Ahhh, springtime. I love the springtime. For it is in spring a young man’s fancy turns to matters of . . . no, not the heart, the race track! It is in spring that the rituals of a new season of racing begin and with them come the expectations offered by a fresh, clean timing sheet that is only a few weeks, and a few degrees of the thermometer away. You may keep your Easter Bunny and his hidden eggs, thank you.
The question of the moment is where did my wife hide my driving suit and will it still fit?
But what about all the would-be Paul Tracy’s and Mario Andretti’s driving performance street vehicles, and driving them well, who have wondered more than once while carving up their favorite section of country road, whether they have what it takes to cut it on a real race track surrounded by equally curious drivers?
How do would-be road racers “try before they buy"?
For the majority of the curious lacking Roger Penske’s tip money to invest in an SCCA or NASA program just to test their curiosities, there have been few options. If you’re content to do your racing in a straight line, one-quarter mile at a time, you can go bracket racing. Simply show up at your local drag strip with an approved helmet and pay your entry fee. Run a few quarters to establish your time handicap then run door-handle to door-handle against anyone who shows up.
Regardless of what you’re running against your time handicap will make it a close race, as long as you don’t break out (run too fast and DQ). In bracket drag racing a diesel VW can beat a Viper GTR.
If you prefer your racing include elementary vehicle dynamics such as steering, braking, acceleration and gear changing, there are few entry-level options. Kart racing offers a method for drivers to get started or further develop driving skills. However, karting at a competitive level is getting quite expensive. The SCCA offers gymkhanas and Solo I/II programs set up in parking lots but that’s not the kind of experience most curious road racers are seeking.
Lapping sessions sponsored by the manufacturers of various luxury and high performance automobiles at regional road courses are available to some. But they tend to be by invitation only. A car club for your particular brand may offer a rung up on the ladder. But car clubs, for a variety of reasons, may not be your cup of Mobil 1.
Realistically, there has been no place the curious road racer could test their skill sets using an unmodified street car and a helmet until just recently. Now budding road racers have a new option: SATCAR®. SATCAR® represents the new “first step” to success on the road racing ladder.
SATCAR® is the acronym for "Sports and Touring Car Racing" and is the creation of Chicagoan Kern Fischer: auto industry engineer, distributor of enthusiast's accessories and high performance driving school instructor. SATCAR® is being planned as a road racing program that will be available at tracks across the country.
Event partners, located near each of the tracks, will be appointed to organize and present events at their local tracks. At the heart of the SATCAR® concept lays a patented format and timing system that effectively time handicaps each car competing in a given race. Time handicapping just two cars running one-quarter of a mile each is a piece of cake. Now try doing it for 20 cars at a time each running 52.5 miles and you quickly discover the complexities of moving the bracket racing concept from drag racing to road racing!
The SATCAR® Performance Parity Time© (PPT), calculated during practice and qualifying sessions, does just that. The PPT© produces a grid that starts each car at a predetermined interval to the rest of the field. The slowest car starts first, the fastest last. In a 100% perfect SATCAR® race every car would cross the finish line at the same moment. It is this timing system, plus a simple rules package focused 100% on safety, that combine to create a completely new form of grass roots motorsports competition.
SATCAR® offers road racers what drag racers have enjoyed for many years. The SATCAR® PPT© system equalizes road course competition between cars of differing performance capabilities and drivers of varying skills. It gives the driver of a VW Golf an even chance of winning a road race against a driver in a race prepared Porsche GT3.
Less a rule, but more a SATCAR® state of mind; unsportsperson like conduct is not tolerated. Act like a jerk and you’re gone, and you will not be back. Otherwise (subject to the Rules Of Competition) have a good race and have fun!
The remaining risks are up to the driver to intelligently manage. Relative to the out of pocket expenses a driver will incur for consumables and maintenance (and possibly repairs) for their vehicle, you will want to determine in advance just how hard you really want to drive the same vehicle you must also depend on as your daily driver in SATCAR® competition.
It’s a good idea to set such self-imposed limitations before you dive into that blind, downhill, off camber, 90 degree right! One of the benefits of the PPT© is it serves to negate the need to drive at ten-tenths at all times. Smooth, consistent laps are the key to winning in SATCAR®, not raw speed.
Lest you think you can simply waltz in off the street, plop down your AMEX Centurion™ and enjoy a full weekend racing your Ferrari Unobtainium, you will need to first demonstrate to SATCAR® you possess appropriate skills. Skills you have either obtained through prior training, which you can of course document, or skills you will acquire by attending a SATCAR® or other approved driving school. There is no such thing as a free lunch here and besides, won’t you feel that much more comfortable knowing the woman who just blew off your AMG E55 with her Audi RS6 has demonstrated all the skills and qualifications necessary to be out there cleaning your clock? With your SATCAR® Competition License in one hand, and your SNELL approved helmet in the other, you can now go racing!
In addition, cars are fallible too. Parts can overheat, clutches start slipping or brakes overheat, causing pit stops for mechanical inspections, or putting out brake fires, as the case may be. A really big off might mean a DNF. Run too fast and you may break out, just like in drag racing, and find yourself with a time penalty that takes you completely out of contention. No sandbagging allowed. In SATCAR® a VW Scirocco has an equal chance of beating a Kenny Brown Mustang or a Porsche Carrera to the checked flag, and to the top spot on the podium. Later, when the racing day is done, you can drive your “race car” home, and to work on Monday, assuming you got that pesky brake fire under control in time.
Through practice, qualification and finally the fifteen-lap race on Autobahn’s 3.5 mile combined North and South loops the racing was spirited and always interesting for those watching from atop Autobahn’s beautiful new south timing tower. The drivers thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the sense of real competition that traditional club lapping sessions (most motorsports clubs like Autobahn offer only lapping sessions, there is no organized “racing” permitted). At Autobahn’s “Octoberfast” dinner, Gary Traverso, driving an ex-Bondurant school Mustang was announced as the race winner. SATCAR® is looking forward to working with Autobahn to organize a multi-event drivers championship for the 2007 season.
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