Sunday, July 10, 2011

Preparation: Weight Loss

I had my car aligned and corner balanced back in January when I finished the build.  A bunch of local winning racers that I met at the track when doing my research and on the forum had recommended that I go to TFB.  Tim F. Barber has won more races and has so many trophies that his shop is absolutely overflowing.  His shop is located at Infineon Raceway.  Tim did a great job on my car at the time.

However since that time, I have had about 5 off track excursions (remember the big spin I told you about at Thunderhill...?).   After the last Laguna race, I removed the wheels, rotated them and washed the car.  While the wheels were off, I noticed that the passenger side tires seemed a bit more worn on the outside than I expected.  I didn't think much of it at the time.  However, when I drove the car over to TC Design when I had Tony build my exhaust.  I noticed that the car didn't feel the same and the steering wheel was slightly turned to the left.

My car is still registered and insured by the way.

Something was obviously wrong and tires are expensive.  I am planning on taking the car into TFB so I can have it aligned and corner weighted again.  In preparation of taking the car to him, I want to do 2 things:
1. Remove some weight.
2. Install a Cool Suite system.

I had my car weighed at Laguna on the Tech Inspectors scales just to check what it weighed in at.  I had half a tank of gas when I weighed the car at TFB the first time.  The fuel gauge was on E so I probably only had 2 gallons of gas in the car.  I weighed in at 2302 with me in the car.  The rules state that minimum weight is 2275 for the 1.6 Miata.  Fuel weighs about 6lbs per gallon so I figured I could stand to loose a bit of weight from the car.

TC Design trimmed material from the doors when they did the cage.  They trimmed enough to fit the dual NASCAR bars on each side so I had a little bit to loose - or so I thought.

There was a recent discussion on Mazda Racers about removing material from the doors:
In that discussion, everyone seemed to think that you needed a plasma cutter or air tools to trim the doors.  It sounded a bit over kill when I read that thread.  I had a look at my doors and the sheet metal is really thin and flimsy.  It seemed like it wouldn't be that hard to trim the doors with the tools that I had available.  Remember - I don't have air tools or a welder.  I work on my car in my garage with hand tools that I bought I Sears.

I had some time today and decided to try some weight loss techniques on my driver's door while I was doing laundry.

Have a look at this pic here.  Note that I already removed a rather heavy part in this pic as you can tell by the gray colored area at the top.  I also started cutting out a small triangle of sheet metal in front of the door handle.
If you look closely, you will notice a series of 1/2" sized holes along the top and bottom of that gray area.  That is where I used my power drill and a Uni-bit to drill out the spot welds and pull that part off.  Check out the pic below of the part removed and the tools I used:
Sorry, the Uni-bit is not pictured.  Do notice that long white piece of sheet metal.  Can you guess how much it weighs?
That part along weights 2.5 lbs!  Frickin amazing how heavy that part is.  It is rather thick gauge metal and is butted up against some thinner gauge metal.  I was able to remove that using the power drill alone and a screw driver to do a little bit of prying in about 20 minutes.

As you can see in my pic with the tools, there is a bunch of scrap sheet metal, a Dremel and some sheet metal sheers.  I put them to use as well removing a bit more of the door metal as you can see in this pic:

Notice the line where I stopped cutting on the top end.  There is a reason behind that.  That top section is two layer metal spot welded together.  It is actually quite strong.  The sheet metal used for those two layers is nowhere near as thick as the part that I removed.  I left that dual layer area intact and just cut/trimmed the single layer of sheet metal around that section.  I don't need to loose a lot of weight so it really wasn't worth the effort to go crazy cutting stuff out.  Plus the laundry was done. :)

Oh, by the way, that pile of scrap metal didn't even register on the scales so not much to loose there...

I stopped there for today, cleaned up and got the shop vac out to vacuum out all of the metal shards that the drilling created.  If you decide to to this yourself, do wear proper safety equipment.  I wore glasses and gloves and put shoes on once the shards of hot metal started sprinkling down over my sandal wearing feet.  That stuff is HOT.  I also got hit in the face with a decent amount of metal scrap while drilling so do be careful.  Some metal in the eye will result in a trip to the emergency room or worse....  I will drill out that top section that weighs 2.5 lbs from the passenger side during the week as I have time.

