Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mods For 2013

Winter is upon us, at least from a racing perspective, and soon from a seasonal perspective. The lotus is parked safely in the garage, with a tank full of stabilized gasoline. The daily driver has swapped on it's snow tires, the 7year old oem battery is replaced, and new wipers/fluid. Oil for both our cars, and snow tires swap for her car, and then some where after Christmas, I can begin tinkering, and prepping for next year.

Here's the list of things I do plan to do for sure this winter, all of them relatively small:
  • Delete the rear speakers (weight saving)
  • Shift the splitter an inch or two forward (more downforce, but more likely to scrape)
    • Need longer bolt to extend splitter bracing, not sure how far forward the bolt can handle, or how long a bolt I can find that fits.
  • Relocate the battery to behind the driver seat (weight forward, convenience, compliance)
    • The braile B106 is AGM, and so this is allowed as long as I can bolt a bracket to the chasis (per rule 3.3.3.B.17), and I locate it behind the rearmost seat per 14.9.A this should be legal, and allow me to leave the trunk lid closed for all but inspection and most importantly allow me to leave the original battery cover in to avoid weenie protests that removing the < 1 lb. plastic cover constitutes "stripping the trunk" (prohibited by omission until X Prepared class). If I put the cover in I need to unbolt the wing support to take it out for inspection of the battery mounting. This also means I don't need to open the trunk to turn the battery disconnect.
  • Rear Motor Mount replacement (less motor movement, more power to wheels)
  • In May 2013 New Hoosiers 
    • The current ones are > 100 runs now, by may they should be around 150 or so)
    • It's not safe to order hoosiers before may due to the risk of freezing during shipping, so probably first 2-3 races of 2013 will be on old Ho-Ho's 
Here are the things I'd like to do this winter:
  • Pull the transmission, ship it to AZ and have Blackwatch Racing install an OS Giken limited slip differential (LSD) 
    • They have tuned this LSD specifically for the lotus Auto-X platform. My car will NEVER be a real contender as an SSM car without this or a super charger.  
  • While the Tranny is out, replace the flywheel with a lightweight version made by Blackwatch Racing
  • Replace the Clutch with a lighter, stronger version from ACT (the HDG4 kit
And there's some maybe mods:
  • The re-ENFORCER from sector111 (improve shift feel)
    • I haven't figured out if it's legal to add this shifter mount mod. Is the mounting for the shift lever part of the "Shift Linkage" as and therefore permitted as per 14.10.G and 15.10.Q? This may require clarification... But it's not really important. It's supposed to make the shifting feel a bit more positive and a bit less wishy-washy (many things are good about the Elise, but the shifter feel isn't one of them).
  • AC compressor delete (weight savings)
    • Removing the AC compressor will save around 11 lbs. I rarely if ever use the AC anyway, except when I'm trying to get the engine to warm up to full temp, and then sometimes I forget to turn it off, which is not so good. I'm fairly likely to do this one.
  • AC condenser delete (weight savings) 
    • Another 11 lbs reportedly to be had here, but it requires removing the front clam shell. Probably won't do this if I do the tranny, because both will take a lot of time and the weight in the front may not be a bad thing for front/rear weight distribution anyway. On the other hand, this, the compressor and the speaker delete will likely pay for the weight of the wing... maybe I just move the splitter all the way forward :).
The transmission work will depend heavily on how much it costs to put a new roof on the house. That comes first, and so those may get punted to the 2014 list... Meanwhile, I'm going to try to work bunches of billable hours and see how it goes...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Season Wrap Up

YOY comparisons

2011 - pax standings - 53rd of 91, score 4502
2012 - pax standings - 55th of 92, score 4592

So I got almost 1% closer to the fastest cars out there, but so did everyone else! I also believe that the top cars got somewhat faster given the larger number of trophies brought back from nationals this year.

