Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Days Worth Living For

by Gabor Bazso (aka Nino Karotta)

(Editor's Note: This article has been translated and republished from Karotta's personal blog with his permission. Karotta is editor of the Hungarian on-line magazine, TotalCar, and ex co-host of its spinoff TV-version. In addition, he is an amateur drifter, owning several cars. Do not duplicate or republish this without his permission. For more pictures, visit his blog here. And now sit back, 'cause we're taking a wild ride.)

Rolling on the freeway screaming, wearing a hideous grin on my face and being numb of blissful exhaustion. My eyes are sucked dry enough to evolve wrinkles due to the glowing firewall, and my backbone disks are being grinded by the racing undercarriage. Surrounded by the smell of the brake pads, rubber and gasoline and embraced by the peace of the inactive phone and the constant 120 kilometres per hour speed.

Driving on a reacetrack is a liquid feast cleansing to the mind. It leaves perfectly clear and delighted gyral ripples behind within the skull-space. Enough said, I exploit every given opportunity to go. That's how I got to the Euroring, where Gabor Weber - multiple Hungarian Clio Cup and 2010 champion of Seat Leon Eurocup - was to give a driving instruction. You can read about this and our domestic duel here. There's a comparative video at the end for hardcore apex-nerds.

I have already been to a similar event a few years before. Back then we were chasing worn down Opel Astra Cup cars to their dead end with instructional aid. It was there where I met the quiet but sharp Norbert Michelisz, who - since then - is an everbright Xenon-light on Hungarian motor sport's victory lane as being a WTCC round winner [editor's note - Macau, 2010]. This time we do not taking Astras but going pink slips head-to-head against luck under 'bring what ya got' terms.

Weber makes a small survey in round e-mails the day before on who's bringing what car and driving experience for the track day. I send the link of the matted girls on the Hungaroring to which in response I receive the following summary:

GW: Eerrm, do you happen to have some other undercarriage for tomorrow? :)
GB: Unfortunately not, but I have tightened a lot on the frontal curve control, it may calm down the rear end a bit. This is what I can afford at the moment, I'll be hunting down some softer set of rear springs for next season.
GW: You're just giving it more understeer that way without influencing its lack of attentuation. I assume your shocks are stock (?).
GB: No, they are Bilstein level shocks but they won't absorb enough to the hard rear springs in the rear.
GW: You'll be bouncing the most from the middle to the exit of the corners where there is no real load repositioning, or just decreasing - the stab won't make much difference. The only way you can help it (a bit) is the smallest pressure in the rear tyres due to which you won't have an uncontrollable sideways crawling yet. But don't expect miracles.

The multiple Hungarian and European champion doesn't just make sure to ask around the day before training, but watches and analyses an on board video, supporting some setting hints. We weren't even snorting cocaine of playmates' decolettes together. I am quite humbled.

On Sunday morning, six cars' wheels are being tortured carefully on the Euroring. Ranging from a diesel Avensis through an Opel Speedster, concluding in a tuned Celica GT4 on semi-slick tyres, and on the other end of the Toyota-spectrum there rusts my Hachi in peace.

Weber addresses everyone by their names. He arrives with pre-arranged notes, which he continuously extends by filling out blanks and boxes, attached to each of his students. A perfect modern race car driver - pays attention, analyses and willing to use use paper and pencil for he does not believe he could recall everything later. Someone you would call a pro.

First we are going through the obligatory drill: how to sit and hold the steering wheel right and why. What the ideal tyre pressure is on track and when to measure it. Everyone believes they know all these, but jaws are dropped when it turns out it isn't so. Gabor is not preaching, he teaches. Pops in questions eventually, making us think in order not to accept done facts but to arrive to realizations ourselves for that's the way of making a hard copy of these in our minds. I wish there were driving instructors like him for everyone.

We take the cars for a quick spin on the track to warm up ourselves and the cars. Aiming warm tyre pressures between 2.2 and 2.6 bars according to curb weight, Gabor sits in for each of the drivers for two laps. He asks for a tempo of around 80 per cent instead of overkill. He is interested in how we can handle our cars and to what extent do we know the track and not in the size of our balls. Of course, he knows that everyone is clumsier and more nervous as usual, but takes it into consideration.

By the time he gets to me, my brand new racing brake pads burn out and wear in. With this, the new braking system may endure up to five or 6 consecutive laps, halleluyah! I have taken quite enough people on the track, I am not really bothered by company next to me. but driving at 80 per cent is not easy. The transcendental experience of track driving springs from its rhythm. Driving under the usual tempo is as uncomfortable and fumbling as driving above it. Breaking points move around, the racing line feels unnatural and it messes up downshifts, everything is different. So much said, it would have been easier to set the bar at 95 per cent but I am an obeying student, I do what I'm told to. And I hope I don't seem lame.

