thunderhill corner

These comments come from an enthusiastic Elise owner who wishes to remain anonymous.

Thunderhill Open Track Event

I was invited to participate with TEAM (track events, alotta Miatas) at their open track event at Thunderhill Park. Thunderhill is the third race track near the San Francisco Bay Area and was created by the local chapter of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA).

I have participated in several open track events at Thunderhill before while driving my Seven. After driving the first couple of laps this time, I remember why I suggested that the track designer likes blind corners. There are four corners where you cannot see track out, let alone the apex. Two of the corners drop away dramatically and the driver needs to be positioned correctly and then look for landmarks on the horizon as they crest the corner.

TEAM is composed primarily of Miatas. It seemed like there were hundreds of them! They varied from street cars driven by novice drivers, to spec Miatas (highly modified suspensions but stock motors), to highly modified race specials. My host drives a super charged Miata and there were several others with turbos and over 200 wheel horse power.

I was in the advanced group because of my experience. I entered the track last and usually spent the 20 minute session alone. I spent the first ten minutes trying to remember the track. Succeeding sessions went much better and by the fourth session I was cornering at the limit in several of the corners and learning the rest quickly.

The blue tape is painters' tape. The organizers required the head lamps and turn signals to be taped, preventing rocks from breaking the lens and scattering glass. My headlights are covered with plastic but I wanted some protection from the grit kicked up from the track. I also covered the leading edges of the front and the edges of the wheel wells to provide additional protection. I covered the logo just for fun, removing all identification from the car.

rear of Elise on race track

My observations (thanks to Kiyoshi for notes):

  • The Yokohama A048s are amazing tires. I have now driven them in the rain to Washington State, in to wet autocrosses, and on the track. They always stick. They communicate well and are predictable. I have almost worn out the rears (4500 miles) and will happily pay the replacement price.
  • The Yokohama A048s chirp at the limit but are otherwise very quiet.
  • The car with LSS is very neutral in high speed corners. Unlike autocrossing where I needed to enter the corners slow and use the throttle to balance the car, on the track the car was always very neutral and could be balanced with the throttle. Part of this is because I was not overly aggressive on track in. I was aggressive while in the corner and could feel the car sliding at the limit and could control it with the throttle. Very much fun!
  • The car leans! I measured over three degrees using Photoshop tools. It is not noticable in the car and I certainly cannot complain about the handling!
  • My style of driving does not rely heavily on the brakes. However I deliberately pushed the late braking in the third session. I can feel the anti-lock brake servos and could feel the car crabbing as each wheel prevented locking. I think I can do better and threshold braked the rest of the session. I will compare braking distance in and out of ABS when it rains next time. I never experienced any brake fade, an amazing demolishment for a street car on the track!
  • Tire pressures were 29 / 32. Rear tires were rolling over to the V and fronts were not. I will drop fronts slightly next round.
  • The seating position is perfect. I sit almost in the middle of the car, far forward. I can see all the track, the texture of the surface, and every landmark.
  • I hit 120 m.p.h. on the front straight and that was with out trying. Getting the line right on turn 15 and trying to brake late I saw 127 m.p.h. And yes, I was afraid to brake really late and take turn one at 90 m.p.h. I could have seen even higher speeds! The car is stable, quiet, and brakes easily from speed. Very much fun!

One Lap of Thunderhill

As you will notice in my description, many of the limits were mine and not the Elise's. I was learning the car and learning the track. I was able to approach the limit of the car in several of the turns, most notably 2, 4, 10, 11, 12, and 13. Later I was able to do well in 5, 9 and 6. The car has so much potential if I can just learn how to drive again!

Front straight

Sometimes I was topping out in forth and other times I actually grabbed fifth for an instant. Braking hard at the start / finish line, and then entering turn one.

Turn One

Many of the Miatas were able to negotiate turn one at 90 m.p.h. Not me... I was able to get to about 80 m.p.h. and this is a corner that needs some practice. This was a third gear turn for me.

Turn Two

This turn has a very uneven surface and it is easy to set the car at the limit because it is so long. You can feel the car unsettle and settle back down when cornering at the limit because of the undulations. At the end, I accelerate as I drift to the outside berm.

elise on the race track

Turn Three

Because of this off camber and unsighted turn I enter in the middle and continue to tighten the line to hit the inside just before the entry into four. The Elise seems happier in the off camber environment than I am! More left here for me to practice.

Turn Four

Not much happening here for the Elise, normal apex, normal track out.

Turn Five

Braking for five is really fun since it is dramatically up hill. You can see the apex berm but nothing else. I tried to get into second gear for this turn. Hit the apex and look for the horizon and see the bridge on the other side of the race complex. The Elise does not feel like it unweights, even though the worlds drops away dramatically. Another off camber turn and a compression at the bottom. The Elise never feel unsettled and again is happy with an off camber turn exit in 5A.

Turn Six

Turn six scares me. There were several offs and spins here. Nothing usual to look at it though. I gather a lot of speed dropping down the hill from turn five. A quick stab at the brake to settle the car and get the front end to bite, and turn into the apex. Track out the right and stay there.

Turn Seven

Not much of a turn and accelerating from turn six. Reaching into third gear.

Turn Eight

The berm at the apex looks vicious, as it seems like there is a gutter and the berm is mostly vertical. I avoid it. The turn looks tight but there is a huge amount of track out. I was doing almost 110 m.p.h. upon entry and always chickened out, braking to about 90 m.p.h. I need more practice here.

tower at Thunderhill, Elise

Turn 9

This is another unsighted turn. It is a dramatic crest after apexing on the left. Look for the water tower and avoid the right track edge. The Elise compresses and leans but never seems to change adhesion as you crest and drop down the other side.

Turn 10

This is a strong downhill section and a fast left hander. This is the second hardest braking section and needs a strong push. I drop down one gear and apex.

apex on turn 11 Elise

Turn 11

This is the most fun part of the course for me, probably because it is the slowest. I drop down another gear upon entry, to second. A very late turn in because there are some nice esses after 11. I was very aggressive and the tires chirp as I apex over a slight rise and enter the esses.

Turn 12 and 13

The esses are fun as they are a right and left. The Elise loves these transisions! I could be late as I should be, I could be early. It did not matter!

Turn 14

The straight between 13 and 14 is the second longest and I was seeing 110 m.p.h. I needed to brake hard for 14 as it is deceptive because it is more than 90 degrees. You need to watch for a very, very late apex but you are helped by the camber in the inside of the turn. The Elise handles the camber well up to the limit but then gets very loose beyond that.

Turn 15

This turn is deceptive in the opposite way that 14 is, as it is less than 90 degrees. However it narrows at the entry to the front straight and so I was unable to be confident in my acceleration point.

I had a great time. My thanks to Bonni, Brad, and the rest of the Outlaws for a wonderful day at the track and a chance to exercise the Elise.