2011 - 2nd place, 2 of 13 drivers qualifying, 35 points
2012 - 2nd place, 6 of 20 drivers qualifying 38 points

So last year I was 2nd and last among drivers qualifying for a trophy (by attending 5 races or more), but this year I'm 2nd of 6. To some extent this is due to an enhancement of the lower end of the field however. The car that beat me last year got at least as much faster this year as I did, so I'm in no way closer to first place. But as mentioned many times previously, he's actually prepped his car to the max, and I'm a total slacker on that front, so no surprises there.

2011 - 2 firsts, 1 second, 2 thirds in 6 races - 4 trophies
2012 - 1 first, 2 seconds, 4 thirds in 9 races - 3 trophies

So I brought home a little less hardware this year. I blame my co-driver :) He stole it! (he beat me the last 3 events we raced! eek!

2011 - vs. Matt Neiman - I won 3 of 5 races in the season.
2012 - vs. Mat Neiman - I won 2 of 7 races in the season

Matt got his car sorted out this year, and it's got bigger tires, a properly installed sway bar, and is more or less fully prepped (except he needs a WING! :) ). 

As for vs. Russ Sigglekoe and his super-stock elise... I still haven't beat him, but I came within 0.1 sec once... Next year.... :)

2012 Highlights

The National Tour! I got my vehicle weighed (1877 lbs), got my vehicle stickered up, and got my butt handed to me by the car that eventually won 3rd place at nationals. I also got off line and into marbles and blew my best run on day 2. Oh well, still was a blast, and I didn't seriously expect to be competitive at the national level yet.

The Co-driver! David's been lots of fun to drive with, and is now providing me with excellent competition. No car prep level excuses anymore! Tires are now warmer on cold days, and the last race actually provided some evidence that perhaps I now need to guard against pressure rise due to tire temps...

The Wing! At the beginning of the season Experienced drivers said things like "I've never driven a lotus that was trying to kill me before" after driving my car. Now they say things like "Wow, this thing's fun!"

SSM has become one of the biggest classes at NER. Most of the cars are still woefully under prepared, but first you get people, then they start competing and the cars get better :). Several events SSM rivaled STX for attendance (though STX still has a better average driver skill level)

2013 Prognostications & Goals

  1. Dog-fight for placement with David! 
  2. More competition in SSM - Leafy is building an SSM miata, My co-driver as mentioned above, I'm sure Don will be back with his CRX, plus whomever else new shows up... Next year will be FUN. 
  3. Goal: Hang on to 2nd place. 
  4. Goal: Cut the average time diff between me and the CRX by 1 second. This season, excluding the event where their power steering puked all over and the car setup was unmanageable the average amount they beat me by was 1.2 seconds. Don may get a little faster as a driver, but I doubt that the car can get much faster. I suspect it's pretty much maxed. Given that don's a trophy winner at nationals, my driving probably has a lot further to improve than his, plus there's lots that can be done to my car
  5. Goal: Move the front splitter forward, add front downforce and perhaps move the wing back up to maximum deflection, stiffer rear motor mount to cut down on wheel hop at starts & put more power to the wheel (less into flexing the motor mounts).
  6. Stretch Goal: Improve the car with OS Giken LSD + lightweight flywheel & clutch. Still quite unsure about the ability to find the funds, but I did find a way to get the costs under $3k for the LSD now (previous estimates all put the labor price over 3k before any parts). All I have to do is learn how to get the tranny in and out and ship it cross country. The plus is that the install would be done by the same folks who built the 4 time national champion XP lotus, so one can be pretty sure they know their stuff. 
  7. Goal: Keep an eye on tire temps - an area for investigation next year. My pressures 5-10 min after the last run in the moss event were up over 4 lbs from initial temps. They might have been up another pound or more when I drove off course, given that there was a decent breeze. Furthermore, I definitely experienced a couple points at which the stopping power seemed reduced vs prior runs on the last run. David however had his best run immediately prior. Not sure if that means I'm just full of excuses, or if it means he put better heat in the tires on that final run. I've got a good tire gauge now so no reason not to be checking!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ferrari Owners

Having owned an elise for a while I've sort of become used to it. I also didn't have any real sports car experience before I bought it, so to a certain extent I'm spoiled. I suspect I don't quite know how an elise really compares to other sports cars. It's kind of hard to get perspective by reading posts on Lotus Talk, since it's full of lotus enthusiasts and so one sort of expects folks there to say good things, or to be bitter about something.

