I’m hoping to help some of you find the fast way around Road Atlanta in a Spec E30. The line below also generally works for a Miata or other rear-drive small bore car, although the shift points will be different.
Any really fast lap in any car requires ALL (not some) of the following:
Lots of knowledge of the track
Lots of time in the car
A strong engine
Confidence in the car
Balls (or steel ovaries)
As Clint Eastwood said, “A man has got to know his limitations”. If you’re a midpack driver, that’s fine, just know and understand it and don’t try to set a track record. Also, make sure you are working up to fast times, don’t try to find three seconds in one lap, or the helicopter will come for you. I’m sure some will differ with my approach, and I’m equally as sure that some other lines may work and also be fast. All I know for sure is that the lines below work for my driving style and the car I was in. I have been to Road Atlanta a lot, but it is not a home track to me, and there are a few people that get around it better than I do. You would want to see where their opinion differs from mine.
I’ve never been accused of being overly smooth in any race car, and I truly believe the whole “smooth is fast” bit is crap. Every time I try to be smooth, I see slow times come up on the timer. When I’m working the pedals, wheel, and gearshift hard, I see fast times. None of the E30’s I’ve ever driven could trail brake effectively; they just plowed like a farm tractor, so I’ve practically given up on trying it. If yours will trail brake, you might want to experiment with it a bit in turn 1.
A fast lap at Road Atlanta, like any other track, starts with the entry of the turn before the start finish. At Road Atlanta, that actually means Turn 10a, so I will start there:
First, you can and should drive deep into turn 10a before getting hard on the brakes, drop to third gear, set up all the way to the right. Turn 10a and 10b is a fast left right sequence, and coming out of 10b fast is absolutely essential to a fast lap. You want to be a bit left of midtrack after finishing 10a, and it is short, so set up 10a with a late turn in. As soon as you turn in to 10a, you should be full throttle through 10b, over the rumble strips, over the hill, down the hill (you can’t see downhill at first, look up at the bridge, put the car between the flags), and onto the straight, all the way through turn 1. You absolutely can go down the hill onto the straight at full throttle, but you need to be set up all the way to the left, hit a slightly late apex, get the car to the apex and use all of the trackout onto the straight. There isn’t much runoff onto the straight, and you will be going fast, so if you miss, it’s really going to suck. If you hit 10b correctly and have a strong engine, you will wind up in 5th gear on the front straight. If you hit 10b correctly and have a midpack engine, you will wind up going into the brake zone in turn 1 in the top of 4th gear, that is how my car runs. If you don’t hit 10b correctly, it doesn’t matter how much power you have, you will be in 4th gear all the way down the straight.
Turn 1 is a big, fast right hand uphill, and is on camber at least for the inside half of the turn. Drive the car into the 100 foot mark, tap the brakes, turn hard to the apex, get on the gas and climb the hill in 4th gear. If you do it right, you will start the climb at 4800 rpm or so and pull from there. If you do it wrong and wind up below 4500rpm, you will need to drop to third gear. The turn is on camber for the inside half of the turn. You can cross the crown a bit and it’s ok, but if you wind up on the outside ¼ at track out, there is a big nasty bump there that will unload the car, and you will wind up going off-road to the left at 85mph. Don’t do that.
