Mr. Slow Racing

bmw, z4, sports car

I didn't even want to participate.  My car was too slow.  Most cars in my class were at least 2 seconds faster than me reaching 100km/h, and 2 seconds in autocross make the difference between the first and the last position.

And I had become rusty after being out for two rounds.  I really didn't want to humiliate myself, especially since I did reasonably well when I still had my Subaru STi.  I won the second and third places before in the novice class.

What triggered me to take part was a dimwit who drifted his car onto the timing equipment., destroying thousands Ringgit worth of equipment.   The organizer was a friend.  I knew the damage hurt his bottom line because the dimwit cowardly refused to take responsibility and pay up.  Acting out of impulse, I pledged to take up not one but two entries in the December race.

What Race is This?

Autocross is a form of motorsport for the grass root drivers.  It is relatively inexpensive to participate.  In the case of Grass Racing Autocross (GRA), the races take place in a large confined space such as a car park, using cones to mark the circuit.  The drivers each take turn attempting to complete the course in the shortest possible time.  The speed is usually low.  We rarely get out of second gear.  The challenge lies in car control.  Here's a video of how such races look like:

Old friends who knew me before would be surprised to learn that I participate in motorsports.  Long story short, I bought a “good” car that urged me to learn how to drive well.  One thing leads to another.

The Unlikely Candidate

Nevertheless, there I was.  I made up my mind I was just going to practice and play.  Mr. Ian Khong, the organizer, was kind enough to lend me his Satria 1.6 for the morning race in the novice class.

The car didn't seem to be at its best..  I was told the gearbox would act up when reversing.  The engine was chanting some sort of vroom vroom mantra when idling.  There was no ABS.  On the bright side, it was properly prepared by Ian Khong.  Alignment was well tuned.  It had no air-con, no stereo, no rear seat — it was lightened for the race.

One thing I learned was how little fuel Ian had kept in the car – to keep the car as light as possible.  5 liter perhaps?  I used to keep about 25 liter, and that's a 20kg penalty right there.

I had never driven a Satria.  I had never handled a car without ABS.  I was driving against some of the best novice drivers, driving cars like Suzuki Swift. and Toyota AE86.  The first two laps confirmed my hopelessness:  I was about 15 seconds behind the leading cars.  I gave up all hope of winning.  I just did my laps for fun.  I even lost my way on the track twice.

Among other things I learned from driving the Satria.  I could feel the front wheels locking up, and I had learned to modulate the brakes to stop better.  After a few laps, it had become quite natural for me to function as an human ABS.

I also learned the advantage of a front wheel drive car in autocross.  It was easy to turn the car with the handbrake.  I didn't need to work the clutch as in a rear wheel drive car.  I began to understand why Ian said FWD cars were easier to drive.

After the morning race was over, I was mingling with friends.  All of sudden, I heard Ian announcing “Peng made FTD!”  What's “FTD”?  People look at me with disbelieve.  I felt some excitement in the air. 

“FTD means Fastest Time of the Day!”  Someone explained.

“Ian, are you sure?  Is there something wrong with the timekeeping equipment?  I find it hard to believe.”  I asked.

“Yeah, we didn't believe it too.”  Ian chuckled.  “So we double checked.  Yes, we are sure.”

I was ecstatic, yet bewildered.  I did a 2 minute 13 seconds lap, which was more than 1 second faster than the next fastest car.  Yet  I could not recall what I did right.  I just drove.  It seemed that when I was not under pressure to win, I drove faster.

As Pressure Builds

In the afternoon, I would be my BMW Z4 against other Pro-Grass drivers.  If I was lucky in the morning, I would need a miracle in the afternoon.

Here's how the odds stacked up against me:

  1. My 2-liter car delivers 150hp.  It can go from 0-100km/h in 8.2 seconds.  Most other competitors had 200hp to 300hp with turbo, and could probably reach 100km/h within 6.5 seconds.
  2. Because I didn't aim to win, I didn't prep my car at all, other than half a tank of Shell V-Power  Most other cars were tuned-up and lightened.
  3. I was out for two rounds, while the others have been racing all year long.  I was rusty.
  4. I had never raced in this car, other than participating in a practice session with the Club months ago.  The other competitors probably lived and breathed their cars.

So since it was impossible to win, I figured I should at least beat my own time in the Satria.  Otherwise, the Z4 would be a joke.  How do I do that, considering I had no idea how I did it in the Satria?

The first lap was not promising at all.  I did 2:26, 13 seconds slower than the Satria.   I was so disheartened that I felt like giving up during my second lap.  Then, in that somewhat relaxed state of mind, I achieved 2:12!  Not only that I broke my own record, that time eventually turned out to be the 4th fastest time in the afternoon race.

After realizing what I could achieve, I “tried” to go faster in the remaining laps but I couldn't do it again.  I kept messing up: and couldn't even achieve 2:20.  Here are some of the videos when I messed up the turns: 

Unfortunately, nobody seemed to have recorded any video of my best runs.  I still couldn't figure out what I did right technically.

What I know thus far is:  I drive faster if I don't “try” too hard.  And I actually drive better than I thought I could.

Since I could not achieve 2:12 consistently, I did not win the afternoon race.  Should I be able to repeat the feat, I could've won third place.  Nevertheless, the results, which were totally unexpected, opened my eyes and mind.  There's really more to autocross than horsepower.

Now, I just need to figure out what those factors are…

Thank you!

I want to say a big THANK YOU to all the friends who have helped me in autocross.  Thanks for all the tips and advice.  Thanks for all the encouragement.  Most of all, I am grateful for the time you have spent ever so generously guiding me.  If it weren't because of the fellowship, I would have quitted long ago, and I would never have discovered what I can achieve.  Thank you.

Side Note: The Z4 also won the “Bling Bling Car Award” together with a Renault Clio Sports. Funny Lines A few funny lines were exchanged during the course of the day. “When I heard you did FTD, I actually double-checked with the timekeepers whether there was any penalty.”  Jian Nin, the organizer, “knew” I couldn't be that fast.. “You were faster in the Satria than you Subaru.  You must have umm-kong quite a few corners.” Ian Khong said.  I thought so too, if I didn't best my own time in the afternoon. We saw Ian Khong went out in the Miata for his lap.  I turned to chat with Andy Kow and Charlene Khoo for a moment, and then turned to see the Miata still out in the circuit.  “He's not back already?  That's long.”  I blurted unintentionally and Charlene laughed. And the funniest line, in retrospect, was contributed by Ivan Khong after watching me doing the first lap.  He was shaking his head in dismay, “Your Z4 is very slow.”  

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Chiew Ruoh Peng

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