Recently I ran across a very interesting post on Ferrari Chat that seems to be a window into how the elise is viewed by Ferrari owners. One of the regulars there was contemplating getting an elise or exige, and asked for opinions. Given that Ferraris have a sticker prices upwards of 5 times that of an elise, my expectation was that there would be a bit of snobbery and upturned noses.

To my surprise I found almost none of that kind of attitude. Many of the respondants turn out to be current or former elise owners, but it's clear that most of them can own whatever car they feel like. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Flash G:
It will be the best handling car you ever drive (short of an Ariel Atom). The grip is insane and the communication/feel from the wheel is second to none. 
Not wanting to be disrespectful but I must respond to someones post. I own an Erial Atom 3 with 300 hp and the Lotus is hands above the Atom on handling. The Atom of course is a good to fair handler that has stunning acleration that you do not get with the Lotus. The quote for the Atom manufacturer was 0-60 at 2.85 seconds. Not sure if it is true but it is quick and makes other cars feel slow. My Mosler is a tad quicker and my ZR1 is a little slower 0-60. 
i've driven a SC K20 atom in anger a few times and tracked a whole slew of S1 exige race spec, elise S2, elise S2 with 350hp turbo, opel speedsters etc... imo, the elise handles better than the very competent atom. however not much beats the atom for crab walking when u stomp on the loud pedal. 
Finally, there is really no other car that is within 1000 lbs of curb weight and when you drive a car that weighs under 2000 lb you will always view even 911s, Ferraris and other sports cars as fat toads in comparison.
If a Maclaren F1 was 90's F1 tech on the street then a lotus elise is 80's F1 tech in anaffordable package for the street... ...My boxer has become more of an ornamental pice since the lotus arrived...
As a side note, this past weekend NER held the Stirling Moss championship, and a non-points event along side it. A ferrari owner showed up with a 458, and unlike some of the other super-car owners who have showed up in the past he turned out to be quite cool, had a good time, and it sounds like he might return. This is a refreshing change versus some of the other super car drivers who left halfway through because there were folks with 1990's civic SI out driving them (nevermind the years of experience the civic drivers had).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gratz to NER nationals winners!

The big dance in the world of autocross is the SCCA Solo National Championship. It's the largest competition in all of motorsports, with over 1200 competitors. It happens every year. I dream of going go even though my car isn't very well prepared for the class. Ok in my dreams my car IS well prepared, but nevermind...

Any one can enter, but nationals is held in Lincoln Nebraska.

Unfortunately that makes it very unlikely that I will get to go any time soon. It's almost 24 hours of driving to get there, and driving my car that far would generate a huge amount of wear and tear on my car (not to mention my butt!). The alternative is to trailer it, and I have neither a trailer nor a tow vehicle, and that will also add 50% to the gasoline costs. Gas alone is likely to run almost $400 each direction. Plus a fresh set of hoosiers is $1000, plus taking time off of work that competes with my wife's desire to go on vacations is a problem... all of which adds up to "not likely to happen any time soon".

However, it's still fun to dream and to root for the folks I know who went, and so here's the list of folks who won trophies this year.

