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Old 04-14-2008, 01:54 PM   #1
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Default The Course Design Thread

Yes, I'm using something from my monthly Road & Tach column to try to start a new forum topic. Can we use this thread to discuss course designs? What people like and don't like, what's fun and what's a pain, what's safe/unsafe, etc etc...

Anything's fair game -- just remember course designers are volunteers, so try not to call anybody a nincompoop. Especially me, I'm thin-skinned.

I'll start it off...

At the risk of being called a sniveler, let me offer my opinion that the course used in our Solo Round One on April 6th was maybe a little too open. (And hey, I was the event co-chair!) Iím not saying it was too fast Ė the speed was fine, and the course was fun to drive. I judge the openness of a course by how much of it I can drive with Wide-Open Throttle (WOT).

Yes, my car is a Miata, so obviously I see more WOT on just about any course, compared to a Vette or a Viper. It's just that I think the April 6th course had as high a proportion of WOT for my car as any course Iíve driven at Stead. In addition, I heard WRX drivers saying things like, ďGreat course Ė lots of fun!Ē That always makes me suspicious Ė Iím kidding, Iím kidding!

But why even mention it? Because itís at WOT that altitude has its greatest effect on autocross performance. Some cars (Iím thinking Jim Uchytilís monster Vette, for example), almost never get to use WOT in a Solo event, so their Solo elapsed time would be very nearly the same regardless of altitude. At the other end of the spectrum, think about Kevin Sheridanís Bugeye Sprite on race tires Ė if heís not on the brakes, heís flat out, and altitude is killing him.

This stuff comes into play during class-to-class competition (PAX), and it also messes up things inside single classes Ė when course design forces an A Stock S2000 to use proportionately more WOT than an AS Vette or WRX at our altitude, the Honda is being penalized.

Let me make three rash statements, and then I'll duck. 1) Altitude is a problem for us. 2) More WOT makes the problem worse; less WOT lessens the problem. 3) A course can minimize WOT and still be fast and fun. Comments?
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Old 04-14-2008, 02:41 PM   #2
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I like courses that are wide, and therefore have a variety of possible lines that you can choose for each corner. I think this separates the noobs from the experts more than anything else. Riding with an expert on a wide course and seeing what lines they take is also one of the best learning experiences I have had at autox. If the course is very narrow, it just becomes a "follow the line of cones" exercise.

This is one of the reasons I like lovelock. You have to think and plan ahead for each corner to take the optimum racing line.
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Old 04-14-2008, 02:44 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jim.gandy View Post
Let me make three rash statements, and then I'll duck. 1) Altitude is a problem for us. 2) More WOT makes the problem worse; less WOT lessens the problem. 3) A course can minimize WOT and still be fast and fun. Comments?
p.s. My car has power so I'm going to disagree with all of these
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Old 04-14-2008, 02:56 PM   #4
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While I will agree with the statement that WOT courses exaggerate the altitude issue, I will also say that tight courses tend to be slow and painful. They're less fun, and less like national-style courses.

When you hear people like Mark Sipe complaining about having to use 1st gear, it's not 'cause he hates shifting, it's because it means the course is binding and doesn't flow the way the expertly designed national courses tend to flow.

Now I'm not saying courses have to be open to flow, but it's much harder to design a tight course that flows than an open course that flows. Like MikeK said, open courses flow well because good drivers inherently pick flowing lines through the cones. It allows the good drivers to separate themselves from the bad drivers, and IMO driver skill is a much bigger factor in times in our region than altitude or PAX issues ever are. I'd rather have a fun, open, flowing, easy-to-navigate course than one that sacrifices those features for more PAX/altitude friendly course. After all, a fun event should be the primary focus for the course designer in my opinion.
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Old 04-14-2008, 03:30 PM   #5
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I would suggest that we keep the HAP related discussion out of the course design thread. So quick answers. 1. Take it to the HAP thread. 2. Not true IMHO and I will discuss as it relates sort of to course design. 3. No, it can't.

And I take the entire blame for Event #1s course.

Jim U's power on tire break away aside, you and I probably spent near the same percentage of time at WOT.

In the world of type 1, 2 and 3 corners, to maximize the advantage of the 1s and 2s, you will always try and maximize WOT and 100% braking. No amount of "course design" other than a continuous set of connected corners (type3s), AKA a slalom (of which there was a huge one of as I recall), will you have a low amount of WOT. Good drivers will always try and maximize the binary pedal positions.

