Second Half of 2002 Progress
First Half of 2002...
Tuesday, May 21 - "The Buzz"
We got on the track for the first time today, and we're quite happy with the results. Read more about it here.
Memorial Day Weekend - The Import Challenge Race
Well, we survived our first race, the Import Challenge at Lime Rock's spectator event. We had what I would call limited success, and we learned a lot. Read all about it here.
End of June - Time for an update. Honestly, not much has happened in the last month.
As you may recall from my Import Challenge reports and before (see below), we had a frenzy of activity getting ready for that Memorial Day Weekend race. And what a ball it was! However, pre-race testing and the race weekend showed us we had some significant development on the suspension left to go. Unfortunately, that same frenzied activity left me short on the most important racing tool (funds) so I had to back off a little bit.
In the interim we've done some research and jackstand testing of different ideas, so we're on the cusp of getting rolling on these new ideas. Our next scheduled event is the New England Region race at Lime Rock July 26-27 (I will be away on vacation the week of the second round of the Import Challenge July 4th). Our goal is to have both the new suspension and the rollcage improvements in place for that race.
Watch this space, we'll keep you posted!
Not much. Matt did some rollcage mods to try and stiffen up the chassis.
First Week of August - This installation's theme: Real Life Sucks.
No, frankly, we haven't gotten much done. Several excuses, the best being that I was away on vacation for two weeks in July, and I've been away from home on business the remainder of the time. However, the big deal killer is that we can't seem to sort out the suspension problems.
As you may recall, at the Memorial Day Weekend OMP Challenge event we had a pretty good time, but our learning curve was pretty damn steep. We learned primarily that:
- The rear chassis flexes a lot and needs to have the rollcage
cross-braced to the rear suspension points
- We didn't have enough suspension spring in the car (we were running 450/400 springs and had unacceptable roll)
- We definitely didn't have enough shock (with the the Koni Reds we were hopping all over the place)
- Dropped only 1.5" we didn't have enough suspension travel (the front end was bottoming out and it was understeering horribly - and we want about a 2" drop)
- We didn't have enough negative camber on the outside front tire and not enough positive camber on the inside front tires
So, what's a girl to do? Toss it all and start over again, obviously.
At first I was hoping we could design something using the stock strut housings. We hacked away at that idea for a while and eventually rejected it; the stock tubes are too small in diameter to use any reputable racing insert. In addition, we really needed to relocate the mounting points to get more travel out of the thing.
After rejecting that idea we worked to building our own housings. We tossed that idea around and decided we could certainly do it, we have the technology and the skills. However, we were facing some self-imposed deadlines of upcoming races and I didn't know that we would have the time to develop, fabricate, and properly test anything we built. So, the next solution was to find someone that had something already developed and tested.
The only "someone" I could find was Advance Design (http://www.advance-design.com). I talked to Jay Morris of ADS and he said they have a developed and tested solution. The price, while not "cheap," was reasonable. One of my big sticking points was delivery time; Jay told me that they could probably do it within 3 weeks. Perfect, I put our own designs on hold and ordered the ADS, and began planning for the next race 4 weeks from then. Two-and-a-half weeks later, I'd not heard from ADS so I gave them a call for an update. "One and a half more weeks," the rep told me. I was pretty unhappy, but he said that they were "working hard" and should be able to meet that date. I cancelled the one race we had planned that next week and asked them to keep me posted. One week after that, I call ADS again. "At least two more weeks before shipping," I was told. At this point I'm pretty upset not only at the slipping delivery dates but also at their lack of contact with me to keep me updated. Of course, I had to cancel yet another race.
I'm pretty frustrated at this point, so I ordered a set of KYB AGX shocks just so we can get on the track. We'll install these, and at the same time we'll go back to developing and building our own suspension, likely based around the Koni 8611 strut insert. I'm also opening dialogue with JRZ to see what they may be able to offer. I can offer one measure of advancement: Matt has been able to rebuild the aft part the rollcage to use larger plates and crosstubes. Even though it's attached to a bolt-in Autopower rollcage, it should go a long way to helping alleviate the chassis flex on the car.
