Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bye Bye Maybes

In several previous posts I have pondered the state of my build and the state of my driving in relation to the ultimate autocross competition, the SCCA Solo Nationals. Those speculations were a matter of finding someone who HAD been to nationals, supposing that maybe they drove as well locally as at nationals, and maybe they were on good tires, or hadn't just screwed with their setup the night before, and maybe, I could drive in 3 runs as fast as I do in 6 or 8... etc.. maybe, maybe, maybe.

But now, this year I don't need to engage in the maybe's. I finally fulfilled a dream and managed to get me and my car out to Lincoln Nebraska for SCCA Solo Nationals (with the invaluable assistance of my co-driver Bob Lang! Thanks Bob!). So now, rather than say "maybe I would have placed..." I can now say firmly that I *did* place 10th of 17 competitors in SSM and slightly over 50% in the overall PAX rankings. These are now facts, not suppositions.

Obviously, when I dreamed the dream of going to nationals I hoped to say something slightly better than that. The problem is 1305 other competitors also had a dream they were trying to fulfill too... :). But it was a first time, and firsts are always  learning experiences. Things I learned include:
  • 1306 is a LOT of competitors, the sheer scale of the event is incredible. Acres of cool cars to see!
  • 5 days straight of walking around on concrete in the sun poses a significant hydration challenge, which requires more attention and care than a single day of autocross. 
  • Driving while dehydrated is not a good strategy. My driving on the first day was fighting a hang-over-like dehydration headache, and I didn't realize the nature of the problem until just before first runs. I sucked down a full bottle of water after each run and by my third run I started to feel better, but even so, what seemed fast to me simply wasn't fast at all.
  • One has to be careful about over-excitement... on my very first run I went off course because I had planned so carefully how to be sure to stay ahead of a turn that I had wonderful amounts of grip (and probably not quite enough speed), and so it seemed natural to use that grip... and I turned harder and cut inside of a cone I didn't need to. I made the course harder for no good reason at all!.
  • I REALLY need to solve the fuel starve problem in my car. I fuel starved on my first run on the practice course on Wed, and this then made me second guess turn after turn all weekend long. On the second day I wound up running an at elast 20lbs extra gasoline to avoid fuel starve in the huge long left handed sweepers. So remove that gas, and save 9lbs on an Aluminum tank... an easy -30lbs, and fewer distractions.
  • Concrete is grippy, but only a tenth of a G more at most (race capture showed readings in the upper 1.6G ranges a few times), and then only when you can get yourself to trust it that much further.
  • Experience matters. Bob got it done better than I did, and brought in a 7th place finish out of 17, which was more or less my best case target for the event.
  • There is certainly a capability gap in the current prep level of my car. It's happened before that some of our local Aliens have hopped in my car and shaved 2 seconds off vs my times on a 60 second course. Thus far in my car bob and I have split 2 and 2 for who drives faster, so starting from Bob's time, and giving him .5 for one spot he feels he messed up on his final run the first day, we get about an 8 second gap, shaving 4 seconds for alien level driving, this leaves about 4 seconds, across 2 60 second courses to make up. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that 2 of the top 3 PAX times for the *entire* event were in my class... the third being Billy Davis in CSP... for a second straight year.
  • Billy Davis is just amazing... he set top pax for the entire event, with a car that was running on only 3 out of 4 cylinders on the first day... This also suggests that maybe there's  even more than 2 seconds/60 to be gained via driving... but probably I'll never get THAT good.
  • OPR (other people's rubber that sticks to your tires) is a huge issue. I WILL have a portable generator to run a multi tool for removing OPR next time I go to nationals. Any other method of removing it is just insanity.

All in all, it was a fabulous experience, and I want to do it again, if for no other reason than to prove I can do better than 10th of 17... I'm pretty sure I can, but you haven't done it until you've done it. The cars that took home trophies were all max built cars with excellent drivers, and 6th was a McLaren MP-12C. In it's present form I suspect my car can catch the McLaren given an "A-list" driver in my car and the same driver in the McLaren, but to trophy would take exceptional skill.

But for now...  I have gained some experience and we can hope to learn from it for next time.

The car pushed a little, which I noticed on the last run of the last event before Nationals as well. Also, Bob noted that it seems like his FP TR6 had more ultimate grip, so I'm probably going to try some minor tweaks to soften the front slightly and add more camber in the rear... Even on concrete there was at least 3/4 of an inch of excess fender clearance, so I needn't worry too much about softening things slightly...

