Thursday, June 7, 2012

Out of the Arm Chair

In past posts, I've done some of statistical analyses to assess how my car compares with a real nationals SSM car, and how how my I might have placed in the 2010 nationals. The result wasn't pretty, and at that time all I could say is that there was a decent chance that I wouldn't have been last. It did however keep me entertained while my car was sequestered by the snow.

In 2011 I was rather bummed that I couldn't repeat the analysis. The 2011 nationals were not amenable to such analysis because it rained for the SSM runs, and the SSM times bore little or no relationship to the rest of the classes. Our region sent zero SSM drivers to Nationals, so there was no data with which I could generate a comparison.

The SCCA Solo National Tour is coming to Devens, MA in just over a week's time. It's not quite the nationals scene, but it's still likely to be over 200 drivers, and it will be possible to win free Hoosier tires via the Hoosier tire contingency program. Free Ho-ho's (as they are known) is enough to attract national caliber SSM drivers, and while the field won't include very the top contenders such as Andy McKee,  Erik Strelnieks, and Carter Thompson, because they live too far away, but here's who is showing up:

Jake Namer is registered and he is a regular contender at Nationals, and drives the class dominating car: the 1993 turbo Mazda RX-7. He is definitely the odds on favorite, he has the right car, fully prepared and he's got a small collection of national level trophies to back it up.

Elena La Rosa is co-driving with him. Her results have usually been quite a bit lower than his, but she is capable of speed. According to the results on, she ran 0.1 s faster than Jake at nationals, but I don't know if SSML ran in the rain or not.

Besides that, the 2011 national champion SM car, a Nissan 240 sx know as the "panda"  has been entered by Paul Klein and Jenna Corales.  Jenna is the owner drove that car in SSM and I only beat her once, but both of us surely have learned a lot since then. I out paxed her in the season standings last year, so it should be interesting.

Paul mostly drives shifter carts. His pax rankings in the few NER events I can find are slightly better than mine, but he has one Pro-Solo win in SSM driving the panda. On the flip side that was in 2008, and the field was very small, and he was 3 seconds behind first.

Then there's the usual crowd, Mat Neiman, who I have beat 4 of the last 5 events, and Bill Sallie whom I have beat 3 out of the last 5 and Brian Cunningham who's evidently got more motor than all of us but has yet to put up a fast time (perhaps too much power is hard to control?), and my co-driver, David Oliviera who has put himself ahead of me early twice now, only to be skunked by my final run.

Not yet entered, but probable are 2 more drivers in the Blue CRX, Brian and Don Keuhl, a father and son team that are the 2010 and 2011 SSM class champions for our region. They usually beat me, but they also have a nasty habit of breaking their car ( honda CRX's not really meant to house 340-360 hp).

So I have to admit that it's not very likely that I'll be able to beat Jake, and take home a pair of tires, and the CRX and panda are also very likely to give me trouble. However, I am VERY happy, because anything I do achieve will be a real achievement in one of the largest classes at a National Tour. This is a chance to race a real national level race. No arm-chair proxy analysis here.

Time to get out of the chair and run in the real thing...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Here We Toe Again

Setting the toe was a bit of an ordeal. First I had to master setting up a home made string alignment system, Then I had to actually properly set the toe. However, given that I had 4mm of front toe-in, either I do it myself, or pay someone to do it.

The string alignment system I used is detailed on Lotus Talk, but I deviated slightly. First off, I cheaped-out, and bought one $9 length of 1/16th inch aluminum U channel instead of 2 1x1x1/8 aluminum angle ($21 each). I saved $30 this way, but I'm not sure it was worth it. The flimsier channel flexed a little, requiring a little extra re-measurement and fiddling around to make sure everything was straight.

So once I got the strings set up, and figured out which way to turn things, I removed all front toe-in. The car drove somewhat more nicely on the street and I did well at my first event. However in putting the tires on for my second event I noticed a rub mark on the frame. Honestly I'm not sure if it's been there all along, but there seemed to be some corresponding signs of rubbing on on of the front tires, so I made a quick in the field adjustment to add 4mm of toe back in with the gracious help of my competitor Matt (lent wrenches), and PJ (lent jack stands). I ran the race, but it felt a little bit tail happy, and even more tail happy back on a faster course at Devens for the third race.

The (possible) rubbing was on the inside rear of the front left tire. The initial theory I had was that the wheel had rubbed when I was cornering hard left around a pin cone in the first part of the course, and accelerating, thereby unweighting the front left corner and allowing the wheel to droop. Liberally applied crayon to the rubbing area so I could tell if it rubbed again. It did not, and I was relieved, since I REALLY don't want to rub a weak spot in the frame. That would be dangerous, and even if I didn't experience a direct failure, it would force me to total the entire car.

However, after the third race I spent some careful time looking at the rub marks and the wheel, and I noticed a few things. The wheel had little strings of what looked like peeling off in the rubbed area, and the wheel weights had an odd-safety orange color to them. I pulled at the strings and noticed that they appeared to come off, and appeared to be added on to the surface of the rubber, not part of the rubber itself. Also the stringy bits didn't seem to stretch much at all, not what I would expect from bits of tire rubber, more like plastic. Hmm... what's orange, and plastic at an autocross... hmm... sounds familiar... hmm... CONES! I distinctly remember having a cone caught under the left front wheel on one of my runs in the first race.

So now I believe that the rubbing on the wheel and maybe the marks on the frame came from a trapped cone, not wheel contact. However, I'm cautious about leaping to conclusions here, so now I've dialed back out half the toe-in (giving me about 2mm front toe-in), and also stiffened the front shocks 2 clicks to (hopefully) help with the over-steer.

The NCR Porsche club event on 6/2 was a soaker, so I never put the race tires on, and never got a good test of the new settings. I'm hoping for better this weekend with Renegade Miata... right now the weather man is saying it will be dry, which probably means it will rain....