An autocross is a safe, low-cost driving competition where drivers navigate through a temporary course marked by traffic cones. Corvettes are perfect autocross cars because of their awesome handling and excellent power-to-weight ratio. Autocross events place more emphasis on car handling and driver skill than on sheer horsepower, but horsepower helps. Speeds are slower when compared to other forms of motorsports. Autocross is a national-level sport, which makes it a great way to get started in competition driving. Autocross events are usually held in large paved areas, like parking lots or airfields. Drivers must learn a new course each time they compete. Prior to driving, a competitor walks the course, taking mental notes and developing a strategy for their upcoming runs. Organizations such as the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) sponsor events throughout the United States. Local Corvette clubs sometimes hold events sponsored by their club. This chapter reviews the more popular of the two organizations that support autocross, the SCCA.
This Tech Tip is From the Full Book “HIGH-PERFORMANCE C5 CORVETTE BUILDER’S GUIDE“. For a comprehensive guide on this entire subject you can visit this link:
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SCCA Solo events are all about a driver’s ability to accurately and precisely maneuver around a pylonmarked course in the fastest time possible. If you think you have what it takes to beat the clock and your fellow drivers, then show up at an SCCA Solo event. SCCA Solo eventsare low-cost, low-risk, motorsport events. No competition license or roll bars are required—just add a helmet. With over 1,500 SCCA Solo events each year, you can gauge yourself against Corvette drivers. Each driver is individually timed to the thousandth of a second, over a short, miniature road course clearly defined using traffic cones.
Cars compete one at a time, hence the name “Solo,” in a class with similar cars. Solo II emphasizes driver skill and vehicle handling rather than just speed. The corners are tight, and there are lots of them, so the driving is exciting and challenging. Speeds do not exceed those normally encountered in highway driving. The skills you learn and practice here—smooth transitions, enhanced braking, and skid correction— have an immediate impact on improving the safety and skill of your street driving. Solo is an excellent way to teach car control to young drivers in a safe environment. Stock or Modified Class
Obtaining an official SCCA rule book is a good investment. It tells you about legal modifications, rules, and many other topics. Unmodified Corvettes are placed in the SS (Super Stock) category. Modified Corvettes are placed in A Street Prepared or B Street Prepared (depending on year and modifications). Corvette racecars run in the Modified class. The SCCA-sanctioned events are self insured, and are conducted under the watchful eyes of their safety stewards. This is why this is one of the safest motorsports. Approximately 1,100 sanctioned Solo events, totaling more than 10,000 competitors, are held each year throughout the country. More people compete in Solo competition than in any other motorsport, save drag racing.
At this point, you are learning a lot on each run, and you may be 10 seconds behind the class leader. That’s not unusual—you’re still doing okay. Generally speaking, the veteran drivers like to help the novices. The magic words, “I am a novice,” will get you extra instruction from other competitors, who can critique your run.
What to Bring to an Event
• A safety helmet (safety requirement)
• Extra air in your tires (for better handling)
• A folding chair (for comfort)
• Thermos of water (for comfort)
• Cooler (for comfort)
• Windex and paper towels (to clean your windows for best visibility)
• Caulk (to mark your tires to determine the correct air pressure)
• Shoe polish (used to mark your class and car number)
• Tire gauge (to determine the correct air pressure)
• Portable air tank (to adjust your tire pressure)
To register, you must have a valid driver’s license and an entry fee ($15 to $25). Fill out the information card at the registration area. You are assigned a car number for the day. At registration, you are asked to sign the insurance waiver. You must do this to compete. Once your class and car number have been assigned, mark your car using white shoe polish on the window (it comes off with Windex).
Your car must pass tech inspection before you can compete. Read the tech inspection chapter in the rule book to see what you need to do. The tech inspector signs your card if you pass, or recommends changes to make the car pass, such as additional tie-downs for the battery or removal of loose items or center caps if you’ve forgotten.
After tech, you need to walk the course. Occasionally, course maps are available at registration. If you are a novice, a novice chief can take you on a guided walk after the drivers meeting. Try to have the course memorized before you go on the guided walk.
The driver’s meeting is mandatory for all drivers. The event chair holds the meeting approximately one-half hour before the first car starts. Be sure to attend. This is where you find out information about the course conditions, number of runs, particular safety concerns, and how penalties are assessed.
