VIR, A Quantum Leap
The resurrected Virginia International Raceway (VIR) near Danville is a quantum leap in road racing circuits. As a facility, it far exceeds expectations. As a racetrack, it is challenging, complex, very safe and car friendly.
I had raced at VIR in the late 1960's, fresh out of college, in a Bobsy FV. Corn crops grew up to the edge of the track in many places. I still vividly recall one off course excursion in the rain in the hog pen corner. (Seewww.virclub.com for a track map). I mowed down a path in the tall corn . . .. Plop, plop, plop as I leveled the 6-foot high stalks. The car mired down in the mud about 20 feet from the racing surface, and I got out and stood beside the car. Before long, I head a series of plop, plop, and plops as another car joined me and came to a stop neatly beside me.
Having torn the muscles in my right bicep, I am on injured reserved, but my son Sean had volunteered to pilot my DSR for the May 13th double regional. VIR is in the rolling hills just above the North Carolina border. We got to the track at about 6PM on Friday. The place is awesome. The Registration building is huge and in a beautifully landscaped setting. The lines were long with 400 entries but moved quickly and the North Carolina Region workers were there in droves. Nicely, they had set up a tech inspection table outside registration, and we got our sticker within 5 minutes. Is this heaven or what?
As we drove across the bridge to the paddock, there was a sea of trailers and cars. It looked like the RunOffs! It took some time to find a space to park. The paddock roads are broad and paved. There are power pods adjacent to all spaces with 110 and 220 volt power for all including RV's. The paddock spaces are flat, hard packed sandy soil covered with gravel. A huge 30,000 square foot building houses, among other things, a store, and restrooms with showers. The tower building has air conditioned/heated restrooms also. There is at least another building with restrooms. Understand that there are more showers and restrooms in progress. The grid is nicely placed and is COVERED. That shade was fully appreciated as the temperature climbed to 99 on Saturday. The public address system works and can be heard everywhere. WOW! The food area hasn't been built yet, but a big festival tent was manned by an adequate concessionaire (the $5 hamburgers were only tolerable).
With a huge field and a two-day regional format, there was little track time. There was a 20-minute qualifying each morning and an afternoon 10-lap race. They did allow 2-3 lap ride arounds during lunch hours to help the learning curve. A majority of the racers had elected to do the Friday test day, a good decision given that this 3.27 mile gaquillion turn course would be difficult to learn. Since we run only Nationals generally, we would treat the weekend as a test session.
Sean's first qualifier was brief as a coil wire came off and he drove around for 4 laps on two cylinders. He was slow, of course, doing a 2:25 lap (my time in 1967 was 2:50 in a 40 HP FV; but the track was 10 feet narrower them). The car finally stopped on course and he heat soaked for a while at 99 degrees. He would start the afternoon race near the end of the combined FA/FC/FM/SR group of 28 car with a very steep learning opportunity before him. Sean got a great start and passed 8-10 cars before turn one. He wisely backed off to continue his path finding exercise. Tom Sedivy was the only other DSR and was running about 2 seconds per lap faster before he retired. Sean had a couple of ventures off the black top as he discovered his braking points had moved backwards with the car running much better. The FM's were stinking fast on this high-speed circuit.
A big party was provided on Saturday night with burgers, dogs, grilled chicken, and plenty of malt beverages. A brief but violent thunderstorm provided the after dinner entertainment. Paddock and track drainage is wonderful. We walked a good part of the track afterwards until darkness intruded. There are seemingly endless, and frequently blind entry, esses to test a driver's braves. (Sean has provided a Hot Lap description that follows this report).
With motels being a good ways from the track, we camped out in my trailer. It worked out nicely except for the one guy who showed up at 5:45 to setup his pit stuff.
Sunday was a nice 80-degree day. Sean's qualifier got off just before the lunch hour. Again, his racing luck sucked as the throttle cable clip came off after 4 laps. (Racecars are sometimes hateful things, that clip had worked flawlessly for four years!) He did get his lap time down to 2:09.
Sean got a great start for the race, passing 4-5 cars. He ran well for 4 laps before something electrical started to limit his revs to 9000 vice 10,500. He hung in not loosing any places but was unable to close on Sedivy. One guy in a S2 provided some entertainment spun, repassed, spun, and finally crashed hard trying to pass off line in the uphill esses. Sean improved his time in the race and was pleased with his outing despite the bad luck.
Course has more than ample runoff areas and does not have any of those dastardly gravel pits. Still, several guys did find some guardrail to contact entering the "roller coaster". Racing buddy, Thor was along with his 12-year-old racing son and reported that there are many excellent spots to watch the action. I am looking forward to the August National at VIR and trying my luck.
On May 12th 2000 my father, Bill Maisey, and I traveled to V.I.R for the first time since the revitalization/restoration. When we entered the facility I was awestruck. It has to be the finest club racing facility in North America. Initially looking at the track, I expected it be like a larger scale Road Atlanta. That first impression did not do it justice. Learning any new track can be difficult, but this is a highly technical track with 19 turns, many of them quite tricky. Throw in the major elevation changes, and the learning curve was quite steep.
Attached below are my personal notes about a lap of VIR.
(For the map go to:http://www.virclub.com/images/newmap/racetrac.jpg)
"Horseshoe" – (Turns 1 and 2)
The 3000’ long front straight ends at the Horseshoe turns. Approaching the corner at approximately 140 mph, I was able to brake at the #3 marker. Down to first gear, turn in relatively late. Set up a constant radius arch that allow you to accelerate constantly out of turn one drifting out to the edge of the track at the initial part of turn two, up to second gear and ultimately apex quite late (near the end of the alligator teeth) keeping you on the right side of the track as you approach turn 3. (If you are familiar with Summit Point, this is very much like the approach to Turns 1&2 there.)
