How to go fast in the rain? A little local knowledge can help.

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Update by J.G. Pasterjak to the BMW 435i project car
Apr 9, 2024 | BimmerWorld, Rain, VIR, James Clay, BMW 435i

The recovery drivers went out plenty. They pulled something like a baker’s dozen from the grass, mud, tires and Armco surrounding VIR. Any mistake in the rain could quickly turn into a huge regret.

Even non-mistakes–more than one car spun on a straight after hydroplaning–could end in disaster. So, with some 2 inches of rain falling, the SCCA gave everyone at the Time Trials National Tour the option to not worry about that day’s runs. It would just be a practice day.

Of course, some brave idiots, like myself and co-driver BimmerWorld’s James Clay, couldn’t wait to try our freshly built car, and we didn’t care if we had to swerve around alligators to do it.

So we put our BMW 435i on track. Yes, the car we had just put together.

How’d the BMW do in the rain? Let’s look at the data from our VBox HD Mini.

[Our new go-to data system | VBOX HD Lite review]

The wet selection features James Clay behind the wheel, and it’s interesting because the conditions are far beyond “wet line.” Instead, James drives a line that is equal parts institutional knowledge‚ like the occasional inside curb he hits, but just on the concrete parts, not getting onto the painted part–but also shows a lot of improvisation. In several corners, his desired rain line is puddled over, so he simply aims for a spot with more visible texture and adjusts in real time.

To be fair, we did a pretty good job of this as well, but we also didn’t know all of the track’s secrets–like how some corners looked flooded yet still offered some grip. Looking at the VBox data, those corners were the main source of our 2-plus-second deficit to James.

Next, enjoy our fastest dry lap of the weekend, good enough for a narrow fourth-place finish in our S3 class. (Second, third and fourth were all separated by only a couple tenths of a second.)

After assembling the car the week before at BimmerWorld and heading out to the track with no setup or practice time, we’re beyond pleased with the result and think we have a lot to build on. We’ll discuss our current recipe soon and where it works and where there’s room to improve.

Overall, the car is fun and benign. And the only fluid we needed to use all weekend was quick detailer.


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More like this
ddavidv UltimaDork
4/10/24 6:30 a.m.

Being competent in the rain can win you races. A lot of guys I raced against were scared of the wet. I grew up sliding around on gravel roads so it was almost fun for me. 

jerel77494 New Reader
4/10/24 10:52 a.m.

Rain driving like this? Kenny Brack driving a GT40 at Goodwood.

wspohn UltraDork
4/10/24 12:14 p.m.

Living in the Pacific Northwest (well as I'm in Canada, I guess it is our Pacific Southwest) one learns racing in the rain or one says home after repeatedly 'falling off' the track on wet days.  I noted that a lot of the "I have big balls and a V8 car"  guys wound up as part of the scenery while we drivers of small cars, being more used to using brains than balls to race, often finished well on wet tracks.

My embarrassing moment came when I had to run one race that year to keep my license current and of course it poured rain at my home track.  It was the last race of the season and two other drivers were going at it hammer and tongs for the season trophy. Of course they both 'fell off' the track and I didn't, which meant that one would finish champion because I had 'stolen' their points by being there. I didn't think that was fair so I talked to the organizers and volunteered to be disqualified (so the end of season placement would be as if I had never been there) as long as I got my race credit for the year.  Fortunately they agreed.

I will add one comment on racing in the rain - I ran one open car and one closed coupe and the latter was a PITA to keep the windshield clear on a rainy day - it would fog up inside and you'd be wiping it off inside when you should be attending to other things. The open car was 'self-clearing' as the windscreen was nominal and the wind blew off the face shield.

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
4/11/24 9:02 a.m.

Rain definitely makes things interesting. When NASCAR first tried rain tires in the late 1990s at Watkins Glen, I remember who went out in the rain in practice and who didn't. Some enjoy the challenge. Others fear it. I don't think either strategy is wrong, though, especially when it's your car and your butt on the line.

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