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Old 11-09-2005, 08:45 AM   #1
skuttledude
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Default What makes a good AutoX course?

What makes a good AutoX course?
(Lets all take into account that all courses here are within the safety rules and requirements...safety first.)

What courses have you raced that were memorable and why?

What are certain requirements that you believe all AutoX courses should have?

Pictures, drawings and in-car footage would be a big help to visualise your point. (I'll be more than happy to host any of these file types... send to: davis@skuttlemotorsports.com)

Discuss any other features that you believe are important.

All input is welcomed and I'm especially looking forward to what some of the National runners think.
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Old 11-09-2005, 08:59 AM   #2
wvonkessler
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Default Roger Johnson

Here's a link to Roger Johnson's Autocross Course Guide. I can tell you that any course that I have designed using it has been a good course. Good wisdom and years of experience have gone into it.

http://home.houston.rr.com/rogerthereal
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Old 11-09-2005, 09:00 AM   #3
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http://home.houston.rr.com/rogerthereal/

Go there.. download his booklet.
Then... read it.
Then... look at some of the courses: http://www.houscca.com/solo2/course_maps.aspx

What courses have you raced that were memorable...
I remember the bad courses more than the good courses. That said, the two courses at nationals this year were the best I've been on in years... especially the South Course. Most painful course was also this year at the Oscoda Pro with a second going to the Toledo Pro. Our local events at Devens, MA are some pretty quick, yet flowing designs. (Based on what we have to work with). We haven't had a 'bad' course (choppy) in a couple years.

What are certain requirements...
See links above. Sweepers, slaloms, fast sections.... no place should a car have to go down to 1st gear unless it's a hi-revving type car (S2000 or RX8) and even then... they shouldn't have to. Flow is what it's all about.

Drawings... see links above.

Other features... work assignments that don't put workers at risk for the sake of 'course design'. Flow. Elements should flow from one to the next and not be painful. You don't have to use every cone to make a course. Also, you don't have to use every square inch of surface to make a fun course.

Use cones sparingly to mark the course. There are some regions *cough* SD *cough* that historically outline the course with chalk, and put cones up around the whole course leaving little imagination as to what the 'line is'.

Don't make it confusing to novices, but leave enough for veterans to 'pick' their line through the course/elements.

I can keep going...

--kC
(IBsolo-x)
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Old 11-09-2005, 09:17 AM   #4
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great stuff. Those overhead design drawings are helpful.
in-car would be sweet.


KC...keep going.
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Old 11-09-2005, 09:38 AM   #5
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IMHO... in-car isn't going to give you much as it's not a good representative of speed and spatial relations. You can't tell how fast a car is going, nor how smooth the course is when the camera is pretty much stationary and not getting feedback in the seat of your pants.

It's the same as asking someone to take pictures from inside the car at every gate... you'll have no depth/reference. And the way some cameras work, you wouldn't be able to tell if the cones are 12 feet apart or 15 feet apart.

The only thing in-car camera is good for is for the driver to review what he did from run to run for consistancy.

We taped some runs on a camera at nationals on Nate W's Civic and my 8. I'll see what I can do to get the tape from Chang and digitize it.

I have some other runs on the system at home that I'll compress and get up here.

Now... on the other hand... if you want to see some real results as to what a car is doing... I can get you some results from a GPS based data aquisition unit I had in my car at a local event. http://www.race-technology.com/WebPa...1/DL1Home.html

Data sheet: http://www.race-technology.com/WebPa...1datasheet.pdf

--kC

Last edited by KC; 11-09-2005 at 09:45 AM.
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Old 11-09-2005, 09:42 AM   #6
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Our region has been designing starts that minimize the impact of a hard launch. It's a small thing but I think it's better for the cars and the lot.
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Old 11-09-2005, 09:58 AM   #7
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Like KC mentioned several times. Flow is defintely the most important part. I have no problem with tight courses, nor do I have a problem with flat out open courses. But keep in challenging and keep it fun. Nothing is more aggrivating then coming off a 60mph sweeper into a 20mph bottleneck that leads into an offset slalom.

Just make sure everything flows as one course, instead of concentrating on each section being "good".
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Old 11-09-2005, 12:57 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KC

Use cones sparingly to mark the course. There are some regions *cough* SD *cough* that historically outline the course with chalk, and put cones up around the whole course leaving little imagination as to what the 'line is'.
I agree that we use too many cones in Southern CA in general (SD and Cal Club regions), but I think the chalk outline helps newcomers which we get a lot of from getting lost and endangering workers.