It just sounds like you drove the course correctly which happens to be the way it was designed. The first 405 degree right hander from the start and ending before the second time through the crossover could have been driven with modulated throttle/braking instead of as an increasing radius 180 degree corner a big brake and a late apex 225 corner but the former would have been much slower.

The same is true with the series from the crossover back to the 1st 180. you could go a whole lot slower and use much less WOT by scrubbing through the first decreasing radius left hander and tracking way out causing turning much harder in the right hander into the Sat. course. and could continue to not drive an optimal line through the chicane.

OK, back on course design.

Good course design is about visibility and flow... On flow from event 1: If the Chicago box had been 25 feet closer to the "second 180", it would not have been nearly as "fun" because the arc out of the 180 would not have matched the entry to the box. (That whole 210 degrees was at partial throttle by the way.) The same goes for the left hander before the slalom into the slalom. There was enough width/freedom in the course that you could choose your arc through those elements.

As I said in a thread here or on SECCS, I am a big fan of open courses with minimal cones. I had to use way more than usual to cram a 35+second course into the left half of the tarmac for Saturday's School and T&T.

The key to designing an open course is that as you exit each element, you should be pointed at the next element and it should be about the only thing worth looking at in that direction. They also tend to make extensive use of pointer cones and pointer walls to aid the driver in determining what direction they should be looking/turning. My wide open crossover and the Evnt #1 course from the Chicago box on are good or at least decent examples.

Due to the close proximity of sections of the school course, the next element was not always obvious when you exited an element in reality as it was on paper at my house. I found this out during Friday's setup and thus had to add many outside and pointer walls and even some inside walls to make it clearer. I think I succeeded for Sat. but missed 1 small section for Sunday which became obvious on Sunday afternoon as more drivers DNFed. I blame part of that on the wind though for not allowing them a good head up and turned visual walk and much of the flour blowing away.

If you truly want to minimize WOT, you must restrict drivers to a minimum width relatively slow and tight course. And IMHO, those are often less fun.

I was only on the rev limiter in 2nd in the STI for a minuscule amount of time after the second time through the crossover and actually grabbed third for about 2 seconds before the first 180. I don't recall what the limiter in second is, but I would guess my top speed was under 60 which is well within the guidelines for Solo course design given my significantly non-stock car.
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Old 04-14-2008, 04:08 PM   #6
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As the driver a small displacement, low power-to-weight car I say: bollocks to minimizing WOT. If you want to use HAP to fix the altitude disadvantage that's one thing, but I'd never approve of intentionally slanting course design to favor a particular kind of vehicle on a regular basis. Not to mention that flowing courses are both more fun and more challenging to nail down IMO.

Over the course of the season, we generally get "Miata" courses and "Corvette" courses and several shades in between. It works out okay in the end. Besides, cost is not an issue when it comes to the altitude debate, because DS/FS and ESP cars aren't really any more expensive than ES/GS/HS and DSP/FSP cars are.

The course I did with Dean (see attached) was intentionally done to be as flowing and "organic" as possible last October. With the universal exception of the roundy-round, which will be eliminated for July, I got dozens and dozens of comments about how much people liked driving the course- even those who coned away good runs or didn't think they drove particularly well.

Attempting to handicap the course designs for a particular segment of autocrossers just goes against the basic idea of the sport IMO. There are elements that favor R compounds over street tires, too- should we ban the ones that clearly favor one or the other to make it more "fair" for those on one side or the other for that camp? Can't say that I would advocate it. In fact, the only course in my recent memory I specifically did not like was one as you are proposing- tight lanes, no straight lines, lots of short-radius corners. I don't want to criticize the designer(s) of that course because as I understand it the effect did not match the intention. But it was a course that was extremely difficult to drive because it was all very low speed, with no periods of extensive acceleration. Very few people would advocate a course that intentionally causes multiple downshifts for a significant portion of the field; can you reconcile your desire for a Miata- I mean, low horsepower car- friendly course that keeps most of the field in second gear?
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File Type: pdf 100oct Sunday image.pdf (120.6 KB, 711 views)
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Old 04-14-2008, 04:09 PM   #7
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I thought the course was good (would have liked to have driven it better but that's another story). It had width, offered a choice of lines, and the hairpin and decreasing radius thingie provided a challenge too. Of course, I traded an altitude-challenged S2000 in for a supercharged Lotus this year so and I'm trying not to be hypocritical here. Why don't we leave things as they are, and those who want more courses designed to suit their vehicles can get them by volunteering to chair events -
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Old 04-14-2008, 04:47 PM   #8
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Jim, I didnt hit the rev limiter at all on sunday, I was WOT but not at max speed. I was trying to push a hole in the floorboard to go faster. Last weeks course was good for beginners as it was fairly easy to read. and most novices dont have enough confidence to do what we do with our years of experience.
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Old 04-14-2008, 05:50 PM   #9
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I like courses where there are a minimum of cones; I prefer not to see walls of cones that force you into a lane. I like courses that have variety, including some WOT section(s), as well as tighter turning sections (i.e. the long slalom last weekend) where you have to figure out the right speed to drive it in optimum time. Having a variety of elements in a course allows more equality for different kinds of cars to excel in different sections.

