North Texas S2000 Club Autocross
Mineral Wells, TX
March 23, 2002
On Saturday, March 23, the North Texas S2000 Club held an autocross in Mineral Wells, TX at an out-of-service helicopter training depot. With an almost square concrete pad of tacky concrete running approximately a quarter mile on each side, the possibilities for course design are endless. Also, with such a large area to work with, the course designers were allowed to expand a typical autocross course to allow for higher speeds and safer distances between other vehicles on the course.
This being the third autocross for NTS2K, there were 24 cars in total, 12 more than their second event, and 18 more than their first. Hopefully, this pattern of the doubling of entrants will not continue! The event was not limited to only S2000s: I drove my '02 RSX-S, while there was also a couple of Preludes, an MR2, and a Cobra replica. It is refreshing to attend an event with so few vehicles since each driver is awarded with no registration line, less down time between runs, and more drive time. With many club events, such as the SCCA, well over 100 entrants may be present, netting about 4 minutes of drive time in an entire day. With this NTS2K event, each driver was allowed approximately 15 minutes of time behind the wheel in an event that finished at least 2-3 hours earlier than any other local SCCA autocross.
The course design can be described either as a high-speed autocross course or a low-speed road course and is a modification of the "Mineral Ring" run by the Porsche Club. At 1.5 miles long, maximum speeds were around 80-95 MPH on one of two long straights, depending largely on driver ability. You can view a basic design here. The course began with a few slightly offset gates, followed by a relatively large radius 200-degree left hand sweeper. A straight led to a tight 160-degree right hairpin, which then continued a slight right path into a 120-degree left-hander. Accelerating, the driver then had to negotiate an offset cone wall that opened onto a wide straight. A tight slalom was the next obstacle to conquer, leading into a 90-degree left. From here, offset gates were negotiated, followed by a sharp change in direction to the right. A large left hand sweeper changed the driver's direction and sent him through another set of offset gates. Swinging a hard right to come back towards the start/finish line, a very tight slalom was used to slow the cars down.
One of the many benefits of the huge Mineral Wells site is that because of its size, the course can be set up very wide. This opens the door to having endless lines through each corner. This forces each driver to really pay attention to other drivers who might be posting better times and learning from theirs' and others' mistakes. What may be fast for a driver in an FF car might be completely different from that of an FR vehicle. In a typical autocross, gates generally are not wide enough (or widely spaced enough) to allow for such a variety of driving lines.
A departure from your typical autocross was the use of hot laps. In a typical autocross, a driver would get 1 run and be finished until their next session. In this event, the format was 2 hot laps, meaning the driver got 2 laps in a row before coming to a halt. Eight laps in total between 2 run groups gave drivers ample time to learn the course and have a great time in doing so. This format is also nice because it gives those with competition tires and brakes enough time to get up to operating temperature where these components really start to shine, though you definitely have the potential to overheat the tires or brakes.
A nice touch with such a small group was the break for lunch. A member volunteered to bring a grill and barbeque some food while everyone ate and chatted about the morning events. Drivers could swap stories, discuss different lines through turns, intimidate one another, etc. It is refreshing to know that clubs actually exist where there isn't a loud PA rushing the next run group to grid. I believe that even novices found this event to be relatively low-stress in that everyone was helpful in making sure each person knew where to be at particular times. Personally, I am discouraged at attending local SCCA autocrosses because of the minimal drive time and excessive time I spend standing around wasting the day. With this group, even when I'm not behind the wheel, I'm having a great time either working the course or chatting with others. You'll certainly see me in Mineral Wells for event #4.
Copyright 2002, Temple of VTEC