Sunday, May 9, 2010

The High Cost of iRacing

Now that iRacing allows hosting races with multiple car types - but requires every participant in such a race to own all the cars in that race - the clubs I race with are debating whether to adopt multiplayer racing. One of the big concerns is the cost of buying the cars.

I'd like to weigh in here on the "high" cost of iRacing. Compared to other sims, yes, it's more expensive. Three cars roughly equals the cost of most other sims. But with iRacing you get so much more: incredibly detailed car models, which all feel drastically different from each other, plus constant development, improvement, and expansion, and a large, well-supported online community.

This is very unlike other sims, where ostensibly very different cars often feel so similar that it's hard to distinguish between them in terms of handling; where the community is fragmented; and where you're lucky if you get a handful of patches in the multi-year wait before the next release.

And you can drive iRacing's cars on amazingly detailed and accurate laser-scanned tracks, which are not available anywhere else. (The tracks scanned for rFactor don't compare, because rF's track modeling uses polygons, which hides the details, and the scanning is not anywhere as high resolution as iRacing's.) I've driven Mosport, NHMS, Watkins Glen, Summit Point, and Lime Rock in real life, and I can tell you that the accuracy of iRacing's versions of these tracks is astonishing.

Instead of comparing the cost of iRacing to the cost of other sims, I prefer to compare it to the cost of real-world track time. After all, with the accuracy of the car and track models, and the superb force feedback, iRacing is pretty darn close to the real thing.

What do you miss out on with iRacing that you'd get in real life? The inertial feedback, of course, and the wind in your face and the sun on your skin. These are nice - unless you get a sunburn!

You also miss out on the risk of wrecking your car and hurting yourself. And the huge cost and effort of maintaining a car for the track and getting it and yourself there and back. When I was running my Cobra in seven or eight two-day time trial (not racing) events per year, I was spending four or five thousand dollars each year - not including development of the car. That could be thousands more.

This was for track days which were mostly practice sessions, with single-car, three lap time trials on the afternoon of the second day. No wheel to wheel racing at all, ever. If you want to do that, you have to go with a club like SCCA or NASA, and you spend much more.

Compared to those costs, iRacing is a fantastic deal. For what I'd spend for a handful of events in the real world, I can race for years in iRacing, and own every car and track they produce.

Fifteen bucks each for a car that I can drive on fabulous race tracks all over the world, with never a lick of maintenance?

I'll take it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lateral Separation

Recently, in the Radical at Laguna Seca, I had an interesting experience which highlighted one of the hazards of racing online.

I qualified on the second row, and in the early laps the drivers ahead of me all got involved in incidents and I found myself in the lead. I led for much of the race, driving carefully, staying within my limits, but near the end I could see another car closing on me.

Knowing how difficult it is to pass on this track, I decided it was better to keep running at a safe pace and let the other car catch me than try to speed up and risk throwing it off the track.

But when he caught me he followed very close behind me and when I braked, the other car hit me. This happened twice, first entering the carousel and then again entering the hairpin. The second hit pushed me so far off line that the other driver was able to just drive right by. The collision also bent my rear suspension, and after that I was off the pace. Luckily I still managed to finish second.

In a discussion afterward it became clear that the other driver was unaware of at least one of the collisions. From his perspective there was no contact.

This incident shows how much of an effect a little latency can have on the respective experiences of two drivers racing together in iRacing.

Let's imagine that you and I are racing. Even if both of us have good connections it takes a fraction of a second for the position and velocity information to make it from, say, my computer to yours. The iRacing software has to predict where it thinks my car is going to be and display that to you; by the time it gets the real information from your computer through the server, you've already moved some distance.

The result is that sometimes there are small discrepencies between what iRacing makes a remote car do (based on the iRacing software's prediction algorithms) and what the remote car actually did.

In this case, I braked but iRacing on the other driver's computer didn't predict precisely when I did that. It apparently didn't show me braking until a faction of a second later. He presumably braked in time to avoid my predicted car, but not in time to avoid my real car.

