The Lime Rock Driver's Club, a group of racers who are geared more towards perfecting their driving skill with a family-like vibe rather than an overtly competitive one, officially kicked off the 2017 season of tracking and autocross at Lime Rock Park on the weekend of April 7–8, 2017. Old Man Winter laid down his sword, although it was a bit overcast and breezy, and at least 14 cars made it onto the track, including a mashup of Miatas and a cadre of Caymans.
I had previously covered the Club for one of their Snow Autocross days (read about it HERE), where I was afforded an opportunity to let my 2017 Volkswagen Golf R tame the snowy course. It was a blast, to say the least, and I was looking forward to putting those summer tires to the test on the smooth surface of the main track. But first, I had to get to the track.
My high school journalism teacher would not be happy that I harked back to the morning drive before the main story, especially since it presents nothing substantial to the storyline. But I don't think that instructor of mine ever drove on US-44 through NY state. Or stopped at the newest scenic overlook strategically placed on a near 180° bend in the roadway (which, by the way, was scenic even before they created a parking lot to stop in). All of that is why I devoted an entire paragraph to explaining the importance of the drive up. I can see you picturing it now and making mental scribbles to stop there if you ever find yourself en route to Lime Rock on an early weekend morning. It's serene.
As I pull up to the LRDC Chalet, eager to meet some new targets for my camera, I notice something eerily similar to what I'm driving – another Lapiz blue Golf R. The gentleman behind the wheel and I exchange nods of approval, and he hops out, as giddy as I was to see that his car had a twin for the day. This chap was Jonathan Goring, one of the instructors for the LRDC and a very accomplished racing driver. With under 300 miles on his much shinier R, surely I would have no problem allowing him behind the wheel of my well-broken-in machine.
Being a member of the LRDC doesn't only mean you bring your car to the track and rub mirrors with other auto aficionados. There is a camaraderie that begins as soon as you exit your car in the parking lot and lasts long after the track goes cold. I haven't spent enough time to really get the know the members individually yet, but seeing how they interact with one another, with conversations going beyond formalities and into personal topics, you get a sense that this really is just a big extended family sharing the passion of automobiles on one of the greatest tracks on the east coast. But wait, there's more.
Food and drinks are complimentary, and you're met with a breakfast spread that will properly fuel you for the day's activities. High-test mini muffins pair nicely with 100 octane coffee. There are hand-sliced delicacies from a variety of fruit families. Carbs are provided, not by SU or Weber, but rather by Thomas' and Lender's. It's just the thing you need to turn your key before you head out on track. But before you do, make sure to get a sufficient dose of cheerful enthusiasm from Jeanette Veitenheimer, the Club's administrator. It's her careful coordination and planning that allows these events to be possible.
Before heading down into A Paddock, I was given a proper tour of the grounds by Mike Geyselaers of Emergency Medical Services in the track's well-storied Dodge Ram wrecker. Mike was keen to point out all of the good photography points and introduced me to the corner workers as we came upon the different flagging booths. It was windy on track, and nearly every flagger had installed make-shift plastic windows on the booths to lessen the impact of the chilly gusts. Mike also made sure that I knew where not to stand, which was greatly appreciated. The last thing I wanted was nowhere to go if a 3,000 pound missile was honed in on my location. Mike was a good guy.
Back in A Paddock, the drivers were suiting up, unloading their cars, changing tires and checking pressure, and getting mentally prepared to hit the track. Jonathan had already warned them that given the lower number on the thermometer, the tires had less of a chance of getting to temperature, meaning that they weren't going to warm up to the point of providing maximum grip. I make a mental note of that and tuck it away in the back of my mind. Simon Kirkby, LRDC's Director, disappears into the passenger seat of one of the cars and the track goes hot. It's time to drive!
As Mike and I were making our way around the track, a few of the cars had already made their way onto it. A white Cayman with bright blue wheels and matching mirrors screamed past our post, its enormous rear wing proving that in the right environment, downforce is everything. The driver appeared to be on a slot track, getting so close to the edge that blinking too fast might have disturbed his line. I will come to learn later on that it's important to use the entire width of the lane to keep speed up. A short time after the white Cayman blurred past, two Miatas followed in the same line, albeit at a slower pace. It really shows the spectrum of speed that the LRDC supports.
After the tour and before I had a chance to get out my camera gear, Jeanette indicated to me that if I wanted to get out on the track, now would be the best time. Jonathan was looking for me.