Let this be a lesson to you, boys and girls: buy, don't build, your race car. In the end it will cost a lot less, and you'll be on the track a lot more. In fact, what you should be doing is building a Spec Miata race car.
Second Week of August - Just when you think life's kicking you in the teeth...it stops.
Unfortunately, we didn't get our trick ADS suspension installed. We did, however, go racing again! Matt kicked holy butt this past week and got the car ready for us to attend the NNJR Regional at Lime Rock Park August 9/10. We did this with the AGX shocks that I referred to before (hey, "just one more week" on the ADS stuff, they keep saying...)
I found that while the AGX shocks were not perfect (nor did I expect them to be with the 450/400 springs we installed) I found them to be much better than the Koni Red shocks. The AGXs got rid of most of the porpoising and bouncing, and since we raised the car a half-inch it didn't appear to be bottoming out in front. Our best Friday qualifying time of 1:04.8 (versus the consistent 1:05s in May) netted us 7th in class of 21, somewhere mid-pack of Group 1 consisting of a melding of SPO, SPU, ITE, AS, ITS, and Lord knows what else. I felt like an ant in a rainstorm.
Saturday's race was a qualified success. I made an excellent start and snookered two of my ITS competitors immediately in front of me (a Bimmerworld BMW and an RX-7). The Porsche 944 in front of me had contact with the leading RX-7 on the left-hander (netting him a 4-lap penalty, which was overturned on appeal). I came around after the first lap in second place, hot on the 944's heels. He crept away from me and a trailing RX-7 made a nice run down the hill, passing me in Turn One. Those two eventually diced it out allowing me to catch up to them several times, and I held second place again for a lap or two. Bad timing with lapped (and lapping) traffic caused me to lose momentum and the RX-7 passed me and eventually disappeared to win the race. I finished the race in third place in class with a best time of 1:03.458 (not bad for our second outing.)
Unfortunately, post-race impound weighed us at 2478#, 12 pounds under our minimum-required weight. The tech folks were real nice about it, allowing us to weight it several times and re-calibrate the scales, but in the end they had no choice: I had to lose my third place. Instead of disqualifying us they penalized me 9 laps, putting us at the back of the group. I got to keep my finish and my lap times. This underweight condition came about because we made some assumptions based on the weighing we did the day before: those same scales showed us at 2540. As a result we removed four gallons of gas from the car (about 24 pounds). I really don't think we used 6 gallons during the 18-lap race, but there you are...
Regardless, we're very happy. That third place was a moral victory and it showed that we're making steady progress with the NX2000 (and its driver!) Despite the penalty we are quite pleased with the weekend. Add a limited slip, a better suspension, a better rollcage and 15 more horsepower, and we may very well have a winner on our hands.
Our next steps are to repair and rebuild that car after this weekend, and work towards some more improvements for the next race. I will be away at the F1 Indy event the weekend of the NARRC Runoffs in September, so the next scheduled event is the October OMP Challenge event at Lime Rock.
Second Week of September - ...and then it starts again.
The last weeks have been somewhat busy. We received our "trick" suspension parts, and promptly had to spend 10+ hours on them to make it 'right'. There were some manufacturing issues we didn't like, so we modified the housings to our liking. We also had to modify their upper camber plates in order to get the camber we needed, *plus* the upper Torrington bearings and thrust surfaces were torn up. So, we modified that as well.
We have a running joke at the shop: we're going to start a new company call "Aftermarket Parts That Don't Suck.com" Seems like EVERY part we buy "off the shelf" has to be modified to either do its job, do its job better, or survive more than one race. Sad, really. You can tell that most of these companies are clever, but they just don't pay attention to the details...Also we're finding that "common knowledge" on these cars is just that. We're getting the distinct impression that except for turbos, N.O.S., and chrome exhausts, we're blazing new trails on this car each day.
So, we've got the suspension in the car now, but we're doing some more detailed work (like trying to find out the effects of these monotube shock designs on spring rate.) A friend of mine (bless him!) bought a set of scales for us to use (we chose the Intercomp EZWeigh 550) so now we have the ability to set the car up correctly in various ways, and see what comes of it. I'm also fabricating a front spoiler for the NX in order to maximize the rules. Photos here. Finally, we're working with a friend on the installation of some data acquisition equipment. This will no doubt prove to be a very useful development tool (for both car and driver.)