But who could resist a course with anotomically correct Double Ds!

Last edited by PKer; 11-09-2005 at 12:59 PM. Reason: Oops pic is huge, sorry.
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Old 11-09-2005, 01:06 PM   #9
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Old 11-09-2005, 01:17 PM   #10
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Can someone explain the point of the box type structures that crop up every now and then on courses. There are usually three cones that matter and lots of cones that don't. It just seems like extra work setting up and replacing cones for no added value to the way the course drives.
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Old 11-09-2005, 02:39 PM   #11
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I say off camber corners and decreasing radius turns
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Old 11-09-2005, 05:24 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leecea
Can someone explain the point of the box type structures that crop up every now and then on courses. There are usually three cones that matter and lots of cones that don't. It just seems like extra work setting up and replacing cones for no added value to the way the course drives.

What like Chicago boxes? To the Neophyte (read me) they cause a lot of confusion on the first runs, so they do add a benefit (read challenge) for the less experienced.

IMHO,
Blue

BTW, this is another very beneficial thread.....DKP....thanks for starting and the rest of you thanks for adding your perspectives.
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Old 11-09-2005, 05:35 PM   #13
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That course above is the _ideal_ use of lightpoles. Where many courses have huge troubles with lightpoles Roger uses them as the main course element. It never gets even close to the minimum and all the mistakes will spin people off away from the poles instead of into them. Awesome!

I've designed maybe 10 courses and those that I did with the tips in Roger's book in mind were the most successful. When I tried to add "novel" features or tried to use too many features people complained. Other than reading and absorbing Roger's handbook my greatest suggestion is to not be afraid to do something totally different from what was done on your lot in the past. Lots of times a course becomes almost standard at a particular lot. There's no rule that says that the course has to start and stop in the same place as usual. Remember that Roger's book isn't a substitute for creativity. It just gives guidelines based on extensive experience of what kinds of unpleasant things people dislike.

--Kevin H.
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Old 11-09-2005, 05:52 PM   #14
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I've never met a course I didn't like. Sure I've met some that didn't flow, but that just present a new and different challenge. Only thing that bugs me is when they are really short, sometimes unavoidable in small lots.

It is always nicer to have a finish that you can come powersliding into if desired. Slow akward finishes are a let down.
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Old 11-09-2005, 07:18 PM   #15
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i'm just going to stream of concious this thing...

chicago boxes disguise a simple slalom element. typically a chicago box is just a visual thing. fast drivers ignore 90% of the cones on a course anyhow, so i guess you could call a chicago box "bling" for autocross courses.

decreasing radius corners are FUN. no question at all about that. if you don't beleive me, run down to racing america in foxboro on a thur. when they run combined track. the end of the straight has probably THE best decreasing radius turn EVAR!!!

when i design courses i try to get one or two elements into the course that force the driver to combine braking and turning to go fast or combine elements. i'm a big fan of hard entry slaloms, slow corners with little to no straight line braking zone and other tricky elements. they are difficult for average drivers, challenging for fast drivers.

the above being said, i try to keep things like that to a minimum and make sure that i have a huge, obvious award for when you get it right. i HATE courses where you're never sure if the change in line you just made is actually faster.

going back to the good drivers only see 90% of the cones on course, keeping the number of cones to the bare minimum is good practice. it accomplishes several things. one, you have fewer "am i still on course?" moments because the course is easy to pick out even after you've done something stupid and had to focus on getting the car straight (or finding 3rd gear in a reynard formula ford). also, the good drivers have fewer cones number wise to ignore. this makes it easier for them to find the ones they want to find and easier for the novice drivers to learn that the majority of the cones don't matter. another thing is that, like others have pointed out, there can sometimes be a line that is counter-intuitive and faster for someone in one class that isn't there in another. if you "road course" the course, everyone ends up driving a very similar line and it now becomes purely a contest of who can drive the closest to the hard to pick out and difficult to find important cones while not hitting the just as equally close unnecessary cones. finally, setup and tear down times are shorter.

some of the best courses i've designed came about due to a lack of cones. the trick to setting up a course with minimal cones is to make sure the next gate, element, or indicator cone are within line of site of the driver as he looks out the front windscreen. hundreds of pointer cones, thousands of gates, or a combination of the two generally confuse matters much more then they help.

