JCNA Challenge Championship :
Pre Event Activities
For those who came into Phoenix earlier in the week, two exciting events were offered... a 3 hours shifter kart course at Bondurant Racing School on Tuesday and a JCNA Slalom class at Bondurant with their autocross instructors on Wednesday.
Go Karts? ... excuse me... SHIFTER Karts!
Shifter karts are not your ordinary kiddie go kart... they are real lean mean racing machines, or at least as lean as their driver since the driver weights more than the kart... Powered by 35hp Kawasaki motocycle engine and featuring a 6 speed sequential shifter, they can reach speeds in excess of 100 mph. With 0-60 times in the 4 seconds range and lightning quick steering... you'd better have good reflexes...
Shifter karts is where many racecar drivers learn the basic skills at a young age... all except probably stock car drivers who certainly don't need to turn right. But the real ones... like Formula One drivers... have all started in shifter karts and even still drive them once in a while for fun.
The 3 hour advanced course included a short briefing to explain how those karts work... they are not just quicker than our Jaguars, not in top speed but in sheer acceleration and stopping, they are also very different to drive and you'd better forget some of you driving habits... welcome to the world of left foot braking and yes, most of us have hit the brakes at least once when shifting while looking for the clutch! These sequential gearboxes don't need a clutch, that would be too slow, instead you just lift off the throttle and pull the shifter to upshift or push it to downshift. Sounds simple? not exactly... It's all done by ear and count... ear to know when to shift... and count to know what gear you're in. That's the confusing part, counting from 1 to 6 should be easy but it's not when you need to focus on keeping that litlle rocket on the track!
After the briefing, it was time to hop in the karts, 3 at a time for a simple excercise up and down the straight just turning around at the end. Just to learn the basics over a few lap including starting; you just get pushed, engage first gear and when the engine catches start openig the throttle... after all, classic Jaguar owners are supposed to be experienced at push starts courtesy of Lucas electrics...
These simple up and down runs were good to get acquainted with the kart and learn how and when to sihft, the critical part of shifter kart operation as the name implies. After that, time to go around the full course, a long straight leading into a fast sweeper, immediately followed by a hairpin and a series of fast esses leading to a final hairpin back on the straight.
Simple course but when driving just a couple of inches off the ground in a kart that had no suspension, it gets bumpy and very busy. Turn one had a nasty dip on the outside that would toss the driver around the tight seat... oh... did we mention there are no seat belts in a shifter kart ? the bucket seat is designed to hold you in and if you roll... you do want to be ejected. At least that's what they told us but it's almost impossible to flip one of these. Riding the curbs in the esses provided even more opportunity to get tossed around despit the bucket seat being that tight.
Again we ran in small groups, 3 at a time which gave us plenty of track. For safety reason, there is no passing in this course but that wasn't a problem, I was running with Gary Hagopian and Mark Stevenson and we were pretty evenly matched. Our sessions ran about 10 minutes which doesn't seems like much but in a shifter kart it is extremely physical from the bouncing, the amount of steering, bracing in the seat, etc... we all had sore muscles at the end of the course. Just like any other form of racing, the excitement reaches a peak when you are actually trying to catch up with the guy in front and then staying up close. No passing, but if he makes a mistakes and slides off course... he's fair game... just ask Gary Hagopian...
Despite the fact that there are no seat belts, no roll cage and that you ride just a couple of inches off the ground, Shifter Karts feel safe as long as you don't act crazy. With their low center of gravity, they are almost impossible to flip and can turn on a dime even when that dreaded I-ain't-going-to-make-out-of-that-corner thought comes through your mind. Amazingly, it will.
We didn't time our laps and in fact... who cares! While most of us enjoyed putting together a good clean lap, or at least as close to good and clean as we could in just a few session, going a little to far and sliding the karts around corner is even more fun for the drivers and spectators. It kills the lap and allows the guy behind to get a little closer but it's a ton of fun!
The hardest part of Shifter Kart racing? getting out of it.
Only few of us particpated in this adrenaline pumping session, but we all had a very big grin on their faces... and are ready to do it again at the next AGM or Challenge... Future planners, this is your warning!
Slalom School... let's get an edge!
Originally, the slalom was supposed to be run at Bondurant so a practice session and slalom class using Bondurant instructors was setup on Wednesday for those who arrived in Phoenix earlier.
Quite a few members signed up for the class and met at the Bondurant school at Firebird Raceway just a few miles south of Phoenix with everything from an XK120 to an XJ8... The Bondurant team had setup our course following JCNA's specifications and novices were walked around the course before being driven around by one of the instructors in a Cadillac CTS. Yes, you read right... c-a-d-i-l-l-a-c which is now what the Bondurant school is using for many of their course. A bit of warning... there are a couple of pictures of the CTS in the gallery, and this competitor to the X-type is not exactly a pretty sight... very confused styling with sharp edges and some odd lines and creases on the sides... got to wonder what those GM designers where thinking, or maybe we are just spoiled by the pure elegant lines of our cats. Bob Bondurant himself stopped by to see how things were moving along, taking some time to look at the Jaguars lined up on the skid pad.
After this introduction to the JCNA slalom courses, time to practice with the Jaguars lining up. For most novices, it was first a matter of not getting lost. The JCNA slalom course is not complicated but you need to remember the right sequence : hourglass, figure 8 and oval. Sounds simple? it is unless you suffered major brain fade... like I did... getting lost twice!
All got a few runs, timed by the Bondurant instructors receiving some valuable tips and criticism after each run. JCNA President Gary Hagopian, an avid slalomer and one of the quickest drivers, also provided all participants with assistance often riding in the cars to help participants lowering their times. Over the 3 hours of instructions, times indeed went down as all made steady progress, sometimes shaving up to 2 or 3 seconds of their time.
Will this school session help on saturday? probably! and with as many as 50 cars registered for the slalom, competition will be fierce...
Driving the Apache Trail
Some JCNA members are lucky to live in places where the roads are fun and interesting... others are not and when you come from south Florida you want to make the most of your stay where roads are not flat, straight and boring...
Since nothing was on the program for Thursday morning, a few of us went on a tour up the Apache Trail, a scenic road which start just east of the Phoenix area and climbs up into the mountains and canyons toward the Roosevelt Dam, in the Tonto National Forest. The road isn't paved all the way but the first 25 miles are and the end of the pavement would be our destination. None of us really wanted to drive our cats on the rough gravel section despite the great scenery.... too risky!
The Apache Trail was built as a supply roads to bring the material and supply to the Roosevelt Dam when it was built early in the 20th century. Since then, it has become a very popular drive because of the fabulous view. For drivers, it's a non stop succession of sharp turns, climbing and descending in canyons and along lakes.
After reaching the end of the paved section, we turned around and stopped at Tortilla Flats for lunch and a few pictures... The restaurant and souvenir shop stand where the old supply route stop stood, with the inside walls and ceiling covered in $1 bills left by visitors. Interesting place.
It turned out to be an E-type tour, with one X-type (a rental) driven by Jerry Wise (JCOF): Jerry Mouton (White series 1 FHC, JAG), Gerry Kunkle (Blue Series 1 FHC, Delaware Valley JC), Mike Goodwin (Primrose Yellow Series 2 OTS, Phoenix), Pascal Gademer (Series 3 2+2, SFJC), Gary and Sue Hagopian (Series 1 FHC, JANE).
Being a week day, traffic was light on the scenic road and despite the climbs and heat, all E-types remained cool and made in back to the hotel in time for the Swap Meet and fashion show.