The Art of Road Racing
winning insights for club racers

Thunderhill short course

The SCCA licensing school gives us a rare opportunity to run the short course. It's a blast! This video shows the line that I was teaching.


The qualifying line in a Spec Miata:

T1

  • Approaching T1, make sure to keep the throttle down all the way to your braking point. We stay in 4th on the front straight in an SM, and you might find you hit the rev limiter briefly at the end, especially if you have the 1.8L engine because of its lower 7K rev limit. But don’t worry as this will not damage a Miata engine. Watch for traffic entering from the pit lane as you move right for a wide entry.

  • Set up fully right before the brake markers. Your right tires should be on the paint line. Brake moderately at the first marker. You will see three paint marks on the right side of the entry. The turn-in point is a little before the last one. This is a high speed turn, and good lap times depend on maintaining momentum here, so work to find the minimum braking and earliest turn-in needed.

  • Make a mid apex lightly touching your front tire to the T1 apex berm. The correct line will look early as you approach the berm, but you will touch mid apex.

  • Ideally you will be at full throttle before the apex. The car will be thrown wide and will arrive at the exit a little past the middle of the berm.

T2

  • Note: the line offered here differs from the video.

  • As you approach T2, turn gently to aim the car tangent to the inside of the turn. Stay full throttle. Just a little before reaching the inside of the curve give a light brake and downshift to 3rd. At speed, the brake is very light.

  • Now hug the inside with robust, possibly modulating, throttle. Aim to put the left front tire almost in the dirt. When you see the exit berm in your left view, gently roll on full throttle. Your car should be thrown wide and reach the exit mid berm.

  • In the video I shift briefly into 4th before T3. Don’t worry about doing this until you find yourself bouncing off the rev limiter for an extended period. The transaction cost of upshifting and heel toe downshifting is barely worth it. Better to stay in 3rd and ride out the rev limiter.

T3

  • Aim to enter T3 just a little right of center. Err on the side of braking early as the turn is off camber, so if you brake too deep you will lose a lot of time and are likely to end up in the grass. Stay about a car width off the berm on your right at the beginning. As the berm runs out, aim to exit parallel to the end of the berm with your right front just scraping it. You should be applying robust, possibly full throttle, on this right hand sweeper. Counterintuitively, greater throttle helps the car turn here. This is because the off camber slope causes the rear end to slide out, so the rear tires aim a greater amount of thrust into the turn radius.

T4

  • Just as you reach the end of the T3 berm on the right, quickly turn the wheel left to aim the car at the T4 apex. The turn-in needs to be quick, almost abrupt, but watch that you balance the transition from right to left without the need for multiple corrections. There is no braking for T4, just a brief lift to allow the car to turn.

  • You should arrive mid-berm at the T4 apex. Rub your left tire on the berm there. Ideally you lifted very little for T4 and are hard on the throttle now. As you pass the apex, your car should be thrown wide onto the T4 exit berm. If you are not being forced to put a tire on the berm, you either apexed too late, or are not applying enough throttle through T4. Adjust accordingly to improve. Don’t worry if your right tire catches a bit of dirt as it runs off the T4 exit berm.

  • The temptation here is to beeline for T5 without using the T4 exit. Avoid this, unless you aspire to slower lap times.

T5

  • Don’t worry that you are out of position for T5. The uphill entry gives you plenty of traction to muscle the car into position. Line the car maybe 10 degrees off parallel vs the brake markers on entry into T5. You will need to brake before turn-in.

  • T5 is a sharp left, kind of like a city intersection. There is a white paint mark on the right. That is your turn-in point. Make sure that you do not touch the apex berm on the left, as that will likely send you around backwards. Your goal is to get the car turned, and wheel straight over the crest, so that you can be full throttle there. The correct line will put your right front tire on the paint line almost touching the exit berm. It helps to practice driving slowly and putting your tires on the exit berm so you know where it is. The biggest mistake students make here is being shy of the exit and driving straight down the middle of the track.

  • You will want to be full throttle coming down the hill and around T5a, the right hand sweeper. The correct line in a Miata is to hug the inside. But to get that while maintaining full throttle, you need to quickly set your car into the turn. This is accomplished by quickly pointing the car at the dirt on the right just as you reach the end of the T5 exit berm. This requires quick assertive steering input, similar to the T4 entry. Don’t worry, the car won’t actually go into the dirt, as the full throttle will throw you wide.

T6

  • Hugging right will set you up perfectly for T6. Look for the paint mark on the right (it’s a little before the cone in this video.) You will need to lift, or very gently brush the brakes, to get the car to turn-in. The correct line will take you to a mid-berm apex and a mid-berm exit. The key here is to lift as little as possible. The sooner you can get full throttle, the more speed you will carry down the entire length of the back straight.

T7

  • It is not necessary to apex T7 in a Miata. You can drive full throttle anywhere on the track there. However, a tight apex will give you the shortest path on the back straight. So you should point the car right at the T7 apex immediately upon exiting T6.

T8 (short course)

  • T8 is a two apex 180 degree hairpin at the end of the back straight. (Note: the line explained here is different than shown in the video.) This can be a 3rd gear turn if you maintain momentum. Brake hard and downshift to 3rd to make the first apex. The ideal line is a wide arc that takes you a car width off the second apex. Stay a car width away from the outside berm between the apexes. You should be full throttle as early as possible as this is the beginning of your run down the main straight.

T15

  • Exiting T8 you should aim to straddle the blue and white stripped paint leading to T15. However, you cannot put your right tire on the white paint line. At the very end of the blue paint is a small white triangle. That’s the turn-in point. As you gain more experience, you will not need to lift for the turn-in.

  • It is critical to make the apex on this one, so scraping your right tire on the apex berm is a helpful reminder that you are on course. Surprisingly running over that berm a bit does not disturb the SM much. Let the car out to exit with your left tires on the berm.

WARNING: T15 exit berm

  • Watch out if you are off line and the car is on a trajectory to drop a wheel. The danger here is that when you drop a wheel, the car will pivot around the front tires and pirouette across track into the pit wall. It is counter intuitive that this happens, but it is a fact of physics, and a regular occurrence in T15.

  • To help avoid disaster, ensure that the front tires are not turned when you drop off the berm. So straighten the wheel and neutralize the throttle just before dropping the wheel. Don’t pull the trigger to early: take this action only when the left front tire has climbed the berm and it is clear you are going off. No sooner, unless you enjoy unnecessarily playing in the dirt.

  • Once you have wheels in the dirt, wait until you are past the end of the exit berm to gently bring the car back onto the pavement. Waiting is critical as the exit berm can catch your rear tire, and you again risk looping into the wall.

Main straight

  • You are almost done! Wait until you are just short of hitting the rev limiter to shift into 4th. This is the best shift point for a Miata. Don’t worry about hitting the rev limiter by mistake, as this does not hurt a Miata. Actually, a good way to learn your up-shift points is to purposely brush up to the rev limiter. Note that over-rev on the downshift is not so forgiving and is a good way to bend valves or worse.

  • You will be spending ~15 seconds on the front straight. Relax a bit, stretch your fingers, check your gauges, wave at your friends on the pit wall. If there is a car ahead, stay dead center behind them to benefit from their draft. Remember the S/F line is 200 feet past the flag stand, so don’t let up until you are past it.

That’s it! You have completed a lap of the short course. Faster students in the SCCA school without previous race experience are often in the 1:27’s. An exceptional student might get down to 1:25. A 1:23 is possible with good tires and an experienced driver.

Curious about the long course? Look at our guide for the Thunderhill long course.