Is motorsports just a shrewd high stakes game of variables?

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
Mar 1, 2023 | FIRM, Motorsports, track day, Column, Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Recently, we were at the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park–our official test track, as you may have heard–doing some testing on a couple of project cars. Tom was trying out some different flash tunes on his Mk7 VW GTI, and I was taking Tim’s Porsche 997 for a few laps after we’d fit a set of Bridgestone RE-71RS tires on some snazzy Apex wheels. 

[The Grassroots Motorsports ultimate guide to track car lap times]

I’ll let the respective daddies of those project cars tell you how those mods affected their charges. (Check out our online updates after you finish reading this.) Besides, that’s not the point of this column.

See, after I brought Tim’s Porsche back safely from some timed laps (as an aside, I could do an entire column on appropriate aggression levels and risk management when driving your boss’s 911 on a race track while he’s totally standing right there), we got into a chat with a couple of guys who were there enjoying their own cars during this open-track Friday.

One of them was driving his own Porsche 997, but this was one of the factory hotrod GT3 variants: more power, tricker suspension, rear seat delete and all that historical Porsche factory racing goodness baked right into the recipe. Naturally, we were curious how Tim’s car compared to the hotter version. 

So what kind of lap times are you doing here?” Tim asked the GT3’s owner.

Okay, first,” Mr. GT3 began, which is an awesome way to start answering any question that you either don’t know or don’t like the answer to, “the only other time I had it here, I was on Pilot Super Sports, and one of the date codes was 2018, one was 2019, and I don’t even know what the other two were, and later we found out that the left rear was toed way in, and also on the way here I saw a donkey, and that reminded me of a time when I was a kid and I got lost in a department store and they called my name on the store intercom but they mispronounced it so I didn’t know they were talking about me and I ended up joining the Canadian national fencing team. So anyway, what was the question?”

Maybe that’s not a direct quote, but look, his response was a looong list of asterisks that I don’t recall ending in a numerical lap time. Mr. GT3, if you’re reading this, please know I’m not busting your hump here, but rather recalling this interaction with only the greatest of affection because it reminded me of something I love about this sport and this world: the sheer complexity of it. 

For the most part, we’re just regular folk, going about our hobby, but our hobby has so, so, so many variables. To actually sit down and think about it is just staggering. 

For a single driver to complete a single lap at a single track day, a complex machine–possibly one that the regular-type person I just mentioned turned a wrench or two on, complicating matters even more–has to combine all of its hundreds of thousands of pieces of engineering wizardry to be operated by a driver who is negotiating the interface of a tire and a road surface at a molecular level countless times a second around a course with a finite number of turns but requiring an infinite number of control inputs and real-time decisions leading to those control inputs.

That we–literally any of us who don’t do this for a living–can actually successfully negotiate a lap or two anywhere near the limit of performance, wrangling the mechanics, physics and psychology of an irreducibly complex operation, is nothing short of a miracle. 

At the end of the day, that lap time that we asked about is but one single metric in a vast ocean of tumblers that must align with perfect precision so we can unlock our experiences in this sport.

So, Mr. GT3, you may not have told us a time–or, if you did, I certainly don’t remember–but you told us a story that was maybe more important. And that story is that before you can even think about a lap time, you have to wrangle the existential chaos of even the simplest of motorsport into some sort of order. 

And for us regular folk, living our lives and doing our jobs and tending our literal or metaphoric flocks, having a hobby based on an inconceivable number of variables, any of which could turn the experience into a nightmare, the fact that we manage to do this is some sort of victory.

I mean, look, you could have just said “1:19,” but how boring would this column have been?

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Comments
glyn ellis
glyn ellis New Reader
1/9/23 8:57 a.m.

The GT3 driver's answer sounded like a Whitehouse press conference!

frenchyd
frenchyd MegaDork
1/9/23 10:15 a.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak :

Often as not we don't know.  At least not until later on when we look at a time sheet.    
      I used to diligently try to keep a record of the settings in my note book  but as you said there are too many variables.  
   Anyway it's a hobby.  Not a science experiment.  

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/9/23 10:23 a.m.

Are talking motorsports or are we talking testing? Because it doesn't matter what the field is, proper testing has to have controlled variables. That's not a motorsports thing, that's just good data collection and test management.

