WAJ Media Days - Track Day
The WAJ Media Days is a two and a half day event. Day one is a "Show and Shine" where the cars are lined up for us to ogle. Day two is the "ride and drive" where we get to drive a variety of cars in the real world. Day three is "track day." We get to drive a variety of cars around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Very cool and a touch scary.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is a challenging, 2.238 mile world class race course. I am by no stretch of the imagination a race driver. I pride myself on being a competent, even good, street driver but that doesn't mean squat on a real race course. My mantra during this event is always to drive no more than eight tenths of my limit and always, always keep the shining side up.
I drove seven cars around the track between 9 a.m. and noon. I took 1.8 laps in every car. We used the motorcycle track entrance, which put us on the track just after turn two. I then drove one full lap and then pitted just before turn eleven.
My first car out was the Suzuki SX4 Sport Hatch. The car had a few modifications performed to it - better tires, a "performance" air filter, and who knows what else. It was a good car to start with, not too much power, and forgiving handling. I drove it semi-hard, trying to find the line around, trying to hit the apexes.
Next up was the Hyundai Genesis 2.0T Coupe. I had driven the 3.8-liter V6 on the street and was really impressed. The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder was a fun car to drive around the track. The turbocharged engine puts out 210-hp. The Genesis is a rear-wheel-drive car, a new concept for Hyundai. I'd say they have a winner here. Smooth and predictable handling, superb brakes.
Just for fun I took the Kia Soul out. This was the same Soul I drove on the street; there was nothing tricked out about it, it was box stock. It was fun but obviously not a track vehicle. Its forward weight bias almost caught me in the "Corkscrew." I think I crested the hill just a touch too fast and made the mistake of braking as I turned going downhill. I could feel the Soul start to rotate. Thankfully I didn't really get in too deep and I doubt even the corner worker noticed, but I puckered just a little.
From one of the coolest to a muscle car - the Dodge Charger SRT8 was my next ride. Surprise, surprise. Although it is big and heavy, it was fun, fast, predictable, and easy to place. Sometimes there's just nothing like a big V8.
One of my favorite cars, track or otherwise, is the Honda Civic Si. Where else can you find an engine with an 8,000 rpm redline? Or an engine that makes such sweet sounds? Even if the chassis was a dog, which it isn't, there'd always be that engine. I have no idea how fast the Civic Si is in reality but I know unless you are a total dweeb, you will feel like a Formula One driver in it.
I finally screwed up my courage and took my dream for a dance, the 2010 Mustang GT500. Five-hundred and forty horsepower tends to scare me. So with sweaty palms I asked the prettiest, hottest girl at the prom for a dance. Who would have guessed she would be such a sweetheart? Okay, I probably only drove at about seven tenths of my limits, which might have been 50% of the GT500's. Man, the GT500 was a dream to drive. I am hooked. I want one.
The last car was the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR, a 291-hp, auto-shift, twin-clutch, manual transmission, all-wheel-drive, race car for the street. Wow! The downside is that the Evo MR costs a minimum of $36,985.
There were other cars I could have drive but I figured I'd quit while I was ahead. I had a great time, felt like a race drive, never hurt a thing, and left with some great memories.
What was amazing to me was how good all the cars were. Even the least expensive car was probably the equal of some race cars of a decade or so ago. The brakes, every single car, were better than most brakes of a decade ago. There was a time when only premium European cars had a braking system as good as most of the cars here. The premium cars are still way out in front, but the everyday cars now have brakes that are astounding.
I want to give a nod to two of my favorites; the Kia Soul and the Ford Mustang GT500. Opposite ends of the spectrum but both fun.
Thanks to all the auto makers who brought their cars for us to try out. These are hard times and it wouldn't have surprised us if some companies stayed home. Hey, keep building great cars like these and you will pull through.