Place Class Name Car
1 SMF Bryan Mancuso 1993 Honda CRX
1 SML Lana Tsurikova 1995 BMW M3
2 BS Nick Barbato 2008 Honda S2000 CR
2 CS Bud Collins 2007 Pontiac Solstice ZOK*
2 ES Eric Chiang 1993 Honda CRX
2 FS Mark Daddio 2012 Ford Mustang
2 SM David White 1995 Nisan 240SX
2 RTA Andrew Barrette 2011 Subaru WRX
3 SSL Stephanie Zadrozny 2003 Corvette Z06
3 DSP Nathan Whipple 1993 BMW 325is
3 SMF Don Kuehl 1993 Honda CRX
3 AM William Goodale 1998 Dragon F1
4 AS Paul Kozlak 1999 Chevrolet Corvette
4 BSP Hank Wallace 1995 BMW M3
5 STS Ben Wagstaff 1991 Mazda Miata
5 CSP Billy Davis 1999 Mazda Miata
5 SM PJ Corrales 1995 Nissan 240SX
6 DS Todd Kean 2011 Subaru WRX
7 SS Grant Reeve 2003 Corvette Z06

Wow! 19 trophies to NER!! and, yes.. the little blue CRX won two of them. It's a fast car. That much is now proven. And the driver is also a national trophy winner. Makes me feel a little bit better about getting beat by him. It will also make it that much more special when I finally start beating them....

Ok, so that's also not going to happen very soon either, especially given the cost of adding the required upgrades. Hey, If I can dream of going to nationals, I can dream of that too can't I?

Oh and how awesome is a sport where you can race against the best in the country any time you want... Imagine being able to play basketball with Kobe anytime you wanted, or stepping up to the line to measure yourself against Usain Bolt...

Only in autocross. Just show up, and you can race against whomever you like!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Winging it

(Note: Getting a bit behind on posting... will post the latest races shortly)

I'll just build a wing... it only take what a couple of hours... I'm sure you can guess how that turned out. After many more hours than I had originally planned, I bolted on my wing and closed the hatch and secured it all with hood pins. The goals for the project were these:
  1. Create some usable down force to balance out the tail-happy nature of my car. 
  2. Secure the wing without cutting holes in my Rear clam
  3. Make it possible to remove the wing for regular street driving.
  4. Don't have the wing rip off and destroy my deck lid or crush my clam.
  5. Admit that it's going to be ugly and just get on with it 
For goal 1 I figured that I didn't have money/access to things like solid-works, and my materials and workmanship were likely to be significantly sub-par, so that left only one thing... Make it BIG. I designed it to the maximum specifications allowed by the class. It is 60" wide 19" chord for just slightly less than 8 sq. ft. The width leaves about an inch of the outer swoosh of the door sticking out on either side. The height is adjustable, and with the car being 43.25 inches tall, I can raise it to the maximum height of 49.25, though I'll probably just do 49 to be safe. The front attach point is just barely less than 6" in front of the rear axle (giving it as much leverage as possible vs the pull of the wing), and the back of the wing is just forward of the out most curvature of the rear of the clam. Any bigger in any direction and it's not legal. The only thing I didn't max out was the size of the end-plates, and that's only because I misread the rules, and thought it was a total of 200 sq inches rather than 200 sq inches each.

The reason for Goal 2 is that the rear clam shell of the car is about $3000 to replace. If I screw up putting a hole in it and crack it, or the fatigue over time causes it to crack it's about five times as expensive as a deck lid. Also, the deck lid must remain functional (more rules) and if the wing lifts with it, then the wing can be bigger than the distance between the rear of the deck lid and the rear of the clam (which is a lot less than 19 inches). 

Goal 3 is strongly related to goal 5. I didn't want to spend a lifetime on this wing, or a fortune on materials, so I knew from the start it was going to be ugly. Therefore I don't want to have to wear it all the time. Besides being ugly it will also suck up gas on the highway, and possibly draw attention from the constabulary.

It might seem like goal 4 is obvious, but clearly it's also going to influence the design. Large fender washers and hood pins hold it firm. The biggest worry is that the hinges on the deck lid will give out, but after 2 races it seems to be holding ok.

