The 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires is quickly approaching, and if you are from the Great Lakes Region, congratulations, you have home field advantage at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. If you are from California, chances are you haven’t towed your car 2,200 miles to drive around the Mid-Ohio track. The good news for drivers who have never been to the track — and looking for some course familiarization — is the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is home to the Mid-Ohio School. Attend the school and the instructors will teach you the secrets to this flowing hilly track before the NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
The Mid-Ohio School is a top-notch road racing school with instructors like veteran IndyCar pro driver Brian Till. Using a fleet of Acura and Honda vehicles, the one-day High Performance driving course takes you through vehicle dynamics lectures, autocross competition, skid-car drills, threshold braking and apex drills and full lapping of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. I personally had never driven around Mid-Ohio — and I didn’t want my first time to be during the actual NASA Championships. Knowing I needed some track familiarization, I jumped on a plane, put The Black Keys into my headphones and headed to Ohio.
Sitting inside the classroom in the tower at Mid-Ohio, I enjoyed an entertaining lecture on race craft from IndyCar driver Brian Till. Brian talked about how really good racing drivers use 100 percent of the car 100 percent of the time. That led us to discuss tire contact patch, the friction circle, weight transfer, and oversteer/understeer situations. Brian stressed the importance of good eye position and reminded drivers that the car will go where the eyes go. “Always remember to keep the eyes up.” The lecture also discussed how crucial tires are to a racer and how tires can only do so much acceleration, turning, and deceleration. If you are using 100 percent of the tires for braking, there isn’t anything left for turning. Brian talked about the relationship between the pedals and the steering wheel, if the wheel is turned, the brake or throttle needs to come off the floor to provide available grip for a combination of turning and braking or turning and throttle.
The Mid-Ohio School has an autocross setup in the middle paddock area. At the beginning of the day, each student was given one lap to see where their baseline skill level was before the full day of instruction. Times were noted and a leaderboard was created. We used the Acura ILX for the autocross and it was very reactive to driver inputs. The competition promoted some camaraderie among the classmates and some good trash talking with the instructors. We killed many cones during this exercise.
The first driving drill of the day was to get time in two different skid cars. Both cars were front-wheel-drive Honda Civics. One skid car could actuate and raise the rear of the car, minimizing the tire contact patch with the road causing an oversteer situation. The other car had actuators on all four corners and could decrease the tire contact patch everywhere to simulate ice driving. This drill was super fun and teaches counter-steer as well as allowing students feel like drift heros in Honda Civics. Instructors sat shotgun during this drill providing great feedback to the students, “Eyes up!” Everyone eventually spun these cars all the way around as we each tried to find the limit and everyone who exited the cars had huge grins on their faces. Skid car = awesomeness.
The next building block for the day was to accelerate, use threshold braking, and then turn in, graze an apex cone and then track out in a single autocross corner. The corner was set up with pointer cones pushing the driver to the left side of the track for good turn-in position for a right-hand corner. There were red cones four in a line, three in a line, two in a line, and a single cone, to indicate different braking positions. Each student was to start braking at the four-cone position and then advance deeper into the braking zone. There was an apex cone and a track-out cone to help students learn how to properly get through the turn using 100 percent of the car. An instructor stood near the corner and would critique each run. The advice was spot on, “You turned in too early,” or “You modulated the throttle too much” or “You didn’t carry enough speed to track out to the edge of the track.” It is amazing how hard you will push yourself to improve when you have somebody watching that closely. More cones died.
The next drill was the ongoing lapping of the autocross track (the same one we competed on first thing in the morning). This exercise allowed students to use what they picked up in the lecture, the skid car and the threshold braking drills and really put things together. Again, an instructor had his eyes on the students the entire time and would talk via radio about each corner as the student drove the course over and over again. This instantaneous feedback was a great way to improve and try new things, a deeper braking zone, a later apex, etc. This session was really fun because we had the chance to chase each other around the autocross course with multiple cars on the track at the same time.
We enjoyed a nice catered lunch up in the Mid-Ohio tower with gorgeous views of the track’s park-like setting. During lunch, we had a chance to talk with instructors. Most were pro racers or amateur racers with National Championship pedigrees. Then it was back to the autocross course for more timed laps to see how much each student improved. It was impressive to see how much time fell off of student’s first morning laps versus their afternoon laps. The seat time and instruction from the Mid-Ohio School really made a difference.