Not much uttered in the meanwhile. The Hachi is really loud and is being bouncy really bad - that kind of limits the possibilities of gentlemen's change of thoughts. the two laps being done I look at Gabor in the pitlane.

"With this undercarriage, it is really hard for me to tell whether the problems I sense are coming more of you or the car. I see that there is no real need to give handling instructions. Instead, we should check whether we can find other racing lines much more suitable for the car and a handling technique matching the bad undercarriage, so that the bouncing won't slow you down that much. For that I'll be driving it first to see how it handles exactly" - that said he gets out of the car and sits next to the next student.

Following theory there is another set of lapping. I'm all alone, I got the rhythm, I proceed fair enough. The accurately set tyre pressure itself earns me one second advantage flat and I run nice, consisent lap times: 1:29.9, 1:29.2, 1:29.4, 1:30.6, 1:29.6, 1:29.4, 1:29.0, which means that 80 per cent of my lap times are within one second. This is what is being referred to (falsely) the completion of the driver and the further fine-tuning of the car. I am sweating bullets but rejoicing.

Mr. Weber arrives in a few minutes. Puts down his notes, sits behind the wheel. Questions me briefly what's under the rust of this old banger Toyota. How many horsepowers, size of the brakes, known problems, what to pay extra attention to. I'm listing: '85, rusty bodywork, rear-wheel drive. Straight-four, 20 valves, 1.6-liter, naturally aspirated engine with 153bhp from four years ago. Stock-size brakes with some shitty American racing pads. Works whenever it wishes to. Racing clutch, stock transmission, limited slip differential. Clumsy racing undercarriage, hard as a stone, won't absorb anything in the back, bounces, sometimes it wildy bounces off line.

As soon as we head out for the track, I realize the difference from the passenger seat. The Hachi is much more clumsier, suffering from maladies. Getting all suspicious noises, cracks and bangs, the horrid hum, and even the seat wouldn't hold, difficult to hang on, and the only race car experience you can get is the quickly approaching corner.

Gabor does not demand much time to get adjusted to the car. He instantly gets the hint that the engine is most lively between 6,000 and 8,300rpm. He goes for the first straight as he was out to qualify for Q1 in Spa. Bang-bang, shifting up like this is breaking my heart. He's careful before the first turn, he starts breaking early, nicely, progressively, then he aims the front-end to the line quite firmly. The Corolla always throws out its rear instantly from such treatment, no difference this time, but the killer, small countersteer puts an end to it. The difference between the track-racing and drifting driver becomes obvious in one second flat. In situations like these I return to the line gently, carefully, which is slow. On the contrary, Weber does it in an instant as an electric fence would strike a wanderer sheep on the nose. In the right-hander U-turn he goes around in a bit of zig-zag. He is giving the steering wheel some work in blows. He's trying to get the gist of the grip of the front-end and which end would get out of line first. Basically, as soon as he tried all functions, accelerated, decelerated, turned, he starts taking up track rhythm.

He adjusts himself at an incredible speed. Moreover the Hachi is not an easy one to command. I can see on his face that he starts concentrating wildly from minute two, he gets totally sucked in by the Corolla. Very hard to drive clean, there are no breaking distances of the same. Every imperfect downshift or misfire is followed by a drifting rear, the chassis wouldn't rest on cornering line, instead the rear end starts bouncing. The engine pulls only at top rpms, every control unit demands hard handling. Who does not work hard here, receives suffering in return only.

His second lap is punishingly pulled together. Interestingly, I still feel it unsophisticated, however fast it is, the gear changes, the commanding of the steering wheel and especially the holding of the racing line are all purpose-driven, but far more efficient than gentle. I slowly start to realize that this is what the car does to him. This is how it should be treated by someone who doesn't know it - he must force his will upon it raw, because the time for co-adjustment has not been up yet. The Hachi wakes up racing driver reflexes in a moment inspite of all its maladies, rust, lack of rollcage and patches.

It's impossible to put it into words, it just simply enjoys itself on the racetrack in all its elements where every other road car would sabotage its driver, pleading for its life, sucking in everyone who would dare to enjoy this fight. We run a few laps. By the time we get out, Gabor is sweating bullets, too, and his mean grin is just miles away from his respectable pro-status.

