Tuesday, July 3, 2018

New Heights, and New DIY

Once again, I've been slacking on the blogging, but as you will see on the standings page, the season has been progressing, and I've got a co-driver who's giving me some solid competition. The first few events were Freezing, Soaked and Soaked, so I pretty much lacked anything inspiring to blog about anyway. I went to the new Jersy Pro Solo, and had not really found my stride after missing most of 2017 in my car and getting almost nothing but rain events in the early season. I just wasn't getting slip angle like I should, and I was quite dirty, hitting cones or red-lighting on many of my runs as well. As will happen at the national level, if you aren't in top form you're at the bottom of the standings...

Some how I didn't feel eager to write about that either...

However, the weather improved, and satisfactory driving has finally come to pass. I've now managed to regain my prior level of driving from 2016, and in event #5, I finally found a new high point. One of the tough things about evaluating one's performance in autocross is that all measures are relative and the reference point is constantly in motion. To make a sane evaluation one has to make some assumptions. My first assumption is that the top drivers in our region are not getting slower. Given our region's consistent 6-7 national champions the last 3 years this seems reasonable.

While I'm comfortable saying that the top of the heap is still at a high altitude, there are some other things that clearly have changed. Firstly our region has had a buble of talented drivers mature in the last 2 years. I'd not want to argue that any of them have really pushed the top of the pax standings up yet in the way that Billy Davis did in 2015 and 2017, but they have definitely crowded the top. In 2016 I had 3 events where I was 1.5s off top pax, which resulted in 15th, 10th and 15th in overall pax. This year at the last 2 events, 1.5s from top pax is worth 20th and 19th... So making the top 10 or top 20 is significantly harder than it was 2 years ago.

Secondly, pax for the SSM class has been hit harder than any others besides AM, BM and CSP. BM/CSP and SSM are all almost a full percentage point harder than 2016 relative to the other classes. This translates into about .44 seconds tougher pax on a 60 second (raw) course. I've made a spread sheet here that shows that while all pax factors (other than AM) went down, the average pax factor went down much slower for SSM. This probably has something to do with the last 3 champions Thorne, Glagola and Wilcox all hanging out in the top of pax at far too many national events...

With that in mind, the 20th in pax result that had me 1.5 seconds off of top pax in event 5 Looks a lot like what used to get a top 10 in 2016. And my 2.3 seconds off of top pax in event 6 looks a lot like a top 20 in 2016 even though it now shows as 30th. Kudos to my co-driver Daryl, who kept the car in the top 20 at event 6 with his 19th in pax. For 2 events running my car has been 2nd fastest car with doors. Here's a video of my 2nd fastest run from event 5, which is probably faster everywhere except the start where I forget to shift like an idiot... Sadly I didn't remember to turn on the camera for the fastest run.

Additionally, I've also done some more maintenance/improvement on the car. Another factor in my bad results at the New Jersey Pro solo was epic levels of wheel hop on my launches on day 2 when the rubber was creating a lot more traction. A lot of exhaust bounce had also been noted at Devens, and the result was too much for my front motor mount to take.

The alignment was checked and it was almost 6mm toe in, probably due to bushing migration. Soft bushings, lots of toe-in and enormous race tires are a recipe for massive wheel hop. There was only one conclusion, tired old plastic/rubber A-arm bushings had to go. I replaced them with Monoball metal/teflon spherical bearings from Inokinetic. Since this seemed like an interesting job, I also made a DIY video for it:

The results? FABULOUS. Both me and my co-driver Daryl noticed improvement in the predictability of the back end when rotating it around a corner, and improvement in braking. The first was expected and the second was a nice surprise. My rear suspension had probably become so floppy that the ABS probably triggered earlier. I also suspect this slop negated all rear braking once it triggered by wagging the A-arms back and forth with the ABS pulses. The start for this course did not lend itself to hard launches, and due to the late date of it's discovery I had to continue with the above mount after Ryan welded the split for me. Next event we will be doing full launches if the course allows it and then I expect to find that the wheel hop has also improved.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Transmission Oil

Transmission oil is easy to forget about. This winter I realized that I probably had let mine go a little longer than I should have. It probably should be changed at least once a season on a car like mine. My car sees 20 autocross races a year at an average of 8 runs per event and almost a mile per run.

That's not an official service interval of course. There are no "official" numbers for racing since everything "depends" on the duration, level and type of racing. On a race car, nearly every bit of maintenance needs to be done a LOT more often than with street driving. So for another example I change my oil about once every 6 auto crosses, which works out to about 3-4 times a year, or in terms of mileage, about once every 40-50 miles of racing... Similar to changing it after every 1-2 track days.

Fluids are cheap the parts they lubricate are expensive! Buy good fluids often, because that's much better than buying cam shafts, engines or transmissions! Also,  you never miss a race because you had to do an oil change... failed parts however frequently cause missed or aborted racing.

For something new this year, I decided to try my hand at vlogging and produced a video that might be helpful for those who want to avoid a trip to the mechanic, save some money and change their own transmission oil.

This is not a difficult job, but of course I am not a trained mechanic, and you should use your own caution and do your own research before attempting any of this on your car (especially if it's not a lotus!) If you see something I could do better, leave a comment on this page or on the video.

