Sunday, December 29, 2013

What tools do you need for Spec Miata?

If you are the DIY type like most of us budget racers are, you will want to wrench on your Miata and do your own basic maintenance and race preparation.  To do this requires tools.  However, it does not require a lot of tools as the Miata is put together very simply using a common size of fasteners (bolts, nuts etc).  If you just bought a Spec Miata or are preparing to build your own Spec Miata, the list of tools below will be sufficient to perform just about any job.

  • Lug wrench or, if budget allows, a battery powered impact gun for the lug nuts
  • Jack - I like the Sear's aluminum racing jacks.  Mine has been very reliable and solid to use and has a low front so it fits under the side rails.  Look for sales.  Harbor Freight has some small aluminum jacks that will work also 
  • 4 jack stands - I personally like the aluminum jack stands from Harbor Freight because they are really light and are cheap.  2 ton jack stands are sufficient for a Miata but 3 ton also works.  
  • 1/2" drive torque wrench - I have found that the 1/2" drive torque wrench is more useful than a 3/8" drive since it is capable of torquing fasteners to 150 ft-lbs.  I like the Sears Craftsman torque wrench for the combination of price and accuracy.
  • 1/2" and 3/8" drive ratchets - again, I prefer Sears Craftsman for price and reliability and their warranty.
  • 1/2" drive breaker bar (immensely useful!)
  • 3" extension for 3/8" and 1/2" drive
  • 6" extension in 3/8" drive
  • Must have Sockets - You will use these sizes regularly.  Some more than others.
    • 19 mm for the oil drain
    • deep 17 mm 1/2" drive socket for the lug nuts 
    • regular depth 17 mm socket in 3/8" and 1/2 drive
    • 14 mm socket in 3/8" and 1/2" drive
    • 12 mm socket in 3/8" drive 
    • 10 mm socket in 3/8" drive
    • 23 and 24 mm for the transmission and differential oil drain and fill plugs (or get crescent wrenches)
    • 21 mm for the long bolt attaching the rear lower control arm to the spindle / upright
    • 5/8" spark plug socket (use in conjunction with the 6" long 3/8" drive extension)
    • 29 mm 1/2" drive socket for the front hubs.  This will work on the rears unless you are running a Torsen rear from a 99 car then you need a 32 mm socket for those.
  • Crescent wrenches in 8 (brake caliper bleed), 10, 12, 14, 17, 23, 24 mm.  19 mm can be helpful also but not often used.
  • 2 screwdrivers
  • metric Allen wrench set - These are useful good for rear brake caliper adjuster (4 mm is needed to change rear brake pads) and also useful for other bits and bobs around a race car.  I have found 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 mm to be useful.
  • Set of Pliers - I use channel lock pliers for pressing the front caliper pistons back into the caliper.  The other types of pliers are useful for hose clamps, air intake clamps, clipping wires and zip ties etc.  
  • A Big Frickin' Hammer is always(!) useful
  • Oddly enough, I have found a pry-bar to be very useful as well.  I use an old crowbar.
  • Brake bleeder bottle or one of those fancy one-man bleeders 

Nice to have tools and socket sizes.  These are useful occasionally:
  • deep 14 mm in 3/8"
  • deep 10 mm in 3/8"
  • 13 mm is useful in case someone changed an OEM 12 mm bolt or nut to an aftermarket bolt or nut.  The aftermarket ones typically have 13mm heads for the same thread pitch as OEM bolts.
  • Ratcheting right angle Screw driver thingy from Sears has gotten me out of many tight binds...
  • Punch and Chisel kit is also indispensable for pounding out the long bolt in the lower control arm when you bend one.  
I think that about covers the basic hand tools that use on a regular basis.  I carry them in a small plastic tool box from Sears.

Let me know if you have any questions.  Happy wrenching!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Time to rebuild a Spec Miata motor!

I've been racing on a low mileage (91k miles), unopened, street motor for the last 3 years.  It dyno'ed 107 RWHP 2 years ago.  Being down on HP in a Spec class means you are at a disadvantage.  My plan had been to practice and get experience on this street motor and then upgrade to a better motor down the line when my skills improved.

At one point, a friend and fellow competitor did a practice session on my car with fresh tires and was able to do a 2:13 at Thunderhill.  He typically lays down 2:08 - 2:10 and better lap times in a 99 with a "pro-built" motor.  That was my target time.  If I could improve up to that time, then my skills would have improved sufficiently to make full use of a pro motor.

I have finally improved enough where I can hit a 2:13 but I still wasn't as consistent as I'd like so I've been holding off.  Until the events of Laguna Seca a couple of weeks ago.....

