Everybody that hasn’t been on track at COTA yet is foaming at the mouth, and everybody that has is in a daze from how amazing, fast, and technical this brand new, $400 million dollar facility is. I’ve been around it a couple of times over the last few months, and though I’ve probably got 20 laps on it I still don’t have a firm grasp on things… but I do think I know a good start to running a quick lap, and here it is.
But first, a disclaimer! I’m not a “pro” driver trying to fund a Grand-Am ride. I’m not holding out on this in the hopes that you’ll pay me to tell you my secrets. I’ve always been a budget racer, scraping money and sweet talking my way into track time to learn new tracks, and that’s why I’ve written this — for the beginners or budget racers that can’t afford a spot on a test day or a $50,000 track rental. If you’re on a budget but want somebody to help coach you, I’d be glad to help — I can promise I’m a lot more affordable than a guy that’s trying to pay for a mortgage and a Pro ride! If you’ve got a bunch of laps and think I missed something — feel free to add anything in the comments!
This is all from my experience in one of the Spec Racer Fords and would be most applicable to a low-power momentum car. If you want to know the braking points in a Porsche 997 please write your questions on the back of a $100 bill and mail them to me at the address in the contact info page!
Probably the most famous and talked about turn on the track, I place little importance on “nailing” this corner. It leads into the Esses which are pretty fast, but it’s so wide you have to decide whether you want to take a wide arc and get the power down for T2 or protect the inside line in a race. The only advice I’m going to give is in a low-power car, I brake at the white line painted across the track and don’t clip the curb as it unsettles the car too much — but get as close to it as you can. On the power shortly after turn in, and I shift to 4th before turn in for 2.
I usually enter Turn 2 about mid track. In something with less than 150HP you don’t need the width of the track so you’re running the shortest distance between 2 points, and getting to the far right side of the track for the entrance to Turn 3 and the Esses.
Look closely at your track map and you’ll see that the esses become wider and there is a shorter distance to complete them in. So what’s our plan for that? Early apexes! You can’t straighten them out because they’re different shapes and arcs and timing is everything. You’ll have to feel this one out on your own, but keep in mind that if you lose a few mph through these it’s not as big of a deal as that same couple of mph in T8…
Turn 6-7-8, 9 & 10
The Esses are really these 6 turns, leading onto the kink (Turn 10) and short straight into the second hard braking zone, Turn 11. Now if you’ve read Ross Bentley’s books, before even reading this primer you’ve printed out your track map, studied it, and circled a couple of important turns to focus on — those that lead onto the longest straights. Why do I bring this up now? Look at your track map again. That section from Turn 8-11 is a long section of track, so while it’s not THE most important corner, it’s definitely in the Top 5, and I’d say it’s the third most important, simply because it’s the most likely to be overlooked.
Which is why after you’ve early-apexed 3, 4 and 5, you want to get track left, left foot brake and late apex so you can corner and stay track right for 7. There’s a lot happening in this short section so bear with me. We’re throwing away 7 to make sure that we carry as much speed as possible THROUGH Turn 8. There’s also a STEEP rise in the track, and we’re coming in here in the middle-top of 4th gear. Unless you’ve got some torque beast, I don’t think you’ll carry 4th over the hill, so we have to downshift too, but none of these turns are slow, on the brakes, heel-toe to 3rd turns. So what do I do? After about 40 late apex turns, a lot of throttle steer and left foot braking, stay track left out of T7 and shift to 3rd before turn in for 8. On the throttle immediately after shifting, through 8 and 9, over the crest of the hill, flat through 10 and down the short straight to 11.
Turn 11 is THE MOST important turn to get right on the entire track because it leads onto the longest straight on the entire track with a slow turn at the end. If T1 was a sweeping turn I’d focus on it, but all these long straights have acute angle turns at the end of them. Beyond that, 11 isn’t that tricky of a turn. Learn your braking points, decide whether you want the widest arc or protect the inside line, and get on the gas as soon as humanly possible. The curbing at track out is smooth, but be careful of the astroturf — that stuff has ZERO traction and you’ll go nowhere in a hurry if you hit that.
If you’re in a low-HP car, once you get to 5th gear it’s time to bust out the book or Kindle or iPod and wait for the long trip to 12.
I kept coming out of 12, 5+ feet from the curbing thinking “damn! I could’ve carried more speed through there!”. Every. Lap. I don’t know how much speed one can feasibly carry through, but I can say you’ll find your braking markers are close to the 150-100 range than the 300 I started at.
Fairly straight forward. 13 is a late apex (noticing a trend?) to 14 and the kink after 14 before 15, which I guess is 14a. My brain wanted me to stay wide for 14A so I could have a wide arc and late apex 15, but I don’t have a firm judgement on this yet. My best judgement is least distance through this, getting the best run possible out of 15. And don’t clip the curb, without fail despite a good line clipping the curb even a little unbalanced the car and found me off the throttle at track out every time.
This is actually 4 “turns” if you look at a map, but they’ve labelled it 3. Getting your timing right key otherwise you end up sawing at the wheel and making corrections the whole time. With good grip and low-HP this is all on-throttle with a little throttle steer and sissy left foot braking to set the nose. I combine 16 and 17, get as far track left as possible on the tiny straight section, power down for 18 and get ready for the last 2 corners!
What a corner… off camber, as wide as a “your momma” joke and fun. Another corner that always had me thinking “I just scrubbed 10mph off I didn’t need to”. Hit the apex right and I think this is a lift, left foot brake set the nose and GAS GAS GAS. Carry a ton of speed in and do it right and you’ll be rewarded with a huge drive to Turn 20. Miss the apex 2 inches and you’ll find yourself so far off course you’ll be dancing around a hat at the tejano club down the road.
Surprise! Late apex! Whatever you do, don’t turn in early. This is another one of the most important corners, so if you’re going to sit yourself down and concentrate on a few, this is one of them. Like 15, I found clipping the inside curbing incredibly detrimental. The oustide is smooth so you’ll want to wait, wait, turn in and track out to the curb, then get your waving arm ready for all your fans on the front straight.