At my end, the prediction code on my machine failed to predict the precise moment when he braked. His car didn't slow on my system until a fraction of a second too late. Instead, his "predicted" car thumped into mine, pushed me off line and bent it.

I think the lesson to take from this is don't follow closely directly behind another car, especially when approaching a braking zone. Either leave a larger gap, or - and this is what I try to remember to do - establish what fighter pilots who fly tight formation call "lateral separation." As you are moving down the straight toward the braking zone, ease over to one side of the car you're chasing. Usually this will be the inside. This way, if the car ahead brakes earlier than you expect, you'll just shoot by on the inside. If it doesn't, no harm done.

You can see pro drivers do this all the time on TV. The announcers get excited and yell "he's taking a look down the inside!!" Maybe, but that's only part of the story. The driver is actually establishing lateral separation to avoid the possibility of rear-ending the other car if it brakes earlier than expected.

This is especially important if you are not familiar with the driving habits of the driver ahead. Some drivers are dead consistent, braking at precisely the same point every lap. But this is rare. Most drivers vary their braking points by a few feet either way. Later one lap, earlier the next. You can't safely follow most drivers very closely; sooner or later you'll hit them.

Moving to the inside on the straight before the braking zone has a secondary benefit: it serves as a signal to the driver ahead that you'd like to pass. In many situations, such as lapping a slower car, this is of real value. You're asking politely for a pass, which tends to make the driver ahead more inclined to give you the corner.

When you're dicing for position late in a race, as that other driver and I were, the leading driver is likely to be less willing to let you by, but on the other hand this move can ramp up the pressure a bit and make it a little more likely that the other driver will make a small mistake which will give you the position.

When following a slower car, the lateral separation tactic is the best option, IMHO. There's little or no downside, and the upside is a safer and more fun race for everyone.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Art of Being Passed

There's been some discussion in some of the iRacing league forums about whether to move over and let a faster car past, or stay on line and let them find their way by. Here are some of my thoughts on this.

When I was doing endurance racing in the real world, I drove with a team running RX-7's in 24 hour races in which there were also Corvettes and turbo Porsche 944's. Our RX-7's were a lot slower than the 'Vettes and Porsches, so we were always having to deal with getting passed.

At first, when one of the faster cars came up behind me, I'd try to just stick to my line and figure they'd get around me on the next straight or whatever. Wrong. If their pace put them at a corner entry at the same moment as me, they'd just barge right in there. I'd end up having to go way off line and into the marbles to avoid a collision, which would end up costing me a lot of time because I'd be slow down the next straight.

So I learned how to get passed: figure out where they're going to catch you, and then ease up a little to time the pass so it will cost you a minimum amount of speed and lap time. Better to give up a few tenths now and be able to maintain your speed after they get by than to keep driving flat out until the other car screws you up and costs you a big chunk of time.

The best place to get passed is on a straight; if a faster car is on your tail coming out of a corner, breathe out of the throttle a bit until they're alongside and then go back to full throttle. This will cost you almost nothing in terms of lap time, and is very low risk for both cars.

When doing this, you can either keep to your normal position on the straight and let them go off line to go by, or you can make a clear and definite move off line - before they are about to pass - to let them know you're letting them by. But the most important thing is to just breathe out of the throttle. Don't make a big lift that would cause you to slow suddenly, forcing them to make a big avoidance maneuver. Just ease up. The goal is to ease into a 5 or maybe 10 MPH difference. On a long straight, that should be plenty for them to get by.

If they're catching you near the end of a straight, then you can brake early so they can get past before the corner. This way you'll lose a lot less time than if you enter the corner together.