Regarding the cool suit, I'm going to try and build my own next weekend.  They retail for about $300.  Judging by some threads floating around the net, I should be able to build my own for about $100.  I'll post up about that when/if I'm able to pull it off.  The temps at the next race at Thunderhill is expected to be in the 90s and 100s!  Gotta keep cool.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Preparation - Finally got an exhaust

My car is underprepared.  Till now, I spent most of my time and money on safety and reliability parts - and track time - figuring I'd catch up on power later when my skills improved.  I haven't even adjusted the timing on the car yet.  Mostly b/c I have no idea how and am too busy/lazy to figure it out. :)  Exhaust was still the stock exhaust and cat.

Anyway, at the San Francisco region's Spec Miata Festival at Laguna a couple of weeks ago I won an ART tuned Air Flow Meter during the raffle.  The car pulled a lot harder up top.  It felt very good.

Power corrupts...

In my last race report, I told you that a friend of mine drove my car in ITE at Laguna.  I watched from the grandstands and heard just how quiet the car was with the stock exhaust.

I definitely needed to fix that issue too...

After checking out fellow SM racer, Juan Pineda's cool custom exhaust (by Evil Genius Racing) and feeling what the ART tuned Air Flow meter did, I decided I should get an exhaust.  I thought about the Springfield Dyno exhaust that many people run.  However, the fitment issues some people experienced scared me off.  Plus I'd have to take it somewhere to get the rear part welded on anyway.

Another complication with exhaust here in the San Francisco region is Laguna Seca.  We have to meet stringent sound levels when we race at that track - approximately 90db.  The Springfield Dyno exhaust is much louder than that.  Many people have the local race fab shops add a second muffler to the rear of the Springfield Dyno exhaust to make sound. 

So I decided to go to TC Design since Tony built my cage, he is nearby and he does awesome, timely work.  TC Design builds his exhausts so that you have 2 rear sections:
  1. A straight pipe that exits straight out the driver rear.
  2. Piping and a performance muffler that exits at the stock location on the Miata.
You can swap back and forth as needed and pricing is about the same or less than the SD exhaust plus having him add the rear section later.

So I scheduled an appointment.  Dropped the car off this morning.  Picked it up this afternoon. 

My car finally sounds like a race car.    Fixed that "problem".  Should have more power also.

I'd take a pic but its not easy to do in the garage.  The next race video should sound racier!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Catching up on the 2 Laguna Seca races - June 16-19 - Carnage

Laguna Seca race #2 - June 16-19 - Spec Miata Festival
I came into this race feeling so confident.  I knew the track better now.  I could trust the car.  And I had added the Grassroots Motorsports stickers. ;-)

The June event was a 4 day Double Regional event - which means 2 races instead of one.  Testing was on Thursday.  Practice and Qualifying was on Friday.  Saturday included one race and another qualifying event for Sunday's race.  In addition to all this, it was a Spec Miata Festival so we had an extra race on Sunday at the end of the day!  Very cool.

As part of the Spec Miata Festival, there were some extra special activities.  Friday night was a Spec Miata BBQ and raffle and we took a group picture at the corkscrew.  Its amazing how many Miatas you can fit on track 4 wide for a picture!  I gotta find that pic somewhere.  It was pretty cool.

Anyway, the BBQ and raffle was awesome.  Everybody brought something or multiple somethings and Mazda was giving away $2,000 worth of credit for parts at Mazda Motorsports.  I brought some stuff to give away and won 2 cool things.  I won an ART tuned air flow meter offered up by a fellow SM racer that switched to Sealed Spec Miata, which was awesome, and a set of front brake pads from M&L Racing, doubly awesome!  There were a lot of cool stuff being offered up.  Lots of generosity from a lot of the local shops and fellow racers.  

'Nuff of that.  Lets talk racing. :)

I did not attend the Test day on Thursday but it was eventful.  Apparently every test session ended with a black flag.  Lots of carnage and wrecked cars.  Fellow rookie Terrie G rolled his recently purchased flat black Spec Miata.  It did 2 barrel roles at the exit of turn 4 and came to a rest on its roof.  Terry did not enjoy retelling the story to us but he did.  The roll cage and safety equipment did their job.  Larry Oka and his crew came through and made the car driveable and a windshield installer came to the track to replace the windshield.  Amazingly enough, he drove and raced the car all weekend!  The workers gave him the "Hard Charger of the weekend" award for his efforts!

