What is an Autocross?
The autocross season is getting tantalizingly close for those of us addicted to the smell of race gas in the morning dawn. The first event is set for Sunday, March 19th, at Alameda Point. Time to get the car tuned up and aligned, the sticky tires mounted, and quickly re-read “Secrets of Solo Racing.” But for those of you who have not yet experienced an autocross, don’t worry about that last bit, all you need to do to get started in autocross is to show up!
So what is an autocross and why would you come out to one? These Porsches we all drive are remarkably capable machines. So capable, in fact, that you can’t even come close to exploring their true performance potential in any sane and legal way on the public streets. An autocross is the perfect venue for learning what your car can really do, as well as developing your car control skills, in a very safe and controlled environment. But beyond the intellectual appeal of those reasons, the bottom line is, IT’S A BLAST! Think roller coaster that you get to steer. Exciting, exhilarating, blow your socks off fun! And in addition to the giggle-inducing rush, there is also the thrill of developing the skills to slide a ton and a half of snarling metal around the course in a smooth, precise ballet. Much like golf, the basics are easily learned, but true mastery is rare and elusive, making the quest for those skills both endlessly intriguing and deeply satisfying when a run comes together and you get it just right.
Yes, we keep times, and have classes and placings and trophies at the end of the year, but that’s not what it’s really all about. Quick times are just the byproduct of learning the skills necessary to be fully and totally in control of your car, confident and assured in your actions. And that’s a great feeling.
The basics of an autocross are a big piece of open paving, a few hundred traffic cones, and an electronic timer. The course is laid out and outlined with cones and chalk lines, and timing beacons are set up for the start and finish. One car at a time is released onto the course and a time for that driver is recorded. Knocking over any cones adds penalty time to your raw time – one second per cone. The courses are intentionally kept tight and twisty, with few straights, keeping speeds low. Average speeds are around 40 mph, with very brief maximums of perhaps 70 in the fastest cars.
We group the drivers into three run groups. During each run session, one group is taking turns in their cars, one group is manning the course (shagging cones, running the timer, etc.), and the last group is resting. We cycle through six run sessions through the day, so everyone gets two sessions each of driving, working, and resting. One of the advantages of this system is that we can run continuously throughout the day, without a lunch break. You just grab a bite during your rest session. We arrange for a taco truck to be on-site, so you don’t even need to pack your own lunch. Depending on how well we’re running things, we usually get between 4 and 6 runs per session, so you should end up with 8 to 12 runs for the day.
We open up pre-registration on MotorsportsReg.com about 2 weeks before each event. Pre-registering on-line saves you $10 on the event fee, but you can always just show up and register on site. Gates open at 7 am and the registration table is up and running soon thereafter. Registration stays open until 8:15 AM. Everyone has to check in at the registration table, even if you’ve already pre-registered on-line. When you check-in, you’ll pick your run group assignment (red, green, or blue), sign up for the worker position you’d like, and receive a registration sticker to put on your car. We have a mandatory drivers meeting at 8:30, shooting to have the first car out on course at 9:00.
While you’re waiting for the drivers meeting is a good time to get your car prepped and ready to go. Tech inspectors will be roving through the paddock, inspecting cars. You need a tech inspection sticker, indicating that you’ve passed the tech inspection, in addition to your registration sticker, before you’ll be allowed onto the course. A car with the trunks open is the universal sign that your car is ready for the tech inspection.
The tech inspection is a basic once-over to make sure your car is safe. They’ll check that you have brake pressure, the steering feels tight, no looseness in the ball joints, the battery is firmly anchored and few other basic vehicles safety items. The most important thing, however, is that the interior of the car be cleaned out and free of loose objects. When you start tossing a car around on an autocross course, any loose objects will become projectiles flying around the cabin. Besides being a huge distraction, loose items can get lodged in the pedal cluster and cause you to lose control of the car. That’s bad, so a clean car is a must. A small pile of your items from inside the car can be left at your packing space in the paddock. Entry to the site is limited to our event entrants only, so don’t worry about your stuff left in the paddock. Theft is not a problem.
Also on your “To Do” list before the drivers meeting is to do a course walk. In autocross, the course is new for every event, so quickly leaning the day’s course is a big part of the skill set needed to get good times. Walking the course in the morning is the best way to start to learn it so that you won’t be lost when you get out there in your car.
During the drivers meeting, we’ll roll a dice to determine the run group order. Since you’ve already picked your run group, this prevents anyone from gaining a competitive advantage by gaming the system to run at a particular time.
We end each drivers meeting by having any first timers hold up their hands so they can be greeted with a rousing round of applause and be introduced to our Chief Instructor, Neil Librock. Neil then takes the new rookies under his wing and pairs them off with one of our large pool of excellent instructors. Your instructor will guide you through the day, teaching you both the workings of the event, how to do your assigned work position, and, hopefully, some of the mysteries of performance car control. Your instructor will ride along with your as long as you feel they are needed.
Helmets are required for all drivers, however, we have a stock of loaners, so no need to buy one before you inevitably realize you’re totally hooked.
For those of you with the more powerful late-model cars, ever been caught out in a rainstorm and worried about dealing with those wide tires and all that power in the wet? We’ll, you can learn about that at an autocross too. We’re a rain or shine event. If it starts raining, the cars keep running. The times do start going up, but that doesn’t diminish the fun.
If the forecast predicts rain, be sure to bring some rain gear. A few lucky soles working in the timing trailer get to keep dry during their work sessions, but the rest of us will be standing out in the rain. Appropriate gear will make that much less soggy.
We run until about 4 to 4:30 PM. After shutting down the course, the timing system is packed away, the cones are picked up, and everything is packed back into the trailer. We’re usually driving off the site by 5 to 5:30 pm.
We have a standing offer for all new PCA members and first time autocrossers – the first one’s on us. Contact me before your first event and I’ll set up a discount code for you to use on MotorsportsReg.com that will make the event free for you.
Have I got you hooked yet? If you own a Porsche, by definition, you own a car designed for performance driving. Isn’t it time you and your car fulfilled your joint destiny?
Hoping to see you out there,
GGR Autocross Chair
2017 GGR Carlsen Porsche Autocross Series Calendar
Sunday, March 19th – GGR #1, Alameda Point
Saturday, April 8th – GGR #2, Marina Airport (Zone Event)
Saturday, May 27th – GGR #3, Alameda Point
Saturday, June 24th – GGR #4, Alameda Point
Saturday, July 29th – GGR-Carlsen Porsch Autocross School, Alameda Point
Sunday, July 30th – GGR #5, Alameda Point
Saturday, August 26th – GGR #6, Alameda Point
Sunday, September 17th – GGR #7, Marina Airport (Zone Event)
Sunday, October 29th – GGR #8, Alameda Point (Zone Event)
Saturday, November 18th – GGR #9, Alameda Point