You usually have a minimum of three timed runs. Find out who is running before and after you, so you know where to line up. Running in order makes the timing people’s job easier, and keeps the event running smoothly. The event chair calls out which classes are to come to the grid. Once you are on the grid, wait for the cars in front of you to launch, and then move up until you are on the start line.
A starter waves a green flag when it is okay for you to start. The green flag means go as soon as you are ready—the timer does not start until you pass through the lights. If you get “lost” on course, take the time to orient yourself and continue. Don’t head back to the start line, because you may be pointed toward another car. Times are posted after each run. Your fastest run of the day is used to determine your finishing position. The Awards
After the event, everyone meets for the trophy presentation. The location for the presentation is usually announced at the driver’s meeting. The event chair and his/her assistants give out results and present trophies to the top third of each class, plus a trophy for Fastest Time of the Day (FTD).
A penalty is given if :
• A cone is knocked over and is out of the box.
• A cone is knocked over and is in the box.
• A cone remains standing but is out of the box.
Penalties A penalty is given if :
• A cone is knocked over and is out of the box.
• A cone is knocked over and is in the box.
• A cone remains standing but is out of the box.
A penalty is NOT given if:
• The cone remains standing and is touching the box.
• The cone remains standing and is partially in the box.
• And, of course, if the cone remains standing within the box.
Car Setup Tips
You may want to put more gofast goodies on your Corvette, but make sure to read the rule book, and stay legal for your category. But keep in mind, at this point you can go faster sooner by working on your driving skills instead of on the car. The 2001–2004 Z06 is a top choice among SS autocross competitors. It offers the best standard suspension, tires, and engine components for the class. If you want to run in a Modified class, the 1999–2000 FRC and the 2001–2004 Z06 are top choices. The FRC is less expensive to purchase, especially if you are going to modify the car for a street prepared category.
Remember to put extra air in your tires. The reason for this is to keep your tires from rolling under during hard cornering. But how much is too much? Put chalk on the edges of your tire, in three places around the diameter, and you can see how far over the tire was going during your runs. Bleed out a little air if the chalk is still showing on the tread, or add a little more if the chalk has been worn off down the sidewall. The line of worn chalk remaining should be right at the corner of the tread and sidewall. Keep notes on how many PSI you ran and where the chalk line was for your next event. Remember, as you get better and corner harder, you’ll need more air to compensate, so keep using the chalk at every event.
In order to have good car control in driving, you have got to stay put, so make sure your seat belt is tight and firm. Some people like to tug hard on the shoulder strap to engage the lock on the seat-belt reel. Highly modified cars sometimes use a six-point seat belt for added safety.
Most experienced drivers agree that the best place for your seat—to give you the best control—is forward far enough to have your leg slightly bent when the clutch is all the way to the floor, and to have the seatback reclined or upright to a position that allows you to rest your wrists on the steering wheel when your shoulders are firmly against the seat. This position allows you to run the full range of steering inputs and foot motion without stretching or moving in your seat, and can have a huge impact on your driving skill.
If you’re looking for a cheap way to improve your Solo II setup, this is a good one. Corvette factory specs are established for everyday street driving. Improving your car’s turn-in for autocross may make your car twitchy on the street, so use your own discretion. To get some suggestions, ask a driver who has a car similar to yours.
Your first walk gives you the general layout. Walk the course alone, concentrating on memorizing the layout. Think of it in sections, with key cones marking the turns, such as start straight, slalom (enter on right), decreasing sweeper to the left, right-hand curve, thread-the-needle section, and finish. Stop every now and then and run through the course in your head, from the beginning to where you are. Get down—the course looks different from a seated position. This gives you a better picture of what the course looks like at speed.
Pace off the distance between cones in a slalom. Some course designers vary the distance, and it’s good to know before you arrive whether you need to vary your speed in a slalom. Take a notepad if you like, and make notes such as pavement changes, camber change, bumps, sand, etc. Make a mental note to yourself (or write it down) how far ahead to look. This helps you to remember to look ahead while you are driving. There is no need to memorize every cone on the course, only the ones you plan to be near—the “important” ones. Look from one important cone to the next in your plan. In Grid
Before you run, while you are in grid, go over the course again several times in your head, executing the plan you made.
