Thunderhill 3-Day Weekend

November 12, 2012

Just got home from three days at Thunderhill Raceway with the GGC BMWWCCA.

Friday was an Instructor Training School. The club does this once every couple of years to refresh old instructors skills, and to haze/vet/train new instructors. I was assigned a new recruit (who had more years instructing than me, just with other groups) and my role was to play the "bad student". Andy, the candidate instructor, was a great guy and we got along well all day. I tried hard in the morning to be my best Knucklehead McStudent for him ("yeah, I'm going to set fast lap in this group ... I've got a lot of laps here on xbox."). In the afternoon I threw him some more subtle situations, like creeping in prior to turn-in, or distracting myself with irrelevant banter. Andy did great and caught all my foibles. We're lucky to have him join the instructor corps!

We also got 5 open track sessions on Friday, so I got plenty of time in to have fun and polish my own skills out there.

Saturday and Sunday were a standard BMWCCA track weekend. I had one student in the C (low intermediate) group each day and taught the C classroom, a first for me. Both of my students were fantastic and made great progress each day. The classroom was the highlight of the weekend though.

There were 25 or so C group students. After each driving session, we would convene to discuss the session, and to review other topics related to driving.

We started the weekend with a chat about the skills and attributes needed to be a fast driver. The main focus was on developing smoothness, and what's needed for that (confidence, relaxation, a good sense of what the car is doing, etc). We also talked about the attributes of a good student (eagerness, listening, humility, turning words into action, etc). The group really responded well to this -- I had their rapt attention through the whole classroom.

In the next session, we focused on what to do if the car is going to leave the track. I showed a video of mine where I went 4-off in turn 9. We looked at the video frame-by-frame to show when to make the decision to stop trying to save the corner, and instead go straight off. There were three 4-off incidents in the group after that, and none of them resulted in any spins or damage to the car. Hopefully our analysis helped contribute to the lack of drama.

<embed src="" width="640" height="480" scale="aspect" autostart="false"></embed>

In subsequent sessions, we talked a lot about passing. Since it was such a great group, we didn't have any stories of frustration from the track, but we did talk through turning a "train" scenario into a positive learning experience by taking advantage of the situation to learn to drive our own line. We also reinforced the idea of finishing the turn prior to taking or giving the passing signal.

On Sunday, I wanted to focus on the track and lines. In the morning, I had an idea to use Google Earth to do this. There are some annotation tools in Google Earth that you can use to draw lines on the ground. Perfect for drawing lines on the track. There is also "street view" of Thunderhill that you can click into to see the view from the ground.

This went over better than I expected. Utilizing the new 55" TV and surrounding couches in the main classroom, we had a super high tech learning tool, where we could zoom around the track in 3D, looking at individual turns and how they relate to each other. This worked out to be AWESOME. It was like a classroom from the future...

<a href="" title="Overall View by thenobot, on Flickr"><img src="" width="640" height="372" alt="Overall View"></a>

We could flip to a video of that turn to watch and dissect it, then flip back to the Earth view and discuss the line more. Super super useful.

<a href="" title="Turns 2, 3, 4 by thenobot, on Flickr"><img src="" width="640" height="393" alt="Turns 2, 3, 4"></a>

Here is the .kmz file that includes the annotations for the lines on the track. <a href="/Thunderhill_Cyclone_Lines.kmz">Thunderhill_Cyclone_Lines.kmz</a> (open in Google Earth).

Here is the video we used in the classroom: <embed src="" width="640" height="480" scale="aspect" autostart="false"></embed> <a href="">(Download Full HD Version)</a>

Some students were recording video from the track, so we watched some of their videos and talked about how video can be such a useful learning tool while away from the track.

After the last classroom session on both Saturday and Sunday, we took a "field trip" to a spot around the track where we could see the track from a new viewpoint. On Saturday we walked up the hill above Turn 1. Along the way we talked about how the turn goes uphill, and then we watched the A Group (Advanced) students on track. On Sunday, we walked out to the pavement near T10 and T11 to look at the shape of things there. One day I'd like to work out how to bring the group out to walk the whole track.

It was really fun to get to know all the C group students. What a great bunch.

Overall, a great weekend with some new experiences and friends. All that being said, I'm glad to be back home with my three favorite people. I'm probably going to take the next 6 months off from driving stuff so that I can focus on training for the Ohlone Wilderness 50K coming up in May.