Goal 5 is inevitable since I don't want to put too much time & money into this, but I've decided that this car is mostly for racing, so that comes first. The wing does get removed for regular street use anyway. Over time I may see if I can improve the looks, but don't hold your breath... How ugly? well, decide for yourself...

The result? The car has become more stable at speed. However I probably have a couple years of bad habits fighting the tail happiness to shed... I'm finding it hard to trust the car in places where it used to be difficult. As for the specific results, that's the next post...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Best Times Yet...

The national tour has come and gone, but the NER season continues.  Going into Points Event #6, I was 1 point in the lead for season points. I had had several days on which I had been close to Don in his CRX before, but the only day I beat him head to head was the first race of the season and, on that day his car puked power steering fluid in the grid half way through the race and his sway-bar was maladjusted. Yet another win by reliability rather than speed.

Don's been gaining on me ever since, only hampered by the appearance of super-star drivers at the tour, and his inability to make an event early in the season. This event was a put-up or shut up day, and as you can see in my progress chart below I put in what was arguably my best performance ever...

Here's some stats...
  • 5 runs, 3rd run fastest.
  • In the top 30 raw times of 166 cars
  • 70th percentile in pax
  • 78th percentile using the SS pax which is closer to my car's actual level
  • Still consistently 2% slower than Russ... but now my tires are older by a few runs than his. 
  • 92.3 season pax score, locking in a minimum season score of over 457, more than 7 points ahead of last year, and enough to break into the top 50 season pax scores based on last year.
And the result... 3rd place. Brian Kuehl took first and Don Kuehl took second, so Now I am 1 point behind Don in the standings... I did my best but they brought out a secret weapon... they got a wing. And it helped. The car is actually eligible for SMF class which has a much softer PAX, and Brian's time was good enough for 3rd place among all drivers if he had raced as SMF instead of SSM. Don would have been 10th. I had one of my best days, but so did they.

Frustratingly, they, with thier big-budget for improvements found a stupendous deal on the wing too. Me with the tiny budget can't find one under $1000, and nothing over half the allowed wing area under $2000. They got theirs for... wel lets just say a lot less. Apparently the last of it's kind too. Figures.

However, I did my best, got a good time and made em put on their new tires for the second half of the day... so I'm satisfied. Can't be disappointed with that.

So what am I to do about it... Well, keep working on my setup, and keep driving. I have an appointment for a corner balance at Kaizen Tuning next tuesday, and then there's this thing lurking in my basement waiting for me to find some time to finish it...

Monday, July 2, 2012


So the Northeast National Tour has come and gone. The event was amazing, well run and the courses were a lot of fun. It was great to meet and talk to top drivers and even better to see them work their magic on the course. The weather was perfect too, but it's funny how in racing everything is colored by your results.

Despite the perfect conditions, excellent event organization and fun courses, I will always think back on my first national tour and sigh. My results were not so good. I was 7th of 10 (Elena Rosa didn't show for our class after all, so we had 10 not 11). The winner by 5 total seconds was Jake Namer, and in some ways, justice was served in that effort was rewarded. 

The final results more or less sorted the cars by level of preparation. Jake is fully prepared for the SSM class, he came out on top. The Honda CRX, and the Panda are both maximized for SM and SMF... not quite as fast, but also SM class cars. The turbo miata with custom suspension is pretty close to maxed out for SSM, but perhaps missing a few details such as a wing...

Those cars were the lead pack (with Jake well ahead of the rest).

I was the leader of the under-prepared cars, I've got a few go-slightly-faster mods on a car that starts ah a high level, but I need another 50% in horsepower, and an LSD to be competitive at a minimum.  Then came Bill, in his Corvette, which although powered enough for the class hasn't really put time into suspension improvements as far as I'm aware. Then came David, my co-driver who is still fairly new to the sport, and driving my under-prepared car. DFL went to another corvette, with even more power, probably even less suspension. That car also drag races, and the two sports are more or less diametrically opposed, and so that car is probably the least well prepared (for this sport).

