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...

Saturday, May 27, 2017

...Gang aft agley!

The start of this season hasn't gone as I had envisioned it. The vision in my head mid February went something like this:

  • Head swap mid-March
  • Tuning late march/early April
  • Learn the changes to car at Event 1 and in the next Renegade event. 
  • Race #2 expect decent result
  • more practice events
  • Race #3 and onward... full speed ahead, chasing another top-10 & class wins to try try for a second season championship, with Leafy doing his best to make it tough (cue the stirring music, with videos of wobbling cones, and spin outs and times in red LED letters, people cheering, other people shaking their head or pounding the wheel... etc...).
It sounded like a nice plan, but like most plans, the intersection with reality was disruptive. Actual results were more like:
  • Mid-march - Mechanic no space to work on car, must wait.
  • Late march - Delivered car to mechanic
  • Early April - Headwork more involved than expected due to one unreachable bolt, timing chain cover comes off to detach timing chain guide from head.
  • Prep for race 1: Drove other folks cars at test and tune (thanks Bill, Thanks Jake!)
  • Race 1: Co-driver lends me his car (Honda s2000 in full STR prep) wind up in 4th place, Co-Driver takes 1st with a time that (if STR pax) would be 7th in pax.
  • Cancel reg for NCR Porsche, miss Renegade event
  • Mid-April Mechanic reports head on, difficulty shimming the valves, some are too tight for shims
  • Race 2: Co-driver again lends me his car, take 3rd place, with co-driver again taking 1st.
  • Late April - difficulty getting shims.
  • Early May - one valve so tight, even 00 shim won't work, contemplate head off and shave valve stem.
  • Mid May - Consultation with machinist leads to shaving the shims instead of the valves
  • Miss 2nd Renegade event...
  • Event #3 - Co-driver at wedding, Drive Matt's ASP prep STI - take second place
  • Late May - Car Runs! Get the car back, 
  • Tuners, no space for car, must wait.
  • Tuners schedule me for tuning in very early June.
  • Miss 3rd Renegade event, Cancel Track Club Event... 
  • new ECU installed and starting
So, If I'm very lucky I'll get two events worth of practice before the national tour, maybe 20 runs to settle into the new setup, and if any minor delays, only one event... if a major delay... I miss the tour, which counts as events #4 and #5.  Sadly (but lucky for me points-wise) Leafy also has had a slow start to the season and his car will also make it's first appearance in the tour. Where both of us will have to contend with Todd Kean (alien) in the #99 Nissan S240 "Panda" (space ship).

As for season points... well, the good news is Leafy mostly drove cars even less SSM than I did, and I'm well ahead of him. The bad news is Nick, my Co-driver is scaring the crap out of me by posting crazy good times in his car. I certainly expect a little bit of a break when we switch to my car, due to home-car advantage, but I'm thinking once he adjusts, he's going to be pushing me pretty hard (which is good!)... 

Nick's skill only adds to the fun of course. This year SSM seems to also have SML national champ in the Kuehl's SMF CRX... running in SSM for fun... sure it's SMF, but it's possibly the fastest SMF car in the nation, and she's a national champion. Next event, we get to see the long awaited result of Leafy's motor swap. He put a 2.5L engine in his NA Miata and turbo'd it... probably for 400+hp! This year, there is competition!  

On the plus side, I did get to drive some interesting cars. Many thanks to the owners. Here are some pictures of the cars (only the S2000 is a picture of me driving though with Nick passenger):

  • Tuner refuses car for Tailpipe smoke issue... ARGHHH!
  • Drive Derek's S2000 at BMW
  • Drive Nick's S2000 at Porsche Club and National Tour
  • Still waiting for the music...

Thanks Bill!

Thanks Jake!

 Thanks Nick!

 Thanks Matt!

PS. if you don't get the title of the post, it comes from a rather famous poem called "To a Mouse" by Robert Burns... the full line is:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men 
          Gang aft agley, 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Looking forward to 2017...

ARP head bolts...

JCR Fab Ported Head

Piper Stage 3 Cams

Mechanical work complete - next: Tuning!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Looking Back at 2016

2016 was a pretty good year. It started a bit shaky, first with a spectacular spin into the grass at my first renegade event where I learned that the stuff on the edges of the runway has a lot of gravel and very little stopping friction. Next, in my first SCCA event I didn't drive well and worse yet I blew sound, and was disqualified from my afternoon runs. The result was my worst finish in many (5+) years despite the brand new set of 10.5" wheels. For the next event I did sound testing comparing various exhaust tips and made changes to ensure I was well within sound limits going forward. In SCCA event 2 I got all my runs, but the result was a race that (other than my previous race) would have been my worst showing in 2 or 3 years. It was a very uninspiring start, but the season is long. I tweaked some sway bar settings, did some more events, and got used to the new larger wheel setup, and began to have some success.