But if you're going to brake early, make sure you don't catch the other driver by surprise! You can use your car's position on the track as a signal. If you move to the inside down the straight as you approach the corner, and they stay on the outside, on line, that means they realize you're going to let them go, so you can brake early, let them by, and tuck right back in, both of you having lost minimal time. When executed properly, this is a very satisfying move. You might even be able to draft them down the next straight and gain back some of the small amount of time it cost you to brake early.

Another way this can play out is if the car behind moves to the inside as you approach the corner. This means they're asking you to let them by. Stay wide, on line, but brake a little early and let them go down the inside. Since they're off line, they will also have to brake a bit earlier than usual, and their entry into the corner will be slower than usual, so be sure to allow enough room for this by braking early enough to create a little gap. Again, if you can allow them to complete the pass before the corner then you'll both lose minimal time, and you might catch a bit of a draft down the next straight.

On the other hand, if someone is all over you going into a corner, stick to your line and your pace. It's not your problem or your job to save them a few tenths in the middle of a turn. They can wait till the next straight, where you can let them by as above. If they are desperate, let them go off line and take the risks.

There have been a number of instances lately where I've seen people go off line in a corner to let me by, go too wide, and end up going off the track. Nobody wants that, least of all me! So please be cool, be patient, and use the straights or find other safe, low-stress points to let other cars by.

If you're the car coming up to pass someone, keep in mind that climbing all over their tail entering a corner is probably going to be counter-productive. (I know I'm guilty of this sometimes, and I'm working on it!) If you make them feel pressured they're more likely to make a mistake, and you could get caught up in it.

Also if you're right on their tail entering a corner then you have to take the corner at the same speed, which kills your advantage at corner exit. Better to drop back a bit before entering the corner and leave enough of a gap that you can take the corner at your own speed. That way, if you're quicker through the corner, then your exit speed will be higher, making it much easier to pass them on the following straight.

Learning to pass and learning to be passed are two important - and rewarding - aspects of racecraft, and in the iRacing leagues we've got a great environment to acquire and refine these skills.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I ran with Vsync on ever since getting into the beta in June 08 because with it turned off I was getting a bizarre texture squirming that made me dizzy. The top part of the screen would be from one frame, the bottom from an earlier frame, so the whole sense motion was distorted in a very unsettling way.

Vsync cured this. I also set Frames Rendered Ahead in the nVidia Control Panel to 0 to eliminate display and controller lag.

That was with an nVidia 8800GT. Over the winter I got a 9800GTX+ OC, but I kept Vsync on and just cranked up my graphics details. Ah, full shadows! Wonderful!

But I wasn't racing very much and when I was, I felt frustrated. In retrospect, I think this was because I never felt connected to the car; I was always reacting to things that had already happened instead of what was going on right now, and my inputs took a little time to get to the car's physics.

Then Todd Bettenhausen convinced me to turn off Vsync. Suddenly my experience with iRacing was transformed! I felt totally connected to the car. Its responses to my inputs were instant, precise. On road courses I immediately gained a couple of seconds in lap times.

At first I was running with frame rate uncapped. Frame rate was mostly between 150 and 250 FPS. I read that this overworks the video card, so I capped the frame rate at the default 82 FPS. The immediacy went away; I felt disconnected again. So I removed the frame rate cap.

At a few corners on some tracks (Road America, for example) the frame flow got choppy and/or the screen squirming came back, so I turned off shadows. It seems that as long as the frame rate is running above 150 or so, everything is quite smooth and there's no squirming.

I tried the steering wheel test: I turned on the on-screen wheel and got in the car. I turned my G25's wheel back and forth rapidly. With Vsyc off, the wheel on the screen moves in perfect synchronization with the actual wheel.

Then I turned on Vsync and restarted the sim. With Vsync on, there is a very, very noticeable delay. The on-screen wheel's motion lags the real wheel by a significant amount.

I suspect that the video card and driver have an impact on this. Perhaps some (ATI?) cards don't exhibit the same behavior. Perhaps there are other settings in iRacing or in the video card control panel that will minimize the delay with Vsync turned on. (Todd tells me that now he is running with Vsync on, but he's turned off AA and AF in iRacing and instead turned them on in the CP - and that this gives him very minimal lag.)

