Saturday morning started way before sunrise as we motored over to the “tower” to register, get our schedule and pick up our rental helmets, followed by a driver’s meeting for everyone who would be on the track that day. The schedule was going to keep us busy all day so, between classroom instruction and track time we hoped we’d find time to watch the races! Those of us in HPDE1 (High Performance Driving Education) & HPDE2 barely had time to unload and prep our cars before it was time for our first classroom instruction session, where we learned the basics…. the lingo, the turns, flags, lines, how/when to do point-bys, etc. Immediately afterwards, those of us in the HPDE1 class picked up our individual instructors and took to the track. My apprehension was almost completely overwhelmed by all the information that was now swirling around in my head, but my instructor was very reassuring, systematically teaching me the things I needed to learn as we rounded the track. By the time our first 25 minute session had ended my anxiety had been greatly reduced and I had begun to feel the thrill of being on the track.
Our second session on the track, however, was a different story. Both HPDE1 and HPDE2 were combined on the track, putting 69 cars out on the track at the same time, with quite a few of them way more experienced than those of us first timers. The intimidation factor was very real as mustangs, corvettes and even other MINIs came roaring up behind us. It was hard to stay focused on what we had learned with the increased number of cars and “imagined” pressure for more speed. I spent more time watching my mirrors so I could point people by than I did watching my line. But again, after a little while, the anxiety dissipated and we were able to resume our focus. By the end of that 25-minute session we were feeling more comfortable. With each of the following sessions, us newbies got progressively more confident on the track and according to our instructors, seemed to be getting better.
About lunchtime on Saturday the MINI JCW Team MINIs arrived, having gotten a late start out of Atlanta Friday night coming straight from their IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race at Road Atlanta. Luis Perocarpi, owner of the team, and Tonine McGarvie, from MINI, got right to work, getting registered for the afternoon races, prepping their MINIs to pass the tech inspection and signing up Sunshine MINI members for a hot lap with Luis between races.
That afternoon we got to see Randy Smalley pit his early R53 race cars against Luis Perocarpi’s current generation MINIs, along with other racers on the track. It was fantastic seeing them fly past us lap after lap. As an owner of an R52 I have a fondness for the first generation MINIs and I was rooting for the R53s however, as Randy later said, “Turns out the supercharged cars had nothing for the new turbos! The afternoon heat killed our performance. We were probably down 20-30hp. Superchargers hate the heat!!” But from a spectator’s point of view the R53 seemed to be holding its own for most of the race, not slipping back until later in the race. But at that point, the F56 clearly out-powered the R53 and most of the other cars on the track.
At the end of the day Saturday, Luis took me out for a hot lap in the MINI JCW Team hot lap car. All I can say is OMG!!!! It was a thrilling experience, but it was also very educational. I got to see everything my instructor had been telling me to do all day as Luis rounded the track, making it all come together at lightning speed!
Saturday ended with NASA throwing a barbeque at trackside for everyone in attendance. Car enthusiasts from our classes, HPDE3 and HPDE4, Time Trials and races, as well as participants of the BMW Spectoberfest being held in the far paddock area gathered around the buffet and beer truck. There was no shortage of awards, both earned as well as door prizes. Tonine even drew a winner for a gift bag from MINI. Luis won 2nd place in his race, and MINI owner, Daria Arcadi won a GoPro door prize. We were all pretty exhausted after the intense, fun-filled day so we retired back to the hotel and were asleep in no time.