you can do too much with a course design too. sometimes, less is more. my worse course design had just too much going on. on my final course walk i look at what i've layed out and ask myself if i can do the same thing with 2 fewer gates, one less slalom cone, completely removing an element, or any combination of that. at some point though i just tell myself i'm done. what is there is what we get, for bad or for worse.

if you find yourself trying to "trick" drivers, step away from designing courses for a bit. your motivations are likely wrong. making a driver think is different then tricking them.

multiple tight elements in a row are a good way to make enemies quickly. a tight corner is not a problem, and i'll even disagree with keith and say a 1st gear corner is ok too. using the brake pedal is part of driving. more then one corner that requires 1st gear for the majority of the cars though is just painful.

none of the above probably matters. every course is different and i think the list of things to stay away from are more important then the list of things that every course must have. i will agree though, a good romp on the loud pedal at the finish makes an otherwise mediocre course pretty damn good.

nate
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Old 11-09-2005, 07:56 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kwh29
There's no rule that says that the course has to start and stop in the same place as usual.
--Kevin H.
To reinforce that point, there is actually a rule about the courses being different so that driver's don't become used to the course and gain an advantage.
(No, I'm not going to quote the book, but it's towards the front.)

I third the open finish. I would rather have a shorter course than a super tight finish. There is nothing more heartbreaking that losing because of cone(s) after the lights.
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Old 11-09-2005, 08:10 PM   #17
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I can't define a good course...but I know one when I drive it.
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Old 11-09-2005, 08:34 PM   #18
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The only concern I have on the above course is those two big sweepers in the same direction can cause uneven tire wear.
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Old 11-09-2005, 09:20 PM   #19
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After driving and designing a number of courses, slaloms should be straight. Curved slaloms don't usually work that well as there is no perceived tempo. There are lots of things you can do with slaloms to make them interesting and lots of things you can do to turn a course I don't feel the two should meet. Slalom spacing less than 32' is not good either.
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Old 11-09-2005, 09:38 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PKer
The only concern I have on the above course is those two big sweepers in the same direction can cause uneven tire wear.
rotate your tires. i mean really, it's autocross. you aren't out there trying to win a mileage contest with your tires. no matter what course you're on you will have 360* more turning one direction or another. at least those sweepers have the driver on the inside of the turn. further, each corner of your car wears tires out at a different rate. on my civic, right side tires ALWAYS wear faster then left side tires. right front is the light front tire and experiences more wheelspin off corners. right rear is the light rear tire and experiences more lockup then the other side.

nate
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Old 11-09-2005, 09:43 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vintagemilano
After driving and designing a number of courses, slaloms should be straight. Curved slaloms don't usually work that well as there is no perceived tempo. There are lots of things you can do with slaloms to make them interesting and lots of things you can do to turn a course I don't feel the two should meet. Slalom spacing less than 32' is not good either.
+1234

the year end overall championship event last year in my region had these bending/curved slaloms. sucked big time.

i'd add that the course should have a good blend of different elements. offsets, sweepers, and slaloms. that same course i mentioned above had 3 slaloms of 6 cones or more and an easy 70% of the course was slalom type elements.

a series of tight elements to slow cars down never works either. for example, a 48', 8 cone slalom gets the speed down for a long distance, but cars with soft p/s systems (se-r), or no power steering and/or a slow steering ratio will hate it. they'll also be in a less safe situation since the driver is pushing just as hard but now has the wheel all crossed up.

nate
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Old 11-09-2005, 10:26 PM   #22
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Oh yeah. The region I was in (Not an SCCA member any more. Nothing there for me after they dropped rally and I stopped going to natl events.) has one guy who is a great guy in every respect but one: He insists on "slowing cars down" before things he deems to be dangerous. He does this with painfully tight ugly things like 120-degree pin cones and 30' offset the hard way slaloms. It sucks mightily and doesn't help keep cars in control when going by the dangerous stuff. It's actually worse because the less aware drivers are all crossed up trying to make speed where there is none. Better to be going straight by dangerous things even if you're going fast.

--Kevin H.
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Old 11-10-2005, 12:37 AM   #23
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Designing courses has become one of my favorite AX activities. I find it to be a very interesting and challenging but difficult ... to get just right. And in fact I doubt anyone every gets it just right.

