Friday, July 26, 2013

Ayer Match Tour 2013 - Day 2

On the second day, the top 32 and top 8 ladies spend the morning feeling cool, and staying cool (except when they are assigned to work the course). They get to watch the rest of us contend in the "last chance qualifier" (LCQ). The LCQ gives you just 2 runs to prove your worth, and after the LCQ is complete the top 16 and 8 randomly selected drivers get to participate in the afternoon festivities.

My first run I was focused on driving a good line. I was relatively smooth with what I felt were nice lines, but evidently I sacrificed a bit too much and didn't push hard enough. I wound up a second slower than the previous. Awaiting my last run of the LCQ, I was haunted by the ghost of last year's final run. Last year I was on a near perfect run that was very fast and was fouled by a missed breaking point resulting in 3 cones.

For my final run I left the line in good shape I beleive I shifted slightly better and gained a little more speed than the previous run. I had been given some advice that perhaps I shouldn't let up on the gas at the end of the starting segment, but as I went into the first hard turn on the course, I could feel that if I didn't lift, the car was going to push and I would be in bad shape for the next element so I lifted to help the car turn in as before.

I carried more speed than ever before around the next element however and made a good entry and exit on the following slalom. This set me up for a good run to the hairpin turn onto the taxiway. I ran hard, braked hard and got the car to turn nicely, but it felt as if I sacrificed a little to much speed. I was not slow, but it felt like it had been a bit better on other runs. I instantly converted that feeling to a conviction that there was absolutely no excuse for me not to have a perfect entry into the next element, and so I ran the taxiway slalom as hard as I could, and close to the cones, quickly getting back up to speed.

My big mission for this final run was to be faster on the section after the taxiway. I broke as late as I dared, turned  and found myself looping a bit wide on the exit from the taxiway but also carrying a lot more speed than before. Since my car is underpowered relative to some of the monsters out there I was not entirely unhappy with this result. I immediately gave it as much gas as possible and I'm sure that although there was still room for improvement I was faster than previous runs.

The other big adjustment I had been struggling with through my previous runs was finding the breaking point at the end of the very fast section after the end of the taxiway. I had chickened out on several earlier runs and applied the breaks too soon. I was determined not to do that this time. Unfortunately I slightly overshot and the car threatened to spin. I wound up partly sideways, had to counter-steer and I lost significant speed, almost coming to a complete stop. For sure, I dipped under 20mph, but I did prevent the spin.

For a fraction of a millisecond my heart sank. Loosing speed there preceding the transitional section where my car should be faster than many other cars, was almost certainly the nail in the coffin for any attempt to get into the match portion of the event. Then experience kicked in. Runs where you get a little bit wild and off line are often runs where you've carried more speed than previous. So as long as you haven't actually spun out or hit cones there is always the chance that you only gave up what you gained, and you can still gain through the rest of the course.

With that thought, I once again parlayed the lost speed into a determination to translate my "velocity deficit" into "excess control" and perfectly place the car for the next section. The result was, I finally got a really really good result on the next big hairpin turn that preceded the next taxiway. I had watched the top drivers run that turn and noted that they often seemed to negotiate it by turning, easing up just slightly and then turning harder. I managed to do that for the first time. This worked very well and I was perfectly set up for the next section with good speed.

The remainder of the course was 2 iterations of essentially the same maneuver An S-curve leading into a nearly straight section followed by a turn. I ran both of them better than either of the previous runs. I'm fairly certain I was around a second faster in the final segments of the course and lined up for my fastest finish of the event. The net result, I gained a second over my first run, despite almost spinning and loosing tons of speed. My improvements exceeded my errors. The time was still 4 tenths less than my best time the previous day, but it was clear that had I put together a very good recovery, and landed myself 55th for the LCQ. If you add back the 32 qualifiers and perhaps a few of the women qualifiers who might beat me that''s similar to ending up 89-90th across all competitors. Just a few places worse than the previous day, but not very different. I did not get lucky and get picked as one of the 8 randomly selected drivers.