But as far as I'm concerned, based on my own experience, zero lag trumps everything else. I need that instant response to my control inputs, and I need that instant feedback through the wheel and on the screen. I don't care if I'm overworking my video card. If it cooks itself I'll get a new one.

No more V-sunk for me!


From a comment on an inRacing forum thread:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

iRacing Treats

After many months of only running an occasional practice session in iRacing, my enthusiasm is back! There are several reasons for this.


The new "hosted racing" feature is a big factor. This allows people to run leagues as they have done for many years with other sims. It also sidesteps iRacing's iRating, Safety Rating, and Series Championships systems, all of which seem to take a lot of the fun out of sim racing for me.

For the older generation, the big news is that the old GPL league for middle-aged racers, MARA, has started up again, but this time using iRacing. A thousand thanks to Ed Crawford for stepping up to the plate and making this happen.

I raced in MARA's first-ever iRacing race tonight and had a blast. Second fastest in practice (by .010 seconds!), pole, and second in the race. I led for several laps before making one mistake that let my good sim racing buddy Jim Locking get by me. Chased him for the rest of the race and closed the gap from 11 seconds to only four at the end. Really fun!

MARA sets a minimum age limit (50, I think). This keeps out the really fast hotshoes, giving the rest of us a chance. After racing tonight, I feel this is a lot more fair in many ways than pitting us nearly over-the-hill folks against young whippersnappers with super-quick reflexes and ultra-sharp eye-hand coordination - and the energy to practice for hour after endless hour. In MARA, we all get to race with people who have more or less the same physical handicaps. After all, they do it in golf, why not racing?

If you're interested see this forum thread:

iRacing Member Forums: Middle-Aged Racers Association (MARA)

Or apply to join here:

MARA-iRacing Yahoo Group

MARA will normally run on Sunday evenings.

Cars and Tracks

Another thing that has got me fired up is the new content. The Corvette is terrific, a real challenge but also perhaps the most realistic-feeling sim car I've ever driven. I like the Dallara Indy car too, but it's so fast that it's really over my head. The 'Vette is a perfect combination of power, grip, and weight, and the tires are wonderful. I've posted a few setups in the shared folder.

As you know, Mosport is also new, and it's superb. In the Vette it drives just as I remember it from real life, except the Vette has a lot more power than my Cobra, even more than the Lotus Esprit twin turbo V8 that I drove there a few years ago. With NHMS, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, and Summit Point also in the sim, I can now practice on every track that I have competed on in real life in recent years except Mont Tremblant.

I found the Vette to be a blast at Mosport, but at the Glen it was more challenging than I expected. It really makes you concentrate; you can hang it out a little but go too far and it will bite you. I'm looking forward to trying it at other tracks like Road Atlanta, Sears Point, and of course my old fave, Summit Point.

iSpeed Real Time Splits

The newest thing (to me, anyway) is a utility called iSpeed. This gives you a display with split times and speed and time deltas from your previous best lap (or any best lap from anyone, provided they've saved and sent you a little file with the data).

This is just as fantastic as the real-world data loggers I've used that have real-time splits/performance monitoring/whatever you call it, like the Farringdon dash in my brother Nate's Spec Miata . It is such a great learning tool! You know instantly if you've messed up a corner, or if you've really nailed one. The instant feedback really helps you hone your skill.

