Skip Barber Autocrossing

On Friday, September 15th Dell and Intel offered us spots at their half-day seminar featuring their new processor technology, especially emphasizing their hardware virtualization. Normally this doesn't elicit shouts of joy, but then they sweetened the pot: the last half of the day would be an autocrossing event by Skip Barber using BMW 330s! We practically trampled a path to the registration form...

So, for the first four hours of the day we sat through the Dell/Intel technology sessions, and eventually lunch arrived. We were champing at the bit, each of us looking forward to putting the BMWs through what no rental agency would condone and most police would arrest. Finally, we were taken to the autocross site, given a quick orientation, and off we went!

There were three BMW 330s featuring a 255-bhp 3.0 liter inline-6 (yea!) and an automatic transmission (boo...) available for autocrossing. The Skip Barber instructors sat in the passenger seat while one of us drove and one or two others rode in the back. For four or five laps you got to hammer the car around the course (see tire smoke at right) listening to the instructor deliver professional advice about how not to take out quite so many cones next time! It was awesome. As a comparison, at a normal autocross session with the SCCA you may only get four or five laps on the course for the whole day! Instead, each of us got to drive at least 10-15 times throughout the half-day, at four or five laps at a crack, and in an excellent handling, if poorly transmissioned, car.

While half of the attendees were autocrossing, the other half were treated to fast, smoking, power-sliding rides in one of three new Ford Mustang GTs. The Skip Barber guys hammered these cars, pitching them sideways whenever possible. Which was generally all the time.

Most of us alternated between the Mustang rides and BMW autocrossing a few times. In both cases the driving got faster and faster as the day wore on. The cars performed magnificently, the Mustangs performing endless powerslides and burnouts, while the BMW 330 sedans just kept getting their tires, brakes, and engines pushed to their limits by an endless flow of driver enthusiasm.

On the autocrossing front each of us got a bit closer and closer to the cones, and going faster each time. The cones slowly kept creeping away from the cars (see Rick clipping one at right) so the course widened up and was that much faster. Late in the afternoon they moved all the cones tighter again, throwing most of us for a loop and prompting a scolding for Rick after he attempted to autograph nearly all of the newly-positioned cones with tire tracks. They don't change the track during a race, do they? Unfair.

In the middle of this mayhem the diabolical Skip Barber personnel divided us into two groups ("A" and "B") and put us into a timed race where everyone took one flying lap each in the 330s before hopping out of the car and letting the next driver take over. Group A set a fast pace, so Group B was observed to violate both the "no running to/from the car" rule, and also to blatantly incur a two-second braking zone penalty, in order to catch up. In the interests of fair play, the Skip Barber "judge" snuck the car into the proper position and somehow ruled Group B the winners.

I hope he enjoyed the bribe...

Finally, the day ended with a bang. Literally! Two of the Skip Barber drivers who were offering the Mustang rides got into an impromptu competition of who could go the fastest in the most flashy manner. Power slides led to starting line burnouts, and then doughnuts, and finally a younger instructor got a bit crossed up and flattened a Mustang's rim and tire on a curb. Now THAT was unexpected! Never, ever buy any used cars from a dealer after Skip Barber is in town...

So at the end of the day we all went home with the equivalent of a season or two of instructed SCCA autocrossing, without paying for a dime of it. We even got some nice vendor swag: Skip Barber t-shirts (good for intimidating other wannabe drivers) and some nifty combination digital camera/binocular doodads. Which no one used since we were all spending every minute living it up.

Thanks, Dell, Intel, and Skip Barber. We had an absolutely outstanding time!

Skip Barber 2006 Video

During the autocrossing event we did take some video clips to record the proceedings. The video is twelve minutes long and gives you at least some idea of how much fun we were having! To view it, you have the following options:

Fastest: Streaming Video (recommended)

Slower: Standard (30MB) or High-Quality (60MB!) WMVs if you have to save a copy offline.

I hope you enjoy the videos as much as we enjoyed driving in them!