Of course I had anticipated getting some seat time during my visit, but my excitement grew exponentially following that brief instruction. I grabbed a borrowed orange helmet and a balaclava and hurriedly headed down to A Paddock to find Jonathan. It was go time.
Considering my track experience had just one entry in the logbook, piloting a Lamborghini Huracán for a few laps during a Prestige track day while only worrying about the BMW I was following, Jonathan took the wheel of the R first. His instruction was clear and concise, even over the wind noise that the open front windows allowed in. The heat was on full blast and the heated seats took a little bit of the chill off. Adrenaline was my primary source of keeping my body temperature up. He talked about the driving line and how to use the cones that were set up strategically around the track. He also explained point-by passing, which would be crucial to a beginner like myself in allowing the faster drivers to safely overtake me while on the track. The first instance of this came on the No Name Straight, when two of the Caymans blasted by my open window. I couldn't contain my giggles.
After a few laps of Jonathan behind the wheel, who was very impressed by the R's composure and control, it was my turn. We pitted and traded places. Jonathan was continuous in his instruction, always directing me as to when I should apply the brake, where I should point the car, accelerate, and keep the line, not necessarily in that order. The biggest thing that had me nervous on the initial few laps were the other cars, especially when they were getting larger in my mirrors. Thankfully, with a bit of common sense and the experience of the other drivers and my co-pilot, I was able to safely complete a few laps before heading in to recap. The thrill of pushing my car beyond what it's able to do on the street was exhilarating. But it was now time to push it harder. Brake later, carry more speed through the corners, and stop driving with the mirrors as much. Trust the driving line, the friction of the tires, and the point and shoot handling of the 4MOTION.
The second session was exactly that. I was more comfortable with the other cars and tried a bit harder to keep them behind me, hold my line, and have them work a bit to get around me. At least that's how I felt it went. Naturally, perception is reality and in my mind I am well on my way to being the next SCCA superstar. But in all seriousness it was such a blast. I managed to peek at the speedometer on the Sam Posey Straight and notice three consecutive 1's in the display. I then stood on the brake pedal before following a quicker, more dedicated line through Big Bend. "Aim for the apex, let it drift back to the middle, point it at the outside cone, and look down the track for the next turn." Wiser words weren't spoken that day.
After a successful few laps, I retired back to the pit and did a cool-down parade through A and B Paddock. Then I parked the R, leaving the emergency brake off to prevent any warping from heat. File that advice under 'Things You Don't Think About After Hot Lapping.' I was more than satisfied with its abilities on the track, feeling confident that in an emergency maneuver the car would be able to keep the shiny side up and out of harm's way. I don't think I'm quite ready to strip the back seats and add some numbers to the windows, but a seed has been planted for sure. The question remains though...how long it will take to germinate?
Now was not the moment for thoughts on horticulture though. It was time to trade the helmet for my cameras and get to capturing what I came for. Lime Rock Park is 1.5 miles long in its current 'classic' configuration. With no golf carts on hand, I recruited the R for shuttling duties. I tried to ensure it that it wasn't a demotion, but rather a repurposing of responsibilities. Regardless, the car performed on the wooded path flawlessly.
As I was pulling around past the main entrance, a Guards red spot came into view heading down the driveway. A Porsche Carrera GT had arrived, vacant the pomp and circumstance that is usually associated with supercars that cost more than the average house. This CGT wasn't here to frou-frou around. It was here to be tracked. No sooner had I crested the dirt path did I hear the shrill of a 5.7L V10 making its way towards the Uphill. Run what you brung, they say. Amen.
For the next few hours, I found myself at different points on the track, capturing the variety of cars that were partaking in the morning's activities. It should be noted that there is no bad seat in the house. From the inside of Big Bend, to the outside of West Bend, there is action to be seen from all reaches of the grounds. Besides the aforementioned Carrera GT, there were four Caymans, all prepped beyond street comfort, five Miatas, two of which were the new ND models and were competing in friendly back and forth battle (see above), an Elva, a Lola, and an unidentified open racer with a Toyota heartbeat. My photographic mission extended beyond the machines and also focused on the people, because what would the Club be without its members.
As my adventure at Lime Rock came to an end, I took a moment to reflect upon the notion of time and how we discern it. On one hand, we as drivers look to shave milliseconds off our lap times, trying ever harder to be the fastest hot shoe. Yet on the other, we yearn for the clock to slow and plead with Father Time to not let the morning end. But as they say, time flies when it's lapping the track. Race assured, I'll be back.
Check out the entire gallery from the event HERE.