Monday, August 29, 2016

Busy Summer!

I've had almost no time to maintain this blog lately. 50 hours has become my easy week, with multiple recent 70 hour weeks. However, I have manged (just barely) to sustain racing as well. The good news is that things have been improving nicely through the season. Highlights since the last blog entry...


Won Jeff Gordon Trophy,  got top 10 at NER, FTD @ BMW, went to a pro solo,  Did well at other events, video of top ten run here.

SCCA 6/19 (Points Event #4)

This event was a redux of the first event's co-drive with Brian Levesque. Every thing about this event was fabulous. The course was fun and fast, Brian's advice was helpful and the car was working well. Brian drove the car to 6th in PAX finally providing evidence that the car is solidly capable of a top 10 finish.  (Ben took it to a 9th previously, but 9th and 10th are the bottom edge, and one can never know if it was a fluke or not, perhaps something only Ben can achieve...). Both Ben and Brian are fabulous drivers, but at 6th however, at least half the "regulars" in the top 10 had to have screwed up for it to be a fluke. I also had a very good result, with my best SCCA finish to date. 1.5 Seconds off of top PAX for 15th in overall PAX.

NE-SVT 7/16

Another excellent event, I managed to eventually find the 2nd fastest time of the day. The only car I couldn't catch was an E-modified Lotus 7 with a v6 engine... So I was the fastest production car of the day, but not quite able to truely say "FTD". Still, a crazy fun event. I got a second place prize shirt that says "Autocross, where the difference between winning and loosing can be 0.001."

SCCA 7/17 (Points Event #5, Racing against Leukemia)

This was a day of mixed results. My Co driver was Jeff Seeger who had driven last year, but this was his first time on the new wider tires. My results for the main competition were rather blah, a second or so off of the previous SCCA event, which punted me from 15th to 50th in PAX!! Holy stiff competition Batman! But that's just life in NER :). As nice as the previous course was, the course at this event unfortunately had one spot that really hit a weak spot in my setup. The big turn into the bus-stop 200 degree left-hander had it's braking zone on a series of bumpy cracks, and this set off my ABS on all but 2 runs. One of my worse runs was when it unexpectedly didn't ABS and I wound up stopping way too early and having to let off and re-brake (which then of course did proceed to activate the ABS and take me long anyway...).

As it turned out I was one of the top 4 fund raisers for the Race Against Leukemia again (other folks need to up their game!), so I got to race for the Jeff Gordon challenge for a second year in a row. This time I got to race first against Bob Lang, who was driving a B Modified formula car. So once again formula car vs Lotus (PAX/RTP time scoring). My run started with a big ABS and overshoot at the troublesome spot and an additional mistake on the main run way, probably with a cone or two. I knew I probably blew it, but I just kept going, stayed on course, and finished strong anyway. Always finish the race. As I began to pack up my stuff disconsolately I was amazed to learn that Bob had gone off course! ... ALWAYS finish the race. Never give up.

Next up was someone in an Street class car who's name I have unfortunately lost track of, but my vague memory is that he and his previous opponent were good fund raisers, but fairly new to the sport. None the less, I resolved that I was NOT going to screw up this run... And I did finally put down a fairly decent run, which was faster than my fastest run of the day in class competition. The result: I won! So for a year I get to keep this huge trophy on my mantle! 

Wilmington Summer Pro Solo

I had originally hoped to get my car down to this event, but transport options turned out to be unavailable. So, I wound up getting my first taste of Pro Solo competition in Sam's STS Honda CRX. It was a lot of fun, but Given that it was FWD (not RWD), street tire (not Hoosier), on concrete (not asphalt), with no abs (vs abs in my car)... I had a bit of trouble getting a handle on it, so the big accomplishments were to A) actually get my butt out to a pro solo, and B) not screw up any of the starts ( I had 3 starts in the .5xx 6 starts in the .6xx range and no red lights). We won't talk about my times... You can go look those up if you feel a strong need to be underwhelmed :)

BMW club 8/6 

Having just spent a bunch of time fudging around on a totally foreign setup I figured it would be a good idea to get re-acquainted with my car. The day was fabulous, and I discovered that I really really like Hoosiers better than street tires... so much so that I scored my first ever FTD (fastest time of the day). This was the real deal. I actually went faster than everyone else, within competition runs, and no * or "but" about it.