"This is fucking awesome. I mean it's terrible, but just full of geniousity. I never understood what was so good about these, but *hehehe* this is fucking great. I must have one of these. give me a call if you are selling this."
"See?" I add with a father's pride.
"Alright. What did I do different?"
"Well, you are using different lines here and there. You are shifting up much earlier - it is quite obvious you are used to racing gearboxes, whereas I take much more care about the fragile gears. You use the kerbs more roughly and the sideline of the track in general."
"How much did we run?"
"1:29.4 and I can't thank enough you didn't beat me with my iwn car, two minutes after you driving it for the first time."
"Hmm. So .4 seconds. Can I take it for another spin at the end of the day? It's extremely fun."
"The pleasure is ours."

"After trying all cars, Gabor gives personally customized pieces of advice for everyone, this time he knows by experience how much is the flaw of man and machine. Then we return to the track. I try to adjust myself to my new studies and I use the sides more agressively, speed up my gear changes.

And suddenly I hit my first 28+ second lap. Then the second, then the third. A little break, getting to know about the term of 'gripping lap', the small gists of getting familiar with the racing line from the inside and the handling of curve combinations. then returning for a final attack. 28.4, 28.3, 27.5, 26.95. I'm yelling so loud that even the engine shudders of respect - 28.3, 28.1, 27.6, 27.9 - my third gear would eventually drop out. HSo much about me churning out everything that is under he body of the Hachi: with what I saw/heard from Gabor I got two seconds faster within an afternoon.

It is a marvellous progress, especially if we take it into consideration that I did not start from the beginning. Truth is, I did get faster by two seconds in average but the differences between each laps are quite big. This marks that I still have to get used to it and my new comfort zone must be formed. Also, it is also a symptom of the Hachi getting exhausted by the end of the day. The third gear is playing hide and seek eventually and the brakes feed back with zero output from time to time. But there is no more delighted person than me on the Hungarian Great Plains right now. As the seanse is over GW pops up again. We have gone through the compulsory part, now comes the act where he can enjoy himself, too. I hand over the keys, giving gentle taps to the car's rear end. He heads out to the track and within three seconds we are all laughing on the top of the paddocks, with every other person holding a timer or a cell-phone. For loose entertainment is one thing. The other part is I shall be beaten here. It's such a joyful moment watching the fighting Toyota in good hands. Listening to the trumpeting engine, wathcing it dance between the kerbs with a moaning differential and a bouncy rear. After a few warmup laps the numbers start falling: 33.3, 29.4, 28.6, 28.7, 27.9 and then two slower, toying laps then cooling down and it's over.

We run down to welcome the car cooling crackingly with a running fan.
"Well, how much was it?"
"1:27.9. I got you by a whole second" I say and I try to not seem such a self-indulgent wiener I feel at the moment. "...with the car I'm driving for four years and you for 20 minutes."
"Third gear is running out indeed, and the brakes gone by the end, too."
"I know."
"This is fucking great. It's terrible, but incredibly awesome. If it had brakes, you could run around in this So as long as you fell out of it."

So it goes. On of the greatest day of my life, and that wouldn't have changed even if we finished vice-versa. Whoever that is able to teach so much in an hour that means fat seconds even at a not-so-beginner has much more under his sleeves, it's that simple. I'm sure I would have been beaten by the double of it in his car.

If you are interested our fast laps, free feel to watch our comparative video. It's really cool.

The fact that Weber can drive well was never doubted. But it's a great surprise he has a God-given talent for teaching.

The course was organised by Tunexcom, there are plenty of them during te season. If you read it so far, I'm gladly offering it. I'm taking the 'Anteater' for another spin, too.


From: Gabor Weber
To: Gabor Bazso

Good morning,
Once again, congratulations for yesterday, you did well and your tricky car is fun to drive. I would gladly take it for another ride sometime in the future. :)

From: Gabor Bazso
To: Gabor Weber

And I am really thankful for the training, it was useful even by measures and it was great to see that you really take this that seriously and pay attention to people - I think this makes your instructions work.

You can take the car any time you wish, especially if one can learn so much of it. I would be glad to see you at a drift training session as well, you would enjoy yourself big time. In addition you can learn much about it. It teaches you what happens at the point where it is too much and how long you can extend it. Under the surface it is a really great sport, you just shouldn't match it up with spinning, bumpy E36 323i's in parking lots.

Thanks for everything,

From: Gabor Weber
to: Gabor Bazso:

I'm gad you liked it, I thought you would come onlyout of fun under "What can I lose?" terms, but I saw tat you are really interested in this - I mean track racing.

Of course it bugs me that however few laps I completes with the Hachi, you were faster than me, but it tells me that us, semi-pro drivers need the kilomteres spent in the car real bad. Especially if the owner has such great senses :)

All in all, I positively disappointed in your driving capabilities, generally it's the other way around. If you are interested, you can be my quest for a hot lap at the Hungaroring, in a racecar. We might arrange you sitting on the left, as well...


Isn't he cuuuute?

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