“Work up to it. That’s probably the biggest thing … If you just go out and you’re smashing the wall, it’s not going to be fast. If you can pick up a mile per hour in the corner every time, that’s going to be big, and by the end of the session you’ll be quite quick.” This was a quote by rookie Indy phenom, Colton Herta of Valencia, Calif. The youngest ever winner of an Indy race. At just 18 years old, he won the Indy Classic at Circuit of The Americas! Just a few weeks earlier, he had won his class in a BMW M8 GTE at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona — and got his Rolex watch.
When I read Herta’s remark, it reminded me of the words of the NASA’s chief instructor down in the SoCal Region. Yes, you will drop two wheels on occasion and perhaps even have all four wheels off the track, but ultimately, you have to learn the track before you begin to add just “a mile per hour in the corner, every time.”
I have to admit, when working with my instructors the first few years at NASA, I’ve learned that becoming humble is a natural outcome. The HPDE program is probably better expressed as Humility Preferred Driver Event. Most important of all – it’s all about working up to it. No driver ever shows up for his first HPDE event knowing everything, even if he demonstrates a level of race pace right out the gate.
By now though, you have made good progress through the first levels of HPDE, and as Herta advised, you have added a couple of mph per corner and watched as you carved seconds off your lap times. You have had your car’s brakes upgraded — big brake kits are now commonplace among HPDE drivers — and you have had your first outing on R compound tires. You have a real racing seat and you have installed the correct harness setup, and all your fluids have been upgraded to handle the additional heat that comes with speed. Even your power steering fluid has been upgraded!
You are now ready to join the ranks of the HPDE3. You have worked up to where you can be considered a candidate. Your instructor has signed off on you, and you completed your check ride without incident. So, I will let you in on a little secret: HPDE3 drivers are really good. For many participants at NASA events, it’s not about becoming a racer and it may not even be about Time Trial. There will be those highly experienced drivers with well set up cars that are happy to circle the track in HPDE3, so be prepared. Watch who is on track in HPDE3 for an event or two and get to know their skill levels.
Depending on to which NASA region you belong to, there will be slightly different requirements for transitioning to HPDE3, but if it’s been a while since you dropped four wheels and it’s been observed by the instructors that you communicate well with those around you, then, in all likelihood, you will progress to HPDE3.
However, here is another little secret I can share: Not all HPDE3 programs are the same across all regions. Make sure you listen to the group leader. There is a thing about point-by’s. In some regions, they are mandatory whereas in others they are appreciated, but aren’t mandatory. Furthermore, HPDE3 doesn’t start out with open passing because the participants are still reigned in until the NASA leadership sees competent driving and good communication taking place. The number of passing zones will increase to where it is almost open, except in corners for the most part.
HPDE covers a wide variety of skill levels and experience, and not everyone showing up for NASA events have the intention of pursuing anything more than HPDE3. I count myself as one of those drivers, and anyone can continue “working up to it” and stay in HPDE3. It’s fun, safe, and we are all rewarded with a sense of accomplishment each time we pass that checkered flag with our car in good shape, with the doors intact, plenty of rubber left for another couple of sessions and a gleam in our eye.