I've posted the current version of iSpeed and a link to the web site in the Shared folder, and the lap data from my best lap so far in the Vette at the Glen in the Shared Large folder.

iSpeed doesn't run as an overlay. You can run it one of three ways:
  1. In a second monitor.
  2. In your main monitor with iRacing in windowed mode.
  3. In another computer or a PDA, connected across your LAN.
I'm using a second monitor. I had one lying around anyway that I wasn't using. But you can also use your laptop, set up next to your racing computer's monitor, and run a browser on the laptop and connect to iSpeed on your racing computer. The info will all display in the browser on the laptop. All is explained at the iSpeed site: iSpeed

Note that there used to be a utility called THUD which had similar functionality, but the iRacing build in early September disabled it. But since iSpeed operates outside of iRacing (rather than using the telemetry interface as THUD did), it still works and as far as I know, it's perfectly legal. iRacing has said that they will implement something similar sometime "soon," but they were saying that last year and we still don't have it. Until they do, iSpeed fills the gap admirably.

I hope you will be able to find the time to try all these new goodies. I had a terrific time this evening, and I'm looking forward to more.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

That Smokin' Computer

Last week my nephew Amos and I upgraded his computer. We ripped out the venerable Asus A7N8X and AGP 7600 GT video card (along with CPU and memory) and slapped in a Gigabyte socket 775 mobo, Intel E7300 Core 2 Duo, 9600GT and two gigs of DDR2. Now that thing runs iRacing real well!

But that's not what I'm going to write about. I have a new computer story you might be interested in. When Amos was considering his upgrade - nervous about the necessary Windows reinstall it would entail - I bragged about how my main computer was running great since I reinstalled Windows on my main machine in December, hoping to ease his trepidation.

This computer, my main desktop, has an Asus M2N32 SLI Deluxe mobo with an Athlon 64 X2 4200+ and a GeForce 7600 GT in a gorgeous Antec LAN Boy aluminum case. It's known as the NightMonster, and it served as my racing computer until I built a new machine for iRacing last spring.

A few days ago the NightMonster moved from the top of my desk to a stand on the floor after a second 19" monitor finally arrived (two and a half weeks after I bought it off of eBay, damn the Postal Service!) I loved that computer so much that when I built it I even gave it a page on my web site, complete with a photo shoot.

Well, last night it went kaput. I was sitting there, innocently typing a PM to a fellow racer in the iRacing member site, when both monitors went completely dark and the video card fan spun up to max loud.

Tried rebooting several times. I'd get into Windows, but within a few seconds the same thing would happen. Monitors went dark, fan spun up. I tried unplugging one monitor but no joy. Eventually it quit entirely; I'd hit the power button and nothing at all would happen.

I was really bummed when I went to bed last night, as you can imagine! My main computer was dead (thank the silicon gods for Mozy backup!) and I didn't know why.

This morning after procrastinating for a while I ripped that beastly NightMonster - the most troublesome computer I've ever built - out from under the desk.

I put the old lug on the table and tore into it. I unplugged everything - hard drives, optical drives, USB card reader, even the sound card - but it was still dead. Ripped out the power supply and plugged in the one that was in my Pat Dotson G-Seat. Nothing.

As a last resort I ripped out the video card and hit the power button again. Presto!! Booted right up! I was able to copy a big file (which had taken hours to acquire via my pokey "broadband" connection) from its shared folder across the LAN to another computer. Happy, happy!

But I couldn't log into it. I tried Remote Desktop, but no joy; I'd never thought to configure the NightMonster to allow logging in through Remote Desktop since the reinstall.

But some experimenting and and a little research led to the discovery of a series of keystrokes that would allow me to turn on Remote Desktop even though I couldn't see anything! Took a number of tries but I got it.

Now it's back under my desk, nothing but air where a video card should be - and I'm logged into it across the LAN from my laptop. Heehee!

This is called a "headless" system. Well, to be strictly accurate a headless system has no keyboard and mouse, either. I plugged my spare keyboard and mouse into the NightMonster but they aren't really necessary; I can do everything I need to, including shutting it down, from the laptop.

I was going to order a replacement 9600 GT like Amos's, but after poking around a little and reading customer comments on Newegg I decided to take a look at the 9800GTX+. I thought these killer cards were too big to fit in my compact little LAN Boy.

