LapMeta Drivers Spotlight: Benjamin Qian
We all have one thing in common. We’re drivers. But we all have unique stories about our experiences in motorsports and our upbringing in the track community. We thought we’d start sharing more about the people that make up the LapMeta community. “Drivers Spotlight” will be a column dedicated to sharing insights into people’s cars, mods, experiences, and personalities - with the hope of further inspiring our community to learn and connect with each other.
Meet Benjamin Qian, a California resident who currently owns and tracks a 2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4, manual 6-speed.
Benjamin found his passion for motorsports at the beginning of adulthood. “I only got into motorsports when I attended college. Growing up in China, my parents were conservative and saw motorsports as a dangerous sport. The closest and only exposure I had was attending the F1 Shanghai GP a few times when I was a kid. However, I had always felt a special connection with motorsports, the speed and the mechanical sound of a race car always get my blood flowing and adrenaline pumping. So when I finally got the chance to be free of my parents' control, I fully submerged myself into motorsports. It started from attending a racing school in summer, and just took off from there. From karting, simracing, trackdays, to actually racing in ROK Sonoma Karting Championship, doing Lemons races, attending time attack events... you name it, I've done it all. It's hard to get as much seat time as I would like to being a 24 year old without any family backing, but with my job as a ML engineer in an EV manufacturer (yes I work on cars too, it just never gets tiring!) and with some timely investments, I was able to try out many cars and opportunities I encountered in the few years of my involvement in motorsports.”
He took delivery of his 2022 718 GT4 at the end of 2021, but his quest to select a track car that was ideal for him didn’t come easy. “I spent 2 years trying to figure out the best platform that suits me. FR, MR, RR, I tried it all. I was finally able to find my peace in a 986 Spec Boxster, and after ~one year and 12 track days with my coach, I'm confident to say I'm fluent in driving a MR momentum car. That's how I ended up in a GT4, as it's probably one of, if not the best driver-oriented MR platforms out there, especially with its 6 speed.”
He’s now completed nine track days without issue. He’s kept it mostly stock with no current engine or aero modifications. He’s instead focused on improving the handling of the car by upgrading to a 265 size tire upfront to alleviate the chassis’s tendency to understeer. Stiffer Swift springs have been installed along with a track focused set up and alignment. Benjamin installed a Kline Inconel cat-back exhaust on his GT4 to make it sound even better.
Photo Credit: Ke Wu - June Studio
When asked what mod is the most important to shaving lap time, Benjamin leaned towards something you can’t bolt on. “I think the driver mod is always the best mod to go fast. Other than that, the most significant mod for the car has to be a good suspension set up, meaning a good alignment with the proper camber, toe, and most importantly, caster. I've seen and experienced many ways to adjust the camber on this platform, but most of them affect the caster, and introduce more instability under braking, etc., which does more harm than good to the handling of the vehicle.”.
With regards to his focus on improving as a driver, Benjamin credits his driver coach, data analysis, and sim racing for his quick learning curve having only been involved with motorsports for a few years. “I was lucky to have had a pro driver (S/O to Paul Whiting) as my coach early in my endeavors, and through him I was introduced to the world of motorsports data analysis. Since working with data is my job, this tool felt like my second nature. I was able to find seconds and hugely improve my driving by looking at reference laps onboards, and especially the input data. However, I sometimes found it challenging to translate data into action - it's still hard to overcome fear or stay consistent on the inputs during the tricky sectors on track even though your brain understands what's right vs wrong. Luckily I've overcome this challenge through sim racing. I've had a great time racing various cars from MX-5 Cup to LMP2, even LMP1 cars in iRacing. Simracing has really made me a far more consistent driver than I could've ever imagined. I also was able to learn a ton of racecraft from it, which benefited me greatly in my real-life races.”
When asked about what he loves about the track / racing community he said, “being at the track is one of my favorite things because I love exploring the limits of not only the car, but also myself, both mentally and physically. I love the feeling when I was able to constantly improve my driving throughout a day or a weekend, knowing I've just unlocked more potential of the car and myself. I truly enjoy the mindset I have on track and I apply it in other aspects of my life to continuously improve and become a better human being (Mamba Mentality). Also, the track community is also one of my favorites. It's separated from the regular car community in a good way. Everyone is here to have fun and learn and improve their driving and truly enjoy what their cars are capable of, while being as helpful and inclusive as possible. Sometimes it's hard to find such a positive, unanimous mindset/vibe elsewhere.”
And for his favorite track, Laguna Seca. “I've been to quite a few tracks in CA and out of state (Autobahn, Road Atlanta), but Laguna Seca still and I think always will be my favorite. One of the major reasons is that it appears to be underwhelmingly easy, with many long straights and high speed corners. However, to truly master it, you will soon realize how difficult some of the corners are to get right(e.g., T2, T3, T5, T6, T8, T9, just to name a few...). Like Ross Bentley said, it's actually one of the most difficult tracks to drive in the entire NA (also due to its low friction surface). Another reason has to be its rich racing history. It's one of the few tracks that have held all sorts of races on all levels, and to be able to drive at such a legendary track with such convenience (it's my home track) is just a privilege that I'm always grateful for. I just love everything about it, the name, the scenery, the history, the challenges.”
Benjamin is aiming to find himself on the grid for some professional races in his long term future, but for the time being he will look to continue honing his craft in his GT4. “My goal is to continue developing both the car and the driver, and set some fast times, and break some records (just set the fastest lap time in a GT4 on 200tw tires at Laguna and Sonoma) around the tracks in California while I continue to build my professional career. My eventual goal is to compete in more racing serieses, from WRL, Yokohama Cup, to Porsche Sprint Challenge, and even more.”