SCCA 8/7 (points Event #6)

I went into this one with a new motto of "no slow runs." This is an exhortation to myself to not allow my self an early safety run, or "motor course walk" but to go full tilt from the start. I did my best to put up a decent time in the first 3 and wound up 2.8 off of top PAX at the half way mark. On my first run of the afternoon I found 1.5 seconds which would have been enough to replicate my 15th place finish from 6/19, except somewhere I apparently acquired a mystery cone. I never found out where, but the next run was only 1.0 second pick up, and top PAX moved by .9 sec, so I wound up 2.7 sec back from top PAX, and 24th place. This was, however, good enough to win the class.

Renegade 8/13

Had a very good day, and came very very close (again) to beating Sam Creasy on PAX, but coned it away. Sam has been hard to beat because he reliably puts up consistently decent runs. I clearly can run faster, but I have trouble doing so consistently. This time my fastest run was 69.3 seconds and my second fastest was 68.1 + 1 cone... for a net time of 70.1. Again I fell victim to a mystery cone that I probably just barely based. Without that cone, I would have been almost a second ahead of Sam and would have had a second "true" FTD ... and Renegade is a much harder club than BMW. But a cone there was. FTD there was not. Such is autocross. Close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades.

SCCA 8/28 (Points Event #7)

Absolutely picture perfect day for Autox. Mid 80's not too humid, tires worked well and not too hot. Also was on sticker A7's which Alan was helping me scrub in. First run was trash, the release compound was not fully scrubbed off. Second run, I *was* looking ahead, but I picked up the wrong cone, and my line was all wrong resulting in massive Conage. Third run I was thinking about not making the same mistake, and made another mistake on the element before, not paying attention to the present, I tried to drive the taxiway exit in a similar fashion to the last 3 taxiway exits in that direction... but brake late and sweep was not the recipe for this one and I spun. 11 cones in the morning. Stupid mental mistakes.

In the afternoon I finally settled in, had a mediocre first run, and then a really good second run. The third run I actually lost grip in the rear in front of the tower and drove really well thereafter. I made up the lost time and was slightly ahead of the previous run, but got slightly late in the finish, and then the car pushed under acceleration. I was headed straight for the outside row of cones in the finish, and that could damage the car if I center-punched them all. So I tried to lift just a bit to get my nose inside the cone wall, and I did, but unfortunately that was also enough to spin the car. But standing on my 2nd afternoon run I won the class by 0.1 seconds and got my first top 10 finish at NER. Granted it was on a day with 132 registrants, and panda was breaking. My comments about 9th/10th being a possible fluke apply here too, but I did beat every raw time Panda did put up before it broke, so it's still a pretty good day.

Here are videos of Alan an my best runs:

Going into this event, I had a virtual lock on SSM class because none of the other competitors put in a consistent effort this year. This leaves me extremely likely to get a jacket that says NER class champion, but with the first half of the year having been a string of 2nd places, I've been feeling like it's the jacket I didn't want... one for attendance only. With that in mind, I've been pretty intent on showing some sort of improvement in my PAX rankings. In 2014 when I missed the season championship by 0.051 seconds, the competition for season PAX was not nearly as strong as this year. If I equal or exceed my 19th place finish from that year, I will feel like I have earned the jacket anyway. This result, a 96.82 (out of 100 possible) in PAX points definitely helps with that. I should now move up from 24th to something like 20th. One more really good day so I can shed my 92.80 and gain another 3-4 points will probably do the trick. Definitely looking forward to Leafy's return next year.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Season Under Way

All the pent up heat from cold weather this spring apparently got unleashed on us in one blast last Saturday. The second Renegade Miata event was the polar opposite of the first. The first was 50 degrees and windy, This one was 95 degrees and sweltering. Someone apparently determined that the pavement was 130 degrees in the sun. Tires were being sprayed BEFORE the first run. It was HOT. However, my car is generally a good car to have in hot weather with it's monster tires and light weight. Cold weather is a challenge, so as uncomfortable as the heat was, it was in some ways a very welcome change. I very much was interested to see how my car performed in such heat. The result was I managed to get a nice full day of runs where the only thing I needed to worry about was spraying the tires enough and driving. Mostly the tires were ok, though the 4th run of the morning they seemed to overheat, and gave out on me in a fast section. (my liberal application of throttle was also possibly to blame, but it worked the run before more or less). But overall, it was possible to manage the heat with spray water. I had fun, and by the end of the day I began to really feel like I understood the car again and was beginning to push it. My best time of the day got me something like the 5th raw time and while still rough in spots again, looked something like real autocross...