The original 9800 cards were 10.5" long, about a quarter of an inch too much for the LAN Boy, but it turns out that the newest rev is only 9.5" long and it should fit. When it comes I'm going to put it into Wolf (my iRacing computer, which also is inside a LAN Boy) and put Wolf's 8800 GT into the NightMonster.

But meanwhile I can run the NightMonster headless and still sync my calendar to my Treo and sync podcasts to my iPod. I'm up and running. Heh.

Update: I plugged one of my 19" monitors into the laptop's VGA out port and now I've got the NightMonster displaying its desktop on the monitor (via Remote Desktop), right next to the laptop, which is displaying its desktop on its own screen. Dual monitors again. Yay!

The downsides? The laptop's monitor is a squished 1440x900 resolution rather than the nice 1280x1024 I have when using the NightMonster with its usual monitor. Also I can't drag a window from the NightMonster's display to the laptop's like I do when I am running dual monitors, although I can drag windows from the laptop's display to the external monitor.

Last but not least, iTunes - apparently in a fit of pique because it can't detect a video card, ha ha - refuses to show anything in Cover Flow and has turned its normally tasteful black, white, and gray song listing a bizarre shade of lavender.

Other than these few niggles, it's great - and now I'm essentially running four CPU's (both machines are dual core) so everything's even faster than usual!


Footnote. After the dust had settled I took a closer look at the dead video card and noticed that about half of its biggest capacitors had blown up. Seriously; their tops were split wide open. I slapped that thing into a zip lock bag real fast. Who knows what kind of nasty chemicals (PCBs? Mercury? Lead? Plutonium?) are inside those things.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Yes, I broke it. Lots of times.

I've been taking a break from sim racing for the past few weeks. I tend to burn out when I race a lot, and I raced a lot through the summer and fall. Also, I had some real-world track time, and that tends to make sim racing, even iRacing, seem a little tame.

My friend Michael Fridmann runs a shop that specializes in maintaining and modifying Lotus street and race cars. He's got a Grand Am-prepared Lotus Esprit Twin Turbo V8 that he uses for track days, and he invited me to join him for two events at Loudon.

October 26

The Lotus is a ferocious beast, with a full roll cage, race suspension, and engine beefed up to put out somewhere around 750 HP at max boost and peak RPM. Michael has pegged back the performance a bit for longevity, but it's still a mighty fast machine.

The first day was...interesting. I went out in the first session and got a black flag after two laps. Seems the car was smoking badly going up the hill out of Turn Six. I brought it back to the garage (the same garages NASCAR uses when they run at NHMS) and Michael and his friend Ray Patriacca, who did a lot of the preparation of the car for this event, looked the car over. Everything looked fine so I went back out. Two laps, black flag. Again.

This time they jacked it up and took a very hard look. Ray found evidence of a small oil leak at the rear of the left head, just above the turbo. Apparently a threaded plug was leaking and dripping tiny amounts of oil onto the turbo - which produced copious amounts of smoke.

A quarter turn of an Allen wrench and a shot of Brakleen and we had no more smoke. Michael did some laps and said the car felt good, but it lacked grip. This is because the Hoosier tires were old and had way too many heat cycles in them. Also the car still has the springs and shock settings from when it was running in Grand Am - and carrying 800 pounds of lead ballast that is now stashed somewhere back at Michael's shop. So it's a little stiffly sprung at the moment.

I went back out and started to get some laps in. Great! Yes, it could have used more traction, but it still felt terrific. It's been a year since I've been on track, and this car is worth way more money than I could afford to fix it if I smack a wall somewhere (and NHMS has lots of those). I was carefully working my way up to speed when...I'm coming out of Six, accelerating up the hill, and suddenly the cockpit fills with smoke! Augh! Not again!

I hit the master switch to kill the engine and pull off to the left, onto the grass. They shut down the course and bring everybody in so the wrecker can come and pull me back to the paddock. It's a long, slow trip on the end of the tow rope; plenty of time to contemplate that it's the end of practice and everybody's lost track time because of me and my smoky Lotus.

