Singing in the Rain: Rally Sport Region at Grattan WaterPark, Sep. 13-14, 2008

by Rick Mammel


Last weekend several members of the Rally Sport Region converged on Grattan Raceway in Belding, MI, for the BMWCCA Motor City Chapter Fall Driver’s School. Several of our highly talented instructors were along to help support the event as well.


I can’t say we didn’t know it would rain throughout the weekend. Normally when predicts 40% chance of rain there is a good chance it will be dry. But when it reads 90% one day and 100% the next, you better bring some rain tires (or at least something with visible grooves).


Since I was not too keen on running in the rain all weekend, I planned on getting some dry track time in at the Thursday evening Gingerman Test & Tune before heading to Grattan to get ready for the Friday start of the BMW three-day event. (On a separate note, I highly recommend a Test & Tune evening at Gingerman: sixty bucks for four 25-minute sessions with about 5 cars in each run group. Try to go earlier in the summer—I ran the last session with the headlights on. Loading a car in complete darkness was quite the experience!)


My intent was to run Grattan one more time this year because I felt I botched it up pretty badly at our June event. Friday at Grattan started out wet but with brief (read very brief) pauses in the rain; it continued to pour hard all day. For those of you who are not familiar with Grattan, the track has a lot of elevation changes, which makes it good for driving on, good for watching, and perfect for rain creating small to medium lakes on the low spots of the pavement. We started calling the place Grattan WaterPark!


BMWCCA’s Friday, like the RSP event, was for instructors and advanced students only. There were maybe twenty cars there and the schedule was pretty well non-stop. The sessions were about  25 minutes long,  followed by a brief break to open the gate so cars to enter/exit the track, then right back to running.


I made up my mind that no matter how much of a pig my car (editor's note: Rick drives a rear-wheel drive 498 hp Porsche 993 Turbo) was going to be in the wet I was going to get some good run time in. That “good run time” turned into staying out most of the day: 252 track miles in some major downpours! Many times I was the only car on the track.. Being the only car out there is good value. I’m happy to report no major drama except for a few tank slappers.


As Friday wore on, weekend attendees from our club started showing up and the social side of the track weekend got into high gear. By Friday night there was talk that hurricane damage to the Gulf would be causing gasoline price hikes and shortages at the pumps, so we decided to top the tanks before heading out to dinner. I tagged along with the “Cayman Twins,” Jennifer & Valerie, to the station. Imagine the sight of two gorgeous women fueling up two Midnight Blue Caymans at the pumps. Pickup-driving locals that looked straight out of Deliverance kept looking over until one shouted, “hey, you have the same color cars,” to which I replied, “don’t you recognize them? These are the Cayman Twins. Check out their web site,” I also mentioned something about what they were wearing on the site, but the ladies won’t let me print that part (editor’s note: absolutely not!). I bet those two kids are still trying to figure out how to spell Cayman!


Courtesy of our local instructor and tour guide Chris Williams the evening was spent at a fabulous Asian restaurant in Grand Rapids. For me the highlight of the evening came when Christian Maloof ordered a dirty Martini, cooing “make it really dirty.”  When the waitress repeated “you like really dirty?” back to him in her broken English it was truly a “get the Depends” moment.


But back to the track. Saturday was a regular DE event with different run groups and more rain. After having driven all the miles the day before, rain was a non-issue for me. Chris Price (currently of the Lotus Club) taught the classroom sessions and was able to explain to all us neophytes the proper wet line around the track. It His wisdom must have sunk in because for all the water that was on the track we only had one agricultural excursion requiring a tow over the whole weekend. (To the driver’s credit, he was in a ’73 911 with no ABS/PSM/PASM or anything else!).


…And then more rain. Let’s just say you could have been more dry standing in your shower fully clothed. Both Saturday and Sunday were basically the same track conditions with Sunday starting out almost with the hope of drying out but making up for it in the afternoon with truly torrential downpours. One treat from the Grattan track layout was the medium depth river that was flowing across turn 11 which is the entrance to the front straight. Once you got used to hitting that and having it move you a complete car width over it became quite fun. One of the downers for some people was when they got passed on the front straight, the humiliation came not from being passed by a faster driver, but from the severe showers that came off of cars passing you over some deep puddles. Quite a few laughs were had by instructors and students alike as driving a wet car and getting wet became unavoidable. There were quite a few German cars in search of leather care on Monday morning!



One of the highlights of both track days were three of our favorite instructors: Chris Price in his Lotus Exige S, Chris Williams in his fully race prepped 3 Series BMW and Christian Maloof in a (rented) spec Miata.  Their friendly competitiveness made for plenty of entertainment and awe. They would either enter the track together or find eachother out there and the challenge was on. It was magical to watch them working hard and challenging eachother lap after lap. Even in the 100 hp Miata, Christian gave up nothing to the other two (something there about rain being the great equalizer). All three would hit the “medium depth lakes”, wash out and still manage to keep at the others’ bumper. Williams’ BMW has a loud exhaust and you could hear the motor over-revving as the tires spun up when he hit the puddles and parted the seas on the very fast front straight.  At one point Christian drove Jenn’s Cayman around, and the song of the engine hitting high RPMs made Valerie and I turn our heads and exclaim, “WOW!” We watched Mr. Maloof’s dexterity around the track and when he came into the pits we quizzed him on his top speed: 130 mph!


This episode inspired the Cayman Twins to conspire to have Mr. Maloof and Mr. Williams face off in their equal Cayman Ss. The challenge was presented to the gentlemen after they had enjoyed a beer on Saturday night, but it was decided we could not proceed due to a brake pad inequality. Stay tuned for the ’09 season, when that hurdle will be solved!


As Sunday wore on, a surprising set of visitors arrived at the track: snapping turtles. There was so much water on the surface they were floating across – the poor little guys could not even touch bottom! Apparently Mr. Williams got a turtle down at the braking zone for turn 1 while he and Christian were swapping spots. Dave Seemann (who is the Editor at Large for the BMW newsletter) happened to be his passenger… I bet he will be writing something about that ride in next month’s mag for sure!


Valerie and Jenn were out on the track with their respective run groups. The advanced group was having a hard time coming to grips with the water, but Jenn was flying past with her mid-engine Cayman. Valerie claims her car is still new to her and she was taking her time exploring different lines, but fellow members had to say something when she allowed a Ford to pass her. All in good jest, of course! The Cayman Twins certainly helped uphold the RSR presence there last weekend.


Everyone was soaked to the core but we all had a terrific time. Next time you have a DE on the calendar and it looks like it will be raining, embrace it as an opportunity to really learn how to handle your car in slippery situations. Then step up to running the in the dry faster but with the same level of control. You won’t regret it!


Special thanks to Rick Mammel, Rally Sport Region member and Board candidate, for sharing his blog with us.




L: Rick Mammel and Dave Seemann at Saturday's Driver's Meeting






R: Valerie Roedenbeck and Rick Mammel "park like they own the place" at the HQ hotel.


L: Christian Maloof preps his spec Miata for the day






R: Valerie Roedenbeck prepares to drive through a lake after the Jump

Above: C Williams plows through puddles on Sunday
Rick is the hairiest umbrella girl instructor C Williams has ever had!
Jennifer, Chris, Christian and Rick celebrate 48 hours of rain and fun