Our next competition event is the OMP Challenge at Lime Rock Part October 11/12; we're also going to Summit Point for the Audi Quattro Club Driver's Education event the prior weekend (I'll be instructing there, and we'll have some serious skidpad time available.)
Fourth Week of September - Frustration renewed.
We've had to bag attendance at the Summit Point Audi Club event. The recent changes to the car have made it unsuitable for the street, especially for a 7-hour drive to Summit. I'm working on buying a truck and trailer for towing...
Instead we chose to attend a Lime Rock Park test and tune session the last Tuesday in September. Unfortunately, it was a frustrating experience. Despite being told otherwise by the manufacturer of our suspension parts, we were finding that the car was bottoming onto the bump stops at the legal IT ride height. Discovering and chasing this problem consumed half our test afternoon, and the frenetic pace of the test sessions (20 minutes each separated by only 40 minutes down time) just didn't give us the opportunity to make significant changes to the chassis. Instead we simply removed the bump stops and tried to quantify how far it was going.
Unfortunately, the struts manufacturer was unable to offer any solutions, so we're going to try some clever changes for the OMP Challenge mid-October. With the exception of a couple of lapping events (PDA and Audi Club) that should wrap up our racing season. We'll be taking the winter downtime for some serious thinking and upgrades...
Second Weekend of October - ...and then it rains...
One word: "wet".
This weekend was the last two rounds of the Lime Rock Park OMP Import Challenge. The weekend's festivities were in conjunction with the Busch North Series appearance at LRP. Along with Busch and OMP, Lime Rock also hosted Pro Spec Racer, Legends, and Barber/Dodge races.
As I woke up Thursday morning to my alarm clock playing its typical National Public Radio, to my horror the first thing I heard when I became marginally coherent was 'rain all weekend.' This was a Big Problem: First, I rarely race in the rain, and this is only my third race back after quitting almost 10 years ago. Second, the only thing close to rain tires I have is a set of Canadian recaps mounted on my stock Nissan wheels in order to be able to drive the car to and from the track. Town Fair Tire to the rescue! I called our local chain tire store, explained my predicament, and the guy offered several suggestions to me. I have absolutely ZERO dollars for this, but I figured in for a penny in for a pound, and Citibank is willing to finance, so...
So, I visited Town Fair Thursday and asked him to show me his selection of "very good rain tires." After "hemming and hawing" for a bit I chose a set of Toyo Proxes TPT tires. The 'common knowledge' among the racers is that the Hoosier Dirt Stockers are the best rain tires (too expensive), with the Toyo Proxes RA-1 second (too unavailable on zero notice), so I figured the TPT was as close as I was going to get in such short notice. Can't afford it, but I've accepted the fact that racing is a disease and I flow with it ("No Problem...") About the only other changes Matt and I did was to install our softest-available springs, and remove all the swaybars. Since we really didn't know if it was absolutely going to rain, we didn't adjust anything else.
Friday morning was, no surprise, wet. In fact, the entire day was wet. Light rain, drizzle, mist, fog, drizzle, wet. Although scheduled to have two sessions on Friday, the OMP Challenge cars got three; the Busch cars would not run in the rain. In fact, the uncertainty of the weather caused our schedule to change consistently all weekend.
And, boy, did this car suck in the wet with a too-stiff suspension and improper tires. The first session out was in a light mist/drizzle on the Toyo street tires, and they SUCKED. I felt like I was driving on a skating rink, with my best time around 1:30 or so, with the "fast guys" doing 1:22 or so (our best LRP lap times to date were 1:03s. That's right: we were doing THREE OHs instead of OH THREEs). The car was undriveable, and I spun out twice in that first session. Our second session we decided that since there wasn't a lot of standing water, we'd bail on the Toyos and instead installed the Kumho "slicks." While not particularly good, they seemed better, and our times dropped to 1:22 or so (but "the boys" were all on Hoosier Dirt Stockers and were pulling 1:17s...) Our final session of the day, our qualifier, saw us improve a bit to 1:20 and change on the Kumho, 22nd place of 40 entrants (with a pole time of 1:13 or so...)
