Participating in the Golden Gate Chapter Autocross Season & Top Driver Shootout

Participating in the Golden Gate Chapter Autocross Season & Top Driver Shootout

by | Dec 4, 2016

Many sports car owners long to be able to explore the limits of their cars but very few find a relatively safe place to do so. These interviews give a glimpse into what it’s like to be a part of a stellar program run by people who love cars.

HAL & DIANE DORTON
How long have you and your wife been GGC members?
Diane and I have been members since 2006.

Why did you join?
We joined the club to autocross. Gordon from EDGE Motorworks invited us to one of the last events in 2005 and we were hooked.

What car do you use for autocrossing?
We autocross a 97 BMW M3 sedan. “Olivia” was built to compete with SCCA in BSP (B Street Prepared) We have to be point-conscious with BMW but some mods can’t be helped. Setup’s important with this many points. We have a log of adjustments at all the different sites where we compete. Aside from very minor shock tuning there’s never any surprises. We run aero and on the larger courses we see at the national level works very well. Marina’s size and typical course don’t need the aero help but we leave the spoiler and air dam on anyway. Running R-comp tires means several sets of wheels with tires in various stages of wear. After 100+ runs these tires have no real grip left unless you can get them really warm. That’s not possible at Marina. We also have to watch the weather because rain tires or at least tires with tread might be needed. The Ohlins suspension we run is bulletproof but still needs to be freshened up occasionally.

For the Top Driver Shootout at year’s end, what did you do to prepare?
TDS, where do I begin? We run all year on R-comp tires so trying to play the points game and run even the best Tier One street tire would be slower with a lot less grip. I did have fresh tires for the event but no other changes. Several people have tried to run far less prepared cars, even renting 20 point cars but they never figured out the car in time and lost. My overall goal is drive the shortest course possible. The M3 is still underpowered and we consider her a momentum car so we try to keep the RPM up over 2K. This year’s course was tight and had a variable slalom or wallom which was difficult to execute cleanly. Definitely could have done much better through that element.

What do you think of the autocross program?
These guys running the program are doing a great job. It’s tough to be a volunteer and I praise them for their efforts. The Car Control Clinics early on were a huge help. It’s great to get feedback while on course and during a quick download after the run.

Do you feel your driving skills have improved?
I’ve definitely improved. My lines are lot better. Looking ahead and setting up for the next element was the key.

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MICHAEL DOCOUTO
When did you join the GGC?
My first time was from 2002-2012. I re-joined in August 2014 as my license plate reads IMMMBCK. What car do you use for autocrosses? A 2010 BMW ///M3 DCT. How long have you participated in the autocross program? If you volunteer, what do you do? I’ve been participating in the autocross program since 2006 returning in August of 2015. Two-Time A-Class Champion in 2009 & 2010. I also coach newbies and instruct for our CCC and ACCC. Since I live so close to Marina, I usually arrive early to help with course set up.

What type of preparation goes into setting your car up for autocrossing?
After driving my car stock for a couple of autox’s and a formal re-introduction to understeer, I decided to make some progressive mods to help me understand what was going on. I started with a front sway bar then did an autox. Thereafter, I went for a performance alignment and autox’ed some more. I torqued the wheels and checked tire-pressures right before run starts as the temperature in Marina can fluctuate. This all ensures the car is up to warm-up temperature.

For the top driver shootout, what was your strategy to win?
A strategy to win wasn’t possible having a four-time TDS winner (now five time TDS winner) in the field. I think a good future strategy will involve watching our “five-time champion” enter a port-a-potty,  applying a lock, and walking away with evil lol’s. I think for most of us, getting into the shoot-out round was the target goal.  I just finished outside that group but next year, I might share a car or “borrow” the car from the guy-locked-in-the-port-a-potty.

What do you think of the GGC organization running the autocross program?
Great organization led by some of the greatest volunteers and friends you can ask for.

What training or help have you received from the GGC for auto-crossing?
I’m honing in my force powers to butt dial in understeer into fluid motion understeer/oversteer. Balance is key. Too much one of will lead into Darkskid marks. But it’s OK they have cookies at lunch. But seriously, a big shout out to MMI Vehicle Systems and Performance Technic for their help and expertise over the years!

Do you feel your skills have improved since participating in the program? If so how?

