Thunderhill NCRC Recap

May 9, 2006

What a fantastic day at Thunderhill! High 70's, clear skies, green grass -- it doesn't get much better than that up in Willows.I met my folks at the Best Western in Willows on Thursday evening. They had driven down from Washington, and were visiting family in Chico. It's a half-hour drive from there to Willows. JohnR and I caravaned up from the Bay Area for the event.

It was my first outing with NCRC, and Pops' first time on a road course. We shared my car, running in two different run groups. NCRC does a great job of running a track event. It's more casual than the BMWCCA events I've been to, but it works.

M3 at ThunderhillMy first couple of sessions were done solo -- sans instructor. That's all fine and good, but this was a different configuration of the track than I've driven on. Rather than the steep uphill, 90 degree left-hander, and sharp downhill "Cyclone" Turn 5, we ran "The Bypass", which is a blind over-crest, off-camber right hand sweeper. My first time though it I felt like I was going to fly off the track. Solo sessions are fun, but there is very little learning that can happen at my level (skill- and confidence-).

Pops had a great instructor from the start. Jay Hudson is a long-time instructor, and a recent Club Racer. His patience and skills in the art of high performance driving instruction really made a great day for my dad. Pops came away from the day with a feeling of acomplishment, and a fine regard for the proper line on a race track. I'm very excited for his next trip to Thunderhill, since I think he'll be more comfortable dialing in some speed to his experience.

I was lucky enough to catch a session with Jim Bassett in the passenger seat. Jim wasn't signed up as an instructor, but I know that he's one of the most talented guys out there. To get any time with him in a car -- either riding along or driving -- is a valuable thing. He showed me a brilliant line through The Bypass that allowed me to proceed with confidence through the rest of the day.

My "official" instructor was Margaret Cheng, who currently races a Spec Miata, and is known to most of the guys she races against as a force to be reckoned with. She showed me that she is an incredible instructor too -- her confidence and encouragement really helped me to find more speed and stability on the track. I've never been so high up on the berms before, and at the same time, never carried as much speed through some of the turns -- especially Turn 9.

So really a great day at the track. The car felt awesome all day. It was my first time running a "square" wheel/tire setup -- I've got a set of four OE 18x9" wheels with 255/40-18 OE Continental tires. They're noisy and squealy, but a great tire to learn on. It was also the first day running dedicated track brake pads -- Performance Friction PF01s. They were AWESOME throughout the day. They seemed to bite harder the hotter they got. I experienced zero fade all day, and this was running double-duty with my dad driving the car too. I made sure to bleed the brakes the night before, and top off the Motul RBF-600 brake fluid. I'm sure that helped a bit.

I've signed up for the BMWCCA school at Thunderhill in August, and am registered to do an event with Hank Watts' Coastal Driving School at Sears, err Infineon in June. I'm really looking forward to continuing this addiction, and hope to get Arti out to the track one of these days -- as soon as we can leave Marina with her Nana and Nani overnight...