I love a course where I can shift to 2nd, and leave it there. I prefer not to have to navigate a binding corner that forces me to downshift or risk bogging in the exit. That said, I think 'pin cones' are interesting to have in a course from time to time. And, I like slaloms that are truly direction-optional - not making it obvious which way is a faster entry or exit. They present an added challenge to solving the mystery of the fastest way.
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Old 04-14-2008, 06:15 PM   #10
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I personally enjoy the aspect of BOTH of the affore mentioned course "types", fast and slow.

There's a particular type of course that myself and my car are most "comfortable" on, as I'm sure most of the people here can agree, but I really appreciate what I can take from the LESS comfortable courses, in that I have an opportunity to learn some new tricks, so to speak. I actually LIKE those courses that are out of my comfort zone, that make it a challenge to put the car where it needs to be, and still maintain a smooth, fast line. Sure, it's tons of fun having the perfect course for myself/my car where I can just BLAST through in a ridiculously short time, but I think it makes better drivers having both course types, that cause one to learn both how to handle the fast, high speed transitions, AND the slow, tight, "must slow down to be fast" sections.

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Old 04-14-2008, 06:22 PM   #11
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Absolute novice here, but here goes: I liked the last course a lot. It let me stretch my cars legs a little. But I absolutely hated the slalom at the end. Me no likey slaloms so close when my car is a pig right now, lol.
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Old 04-14-2008, 07:21 PM   #12
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Absolute novice here, but here goes: I liked the last course a lot. It let me stretch my cars legs a little. But I absolutely hated the slalom at the end. Me no likey slaloms so close when my car is a pig right now, lol.
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Slaloms are probably the most challenging element available to Solo course designers. They come in many flavors, but all have the same basic driving requirements.

1. Turn the car before the cone, not at or after it. AKA Don't be late.

2. Don't try to go faster, try to go smoother.

3. Look at least 3 cones ahead.

That is all.


The most common teaching term used in slaloming is backside.

The theory is you should try and drive over the backside of each cone, not get anywhere near the front of the cones. To do that, you have to already have the car at a 30+ degree angle past/between the cones when your front tire passes it.

The funny thing is that you say you liked the course, but not the slalom. There were actually 3 slaloms in the course, and you only disliked the last one. The Chicago box after the "second 180" is a 3 cone slalom at exactly the same spacing as the 6 cone at the end. And there was a 5-6 cone depending on how you look at it uneven spacing offset slalom before the first 180.

Since we are sharing, here are the rough key cone maps from Event 1 and the school.
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Old 04-14-2008, 09:07 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by jim.gandy View Post
Yes, I'm using something from my monthly Road & Tach column to try to start a new forum topic. Can we use this thread to discuss course designs? What people like and don't like, what's fun and what's a pain, what's safe/unsafe, etc etc...

Anything's fair game -- just remember course designers are volunteers, so try not to call anybody a nincompoop. Especially me, I'm thin-skinned.<snip>


I liked the course. I didn't have my jetting right and I actually got to flat foot it a couple of times in the BP car which is unusual for a relatively tight course on asphalt. Generally I run a data acquisition system but I was too cold and lazy to set it up the beacons but it would have been interesting to this discussion to see the percent throttle, time cornering versus time in straights, etc.

Generally, though, I'm sure the course seemed more open in a Miata that in did in a Corvette, particularly the final slalom. Corvettes like two cone courses, one at each end of the course about a quarter mile apart.

-- Rick

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Old 04-15-2008, 08:01 AM   #14
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Outstanding discussion! In just 24 hours, too. You guys/gals are great. Keep the ideas coming...