I'm still no threat to the winner's circle, but I've clearly improved over last year. And that's something of a victory.

Oh yeah, and the Match competition that I didn't get to participate in... That was fun to watch. Tom O'Gorman managed to run 58.5 - a full 7 seconds faster than me in the panda which is an SM car... and the ignition was misfiring on his run. His time was faster than Stacey Strout in her A-Modifed car! Truely incredible. You can see one of his runs on You Tube. Notice how he is always close to the important cones. 1ft away from the cone appears to be a long distance for him!

By the final Four it was all NER drivers, Billy Davis, PJ Corales, Brian Kuehl, and Dave Gott. Dave in his STX car faced PJ in the Panda, first and lost by a slim margin. Then Billy Beat Brian. Brian took the 3rd place run-off. This left a single run to determine the winner. Both cars had undergone repairs *during* the match competition, but in the end, it was Billy Davis by 0.1 second for the win.

Congratulations to Billy and the other winners, and thanks to the National Office for putting on a un event! Can't wait for next year!

Ayer Match Tour 2013 - Day 1

National Tour time! Last year the championship tour came to Devens, this year it was one of the new Match Tours sponsored by Evoloution Performance Driving school. It was a two day event. The first day was like the first day of a regular championship tour with two exceptions.  The first exception was that you get 4 runs instead of three. The second is that the top 32 drivers by PAX, and the top 8 ladies by PAX get a free pass into the "match" part of the event which runs Sunday afternoon.

It was unsurprising that me, (a second tier driver on a good day) and my under-prepared car (at least 3% slower than it should be, possibly more) did not qualify. My times vs the top pax of the day were a fairly typical. They work out to a .916 PAX rating. "PAX rating" is the best pax time for the event (run by Billy Davis on that day in his CSP miata) divided by your own pax time. 1.0 is perfect, and means you were the fastest driver. Thus In relative terms, me and my car were about 8.4% slower than the best time, about 4-5% of that is my driving, the rest is the car.

I placed 4th out of 8 competitors in my class, missing the trophies by one spot, although the margin was not very close. I did however beat Russ Sigglekoe for the first time ever. He did not have a good day, but my day was only a mildly good performance. My best day ever was a .925 at a local event last year, but the pax for SSM this year is .003 harder so this year that would be a 0.922. Last year, at the national level event I had a pax rating of 0.903, and in relative terms that means I was about a second slower.

Last year at the national level event I went off course twice and I lamented my final run where I hit several cones and ruined an otherwise very good run. This year was a nice improvement besides going faster, I only hit one cone during the entire event. I had much better control of my driving in general. Although I did not run my best times ever, I did run good times and ended up mid-pack in overall PAX rather in the bottom quartile like last year. Another difference may also be that the top cars are a bit faster this year too. I know Billy changed his Aero on the CSP car and has now driven it for over a year. By all reports Panda continues to improve and is faster this year than last.

So that was the first day. I didn't finish in the top 32, so I needed to be in the top 16 on the next day. Not very likely given my 82nd of 139 result, but I definitely felt there was a lot more time in the car, so it was worth a shot.

Season Points

This day also counted as an NER points event. The presence of Nate and Tom O'Gorman in the first and second spots helped me retain my present lead.  and Leafy took third earning 4 ponts vs my 3 for 4th. The closest two drivers in the season standings are Mat Nieman and Jonathan Lieth (Leafy).  I am 10 points ahead of Matt and 13 points ahead of Leafy. My lead however is still tenuous. Leafy's car is definitely faster than mine now that it is running well, so it's entirely possible that he will beat me the remaining 4 races. I've had good luck against Matt the last few events, but consistent victory over him is far from certain. To tie my season points, Matt has to take first 3 times and place 1 point ahead of me the one time he doesn't win. I don't consider that very likely given my slightly better than 50-50 record against him for the last 2 years, but I also think it's fairly likely that he will beat me at least once.

