Tips and tricks for a quick lap at Road Atlanta in an E30
Written by Don Stevens for a first-timer at Road Atlanta:
I have actually not driven Road Atlanta in a properly equipped Spec E30. I have driven it in a high performance street E30, my old Alpina C2. While it was capable, it did not have sticky tires, racing pads, or a racing seat. It was also my highly coveted daily driver. Therefore, I was being a bigger pussy than I would be in the SE30.
Having said that, I have instructed there several times and have ridden with some very fast E30 pilots. That being said, we do not instruct even superior students to use exit rumble strips at 5 and 7, nor go flat down the hill through the esses, or flat down the hill through 11. I’ll give you my driver’s ed tips below. You can use these to get your bearings during the first session or two, then you can refer to McKay’s points and other videos to build speed.
When you are at the track drive around to the spectator areas and view other fast sessions from various points. You can get right to corner worker stations at the inside of 1, 3, 6, 7, and 10a. You can learn a lot by watching the fast guys from these points.
So, as promised above, the following are tips that I use when instructing and/or what have observed from the fast guys. You can use this as a starting point and work your way up from here.
Turn 1 – Begin braking at about the 150 ft. mark. Similar braking level to turn one at Sebring. Firm but not standing on them. As McKay says, don’t over slow here. Shift 5th to 4th. There are two pit exits from the upper paddock that will be in your peripheral vision to the left. Turn in about where the first pit exit meets the grass and as the road narrows from the left (see video). Turn toward the corner worker station understanding that the apex is about 30 ft past the corner worker station. Power hard to the apex and power hard up the hill in 4th.
Turn 2 – is a very minor left (like 8 at Sebring) but it is completely blind and it is important to be set up for late braking in to 3. As you come up the hill from 1 look to the center of the tall pines. Line the car up to the left edge of the right tree knowing that you will slide left through 2 for hard braking for 3. Turn 2 (and the braking zone for 3) will come in to view once you get to the top of the hill.
Turn 3 – At the top of the hill you can see the apex rumble strips for turn 3 (a slight right hander similar to 15 at Sebring). Line up to the left side of the road, stab the brake hard, just long enough to grab 3rd gear, then turn toward the top of the inside rumble strips. Once you turn in, press hard back on the power and clout the very top rumble strips hard with the right front. If you do this correctly the car will literally launch and it will pitch you in the right direction for 4a. It sounds a little more dramatic than it is and once you do it a few times it will be one of your favorite parts of the track.
Turn 4 – is the esses and it actually has four parts. Left (call it 4a just after turn 3), 4b a blind right (at the very crest of the hill), then steeply down essentially straight with a left right squiggle at the bottom of the hill that is the braking zone for 5. Again, it sounds kind of intimidating but once you do it once, it will be as natural as riding a bike.
Take 4a flat in 3rd keeping the car tight to the left rumble strips. Shift to 4th as soon as your hands are straight. There is a road (part of the motorcycle course) that comes in from the left. At the very end of this road is a short rumble strip on the left (you still cannot see the apex of 4b yet). Get the car to that left hand strip and at the end of the strip, turn slight right to the apex of 4b. The rest of the esses come in to view at this point. This is intimidating at first and requires a bit of a ryhthm. Done correctly this is all flat from the turn in at three to the braking for 5.
The video aids in visualizing the next section. The following words sound more complicated than it really is. Watch the video as you read this and it should make sense.
The left right squiggle at the bottom of the hill is a very intuitive. Keep the car left to the end of the strips at 4c and straight line brake (with a downshift to third) to the strips on the right. This little squiggle, which is the set up for turn 5 is slightly uphill which aids in slowing the car and loading the car at turn in.
Turn 5 – Turn in for five is at the end of the right rumble strip. The apex for 5 is late (almost at the end of the inside strip). At the apex the car should be pointing toward the top of the corner worker pagoda at the top of the hill between 5 and 6 and you should be hard on the throttle.
Aim for that pagoda as you straighten your hands and the exit comes into view. As McKay states, the outside of the rumble strips is paved and the fast guys go 4 wheels off over the paved strip and back on the tarmac after the corner. This takes some balls the first few times as well but once you get it, it is fun.
From 5 to 6 is flat with an upshift to 4th at the appropriate time.
Turn 6 – The entry to 6 is downhill flat in 4th and you are approaching quickly and it seems a little intimidating at first (like 10 at Sebring). But, the turn is slightly uphill with good camber all the way through. So, you can brake later than you think at the 300 stripe across the road (shifting to third) and lighter than you might think. Turn in is late at about the 100 strip and you should be hard on the power through the apex which is around the corner in a little dip (like 13 at Sebring).
Power hard through the turn and up a slight grade to the track out, which quickly becomes the braking point for 7.
Turn 7 – Braking for 7 is all about feel. You will undoubtedly over brake the first few sessions and probably most of the weekend. This is a great place to “know where to go slow to go fast” as the exit of 7 is hairy. In my opinion, unlike McKay’s bonsai description, it is wiser to be a little slow and smooth here and live to race another day.
7 is all third gear. The turn in for 7 is the end of the turn 6 track out rumble strip. The inside rumbles are low so you can climb all over them as you point the car to the exit rumbles. Knowing your style, you’ll be all over these and hard on it on the way out.
As a side note – the inside of 7 is my favorite place to watch. Back in the day, the 962s would be way off boost going through 7, coming on full boost dramatically at the exit, shifting to third on full boost up the hill away from us. It was exhilarating to watch.
Turn 8,9 – Anyway the back straight is boring in an e30 (like the back straight at Sebring). It takes all day to wind out 4th and 5th is a bit of a non event just saving wear and tear on the valve train.
Turn 10 – You can go deeper in to 10a than you might think at first braking past the Arai sign at about the 200 mark. The fast guys go to the 150 mark and stand on them.
10a and 10b are very simple 3rd gear 90 degree turn on which you can clout the inside curbs at the apexes. Do them as fast as you dare understanding that a fast exit of 10b is critical for a fast lap.
Turn 11 – Coming up the hill toward the bridge is weird. You cannot see jack shit. Line yourself up to the left coming up the hill. At the end of the rumble strip turn slight right aiming just past the right bridge abutment toward the pit in for the lower paddock. This feels weird but it puts your car at the correct angle as you crest the hill.
Turn 12 – Once you can see your way down the hill, hug the grass on the left and wait for the end of the rumble strip on the left.
As the end of that strip on the left exits your peripheral vision, look to the apex well down the road on the right, then the flag stand, and keep your hands straight and do not lift.
And that is a lap of Road Atlanta. After your first session you will be saying “Holy Crap”. After a few more sessions you’ll be saying “Holy Crap that was fun”.