By SCCA event 4 I had it sorted, and made a 15th in pax finish (Brian Levesque took my car to 6th in pax that day as well out of 139 drivers). From there, I fiddled just a tad with suspension, Got my first FTD ever at a BMW event, and a 2FTD behind an "EM" lotus 7 with a wing and a v8 engine at an NE-SVT event... and then went off to nationals. There I got a very mediocre result (described in the last post), much of which was due to my inexperience at that level and driving that was worse than my average. The year finished out with my first ever NER top 10 finish, and another 15th in pax at the last points event. The points for SSM class for 2016 had been locked up some time ago due to some folks dropping out of the class and spotty participation by others. Not the way I wanted to win my first regional jacket, but wishes can't always come true.

With the "championship" for the season being substantially participation based, I was very keen to put up a good showing in the Stirling Moss Driver of the Year competition that it qualified me for. In my mind, the season points championship would be a "real" championship if I did well there, and a "fake" participation award if I didn't do well in the Moss. The Moss was more or less the hinge for the meaning of my jacket. The question at hand... can I race with the class champions, or would I just be straggling along in the back of the pack?

The format of the Moss is meant to require drivers to both drive fast, and drive consistently fast. In the morning you get points for speed, and in the afternoon you get points for consistency with respect to your morning time. NER is a Jumbo region, that takes home 6-8 national trophies every year. I did not expect to come out on top, ahead of all of our national champions, but the key idea was to do well, and be significantly nearer the top than the bottom among the 30 regional class winners participating.

After 3 morning runs, rumor had it that I was the 10th fastest pax time of the 30 drivers who had earned the right to participate in the Moss... so by SCCA trophy standards for individual classes, that's the very last trophy spot. I could have been a place or two higher if I hadn't coned on my final run of the morning. It was a good, not totally embarrassing result, but nothing to brag about either. Furthermore if I didn't do well in the afternoon, It wouldn't be hard to slide back into the back half of the pack. I wanted something better than that!

Because of the consistency emphasis of the afternoon, cones are death. You simply have to run clean. I figured at least a few of the 9 folks ahead of me would hit cones, so the best way to move up was to drive hard, but be ultra focused on not hitting cones. Clean runs and an awareness of whether the run was going well or not were the goal. With cold tires for the first run, I knew it was going to be a difficult first run to try to get close to my morning time on warm tires, even though the air temps and pavement temps were up. I knew I would need to push it... I did and I succeed in getting a time 0.4s slower than my morning run. -0.4 was likely to take me further from winning the whole thing, but was clean and probably good enough to keep me moving up a little bit.

On the second run, I did a poor job of the first big sweeping turn and knew I was slow, and that nothing would matter unless I made up the lost time, so my only thought was "Go, GO, GO!!" I drove as hard as I knew how and I might have been close to making up the lost time (thanks to the warmer conditions), but then I had a slight problem with the angle of my approach to the tight pinch on the runway, and had to back off slightly to ensure I didn't hit a cone. The result... another almost identical time, also -0.4s off my morning time. With two 0.4s differentials my chances for a win were thin, and would rely entirely on nailing the final run within 0.1s, and even then it would be an outside chance. On the third run, my tires were fully warm and i was having a good well sorted run through the taxiway, possibly slightly ahead of my target time, but once again, I didn't set up properly for the pinch and had to work quite hard not to hit a cone. I knew I had lost a bucket of time, but that was behind me and I did the only thing there was to do: Focus on getting back ahead of the cones, and finishing strong. The result was another run time -0.4 under my morning time, but clean again.

As I finished, I figured I had likely moved up a place or two, having heard of some folks ahead of hitting cones, but unless something crazy happened, I did not suspect I had a winning result. They keep the results secret till the ceremony at the end, so I packed up and headed over. During the pack up I heard that one of our top drivers had accidentally gone a lot too fast, so that provided me with some further hope, but It's NER... and one person messing up will not get you the championship. Guaranteed there will be several folks who were fast and didn't mess up. It's just too big a region for lucky wins. Within classes lucky stuff can happen, but in cross class competition, only top drivers having a good day win at NER SCCA events. I had a pretty good day, but my driving can still improve.

They announced the top 3, with Bob Davis taking the repeat win and Dave Gott almost making it with a record breaking consistency score. I was not very surprised that I wasn't on the podium, though part of me had dared to hope for 3rd. After the photos and congratulations, I got a look at the result sheet... 4th place! I was only one spot off the podium. In relation to my previous achievements, THAT is a result I can be proud of. I eclipsed several people who normally do much better than me, even though they didn't hit cones. I will have to work very hard to do that again. Fourth of thirty is not a winner, but it's also not a bad showing. Also 22nd of 104 in season pax is fairly decent, Thus I feel that the failure of my competitors to put together a solid season is not necessarily definitional in my 2016 season championship. It's not inconceivable that I might have won anyway (except if PJ had remained to run panda all year... but he's an alien, and panda is a multi national champion car, so this doesn't bother me... Ok it does bother me, but not too much :) ).

So, while there is still sort of an astrisk next to my season points championship for 2016 in my head, I also don't feel like I need to hide the jacket or mumble when it's mentioned either.

What I do need to do is win again! And the expectation is that Leafy is back, with a new motor in his turbo'ed miata... THAT should be interesting, and fun to compete against!

And this year... the car will have more power, but more about that in the next post.