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  • Writer's picturethe M & the E

ME Racing Report – NASA NE NJMP Lightning March 18-19

It was freezing at New Jersey Motorsports Park where we opened the 2023 season!

I've never seen so many people crammed into the registration office before. I don't think the NASA NE admin crew liked having that much company, but oof, it was the only warm place besides sitting in a car.

Lightning is the shorter of the two race courses at NJMP. It is easy to learn, and difficult to master. The facility is way south in Jersey near the pine barrens, just a few miles north of the Delaware Bay so the area is flat as a pancake. That doesn't mean that the track is flat. Although it doesn't have a lot of natural elevation change there are four blind spots created by the hills the track rolls over.

Despite the weather the weekend went really well. I had 34 different DE1 (novice) students, about half of whom were with us for both Saturday and Sunday. By the end of the weekend we had three drivers get approved to move up to DE2 where they will be able to drive solo. Since it was a competition school weekend DE1 class took place in the main building's garage. One of my favorite things to do in the second debrief session is go around the room making the students tell us about a section of track. It's a sneaky way to get everyone visualizing the circuit together so they learn we faster.

Turn one is a blind right, turn five is also a blind right. After turn seven you can't see where the track goes before it leads to the banked last 180+ degree bowl turn. When you come out of the bowl onto the main straight you go to the right edge of the track and then cross to the left edge of the track (turn 11 on the map below) while driving over the same hill that you went over going into the bowl. (That would be turns 8, 9 and 10 on the map below.) You can't see the straight until you crest the hill right at turn 11. This is the most dangerous part of the track. With all the back and forth from one side to the other, with everyone burying the throttle and the speed differentials of the various cars in DE1 we work on getting students to not give a point-by or take a point-by until they crest the hill at turn 11 and can see the track is clear on the straight. I ask if anyone would be comfortable with someone passing them on a the street over a blind crest and so far the answer has been no - for good reason. It's dangerous.

This two-dimensional map doesn't really do the terrain justice, but at least you can see which way it goes.

We will be visiting Lightning again in June, and for our last event of the year in November. I love teaching at Lightning because it's scary not to be able to see where you are going as fast as you can.

Ripping across turn 5 is a joy. The car crests the hill while you're aiming at the apex. When you go over the hill through the turn the track falls away so it feels like you're on the edge of a set of skis. When the car hits the bottom of the hill there's not a ton of compression (compared to what you feel on the last turn at Lime Rock where you drop straight down like a stone and turn as soon as you feel your suspension squish) until you run to the curbing at the left edge of the track and even then it's loaded on the left side not all four wheels (like at Lime Rock.) However having the left side bearing the load allows you to gradually add throttle while coming back across the track to the curbing in the right side of the track in turn 6. Please (!) keep the gas pedal on the floor and let your car track left - how far depends on how much speed you are carrying. If you are at 100mph or less you might as well stay right along the edge of the track to make the distance you're traveling as short as possible, but if you are hitting 120 or more then track out because its faster to go further and carry speed than give speed up to travel a shorter distance. It's not visible on this track map, but there is curbing on the left side of the track before the bridge because if you are fast enough you will get all the way over there in the transition from turn 6 to turn 7. Coming over left in this area means that you will enter turn 7 at an angle that makes the turn more than 90 degrees. This is just fine because it allows you to use threshold braking and more trail braking as you transition the car from straight line braking to turning left creating more pressure and traction on the right side of the car which is a good thing for turning left and makes it a little easier to get back to full power as you exit turn 7. As soon at you've tracked right, or as you are tracking right to the exit curbing it's back to full throttle. For road cars the shift sequence would be third gear through turn 5 up to 5th gear through turn 6 and either up to 5th gear if you're flat out or staying in 4th. Either way you have to get down to 3rd gear for turn 7. The shift point for just about everyone is cresting the hill after turn 7 where the flag station is on the left side of the track.

The bowl or light bulb turn complex has some serious banking so you need much less brake pressure than you think. Using the banking and turning right means that the car is pressed into the racing surface and you can really get into the gas until you feel the back end of the car start to get a little loose. Before entering the light bulb you can aim high (left). The sight line is the fence break depicted on the map, but you can move towards the middle of the track as you enter the corner to take advantage of the banking to help your braking and improve traction by loading up the left side of the car as you turn right and head down to the curbing on the inside of the corner. Ride the curbing and let the speed build while tracking left to the exit curbing on the left. Hold the wheel steady and your car will carry back to the right as you exit the corner and aim to hit the crest. Keep the wheel steady and the car will move left again before you need to straighten out the wheels and head down the front straight on the left side of the track to set up for turn 1 which is uphill and blind.

Here as you turn into turn 1 you have a choice. You can stay off the curbing on the right, use all of it, or just the lower level of curbing. What you choose has to do with what car you are driving and how you want to balance smashing your car's suspension (not good in a street car) versus getting the best lap time (fine in a race car). taking the middle path will be fine in a road car and the thing is you need to be committed because you are going to carry left as you exit turn 1. There is plenty of curbing out there and plenty of run off. If you go over the curbing the key is to back off the throttle a little and keep the steering wheel steady so you can get all four wheels back on the track before before you enter turn 2. On the front straight most street cars and racers will need to get to 5th gear and take turn 1 in 4th. Since turn 1 is up over a hill you need to leave your car in 4th because you don't need a lot of torque while carrying momentum going downhill off turn 1 and head toward turn 2. The complex from turn 2 into turn 3 will see you scrubbing speed and arcing out left to use the curbing there and head right through turn 3. Between turn 3 and turn 4 is where you need to shift down to 3rd gear. There's not much time to do this, but it's the slowest part of the track and from here you will be accelerating toward turn 5 and the higher speed sections that we covered when we started the lap.

There are more details about what to do with the curbing, but I'll save that for the next visit to Lightning in June.

By June we will be racing our ME Racing 525. Right now we're aiming for the first race weekend at Watkins Glen in April. It is on the way to being ready. We're working on the turbo setup and need to do some brake work as well as a bunch of interior safety stuff - new seat, belts, fire suppression system install, etc., but all of these are pretty easy. We got numbers, class stickers, and our logo on the car so we're most of the way done thanks to the help of our friends, partners and sponsors.

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