Then there's Jenna in the Panda... Maybe. She is 14 points back and the Panda is a stupid-fast car. It is clearly the fastest car of the field, but she has had issues with cones lately. When she has a good day, she can win it all, but she is not very consistent lately.

To lock in a season win, I need to place second or better in every race.

But given the field, that is a very diffucult task. Let's imagine a more likely scenario... Imagine that they each win one event for the next 3 events and, I place one behind Leafy every time. Leafy may have the hottest car/driver combination at this point, so lets also imagine that Leafy is 2nd or 1st every time. Matt's car probably shines a bit better in the small parking lot in New Hampshire so we'll imagine that he wins there, though him taking 1st is probably the least likely part of this scenario. In a case like this the standings going into the final event might look something like this:

Gus - 30 + 4, +6, +4= 44
Leafy - 17 + 6 + 9 + 6 = 38
Matt - 20 + 9 + 3/4 + 3 = 35 or 36
Jena - 16 + 3 + 4/3  + 9 = 31 or 32

So, if nobody dominates the field, and I grab 3rd twice and a 2nd once, I'll walk away with the season. What I can't do is start placing 4th or worse. My lead won't support that. If we flip mat and Leafy in New Hampshire, then I have to make 2nd in the final event to win, and if Leafy takes all 3, then he will have 43 points and I have to beat him, unless he's in 3rd or lower in the last event. If Nate Whipple, Todd Kean, or some other alien were to show up in the panda, they would probably take first, but since I have the lead, that benefits me by reducing the points others can earn.

With 5 events done, I have a non-trivial chance of winning the season. That would earn a spiffy jacket, Instructor status and my first chance to compete for the Sterling Moss trophy.

The other variable of course is my co-driver who has beaten me several times in the past. If I let him beat me, I'm not very likely to win. The flip side, is if I can put together one more win in the last 4 events, my chances improve greatly. But that's the point isn't it? You have to win to win. If I can't win, I don't deserve the season championship.

With season points out of the way, the second day is for fun and for pride, and for the off chance that I find 3+ seconds and make it into the match tour... I'll detail that in the next post.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Some help from the A-List

The last event was a lot of fun. Not because of the great competition. Panda broke before the event, Matt's miata blew out a tire on the first run, and Leafy's miata died on course... twice. My car was the only one completing all the runs in a reliable fashion. It wasn't fun because of the weather either, although it didn't rain it was sweltering 90+ degrees. It wasn't even fun because of the trophies. All my competitors broke yet I still only took second.

The fun came from handing my car to Eric, a top caliber driver and watching him demonstrate what the car could do. He had been the co-driver for one of the broken cars and is a national trophy winner for the last 3 years. Last year he took 2nd in E-stock at the National championships. Although it cost me an easy trophy, I got a ton of good advice.

Advice on the car: It drives well, with slight push at high speeds. It's great to have confirmation that the handling is good and that I shouldn't be looking for time there. Based on his times vs the top drivers of the day, my car is about 1.4 seconds slower than it should be in the hands of a top driver. This is about 3% of the total time for the race, so when we look at my pax percent scores, (generally around .91) add .03 and you get an idea of what my driving capabilities are. This also means that one only needs to find 1.4 seconds to make the car competitive at the national level. Adding the LSD and fatter tires should account for at least half of that, and .7 seconds worth of power might be within reach for a light weight N/A build.

Advice for the driver (Me): Go faster! Eric didn't actually tell me this, but it was instantaneously obvious from riding with him. Several areas I was just dog slow and didn't realize that the car could hold much more speed. Riding with him a second time also showed me the right line for the turn-around, something I had been getting wrong regularly on elements like that. He also picked up on and confirmed that I have a problem with memorizing the course, which can lead me to stop looking ahead and to not drive the course as it is and as I am currently positioned. Reassuringly he said that this is a common problem, though exactly how to to break out of the bad habit is not entirely clear. He also said that I tend to move my hands too much, shifting them on the wheel unnecessarily.