Back in the garage, we can't find anything. No oil anywhere, no sign of a water leak. Engine runs fine, gauges all normal. Mystery.

Then during the break before the time trials start, Michael checks the brake lights and finds they aren't working. They're required by our club, COMSCC, but weren't required by Grand Am, so Michael and Ray had added them. Turned out that a wire at the brake pedal had fallen off. The connector at the end was uninsulated, and when it touched the floor, it had created a short circuit which melted the insulation. That's where the smoke had come from.

Ray replaces the wire and Michael and I do our time trial laps uneventfully. I manage a 1:24.0, which is way slower than the car's potential, but considering the four year old tires, the ultra-stiff suspension, and my own lack of current seat time, I'm pleased.

After the time trials there's plenty of time for open practice. I get in about six laps when, going up the hill out of Six, the cockpit fills with smoke. Again. This time it's much thicker and by the time I get the car stopped it's so dense I can't breathe. I'm still coughing when the safety people arrive, and after another long tow back to the paddock the ambulance shows up and they convince me to breathe some pure oxygen for a while. To my surprise, this helps clear my head.

Turns out the new wire fell off and did the same thing as the old one. My heeling and toeing into Six is getting my feet into places Ray and Michael never anticipated, and eventually my toe snags the wire and pulls it off the connector. It falls down, shorts itself out and burns up. Since this new wire was thicker with more insulation, there was more smoke. Doh!

November 1

We had a week till the next event, so Ray and Michael had time to fix the brake wire properly. For this event Ray was my student. He's got plenty of oval racing experience, having won a local championship a couple of years ago, but this was going to be his first time on a road course.

I take him out in the car for the early morning instructor session. It's very cold, having dropped below freezing the night before, and this is a light car on big four year old race tires that are now very, very hard. I'm tiptoeing around, trying to get some warmth into them, hoping Ray wasn't too bored. (He wasn't!)

After six laps I'm feeling a little more confident, sensing some grip coming, and I start to lean on it just a little. Out of Turn Ten I squeeze on the power, being careful not to spin the rear tires but giving it a bit more than before, when the engine suddenly zings up toward redline and a big vibration hammers through the car. I shut it down and put my fist out the window to signal the cars behind that I'm headed for the pit entrance, just a couple corners ahead.

My first thought is that I've broken the transmission, but when I turn left to go around the corner the left rear of the car sits down and the vibration changes into a scraping noise. I pull off the asphalt and peer into my outside mirror. I can just see the left rear tire - lying on the grass about 20 feet behind the car. The Lotus is done for the weekend.

No tow rope this time; we (and everyone else who is hoping to be on the track about now) have to wait while the flatbed guy figures out how to get a three wheeled Lotus up onto the flatbed without ripping it to shreds.

Back at the garage, Michael directs the unloading of the Lotus from the flatbed right onto his trailer while I start hoofing it around the garage, looking for someone that will let a road course rookie drive their car so Ray's weekend won't be a total bust.

Finally a very generous Dan Baldwin allows me to take Ray out in Dan's showroom stock Honda S2000. This car is tailhappy like no other street car I've ever driven, but we get in some good laps. As we're getting out of the car in Dan's garage, right next to us Lou Milanazzo is strapping his helmet on, about to get into his ferocious black Dodge Shelby GLH. I ask him if he'll take Ray out and he says sure. Great! More track time for Ray, even if it is in the right seat.

Meanwhile Michael has gotten the Lotus squared away on the trailer, diagnosed the problem as a broken stub axle, and tracked down a drive for Ray: Marc Epstein's fire-breathing race-prepared Honda S2000.