Turn 3 & "NASCAR Bend" (Turn 4)
Turn 3 is a fast left hand ‘kink’ that can be taken at full speed while accelerating in third gear. The trick is to apex fairly late, applying the brakes shortly after the apex. Having your car settled, as you begin to brake is critical here.
NASCAR bend got its name from the stock car drivers who repeatedly spun here. The corner is a fairly slow corner with just over a 90-degree bend. The problem is that it is approached at relatively high speed, and has little settling and braking zone. So if you over cook turn 3 it is easy to go into 4 too hot, and loop it.
"Left Hook" (Turn 5)
This one gives a lot of people fits. Many driver try to turn in and apex at the conventional points. The problem is that they find themselves out of position for turns 6 & 7, and lose a lot of speed. A better approach is to turn in very, very late, and ‘pitch’ the car into the corner. This allows you to stay on the left side of the track at the exit of the corner. This positioning is critical for the next section of the track.
"The Snake" (Turns 6-8)
This is a real rhythm section much like the famous Esses at Road Atlanta. These ‘S’ curves can be taken flat out, and really constitute a long straight. The most difficult and critical of the corners are 6 and 7. If you have taken turn 5 correctly, you are near the left side of the track as you exit. As soon as you are settled, turn immediately right and make a slightly late apex for turn 6, drifting out to the curbing between 6 and 7. Just past the end of this curbing you turn (slightly late again) right for turn 7. From here through the rest of the esses, it is simply a matter of trying to straighten out the swerves in the road
Assuming you are running single file, you can accelerate constantly from the apex of turn 5 through the Snake and Climbing Esses sections all the way up to the braking zone for the South Bend corner. However, if you miss a single apex or turn in point in this sequence, you will have to lift (or worse yet go off the track), and will loose some significant time.
"Climbing Esses" – (Turns 9 –11)
Coming out of the Snake there is a brief straight climbing up the hill and under the bridge. As you reach the end of the straight you should be at the right hand side of the road and at near terminal velocity. The beginning of the uphill or Climbing Esses is referenced by the far edge of the cut over road for the North Course. There you turn left, then right, then left, then right in an undulating, but climbing sequence. In the DSR it is possible to take this sequence at full throttle in top gear, but only if you hit each apex perfectly. As with the Snake section, the important thing is to ‘straighten out the road’, and maximize speed. The challenge with the climbing esses is that the undulating nature of the section makes most of the apexes blind. You really need to have a clear mental image of the next corner, because you need to be turning before you can see the apex.
South Bend – (Turn 12)
This corner is a little scary at first. As you exit the Climbing Esses section, you crest a hill. (Some cars get a little light or even airborne here). Just as your car settles, you need to tap the brakes, down shift, and make a left hand turn. To add to the fear factor, the corner is very fast, blind, severely downhill, and transitions to off-camber at the exit. The funny part is that it is really a deceptively fast corner, and really only requires a little lift, and downshift. (I cursed myself every lap for not going in hotter.)
"Oak Tree" - (Turns 13 & 14)
Perhaps VIR’s signature corner, Oak Tree is the slowest and sharpest corner on the track. It is really two separate corners. The first part of the section is approached at high speed in top gear. The braking zone is steeply uphill, and encourages late braking. Braking moderately and shifting down a gear, you turn in late and make a diagonal across the inside apex towards the turn in point for Oak Tree. Just before the turn in point, you break hard, and down shift to first. This corner is extremely tight, and MUST be done perfectly, as it leads to the 4000’ long Back Straight. The corner itself is pretty straightforward. Turn in clipping the inside apex slightly late and apply throttle liberally using the entire road on exit.
The back straight is pretty long, even in a relatively fast car. There are a couple of things that might trip you up. One, disregard the braking markers on the left at the top of the first hill. They are for the South Course, not for the Main Course. Second, as you work your way down the straight you should be working your way to the right side of the track.
"Roller Coaster" (Turns 14, 15, 16 & 17)
This section is a lot of fun. You approach the section at maximum speed at the end of the back straight. The first corner is a very fast left. It should be taken with a late ¾ apex, and you should stay to the left as much as possible at the exit. My approach was to brake lightly at the #1 marker, and turn in at the #0 marker. Accelerating moderately through the apex, you need to keep the car on the left edge of the track. Just past the apex, you need to brake hard and downshift to second. Turning in late to the right the track drops away dramatically, reaching the exit of the first right-hander, you should be positioned on the right hand side of the track. The next left is taken with a slightly late apex, and leads to a short chute, I was typically shifting to third gear entering the chute. At the end of the chute is a sweeping left-hander. This corner is taken with a very late apex and a little trail braking in preparation for Hog Pen.
"Hog Pen" – (Turns 18 & 19)
Hog Pen is critical to good lap times. Getting these corners right will pay dividends at the end of the front straight. The first corner is taken in second gear, and it is critical to get on the power quickly and smoothly using the entire track at the exit. The real key to getting Hog Pen right is to do the prior corner correctly. If you turn in too early for the preceding left handed sweeper, you will be too far to the right at the entrance to Hog Pen, and will severely sacrifice exit speed. The second corner is more of a kink and should not present any problems when taken with a normal turn in and apex under full acceleration.
The front straight at VIR isn’t. It is actually one big sweeper with an apex at the Start Finish stand.