As for my times, the official result was solidly mediocre (for me), but the fastest scratch time was possibly the fastest I have ever driven, and within 2 seconds of his time. The cones on that run were +3, but it was all at the same point where my back end swiped the outside of a clams-hell. Just one small error, of questionable speed value. If that time had been clean I would have been 35th in overall pax and if one wants to imagine I had a car that was as fast as it should be (i.e 1.4 seconds faster assuming Eric drove as well as the top driver of the day, or perhaps 1.0 seconds if he wasn't on the top of his game) that would put my skills around 20th to 25th of 150 drivers.

But of course that's a fish tail about one that got away. I did hit the cones and my actual time puts me at 55th, with an actual skill estimate of 42-36th of 150. There's always next time, and it's clear that I should be setting my sights on the top 25, and on qualifying for brackets at the match tour.

Friday, May 24, 2013


I ran across a neat modification that wasn't too expensive: Underdrive pulleys. When I first saw the name it looked uninspiring. "Under" sounds like less. However just like with weight, when it comes to engine drag, less is more.

When your engine runs it turns the wheels to move the car. That much everyone knows. It's easy to forget that the engine turns a bunch of other things, the alternator, the water pump, the AC among them. Each of those things takes a certain amount of energy that would otherwise be available for turning the wheels and making you go fast. These accessories are turned by a pulley on the serpentine belt, and the size of the pulley for the alternator determines how fast the alternator spins. (of course for a race car, one simply removes the AC all together...)

Spinning these accessories faster of course takes more energy, and slower takes less. This is how an "underdrive" pulley helps. It spins the accessory somewhat slower leaving more energy for the wheels. This also reduces the wear on the accessory somewhat. It also makes the car slightly easier to start, and reduces engine drag on lift.

So why didn't it come like that from the factory? Because factory cars are optimized for street driving at lower RPMs, whereas race cars spend most of their time at high RPM. Since accessories such as alternators and water-pumps are needed to cool the engine there is a limit to how slow you can go. Additionally to spin slower you need to increase the size of the pulley. At some point pulleys would start touching (and that would be BAD), so that's another limit.

I got my new pulleys from Monkey Wrench Racing, and they claim that it's worth about 3whp on a celica that makes 158 peak wheel horse power, which is just a tad less than most Elise's make with the same engine. A stock Elise makes around 162whp. My engine tune from charlie-x adds 8bhp which is around 6-7whp, and this pulley should give me another 3whp... so that should put me in an (unverified) range of about 170-172whp. My muffler and air in take might possibly add a little more, but most folks say the CAI doesn't do anything for power, and muffler changes don't have much effect until you improve the catalytic converter, which is the limiting factor for the system.

What's 3whp worth? Not a whole lot, but the pulleys were only 70 bucks each. I'll probably gain around 0.010 to 0.020 seconds on a 60 second course... but I've lost places by as little as 0.001, so I'll take it. Every little bit helps. Many days 0.02 is enough to move up one place in the pax standings.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ups and Downs

I've been busy... The first two events were polar opposites. In the first event of the Season I raced well. Very well. I had the best result ever, which made me feel real good about the work I put into the car. The extended splitter allowed me to raise the wing back up 48.5" and the car still drove well.

I will admit one small bit of luck though. It was a cold day and I got a re-run for my last run of the day. The extra heat in the tires may have helped, but since I dropped over 1.5 seconds it probably wasn't all tire heat either. The net result was I beat the entire field and took home another first place trophy. Second season in a row I've had a first place start. I also paxed 33rd in a field of 152 cars... with SSM pax!. SS pax would have put me at 16th. (it's unclear whether or not wing+splitter > than LSD, I may exceed an SS car by now, but probably not by much so perhaps a realistic estimate is probably still above 20th place).

