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Thread: Recalling my first track experience with my Atom circa 2006

  1. #1

    Recalling my first track experience with my Atom circa 2006

    As I have lurked a bit and participated in this forum, I've been reminded of my first track experience which was initiated by a suggestion from my brother on the occasion of receiving my new Ariel Atom. The next week I posted the following on the AAOC forum. I hope that nobody is offended at me sharing it with the Atom community that participates in this forum.

    Many of you who have attended AtomFest can easily identify with the track now and this will definitely put my low threshold of skills on display - lap times were - nothing to shout about!

    Hope you enjoy the read.


    On Thursday and Friday last week, my brother and I attended the Stephens Brothers School of High Performance Driving http://www.stephensbrothersracing.com/school.asp
    The school was conducted at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit located about 30 minutes west of Tulsa, Oklahoma. http://www.hallettracing.net The school and track are owned by Shayne Stephens who was also our instructor both days. The track is operated by Shayne, his brother Scott, his mother and father, from whom he purchased the track and driving school, and a host of mechanics, technicians, track officials and corner workers.

    The atmosphere is very laid back and family oriented. I was very impressed with the facility and the quality of each contact I had with staff members. I also felt that I got very good value for the money I spent.

    On the first day we spent a little over an hour in the classroom as Shayne described the track, driving protocols, cornering techniques, etc. and we filled out some paperwork. Next the class traveled around the track as passengers in Shayne's BMW M3. We took several laps, starting slowly as he described the entry, apex and exit points of the ideal spec racer lines. He also keyed us in on shift points, throttle position, braking, etc. The last lap was pretty quick and very smooth as he gave us a sense of the circuit.

    By 11:00 am we were donning school-supplied driving suits and getting fitted into the Roush powered spec racers which are the default training cars. I drove the Atom, one student has his own spec racer, blue number 44 and the eighth guy had a race prepared 911 Porsche. All cars were on slicks except mine. I am running the Yokohama ES-100 tires which came with the car. My car had about 1,000 miles on it when I started the class.

    We drove out onto the false grid and lined up behind the M3. We then followed in single file, about 5 car lengths apart trying to stay exactly in the M3??s tire tracks. At the end of the first lap, the leading student pulled out and blended back in at the end of the train. This continued until all cars had moved up to the first position directly behind the M3. Then back to the pits for a discussion, questions and answers and final cockpit adjustments.



    Just before noon, we lined up on the false grid and were flagged out on to track with about a 10-12 second gap between each car. One lap to warm up tires and brakes and then go for it! The track etiquette for this session was "no point, no pass."* This means no passing unless the driver in the car ahead waves you by. That was cool. Most of us had not been on a track before.



    My nervousness started to melt away as I felt the capability of the Atom under me. Being the only car on street tires, the cornering was a bit dicey at first and I could blow off the rears at just about any time by pressing to hard on the throttle. The supercharged Ecotec is AWESOME! The track had been resealed just three days before our school and had no rubber build up. Some said it was a little more slippery than before, but I had no frame of reference for that. I did miss the braking markers that I had seen in the track videos and the dark pattern of rubber that I had hoped would help me with the lines, but the cones Shayne had placed worked well and with each lap I pushed a little harder. Being almost 55 years old and on the track for the first time was quite a sensation. I found myself falling into old street habits like steering to tightly into the turns instead of taking them as wide as possible. This tended to make the front end push since I also was not doing any trail braking at that time. Within a few laps I was able to pass some of the spec racers and gaining more confidence.

    We didn't have quite enough transportation to lunch, so two of us piled into the Atom. It was a gas to drive right off the track and down the road to lunch. Of course the Atom caused a stir in the little town of Jennings where we ate. Lots of questions and long looks which is a regular part of driving these cars.

    After lunch we ran two, twenty five minute sessions starting 10-15 seconds apart at the start. The faster cars would lap the slower ones during the session and I passed some and got passed by some. I was fatigued (the air temperature was 107 in the shade that day) and felt a little overwhelmed by the power of the Atom on street tires and a "green" track. Three drivers had past track experience. The driver of blue 44 had the most, about 10 years at Hallett and was very smooth. He and his friend had also done a couple of Bondurant schools. His friend also drives a Ferrari Modena 360 at KCIR in the Kansas City area. The Porsche driver had done Bondurant too, but nothing previously at Hallett. The rest of us were green rookies, never having driven on any racetrack at any time.

