Monday, April 12, 2010
To document the number of hours logged in each group, NASA has the HPDE passport. You record each session and when you think you're ready, you have an instructor ride along to determine if you can move up.
For those graduating from Group 1, HPDE 2 offers the first chance of a solo flight. While this group shares the track with Group 1 and the same passing zones, the fact no one's there to show you how to correct your line, when to brake, or what to do in traffic will significantly slow your pace the first couple of times out.
In the corners, the pace is still slow, even for the Corolla on street tires. Group 2 assumes you know the track rules and spends its download sessions working on how to interact with the others out there. It's also a great place to start when you're completely unfamiliar with a new track or just want to get comfortable in traffic. Most drivers are ready for Group 2 after just a couple of weekend sessions.
By the time you've moved up to Group 3, you've probably realized you're not as fast as you think. And at this level, just like 1 and 2, it's the driver's fault, not the hardware. Most competent drivers with stock cars, even Evos and Porsches, stay here to hone their skills. Group 3 preps you for fender-to-fender racing and open passing. Passing zones are still restricted in corners, but depending on the group and track, the group leader will open up passing on more of the track and point-bys are no longer required.
Here is also where the group works on the intricate details of faster ways to negotiate the track and how to alter a racing line to set up for a pass. This, unfortunately, is also the limit of our Project Corolla. With street tires and little power, overtaking someone at corner exit just means I have 50 feet before I get passed right back. But there's no shame in being known as the slow car in a fast group, especially when you can keep up with others in the corners. Most drivers have at least 10 track sessions under their belt before they're ready for Group 3.
HPDE 4 and Time Trials
While HPDE programs will vary from region to region, Group 4 is typically reserved for tuned or very fast cars on R-compound tires running for points in the Time Trials series. It's open passing and meant for only the most seasoned drivers running at full race pace. While having a fast car isn't required, it will make the difference between having fun and being a moving speed bump. Project Corolla still has a long way to go before I can even consider running it at this level.
If the track bug has bitten you bad enough, you might consider buying a dedicated track car to save your daily from the punishment of track abuse. You don't have to get a caged-out trailer queen from the get-go, but having something you can strip out, drive to the track and not be afraid to put into the dirt will help you squeeze out that last tenth of speed. While I bought Project Corolla for its weight, simplicity, rear-wheel-drive layout and cargo capacity, there are far more reliable and faster cars out there. Bang for the buck, I'd suggest an early-90s Civic with a stock engine, sticky tires, mild suspension work and pads. It won't blow up on you and is easy to learn in.