On-Track: HPDE to Time Trials (Part 3/3)

 By: Richard Graves

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

OnTrack_FM

Welcome then to the third and indeed the final installment in our series.  In the two previous editions of On Track we’ve hopefully managed to get you to the track in in the first place, and then guide you through the HPDE experience.

Having now embraced your inner track fiend and grown comfortable safely pushing a car near it’s limits on a road course, it’s time to take the final step into actual competition.

Scary right?  No more instructors, no more required point-bys, really fast drivers in really fast cars, and of course….pressure.  The mere fact that your laps count for something adds tension not present in a school group or open lapping day. Fortunately, you’ll share the track with like minded individuals who, like you, know what they’re doing.

Before we get to the bullet points and the nuts and bolts of the licensing process, let’s get a little official perspective on Time Trials and competition in-general. Jeff England, Time Trial Director for NASA Southeast, took some time to figuratively sit down with us earlier this week. We had questions, he had answers.

FM: What are some key things you think someone new to the track hobby needs to know, or ought to think about if they plan on progressing to TT or racing?

JE: Do not modify your car! At the basic levels most cars will let you learn what you need to know. Do not mod a car until you look at the rules for TT or racing you are planning on doing. [Also], Nothing, absolutely nothing, beats seat time.

FM: Could you describe the on and off track atmosphere you try to foster in NASA-Southeast Time Trials?

JE: It is a competition with winners and losers. With contingency, sponsors, and bragging rights at stake I will say we have fierce friendly competition. TT is not wheel to wheel racing though it looks an awful lot like it. I look at and enforce Courtesy to other drivers, car Control, and driver Comfort (the three C’s) on track. But we foster a camaraderie on and off track. Competitors often work harder on someone else’s car then their own and parts often get sorted out after the event.

FM: When a driver applies to run TT with NASA, which pieces of information, between the application, prior experience, check-ride, etc. carry the most weight?

JE: Maturity behind the wheel. We need drivers making smart decisions. It starts with application and never really stops. We pay attention always.

FM: What is the most common reason a driver’s application might not be accepted?

JE: Lack of open passing experience and attitude.

FM: What do you find most fun / entertaining about TT?

JE: Beating my friends, especially after they fixed my car…

FM: ‘Anything else you’d like to add?

JE: TT and racing are a lot of fun. It is not risk free, especially to your wallet, but safety is everyone’s responsibility and it starts with car prep and driver prep.

‘Big thanks to Jeff for his advice and perspective and on a personal note for helping me through the process I’m about to describe.

So, without further ado let’s jump in the deep end.

III.  Licensing and Competition

License1

After honing your skills in HPDE3 and/or 4, you now become eligible to apply for a TT license.  Before you start down this path it will help to have some open-passing experience on your resume:  either a few HPDE-4 events, Open passing events with other organizations or schools, or in some cases, even Chump/LeMons races…anything where passing can happen without a point-by.

Prerequisites complete, actually getting your license  involves three basic steps:  a check-ride, application and inspection, and a provisional event.

The Check Ride:

For a TT license, you will need to pass a check-ride administered by the regional Time Trial director, or a designee thereof.

I’ll paraphrase our TT director’s words above: they’re looking for maturity and decision making….not just “fast”.  Their goal is as many incident-free weekends as possible.  So, drive to your ability, but not beyond it.

Application & Inspection:

In some order you will need to:

  • Submit an application to the TT Director and Regional Registrar
  • Pay a small licensing fee
  • Get an annual inspection completed on your vehicle (see forms below)
    • The inspection mirrors that required for wheel-to-wheel, with allowances for TT (e.g. a roll cage is optional in TT, vs. mandatory in w2w).
      • It must be completed by an approved shop or by NASA at the track.
      • You will be issued a numbered log-book that will contain a record of inspections going forward

LogBook

  • Class your car
    • Classing can vary from very simple to somewhat complex.  If you have a slow car, it’ll be easy.  If it’s faster than, say, a C5 Corvette, things can get a bit tricky as the faster classes organize by power/weight ratio, so you may need dyno figures and a set of accurate scale readings.

FORMS:

If that seems like a lot, just take it one step at a time, and don’t be shy about asking questions of your regional director/assistant director or just veterans of the TT circuit.  Most are glad to provide direction and advice.

Provisional Event:

You’ve completed all of the steps, now the last thing standing between you and an official competition license is one incident-free event.  Complete a competition weekend without causing a danger to yourself and others, and you’ll get your license in the mail.  Don’t screw it up!

Things to know:

  • Don’t sign-up for a TT event until you’ve completed the process above and have approval from the TT Director.
  • You’ll need an AMB Transponder before you register for your first TT event; registration requires a transponder number.
  • Unlike HPDE, The sessions use a race-like rolling start.
    • Don’t lag back on the pace lap, otherwise the fast cars will catch the slow cars really early in the session and no one will get clean laps.
      • Lagging can lead to disqualification or at least a stern word from the TT Director.
    • The first session is practice, the times don’t count for results, but they do determine how you line up for the competitive sessions.
      • This cuts down on the need for overtaking and maximizes everyones’ chances of getting clean laps.
      • Spinning, or putting wheels-off DQs your times from that session (ask me how I know).

 

At this point, congratulations!  Your fast laps actually count for something other than bench-racing in the off-season.  When someone asks, “how fast”, you can quote lap times as opposed to launching into some ridiculous yarn about how fast you took that off ramp one time.  If you’re particularly good, you may even win contingency, woo sponsors, and develop a need for a trophy case.

In any case, I hope this series has helped answer some questions, or alleviate concerns you may have had about taking your car and/or yourself to a track event or HPDE/Driving School.    I’ll see you at the track.

-Richard

For a preview, here are a couple of videos from my first two TT events:

This session includes my best ever lap…..and a bit of a half-spin that starts at ~107mph.  As noted above, the time for the previous lap was DQed as a result of the spin.  Fortunately that didn’t affect the outcome for the day.

In this session, I’d missed the first session of the day, and therefore started at the back of the grid.  I had to pick my way through some of the slower (competing in a lower class) cars, but still managed to set my best time for that day.

 Full Series:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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