Monday, July 15, 2013

Confessions of an Autocross Virgin

Words by Ben - Pics by June & Jon

The 21st of April was a day to remember, primarily because it marked my very first time doing Autocross. The event was proudly organised by SPARK motorsports, and took place at the Turf City carpark on Bukit Timah Road. 

For those of you who have been there, it’s probably a little hard to picture how a track can be set up at that location; but the good people at SPARK Motorsports proved to be great at what they do, and two almost mirrored, challenging tracks were unveiled.

The day started off well, with a nice selection of cars turning up for some high-revving fun. Upon reaching, I set about to change my street wheels to my "racing" set, one that I had recently hand sprayed a striking turquoise blue. Halfway through my pit stop, I was greeted by race marshals who came to inspect my Vios and deliver some rather dismaying news: semi slick tyres were not allowed.
*Cue loud ominous music*

As per the rules, the guys at SPARK Motorsports decided to level the playing field by not allowing semi slick or full slick tyres. Not only did I not read the rules properly (yes, shame on me), but the Toyo R888's I had for the front wheels were also the only tyres I had for playing. After a talk with the organisers, they were kind enough to let me join in on one condition: as long as my times counted in the Open Class, instead of FWD Class. 

With these guys -

Fine by me, since I was there to have fun and not to compete. 

After an intro speech, the organisers opened the tracks and we started to line up for either side, depending on our car number. I started off on track 1, which, at the end of the day, became the preferred track for higher horsepower machines, whereas the second one, as I was to learn in the afternoon, was more fun for the less powerful ones. 

Indeed, while the track layouts were near identical, there were slight but significant differences. Track 1 being slightly more elongated, had me ride the 1st gear red line more than I liked as it was too short and quick to hit 2nd gear. It was my first time running on semi slick tyres, and I was truly impressed by the never ending amount of grip they offered. In all honesty, I was far from using it all, but the concrete walls around the narrow track ate up my resolve to push harder. 

But then, during the lunch break, disaster struck. Heavy rain started pouring, drowning the track. The deep puddles of water had me greatly worry about getting any grip with the R888, and I spent most of my lunch crossing my fingers for the rain to stop. 

Lady Luck thankfully answered; and while the rain didn't come to a complete stop, it trickled down to a light drizzle and the track was able to evacuate some water. After letting some air off of my tyres to get them to heat up faster for more grip in the damp conditions, I pushed my luck further on track 2, where the R888 excelled once again beyond my expectations, still providing me with unfathomable grip. 

The second track proved to be much more intense than the first one, with shorter straights that prevented bigger turbos to spool. Where this was a disadvantage for them, it wasn't a problem at all for light NA platforms. 

While I wasn't able to record the track, June took a ride with me and recorded me working the wheel - enjoy and have a laugh with us! 

This was my first Autocross session, and I am hooked! From my newbie experience, I felt I had more fun doing autocross compared to gymkhana. Where Gymkhana requires a combination of sliding and precise handbrake manoeuvres that punctuate the rhythm with pickup speeds; Autocross focuses on overall speed, precision and stability, to which I was completely sold on. 

I can't wait for another round to come, and I encourage you all out there to try it out, at least once! Who knows, you might get hooked too!


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