At Laguna, I made contact with a tire wall when I made a mistake at Turn 4.  When I changed the oil after the event, I found a few metal chunks stuck to my magnetic oil drain plug.  My theory is that the impact shifted something inside the motor.  On a thread on, knowledgeable people speculated that it could be casting flash while other suspected pieces of a thrust bearing.  Either way, having metal bits coming our of your oil is never a good sign...  See pic:

In your typical Spec Miata field, the engine situation typically breaks down as follows:

1. Cheap bastards like me with untouched street or junk yard motors.
2. Decent, unopened street motor bottom ends with a "pro-built" head that has been rebuilt and machined for higher compression with blueprinting at the valve throats and whatnot as the rules allow.  This typically yields 110-116+ RWHP.  Pro built heads are typically $1k - 1,500k.
3. A rebuilt "regional", "pro-built" motor that is a budget rebuild of the bottom end and head and maybe some head work.  This typically seems to yield around 113-118 RWHP.  Rebello offers a package for $2,500 which a few friends run.
4. A full "nationals" "pro-built" motor that gets all kinds of attention, special sauce and special grease.  Pixie dust as well.  This typically seems to yield around 120+ RWHP.  Haag, Rebello, (local shops) and Race Engineering, East Street are the big names here with prices upwards of $5k.

I could have gone to any number of good engine builders but I decided to try and rebuild the original motor that was in the car.  I'm a low budget, weekend racer.  I don't want to piss away a ton of money on a recreational activity.  I'd rather have it in the bank.  Plus I've always wanted to rebuild a motor.  Now I have an excuse!  I know the history of the 180k miles of the original motor that was in the car so I know it was taken care of.  The poor, neglected motor has been whispering at me from the corner of the garage where it lay for the past 3 years asking to make it run again.

So hear goes nothing.  Over the next few weeks and 2 months, I'm going to chronicle my rebuild, take lots of pics and write a few blog posts about my adventure.  Follow along.  Hope you enjoy it.

I'll leave off with a pic of the poor engine on it's dolly.

Suggestions and advice are greatly appreciated so post up or email me.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tips on installing a new Alternator on the Miata

Creating this short article to try and help out others who may be confused trying to setup the tensioner bolts. I've seen a few people in the pits struggling with them and a few people DNF when they installed them incorrectly.

When I was unloading the Miata after the last race, I noticed that the headlights seemed dim.  So I located my voltage tester and started the car to check the voltage.  Sure enough, voltage was around 12 volts measured at the battery terminals with the car running.  Should be about 14 volts when running.  So I went over the local O'Rielly's Auto Parts and got a new alternator.  Shiny. :)

Here is a pic of the tensioner bolts:

Here is a pic of the tensioner bolts positioned on the alternator off the car:

Here is a pic of the tensioner bolts positioned on the alternator bracket on the car:

Here I have positioned the alternator on the tensioner bracket and fed the bolt through the alternator.  Don't tighten the bolt that goes through the alternator too much yet as you still need to tension the belt properly.

In order to properly tension the belt, don't try to wedge a screw driver or something to put tension on the belt.  Instead, tighten the long bolt against the bracket using a 12mm ratcheting socket.  Don't overtighten.  The only purpose of the long bolt is to put tension on the belt.  Once you have the belt tight, tighten the short bolt that goes through the tensioner block and attaches the alternator to the tensioner bracket.  Don't overtighten this bolt either as it threads into the soft aluminum of the alternator.  Hopefully the following pic does a good job of explaining this visually:

Hope that helps.  Check to ensure that it remains tight next time you run or drive the car just in case....
Also make sure you install the air tube/intake correctly so it doesn't rub up against the alternator belt.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 Racing Season Has Started!

The 2013 racing season has officially begun!

The 2012 season sucked for me.  I started a new job and didn't have the time to race.  I managed to get out and do 3 races.  However, my performance was rather poor compared to my friends from the 2011 SCCA Licensing School.  They were able to attend regularly (monthly) and their times and performance improved regularly.  My performance did not improve during the few races I did.  Seat time - Practice Practice Practice is what you need to improve and get ahead.

I did manage to get out to the San Francisco Region SCCA season opener last weekend at Thunderhill.  I did absolutely nothing to the car to prep.  I didn't even change the oil.  I just showed up, set tire pressures and ran.  I was expecting to have terrible lap times but was very surprised by my performance in qualifying.  I ran a personal best and consistent 2:14 lap times.  The best I did prior was 2:15s so I was stoked.  After this performance I was really looking forward to Sunday's races. :)  Here is a link to video from my qualifying:

I raced both Spec Miata and in ITA.  ITA races in Group 5 which is a mixed marque group of classes including some very fast cars from ITS and ITE and others.  Unfortunately, my Sunday races sucked.  I couldn't string together a consistent, mistake free set of laps nor could I match my times from Sat.  Oh well, I kept it clean and drove the car home in one piece.  Here is video from the race:

My video camera battery went dead so you won't see the closing laps of the race where I spun in Turn 3 and had to go both feet in.  :(

Next race Laguna Seca.  Going to change the oil this time.