After the afternoon autocross times were tallied, they took the top three drivers and threw them in a Honda S2000 for all the marbles. I was able to set the fastest lap and win the competition — that’s one for NASA! — which netted me a $50 gift certificate for Summit Racing — not too shabby. Unfortunately, no podium, champagne or massive trophy. I’ll have to go back to NASA and win for that kind of pro racing treatment. Once the competition was over, we headed back into the classroom to discuss the big track, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The instructors went over each of the main features of the track, the Key Hole, the Kink, Madness, the Esses, Thunder Valley and the Carousel. The proper line was discussed, helmets were handed out and we were out on track following our instructor in a lead-follow session. The instructors said the goal was to, “Follow my tire tracks as if we were driving in snow.” Four cars would chase the instructor and after each lap a different student would take the opportunity to pass his or her classmates to get directly behind the instructor to watch the line closely.
This lapping session was why I came to Mid-Ohio. I wanted to see the track, be on the track, and drive the track. This drill was my opportunity. While making laps, the instructor would talk over the radio and provide excellent tips and visual cues for turn-in, braking, and which curbs to be on, which ones not to be on. It was fantastic and provided me the confidence I was looking for heading to the Championships in September. Here are a few of the tricks I learned from the pros at Mid-Ohio.
Here is the turn-by-turn advice from the instructors at Mid-Ohio:
After passing Start/Finish on the front straight you will go directly to Turn 1. This is the fastest corner on the track. Stay driver’s right and turn in at the end of the grass on the right side (same location as the last black painted square on the wall on right side). As you go under the bridge turning left you will see the raised red/white curbing delineating Pit Out from Turn 1. Get your left tires right on that curbing and follow it around. Track out to the yellow curbing. After Turn 1, move to driver’s left heading toward the the Key Hole
Stay to driver’s left and head toward the Key Hole. Brake, downshift and prepare to double apex the Key Hole. Touch the right side red/white curbing early, track about midway out (look for the center seam of the track) and get back down onto the right side red/white curbing to slingshot out of the corner, tracking out to the yellow curbing. This corner exit is important because it leads to the longest straight on the course.
Flat out, make the track as straight as possible for the shortest path traveled. As you exit, take your time but get driver’s left to prepare for the entrance to Madness.
Hard braking and downshift into the entrance to Madness. Turn in, right turn, just past the 100 brake marker, use the red/white curbing on the right side to apex, start to transition into the left corner, track out to about 1 foot off the left track edge prior to the beginning of the red/white curbing through the left hander, brake, turn left and apex the curbing but only track out about three quarters of the track as you prepare to turn in for the right hander. Get yourself all the way driver’s left — no curbing here, just a white painted line and grass — slight late apex through the right turn as you finish Madness and head into the Esses, tracking halfway out.
As you head out of Madness into the Esses, late apex the first left corner — yellow curbing — prior to the Honda bridge, you will then head up a slightly blind hill. The track continues to the left. Your left-side tires should touch a cement patch near the middle-left portion of the track. Then you will straighten out to touch the curbing on the right. Exit the corner driver’s left as you head toward Thunder Valley.
The entrance into Thunder Valley is a right-hand curve. You want to get driver’s left near the yellow curbing, slow and turn in. This is blind. You will see a gap in the trees ahead of you. Aim for the gap, apex the curbing on your right, track out wide left and head down the hill into the Valley. After you go under the Total bridge stay a bit left and slowly bring the car to driver’s right as you prepare to enter the Carousel with straight line braking.
Entrance into the Carousel is driver’s right, close to the red Armco barrier near the track’s edge, which is uncomfortably close. This is a fast corner, brake at the 200 brake marker, turn left at the 100 brake marker, touch the red/white curbing, exit wide to the yellow curbing, straighten out and point the nose of the car at the center set of bleachers, brake before you crest the small hill, get the car straddling the center seem as the curve winds to the right. Turn right and get down to a late apex. This is a super late-apex corner, and to avoid a large bump in the later portion of the corner, you want your right-side tires on the right side red/white curbing. You will track out and then be flat out through the small left kink as you head out onto the straight away back to start/finish.
Congratulations you have just completed a very fast lap around the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The one-day high-performance driving course gave me exactly what I was looking for before the NASA Championships. If I had more time, I would like to have stayed for the full three-day course. On day two, they walk the track and break the track into thirds going over every idiosyncrasy of the course to make drivers faster. Day three is full lapping and passing. Depending on your budget and schedule, this resource is available to you before the NASA Championships. To find out how and when you can take part in a Mid-Ohio School class, visit midohio.com.
I would like to give a huge thanks to my excellent instructors: Brian Till, Max Gee, Mark Junge, Fred Robertson, and Sam Halkias.