    Late Thursday afternoon we did some practice starts. All the cars were lined up in a two by two configuration behind a pace car. We followed the pace car around the track, playing with gear selections, warming tires, brakes, etc. and at the green flag raced all the way through seven of the ten turns. The pace car picked us back up and we repeated the drill. On the third start, we raced for three laps and then came back into the pits.

    Here's how I did. The Porsche and I were on the outside and inside at the back of the pack to begin the first practice start. I was unbelievably nervous. All the cars around me were rented and had scars in various places. My car had 1,000 miles and had no insurance for this type of use. They were on slicks and me on (Yokohama ES-100) street tires. What was I thinking? The green flag dropped and by the first corner, I had gone from seventh to third place. I was able to maintain that position and started from the inside of the second row for start #2. I picked up one place that lap and started the race on the outside pole.

    The blue 44 was on the pole, the Porsche was on row two inside and my brother in a rented spec racer was in row two outside. I'm not sure of the others. As the flag dropped the third time, the Atom sprinted down the front straight and into the first corner. I could not believe that I was leading! We drove up and crested the hill and then down toward turn two, a 2nd gear turn with a short ess into turn three. My nerve was not enough. Heading downhill into turn two at over 90 MPH, I braked too early and blue 44 passed on the inside. I was secretly relieved, knowing how fast he was and how inexperienced I was. The next three laps were completely exhilarating as I followed 44 at speed around the track. I never got close enough to challenge and sometimes I could hear the roar of that black Porsche coming up from behind, but the Atom was just too much, even in my inexperienced hands.



    Back in the pits the Atom was a real star now. Everybody knew that I had no experience and had witnessed first hand as the Atom and I flew by. I was just pinching myself. Could I have finished so well? After a few minutes rest and re-hydration we took the track one last time starting with another pace lap and green flag. I started inside row four beside the black Porsche. As we accelerated down the front straight I waited until the spec racers moved to the outside of the straight preparing to make the turn into one. Most of the spec racer drivers were a little intimidated from the first heat and moved aside. Pressing the pedal to the mat, I drove all the way to the lead and up the hill toward turn two with the Porsche in hot pursuit. I got intimidated by the sound of his engine and braked too early for the turn. He was around on the outside and began to pull away. The adrenaline that had kept me going during the first heat had subsided and I faded. The 44 passed me on lap two. I held him off for a while, but began losing my concentration as the heat and traction eroded my 55 year old body. My brother was next, wringing out his rented racer and a few laps later, the Ferrari owner joined. I tucked in behind them and that became our finishing order. I was only a little disappointed and really tired, but happy with the results of my first ever track day. The Atom had performed flawlessly, accelerating with authority, braking with confidence, cornering close to the speed of the slick shod racecars and making even me look good in the process.



    Friday my brother and I swapped cars. He took the Atom and I the spec racer. As the day before, we doused a hand towel with ice water and stuffed it into the collar of our driving suits. The temperature was a bit better at 103 in the shade, but still oppressive. We offered the Shayne the driving seat of the Atom which he jumped at. Rick took the passenger side and the Atom led the group onto the track for a few pace laps. Well, that was the plan. After one lap, Shayne had enough restraint and the Atom disappeared. He ran three more laps finishing with a 1:31.9. The track record in a spec racer is 1:27. That was on slicks with a pro level driver, moderate temperatures and a grippy track.

    Shayne pulled into the pits and swapped seats with Rick. I can hear him tell Rick on the videotape "I'd rather be bored than scared." And off they went. My brother had only piloted the Atom once on a local road near his house, two nights before and had driven less than 5 miles. He had never driven on a road track, same as me. He drove 4-5 more laps with Shayne and we all took a break.

    The spec racer was a real blast to drive. With slicks, 1,600# weight, aero bodywork and years of tuning to this track, it was fast and tight. The more modest power to weight allowed a new driver to push hard and still be within the car??s limits. Several drivers found the grass or turned 180 or 360 spins in the car, but mostly when they missed a shift and unloaded the tires or some similar circumstance. It is easy now for me to understand the UK Atom owners who have suggested the big brakes and grippy tires and not so much the higher horsepower.

    In the second session, he drove about 5 more laps and ran a 1:31.6. After the session, when Shayne handed out the time slips he pulled Ricks back and said: "My turn." The afternoon heat conspired against us and everybody's times grew for the next few sessions. Finally, the last session of the day it had cooled enough to yield the best times. Rick finished with a high 1:31.64 and the blue 44, a 1:31.49. My best effort in the spec racer was 1:37:9, far off the pace of the quickest, but third overall for the day. (OK, forth if you count the instructor driving the Atom). It was great fun.



    Saturday was open track day. Several different classes of cars were scheduled to run at different times. We ran the Atom in the HST (High Speed Touring) group. This class encourages newbies to get some track time and experience at a very low cost. We ran five, fifteen minute sessions spaced throughout the day and could kick back and watch other, faster cars at other times. Passing is allowed only on the straights. During one pause in the action, I met a fellow from Tulsa who is another Atom owner! He purchased an Atom from Ariel and had it shipped to the US last November. He's a really nice guy and member of the forum. We will surely get together and have an Atom day soon, either on the track or on some of Arkansas' great back roads.



    Hallett is one of only a few courses in the US that can run either clockwise or counterclockwise. All of the turns, braking areas, pit entrances, etc. are configured for bi-directional operation. Corners that are increasing radius in one direction are decreasing when run opposite. All of the elevation changes are different and even the straights differ when swapped end-for end. Each month the HST alters the direction of travel. It just so happened that after driving counterclockwise (anticlockwise?) Thursday and Friday, we ran clockwise on Saturday.



    This completely blew my mind. After only two pace laps, we were off and going and I immediately ran through the grass, cutting off two corners in the process. No harm done and the torque of the Ecotec kept me ahead of the next guy, but what a shock to the system. There were enough HST cars to have 2 sessions, A & B. This worked out great since I could run the A session and Rick the B. I chose A, being populated with the slower cars. The temperature was much better in the low 90??s and after a really slow first session, I lapped the field during the second. Third and forth sessions produced similar results in session A. Rick was running against a faster crowd including several drivers of Corvette Z-06's, having experience ranging from 8 to 22 years. The Atom sort of intruded on what has been their playground. One frustrated 'Vette driver expressed his frustration digitally and was called down by a track official. (The HST is to encourage new folks to come and prospectively move on to the other racing classes, so it's supposed to be polite.) A little later Rick was talking with one of the other 'Vette drivers and asked why the first guy was angry. The reply was great: "I guess I'd be pi***d too if I had 8 years on this track and a guy in a little four cylinder car on his first day was running away from my 500 horsepower Corvette!"



    I apologize for the length of the post, but there was just a myriad of experiences and I wanted to do them justice. If anyone out there is on the fence and within reasonable distance of a road track, go for it! And one more thing, my upgrade priorities have changed. I no longer have plans to immediately increase the horsepower. Bigger brakes and a second set of wheels with slicks are now at the top of my list.

    The Stephens family was great all weekend and I heartily recommend Hallett to anyone within reasonable traveling distance who is interested in driving on the track. The track has camping facilities including electrical hookups and is very family friendly. It is a real Midwest "mom & pop" operation in the best sense of that term.

    I'll be back!
    Last edited by RandyLamp; May 10, 2011 at 10:00 AM. Reason: fixed video problem
    Rogers, Arkansas
    My Atoms are gone to new homes ...

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    Neutrino MadMaxAtom's Avatar
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    Great read, Randy. Most of my time behind the wheel of my Atom has been on track and I cannot remember one dull second....
    The power of an Atom is a terrible thing to waste! Atom owner/operator since 2007. The more you chase perfection,the faster it becomes. John Force for President! (I asked him once in person...he laughed)

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by MadMaxAtom View Post
    Great read, Randy. Most of my time behind the wheel of my Atom has been on track and I cannot remember one dull second....
    The Atom has been a catalyst for me, and since that first track day I have been able to run it at VIR, Road America, Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca, Blackhawk Farms and Eagles Canyon....and of course many, many times at Hallett. I've played cat-and-mouse with Jim Sharp and Eddie Hill and even took a stab at owning a formula car.
    Even though I have been a gear head since birth, in my wildest dreams I never thought I would have been able to do those things.

    In the clubroom between sessions folks frequently compare lap times or speeds through a particular section of the course. The best comparison for me is not the speedometer, but the fun-ometer. When I'm on track in the Atom it's always pegged!
    Rogers, Arkansas
    My Atoms are gone to new homes ...

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    Positron Gage's Avatar
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    Thanks for sharing that experience here Randy. I read it again and enjoyed it more this time.
    "Opportunities do not come to those who wait; they are captured by those who attack."

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    Kim
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    Great post, Randy! I really enjoyed reading about your first racing experience in the Atom.

    By the way, do you still think you need "bigger brakes" or just better fluid and/or pads? Did you ever sort that out?
    Kim
    2010 Atom 3 #131 - K20R/DBW Stage Two
    "I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather; not screaming and terrified like his passengers."

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Kim View Post
    Great post, Randy! I really enjoyed reading about your first racing experience in the Atom.

    By the way, do you still think you need "bigger brakes" or just better fluid and/or pads? Did you ever sort that out?
    Thanks Kim,

    Yes, my car originally had the lowest brake package with Wilwoods on the front and PBR single piston on the rear. I ordered an upgrade kit from Brammo that put Wilwoods at all four corners, then went to high performance fluid and brake pads. It made the whole world of difference. I went from really high pedal effort and marginal brakes to very reasonable pedal, great feedback, modulation and control. Having also driven several Alcon equipped Atoms, I am 100% sold on the Wilwoods when set up properly.
    Rogers, Arkansas
    My Atoms are gone to new homes ...

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    Neutrino
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    on the wilwoods aspect, I just received my upgraded hawk pads, It took about 20 minutes to change all 4 corners, and I was suprised to find 3 of the 8 pads with chunks missing.

    I cant' wait to bed these new pads and see what they do for improved performance!!!

  8. #8
    Kim
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    Quote Originally Posted by silver View Post
    on the wilwoods aspect, I just received my upgraded hawk pads, It took about 20 minutes to change all 4 corners, and I was suprised to find 3 of the 8 pads with chunks missing.

    I cant' wait to bed these new pads and see what they do for improved performance!!!
    Are those the hot pad for the Wilwoods? If so, what is their complete product name (Hawk ...)? Are they suitable for street and track? Where best to get them?

    While I'm at it, what do you recommend as the absolute best dual use brake fluid?

    Thanks!

    P.S. This is such a great forum!
    Kim
    2010 Atom 3 #131 - K20R/DBW Stage Two
    "I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather; not screaming and terrified like his passengers."

  9. #9
    Neutrino
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim View Post
    Are those the hot pad for the Wilwoods? If so, what is their complete product name (Hawk ...)? Are they suitable for street and track? Where best to get them?

    While I'm at it, what do you recommend as the absolute best dual use brake fluid?

    Thanks!

    P.S. This is such a great forum!
    here's the link, they are the same front and rear so order 2 sets, if you friend them on facebook you save another $10...and it's free shipping

    http://www.lpiracing.com/HB100U-480-...-5470p9962.htm

    I will be using them on the street, they are listed as track only, but, I'm going to see how they do on the street anyways.

    I can't offer any advice on fluid, but Randy made mention of a few options somewhere, perhaps in this thread, I can't remember.

  10. #10
    Proton Terry Kennedy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim View Post
    While I'm at it, what do you recommend as the absolute best dual use brake fluid?
    You don't want DOT 5 fluids, as ideally they should be used on a never-before-filled system. I haven't seen Atom brakes get as hot as those used on heavier cars, so you don't need exotic high-temperature fluids either.

    I alternate between ATE Super Blue and ATE TYP 200, which are the same thing except for the color. That way it is easy to tell if you've got all of the old fluid purged, since what comes out of the caliper bleed screws will change color.

    Note that it will be somewhat difficult to find Super Blue in Florida, as it isn't legal for street use there because it is blue.

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