After Your Run
Sit in your car and go over your run. Figure out where you didn’t execute the plan. If the plan was to be near a particular cone and you were five feet from it, then you didn’t execute the plan correctly. This should have made a red light go off in your head. Maybe you need to adjust the plan because you were going too fast in the slow parts.
I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s so easy to forget, but it makes such a big impact on driving. It all relates to hand-eye (and eye-foot) coordination. Look where you want your hands to drive you, and look far enough ahead to take advantage of the feedback. If you’re looking at the outside cone that you’re afraid of hitting, well, you’ll hit it. If you’re looking 10 feet in front of the bumper, the turns will keep surprising you. Imagine looking at your feet while you are running on foot! You won’t be very coordinated, and you won’t have a good sense of distance or speed. The same goes for driving hard corners in autocross. Look ahead. You may be astounded at your performance the first time you remember to do this all the way through a course
Slow Down to Go Fast
A common problem when you’re starting out is trying to take the tight sections too fast, and not staying in control. Just be patient in the slow spots. They’re slow spots, after all.
Brake Hard in Corners
Go ahead, squeeze the brakes hard. There’s no morning coffee on your dashboard, or eggs in the front seat. Once you decide to slow down for the corner, don’t waste any time. If you find yourself at a crawl and you’re not at the corner yet, you’ve just found out that you can brake later. Locking up your tires does not make you stop faster, so squeeze the brakes and let them do the work, not your tires.
Don’t ask too much of your tires. For any tire/pavement pair, there’s only a certain amount of traction. You can use up that traction with your throttle, your brakes, or your steering wheel. So if you’re going into a corner using 100% of your traction to make the turn, what happens when you ask for more traction by applying the brakes? Either you won’t brake or you won’t turn. Or both. Same goes for accelerating out of a corner. Ease into the throttle as you ease out of the turn. So use full throttle and full braking only in a straight line. This goes back to slowing down to go faster, and brings us to…
You may have noticed that I used the phrases “squeeze the brakes” and “ease in the throttle.” This is where you have to change your mindset about inputs to controlling your car. You need to convince yourself that you can make your car respond better by squeezing the brakes hard instead of standing on the brakes, by rolling in the throttle rapidly instead of stomping on the gas, by turning the wheel quickly instead of cranking it around. Subtle, but it shows up in how often your car is in control instead of scrubbing off speed pushing around a corner. And it takes a lot of practice to become second nature.
Shift Near Redline
On the street, we don’t usually shift near redline (high RPM). But in autocross, you want to be making the most of the power available to you. You’ll learn to hear the motor as you drive and to stay in a lower gear longer. Most courses are in second or third gear for Corvettes.
Each car varies, but try to start at higher RPM (usually 2,500 rpm). Don’t dump the clutch, or you’ll find your wheels spinning. Let it out rapidly and find the right RPM to maintain traction. Higher horsepower cars want to use lower RPM than do less powerful cars.
Always remember to have fun, even when you are being stomped by some national hot-shoe. You’ll never stop learning—the best drivers tell you this still applies after 10 or 20 years! Remember, seat-time, seattime, seat-time. Nothing makes you go faster sooner. And nothing is less expensive in improving your times. The Nationals
The SCCA Solo National event is held each year in September. Its current home is Topeka, Kansas. This is the Mecca of autocross, and a mustsee for any car enthusiast. Each driver competes over two days, but, if you have the time, stay for the whole show, as it takes four days to get through over 900 drivers. Corvettes are multi-year champions in SS, A, and B Street Prepared. Top Pro Solo II champion Corvette driver Danny Popp has been competing in these events for many years. He learned how to autocross from his father Herb Popp, who is also a multi-time autocross champion.
