Sunday, May 10, 2009

Novice Class Conundrum

So in a previous post, I mentioned that I had a busy set of weeks coming up. I am now 3/5 of the way through and at this point when I close my eyes, an army of Orange Cones starts flying by inside my head. Last Sunday I did my second ever Autocross event. This was points event #1 for the NER SCCA autocross series which they ran in the parking-lot of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The event itself was a blast and my times seemed to improve drastically relative to my first event.

This time I managed to class my car correctly... not that this really matters at my experience level, but one of the side-lights of having no way to do anything but think about my Lotus over the winter is I went through it and the Solo rulebook, and discovered that the previous owner has made at least 3 modifications that simply are not allowed in the Stock category. So I must run in SSM (Super Street Modified). I may detail the mods and exactly why they change my racing class in a later post, but the only thing to know is that the modifications I have are a pittance relative to the chages that would take place in a properly prepared SSM car.

In the end I've decided that this is actually likely to be a good thing. In the novice section of SCCA Solo II, the drivers drive all different kinds of cars, and the times are handicapped by a multiplier based on what class the car qualifies for (this is called "PAX time"). A driver that had a Stock Elise that was close to what you get from the show-room would be in the super-stock category and would get to multiply their time by 0.856. However because I am in Super Street Modified I only get to multiply my time by 0.876. In practical terms means if the super stock car runs the course in 60.000 seconds he gets a PAX time of 51.360, but my PAX time for the same 60'seconds would be 52.560. To put it another way, if I wanted to beat a super stock car that ran the course in exactly 60 seconds, I would need to run a the course in 58.629 seconds.

1.371 seconds is an eternity in Autocross. People are reasonably serious about this sport spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours trying to shave a quarter to a third of a second off of their time. In the two events I've been to the top novice was getting a PAX time between the 60th and 50th percential across *all* drivers. Thats in the realm where a half second is a lot of time. To overcome my SSM PAX in my (almost) Stock Elise and win novice in the last event would have required a skill level that would allow me to drive about .7 seconds faster than the person who won given identical cars. That ability level would put me in the top 1/3 of all drivers at the event... I'm not even close to that.

So the novice/PAX competition style puts me at a pretty stiff disadvantage, but in some ways this may be good for me. My focus is now on having fun and improving relative to the folks running in Super Stock. It's my own private little contest. The really good thing about this is there's no points and no season to this personal contest, and if I need to take a break from it to try something new as a learning exercise then there's no penalty for it. So I'm going to intentionally take myself out of all hope of competition, and simply run in standard SSM (no novice PAX timing). So the up side is I can focus on educating myself. Until I've learned a whole lot more, the competition thing is basically out the window...

At some point I'll want to either get a new stock elise/exige and trade this one in... thus becoming eligible for stock category, or... dump a whole bunch of money into modifying this car to the point where it can live up to it's official racing class. But for now have fun and hope for a day when the real SSM cars don't come out to play :).

What's the lesson? Well if you intend to do any sort of racing with a car you are buying used and you *do* want to try to be competitive, research the rules you expect to race under and inspect the car for mods. But you can always just do it to have fun, and then you are free to crush some cones in a learning exercise add a variety of tastey mods to your ride as suites your taste and budget.

Next, Basic evolution...

1 comment:

Gus Heck said...

Another thought I've had about Novice class is it's really there to help people who get easily discouraged by loosing. I'm a stubborn mulish sort of guy and have no problem getting back up when I've been knocked down in a competitive arena. I learned to play Go into the lower intermediate ranks all by myself first by whittling down the amount I lost by against a computer opponent, and then later by doggedly self-reviewing my wins and losses in online games. I learned to handle loosing ages ago. Steady Constant competition that I can track my progress against is far more useful for me than an opportunity to be the king of the shortest hill.