Benjamin embodies the true spirit of what motorsports and track events are all about. Taking a performance sports car and driving it at the limit, which is what it was built to do. He embraces the challenge of improving his skill sets behind the wheel without breaking the bank on excessive mods. He also celebrates the history of the tracks he drives at and embraces the motorsports community at events he visits. We wish Benjamin all the best on his continued future endeavors in motorsports!
Check out his onboard video from his 718 GT4 track record at Laguna Seca on LapMeta here:
We appreciate you returning for the second edition of the LapMeta Blog. Our hope is to help guide you through the process of getting on track for the first time for a high performance driving event.
Moving forward, it’s time to think about what are some good tools and essential things to bring to our first track event. One essential item would be a tire pressure gauge to set your pressures lower than your OEM recommendation for street use. When tire pressure is too high on track the contact patch is largely reduced and the car becomes loose and much more difficult to safely control. Dropping your pressures before going on track is certainly something you want to do.
Some other good things to bring:
- Spare quart of oil
- Torque wrench to verify your lug nuts are tight
- Paper towels or rags to check your oil and keep your windshield clean
- Some duct tape and zip ties are never a bad idea
- Wrench and ratchet set
Most organizations will require your vehicle to have a number so be prepared to have some tape handy to put a number on your door or window. Options to purchase magnetic or adhesive numbers from the event organizer are sometimes available but it’s always a good idea to have some painters tape in your mobile tool box just in case. Brake fluid is another good thing to have handy in the instance you need or want to bleed your brakes in between sessions. If you have your own code scanner, it’s never a bad idea to bring that as well in the instance you trigger a code on track, it gives you the chance to identify what the code may be and whether or not it’s safe to continue driving. The general rule we go by is; “it’s always better to have it then not”. So if you feel you might need it, plan to bring it. Track days don’t always go to plan.
Now that we packed all of our spares, made it through registration and tech inspection, it’s time to get on track! Usually you will start the event with a driver's meeting for your assigned group. Most new drivers will be assigned to the beginners group which oftentimes limits passing to point by only on the straight-aways. Some organizations also require an instructor to ride with you and work with you throughout the day. Be open and vulnerable to accepting suggestions, feedback, and some constructive criticism. Their job is to instruct you to first be safe and then be fast. Listen to their inputs and you will find the process of getting up to speed safely can go much quicker then choosing not to listen to them.
The track day organizers leading the meeting will go over all of the rules, provide suggestions and track specific tips, and of course open it up to questions. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to ask. They are there to help advise and teach you the ins and outs of safely operating your car on track. It’s always a good idea to ask ahead of time rather than make the wrong decision on track and get black flagged during your session which oftentimes requires a talking to with the event organizers.
Once you’re done with the drivers meeting, you’ll have a chance to return to your car to make final preparations and get yourself and your car ready to go on track. If you’re assigned an instructor this is the perfect chance to get their direct insight and don’t be afraid to ask them for help with anything. They are there to assist you as much even if it means helping you figure out the proper seat and hand positioning in the car. Be sure to confirm all loose items in the cockpit and trunk are left in your paddock spot and remember to drop your tire pressures a bit.
As you prepare to get lined up on the grid for your session, be sure to relax. Every person starts somewhere including all of the other drivers in the advanced and intermediate groups who were once in your position doing their first track day.
In our next edition of the LapMeta blog we will focus on what to do once you’re on the track.
We welcome you to the new LapMeta Blog. A place where we will be sharing insights, knowledge, stories, and other nerdy car things to help make your track days more fun.
For our first edition, we thought we’d start from the beginning and help provide some useful information to those car enthusiasts who have been itching to take that next step towards getting on track. After all, what’s the point of having a performance focused sports car if you can’t get it out on track to safely stretch its legs and see what it’s capable of.
The world of track days and high performance driving events to a new driver can be a little overwhelming. With so many track day hosting organizations trying to decide which one best fits your style, your budget, and your experience can be daunting for someone not involved in the sport. Doing your research and asking questions is the best way to get started. Review your local track’s calendar, research each organization's structure and program, and then reach out to them with a phone call or email. Introduce yourself and let them know you’re new to the track day community and want to know the process of getting on track. Every organization is always willing to help. Explore and compare the options and make a decision on which group is best for you and your budget as well as your experience.
After getting signed up and registered it’s time to prepare to head to the track. Oftentimes most organizations will have a tech inspection process. Some organizations make you have your car inspected by a certified shop or professional ahead of time. Others will do an at the track inspection with a direct club representative that will review your vehicle in person with you and some will have a self inspection process of your vehicle. It’s essential to take a look at the inspection process and tech sheet ahead of time and thoroughly review everything that is necessary for you and your car to hit the track. Nothing is worse than getting all the way to the track and finding out your car isn’t compliant. Keep in mind you’ll need a Snell SA rated helmet that meets the current rating requirement which is currently SA2015 or higher. If you don’t have one entry level full snell rated helmets are available for around $200, sometimes less. It’s also a good idea to have some driving gloves to prevent blistering.
Generally, track day organizations require:
-Adequate tread on tires
-Functioning brake lights
-Adequate depth on brake pads
-No loose items roaming about the cabin
-All fluids topped off with no current leaks
-Recent brake fluid flush
Of course every organization has different requirements and regulations so be sure to review everything ahead of time so when you arrive at the track you can focus on the driving, instead of being at your local auto parts store trying to source some new brake pads.
In our next edition we will discuss some essential spares and tools to bring with you. It’s always best to be prepared! Check back soon on the LapMeta Blog to read on.