(Justin Hille, pictured center above.)

Tips for Mid-Ohio

Justin Hille of Canfield, Ohio stormed through the Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course the first weekend of June while competing in the the SCCA U.S. Majors Tour in Spec Miata. Taking both wins – one on Saturday and one on Sunday – Hille showed he has mastered the 15-turn, 2.4 mile road circuit. Mazda Motorsports turned to Justin Hille for insight into just how he did it.

This track is unlike most around, as you really need to set the car up to turn right.  The “keyhole” is a “key” corner, as this is where most all of the passes are set up.  You need to be able to get to the gas EARLY and have the car as free as possible from mid-corner to exit.  If you feel the car is bound up in the middle of the corner, or the front tires are losing grip, you may have to adjust the car. My go-to adjustment is adding cross weight, or depending on how the balance is left to right, change rake.  Some of the lines you will be taking may seem unconventional, but that is only because of the super sticky sealer they have laid down on the asphalt. If you can position your car on that, you are golden.

If it rains, you’re in for a treat.  Mid-Ohio is the most difficult track to race while wet that I know.  In some corners, 80 percent of the track is covered in this super sticky sealer.  Well, when it’s wet, it’s the polar opposite.  “STAY OFF THE SHINY STUFF,” is what I tell everybody.  If you do have to run over it, don’t do anything abruptly.  Slowly back off the brake pedal, steer gently, and be gentle with the throttle.  At the starts, the lane that goes over the sealer will have to be very careful not to slide up into the lane on the grip.

My racing strategy has always been: “Live to fight another corner.”  At the start of the race, hold your ground. Try not to lose more than one or two spots.  If an opportunity presents itself, take it.  If you need to give up a spot to save the car, give it up.  If your qualifying position truly reflects your skill, you can get that spot back. Don’t become fixated on the car in front of you.  Instead, passively study his driving.  You will learn when is the best time to make your move and make it stick.  This is all easier said than done, as you also need to focus on running your laps within a few tenths of each other back to back.

A driver’s goal is to get to the front and win the race, but as a driver you need to be rational in the car.  Try your best to not get emotional.  When you get emotional, you go beyond what you know the car can do, and that’s when mistakes happen.  Never deviate too far from your marks you would hit on a qualifying lap, and use the cars you are racing against to find marks that go beyond the normal line. (e.g., if you are making a move into the braking zone, and you fly past the other car like a rocket, you probably won’t make the corner. It’s best to adjust your braking so that your car is in a position where it is fully alongside or just  a nose ahead of the car being passed).

In practice, try driving all over the track, to see where the grip is and what you can actually do in a side by side situation.  In summary, drive “aggressively clean.”   Give and take, and be aggressive when you have to, but do it fairly.  It’s a chess game.  If you race with respect, you will get respect, and that’s what it’s all about.