The second race started well. I got a re-run on my first run and I laid in a time that was fastest in the class and briefly the fastest time with doors (i.e ignoring the formula and open wheel cars). But after that I found ways to make one mistake after another, and I never improved on my time. My final run started out good, and I believe I was faster through the first sweeper than ever before, and the slalom was smoother than previous. I got to the next element with more speed than ever before... I was somewhat surprised when the car actually made the turn into the next element without difficulty and that surprise caused me to stop looking ahead. I turned too tightly on the next element rather than powering through and then realized I'd taken the wrong line. The brief moment it took for that regret to cross my mind delayed my breaking point by a few 10ths of a second and I entered the tight slalom way too fast... and I chose to go of course since even if I saved it I would have been nearly sideways and terribly slow or even spun.

Back to my old tricks of loosing my focus when something unexpected happens... (in this case the car behaved better than I expected). The net result was that on his final run David finally pulled ahead by 0.020 seconds knocking me out of the trophies and into 4th place (of 9 cars). We won't talk about my pax standings, but it will suffice to say that I was on par with some of my worst days last year. Although my fastest time once again followed a re-run I don't think I can blame cold tires this time. I know I made plenty of mistakes.

As I alluded to on in the previous post, I did some weight reduction and rules compliance work over the winter. The wing bracing interfered with the ability to inspect the battery and still retain the stock battery cover, so I moved the battery to sit on the chassis just behind the firewall on the driver's side. Hopefully it won't get wet and short in the first rain event!

Items Removed:

Harness bar
Rear speakers
Excess Battery Wire
Misc battery stuff
70% of S111 battery bracket
Unused battery Bracket
AC Compressor
AC Condensor
Some AC piping that was easy to reach
2lbs of Freon
Rear view mirrors

Lightness added: AC stuff: 17.4 lbs, Harness and bar, 15.4 lbs, Battery stuff 1 lb, visors & mirror 1.5 lbs, Rear speakers 2.1 lbs... TOTAL: 37.4 lbs

Moved Forward:

Battery 6lbs, 2 ft forward, 8 inches down.
S111 switch (3oz?) 3 ft forward, 1ft up.


15" battery cable
Copper Battery lug
Aluminum plate speaker hole cover
Foam speaker hole cover
Aluminum battery Bracket.
Cable ties.
OEM Battery Cover.

Weight added, ~2lbs

Net Lightness: ~35 lbs, enough to compensate for the too-heavy wing I added last season (although the wing weighs less, it is also higher up on the car than anything else).

Present race weight (estimate): 1870 lbs

Minimum street weight with no wing, no tow bar, and 1/3 tank of gas: 1845 lbs

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lip Service

Xmas is over, and I've begun my winter mods. Starting with the cheap and relatively easy stuff, I made the car 2 inches longer by moving the splitter forward. Previously it stuck out a measely 2.5 inches and had only been applied for the purpose of protecting my clam shell from cones.  It did a fair job of that, allowing a couple cracks but fending off major damage.

From an aerodynamic perspective, the splitter was far from optimized. Air was leaking between it and the car and the front edge protruded significantly less than allowed by the rules. Furthermore I've been running with the license plate attached across the struts supporting the front. Both that and the air leak interfere with the creation of a pool of high pressure air in front of the car which is what creates the down force.  The new configuration should be a tad more protective in addition to providing more front down force.

I also added some foam to keep the air from flowing between the car and the splitter.

The paperclip corners required an extension...

And for those of you wondering about my mounting system, the basic idea was to not attach it to the (fragile & expensive) fiberglass clam shell. Instead I used Aluminum angle to bracket it onto hardpoints.

And the front is connected to the tow hook hard point.

So with an additional 2" of down force perhaps I can return to using my wing at full height and not get significant under-steer. With the corners already poking past the base of the car I've pushed this splitter as far forward as possible, so if I need to go out to the full 6" allowed by the rules, I'll probably be making my own out of plywood...