Of course the driver also mattered, and I don't think there were any upsets in terms of skill vs placement with the possible exception of Jenna. The year I started racing she was struggling in SSM (in the Panda), and the complete novice in the lotus even beat her once (that's me). This time she ripped off a fabulous second run the second day securing 3rd place. However, she's married to the owner of the SM national champ car, and has been to multiple nationals and tour events, so maybe it's not so surprising... She gets more seat time and has better car.

None of the above is why I'm disappointed however. The disappointment stems from the fact that I KNOW I could have done better. My second run on the second day will haunt me forever. I launched well, with just a tad of wheel spin, ran it up onto the cams and shifted just in time for the first offset. On that and the next two offsets, I hit them with a pretty good line, and got a small amount of inside wheel-spin exiting the second and third.. The slalom at the end of the first runway I made a nice entry at good speed, and ran the whole thing fast but smooth. I was still ahead of the cones at the end and made a perfect accelerating exit.

The turn onto the taxiway was perfect. I can't imagine anyway to improve it. I found myself lined up and in perfect position for the taxiway. This allowed me to floor the accelerator all the way through the taxiway, and I bounced off the rev limiter 2-3 times before a beautiful break and turn. The back half of the course went very well. I was in the groove and the only mistake was not quite getting on the throttle soon enough out of the big sweeper, but I still got on it and stayed on it until the final runway. Everything was feeling awesome. I was killing it and I knew it.

That's where things went terribly wrong. I missed my breaking point for the turn onto the home stretch. I broke too late, got into the marbles, and slid right through the back of the cone wall. I was off course. I know that that run would have shaved at least 1.5-2 seconds off of my time, there were a bunch of places where I was slightly late or slow on the throttle on my first run... Two seconds would have put me in 3rd for the day, 2.8 seconds would have earned me a trophy for both days... Crap.

My last run, I just couldn't get my head back in the game and got late on several turns, the errors started to build up, and then I hit cones, at which point I just cooled it off, and finished the course without trying very hard. At that point I was simply trying not to hit more cones and cause a delay for the event. The result was only a half second slower than my first run... (before time was added for the 3 cones I hit) which tells you how bad my first run was.

The silver lining is that I KNOW that I'm not just imagining that I was driving fast. I worked the taxiway while Brian Connors, and Pat Salerno ran their runs. They are legendary national class drivers, driving an elise in SS. Neither of them hit the rev limiter on the taxiway. Pat sounded like he was almost there on his final run, but not quite.

My car is probably 75lbs lighter, 10 more horsepower, and switches over the variable lift & timing 500 RPM earlier, so I have a slight advantage. The good news is I was using that advantage. I just blew near the end, and that's disappointing.

Next time...

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....

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Faster, but Frustrating

The good news is it didn't rain. A few days before the 4/21 event, it looked like a soaker, but instead it was a truly nice day, with temps in the low 70's, just a few degrees below ideal for my car. My times were some of my best ever, and I set a record for "PAX SS". I out paxed a lot of people that usually beat me, and my season pax standings score was 92.5, which is also a new high. The other good news is Matt Neiman was at this race, and racing well. This time I had real solid competition.

Matt's car is a turbo, stroked, Miata that is prepared almost entirely to the class limit. Matt is also considered an instructor driver for the Renegade Miata club. I was quite surprised that I was beating him last year, and to hear him tell it his suspension settings were giving him issues all year. This year he seems to have sorted them out.

The bad news is he beat me by 0.309 seconds. The other bad news is I had cone troubles again. This time it was particularly frustrating because I had no idea where I was hitting the cone. It turns out I was just barely basing the same cone. In other words, I was running over the base, but not actually hitting the cone, which means it wasn't actually making a noise that I could hear, and therefore I had no idea what to do differently. 

