Grid Life Watkins Glen Recap

I attended my first Grid Life event this weekend at Watkins Glen International. It was probably the best motorsports event I’ve ever attended. T.J. Lathrop has a blog called the RISING EDGE, and did a great job describing what’s different and better about about Grid Life, so go read that for the overview.

I can sum up my feelings about Grid Life with this: It’s what I’m doing in the future. Here are some additional random thoughts I had on the weekend.

HPDE coaching

Most of the festival events were held Friday on Saturday, with Sunday reserved mostly for HPDE. I pestered the Grid Life staff enough that they allowed me to be an HPDE instructor at this event, and it was a different experience. There’s no in-car instruction for novices. Yes, you read that correctly. Instead, the instructors are assigned three students (ish) and we coach them actively between sessions.

The coaches are assigned different areas on the track, and we keenly observe and report over radios what’s happening. We then get our flock together and go over the finer points.

And that probably works really well for some students. For some students who need someone in the car with them, this may not work out as well. But I will say that the novice group was very well behaved on track, and I don’t think this is any worse than any other kind of novice instruction, it’s just different.

I definitely talked more to my students than I normally would. The conversations starts well before the event, so we get to know our students and most importantly, make sure their cars are track-ready.

In fact one of my students came over to my race barn and I got to pre-tech his Miata. I also showed him some hardtops and wings I’ve built, because in this strange world of coincidences, Lucien is a reader of this blog, and is one of a few who have bought me a coffee! I’m going to do him one better and eat at his family restaurant, Le Garmin Cafe, when I go to Lime Rock later this year. Lucien, it was great to meet you, come back later and let’s aero your Miata!


I’ll admit it: I spent too much of the event admiring or criticizing other people’s aero. Mostly criticizing.

But let’s start with the admiration. There were three pro-level time attack cars in the Toyo tent, and they were doing things I’ve only thought about.

Splitter cross section is an airfoil shape.

Such as using a wing-like profile for the shape of the splitter. And also, instead of using splitter diffusers, kicking the entire rear edge of the diffuser.

No need for splitter diffusers, the entire rear edge kicks up.

There was a lot of other cool shit, but I didn’t take enough pictures, and some of that stuff should remain a secret anyway. Now I’ll get on with being critical about other people’s aero.

TCR wing

I’m like the kid who says the emperor has no clothes. I’m a nobody; I have nothing to lose by telling it like it is. So I’ll just say it: the TCR wing looks like a piece of shit.

After some research, I found that this is the BE 183-176 airfoil, which is designed specifically for motorsports. To my eye, it’s got way too much camber. Just looking at how much it kicks in the rear I’m like, how does air stay attached to the bottom?

My buddy Josh Herbert was looking at the underside and pointed out that the rain had left water stains that was just like flow-vis paint. And sure enough, we could see that the air was clearly separating at the rear third of the wing!

Aside from the amount of camber it has, it’s also very thick. Airfoils generally gain downforce with thickness, and at around 12% that trend reverses. The TCR wing is 18% thick (as related to the chord of the wing), and you can see that thickness especially when viewing the wing head on. One driver complained of excessive drag when mounting the wing higher than spec, and I can see why – it’s a fucking brick.

Given the number of really good wings out there, I wouldn’t buy a TCR wing unless I was racing TCR. Full stop.

Build one yourself.

But some people have no choice. The TCR wing is a homologated part; every TCR car must use it. One of the stipulations is that the wings must be mounted such that no part of the wing, and that includes the wing mounts and endplates, can be higher than the roof. This means the wing itself is underneath the roofline, and that doesn’t help a wing perform well, especially since most of the cars are hatchbacks.

But it got me to thinking: this could be the reason the TCR wing is shaped the way it is, because of how low it must be mounted (per the rules). As such, perhaps it behaves mostly as a spoiler, meaning the pressure side of the wing (the top) is doing the work?

Now this kind of makes sense for the underside as well. Because the only way air is going to stay attached to that kind of bottom curvature is if the air is being accelerated into it. This is what happens when you run a second element wing, the top element is at an extreme angle, and air stays attached via acceleration through a convergent gap. Perhaps by mounting the wing below the roofline, the roof is itself acting as the main element (bottom) wing in a makeshift dual-element wing setup?