We are lucky that we usually have a practice on Saturday. The course designer designs the course for our Sunday race ... we set it up with Sunday in mind ... but run it backwards on Saturday ... making the necessary changes to the start/finish. Since Saturday is "just" a practice ... if necesssary we will change the course to make it "better." Better could mean opening up slaloms, changing off-sets, pulling back apex cones ... but if necessary also eliminating features. This fine tuning usually makes for a better course on Sunday. After running on Sat. the course designer and his helpers will walk the course and make the changes for Sundays race.

I've come up with the things that I like to keep in mind when designing courses.

1.) Start should contain a fairly tight corner so that the big horse power cars don't have the benefit of a drag race start.
2.) Course should be AT LEAST 8 paces wide ... so that drivers have to make decisions on where to place themselves.
3.) Slalom cones should be AT LEAST 18 paces apart, preferrable 20+
... or have an off-set so that they aren't painfully tight.
4.) Outside perimeters of corners should not take away options as to how the corner can be driven. At the last event we had a corner with NO outside cone ... worked great.
5.) Try to use fewer cones. Always walk the course after setting it up and try to remove unnecessary cones. Always leave some back-up cones in the middle of the corner for the course workers to use as replacements for cones that get dragged away.

When you walk your course for the first time ... look for areas that can possibly confuse drivers. We tend to have a lot of Newbies ... so out of necessaity, we will provide pointer cones and pointer cone walls to direct traffic.

The space between cones, coming up to a corner ... should be narrower then the course itself. Otherwise it can be confusing as to what is course and what are just openings in a line of cones.

San Diego does not allow outlining the course. That is only done at National events there. Our Los Angeles courses tend to be outlined with chalk, diachromatious earth or flour, using a sports field chalk dispenser. In our opinion ... AX is not Orientering.

We also try to sweep away debri, sand, gravel, etc. from corners. We use a back carried blower and brooms and shovels.
6.) Always try to allow a full throttle finish ... with plenty of run-off and slow down space.
7.) We like to have the Start Line at least 15' in front of the timing people/motorhome ... so that the timing people can easily see the next three cars in line.
8.) Gimmicks usually don't work. Instead of a 360 Skid pad ... "cut" it in two and make two connected 180's ... much more fun ... and it evens out the brutal tire wear that a skid pad typically produces. Instead of a tight 1 cone Pin Corner ... I will have one cone ... but a very wide perimeter and entry/exit to allow different lines ... I'll have the next element situated so that you don't necessarily want to take it as a hairpin.
9.) One way to lay out a course is to have the designer driver a vehicle with his map ... while a long piece of drywall is dragged out of the back of the car or pick-up. We then have the trailer with the cones pulled along the chalk line ... while two people toss out cones. The course designer and his helper(s) follow, setting up the cones and laying out the elements. One has to be careful to follow the course design and not make the too tight corners that a car can easily make while driving slowly! We actually do this with a motorhome ... which can't easily make tight slow corners!

Designing and Setting Up courses is one of the best ways to Learn a course ... obviously. So I often volunteer to help with course set-up.

By having numerous sub clubs responsible for hosting our AX's ... each usually with their own course designers ... we get a lot of variety ... with courses that sometimes favor particular types of cars. It all evens out in the end though. The last course was designed by a club with lots of high horse power pony cars. They had a fast start and mainly steady state corners; barely any transitional elements. Just so happens that that type of course favored our Suby's, besides the Vettes, Camaros and Mustangs. The Hondas and BMW's were at a slight disadvantage. Ususally there are lots of slaloms, lane changes and Chicago boxes to help those cars.

This design of mine was popular. Note the Split Skid Pad ... two big linked 180's. On Saturday we had a lot of Suby Newbies so we kept the course slower. For Sunday we made the course 10 seconds faster by pulling back Apex cones and removing slalom cones. That variation was much more flowing and fun for the experienced Sunday crowd.

Lot 12, CA Speedway. After the Start corner you go Up Hill ... the corner after the Chicago Box is fairly steeply Down Hill.

Also note the Option at the Start ... you could go either Left or Right ... longer faster, or slower tighter. Most people went Left ... I thought Right worked equally well.





A few photos from this event: http://public.fotki.com/makofoto/sol...m_blew_subaru/

Last edited by makofoto; 11-10-2005 at 12:55 AM.
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Old 11-10-2005, 08:33 AM   #24
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Excellent description! Thanks for the visuals too!
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Old 11-10-2005, 10:35 AM   #25
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2 things make an autox course for me:

1. Fast (optional entry) slaloms
2. Open, decreasing radius corners (makes the driver have the upper hand)
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