Thunderhill Raceway 2005 Part 2

AUTOMOTIVE >> ROAD TESTS >>   Thunderhill Raceway 2005 Part 2

Thunderhill Raceway 2005 Part 2

Story by Lorne Blackman photos by NeuralBlog

Dark Drive, Porsche Boxster S: Ruf 3400S
Z06 vs. Ferrari F430 vs. Dodge Viper SRT10
First Drive: Bugatti Veyron Coupe 8.0 2dr
Porsche vs Ferrari

Thunderhill Raceway

Auto racing

Track day

As part of their commitment to customers and driving enthusiasts, Weissach traditionally organizes two driving events per season, one at Mission and one at Seattle's Pacific

Bright and early Sunday July 17th Stuart Davidson of Weissach met a small group of die-hards behind the Weissach shop on 2nd Avenue West in Vancouver. This was the gathering point for what was to turn into a driver's dream trip.

As part of their commitment to customers and driving enthusiasts, Weissach traditionally organizes two driving events per season, one at Mission and one at Seattle's Pacific Raceways. This year they also put together a two day event at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows California.

A total of 16 drivers eventually made their way to Thunderhill, but just 5 joined the caravan that drove down to Willows. We were on the road by 8:30 that morning, heading down I-5 as far as Portland OR. The I-5 corridor is not a lot of fun, but it was the fastest route to some great mountain driving through Mt. Hood National Forest and on to the Riverhouse Inn in Bend OR. We spent a comfortable night there, with good food and company and stories that aren't to be repeated outside the group. With a late start on Monday morning, we followed route 97 to Weed CA, then back onto I-5 and into Willows CA.

Thunderhill is a pure motor sports park. It is a first-class operation, right down to the air conditioned meeting space and showers to clean up and to cool down. The San Francisco region of the SCCA designed and built a race track for sports car racers on land bought for that purpose. It is a 3.0 mile, 15 turn track with substantial elevation change, designed to reward good drivers and give serious “learning opportunities” for those who get it wrong. For those who do get it wrong, there's lots of runoff space and not a concrete wall to be seen except along pit lane on the main straight.

And what kind of cars and drivers show up at an event like this? Quite a mix, as it turned out. We had everything from Ferrari's, to Lamborghinis, to track-prepared older 911s, a quartet of Boxster S's, a Nissan 350Z, a Porsche GT2, a RUF BTR, and the ultimate Porsche, a Carrera GT. There was an equally diverse range of driver skill and experience. All I will say about the mix of drivers is that there is no correlation between driver skill and fancy high horsepower cars. A Boxster S in the right hands turned much faster laps than most of the high-end machinery on the track . . . our thanks to one of our group (who asks to remain nameless) for making that abundantly clear!

We had two days to learn the track. Weissach collaborated with their long-standing partner Don Kitch and ProFormance Racing School from Kent WA. Don and a crew of his instructors were great to work with, getting us started with the standard drivers' meeting on the first morning. The rules were pretty clear … be safe, learn, have fun! Because there were just 16 drivers we were guaranteed tons of track time.

None of us had driven this particular track before, so our first time out was a lead-follow exercise. Instructors led groups of three cars for nine laps, with the instructor hopping from one car to the next and talking each of us through the course. Key features were pointed out for each turn and suggestions were given for how to drive the best line.

Then we were on our own for the first of many thirty minute lapping sessions. Instructors were available for anyone who wanted them and many of us took the opportunity to have one of them ride with us from time to time. It was a great way to get feedback on what was working well and suggestions for areas of improvement.

We learned the line as the day went on, so speeds increased and the fun factor went up with it. But so, too, did the need to get a closer look at what we were doing. After a break for lunch we did the first of several corner studies. These involve getting out on foot on the track and, as Don puts it, “getting intimate with the track” … seeing the variations in grade, banking, track surface, and landmarks. It's amazing how you see things when you are standing still on the ground that then leap out at you and act as guides when you approach a corner at 100 mph!

By the end of day one we were worn out and overwhelmed. And we knew we had another day to look forward to. After a quiet dinner at one of the local restaurants people made their way to bed and dreams of driving.

Day two dawned as hot and clear as day one – forecast temperature was 100+ F. We started with a drivers' meeting where we were reminded that we needed to be even more cautious than the first day – we now had enough knowledge and experience with the track to be a little bit dangerous! So we headed out to the track with a sense of caution, but also anticipation.

It was another great day – tons of driving, interspersed with a couple of corner studies. As predicted, we also got a bit sloppy as our confidence and the heat built. There were a series of spins and off-track excursions as drivers pushed the limits of both their cars and themselves. Fortunately the only things that got bent were egos; there was no damage beyond some scuffed paint. The design of Thunderhill is very forgiving in that respect, with nothing but potato fields, gravel and grass to spin into.

We wrapped the day up at 4:30, exhausted and thrilled with the experience. As we packed up and headed back to the hotel for a wind-up barbeque dinner we all felt satisfied with an outstanding experience. A great track, great driving, great cars, and great people. What a treat!

So on behalf of all of us who participated, let me express our deep appreciation and thanks to Stuart Davidson and Asgar Virji of Weissach for making this happen, and to Don Kitch and his crew for leading us through a safe and thrilling driving adventure! I look forward to my next outing at Thunderhill and hope to see a bunch of you there.

blog comments powered by Disqus