2016 Flemington Porsche Car Control Clinic
May 1, 2016 – Metlife Stadium
By Peter Schneider
I was asked to joined NNJR about 12 years ago, in order to assist with the region’s road rally program, I have been rallying since 1974 and have been an active participant of the Metro NY Region rally program for 30 years. While I have dabbled in concours, I have never attended an autocross, car control clinic or any type of track event. Based on my experience on May 1, I have been missing out on a big part of being a PCA member and I learned a lot to boot.
To be honest, I signed up to get the T-Shirt (which is not a cost effective thing to do) and to improve my driving skills, but I did not exactly know what to expect.
I own a 1994 968 Cabriolet, which you may know does not have a built in roll bar like the current day convertibles and it would not pass the ‘Broomstick Test’. ‘The Broomstick Test’ is a rule of thumb measurement of the distance between the top of the driver’s helmet (with the driver sitting in a normal driving position), which needs to be below a straight line, a.k.a., broomstick, extending from the top of the roll bar (or back deck of a convertible) forward to the highest structural part of the vehicle
(the A pillar). This fact and general concern of wear and tear on my car has precluded me from using my 968 at any ‘autocross or track event’. But based on what I learned at the car control clinic my fears were completely unfounded.
Like anyone new to an activity, I did not know what to expect. Each person who signed up for the event is paired with an Instructor for the duration of the four exercises. I signed up early and eagerly awaited the Student Guide which was prepared by Bill Gilbert, Drew Karpinski and Tom Iervolino.
The Student Guide outlined the goals of the clinic: what to pack for the day (sun block, lunch, water, etc), how to prepare your car and yourself for the event and a brief explanation of the exercises (skidpad (one clockwise, one counter-clockwise), braking and short slalom (autocross) event). In addition, we were sent an exercise schedule and work assignments, the students were divided into two groups (morning and afternoon). Those driving in the morning had to work in the afternoon, while those working in the morning drove in the afternoon. Work assignments included staging/starting cars and resetting road cones that have been knocked out of place by the students during the exercises.
After a short novice meeting and drivers meeting, I headed off to my first activity which was the clockwise skidpad. There I meet up with my instructor, Dom Miliano, whose favorite words for the day were, “Faster, Faster, Faster”. I entered the skidpad, which was wet-down by light drizzle which lasted all day (the club did have the East Rutherford Fire Department on hand to keep the skidpads wet, but they were not needed), each attempt at the skidpad allowed for 4 to 5 laps of a circle of cones. This allowed each driver to get the feel of their car’s traction on wet pavement. Dom kept ‘pushing’ me to the safe limits of the car and myself and instructed me on how to use the throttle to assist in steering the car around the skidpad. My first pass of the course was tentative at best. Which prompted his favorite words of the day. After I completed my laps, we returned to the staging area and awaited for our next go at the skidpad. Since there were four exercises and the drivers were divided into morning and afternoon sessions and the drivers were subdivided by the exercises, there was not a long wait between runs. There were five cars in my group and each run lasted about 2 minutes, so we had about 5 runs per exercise to get the feel of the car and the course.
After about 40 minutes, my group moved on to the next exercise, which was the slalom. The slalom is all about steering and looking ahead. The slalom required you to image the shortest/fastest route between a series of cones and weaving between the cones (without hitting them) to the end of the course. The course was laid out in a horseshoe shape which looped you back to the start for your next run. During my first pass, while I did not hit any cones (a 2 second penalty in a competitive event), I miss judged the distance between cones and by passed one, which would have disqualified my run if I was competing in an autocross. By my second run, I understood the course and did better.
Up next was braking, this exercise helps you understand how to brake just enough to make a tight right hand turn and not hit the cones in order to minimize time lost in the turn, then accelerate and execute a smooth firm braking to a full stop just inches before a line of cones. The object was get up to speed after the turn and to get as close to the line of cones without hitting them. By lifting off the throttle at just the right time, weight is transferred from the back wheels to the front which assists in steering the car.
My next and last exercise was a counter-clockwise skidpad, after my first lap and with Dom’s coaching, I was executing “minor drift” around the course while making the tires squeal and totally enjoying myself in the process.
I would like to thank Grant Lenahan and the autocross team and all of the instructors for volunteering their time to make this day possible and I am already looking forward to the next opportunity to gain additional experience.