Like I said in the opening post, I ducked after I threw the opening comments out. You can see why -- some people took exception. And that's okay! The more ideas, the better.

I absolutely don't want this thread to be focused on anything I said, but I hope it's okay if I respond. I said Round 1's course had more Wide Open Throttle (WOT) than I commonly see at Stead. I think several postings tend to back that up, especially Pat Housel's and Rick Brown's. (Rick's comment about data acquisition showing percent throttle is great food for thought; that data would be an interesting part of the altitude-effects debate that Dean says to take elsewhere.)

Several postings seem to imply that reducing WOT time means using a narrow, twisty, shift-back-to-first course. NOT SO! Some reflection will, I hope, convince just about everyone that it's possible to design extended strings of elements that can be fast but which force you to constantly modulate the throttle -- no matter what kind of car you're in (except maybe for poor Kevin Sheridan's race-tired Sprite).

That's my position and I'm sticking to it... for now... ;-)
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Old 04-15-2008, 09:26 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jim.gandy View Post
Several postings seem to imply that reducing WOT time means using a narrow, twisty, shift-back-to-first course. NOT SO! Some reflection will, I hope, convince just about everyone that it's possible to design extended strings of elements that can be fast but which force you to constantly modulate the throttle -- no matter what kind of car you're in (except maybe for poor Kevin Sheridan's race-tired Sprite).

That's my position and I'm sticking to it... for now... ;-)
Jim, it is the physics of minimum time over a given course that is against you. Go as fast as you can as early as you can and as far as you can, brake, turn, repeat is how you make fast lap times on every track in the world. You can slow average speed by tightening the elements, but there are only 2 ways to reduce WOT.

A nearly continuous set of transitional turns with basically non-existent straights and/or limiting the amount of lateral freedom in the course, AKA narrow, likely walled courses. And niether of those is "fun". Any course with straights of any length and/or lateral freedom (Openness) and drivers will try and straighten any sections they can to use WOT.

I realize autocross is a bit different than road courses in that there are occasionally corners where it is faster to take the slower shortest path rather than the wide in wide out approach. Pivot cones are an OK example of that, but even then, WOT in to 100% braking to 100% turning to WOT is the sequence of choice through them. Trying to maintain partial throttle through them just wastes time.
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Old 04-15-2008, 09:33 AM   #16
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My preferences for a course are: one that is flowing, that rewards smoothness above all else, and presents options for different lines. I like slaloms a lot, if I were course dictator I would decree every one should have at least two true, tradional slaloms. The only course element that I absolutely hate is the tight 180 that requires 1st gear to dig out of. And I enjoy the variations we get over the course of a season - never knowing just what the course will be event to event.

During the whole of the season I think each type of car (quick low horsepower, high horsepower, NA, FI) eventually gets at least one event where the courses favor that car, so it balances out. And of course, there's absolutely no chance of making everyone happy every weekend.

Having said all the above, just some nit-picking: I'd like to see some other use of the far end of the site instead of our traditional sweeper. No suggestions about that, just something different.

I'm sometimes concerned over the safety of our finishes: I don't think the usual couple of sharp turns just before the lights lends itself to car control and I worry about the timeslip person and cars (and carts) waiting on the grid. We might have to shorten our courses up a bit to provide for safe shut down zones after the lights.

Maybe it's my geezerdom but some of our courses turn into a sea of cones from the driver's seat; maybe we could work on using fewer cones and more pointers?

And a real left field suggestion: how about using orange cones for driver's left side and blue cones for driver's right side? (Opposite on Sunday.) Hey, it works great on my solo video game, I never get lost.

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Old 04-15-2008, 09:35 AM   #17
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Blue cones!?! What will they think of next!?
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Old 04-15-2008, 09:48 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jim.gandy View Post
Outstanding discussion! In just 24 hours, too. You guys/gals are great. Keep the ideas coming...

Like I said in the opening post, I ducked after I threw the opening comments out. You can see why -- some people took exception. And that's okay! The more ideas, the better.

I absolutely don't want this thread to be focused on anything I said, but I hope it's okay if I respond. I said Round 1's course had more Wide Open Throttle (WOT) than I commonly see at Stead. I think several postings tend to back that up, especially Pat Housel's and Rick Brown's. (Rick's comment about data acquisition showing percent throttle is great food for thought; that data would be an interesting part of the altitude-effects debate that Dean says to take elsewhere.)