You will run up the hill and through turn 2 at full throttle in 4th gear (even if you had to drop to third gear because you screwed up the entry into 1, you will have upshifted by now). As you approach turn 3, a tricky right hander, brake hard, drop to third gear, turn in a bit late and go back to full throttle. You want the inside rumble strip somewhere in the middle of the bar, so the right tires of the car will actually be to the right of the rumble strip. You want to actually jump the curb, and you will do it at full throttle. You will shift to fourth shortly after you jump the curb, and you will run down the esses at full throttle in 4th. The esses aren’t numbered as a turn, so follow along: The first left after turn 3 you want to be set up all the way to the left. You won’t be able to see the apex for the next right hander, pick a mark that you can identify and make a fast but controlled move to the right. It’s better to be earlier than late for the right-hander, because if you are late you will miss the apex. If you miss the apex, you might wind up going off-track to the left, and if you do that, you’re going to hit the wall at the bottom of the esses, lots of cars turn to scrap here, so be careful. Run the curb over to the right, by then you will see the next curb on the left, run that over too and start setting the car up to the right for turn 5, a fast uphill lefthander. Drop the car to third gear (the superfast guys I believe do this in 4th gear when their tires are brand new), but do not overslow the car, it is mandatory that you keep it rolling hard. Your momentum will carry you all the way over the little curb on the right, but it is still paved, use up every bit of the paving here, the curb should be all the way to the left of your car if you do this right, but you won’t have lots of spare runoff room. You will be on the edge. If you commit, commit, if you go for the brakes in the middle of this operation you will hook left hard and hit the inside wall. Shortly after the car settles from the hop over the little curb you will shift to 4th and keep it there until turn 6, an on camber right-hander. I brake late and short for 6, drop to third gear, get back on the gas and power the car through 6, making super sure that the car is set up all the way left after 6. I believe some of the fast guys roll this turn in 4th gear. Whatever you do, the turn has a good bit of camber, so run it fast but make super sure that you are set up all the way left for turn 7, the most important turn of the whole track. I brake late into 7 and drop the car into 3rd gear. If you don’t exit 7 well, the car will be below 4500rpm on exit in 3rd, and if that happens, get ready to be passed by at least 4 cars down the back straight.
Turn 7 is, at its core, a simple 90ish degree right-hander, but the straight that follows must be 2600 feet long at full throttle, so getting every MPH of corner exit speed is crucial, and everyone knows it. For every one mile per hour you can exit this turn faster than your competition, you will gain approximately 1.5 feet for every second you run down the back stretch. You must be on the back stretch for 20 seconds, so if you can get 3mph better than someone else, you will have 90 feet on them at the end of the straight. 90 feet.
I would argue that turn 7 at Road Atlanta eats more cars than any other turn at any other track, so respect it but don’t fear it. Oddly, it eats a lot more cars into the inside wall than the outside wall, and that’s because people turn in early, get on the gas hard, see the pavement ending at track out, and they jam on the brakes, load up the tires that are pointed right, and the car hooks right into the inside wall.
First, let’s discuss crabbing or cheating. That occurs when you have the car set up perfectly for a turn, but you slowly start to turn the wheel into the turn before you actually commit to the turn, so by the time you actually turn in, you aren’t perfectly set up anymore. Don’t do that here. Really. Focus. Focus. Set the car up all the way to the left, don’t crab, and make one hard move to the right, not early, not late, just on time, and get on the power as soon as you turn in. I make the right tires run the apex curb over, and then start unwinding the wheel. The exit is slightly raised and will help keep you on track, you will want to run the rumble strips all the way over and be within inches of the dirt without going off-track. The drop-off if you miss is severe, so severe it can and has ripped the oil pan off of a lot of cars.
Here’s a hint. You’re going to get this wrong at some point. Everyone has and everyone will again. You will either go in too early or too fast or miss the apex or a combination of all of that, and you’re going to run out of track. If you get on the brakes you are going to hit the inside wall, so please don’t do that. They say amateurs hit the inside walls and pros hit the outside walls. When you come to the conclusion that you aren’t going to make it (experience will teach you this lesson), don’t try to horse the car and keep it on track. It won’t work. As noted above, the drop-off is severe, so don’t just drop the two left tires off track, as you will drag your oil pan or something else on the concrete. Instead, act like a pro and actively drive the whole car four wheels off. I have done this at full throttle several times. The ride is a little nasty and there is a bump that’s going to rocket the car up like you are Bo Duke, but dems’ da’ breaks, you screwed up. Keep the wheel straight and re-enter the track as close to straight as you can. Make sure the car isn’t slightly pitched or sliding on the grass when you re-enter, because if it is, when it grabs you’re going for a ride.
There is no skill down the back straight. Get a draft anywhere you can find one, and if you exited turn 7 properly and your engine isn’t a total dog, you will get the car in 5th gear. As noted in the top of this instructional, you can drive the car deep down the hill into 10a before you get on the brakes. Work your way there, but you can actually drive to past the 200 foot board before you get hard on the brakes.
Rinse and repeat. Road Atlanta is one of my favorite places to race and is a lot of fun. I hope this helps.