DECCA Driving Day

2010-01-01 14:11:00 +0000

Recently my father invited me out to a motorkhana day at the DECCA driving facility in Victoria. He asked me to do a write up for him to send out to his members. For something completely different to my usual tech blogs, here it is:


It was with a little sluggishness that I managed to drag myself out of a cozy bed at the ungodly hour of 6:30am, Saturday Morning to be greeted by the effusive bustle of my father zooming around the house collecting bits and pieces from every corner and summarily loading up the back of the car.

We were off to a motorkhana day at DECCA.

A few weeks before my father had told me “Hey, come down to the motorkhana day with me, you’ll have fun!”,

I agreed, I mean, what hot blooded 35 year old male could possibly, with good consciousness, turn down the opportunity to drive around race tracks and skid pans at stupidly fast speeds and still sleep at night?

But at 6:30am, I wasn’t so sure… I mean… it was Saturday?!

But depart we did with our BMW e30 racecar on the car trailer behind, emblazoned with it’s sponsorship colours, impatiently waiting for it’s chance of glory.

We arrived at DECCA about 30 minutes late (thanks to missing the turn to the ringroad and taking a tour of Tullamarine Airport thanks to the helpful design of the M4 which careful omits any way to do a U-Turn) and proceeded to get the car of the trailer. Of course, we were running late, everyone else had signed in, so my intrepid father jumped up into the car put it in gear and gave it some stick.

Shame about it being in in first gear, not reverse.

The damage to the car as it catapulted off the front of the trailer into the winch was thankfully only superficial, but the damage to my father’s street-cred, after we got about 15 fellow drivers around for a good look and push to get the car back onto the trailer, could only be solved by one thing. Driving fast.

A motorkhana, for those who have not been, is a day of pure driving joy. Consisting of several mini events, each one is timed and you race the clock.

The first “event” was the skid pan. Here, the organisers put on their “Captain Evil” hats to design a course of witches hats (aptly named) 150% guaranteed to send you and your wheels into uncontrollable spins. Of course, you “just” need to make it around all the witches hats and back to the start box. Quickest car wins.

I watch my father navigate the course, not too bad, no spin outs. Makes it back in reasonable time. I watch some other drivers go out and spin their cars so much in every direction that I actually wonder if they are racing the clock or their tyre warranties.

My father drives the car up to me, jumps out and says “Your turn!”.

“Oh, OK, Easy” I think, and jump in. What greets me is a stripped down BMW, with a racing clutch that thinks friction points are for wusses, brakes that grip like a blue tongue and an engine that splutters bitterly if you dare let it idle at anything below 4000 RPM.

I put it in first, give it some revs, let the clutch out and I am raci… stalled. I ruefully start the car again to my father’s helpful encouragement of “You need to give it some revs” and try again. I only stall it twice more before I get to the start line, I feel like I am doing pretty good!

The official, standing there cozy with his clipboard and stopwatch says “Ready when you are”, I give it some revs (a lot more this time) slam the car into first, drop the clutch and push the pedal to the metal and fire off out of the gate like a bat out of hell.

I fly around the skid pan, trying to keep a smooth line as I go, not too much wheel spin, keep the accelerator at a reasonable speed, dance on the brakes and the next thing I know I am back in the gate.

My dad is looking on impressed, the official says “nice time, the fastest today so far”, I look at him in shock, “Really?”, but my ego doesn’t get much chance to inflate as he follows on with “Would have been great if you hadn’t gone around a cone backwards.”

Ugh!

After my second shot though, and my two shots at the second wickedly laid out skid pan track (including two reversing sections!) my father and I compare notes. I am faster on both skid pans! I win the first round! No gain of street-cred there, Pa!

We head off to the second activity, the race track. Here each driver has two rounds of the track with no other cars on the track. Fastest driver wins.

I watch the cars drive around, see the times, 1m30s, 1m35s, I think to myself that I shouldn’t be that bad, I mean, I HAVE played those car racing games in the video arcade, how hard can it be?

After jumping in and strapping down I head off around the track. Another official has really helpfully put three TIGHT chicanes in, made out of more of those evil witches hats, which adds some spice to the trip. I make it around, still in one piece and screech to a halt… the time? 1m32s! “HAH”, I think, not too bad for a first shot. My father again comes around and gives me some helpful advice of “You could probably go faster if you change up past 2nd gear on the straight, you know”.

Bah!!

On my second shot around the track, I actually manage to change all the way up to 3rd and get back in under 1m24s… not too shabby.

But then dad straps in and goes around, in, oh, nothing too flash, only 1m17s. Hmm… maybe the old man can crawl back some of that cred.

He goes around again and shaves another couple of seconds off his time, making him the fastest driver on the track so far. Not too bad, but you know, the day is young, I can catch up I am sure.

The third activity is driving around what can only be described as the “confusion”. It is a driver training course track, with off road sections! Father goes out first, but takes a right at Alburquerque instead of left. He goes out again and this time takes another wrong turn. I helpfully stand at the start finish line giving him lots of professional pointers and helpful advice, but, for some reason, he doesn’t really appreciate it. On his fourth go around he gets it right and notches fastest time of day – pity it was invalid…!

I jump in now, determined to show father how it is done. It’s not that I took a wrong turn so much as just decided that racing on the track and defined course was just not the thing to do on this sunny Saturday afternoon. The second attempt found me wondering around in my race car on parts of the track that were probably last traveled by Burke & Wills. But no fear! I come back with a wonderful time. Last.

So we go off to the final activity. At this point, I had won the skid pan, Dad had just barely beaten me on the race track by a measly 10 seconds and we had both bombed out of the cross country course. It was time to settle the score.

This part of the DECCA complex must be where they train stunt doubles for 007. It is a two way constant figure 8 that has you constantly fighting a battle between acceleration and your car’s tendency to turn into a very heavy frisbee.

We both fly around the track in reasonable times. But, really, in the end, after it is all said and done, who won that final sprint is not important. The important thing is that we both had a lot of fun and that it was really exciting.

(besides, he had an advantage, it was his car, he had driven at DECCA before, was more experienced, didn’t stall as often and he got fastest time out of everyone on that figure 8…)

So that sums up my day at DECCA.

If you have never been to a motorkhana, I thoroughly recommend it. You don’t need a race car, or even a BMW e30 , bring your own car, you will learn a lot about how it handles and behaves on a race track.

Keep an eye out on the BMW Car Club of Victoria forum for their next event.

I hope to see you there!

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Mikel