Angry Hamster EVO II: Holy Crap, I drove it! (and now I’m deaf)

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And that brings us right back around to my second stint in the now reasonably durable Angry Hamster. With the shock of the first drive wearing off, I'm able to make two critical adjustments to my second-stint strategy: better earplugs, and left-foot braking. 

I don't normally left-foot brake on road courses (my left foot only comes out for gravel), so the 3/64 of my brain that wasn't completely numbed by noise on that first stint was too preoccupied with not breaking the car to even realize it was begging for a little left-foot action. With a left foot on the brakes, suddenly the soft pedal didn't screw up my ability to blip the throttle for downshifts, and this changed everything.

Corner exit speed is what makes a fast lap, and consistently being in the right gear exiting corners started a chain reaction of speed. Turns 14 and 15, a hard-braking double right turn at the end of the back straight, were most dramatic. Right-foot braking, I'd fumble through the braking zone trying to go down 3 or 4 gears without breaking anything, coast through 14 trying to figure out what gear I was in, finally give up and just drive through 15 a gear or two too high, and then try to drag race the rest of the shitheaps down the front straight.

24 Hours of LeMons Angry Hamster Honda Z600 CBR1000

Left-foot braking, I can suddenly stand the car on its nose while simultaneously banging off clean downshifts. A little trail braking into 14 makes the surprisingly stable little go-cart rotate, letting me stand on the power and pass an unsuspecting driver or two before throwing it into 15. The extra speed carried onto the straight is magnified by the extra revs my better earplugs allow. Fearlessly shifting at 13,000 instead of 11, I can suddely keep the engine constantly above 10 grand, where it makes almost as much power as it does noise. 

By the end of the front straight, the little bathtub is doing some kind of triple digit velocity and vibrating like a 3-legged washing machine. Maybe the driveshaft thing isn't completely solved… 

Turn 1 takes me a while to figure out. It's a fast turn in any car, but being at the end of a long straight, its always a game of courage to resist over-braking. That goes triple for a car with this much aero. Yes, I said aero. Make no mistake, that giant wing (hewn from soild redwood) and splitter are not for show. This is the first car I've ever really driven where the aero really transformed the car. You always hear open-wheel guys talk about how you have to learn to trust the wings and just dive into corners faster than you know you should. Going faster makes more grip, and all that noise, right? Well, it's true. 

24 Hours of LeMons Angry Hamster Honda Z600 CBR1000

Given a clear shot at the turn, (which you never have at a LeMons race) you can almost go into turn 1 flat. Almost. You still have to lift a bit to get the front tires to bite at turn-in, but after that it's hammer down all the way through the turn. Wings are amazing!
 
With this short wheelbase, you'd expect the Hamster to be darty and unstable, but the handling is surprisingly benign. It actually understeers pretty hard at the limit, but the left-foot braking solves that problem too. Just like in the gravel, little left-foot weight transfer games make the car rotate at will. The car's only suspension vices, really, are a lack of steering feedback and front grip that would both be helped by a few degrees more caster, and a tendency to top out the rear shocks, making the car hop over bumpy sections and spin its unweighted tire coming out of corners. Jeep LSD my ass.

Oh, and then there's the whole trying-to-fall-over thing. Turn 5, “the Cyclone,” is like a miniature corkscrew. Pop up a hill, hard left, drop down a hill. There's a steep curb on the apex, and since the car is light at the top of the hill, hitting the curb will send most cars way up on two wheels. The Hamster was on 2 wheels every single lap. I didn't really think I was hitting the curb, but the Hamster does have pretty wide flares, so maybe the tire was farther away than I thought. Then the car went up on two wheels while I was passing a car. The other car was on the curb. Wait a minute…

2-wheeling turn 5 is so common, it really didn't stand out as all that unusual until the Turn 5 corner workers came to our pits after the race babbling about our Joie Chitwood antics. A few races later, at Sears Point, someone caught this video of Neel Vasaveda finally getting his chance to drive and ending up crapping his Nomex.

No hill to help that roll, just a tiny little curb and a weird car. Turns out making your car 6 inches narrower than an already narrow first-gen RX-7 can make it a little tippy. Maybe it's the motorcycle heritage.

   

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