What does it feel like driving on a racetrack?

When I saw Wally online, I knew I had to meet her in person. I wasn’t disappointed. She’s arctic silver over Metropol blue leather, six-speed manual, of course, heated seats and a convertible. It was love at first sight!

Wally, short for Waltraud, an Old High German name meaning ruler and strength, is a gorgeous early Porsche Boxster S from 2000. When we accelerate, I get that feeling of exhilaration in my tummy.

Wally sure is speedy. But how speedy?

I was about to find out. Christina Nielsen, a three-time professional racing champion, had contacted me about a day of high-performance driving at the Monticello Motor Club. Together with professional race car driver Aurora Straus, Christina’s organization @Acceleratingchange offered the opportunity of a women’s track day on a 4.1-mile-long racetrack with 20 turns, and let’s not forget the straights to drive top speed.

Listen To Your Car (and your instructor)

I always felt driving a stick shift I have more control and I have a better sense of oneness with both the car and the road. Except for the time of course when I learned how to drive a manual car. I still remember my first attempt as a teenager. My Dad was brave enough to be in the passenger seat next to me at a German Uebungsplatz, a designated practice area for novice drivers without a license. I let off the clutch without giving the car enough gas, the car lurched, then died. Restarting the car, the three pedals were confusing, I mixed up gas and brake and we came close to plunging into a canal. A nerve-racking and embarrassing experience.

My first time on the racetrack transports me back in time. My ride-along instructor quickly found out in the first curve of the MMC racetrack that I can’t tell right from left without having to think about it first, losing time I didn’t have when the rubber met the asphalt. My instructor instantly added supportive hand signals to help me find the line, the optimal path around the racecourse, and indicate when to brake or accelerate as I got a feel, not only for the track but also for how Wally was reacting to it. Having the right instructor for my driving style allowed me to tackle the proper techniques, and he made sure that I didn’t forget to implement the basic skills when I started going faster.

Build Up Speed

The track day was split into four driving sessions, and I was eager to get out there to find out what Wally and I are capable of, yet I drove the track without any real speed in my first session. Having a few “get to know the track” laps under my belt, I started taking corners at speeds I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) even do on NYC public straightaways. It’s all about tire friction.

What it means trying to balance the car’s speed with the limits of the tire’s grip on the track, I experienced first-hand when riding shotgun with Aurora Strauss and Christina Nielsen during demo laps: Fast reflexes, amazing physical strength balancing the body during the abrupt braking and accelerating, and not shying away from smaller curbs, rumble strips or painted stripes to find the line at full throttle. What a thrill!

Be Patient

When you think of car racing, the word patience doesn’t necessarily come to mind. After my third session of the day, I realized that the more patient I am, the faster I can be. Knowing a corner has a late apex and having the patience to wait for it, allowed me to roll aggressively into the straights.

Inspired by Christina’s and Aurora’s laps around the track, I started my fourth and last session of the day with a better sense (and determination) of how to make the most out of this life-changing experience.

Looking ahead farther on the track to have more time to react to what’s coming next, gave me the confidence to take Wally and me to the edge of our capabilities. My line memorized, I sensed the grip of the tires through the steering wheel and even the seat, as Wally jumps into full speed from almost nothing. We were accelerating from lap to lap, crossing the 100 m.p.h. divide, racing towards the next braking point before tackling another hairpin curve with patience.

When I pulled off my helmet at the end of the day, I was out of breath and panting, sweating. I felt what Wally was telling me, and I was no longer afraid of clipping the rumble strips. Driving Wally on the racetrack was exhilarating, physically demanding, and fulfilling.

Follow Wally and me @gsewtz and watch Wally race around the MMC track here!



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