Possibly. This is all conjecture, since I don’t have a TCR wing to play with. I’ll try and get one and test it just for the science of it. I have the coordinates and could make one, but apparently they aren’t that expensive, and are manufactured and distributed by Volkswagen. Leave it to the people that fucked our asses with diesel-gate to bugger a racing series with a wing that stinks of shit.

S2000 hardtop

The Honda S2000 is a popular car in both GLTC and Club TR. In the past I haven’t paid much attention to the not-Miata, but there were more of them than actual Miatas at Grid Life.

I believe that every S2000 I saw had a hard top. Some had a replica OEM hardtop, but most were Seibon or maybe Mugen, I can’t tell the difference.

Most S2Ks had a hardtop sorta like this.

I did put an angle meter on the rear window and found it was 30 degrees. This is something I’ve written about before, that the absolute worst angle for the rear window (the backlight angle) is 30 degrees. Drag, turbulence, and separation, oh my!

Obviously a fastback would be a lot better, but I didn’t see anyone doing this. On my Miata, my DIY fastback was 15% less drag, and also helped my wing make 30% more downforce. You’d think with the high-dollar builds and level of effort in these cars that someone would figure out a fastback. But no.

I need a S2000 in my garage for a couple weeks so I can fab one. Get in touch with me if you want one, it’s one of those “for science” projects I’d like to do one day.


Grid Life Touring Cup made some minor changes to the aero rules for 2023. Splitter length is the same 3″ as before, and they still don’t allow splitter diffusers, or winglets, scoops, ducts, etc. on the blade. Splitters are now measured from the innermost vertical part of the front fascia, which has made some of them even shorter.

With these limitations, splitters aren’t going to make a lot of downforce. There are obvious and less obvious ways to work around that, but I didn’t see many people exploiting hardly any gains. In fact, I saw a lot of people running an airdam without a splitter.

This is a curious pacakge, because most of these airdam-only cars also use a rear wing. It makes for a rear-biased aero solution (gaining more rear downforce than front), which is something I don’t mind, but most people seem to hate understeer and prefer a balanced aero package.

On my own car, I measured a 3.5″ splitter extension at 38 points of front downforce (-0.38 Cl) and 1 point of drag reduction (-.01 Cd). Mathematically, I still believe a 3″ splitter is worth the 3% penalty to lbs/hp. And I’d do some clever shit I didn’t see anyone else doing and make that 3% work like compound interest.

The 2023 rules also added an in-between rear wing to the two existing sizes:

  • Free – Any rear wing or spoiler under 250 square inches is free. You can conveniently buy a 135cm aluminum wing on eBay for about $60 that is 249.8 square inches or DIY yourself a spoiler. Both of these will be superior to no rear aero, and why not, it’s free.
  • 1% – Any wing between 250 and 500 square inches incurs a 1% penalty to lbs/hp. Many people use a 54” 9 Lives Racing wing, but a 59” APR GTC200 wing also comes in under 500. Personally, I would build a body-width wing and match the chord so that the total was 499 square inches (Miata 64″ x 7.8″).
  • 3% – Any wing over 500 square inches, but less than 701 inches, is legal and incurs a hefty 3% penalty. With the recent 499-wing option, I can see people might not be as interested in the 701-wing, but there’s another stipulation that is you can run a splitter and any wing for 4%. And that’s probably what I would do.

This makes for some interesting choices:

  • An airdam and small 1” spoiler is the combination with the most power and least drag.
  • An airdam and medium wing take a 1% penalty in power, but would have significantly more downforce.
  • An airdam, splitter, and big wing makes the most downforce, but would have a 4% penalty to power.

On my car, which isn’t near the 12.5 lbs/hp ratio power cap, I’d choose the full-aero option. But I could see cars that have to detune or add ballast taking either of the other two options. Which is an acceptable choice, so I can beat them.

That’s all I can remember to talk about, and a wrap on my first Grid Life event. I’m going to continue to pester the organizers to include me in whatever capacity they can use me in, because this is an awesome series and it feels like the future. I’m preparing my Miata for GLTC, and my Veloster for time attack. Yeah, I’m a fucking fanboi now.

2 thoughts on “Grid Life Watkins Glen Recap”

  1. TCR wing “fucking brick”…..bricks worldwide are cringing that you would draw the comparison! It’s hideous.

    I like that tapered splitter trailing edge tho….gets around some sanctioning bodies’ splitter-diffuser rules (?)

    Liked by 1 person

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