Matt was wet, I was miserable, neither of us was having fun, and it looked as if the rain/mist/drizzle was increasing as the day went on. We drove home dejected, pretty much trying to decide if we wanted to chance damaging the equipment on race day.
Race day arrived with some optimism. The weather man was telling us that while it was raining in the morning, it should gradually taper off. Matt and I arrived at Lime Rock 5 minutes before our surprising morning practice session; we had been told the day before that we likely wouldn't have one, but subsequent cancellation of the Busch race gave us more track time. We hurried in and ran that session, and didn't notice a significant improvement in handling; I just tippy-toed around the track staying on the (shiny) black part.
However, as we watched the weather afterwards, it became evident that the rain and drizzle was tapering off. We had heard that the Hoosiers went away quick in the dry, so we were hoping for a rainy start; unfortunately within a half hour of our 1:00 PM race start it became evident to us (and everyone around us) that the track was drying out under the cloudy skies and it would be a dry race.
Being that it was a dry race, and being that we had dry tires, we had a a shot at doing well. Unfortunately, my rainy qualifying times had placed me smack-dab in the middle of a wild pack of ITA cars, and I was in a car that looked suspiciously just like an ITA car. That made it very difficult to pass said pocket rockets. The race started with several spinouts, the worst a Golf GTi looping right in front of me in the left-hander (I thankfully missed him while spraying the side of my car with Lime Rock Park mud) and I got bottled up behind several ITA cars and had to spend the first half-dozen laps or so trying to let them sort themselves out while I picked them off one-by-one.
By race half-distance (as noted on the Pepsi scoreboard) I finally realized that I had missed out some other information: that we were doing a single 24-lapper instead of dual 12-lappers. Don't know how I missed that, but I did (was there a meeting after the morning session that I didn't know about?) Anyway, by this time I had a relatively clear track, and managed to pick off more than my share of ITS cars as well. The mercifully dry (but green) track let me do my duty; a combination of clean driving and the expected off-track excursions of my competitors allowed us to finish 7th overall, 6th in class behind several strong cars. I did get lapped by the top three cars but we're pretty happy not only with our finishing position but with our lap times as well (low 1:05s on a track that seemed to be 2-3 seconds slower). So, a race weekend that started out (as Matt described it) "one that sucked" ended up not too bad for us.
And that pretty much covers our 2002 racing season. We have a Performance Driver's Association lapping event in November, but there are no more reasonable-distance events left this year up in New England. So we'll concentrate on improving the little red rocket for a debut in the Spring. Who knows when or where we'll be, but it just might be near you...
First Week November
Did a Performance Driver's Association lapping day. It turned into a big fustercluck. They had an 85dB sound level limit, and I blew right through it. Spent half the day trying to quieten down the car, ended up effectively plugging the exhaust with a plate. Couldn't rev over 4500-5000 RPM. Made for a long day...
We're officially done for the year! And a productive year it has been. We have some things that I'm saving my pennies for:
Full chassis-stiffening rollcage
Limited slip differential
For now we're getting the car ready to survive the winter in my driveway. Now's the time to focus on minimizing expenses while looking for a good job, hoping to have the money to come out of the stocks full-bore in the Spring. Hey, you never know; we might just start building a Spec Miata very, very soon...
Enjoy the winter break!
Second Week of December
Nothing new to report. The NX2000 is sitting under a car cover while I look for gainful employment (I was laid off from my networking consulting job at the end of August.) We're still planning on doing all the remaining work as soon as I get the money lined up. Between bumming around and Christmas it'll probably be a few more weeks...
But, to keep us busy, we're building and prepping a Spec Miata for a friend of mine. It's a fun car, a hoot to drive, and pretty easy to prep. I'm hoping to even get to drive it a few times in 2003, maybe for some of the Pro races. Regardless, I like working on it.
2003 and Beyond...