The very next day was the 3rd SCCA event, and the weather had evidently expended all of it's pent up heat, and was now 60 degrees and cloudy all day. Still better than anything mentioned in the last post, but not exactly warm either. The day went fairly well and I feel like I made some further progress getting comfortable with the car, finishing on 2 fast clean runs. Bob, my Co driver also seems to be settling in and learning the car. Here are our fastest two runs:

The data isn't showing as high of a G forces as I had hoped I would get with the new wheels, so soon I'll be looking to suspension setup to try to find more grip. On this particular day I turned out to be the fastest driver. Comparison of our two best runs shows he was faster in some parts early, but i was even faster in the final half of the run.

Finally a comparison of my best two runs...

Sector times seem to indicate I could easily have had another 0.75 sec, and perhaps even a full second without doing anything particularly new. So my coulda-woulda-shoulda time is something like 61.3 or so, which would have been 22ish in pax, and made my car the 3rd fastest vehicle (with doors) at the event. That's the type of result I want to become "ok" for me by the end of this year, with "good" being well into the top 20. Around here "well into the top 20" means putting at least a few nationally competitive folks behind me on their off days. That's the goal at least :)... it's a tough crowd and we've been gaining young talent in the last couple years.  But really, that's normal, so I just have to drive it!

Friday, May 27, 2016

A chilly start

This year started with very cold early April and early may weather. The first event was so cold I had to cancel a registration for the first time in years. Thus my very first time out on the new setup was an SCCA points event. Overall the spring has been less than kind to autocrossers. My experience so far has been:
  • NE-SVT #1: Registration filled up, was very cold anyway...
  • BSCC #1: 28 degrees F in morning forcasted, canceled. Snowed the day before
  • SCCA #1: Cool, dry, tweaking setup & trying to remember how to drive, but on a completely different feel... only 4 runs dsq due to sound 
  • Renegade #1 Cool, dry, slow tight course, car felt very loose 
  • SCCA #2: Cold, Rain AM, one Dry run in cool conditions afternoon, car felt better than previous (faster course? Aero helped by use of soft top?) 
  • TC USA #1: Cold, Rain AM, PM drying Couple Dry runs 
  • NE-SVT #2: Cool, Rain AM, Dry Afternoon, pavement warming quickly, first really good weather but only 3 dry runs b/c tires corded. 
  • NCR-Porsche #1: Cool, but dry and partly cloudy. High in mid 60's.
At the first SCCA event, My co-driver Brian was helpful in spotting the first issue to crop up, which was my front shock settings needed to soften a little. The initial turn in had gone numb probably from the increased sway bar setting. This was then followed by mid corner over steer. The net effect was that one turned in and began to compensate for under steer and just as you started to get that under control the car quickly went into mid-corner over steer. This wasn't actually disastrous, and could be caught, but it generally cost speed and distracted one from focusing on the line.  With changes we got it to the point where the oversteer was consistent and predictable, and thus more driveable. Then we got Disqualified for violating sound.

Subsequent testing with a sound meter in the following week (Thanks Jeff!) led to the belief that putting the closed end on the super trap would solve what appeared to be a highly directional exhaust sound problem. So far there have been no subsequent violations, but as noted above, the events have been less than ideal and rarely allowed me to fully utilize the car.

At the first Renegade event the weather was cold, and the course was very tight, rarely allowing speeds much above 45mph. In these conditions with no soft-top, the car was very loose and not very confidence inspiring. Ben drove my car and although he managed to shave over 4 seconds off my times, he concluded that the car was "just too loose" and lacked the "balanced feel" that it had last year.

After that things went wet on me. The next 3 events all rained for at least half the event. There were dry moments however, and interestingly the car felt more predictable than at the renegade event, perhaps this is because the rain had caused me to put the soft top on, and this decreased the turbulence, and improved the performance of the wing. The best conditions thus far came at the end of the SVT event, whereupon my tires promptly corded... (big sigh).