The result was that on runs 3, and 5, I ran a time that should have been a significant improvement (we won't talk about the 6 cone debacle that was run 4). Repeatedly, the time slip I was handed looked good, and I started to celebrate only to hear later that I had actually hit a cone and I was in danger of coming in last. Finally I played a hunch and took a calculated risk on run 6, and peeked in my rear-mirror, knowing that I probably would loose time by doing so, and I managed to spy the offending cone.

The next run I hit a different cone, but I am sure I missed the one that had been plaguing me. On the 8th and final run I managed to repeat my last run heroics, and run my fastest time, clean. I found out from my co-driver David later, that I wiggled a cone, but wiggle is good, and based is bad! The difference is probably less than half an inch.

This is better than last year where I had a string of last runs that had an awesome time, but a cone penalty as well. However as PJ put it... I need to drive that fast on my first run. All I could say in response was: "Yes I do!"

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Look

Changed the background, tweaked some colors to work with it. I also improved the standings page with photos of almost all the competitors (courtesy of Eddie Savage of course).

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Good Start

Last year at the start of the season, I was lamenting not being able to attend the 1st event and 4rd place finish in the second event. Last year there were also only 4 competitors total in the first 2 races. It was a smallish class and a seriously uninspiring start.

This year, is nearly the polar opposite. I made it to the first points event, and Super Street Modified was the largest class of the day with 9 total drivers. Also, this year I found a co-driver and as for who seems to be a cool guy, committed to racing and excited to drive a Lotus.

As for how I did... this more or less sums it up:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Yes We Camber!

Now that I have a fresh new U-joint in the steering and the winter gas is all burned off, it's time to get ready for racing. This year I intend to work hard to ensure that the camber and toe are properly set, the car is corner balanced, and I hope to work out the best settings for my shocks, sway bar and tire pressures in light of the new setup.

That's about a six variable optimization (if you don't count weather & temperature), which is kind of daunting. Where does one start?

While I was doing the work on the steering, I noticed that my right side had a lot fewer camber plates than the left, so I had a strong suspicion that my side to side camber was not correct. Therefore, since this appears likely to be out of whack and since the settings are available on Lotus-Talk, I'll start there.

Over the winter, I bought a SmartCamber tool, but before I can use it I need to get the car on a level surface and equipped as if it were racing. We want to optimize for racing so the setup will be slightly off for road use, but road driving isn't a competition (despite what the folks in the urban assault vehicles seem to think).

I put on the race tires, removed the tow bar and put 150lbs of books and break rotors in the driver's seat to simulate the driver (which is around 7% of the weight of the car!). To level the car, I shimmed the wheels with linoleum tiles (available for 69 cents each in Home Depot). I measured how many each wheel needed with a 78" long level resting on a couple of sockets and the SmartCamber tool, which is really just a fancy level. After marking the point I measured the tiles, rolled the car to that point and jacked it up. After jacking the car up, and placing the tiles under the wheels I also inserted a plastic bag folded over with some motor oil between the folds. This allows the tires to slip sideways when the car comes back down and avoids the need to roll the car back and forth.

The camber measured -1.1 on the right side and -0.1 on the left side. That's a whole degree of difference, which may go a long way to explaining why my car tended to ABS earlier than it should in threshold breaking. Also, thinking back I can't remember any spins that were clockwise. I hadn't thought about it before, but I suspect that the setup I had settled on in terms of shocks/tire pressures and sway bar settings last year was flawed. Possibly, the right side of the car was slightly tail happy, but neutral on the left, which would be consistent with a better camber setting on the right that gave the front right more traction in a left turn than the front left had in a right turn.

The rear was better, -2.0 on the right, and -1.7 on the left. The latter is stock and the former is just a little bit less than the recommended setting for autocross which is -2.25.

I took out all three shims on the front left, one on the right rear and two out of the left rear. The result was -1.0/-1.1 in the front and -2.1 -2.3 in the rear. This is now within the .2 side to side tolerance recommended by Lotus (just barely for the rear). Many serious racers seek even more negative camber in the front, but to achieve more one needs to replace or mill the steering arms.

