Monday, February 8, 2010

Beating in Progress: MIRA Ice Racing Feb, 8

Most racers spend February in deep hibernation. The Michigan Ice Racing Association lets you go wheel to wheel even when your cold toes tell you to stay indoors.

From January to March, MIRA organizes wheel to wheel racing on a plowed course around Chippewa Lake. Luke Keller and I brought my daily driver neon shod in hakkapeliitta snow tires for our first taste of frozen lake motorsports. Regulations are simple for the rubber-to-ice class: install fire extinguisher, add a rear facing amber light, tape up head lights, put on a helmet and you're pretty much set.

The course Sunday was roughly a mile long peanut shape with a few cones marking the wide racing surface. The surface varies from glare ice to packed snow and changes over the course of the race. Traction is in limited supply and goes where ever the snow is taking the preferred racing line with it.

Driver technique varies but the preferred style is sideways, usually extremely sideways. It took me a couple races to realize just how far you can hang out the tail and not go all the way around.

Methods of rotation are also personal preference. I found some success with a pendulum flick at corner entry aimed at getting the front wheels into the snow on the inside of the corner. Keeping the front tires on snow and the rear on ice helps keep the car sideways all the way around. I don't remember how many times I didn't make it far enough inside and went flying outside the track sideways. Starts are standing and grid position is determined before hand. You get four races so you can expect to start at a different grid position each time. If its your first day racing you start at the back.

Although contact is generally frowned upon, keeping sliding cars separated isn't always easy and my daily has two new scars to prove it. Most people keep a beater just for ice racing due to the bumps that are sure to accumulate over a season. This is not the Porsche club.

Ice racing is surely the most fun way to learn sideways car control and probably the cheapest too. The organization and the other racers are laid back like club racing should be. Even though I spent most of the day towards the back of the field I had a blast and learned a lot.

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