TRACK DAY: Pittsburgh International Race Complex – Early May 2017 PDE

On the first day of Spring this year trumpets sounded as I returned to my gear head roots, ditched my Tesla, and picked up a Porsche.  (Don’t worry, the wife still has a Tesla Model S).  And I figured what better way to start off the season with a new toy, than to take it to the track?  Here is my recap!

TRACKING BACK

Since the mid-1990s there has been a long standing relationship between me and track events.  As a local Cleveland, Ohio resident my first road course experience was a late night private rental of Nelson Ledges Road Course that I still remember to this day.

During that same decade I dabbled in Solo2 (Autocross) events, winning my class in two of the local clubs one year.  And over the years I’ve managed to attend the One Lap of America in 1998, participate in various driver’s events across the region, and enjoy over a half dozen road courses in a purely non-competitive nature.

Sidebar:  As much as I love track events, these are NOT “race” events.  They are better known as High Performance Driving Education events (HPDE).  (OLoA is an exception, as it is competitive).  Many of my friends DO however race competitively, on a regular basis.  My hat is off to them, for their courage, skill, and on-going hard work! 

Now that I’m back in a car worthy of the track, it took less than 6 weeks of ownership to get me out there!  Though I’ve driven a Tesla and an Audi at the track recently, I knew this was going to be something special with the Porsche.

Now I'm that guy driving his #porsche to work because the wife needed the daily driver. #firstworldproblems 😉

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PREPARE FOR THE FUN

Upon purchase of the car there were a few cosmetic items that needed some TLC. Once those were out of the way, the list to get it ready for track day was fairly short.  First order of business was a brake fluid flush, to get something better in there to meet the higher demands placed on the brake system during road course visits.

Second and third were that of sound, and input.  Sound in that the stock exhaust was a bit timid for my tastes, and input in that the standard steering wheel didn’t offer the traditional paddles I desired.  To enhance the audio note of the Porsche Sport Exhaust, the preliminary muffler was swapped out to make way for a Billy Boat Bypass Pipes.  And the steering wheel was swapped out simply for a stock Sport Edition version, as shown below.  This would have been the standard wheel for the GTS, save for the fact the car came with a heated, multifunction wheel “downgrade” (my words).

Beyond this, the car remains mechanically original.  Factory wheels and brakes, even factory Pilot Sport N2 tires.  Regretfully the tires are not the newer PS2 or Super Sport version, but I’ll come back to that later.  With the car ready to go, it was time to turn my attention to all things geek, and figure out lap timing.

TIME BANDIT

In the past I’ve always used Harry’s LapTimer Petrolhead for my iPhone device.  This app has proven to be invaluable, and all of my exported in-car videos have been from this app.  But it was always a bit funky to use, the UI being a bit daunting.  Figuring it was the to see what else was out there, I did some homework, and found another option.

What I found was TrackAddict by RaceRender.  In my case I purchased the PRO version they offer, but you can start off with the free version, instead.  To go along with this new app I finally decided to purchase an OBD2 sensor, too!  This adds more details such as gear (for my PDK dual clutch) and so forth.  In my case I went cheap, acquiring the lowest cost OBD2 that showed compatible and semi-reliable– the Carista BT Adapter.

Here are some photos of the Carista BT Adapter during unboxing and setup.  One nice benefit is that that this unit comes with its own free iOS companion app.  This allows you to at least clear codes from your car’s CEL if nothing else.  In my case the Porsche doesn’t benefit from other features, but some cars can even “tweak” things with the Carista.

As a bit of a side note, though I’ve not tested it, many people rave about the PLX Kiwi 3 BT Adapter.  That unit also works with HLT Petrolhead, which the Carista does not- so if you want versatility and speed, and don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, consider getting the Kiwi 3 instead.

Holding my phone in place while this software records starts with a Panavise suction mount, and wraps up with an iStabilizer Smart Mount.  Various other options exist, and you can even record video from your GoPro (or similar) and then overlay the data at a later point.  But my goal here was testing the least expensive way to record, with as little muss & fuss as possible.

Below is a quick sample video I made using TrackAddict during some testing around town.  There were notable issues/delays with the throttle input data, but the RPM/speed data seemed to okay (you could select GPS vs OBD2 for some data, so again, you can really tweak things if you want).

Once at the track I was able to get some great in-car footage, which I’ll share in a second.  First off, here are some screen shots of the TrackAddict app.  Note how user friendly, simple and clean it looks:

In comparison, Harry’s LapTimer is a bit of a mess.  But it offers SO much more data– check out all the analysis and other goodies.  It gets WAY deeper than I’d ever personally want to get.