Ray's first laps in the Honda are anything but tentative. First lap, over the hill at eight, he's flat out at maybe 80 MPH and headed straight for a wall he can't yet see until my frantic gestures get him to brake - just in time. On the second lap, going up the hill through seven, the tail steps out and Ray corrects. A wild series of tankslappers ensues. For a moment I think he's caught it, but it gets away from him and spins up the hill, coming to a stop on the right side of the track, tail off in the gravel, up against the tire wall.

In the right side mirror can see the bumper buried in the tire wall and I'm hoping desperately that any damage we've done is purely cosmetic. Marc is locked in a tight battle for the championship and the time trial this afternoon will be the title decider. I really hope we aren't responsible for him losing!

In the pits we get the all clear and Ray's subsequent laps are a little more circumspect. Back in the paddock we inspect the rear of the car. It's perfect. Not a scratch. No, wait, there are a few tiny, tiny scratches on the rear bumper where the grit on the tires in the tire wall scraped the paint. Whew! Close call!

The rest of the afternoon is relatively uneventful, except that my brother Nate lets me drive his latest project, the Bio-Diesel Special.

What a hoot! Feels almost like a shifter kart with fenders, except that you don't have to shift because the hot rodded four cylinder diesel (from a VW New Beetle) has so much torque. Good thing, too, because the shifter is so loose it feels like it's broken (but it isn't). Great brakes, steering, terrific handling, endless acceleration. Sweet machine.

Late in the afternoon Michael and Ray and I are standing around and a thought occurs to me. I've been assuming the Lotus is done for the weekend, but maybe...

Yes! Michael has been thinking the same thing. He's got a spare halfshaft (which includes the stub axle) back at the shop, plus a spare wheel bearing and spare brake lines. He's confident he and Ray can fix the car for the next day.

November 2

Sure enough, in the morning they're back at the track, car ready to go. Awesome! Ray finally is going to get a shot at driving the monster Lotus at speed.

Things go well for a few laps, but then Ray goes into Three a little hot and spins again. As he turns in I can feel it coming; the Lotus is extremely tail-happy and the ancient tires just don't have the grip Ray's asking for. Nothing I can do but wait for the spin to end; fortunately we spin harmlessly, keeping off the wall at the outside of Three, and everybody gets by us without hitting anything. I tell Ray, "I don't want to see any more spins!" And I don't.

Now another problem begins to rear its head: overheating. The Lotus had this problem all through the summer of '07. We'd get in one session with the engine running cool, temps low and stable, but in the second session the engine would start steaming and the water temp would go through the roof. We'd bring it in, wait for it to cool, and Michael would carefully top it up with coolant. We'd get another session of running cool and then the overheating would come back.

To address this, during the previous weeks he'd pressure tested the system and found and fixed a number of small leaks, mostly caused by hose clamps that had loosened up as the hoses had compressed. The fixes had worked for the first two days, but now that we were running it hard and long the problem was back.

It seemed to bite me the worst. Michael got in a nice long run; temps stayed down. I got in the car, and three laps later I was coming back in on the rope - again - after having shut it down when steam filled the cockpit. Michael and Ray both got clear runs in their time trials, but for me it overheated at the end of one lap and I had to pull off, missing out on what should have been faster timed laps.

Finally we got the procedures down and in the open practice at the end of the day I got in a nice series of laps, but I was never quite able to match my best time from the previous weekend. The colder weather combined with tires which get worse with every heat cycle were probably at least partly to blame.

In the end my only time trial lap was good enough for second in class. Micheal and Ray set good times as well. Nate won his class, Dan Baldwin won his class, and Marc Epstein won his class and his championship. Of those who helped us out, only Lou Milinazzo didn't come away with a win; instead the poor guy DNF'd. Thanks to all of you guys; good karma's coming your way - especially Lou.

Ray did a great job in his first time on a road course - and I'm pretty sure he enjoyed himself!

Despite the troubles it was a great three days and a reminder of how terrific it is to be at a race track, driving fast and having fun.

Respectfully submitted,

The Racing Addict