By Ken Price.
Okay you've bought your first Porsche, joined the Porsche Club of Victoria, been to your first Club night and read your first issue of Porsche Parade. Now for the real test, you've raced down the Ocean Road, been first in the LeMans start out of the company carpark at 5 pm and you're ready to take on those heroes at your first Club competition event. Surely it's quite simple, you just fill in the entry form, fork out a bit more money for a CAMS licence, grab that old motorbike helmet out of the back of the garage and hey presto! Well, if you take that approach, we'll be picking you off the walls before you know it. Motor sport is dangerous, but with the proper approach and the right equipment, it can be the best fun you can have with your pants on.
Firstly, you need to choose what types of events you want to do. The PCV has a wide choice, motorkhanas, hillclimbs and track events. Even economy runs! They all require a different approach, both in driving skills and car preparation, so let's look at basic car preparation first. Basic car preparation First you have to prepare the car and here are a few tips. If you have a standard roadgoing Porsche, it will do the job quite well. In fact, it is one of the few cars that I know that can be driven in competition events just as it came off the showroom floor and be competitive all day with no problems. However, there is a lot that you can do to your car within the rules for the standard classes while still being able to drive it to work the next day.
Tyres, brakes and suspension are the areas where many performance gains can be made if you do it right. Brakes The first thing you must look at is brakes. Before you even start, have the system checked for leaks, sticking callipers etc. With the PCV rules only allowing minimal changes, your choice of pads is most important. The standard pads are great for the road, but a few high speed stops will soon have them smoking and fading. I've used the Cool Carbon pads for many years. They come in a range of compounds, but the "blue" compound gives excellent performance on the track and still gives great cold performance that is vital for road use. But there are quite a few equally as good brands of pads around, such as Hawk, Pagid etc. You choose! If your wallet is bulky, I would also strongly suggest having the front discs grooved with radial grooves on the disc surface. This keeps the pad faces clean, and also reduces the possibility of fade. Fade occurs when under hard braking, the pad surface gives off gases that form between the disc and the pad. In extreme cases the pad rides on this cushion of gas and cannot contact the disc, with disastrous results. The slots help to keep the pad surface fresh and also gives an escape route for these gases. Grooving is better than cross drilling the disc rotors, as this tends to weaken the disc if it gets too hot and it tends to crack. I would also suggest removing the dust shields behind the disc. I would suggest that you consider the addition of some judicially placed brake scoops to direct air to the brakes. I have seen some neat ones that attach to the lower suspension arms and scoop air out of the air-stream towards the centre of the disc. As a ventilated disc is designed to draw air from the centre near the hub and expel it to the perimeter of the disc, this is where the air is needed. And of course, flush the old brake fluid out of the system and refill with a quality brand of high boiling point brake fluid. Do this regularly every year.
Now that you can stop, you need to be able to go around the corners faster and the first step in this is a decent set of tyres. How you approach this depends on what else you use your car for. If your car is the second or third car in the family then it is probably cheapest to fit a set of "R" tyres to your existing rims and use them for both road and track. They do last surprisingly well on the road. If you do a lot of road miles, it's probably worth lashing out on another set of wheels on which to fit your "R" tyres. For those of you who haven't driven a car on "R" tyres, you are in for a bit of a shock when you do. The increased grip and stability over a good set of road tyres is very noticeable and is probably worth around two seconds a lap at Calder. That's a very cheap performance tweak. Check out the offerings from Dunlop (Stuckey Tyres), Falken, Bridgestone and Hoosier (Manson's Tyres) and Yokohama (Traction Tyres). The range of sizes and compounds available is growing every day.
Next is the suspension. If you don't want to spend any money here, at least have a very good wheel alignment done and get the shop to give you a little bit of negative camber at the same time. I found on my 924 Turbo that setting the car up with about 1.5 to 2 degrees negative made a huge difference to the handling. Also give the front a small amount of toe-in and the back the same. Of course when you really want to get serious, there are springs (and torsion bars) to stiffen, shock absorbers to replace and sway bars to add or upgrade. I would suggest that you take a visit to one of the specialist Porsche workshops who have a track record in preparing Club competition cars and talk to them about what you want out of your car and how big your wallet is. Done correctly, with the right combination, your mild mannered road car is now looking like a Porsche Cup car and able to corner faster than you can handle. Done wrongly, and you could end up with a real handful that is slower than standard, meaning another fistful of dollars to get it right.
With every step along the way, do your homework. Check out who is going fast in a similar car to yours, and ask them a few "rookie" questions about what they've done and who did it for them. You may not get all the secrets, but you'll sure get enough info to set you on the right track.
Safety Inside the car, I would strongly suggest fitting a full harness seat belt to keep you in place. If you are not strapped in tight and feeling what the car is doing, then you are never going to go quick. You can get full harness belts that clip onto eyelets that can be removed for daily driving. If you are still using a lap/sash belt, try this trick. Wind the seat back backwards until the sash part of the belt doesn't touch your chest. Then grab the sash part of the belt and pull it up towards the door pillar mount, thus tightening the belt around your body, then tug sharply back until the belt locks on the ratchet. Then, holding the ratchet locked, wind the seat back forward until you are sitting in the right position. Your body will now keep the belt locked and it will hold you firmly in place without sliding all over the seat. If you can spare the cash, and don't mind the contortionist activity to climb into your car, fit a good driving seat. Check out the one that you feel most comfortable in and shop around for the best deal and fit. Also think about a replacement steering wheel. Safety is all important and of course there are the usual mandatory safety items that you will have to fit to your car for a speed event. A fire extinguisher is a must and remember that it must be a Dry Powder type (see the Club Rules for details). Revolution have extinguishers in stock at a reasonable price.
Do not forget to take all loose items out of the car before you take the starting line, even in a motorkhana. I remember seeing a car go straight through a finish garage without stopping with a look of terror on the driver's face as the spectators scattered. The reason, a drink bottle rolled out from under his seat and jammed behind the brake pedal! In a speed event, you are required to fit a secondary bonnet restraint. I found that a trip to the local yacht shop will unearth a length of rigging wire with a ring on it and a matching length with a snap catch. These can be fitted under the bonnet, with one end attached to the bonnet and the other to the inside of the trunk (or in the engine bay). The snap ring can be easily opened once the main bonnet catch has been released, but remember to keep the overall length short so that the wind doesn't get under the bonnet. Also required, and easily forgotten, are metal tyre valve caps. Go over the car before each event and check it out for safety. If you don't have the time or facilities, drop it into your service shop for a quick look over.
A good helmet is a must, and it must comply with at least AS 1698. Some people feel claustrophobic in a full face helmet. If you are not used to wearing one, try it out first by borrowing one and actually sitting in your car to see what it is like. Again, if you are not comfortable, you can't go fast. Of course if you want to really look the part (as well as protecting your valuable body), a driving suit, driving gloves and boots are the go. I can see the time coming when driving suits will be compulsory for Club sprint events, so be prepared. Some people ask me why they would need a driving suit in a Club event, and I point out that if they did happen to crash and burn, it is going to take at least 2-3 minutes for anyone to get to you and start to put the fire out. That's about how long an FIA-approved suit will protect you if you are trapped.
Well, now you have a fully prepared care you're ready to go for your first event. .