Friday went normally.  I was pitted with my friend John D who has been racing SM for a few years and has been a great help to me.  Gary P was also pitted with us.  I asked John for info on tire temps before going out so the car felt grippy.  It was pushing a bit at turn 2 and 11 still but I did what I could to get around it.  

Saturday and Sunday went normally too.  My times overall were faster by 3-5 seconds or so compared to the prior race. Although the video shows me getting passed more part of that was from front runners who had gone off and were making their way through the pack again.  There were about 70 Miatas entered for the race.  It was a big field!  I drove cleanly.  Others did not and you could see the body damage during the race.

The big exciting parts of Saturday and Sunday include 3 particular events:

1. Double Stinting
First, my friend and fellow RX7 nut, Guy, broke his car.  He is racing a yellow 93 RX7 in ITE.  His oil cooler exploded.  He asked to borrow my car for Sunday's qualifying and race so he could earn points and retain his lead in the championship.  I agreed.

It was weird having someone else drive my car but interesting to watch.  He kept it clean and I could tell he wasn't pushing too hard.  Just driving fast enough to earn points.  The odd part of the whole thing was that the car was now being used in 2 classes with little down time in between.  I wasn't sure what to do about tire pressures as a result.  I went out w/o changing pressures and the tires got too hot and lost grip as a result.  The second time around, he set the pressures for me while I suited up.

Lesson Learned: Tire Pressures when hot
I had no idea what to do about tire pressures when the the car was still hot and fresh off the track.  Apparently what you should do is set them to what you would have set them if the tires were cooler since they will increase by about the same amount the next time out.  Makes sense in retrospect.

2. Crashing and body damage repair
My fellow rookie racer Cliff and Gary P got into each other about 100 feet before the checked flag on Saturday.  Apparently Gary got loose and potentially lost control at the exit of turn 11.  Cliff was trying to get around him and their cars collided.  Cliff was sent into the inside wall damaging the driver side fender and scuffing up the front bumper.  His passenger side door and fender were also damaged from the collision with Gary.  Gary's car was also damaged in the driver side rear corner.  I broke out my BFH and crow bar and Cliff and Austin got it driveable again.  Thankfully it was just body damage and the car was ready to race.  Neither driver was injured.

3. Crashing and suspension damage
My fellow rookie racer Brandon driving the Sharpie car took a light hit in the passenger side rear wheel by another rookie competitor who spun and hit him.  I didn't know about it until we were starting to get ready to go to dinner.  His car was jacked up and he was changing to his street tires since he doesn't trailer his car.  He told me what happened and I popped my head under the fender to take a look.  

I had read that when a Miata gets hit in the wheel, the long rear bolt that attaches the spindle to the rear lower control arm bends.  So I quickly looked at the bolt and saw it was bent.  Oh boy....

So I got my BFH and the crow bar from Cliff and we set to work.  A fellow racer had a "Drift Pin" which we used to bang the bolt out and had a spare bolt that he sold him.  We spent an hour pounding that bolt out.  Everybody took a turn hammering.  It was kinda tiring.  I need to get one of those tools and add it to my collection of things to bring to the track.

Anyway, we got the bolt out and Brandon drove the Sharpie car to dinner.  Alignment didn't feel great.  He got it aligned the next morning and discovered that he had bent the subframe as well.  Looks like we'll need to fix that too.  He is mildly annoyed at the situation but...

Lesson Learned: Consider changing your setup instead of driving around issues
Now, remember the "pushing"  or understeer I mentioned in turn 2 and turn 11?  If I had given it some more thought, I could have raised the front or rear of the car 1/2 a turn on the coilovers to try and dial that out.  I lost a lot of speed on both of those turns, partially b/c of this handling issue that I was driving around instead of adjusting my setup to address it.  I'll remember that next time.  My car has been corner balanced and aligned by a TFB - a top level race setup shop based out of Infineon Raceway.

So that is the scoop.  Lots of lessons learned that should help me for the next race at Thunderhill.  As a rookie you learn a lot and the key to getting faster is seat time and understanding the mistakes you are making so you can try not to repeat them.

Catching up on the 2 Laguna Seca races - Memorial Day Race

I haven't had much time to post lately so my apologies.  We had 2 races at Laguna Seca within 3 weeks of each other.  Balancing a challenging job, family and prepping for the next race apparently was more time consuming than I expected.  Prior to these 2 races, we have been on average once a month schedule.  Once a month is easier to manage at this stage of my life.  More than once a month, while totally enjoyable, takes more time and effort than I have available.  The cost of 2 events on the same month is also a challenge but I'll leave that topic for a different post. :)

Memorial Day race @ Laguna Seca
Recapping the Memorial Day race at Laguna Seca - It was a total blast as expected.