Herb Popp spotted his first Corvette in 1953 and was captivated with the styling of this new American sports car. He vowed to own a Corvette one day. His dream came true in 1960 when he took delivery of a black-on-red, 270-hp 1960 Corvette. One of the first things he did was join the Queen City Corvette Club. It didn’t take Herb long to become a charter member of the National Council of Corvette Clubs. Today, he is one of the club’s original 16 charter members. In 1960, Herb decided to take his new ride racing. His racetracks consisted of local Cincinnati, Ohio, parking-lot autocross events. Herb took the hubcaps off the wide-whitewall-tired Corvette and headed to a local race. It took him several years to start winning trophies, but eventually he won so many events that he became a local legend for his autocross skills. In 1965, he took delivery of a 327/350-hp silver coupe. He bought this car because it came equipped with the new four-wheel disc brakes. Herb thought the new brakes would give him a competitive edge for autocrossing events. Sadly, he had to make room for his new purchase, so he sold his faithful 1960 Corvette. His trophy-winning ways continued with this car for seven years. His fondest memory was running the high banks of Daytona at a National Council of Corvette Clubs (NCCC) event in 1971. By then, Herb was married to Judy, his career at General Electric was firmly established, and his first child, Danny, was born. The family gave Danny his first plastic toy Corvette at Christmas when he was two. This started Danny’s lifelong passion for Corvettes. Herb and Judy took their son to every weekend event, and it didn’t take long before Danny was helping Dad wrench his racer.
In 1972, Herb did the only thing a new family person could do. He put more excitement into his life by buying another Corvette. His dark-blue 1972 coupe came equipped with the high-revving LT1 small-block. Of course, Herb started racing and winning with his new ride in autocross events. Upgrades included bigger wheels, tires, and side pipes. Herb’s pit crew grew when son Adam came along. His wife Judy and the boys continued to attend autocross events on the weekends. While Danny and Adam were growing up, more Corvettes entered the family. A 1986 L-98 C4 joined the LT1, and both cars continued to be upgraded for autocross events. The boys drove the LT1, while Herb competed in the L-98.Today, his son Danny competes in Solo II events with a McCluskey Chevrolet-sponsored Z06, and Adam races the L-98. The family travels to the events and serves as pit crew. Herb has passed on a good legacy for his sons to follow, and the Corvette community is better off!
Danny has won four SCCA Solo II and two Pro Solo II national autocross championships driving, what else? Corvettes. Like many successful champions, the spark that stirred his Corvette passion started when his parents presented him with a plastic Corvette replica at age two. At an early age, Danny started working on Dad’s 1965 silver coupe and his 1972 LT1. This experience taught him the basics of being a mechanic. Dad also let Danny drive his Corvettes in autocross events. Slowly, the trophies started piling up. Dad’s LT1 netted Danny five of his championships, and the blue rocket is still in the family garage.
I caught up to Danny in 2005 as he was preparing to compete in a Pro Solo National Series event. McCluskey arranged to have Danny spend two days testing at a private race facility. He was working on car setup and testing a new autocross tire for a major manufacturer. Danny did not let a minute go to waste. He ran several timed hot laps, checked the tire temps and tire pressure, and then let the car sit before the next run. Danny and his crew changed to a different tire compound and repeated the test. Everything was written down for future documentation. This testing went on from morning to night, with a short break for lunch. Danny continued to demonstrate passion, intensity, and tenacity during the busy testing session. Pleased with their results, the group packed up and headed to their Pro Solo event.
Five cars were entered in A Street Prepared, including Danny’s blue Z06. The course was held at a former World War II air base. Two different courses were used during the event, one on Saturday and a different course on Sunday. Every time a competitor hit a cone, one second was subtracted from the time. Each day, each class was allowed to run the course three times, and the best time was used for a total score. This type of racing is serious. We watched Danny prepare for his run by observing other competitors on the course and placing tire warmers over all four tires to maintain their heat.
Before each run, Danny sat at the starting line, eyes closed, as he moved his hands over the steering wheel like he was driving the course. How did he do? Danny negotiated the tricky one-mile course in 49.880 seconds with his Z06 and didn’t hit one cone. He won his class by 4.078 seconds and missed setting the fastest time of the day over all the entered cars, including racecars, by 3/10 second! Danny left the event with a good start towards his next championship, and, from what we saw, he is truly a champion. After watching his performance, I know why he won the BSP Solo II championship in 1994, 1996, and 1999, and won two BSP Pro Solo titles in 1997 and 2000. He also won an ASP Solo II national championship driving a Z06 in 2003, and an ASP Pro Solo national championship in 2004. Danny also finished third overall in the 2005 Car & Driver One Lap of America. His electron- blue McCluskey-sponsored Z06 is capable of mid-11-second quartermile times. Car control is the key ingredient to a successful autocrosser. Solo II events are very serious affairs for the top-running competitors, and Danny Popp is among the best.
Written by Walt Thurn and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks