AMOC at Lime Rock 2018, Part 4
The titular event for the weekend is held on Saturday: the track day at Lime Rock Park. I didn't have a car this year so I was hoping to get a few rides with others when they went out on track. I had arranged one in advance, an offer from Dan who is a very skilled driver with a 2013 V8 Vantage S. The other two rides I got were arranged trackside. Thanks to the hospitality of two guys named Robert and Randy, I was able to experience Lime Rock in a way I'd never imagined.
As if to spite the perfect weather we'd had thus far, Saturday was cold and rainy. It'd been a while since I'd had to wear a jacket and, as I usually do, I walked out without one. For some reason it seemed just fine at the hotel. I was wearing shorts, sneakers, and a polo shirt, and I felt just fine. Until I got to Lime Rock, that is. It was cold and wet and even my best efforts to tough it out left me looking enviously at the cheesy souvenir sweaters a couple guys' wives had bought for them at a local pharmacy on the way to the track.
The track shop opened up at 10am, more than two hours after we’d arrived, and I went in to buy a jacket. I wasn't alone. There were two other guys in there and another walked in as I was walking out. The girl working at the shop said jackets were really popular that day. Later I was told they'd sold 22 of them.
We had to deal with rain last year, too. Just like last year, it didn't keep most of us away. There were plenty of Aston Martins, plus a few other cars brought by AMOC members. We were sharing the track with the Lime Rock Drivers Club so they were there with Miatas, BMWs, Porsches, Ferraris, and so on. Pretty much all of the cars they were using were dedicated track cars, like the 348 Challenge.
Far and away the most impressive lineup was from a pair of AMOC members that brought their own trailer and five cars. Bob's 600-hp V12 Vantage S manual, his 2018 Ford GT, and his 1960/2017 DB4 GT Continuation. His brother, Randy, had a Ford GT and a 1960/2018 DB4 GT Continuation. Both of the brothers were driving their DB4 GT Continuations on the track. Bob's Ford GT was still in its break-in period and was only there because it was already in the trailer with the other cars. He drove his V12VSM rather than the Ford GT. Randy's Ford GT was ready to rock, and he took people out for rides during every session.
The night before I had been introduced to a guy named Robert (another one!) who is a long-time friend of Lance Evans, who owns the award-winning Aston Martin specialist shop Steel Wings. Robert owns the 1938 2-Litre Short Chassis that I'd seen at the concours and he was there with it at the track. He wore a full racing suit and had a can of 110-octane leaded fuel.
Getting the car ready to drive was a bit of a process. He poured the fuel from its can into a fueling jug, then from there into the car. He had a wooden stick with notches and gallon markers that he stuck down into the tank to see how much fuel was actually in the car. Once satisfied with the fuel level, he went around the car with a wooden mallet smacking the wheel caps to make sure they were tight. (I'm not sure what the proper name is for these so if someone can fill me in, it'd be greatly appreciated!) Robert said he'd give me a ride during his second track session, and I eagerly accepted.
The first group to go to out on track was the Fast group. Everyone had hoped the rain would hold off but we weren’t so lucky. The forecast showed patches of rain moving through the area so it was going to be a hit-or-miss kind of day. The first half of the day was all hit. Rain fell halfway through the first session so the drivers pulled off the track. The first to do so was a guy named Dan. He told me it wasn’t worth the risk and would wait to see if the next session was a bit more dry.
Riding in the V8 Vantage S
Dan drives a lightly-modified 2013 V8 Vantage S and he knows the track very well. He had offered to let me ride along so I could learn how he drives the track, and I took him up on the offer for his second session. He started his second session at a casual pace to get his bearings and warm his tires. Each lap passed by quicker and quicker. The X-pipe that replaced his secondary catalysts gives the exhaust note a wonderfully smooth sound and the engine tune works with it to give the 4.7L V8 far more power - Dan said dyno runs had shown the equivalent of nearly 470 bhp.
Braking is handled by Porterfield R4-S brake pads. I've gotten and continue to get questions about brake pads, and had maintained that the R4-S is not a pad suitable for the track. I tested this for myself on my grey 2007 V8 Vantage and found that they can't handle the heat generated in heavy braking zones. I got terrible brake fade going into two of the turns at Summit Point and it was more than enough to warrant the warning. It was Dan that made me add a caveat. His 2013 V8 Vantage S has 6-piston front pads with far more surface area than those of the earlier Vantage's 4-piston pads, and he's able to use the R4-S on track with great results.
His best time was a 1:06, though it wasn't counted as I saw the final results for the day and he was listed as having a 1:08. Had his times been correctly logged, he would have gotten a top-3 trophy for his class and 3rd or 4th overall. The people running the timing booth had said before the first session that all lap times would count toward the final results - a measure taken due to the constant risk of rain that could end the day prematurely. It doesn't seem it was actually done, though.
We pulled off the track and I immediately jumped out and jogged over to Robert's 2-Litre, which sat idling in the starting grid. He showed me how to pull the tonneau snaps off so I could hop it. The body is thin metal with a piece of wood used as a support beam. It took both care and daring to get into the car without causing any damage and somehow I managed it without kneeing Robert in the head.
Riding in the 2-Litre Short Chassis
Thus began one of the most terrifying car rides I've ever had in my life. Modern cars are loaded with safety features. This "pre-war" car had none. The lap belts were laughable, the impact bracing non-existent. I couldn't help but think that the forward crumple zones extended through the entire car.
"It's actually safer if you don't wear the seat belt," Robert told me as I nestled into the car and got ready to roll out onto the track. "If anything happens, you'll be flung from the car. If you're strapped in, you're more likely to get crushed by it."
I turned my head to the right to gauge his face and try to determine if he was serious or not. He was. Then we started moving forward toward the entrance to the track. No turning back now.
The 2-Litre's flat-out speed on the front straight was only 75 mph. Not surprisingly, it wasn't fast. Very surprisingly, it didn't feel fast at all. Going fast in most slow cars feels like you're on the verge of bursting through your own skin in a sudden and catastrophic fireworks display of failure. In hindsight, I think it felt fine only in comparison to the utter terror I experienced when the thing went through turns.
Being a right-hand drive car, Robert sat on the right. Lime Rock is almost entirely right-hand turns (there's only one left on the whole track). What this mean is I was constantly looking to the right - Robert directly in my line of sight - and I could see exactly how much work it took to control the car. It takes a lot of work to control a modern car during cornering. You don't just turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to go and then turn it back to straight when you're done turning. Rather, you're turning the wheel in the direction you want to go but there are a constant series of small corrections you have to do to maintain the direction you want to go. You have to give quick, tiny left and right, back and forth adjustments to account for the road surface, suspension bump, and vehicle speed. In this 80-year-old car, those adjustments weren't tiny. They were see-saw thrusts that would put a modern car spinning into a wall. The big, balloon-like tires wiggled in full view and I imagined more than once that one would twist itself free of the wheel and we'd go careening off the track like slow, miserably unspectacular metallic tumbleweed.
My buddy CJ took a short video from the car behind us during that session. (The picture above is a screenshot from that video.) I didn't realize how slow we were going until watching the video. Seeing it from the outside makes the whole situation all the more silly.
Driving the DB4 and V12 Vantage S manual the day before was a starkly contrasted experience behind the wheels of two very different Aston Martins. That contrast seemed pale compared to what I'd be experiencing next. The third car I would ride in that day was a Ford GT. As far as street cars go, there are scarce few examples that can show how far automobiles have come in the last 80 years.
Riding in the Ford GT
Let's make one thing clear: The Ford GT is a race car for the road. It's over-the-top. It's impractical. It's large. It's low. It's absolutely absurd to think this car would work anywhere but on a race track. It's entirely useless and totally fucking awesome.
The easiest way to summarize my experience in the Ford GT is that it felt like a very physical science experience. The car makes you feel Gs (gravitational forces) in every direction. Step on the gas, you're pressed back into the seat and held there. Step on the brakes, you pray the seat belt will keep you from licking the front bumper. Turn the wheel, you'll quickly learn how your internal organs are arranged and how much they can move within you. I was in shock by how well the tires held onto the asphalt. I couldn't quite grasp how well the car stayed true to its course and thought more than once that we'd be sliding off at some point. Unlike the pre-war car that made me fear for my life, in the Ford GT I only wondered how badly it'd hurt when we hit a wall at triple-digit speeds. I didn't fear it, though. I just hoped I didn't get whiplash or hurt my already-bad back.
I was far more afraid of wrecking at 75 mph in the pre-war car than I was when we hit 143 mph on the front straight in the Ford GT. Psychologically this thing was more fascinating than anything. Meanwhile, having to brace myself to keep from bouncing around the car as we maneuvered around the track made it a very physical ride. I half expected to see a couple abs pop through my un-beach-worthy belly after that core workout.
Riding around Lime Rock in the Ford GT was a fast-paced rush that defied physics. To go that fast in total comfort was just unbelievable. Yes, it was comfortable. If you've ever ridden in or driven a race car, you'll know that they aren't the most enjoyable things to be in. They're loud and harsh and made for the sole purpose of performance at the cost of all else. The Ford GT managed all of that without being unpleasant whatsoever. I was comfortable in the car, though the top of my helmet did brush the headliner a touch on a couple occasions - something to note given I'm not that tall. Getting in wasn't as difficult as I'd imagine so long as you go in butt-first and duck your head. Getting out was easy as well since there's a big sill you can use to push yourself up from the seat.
Randy, the Ford GT owner/pilot, asked the track supervisors if there'd be open track time after the last session so he could take more people out for rides in the car, but the corner workers were eager to leave after the cold, wet day. I was his passenger for the last session and was lucky for it given there were at least a couple more people in line to go out in it. With all the sessions finished, everyone left Lime Rock Park and went to their rooms to prepare for the awards dinner.
Click the button below for Part 5 of this feature.