Preparation - I had only been to Laguna Seca once before in my street car (1993 RX7) so I really don't know the track very well.  I had tried to prep by watching video to learn the line.  Watching video is an OK prep but the reality is that video doesn't do the track justice.  There is a lot of elevation changes which affect your braking points and how much speed you want to try and carry through the turns.

Coaching - As part of SCCA membership, you have access to the Racing Driver's Club.  This is essentially a mentoring program where they pair you up with a more experienced racer that you can ask questions to and they can give you input and coaching.  It is free to rookie drivers in the first season like me. :)  I spoke with my coach throughout the weekend and got great tips each time.

The car was reliable as expected. Gotta love Miatas. :)

So my first time out for practice session at Laguna, I felt lost out there.  I was supposed to go out with my mentor and do some lead follow exercises but I was late getting to grid and he had left already.  So I went out on track and realized just how lacking video was as preparation.  I slowly gained some confidence with the corners, identifying braking points, turn in points and exit points.

This first practice session, I also struggled with tires that just did not feel like they were gripping.  If you have read one of my first posts about SCCA Driver's School, you would realize that I had this problem before... The ambient temps on track were pretty cold that first morning and either I didn't start out with correct tire pressures or I was driving hard enough to get the tires up to temp and pressure.  Probably both.  Toyo RA1 like to be run in the 38-40lbs range depending on shave.

Lesson Learned: Tire Pressures, Tire Pressures, Tire Pressures!
It really is amazing just how important tire temps are.  It would have been helpful to have known what temps to start the tires out that morning but I had never been to the track and didn't have any setup notes and didn't think to ask my fellow racers for advice.

Anyway, I figured out the temp issue after the session when I checked my tire temps.  They ranged from 36.5 - 37.5 all around.  It didn't help my confidence though.  I was not feeling particularly confident about myself after this practice session.  Confidence is important - both in the car and in your own abilities.

Qualifying - I checked and adjusted tire pressures (adding 1.5 or so to some tires) before the next time out which was a qualifying event.  That one went much better.  The ambient temps had increased  tires felt like grippy and the car felt good again.  It did push in turn 2 at the end of the main straight and also in turn 11 coming onto the main straight but I did what I could to drive around this - more on this later in this post...

I don't remember exactly where I qualified but it was toward the back and around my fellow class of 2011 racers.  You can see the action in the video I posted.  Regardless of what the video shows, I loved every second of it.  :)  I got a slight tap on turn 11 toward the end of the race when the P1 and P2 drivers caught up with me but no big deal.

The one thing that surprised me was how much quicker the leaders caught up and lapped the back of the pack at Laguna Seca.  In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise really since Laguna Seca is a much shorter track than Thunderhill but I'm a rookie so it was...  At Thunderhill, I can get to the last lap of the race w/o being lapped.  At Laguna, b/c it is a shorter track, the leaders start making their way through at the mid point of the race.  I spent a lot more time driving my mirrors and that caused some mistakes on my end.  I'm still compromising my race so that I can let the race leaders through w/o incident.

Lesson Learned: The importance of Race Craft
I learned another big lesson this weekend.  Race craft is very important.  Although I don't have video of Saturday, I was stuck behind a slower driver with a faster car.  He was renting a well prepared car with a "pro" motor.  The car had a ton of power on me.  I could pass him on certain turns but he would just put the throttle down and motor on by me like I was standing still.  I'm basically running a low mileage (90k) motor from a 91 Miata.  I'm still running the stock exhaust and cat for that matter also.  I'm very unprepared compared to other cars.

You can probably see myself and my fellow rookie racers in the Yellow/Orange Larry Oka rental car driven by Austin and the Sharpie car owned by my buddy Brandon.  Austin was able to force the green car with the Union Jack hardtop into a mistake on turn 11 and the three of us barely managed to get through.  You can see how strong the motor in that car is by the fact that he was able to pace us all the way down the straight even though we passed him at turn 11.  Simply amazing.

I need to start learning Race Craft and how set people up for a pass.  I guess that's progress. :)

All in all, we had a great time racing and everybody went home with cars in one piece - which is more than we can say about the next race....  Read on....