Now this wasn’t meant to really be a full-on review of the apps.  Or for that matter a Kiwi vs Carista comparison.  But for those who want to dabble in a cheap way to record their track events, I can’t stress enough the ease, low cost, and simplicity of the TrackAddict + Carista combo.   That said, if you want to get more data, more analysis, and more features, it may be worth cross-shopping Harry’s LapTimer and other sensors.  In both cases both apps can use outboard GPS sensors and cameras, to bolster performance.

With my car & gear in order it was finally time for the track event!

VROOM VROOM

Since my first track day there has always been a huge presence of Porsche vehicles in attendance.  There was never any doubt these are great vehicles, but as my first foray into P-car ownership, let me just say… WOW!

There were some great cars in attendance at the event, piloted by drivers with far more skill than I may ever have.  Track events are great, because you can have an amazing driver in an unassuming Ford Focus ST, or race prepped Mazda Miata, pass you in your Porsche.  At the same time, I remember one track event years ago where my 250HP Volkswagen GTI managed to lap an Acura NSX- again purely based on the ability of the driver.

Today’s track event provided miles of smiles, and tons of fun.  It was a great chance to drive my car at 7/10ths and learn more about what it can, or cannot do.  But in truth, the true limits I learned today were of my own ability.  Given more time and ambition, I’m sure I could have continued to improve my lap times.  I would have benefited from a passenger I suspect, as I had trouble finding good lines.  Also, the car could way out perform the tires, and talking to others at the event, I suspect some PSS or Cup2 tires would make a huge different; but I have no immediate plans for that.

Here are three videos, in chronological order as the day progressed.  Each video represents the fastest lap of that heat, from the 3 25-minute heats I participated in today. My 2nd and 3rd heat had a best lap separated by only 0.19 seconds, with my best lap actually occurring towards the tail end of heat #2.

Note that the first video was processed using TrackAddict, and the 2nd/3rd videos are from Harry’s LapTimer.  Also, the camera mount location was changed slightly after the first video.  I had planned to take a 4th video back using TA, but never did.

Posting the worlds fastest lap times were never my goal, and my tires and skill weren’t going to make that happen, anyhow.  So for sake of simplicity, I left the car in Sport Plus mode.  There were a few instances where I used the paddle shift on the steering wheel to snag a lower gear, where the Sport Plus was in 3rd and I wanted 2nd gear.  But 99% of the time Sport Plus did an amazing job and was adequate.  I also never disable traction control- which may have hindered my acceleration at times, but also kept me in the safe zone.  So for the record, Sport Plus, PASM Sport, PSM on/default, PSE on/sport.

THE LONG DRIVE HOME

After packing up from an afternoon at the track, I had a 90+ minute drive home to really think about all the fun I had enjoyed.  Every day I count my lucky starts, first that I have a family that loves me.  But there after, that I’ve been given the chance to enjoy this hobby, (and that my wife hasn’t killed me for it, haha!).  Though I’m a huge proponent of Tesla and sustainable transport, I’ll always be a gear head.  (I’d love to track a Tesla again sometime soon, FWIW).

Today was a success.  I didn’t end up in a ditch, and my times got better from the first to second heat.  And I was fairly consistent in the third heat.  Tire pressures were something I tinkered with, but never found a sweet spot (not a fan of these tires for the track, as I’ve said a few times).  But it wasn’t about setting records, it was about having fun and making friends.  And I did that– met some great guys, had a blast.  And learned a lot about the Porsche.

Do I wish my lap times were better?  Sure.  Were there some “slower” cars that passed me?  Definitely.  Did that upset me?  Not at all.  If anything it made me appreciate the fact that there are some folks out there with amazing talent, and a skill set that is beyond mine.  With any lucky I’ll get a chance to learn more from them in the future.

But the reality is that I’ll probably be able to count on just one hand the number of track events I’ll get to this year.  Meaning most of my enjoyment will come from street driving.  And in that case, the GTS will still do just splendid.

But I do hope I get to visit PittRace again soon (and Mid-Ohio, and Nelson Ledges, and….) … because driving fast in the safe environment of a track is both addictive, and pretty damn fun! 🙂

Dinner date. #latergram #porsche #997

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Ari Jay Comet

Sharing my life experiences. Interacting with technology. Digital self-expression. Binary is black, white, and many shades of grey.

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