The actual racing part of motorsports involves the setup team setting the car up as best as possible given the variables under their control, and the driver making the most of those setup decisions.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/9/23 10:25 a.m.

In reply to frenchyd :

Frenchy, you know it's quite common now to get time feedback coming off a corner? Tail steps out a bit, the predictive lap timer says "that looked cool, but it just cost you 0.3s". Makes a big difference in driver training, and also makes it pretty easy to do good back to back testing. Make one change, you know within a lap if it was good or bad. Then make another...

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/23 10:57 a.m.

Yes, there are a lot of variables.  Tires are the biggest ones (well, other than rain), which is why they're always the go-to excuse for why someone's lap times are slower than they should be. :)

That said, at tracks local to where I live in northern California, the best lap time for an identical car can vary by a couple seconds over the course of a day as the conditions change (air temp, track temp, amount of crap on the track surface, etc).  It's the same for everyone of course, but it can be maddening to try to figure out why I was doing 1:48 in the morning but can only manage 1:51 in the afternoon.

 

frenchyd
frenchyd MegaDork
1/9/23 11:10 a.m.
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to frenchyd :

Frenchy, you know it's quite common now to get time feedback coming off a corner? Tail steps out a bit, the predictive lap timer says "that looked cool, but it just cost you 0.3s". Makes a big difference in driver training, and also makes it pretty easy to do good back to back testing. Make one change, you know within a lap if it was good or bad. Then make another...

I suppose all that is possible.  At my age, ( working on 75) I do it for fun. It's fun to let the back drift out or all 4 wheels for that matter.   Winning simply isn't a priority. I've got trophy's already. I've raced my hero's. 
 Very content to be a grid filler.  I'll find a friend to dice with, keeping my eyes on the mirror so I can stay out of others way.  

BA5
BA5 GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
1/9/23 11:11 a.m.

Fun article, but we all know what an answer like that is. He was slower and knew it. Moreover, he was embarrassed that he has spent the money to get the top-of-the-line hardware but it was being laid bare that he clearly didn't know how to use it well.

Maybe a better article would be one on learning how to accept and own being slow.

I'm slow.  My car is slow.  I'm really bad at braking (I always brake WAY too early) and I probably have a tendency to overdrive the front end.  I'm pretty much always last or second to last (overall!)

When I finish my big car project, the car will be faster, but I'll still be slow.  I'll probably at least still be last in class.

And that's ok. Because technically we're all fast.  Basically the moment you set foot on track you're faster than 99.9% of the driving population, including all your buddies who are really into cars but never nut up and actually turn a wheel in anger.  

Somehow I need more people to become ok with being slow.  It's physically wearying for me to listen to somebody talk about how their tire pressure was off by 1.5 psi and the moon was waxing so that's why they're not laying down lap times that would make Lewis Hamilton blush.

So a guy in a bone stock 1979 Honda Civic crushed your lap times when you were driving a 911 GT3.  So what?  Did you have fun?  Did you learn how you could be a bit faster yourself next time?  It's not like the guy is going to take your job (unless racing cars is your job).  Maybe your wife and kids will say "Father, who provides for us, you are slow.  We're going to live with 1979 Civic guy instead.  He is a true father figure."  Maybe that happens.  I don't know.  But it hasn't happened to me yet.

Be ok with being slower than the next guy.  I know we're racing, but technically, I don't think that's actually what we're there at the track to do.

frenchyd
frenchyd MegaDork
1/9/23 11:16 a.m.

Well said

      You've got the right attitude for Vintage racing.  Go as fast as you can within your ability to remain in control.   
 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/9/23 1:31 p.m.

That is one of the things I find to be fun.  Finding out not just what effect the variables have, but discovering what those variables even are.

Can I fix a corner exit understeer issue by a suspension setup change, an alignment change, a corner entry speed change, a line change, a driver inputs change?  How will altering those variables affect the rest of the lap?  Is my perceived problem actually the fast way and the real issue is my perception?

RadBarchetta
RadBarchetta New Reader
1/9/23 1:33 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

Frenchy, you know it's quite common now to get time feedback coming off a corner? Tail steps out a bit, the predictive lap timer says "that looked cool, but it just cost you 0.3s". Makes a big difference in driver training, and also makes it pretty easy to do good back to back testing. Make one change, you know within a lap if it was good or bad. Then make another...

And now I want to know what predictive lap timer tells me how cool I looked. On second thought, I probably don't.

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