Tuesday, August 12, 2014

New Rotors, New Acheivements

Autocross eats brakes. It's just a fact of life. Tires too. My wife still marvels at the idea that I replace race tires after 100-150 miles (while most racers marvel that I wait that long!). Brakes are somewhat better, the Sector 111 Ultra disc rotors I have been using lasted about 2 years in the front and 3 in the back. That doesn't sound too bad until you consider that I put less than 5000 miles on those rotors. Guess what... after the last event, my front pads were getting very thin, and I was seeing bluing from heat where the vents in the rotors were. It was kinda neat, almost like an x-ray of the rotors, but what it really means is that the rotors are too thin, and not discharging the heat well anymore.

The Ultra discs and super grippy Porterfield pads were a marvelous improvement over stock, but every now and then, it seemed like the brakes just didn't quite do what I expected. With this combination of pads and rotors I had begun to suspect that while it gives you most of the power of a big brake kit without the weight and price penalty, they still lack something in terms of modulation. To try to improve the situation, I decided to try the new vented, slotted, full-floating rotor offered by Beyond Original Equiptment since they claimed to have better breaking modulation for a similar price. I left the Ultra discs on the rear because they are lighter, and also because the fronts do the lion's share of the work.

I ordered the rotors immediately after my last races and they arrived in about 3 days. There was a small issue I ran into, but BOE has EXCELLENT customer service, and they resolved it quickly and professionally. BOE has become a leader in aftermarket lotus race parts, and you can definitely order from them with confidence. There's a bunch of pictures of the rotors on their web site, but none after the black coating has worn off, so here's what they will look like after they've seen some wear.

Looks are nice, but this is a race car, not a concourse car. What matters is results! The first event was Renegade Miata Club's 5th points event of the year. This event was opposite the SCCA's Racing against Leukemia charity event, and so I expected a soft turnout. The attendance numbers were somewhat low but luckily, the top of the field was still pretty typical. Bob Lang And Leafy didn't show, but Lanna and Hank, who are both national champs did. Scruffy didn't show but Grant and Steph were there, Mike Stukalin was there an he's always fast. Furthermore the New England area seems to have acquired a new hot-shoe, Ryan Field who was there in his CSP Miata. So the competition could even be considered slightly stiffer than normal.

My result? 5th raw time... again. Not exciting on the surface but if you dig into the numbers a bit, to retain the 5th spot I had to drive faster than Matt Mickle, which I have not previously done. I was still 1.25 seconds behind grant though. The pax factor vs Grant however is 0.958. That is way better than I usually do at NER SCCA autocross events. However, this year Grant has not been dominant as in past years, so perhaps an NER pax factor could be as much as 0.015 tougher... or maybe not? Hard to know I was just as close to him at the Match Tour. Even so, it would still could be my best result ever. The other good news is that even if they were running crappy old tires, I was too. My tires ended the day on their 99th run. The great thing about new tires, is you go faster than old tires. The great thing about old tires is if you do well when you are on old heat cycled tires, that means you simply drove better, or did something good to your setup.

Event #1 on new rotors: Success!

So the second event was Points event #7 for the SCCA season, and as I said before, this is where it counts. At the start of the race I was 6 points back in the standings (after accounting for drops). I desperately need a win to stay alive. On my first run I put down the fastest time of anyone's first run in the first session. On my second run I shaved another 4 tenths off. That doesn't sound that impressive, but this event was in the small parking lot at NHMS, so my times were 28.8 and 28.4 respectively, and this was equivalent to finding almost a second on a Renegade course, or .8 seconds on a course at Devens. As I returned from that run, they announced I had Top Raw time and Top Pax! Now THAT has never happened before. It didn't last, Billy Davis took it away on his next run, but it sure was a fun thing to hear. In the afternoon I ran a 28.3 and another 28.4 shaving a small amount but not really improving much. I was a little disappointed that I didn't find a 27.x but I had multiple people tell me how good I looked out there, including some really good drivers. These sorts of compliments seem to be happening more often lately, and I'm not getting the highly dubious "awesome spin dude" or "that was awesome when you drifted through that corner" compliments from the novices as often.

And the points race? After the morning session I was ahead of Leafy by a good margin, but the same thing was true last year, and then he found a ton of time in the afternoon and beat me, so I was very nervous. I may have begun over-driving on my last runs for fear he would catch me again. Sure enough he found lots of time on his first run of the afternoon, running a 28.2 but he also had 2 cones. On his second to last run, he was clean.... BUT he was still 0.2 seconds behind me, and he coned his last run. I finally picked up a class win and now sit in second place 3 points out of first. If I win next weekend I Tie things up with one more race to go. Also, I was 14th in pax of 57 or so competitors, which doesn't look that great until you consider that most of the folks who don't come to the New Hampshire event are the novices and casual folks and the people who do show up tend to be more skilled and involved in tight points races. For this reason I long ago stopped using these events in my stats calculations. However, with Billy Davis there, top Pax will not change much vs a regular NER event and my PAX factor for this race was a nice leap forward. I scored 0.949 vs my previous best of 0.938. I was 1.2 seconds off top pax which is approximately equivalent to 2.4 seconds off top pax at Devens... also a nice step forward. So all crazy attendance factors aside, I feel confident saying that this was my best race ever.