Several postings seem to imply that reducing WOT time means using a narrow, twisty, shift-back-to-first course. NOT SO! Some reflection will, I hope, convince just about everyone that it's possible to design extended strings of elements that can be fast but which force you to constantly modulate the throttle -- no matter what kind of car you're in (except maybe for poor Kevin Sheridan's race-tired Sprite).

That's my position and I'm sticking to it... for now... ;-)

I can see where you can design sweepers or transitions that force a cornering speed lower than what could be taken at full throttle. Modulating the throttle then maintains the maximum cornering speed possible and basically puts back in the energy scrubbed off by the cornering. So in the example of a sweeper a Miata and a BP Corvette <g> each pull the G's the suspension and tires are capable of and it doesn't matter that one has 400 more hp than the other. On the other hand, slowing speed down with slaloms or transitions creates a second order effect where the wider car effectively sees a narrower course and has to generate more G's to get through the same elements at the same speed. For example, in a slalom, a narrower car doesn't have to pull as many G's as a wider car to achieve the same speed since it doesn't have to turn as much to clear the ducks. Maybe the fairest courses have combinations of many different elements to try to even out the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of cars.

Fun discussion!



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Old 04-15-2008, 05:22 PM   #19
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Quote:
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Since we are sharing, here are the rough key cone maps from Event 1 and the school.
Dean I got just as lost on your map as I did on the actual course but then again I never did get my orienteering merit badge in boy scouts and why is that darn helicopter always on course
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Old 04-15-2008, 05:37 PM   #20
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Dean I got just as lost on your map as I did on the actual course but then again I never did get my orienteering merit badge in boy scouts and why is that darn helicopter always on course
Sorry, they are mostly Key Cones only maps which means they are missing almost all of the directional cues. It is a design tool that lets you layout a base course and then go through it and add the minimal amount of cones to to make the path clear(er).

The Friday before the event, we laid those cones out in an area and then it was easy to ask helpers to put a wall here, pointers there, etc. as you work on the next base section. Ok, it didn't quite work like that, but it sort of did.

Stead is really nice as a course designer as it has these great 25' squares you can mostly see in the aerial view, so it is easy to move the course from paper to tarmac.

Helicopter is where all the wind came from.
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Old 04-17-2008, 08:47 AM   #21
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I agree with a lot that has been said and disagree with a lot as well. Here is my 2 pennies for what its worth. I agree with MikeK I like courses that are wider as well. WOT also works for me but I have a 65 mustang so I'm on the more power side. As for the wideness of the course, I have no power assist anything-steering, brakes, etc- so when it comes to those really tight corners i have to do a lot hand movement. If the track was wider it could open up more lines and be a little easier to manuever the bigger cars through. Don't get me wrong I like the tight corners too but when thats all that track is, its not too fun for me. And those are my pennies.
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Old 04-18-2008, 10:58 AM   #22
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Anybody care to elaborate on what they find objectionable about elements that require a downshift to first?
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Old 04-18-2008, 11:27 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jim.gandy View Post
Anybody care to elaborate on what they find objectionable about elements that require a downshift to first?
Well, besides the fact that Subaru transmission won't go into first unless you're stopped completely (unless you know how to double clutch and/or have switched gear oil to something with some bite for the synchros)... and ignoring the wear and tear on the drivetrain components from the downshift and an additional "launch" back up to speed...

1st gear corners tend to be "artificially" slow by just binding the driver down and forcing them around one narrow line. It interrupts any flow, and it's not fun because how much G-force are you generating at 10 mph anyway? I'd much rather have a long medium-speed, hi-G maneuver than two fast, low-G maneuvers (i.e. straights) interrupted with one very tight one. They both take the same total time, but one's much more fun.
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Old 04-18-2008, 12:19 PM   #24
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1st gear downshifts are hard on transmissions, disrupt course flow and just plain suck.

Rather than asking what is objectionable, what redeeming qualities can you think of for a 1st downshift?

They are also at minimum frowned upon by every course design "reference" I've ever seen. Perhaps Debbie and Mark can chime in, but I don't recall a single 1st downshift at a pro, tour or at nationals. If they were an acceptable design element, you would think national level designers would incorporate them.

If you have never read it, I believe the current version of the course design bible is Here!
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Old 04-21-2008, 03:16 PM   #25
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Since I can do 45-50 in first gear not much shifting for me, but when i do have to shift to first, yeah it generally sucks.
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