This article shares my experience when participating in my very first Autocross. I hope it helps some folks contemplating trying out Autocross to actually take the first steps towards it.
Autocross has participants driving their cars through a course lined with cones as quickly as possible. It sounds simple, but the simplicity is more like that in Flappy Bird. The rules are easy to grasp but very hard to master!
Autocross is challenging. There's usually a 10 second penalty for missing a gate and a 2 second penalty for hitting a cone. So, it isn't enough to just drive fast. You've got to time all the accelerations, braking, turns, not miss any gates, not hit the cones, and so on. Someone did the math: on an average course, you have to execute about 120 moves in about 60 seconds.
Here is how the day of my first Autocross unfolded.
6:45am - I reached Bremerton Motorsports Park. There were only 2 other cars there at that time.
Cars started coming in and by 7:30am, there were a few cars in the parking lot.
It was rainy. I should have brought a rain jacket, I thought to myself. I decided to just sit in the car and wait for registration to start, hoping that the rain would stop in some time.
Here is what the weather forecast looked like for the next few hours.
It of course, turned out to be utterly wrong. It rained the whole time.
The parking lot filled up as the registration time arrived.
The registration started at 8:00am. After registering, I got a map of the track.
The course map. I was assigned W1, R2 and S2.
What's W1 and R2? Well, that indicated my work and run assignments - work in the first half and the run in the second half.
That's how the event works. Half of the participants at any given time are working the course - watching the cars for mistakes made, replacing knocked cones, etc. I wasn't really looking forward to doing that in the wet weather, but on the positive side, given this was my first autocross, I was hoping to learn something by watching others.
9:00am: the course walks started.
The goal is basically to walk the entire course and plan out how you're going to tackle it. There were two instructors talking through how they'd handle the course and providing suggestions for others. I walked the course 3 times, trying to remember all the parts. Did this for about 40 minutes without realizing.
I was assigned to station 2, as shown on the track printout (S2).
10:30am: I had made my way there and then waited for the cars to arrive.
This dude wearing the red jacket had done autocross many times before. He was a flagger and had the radio to talk to other stations and the timing booth.
My hope of learning from the mistakes of others did get fulfilled though. From the section that I was working, I saw people do the following 2 most common mistakes.
A lot of drivers did the same mistake of going right after entering the course near S1 instead of going left, turning their run into a DNF (Did Not Finish).
The other mistake I saw a lot of them do was to dash over after completing one half of the figure 8 and miss the gate - costing each of them 10 seconds.
I was completely drenched from standing in the rain for about 2.5 hours.
I wore those shoes because they have a thin sole and I hoped to get a better feel for the pedals during driving. Of course the thin sole was also very non-ideal for protecting feet from the water.
We had a 30 minute break before the second set of runs started.
Lions Club was at the venue providing donuts and coffee. There was a station selling burgers, hot-dogs, etc.
I wasn't going to stand in the rain for anything anymore, so decided to sit in my car with heater blasting trying to get warm, munching on a Protein bar, and drinking some hot coffee that I got from the Lions Club booth.
In another 20 minutes, I was ready to go.
I drove to the pit area and waited for my turn.
Porsche Club of America had free instructors on site and I asked one of them to ride with me for the first run to give me tips.
I did my first run in 89 seconds. That's not great by any standards, but I was immediately hooked. I wanted to try again.
There seemed to be a delay of about 15 minutes between each run. On my second run, I got 77 seconds. That was much better, but still much more than what the pros were posting.
In the third run, I got 80 seconds because I missed a gate which costed me 10 seconds. With some more care, I was hoping to do sub 70 seconds.
In my forth and last run, I got 72 seconds - not bad for a first timer on a wet track.
I was surprised to realize that I was replaying the run in my head later on during the day. That was a sure sign of an oncoming addiction.
I wanted to do it again.
So what did I learn? Here are my top 3 learnings.
1) Look far instead of at the immediate obstacle. It's amazing how our brain can connect the dots and figure it out.
2) Smoothness in turning and braking is key.
3) Cayman S is a very capable car. I wouldn't have been able to discover and appreciate some of its abilities without pushing it.
It felt great on having survived my first autocross in miserable wet weather. It can only get better from here, I thought to myself at that time. And it did.