Luckily I had already ordered replacements and so I showed up at NCR porsche with brand new sticker Hoosier A7 tires. It took a couple runs to get them scrubbed in, and I started to get a feel for it by the final morning run but all runs were still dirty. Finally in the afternoon, I got what I had been waiting so long for a full afternoon on consistent tires with consistent conditions. First I equaled my fastest run with a clean time, then improved with cones then got a clean time a couple seconds faster and finally on my last run set a GOOD time, that would have been FTD for production automobiles, except I slightly clipped a cone with my left tire. It wasn't dramatic, but I did hear it and it totally counts, but it's also probably worth no more than a tenth or two, so while I had to settle for 5th raw time, 3rd among cars with doors. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ready for 2016

Changed (+17lbs):
  • Front: 275/35/15 on 10.5" wheels from 205/45/16 on 6.5" wheels
  • Rear: 275/35/17 on 10.5" wheels from 245/45/17 on 7.5" wheels
  • 800 lb/inch rear springs from 650 lb/inch
  • 8mm higher rear height to prevent spring rattle (need tenders)
  • Stiffer front sway bar setting to compensate for spring change
  • Front pads/rotors
Removed (-9lbs):
  • Mudflaps, 
  • Front fender liners, 
  • Fiberglass around wheel well to prevent rub.
  • Wheel spacers
  • Side verticals on splitter (comply with new rules)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Onward and outward

Ok so I've been lazy about posting here again. A quick recap and on to next year...

2015 was a sub-optimal year. At the start of the year the new LSD forced me to spend some time learning how to control my overly binary right foot. This is the sort of thing that was good for me but not good for my times. The best part of the year came right around the Evolution Performance Driving school, where I seemed to drive particularly well. I also did well at the Renegade Miata event mentioned in my last post. At SCCA events through out the year, I was having new co-drivers every event, and while all of them were excellent, nice helpful people, my own internal psychology left me self conscious, and there were some badly handled first runs, including one with the e-brake partly engaged. Generally, I calmed down by 2nd or 3rd run, but my times suffered since the first run or two didn't really give me a feel for the course.

Even worse, by the end of July and middle of August, the adhesive capsulitis of my shoulder that had started with an injury in March progressed to the point where it was interfered with my race prep and possibly my driving. By September, I could hardly lift my arm to 45 degrees to the side and I was getting cortisone shots instead of lap times. I had to miss my first SCCA event in 5 years. With several weeks off and the start of PT, I managed to come back for the Stirling Moss Finale event, and an NCR porsche event before parking it for the winter.

In the last couple events at the end of the year there were some rays of hope. I started softening up my front sway bar, and discovered that that helped greatly with turn in at high speed. At the Moss event I was relieved to be back racing and with the perspective of having missed some driving, I really just wanted to drive. As a result I finally didn't give a crap about what my co-driver might think, and I was really pleased to be able to post a faster official time and a faster raw (+1) time than my very skilled co driver who has many more years of experience (but no prior seat time in my car).

And so for next year...

I'll be moving outward... well my tires will be at least. Next year I will have 10.5" rims with 275 wide Hoosiers. These should be the last major non-power change to my car. For the previous seasons, I have been running 205 fronts on 6.5" rims and 245 rears on 7.5" rims. This is the setup that the super-stock elises use, which is limited by their inability to change the wheel width. The result is a fairly pinched setup, and 20% less rubber on the road than is allowable in SSM. I'm hoping that the new tires will make the car at least 1s faster... maybe more.

To offset weight gain from the wheels and stave off fuel starve I hope to add a lightweight Aluminum gas tank, sometime early in the season. Between the 9lbs savings there and fiberglass, mudflaps and fender liners that will disappear or be reduced with the new wheels, I hope to keep the weight close to what it was last year, perhaps even make progress if I find the time to install a rear-oil cooler setup (eliminating all the piping that runs from the front to the back and 2 heavy oil coolers (and the oil they hold). Most of the lotus community sees these oil coolers as an over-design by lotus, and some replace them because they are not happy with the low oil temperatures they cause.

There are a few more mods around the chassis, but not much significant after this. There is probably some tuning to do, and at some point it's likely I'll need new shocks which will be a big ticket item, but hopefully next year it will be time to start on adding power to the engine via head work and tuning. Since this is a minimum weight focused build, I feel the car should be nearing a competitive form in the class, and a trip to nationals or national events will be worthwhile. I wouldn't be expecting the car to win at nationals yet, but if me or my co driver can nab trophies that would be a nice start. I think a really top driver might threaten the podium in my car in the coming year, but that will probably take more talent than I am likely to show just yet.

The primary obstacle to this plan is transport since I don't have a trailer or tow vehicle. Therefore, any co-driver that can provide transport to national events, can drive for free at SCCA events (local and national) through the full 2016 season.