Arguably two of the best episodes of Knight Rider featured KARR, the evil twin of KITT and equal in almost every way. I got an idea of how Michael Knight must have felt when I had the opportunity to dice it out with another lightly modified Subaru BRZ like mine at Chin Motorsports‘ first event at Palmer Motorsports Park.
I saw it on the registration list prior to the event. It was in the Green run group with me. It was even World Rally Blue which, as all Subaru enthusiasts know, is The One True Subaru Color. When I saw it Saturday morning, I sized it up, as any HPDE champion worth his salt would do. His BRZ was the Limited version, while mine was the less equipped Premium. All of those optional extras weighed a couple of pounds more, so I clearly had an advantage there. But he also had better tires than me, as well as a big brake kit rather than my track pads on otherwise stock brakes. Could this offset my car’s infinitesimal lightness advantage? As a Novice driver he would have an instructor on board, and my co-driver/other half would be riding with me, so again we were on equal ground. This was going to be fun.
My clone and I never saw each other on track the first day of the weekend event. I passed a lot of less experienced novice drivers, and some of the more experienced drivers in Corvettes and Camaros passed me with ease, but my BRZ nemesis never appeared ahead of me or in my mirror. We were lapping the track at a similar pace. But finally, halfway through Sunday, he got caught up in some slower traffic early in the session, and I caught up to him. Let the games begin!
The first thing I noticed was that some of his braking points were different than mine, and the early ones caught me out for our first couple of laps together. Fortunately I was giving him plenty of space. His lines through some of the turns were different than mine, too. I was taking a tighter line through turn 7 to take maximum advantage of the banking, lifting for turn 8 where he would actually brake briefly, and then staying tight through turn 9, again to make use of the banking. We were equal through turn 10, but he braked very early and took a very different line through 11 and 12. This time, he was doing something right, because he got a good run on me through 13 and 14, and put some serious distance between us down the front straightaway. It would take me half a lap to catch back up to him again, usually through 7, 8, and 9 where I was significantly faster than him.
We continued on like this through most of the session. We’d briefly get separated while passing slower traffic, or allowing faster cars to pass us, but though I couldn’t get by the other BRZ, he couldn’t shake me off his tail, either. After the session, we walked over to chat with him, and tell him what a great time we had. His instructor enjoyed watching both of us as well, and had been keeping tabs on my progress to see if I needed a point-by or not. I never got one, nor did I need or want one, since he was slightly faster around the track overall. The instructor then gave me an education in excuses I could use, such as that the other car’s tires were better, or that he had the Limited’s spoiler for extra downforce. I fell back on the Jalopnik favorite, that my right tire pressure was 1.5psi off.
In the final session of the day, soon after a fire spitting Evo passed me (seriously, it shot flames out the exhaust when the driver snapped off the throttle quickly – it was awesome), I caught up to the other BRZ again while he slowed to let the Evo by. It was on again! This time, I decided to try doing what he was doing in some of the turns where I could tell he was faster. Rather than slowing for his different line through turns 10, 11, and 12, I matched it, complete with his early braking point. I found myself under much better control coming out of turn 12, and though I still lifted slightly over the small crest in 13, I kept right up with him through 14 and the front straightaway. I’d just erased his biggest advantage over me.
We drove the same line through turns 1, 2, and 3, but he carried more speed than I did, mainly because I was chickening out and lifting before I needed to for turn 1. Not only was I already going almost 110mph before braking for this turn as it was, I also had a scare earlier in the weekend when I braked too late and barely managed to keep the car on the track. Intellectually I know I could’ve braked later, but I was intimidated to actually do it, especially since no race or championship was on the line. It’s all in my head, and something I’ll try to get over during future visits to Palmer.
Still, it was enough. I gathered him back in a bit through the first part of the track when we caught up to a slower BMW. The Bimmer let him by in turn 4, and let me by after turn 5. I reeled in the BRZ through 7, 8, and 9, as usual, stayed with him down the straight, and… got a point-by! I veered right to pass him as directed on the way into turn 10. Now it was my turn to lead the way, and to show him where I was faster and how I was doing it.
The Force was strong with this one, and with equal cars I certainly didn’t run away from him like I did from some less experienced drivers. But I still put some distance between us with my better line through 7, 8, and 9, and from this point on I slowly pulled away from him through the last few laps of the session until the checkered flag waved.
We chatted again. I thanked him for the point-by, and told him I’d gotten faster by learning where he had been faster through turns 10-12 and applying it myself. He said that after I passed he’d tried to do the same to me, but hadn’t quite picked it up. I explained my technique through 7, 8, and 9, and how I was getting through there faster than him. It’s too bad we didn’t have yet another opportunity to get on track together to see who was faster once he tried it my way.
Track days and high performance driving schools are not races. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun dicing with other cars within the rules of the game, like our twin BRZs did. It can also be a great learning tool to see what a car like yours can do in the hands of another driver, especially one who is faster than you.