Anway, Next up... Measuring the Toe. Here are some pictures of my setup...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Back on the Road

All put back together, and burning off the winter Gas...

Next mission, check and set the camber & toe on all 4 wheels...

Friday, March 9, 2012

U-Joint Install

In a previous post I promised to describe the lower U-Joint install. This was before I understood the depth of this undertaking. I am now in the middle of it (and an additional repair I found along the way). It turns out to be necessary to unbolt the entire steering column and shift it by an inch or two. I don't want to give folks advice on working in the vicinity of the airbag system, so I will only list some general guidelines as to what is entailed, and not a step by step process. The idea here is to help you understand whether or not this project exceeds your mechanical ability or available time frame, not to provide a guide. Things you must do include:

  • Removal of the bolts for the u-joint shaft where it attaches to the steering rack, and the upper U Joint. This will be very difficult if you are overweight, or taller than 6 ft. If getting into the car is difficult for you, this may be physically impossible.
  • Removal of steering column shrouding, and the binnacle over the instrument cluster.
  • Removal of the instrument cluster, and switch pack
  • Unbolting of the steering column.
Please consult the lotus manuals, or other resources for details and safety precautions. I STRONGLY suggest you read section WD of the service manual on airbag safety. I have purchased a copy myself. Working on any part of the vehicle containing pyrotechnic safety devices (i.e. airbags, and seatbelt pretensioners) without the service manual is very dangerous. Note that in the Elise BOTH airbags will deploy and the seatbelt pre-tensioners will also fire if the system is fooled into thinking a crash has occurred. Static electricity can also set off airbags, so proper disablement is important.

Things you don't have to do that I did:
  • Loosen the steering rack - I thought I might be able to avoid moving the steering column this way, but it is insufficient to allow removal of the U-Joint.
  • Take apart the whole dash board. I did this following a thread on Lotus Talk (see links page), but when I got a copy of the manual, it became clear that the dash could be left in place. However, dash removal is not that hard, and it makes getting to the back bolt of the steering column a piece of cake. 
  • Remove the Steering wheel from the steering column, although it's not hard and makes access into the dash to remove the rear steering column bolt much easier. This requires airbag removal however, so I repeat... 
Please READ section WD of the manual before working on the dash or steering column! Airbag Detonation can cause serious injury or death. Also note, that for dash removal you have to break 4 clips on the passenger airbag cover, and that you must buy new ones to replace them. They were only about $10 for all 4 (plus shipping), but you cannot re-assemble the dash without them.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


This is priceless... I've sat in places where I could see my car and seen similar stuff...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Calendar Complete

Found the dates for Bay State Corvette Club and Track Club USA. Now my calendar page can answer the question "Who is at Devens?" for every weekend day this summer except June 10. If you know who's there on the 10th, let me know! Still haven't done squat to get ready for the season... Perhaps I will get a chance to start later this week.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Prep for Season #4

As always, the first step is to find out when the races are, so I built a google calendar to hold them all. You can see it here.

Mechanical Prep:
  1. Replace the aging and loosening U joint in the steering. It's no where near dangerous, but the play is dissatisfying in a car that is so tight everywhere else. The looseness lets it wander just a bit over bumps and with camber changes on the highway. It also probably makes my steering input more abrupt while racing.
  2. Bolt check
  3. Oil Change
  4. Check Toe on front wheels.
  5. Check corner balance (need to borrow scales)
  6. Check/set camber on all wheels (need tool)

Brakes, and tires should be all set till mid season.  This year the emphasis will be on set-up, and getting the most out of what I have. I've done all the easy/cheap modifications for the most part, and so now I need to optimize what I have before I consider spending big $ on an LSD, clutch and flywheel.

I'll be doing the U-Bolt install on my own, so I'll post what I did for that in the next article.