximating the lines. The second session was a continuation of the first, but by the end I realized I was starting to listen more to Jeff than focusing on the track markers for my timing. Something to focus on for the next session.
Lunch break had one of the best parts of the weekend, the instructor ride-alongs! I got in line at the hot pit and when my turn came, I tried to squeeze my overly large self into a modified M3 with a full roll cage and 5 point harness. It did not go well, and it was suggested I find a bigger car. So I crawled back out and just as I got out, Justin pulled up in his Porsche GT2 RS. I mean, I love BMWs, but damn this is one amazing machine. I fit in this one great, better than in my own 330Ci. Once I was buckled in, Justin took me on the wildest two-and-a-half minute ride of my life. The acceleration of the car is insane.
We were sliding a bit coming out of turns and Justin calmly said his tires were shot. He was just chatting away as if we were on a 30 mph Sunday drive instead of shooting down the back straight at 150 mph. It was amazing.
After lunch and another classroom session I was back in my own rather sedate car. I had forgotten to mention to Jeff that maybe we should do a lap or two where he not give me audible cues so that I would focus on the track markers instead, but without having said a word it was as if he read my mind and we switched to that mode. I definitely got better in my last two sessions but still wasn’t really using the whole track, apexing early in spots, and having some issues downshifting after going to 4th gear on the back straight away.
By the time the last session in the rain was done, I was pretty beat both mentally and physically. Saturday night I wasn’t sure I really wanted to do day 2. But I actually got a good night’s sleep that night and by 5 am when I woke up, I was ready to go. Sunday my instructor was Alain van der Heide.
Alain’s enthusiasm was contagious. I think he was more excited when I nailed a turn than I was. It was great. He couldn’t see it with the helmet on but I had a big grin when he told me, “I don’t think you could have done that turn any better,” when I finally got all the way out on the turn 7 exit.
Again I took advantage of the ride-alongs during lunch. First with Jeff in his GT3. I do love those Porsches. It was really cool to get to see some of what he had been telling me to do on Saturday, especially how deep he actually went into turn 6 compared to what I had been doing. Finally, I rode with Steve Moody in his M4. His laps were probably the most precise on the school line that I took all weekend. It is just incredibly generous, and educational, that the instructors do these ride-alongs with the students and I really appreciated it.
After a rain delay, I had my final session. There were a couple of interesting spots where I was behind another car and when I had the right line, I caught up to them, but when I didn’t, they moved away from me. The first couple of laps were probably among my best all weekend, but then I felt my focus fading towards the end. But just as I was thinking I’d call it, the checkered flag came on and it was time to go.
In the last classroom session, Friso asked what our expectations were and had they been met? To be honest, beyond “have fun” and “learn something” I’m not really sure what my expectations were. What I do know is whatever expectations I had, they were greatly exceeded. Everybody was exceptionally nice and I felt like I learned a ton both on the track and in the classroom. I can’t thank everyone enough from my driving instructors Jeff and Alain, to Friso and the other classroom instructors, to Barb and Janet and all of the grid workers and other volunteers. Thanks for a great weekend, can’t wait until the next one!