Event #2 on new rotors: Success!

So is it the Rotors, or the lessons of Evo School finally sinking in? Hard to tell, but one thing can be said for sure, these rotors have shown a positive correlation with successful autocross! Next weekend is another SCCA race, this time at Devens... The full long course. Many folks there will be gearing up for nationals. If I can do well at that one, I can do well almost anywhere.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Results - Part 2

Renegade events are fun/practice events for me. They are a place to try out new stuff, bed in brake pads etc. This is not to say I wasn't trying hard at the previous event, but SCCA is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. This is for the points, the glory and (oh yeah) the fun. At scca you can find out where you really stand vs some of the best drivers in the country. 

At the start of this race I was 9 points back in the season standings. With this being race #5, one more loss and the little red turbo miata would officially be running away with it. The day was beautiful and the first two runs went well, with me jumping out to an early lead. Ominously the fastest scratch time however was set by national trophy winning, Rachel Baker who was driving they little blue smurf of terror (the Keuhl CRX). 

On my 3rd run I ran what seemed to be a faster but clean time. Unfortunately, I will never know how fast because the timing system had had a false finish somewhere and it read 84 seconds… my previous run was a 51.281 so clearly the Timing Monster ate that one. The timing monster was particularly hungry because it evidently ate times for 11 other people as well. It was decided that the dozen or so of us would get an extra run in the afternoon. 

My first run of the afternoon went really well and I set what would become my fastest time, 50.564 seconds.

The next run had a 50.026, and was dirty.

Then I got a 50.643 that was marked as off course, but I can’t find it in the video… can you?

But the run wasn’t fast enough anyway so I didn’t argue. While I was getting called off course for no apparent reason, Rachel finally had a run that was both fast and clean, 49.833 which gave her the win. I had one chance to top that, and I was having a very fast run, perhaps fast enough but I did something silly. I tried a new line at the last element before the finish, but I didn’t do a good job of it and spun. It occurs to me that with a little presence of mind and and a lot of car control skill (that I probably don’t have) I was very close to executing a clean backwards finish. That would have been fun. But alas it was just a spin. Unfortunately the battery had died in my camera so I don't have that one on video.

But wait… what about the little red miata??

Well it turns out that my primary opponent in the season points race spent the preceding evening helping with the funeral for Brian Keuhl’s civic DX (“smelvin”) that blew it’s motor the previous day (at the renegade event). This meant that he didn’t have time to switch the R6’s off of his wheels and so he and Bryan Mancuso (his co-driver du jour) spent the day driving on tires optimized for track, not autocross. How much difference did this really make? I have no idea. They also had lots and lots of cones, each with only one clean run. 

The final result, Rachel, Me, Bryan, Dan (my co-driver) and then Leafy. Points wise, this is a tremendous boon, as I pick up 4 points in the season standings, and I’m just 2 wins away from a lead, with the possibility of taking a lead into the final race. I remain in a position where I (at least theoretically) can win by taking 1st place repeatedly and I would not need “help” in the form of other people beating Leafy to exaggerate the point differential. I’m still behind, but I hung in there and made progress.

How fast did I really drive? What’s the big picture? Well lets just say it’s complicated. Brian Keuhl had an absolutely fabulous day. He clearly found time that nobody else could find. Perhaps the course was just perfect for his car, perhaps he wasted his “win nationals” run on us local folks. He beat everyone else in the pax standings by a full second. I was 3.9 seconds back of that. Normally I’ve been more like 3 seconds off the pace, and if we consider him an outlier, the next fastest was one of our regular winners, Billy Davis. I was only 2.9015 sends behind him, which would have been my first time inside of 3 seconds from top pax.

So the stats look like this
  • 0.918 pax rating, 0.934 vs Billy
  • 28th of 149 drivers in pax
  • 16th of 149 drivers in raw time
  • 11th of 142 production cars (things with fenders)
  • 2nd of 6 drivers in SSM
On the strict by the numbers basis it is a small improvement, getting inside the top 30 for the first time, and picking up points vs leafy. Looking inside the numbers a bit, This was one of my best days, and I had a faster run that gave away 0.5 seconds due to a cone. That is qualitatively different than previous best days where I generally was clean on my fastest run, often on run 6. This time I set my fastest time in 3 runs (ignoring the rerun). So the improvement in my driving *might* be a bit more than the numbers show.