Track Day 01 - Tracking a Stock 1999 C5 Corvette

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So the entire goal of the 1999 Corvette was simple: Take it and do all the fun events you should be able to do with a fast car. The 1968 Corvette I'd inherited from my father and finished repairing and restoring couldn't due most events due to being a convertible, and adding a roll cage to it was surely going to ruin the spirit of it. Plus, as a wise man once told me about tracking motorcycles: "If you can't throw it off the side of the track and not cry... you got too much for your own good." Thus, I picked up the 99 Corvette, and started working to my first track day.

One thing I'd seen a lot of friends do when building up nice cars do, was constantly put the track day out of reach while saying things such as "Oh I just need coilovers/swaybars/turbo/whatever before I can go". I knew better. If I kept chasing perfection in advance, I'd never make it to the track. Plus, chasing down and resolving problems ensures you learn a lot along the way, and it's fun in general to do!

So I picked up the 99 Corvette and set a few very simple goals: Do a few aesthetic things, set it up to run a bit cooler, and perform all basic maintenance. From there I'd hit the track with it. A few minor aesthic things modernized the looks, the hood vents increased cooling and also tied together the looks, and the basic maintenance was a breeze. A few other bits and pieces were upgraded along the way such as brake pads and new rotors up front, a full brake system flush with Motul, and in general dealing with some dated sway bar end links and what not. Overall though, the car was stock except for the aesthetic items and hood louvers.

With the basics in place, a track day lined up, I anxiously awaited the day. I packed everything up a day early, grabbed an Airbnb in the area to save myself an early morning mad rush to the track, and the day of the event I took a nice chill stroll to the track from my nearby airbnb.

How the Trackday Went

The trackday itself was at the Streets Of Willow Springs, a secondary track at Willow Springs that is a bit more twisty than the "Big Willow" course. Honestly, it's an amazing track and I can't think any less of it as a secondary track. The Streets of Willow Springs compares favorably to many other tracks I've done on a sport bike, most specifically ORP (Oregon Raceway Park). I also have to say after my track day there that the safety aspect of a runoff there, when running counter clockwise, is superb. This combined with the awesome skid pad at turn 1 for traing drills, this track gets my whole hearted reccomendation.

The attendees were pretty sparse, which was a good thing. They were likely scared away by the intense 106 degree temperature, with only 10 people in attendance besides staff and instructors. We had more instructors than first timers at the track infact, which was great for me as well as well. To beat the heat there was also an air conditioned quite large building for us all to hang out. I setup camp in there with some comfortable folding chairs and a big cooler and made myself right at home.

The day was broken into sessions, which is a pretty standard affair based on what I'm used to from motorcycle track days. 3x twenty minute sessions were planned. Due to a shortage of attendes, the groups were broken up into two sets. Advanced, and beginner. Advanced got 40 minute sessions to begin with, and later in the day that switched to 30 minute sessions alternating between clockwise and counter clockwise.

Cars in line on the front straight waiting to try a drill on the Skid Pad at Streets of Willow Springs. Jesse's White 99 Corvette is front of the line.

The first beginner session was probably the best drill I could have asked for to start out. They lined up our cars on the front straight, setup a left hand turn immediately at the start of the skid pad, and told us to go into it as hot as we felt comfortable then try and brake as hard as we could with control and still make the turn. With the large skid pad behind the turn we could really go whole hog and not have to worry about spinning out. The first pass I took was conservative in hindsight, although at the time it felt to be in great excess of what I could do with the car. The next two attempts I continued to progressively step up my entry speed, increase my braking, and corner with notably higher aggression. Come to find out... this car could HANG in a stock format far more than I knew! I could pitch the Corvette it into that turn pretty hot and still make that turn! I walked away from this drill with a notably deeper understanding of what my car could and could not do.

The second beginner session was also excellent. This time we had the same straightaway, and then a series of short and simple turns which then lead us back to the skid pad. On the skid pad were four cones setup in a square in the middle. We were to do a full  lap of the cones, and at each corner of the square, we were to try and do something drastic with our car. Grab a handful of brake, turn the wheel excessively, grab a foot full of throttle. See what we could really do and what the car wouldn't be able to do. This proved to be an excellent drill as I not only learned the notable excess it took my car to fail to comply with the input given, but it also showed me what the car did in those situations. Grab a footfull of brake while turning? I figured out where my car understeers, when it oversteers, and how to control a power on slide. I quickly developed a notable comfort with the Corvette, and am so glad I had this opportunity to progress on the skid pad.

The next two sessions were on track sessions with instructors. The first one began with a few parade laps where I got the feel for the course. I was pretty stoked to have the instructor along and to be told to all the lines. I got a few modest speed hotlaps in, and then that session was over. The next session I had a seasoned and experienced instructor with me. He gave me great advice on looking further through turns, positioning, focusing on what's ahead not sweating mistakes made even a moment ago. I started dictating to him where I was going to put the car and what my exit was before I even got there, and started hitting all of those lines. I ran my fastests laps of the day more than likely with him and had an absolute blast. Unfortunately, my brakes cooked off shortly after exiting the track and my pedal went to the floor. Glad I discovered that AFTER exiting the track however.

