The CCR SCCA solo season wrapped up last week at zMax Dragway and so has my first season of autocross with my WRX. I was able to compete in seven different events this season. Five were with the Central Carolinas Region SCCA, one with the Ultimate Street Car Association, which was a blast, and one with the Clemson Sports Car Club, which kicked off my racing season. My goals for this season were to win the CCR Rookie of the Year, spend less than $2500, and above all else to learn and grow as a racer. I am glad to say that I was 2-for-3 on my goals.
Rookie of the Year
Sadly, I did not win rookie of the year honors. In fact, I only competed in two of the five rookie of the year events, so I finished 11th in the rookie of the year standings. However, mathematically the best I would have done (projecting my average points from the two events I did complete) was 4th place overall. In this lies the lesson of the importance of classing. In my other posts I explained (read: complained about) how my ASP classing was shooting me in the foot. This was an all too classic example of the trouble you can get in for not reading the rules clearly and not planning ahead. When I replaced the clutch in my car, I replaced my flywheel thinking, “What a good opportunity!” But that mistake turned my STX ambitions into an ASP challenge. A word of advice for everyone, know what you’re getting yourself into and what you might want to do with you car when you decide to make an upgrade. It’s no excuse for my performance, but it is certainly more fun when you know your car isn’t keeping you out of the running altogether.
Racing can get expensive in a hurry, so having a solid budget plan is critical. When I created my budget I started with the unavoidable expenses, such as event registrations, tires, and necessary prep and repair, then added the upgrades I would like to make to my car.
I chose my budget target, $2500, based on what I was comfortable with and then culled back my “wants” list until I had my number. This turned out a pretty sparse list of upgrades, but it still had the potential for a fun season that wouldn’t break the bank. Knowing what I had to work with helped me to prioritize what I bought and when I bought it. I was even able to do a little extra when I reassessed my finances later in the year. When it was all said and done, I came in at just a sliver under budget: $2400.
My starting budget and final ledger look slightly different. I budgeted for renting a trailer, which I didn’t do, but I forgot to budget for my vehicle registration and license fees as well as gas. These pretty much balanced out. I knew I would be spending money on extras for the sake of this blog, so much of my buffer was taken up by miscellaneous expenditures. These expenses I can count on not returning, because they included phone and GoPro mounts, temperature labels for the brake calipers, apps that I wanted to review, and more. One extra performance purchase I was able to make was a set of camber bolts for my car, which turned out to be a great addition. Considering that 1/3 of my budget went towards parts, I’d say I wasn’t neglecting the progress of my cars performance at all! For this goal: mission accomplished.
Learn and Grow
Probably my greatest success came in the “Learning and Growth” category. I began the year without any autocross experience in a full-size car. My WRX was woefully stock and severely outgunned in every aspect because of the flywheel. My previous experience in racing launched me into a quick start, but I quickly learned that autocross and my other racing experiences were as different as football and futbol. Sure, some things translated, but overall autocross was a new animal. I learned that walking the track as much as possible was crucial. I learned that critical review immediately after each run was key to going faster on the next run. Ready access to video made reviewing runs much more effective, and replaying the runs was like taking high speed track walks after each run. Many times I was able to identify where I could improve and re-watch it enough times to draw strong mental cues that would help me to avoid making the same mistakes. I would highly recommend Harry’s Laptimer, Petrolhead Edition, which you can read more about in my review from May.
The greatest lesson I learned over this year was that efficacy in autocross comes from repetition. Unlike most other forms of racing, you can’t immediately come back to the same troublesome corner lap after lap. In autocross, you have to attack the track from your very first launch; There is no practice or warm-up. Not only is it important to have adept car control skills, but you have to learn the track based solely on a map and a walking-pace tour of the track (oftentimes hours before you will see the track from behind the wheel). This only comes with practice. The best autocrossers are the ones that everyone knows, because they always show up. They are the ones that are at every event, for multiple clubs, all year. With only 4-5 laps per event, it’s difficult to amass the seat time necessary for mastery, so the best advice is to get out there and just do it! Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, focus on yourself and the podium finishes will follow. Although I may not have achieved my goals of victory, I did achieve an understanding of my car and myself as a driver. By the end of the season I was satisfied with my lap-by-lap improvements and could identify where I needed to improve. I was comfortable and having fun, and that’s what it’s all about.