Absolutely! I’m looking ahead on the street and the apexes. It’s also understanding how to drive the car to its potential and sometimes over, and bringing it back. One’s skills are never really set, but as you push yourself and the car to the edge, you will continue to improve with the various course designs and harder elements. Photo by Mark Mervich

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TIMOTHY WOO
When did you join the GGC?
I joined the GGC BMW CCA in 2009 after I purchased a high horsepower sedan, without any intent of doing what I do now. It was Jeff Roberts (our very own autocross coordinator, a track junkie and a good friend of mine before joining the club) who said that I MUST do something with all that horsepower. A digression but worth mentioning… After the CCC, I wanted to try autocrossing since everyone was talking about it there and it’s minimal risk compared to the race track. At the time Jeff and Jack Yu, my high school buddy, were track junkies who had never autocrossed, and didn’t see the value of autocrossing–6 minutes vs. ~2 hours of track time per day–$ per minute didn’t add up! Though they tried unsuccessfully to convince me to take my brand new car (the Lexus IS F–yes I was that guy!!) to the track, I signed up for a BMW autocross event. Being great friends, they reluctantly humored me and signed up to accompany me. After our first event, we were thoroughly addicted to say the least! The rest is history as Jeff has taken the reins of the autocross program and Jack being part of the team. Why this digression? Yes…I am taking full credit for getting Jeff and Jack into the sport–All of you can thank me too! I love rye whiskies and bourbons. ? I remember how friendly the instructors were so when asked to be a CCC Instructor, I took the opportunity to give back to the community that started me on this ridiculously fun and addicting hobby. It’s such a rush to drive a car in a more… ”spirited” …way!

What car do you use for autocrosses?
I had no idea what autocross was at the time in 2009, but I’ve been a regular since then for every season, and am now competing in AA class with a 1999 E36 M3.

What type of preparation goes into setting your car up for autocrossing?
I had my car set up to compete in AA from last year–new struts/shocks, camber plates, sway bar, wheels, tires, etc. Then it was fine-tuning this year based on how the car feels. I adjusted the sway bar mainly to dial understeer/oversteer and of course the new Bridgestone RE71R tires really helped–MASSIVE GRIP! A proper alignment goes without saying with the new tires, but I’ll say it anyway for the noobs.

For the top driver shootout, what was your strategy to win?
By now, most experienced autocrossers have figured out that a lower point car can get you closer to TDS finals (with decent skills of course). The final round is about all most people can shoot for, given that Eric and Praneil had the fastest TDS times during the season. With both being previous TDS champs and the reigning 4-peat champ running (now 5-peat), one can only hope to win… in time if ever, but not this year.

During the beginning of the season, I realized that the stock sway bar worked better with my setup (anyone want to buy a Ground Control sway bar?–come talk to me). I also went with narrower width rims with the already sticky RE71Rs. Both changes reduced points on my car, and I achieved faster times over the season. With the times plugged in the TDS formula, this gave me a gauge of how competitive my times were before TDS, and if changes were necessary, I better make it, and test it before judgement day. The TDS course was well designed once again by Sparks. It was challenging with several elements including an optional slalom. Lower exit velocity, shorter distance with sticky tires, or longer distance with higher exit velocity? Hmmmm? What proved one way in the morning didn’t work for the other in the afternoon. Just eked out of the Top 10 for the final round. Bummer… next year. What do you think of the GGC organization running the autocross program? Jeff and team have done a remarkable job in the past few years picking up from the previous coordinators. The program sells out all their events, including TDS in record time this year. It’s a testament to their efforts in making this program successful with VERY active members. The new timing equipment is awesome too– love the instantaneous and live results!

What training or help have you received from the GGC for auto-crossing?
The people in this club are very sociable and friendly IMHO. It’s not hard to meet anyone to talk cars, upgrades, helping you improve–provided you’re not a recluse. Too many to name, but most, if not all the experienced people here are willing to help, coach and discuss what modifications to think about, other than your skills, of course.

Do you feel your skills have improved since participating in the program? If so how?
The driving skills I’ve picked up over the autocrossing years have significantly improved since starting. All comes from seat time–runs after runs–with a coach or more experienced driver, and just watching and learning. Every course you run gives you experience tackling different types of turns, and with every improvement, you learn the dynamics of your car based on your inputs to ultimately achieve the fastest time possible. Weight transfer, throttle and brake modulation, braking points, etc. can always improve. But you also have to understand the setup of your car and why the car is handling the way it does. Isolating the right variables to fine tune is a science that I still have a long way to go to master. That’s part of the journey.

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