All subsequent sesion were "open track" sessions where I could go and have an absolute blast. I took my braking down significantly so as to not overcook them, and in turn my lap times likely dropped. That said, there were no gold stars for being fast. I was out there chasing fun, and fun I got! I started chasing turns more and more. I started pushing more into turns and throttle on to bring the rear end around. I can now understand why drifting is so much fun. I'm pretty sure that a lot of the lines I took were slower, but the sensation was to die for. I passed a bunch of people, I got passed once, and it was a blast.

I exited the track exhausted after my last session. The drivers seat had partially collapsed on a lap, and all the holding myself up and in place during the hard cornering of a track day had gassed my core to the point I couldn't hang on anymore. I was toast, it was time to leave.

Takeaways from the track day

So a bunch of things surprised me to discover at the track, both about driving at the track, and about the C5. Here's my takeaways:

  1. There were a bunch of absolute basics I didn't have down yet. I literally wasn't even holding the steering wheel right. Lessons my dad had taught me were infact wrong for the track. Go figure. I learned a bunch more about control and seat positioning, how to hold the steering wheel and all sorts of other absolute basics. Another basic was positioning. Get that steering wheel in a spot that makes cranking it around EASY! No gangster leans here!
  2. I knew to look ahead from motorcycles, but the amount I needed to look ahead in a car was significantly further. The nice thing about having an instructor at a car track day is they can sit RIGHT NEXT TO YOU and literally tell you what you're doing. All the feedback you get on a motorcycle is not that instant, at least in my experience.
  3. Brakes and suspension matter a lot more than advertised. I knew this from sportbikes a bit, but with cars it really stood out. Cooling the brakes especially stood out, which was not really a thing with sport bikes as they were nearly all built to race from the factory. Some of this may have been trying to go all out on base model C5 brakes, which are not race prepped components!
  4. A stock car is surprisingly way more potent than you'd ever guess. I left that track day having pitched the corvette into turn 1 at over 130mph and it did it with solid compliance. People just bolting power onto these things to chase onramps are clueless. This thing has gobs of power that those people likely aren't touching. Don't chase power on your Corvette, it has plenty!
  5. Engine operating temperatures were fine on the car despite the high temps. I never exceed 220 degrees of coolant temp, and oil never exceeded 212. Not sure I need a heavier duty radiator and an oil cooler with the amount of power I'm producing, and honestly given I don't intend to chase more power I may just not upgrade it any further. I will say my radiator was fully cleaned out, as was the AC condensor as I had it replaced to ge the AC working (not a track modification/repair, obviously).

Corvette Upgrades I took away from the Track

So I went to the track expecting myself to have to make a bunch of subsequent upgrades. I was pleasantly surprised to discover just how little I would actually need to do after the track day. My upgrades for the next track day are:

  1. Upgrade/replace the seats. This was already on my list. Given my seat literally failed it's not even so much an upgrade as a repair/replace situation. The C5 seats are also as wimpy as advertised, but they're not something to prevent you from going to the track either. I went and before mine collapsed I had a blast. When mine collapsed, I still had a shit ton of fun, it just really took out my core to support myself and keep myself in a position I could maintain control. I would still advocate that you do not let this prevent you from going. Go with stock seats, even collapsed. You will have fun!
  2. Upgraded seatbelts / harnesses are in short order. My goal is to be able to track this car and still drive it around the street. It's an absolute blast in traffic and around town, and I don't want to convert it to just track usage. So the goal would be seat belts that don't suck, and a removable harness that I can put in for track days and then take out for noram life. As part of upgrading my C5 seats, I am going with C6 seatbelts as they fit better in the car, AND they will secure you notable more effectively as you can take them all the way out to the end and then they retract and hold until removed. I'll run the C6 seatbelts at a track day and report back on the quality of the upgrade, and then I'll compare it to using a harness and HANS device.
  3. Braking is where the Corvettes left the most on the plate for me. On my hottest of hot laps I was going whole hog on speed, braking as late and as heavily as I could, and in general going all out. This overcooked my brakes, so on subsequent laps I toned it down a notch. Now granted, it was 106 out, so I had some notable ambient temperatures to contend with, but having to back off the brakes meant I was leaving time on the table and not able to push the corvette to it's highest potential... and I was still on run-flat tires and a relatively cheap semi-metallic brake pad! I had more capability to go for braking.
  4. An alignment specific to the track is going to need to happen. I got notable feathering on my front tires, which is where the outside edge of each section of rubber wore less than the inside. From researching, this is caused by notable lateral force on the tires. Given how much I was sliding this thing all over, I can't say I'm surprised. I got some advice on alignment, which I will use to try and get an alignment before my next track day.

Overall thoughts

I was having a bunch of fun sliding through one of my favorite turns on the track, and it occured to me. This is the kind of fun I like to have in a car. I was so glad i didn't let the endless pursuit of costly upgrades keep me off the track either. Getting out there early really showed me the fun to be had, and I look forward to doing it all again soon.

If you've got a stock C5 corvette, don't let the excuses mount up. Get out there and go for it!

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