Man it feels good to get back on a racetrack! My lovely new Brocinante, recently recovered from open chassis surgery, finally made her debut in the arena, and what an arena it was.
Injae Speedium, a new circuit in the rugged mountains of northeastern Korea, slots into that sweet spot between beautiful and diabolical. Just less than 2.5 miles long, the course packs 20 turns (at least five of which are blind), a 120 mph front straight and elevation gradients up to 12 degrees. The backdrop is granite cliff face and ancient evergreen forest. The entrance is lined with Ducati super bikes. Me likey.
I ended up visiting Injae almost by accident. One of my college students. Jungi, used to work in a race shop and he has the toys to show for it. What he doesn’t have, due to nature of being a full time student, living far away from said university and working in the family business as well, is free time. When finals ended, then, Jungi suggested that, perhaps, getting an automobile sideways at triple digit speeds might be a useful tonic to the accumulated stress of the school year.
I invited Chris, a Canadian gentleman I’ve known since the late Tudor period, to try his first track day and soon our little group swelled to three. My own self in the ferocious Brocinante, Jungi in a heavily modified Chevy Cruz and Chris in that most famous of racing machines, the 2002 Kia Optima.
While our mighty machines (which just happen to be modified front wheel drive commuter cars) would outclass and dominate virtually any collection of racecars, the morning of race day brought us face to face with the most impressive (and most expensive) collection of metal I’d ever been on track with. Lotus Elise, check. Corvette ZR1, check. Several Nissan GTRs, check. A dizzying variety of Porsches, of course.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous at first. First, Injae has three of the most evil corners I’ve ever seen, including corner one – a blind, down hill, double apex monster that I was entering at about 120 mph – and corner 19, an equally blind uphill left hander that opens onto the front straigh at about 85 mph and is lined with thousands of pounds of soft, forgiving, concrete crash barrier. Second, I’d only recently finished breaking my new motor in. I’d never subjected Brocinante to anything close to the thrashing she was going to endure that day. Third, I can’t tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard about how aftermarket turbocharged cars are basically just time bombs.
So we had an evil track, an untested car, an unfamiliar environment and blindingly fast traffic to navigate. What could possibly go wrong?
Amazingly, our little troupe had no major problems. I ended up killing the already sick battery (fixed for $40 on the way home) and pulling the front swaybar to neutralize understeer. Chris discovered the limits of his stock radiator, Jungi’s brakes got a little hot and … that was it.
And what a blast in the mean time. I ran a best time of 2:12.61 seconds and had some really fun scraps with both an Audi TT-RS and a couple of BMW M3s. Jungi just squeaked in faster than me with a 2:12.15 second lap and, officially done with final exams, started to look like a human being again. Chris killed all the vermin infesting the grass outside turn one, maintained a huge, goofy grin for at least two days and tussled with modern sedans costing an order of magnitude more than his Optima.
I think the real, basic reason I like cars is because they are complicated systems with a lot of compromises. They function as infinitely variable puzzles, tabula rasa, expressions of creativity and daring. And I think that’s part of the reason I like track days so much. Like literally every other time I’ve been to track, I learned of several new puzzle pieces I need to shuff around.
Brocinante makes about 295 horsepower at the flywheel (assuming a 15% powertrain loss), is front wheel drive and has an open differential. This turned out to be a hilarious limitation. If I wasn’t careful, I could convert the front right-hand tire into plooms of white smoke all the way through first gear, all the way through second gear and most of the way through third gear coming out of the uphill hairpin. Yes, that means I was getting wheelspin up to nearly 90 mph. To say that I spent a good portion of each lap peddling the turbo 2.0L is a massive understatement.
Second, a 215/45/r17 is a reasonably sporty tire. However, a 215/45/r17 with a treadware rating of 620 – less so. I’m going to try the next track day with a better tire, hopefully with a much softer 235/40/17 up front, and see if I can’t get away without installing an LSD.
Third, I may or may not have lit the brake pads on fire, twice. Perhaps some brake cooling ducts are needed, though I’m a little reluctant on this step. I’ve lit the brake pads on fire at literally every track event thus far and feel it’s a tradition worth keeping up.
Fourth, I have a long torso, I need to wear a helmet on track, Tuscani’s have low rooflines and mine has a sunroof cutting even farther into headroom. I’ve never had to gangster lean on a race track before. As much as I love my heated leather seats, a lower-mounted racing bucket is probably on the agenda.
So, until next time, keep tinkering!