At the end-of-year DE party at the Eblenkamp’s new digs in Waterford back in September, a few of the die hard guys were talking about going to Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in November. I had never considered doing a track day so far away from home, but VIR is one of those “Big Boy” tracks that I dream of going to. Looking at the work and home calendar, it looked like I could go, so I registered for the 3-day event and started getting ready for the event.
The first step was to tech my car and change the oil and replace the brake pads. If you read my last article, you’ll know that I found a seized brake caliper piston. Other than that, the car looked in great shape and ready to hit the track.
It took a full day of driving to get down there. I use a 2005 Cayenne Turbo as my tow vehicle and pulled the Coke car in its 20-foot trailer all through Ohio and West Virginia over the Appalachian mountains and down to south-central Virginia. VIR is just miles away from Danville, VA and about a mile from the Virginia- North Carolina border. The Cayenne performed flawlessly and after a so-so nights rest at the hotel (I was pretty excited) I got up bright and early and headed to the track.
VIR is a beautiful facility. It feels like a high-end country club, but for cars! The host of the event was the Carolinas PCA club. They had a broad mix of cars from old 914s and 944s, to brand new GT3 RSs and a multitude of Cayman GT4s. I had the only 928 which I’m still unsure to interpret as a good or bad omen.
We would be running the “Full Course” which is about 3.3 miles long with 18 turns. I had studied the track map for days before and watched several YouTube videos to try and gain a sense of the track. It helps, but you never really know a track until you actually drive it. That’s particularly true in terms of the elevation changes.
Friday would be a perfect weather day with a high temperature near 75°F and sunny skies. I was in the white solo group and we had about 30 cars in the group. I purposefully gridded near the back as I new I would be slower than most as I acclimated to the track.
Coming out of Turn 5, you enter the “Snake” which can mostly be straight-lined, unless you are passing someone. You are full throttle at this point, and as you pass under the entrance bridge, you begin a long uphill assault through a second set of esses. These “Climbing Esses” are the best feature of this wonderful track. It is very hard to not lift off the throttle (and risk loosing a tremendous amount of speed) as you climb over 100 feet with the car shifting from side-to-side. If you can stay in it, however, you are rewarded with a high entrance-speed into “Left Hook” or turn 10. This is a very deceptive left turn because the road dips down 40 feet immediately after. This topology leaves you only seeing the profile of the road, which makes it look off-camber. As such, it’s easy to over-brake here. Tom Krueger took me out and showed me you only need to tap the brakes and hammer-down!
After a couple of tight right-hand turns including the famed “Oak Tree” (which I understand came down a few years back), you enter a 3/4 mile straight that climbs uphill slightly. I was reaching speeds of 135. Tom was hitting 150. At the peak of the hill, there is a 15 foot drop for the last thousand feet of the stretch. I found this is a great place to make up time by braking late as you setup for Turns 14 and 16, known as “Roller Coaster” because you drop about 100 feet as you go through a right-left-left right series of turns. This was probably my second favorite part of the track.
Turn 17 is the final turn before the front-straight. Known as “Hog-Pen” (I guess because there used to be one there), it is a deceptive right-hander that you can easily over-brake. But because this is at the end of the downhill portion, the front-end will compress giving you tons of turn-in and grip. Then you feel the back-end follow suit. Tom told me to go full-throttle through there, so I did. It took a lot of courage, but after several attempts, I managed to hammer through and was rewarded with a clenched behind and smile on my face!
That night, I hung out with Tom and we cooked up some sausages and had a marvelous dinner. I was pretty impressed with how my times had improved from about 2:30 to 2:19, in large part thanks to Tom’s instructions. I called it a night at 7PM and promptly fell asleep.
The next day, Saturday, was significantly cooler. The forecast called for rain, but it never really appeared. The Coke car with its hungry V8 loved the cool air. While the car seemed faster, there was more traffic, and I could never put together as clean of a lap as I had on Friday. I found myself napping between sessions. How do those endurance guys do it?
Sunday was colder still with temps in the 40’s. It definitely took more time to get some heat into the tires, but once they warmed up it was just as fast as the previous day. The car was flawless! I pushed and pushed but never got a clean lap until the last lap of the last session where I was able to get a 2:18.
After I packed up, I headed out to make the long journey back, but it didn’t seem as long as I was dreading. All I could think about was what an awesome experience it was. I am so glad I went. Now I cannot wait to go to other stoic tracks like Road America, The Glen, and Road Atlanta. See you out there. Keep the shiny-side up!
About the author: Andrew Olson
I'm a long-time 928 enthusiast. I like long walks on the beach and a soft shoulder to cry on... where's Brian?