Some additional commentary and advice here: http://www.lotustalk.com/forums/f25/transmission-oil-change-445914/

Monday, December 25, 2017

Return of the SoLoti

So yeah I got tired of blogging about how my car wasn't working... probably you got tired of hearing about it. Then when I finally got it working in September I spent all available weekend time driving it rather than blogging about it. I had a little bit of pent up racing to let out! Then I took on a new client and have had 1.25 people's worth of work to do...

So what's the story? Well, After waiting forever and then some for a valve tool to arrive at the shop that did the install of the head that was supposed to make it easier for him to check on the valve seals, I lost patience and took the car to MC racing, and they hooked up a compression tester and a leak tester, and whoosh... air in one piston and out the other... Clearly the head gasket was not sealing properly. Perfect proof that it is so very good that Nick my tuner at Ace Performance refused to tune with the car as I delivered it the first time. Kudos to them!

With this new information I contacted the original shop and they started pointing out that I supplied the head gasket etc... basically preparing excuses to not make it right. That sucked but there is of course enough gray area for them to avoid the work if they so chose. Fighting over it was clearly not a productive route to go, so I took it back to MC racing and for 2/3 the cost of the previous shop they took it apart, machined it, provided a head gasket and re-assembled it in working order. There's still a slight bit of smokiness, but nothing like before, and unlike before, when things warm up the smoke goes away. I suspect some things are not quite perfect due to the previous install, but now it's close enough that the thermal expansion completes the seal as the engine warms up. I'll be analyzing oil and keeping an eye on it going forward. If I ever go to high compression pistons, it won't be on this block/head combo.

Speaking of oil, I've moved to red-line 40wt race oil now that the car is a full time trailer queen and never does more than idle around before it's fully warm. In theory this allows a slight hp gain and better flow when warm, at the cost of a little more flow resistance (and thus wear) during startup. It's also the case that with a trailer queen, it is a lot harder to just bop on over to get an oil change, so I'll be moving to changing my own oil and brake fluid. To make that easier, and to help combat the flow resistance at low temp, I went to a Canton Racing  spin on oil filter which gives me about 3 times as much flow as the stock filter and 8 micron filtration.

I know what you are probably thinking... the man dumps umpteen zillion dollars into head work, ecu and tuning and he's blogging about his oil filter?? Point taken...  I'll get to the good stuff now.

So with it back together and (mostly) not smoking, tuning was possible, and the results are very pleasing indeed!

I never had a chance to get a baseline, so the above plot shows the results vs a stock plot I grabbed from the web and scaled to match. These numbers are a couple HP better than any other normally aspirated plot/numbers I've been able to find for cars running stock compression. And these are with the super trap on! Based on a single test run, there's perhaps another 2 hp in it if the super trap is removed. I only have good things to say about Nick's tuning, and Baer who runs Ace Performance was straightforward and easy to work with. I'm very happy to be promoting them on my wing plates!

The Emtron Ecu installed by Ace Performance has all kinds of super nifty logging and capability. No end of parameters to ponder! Below you can see the data, possibly even from the above photo. The slalom in the photo would correspond to somewhere around the 6000 second mark below, but I cant' be sure if it's exactly that run or not.

And I also got a beta version of CAN bus support for the stock dash, which so far seems to work great! Nick/Ace/Emtron will be coming out with new info on their products soon and when I'm allowed to share some stuff I've seen previews of, I'll post it here. Until then, we'll all just have to visit the garage, glance out the window at the snow and sigh... And comb through data logs :)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Devens Tour 2017

With the ongoing saga of my engine upgrades, I am in Nick's STR car again (Thanks Nick!), but this time we're on Justin's 5 year old Hoosier A6 tires (Thanks Justin!). Day 1 was cool and cloudy, but generally dry. The weather just barely misted a little bit on us for the last run. Sadly Panda being driven by Todd and Stephanie was not working well, and had one less piston by the end of the day. Also, though a couple tenths faster, on his best run, Nick was dirty. I managed to take advantage with what I consider my best run in his car thus far (still some spots to improve of course), and I leapt out to a 1.8 second lead going into the second day.

As is typical for cool mornings on prehistoric Hoosiers, my first run of the day was a mess, but helped me sort out what to do where. The sun came out, things began to warm up, and I dropped a second on my next run, with clear room for improvement. I was too deep on every major corner, too slow in slalom 2, and got the car out of sorts at the start of the taxiway, making that entirely too sloppy.  Unfortunately, I seem to have nicked a cone, probably at the box on the taxiway.

The raw time on run two would have been plenty good to nail down the third place trophy. With warmer tires and so many easily fixable mistakes on that time, I felt quite confident that I'd have no problem fixing things up on my third run.

But this is racing, nothing is a sure thing. Yesterday Stephanie's car blew up on her, on Sunday she had a nice 59.1 run to jump into 3rd by 0.33 sec. Still easy for me to beat given my day 1 lead, warmer tires and a previous raw time 0.7s faster than I needed. None the less, the pressure was on... Here's the video of my final run. I think it speaks for itself...

And of course if I had had my actual SSM car...