The Buzz. This is when folks all around you are looking at you sideways, talking behind your back and trying to figure you out. It is good, is it bad? Is this for real? Do they bite?
The Buzz can be good, and it can be bad. When everyone else knows that you're about to be fired, The Buzz is bad. However, when everybody else hears that you're about to get a new promotion, The Buzz is good.
We generated some Good Buzz today.
Today was the day we'd been looking forward to for a long, long time. Over a year-and-a-half, actually. During that time Matt Kessler and I have taken an NX2000 that had a tossed engine (exposed rod parts), sitting on a rotting trailer, parked in the back of a garage with 3 years of vines growing all over it, and converted into a well-prepped (if I do say so myself) little rocket. And we generated The Buzz.
So, what was it that happened today, you ask? Today was our first outing, a test-and-tune session at Lime Rock Park, in preparation for entering the Memorial Day OMP Import Challenge next weekend.
Just to give you a little background, ITS is dog-eat-dog up here, especially at Lime Rock Park (LRP). There are some FAST cars up here, including RX-7s, Datsun/Nissan Z-cars, and BMW 3-series. Times to beat here are quite similar to those run by Speed Touring Cars, with 1:02.xx being the track lap ITS record (Kip van Steenburg, BMW 325i). Most top-running ITS cars run mid-1:03s, and you can be competitive with consistent 1:04s. Back in the "old days" the NX2000 ran 1:06s in SSB trim with another driver, while my best time was 1:08 and change, but that was before they re-paved the track in 1993 (the general consensus was that it reduced lap times about a second.)
So, we arrived at LRP with a fresh ITS car, well-prepped. We don't have the best equipment installed, although we did take the time to screw this thing together right. We've got Ground control suspension with Koni Red shocks, a NuTech rear bar and front crossmember, and we've got the car down to minimum weight. We expected to use the afternoon's test sessions to take care of the major setup issues, and hope to evolve the car into something better as the year progressed. I'm not sure what we expected to get right out-of-the-box, but a close friend of mine with time at LRP felt that if we were to break into the mid-teens our first day then we should be satisfied that progress will come for us. Fair enough.
We drove the NX to LRP on street tires, trailing behind a rusty mid-80s woodside Plymouth Voyager minivan crammed to the gills with tools and tires. No one paid attention to us except the track attendant that told us that "you IT guys" are parked WAAAAYYYY in the back of B Paddock. No one else paid any mind to us as we slowly cruised passed all the mega-buck Speed World Challenge cars and fellow IT competitors to take our spot in the grass at the end. Seeing as we had another hour-and-a-half until the track opened up to us we decided to grab some LRP lunch.
After having sated our hunger, we unloaded Woody and took our time changing out the street tires to track tires, and filling up the car with Sunoco 93. Seeing that this was our first time out, we decided to start with some 3-yr-old used 185/60-14 Goodyear GS-CS tires I had bought off of a Neon Challenge competitor and mounted on stock NX rims. We figured it would give us some basic setup info and allow us to do some recon laps without tearing up our new Kumho 205/55-14 tires on new Borbet Type T wheels.
Feeling confident that everything was in order, we were eventually pointed to the track to have some fun.
Some more background: other than a double Regional I did with Grover and George last November to re-acquire my competition license, I had not turned a wheel in anger since the 1992 Runoffs. I have done some hot-lapping in street cars with the Audi Quattro and BMW clubs, but no competition. I had no misguidance that I could jump right back in the saddle and do wonderful things. We were here to learn, both for the driver and the car.
I started at the back of the pack, and gingerly drove around the track to see of this little monster was going to bite me. It didn't. A couple of times the back end stepped out on me, but with cold tires that's not unusual and I was watching for it. Lap #3 I decided to push a little harder, and as I crossed the Start/Finish Line Matt calls me on the radio and says "One Oh Six and Change." "Huh," I sez? "You did a 1:06."
I pushed a little bit harder, and he calls out "1:05 and change"!!!
Right about this point, I can tell the tires are heating up and a BIG push develops. I get more confident, push a little harder on the car, it pushes back, and we get down into consistent 5s. And this, on 3 year old tires!!!
We kinda all stumble back into the paddock after having taken tire temperatures, with big smiles. Here's where The Buzz started to come in.
As an instructor with the Quattro Club, I usually tell my students that if they want to grab folks' attention, there's only one way to do it:
- If you show up in a heavily-modified fast car and go fast, no one notices;
- If you show up in a slow car and go slow, no one notices; it's expected.
- If you show up in a heavily-modified fast car and go SLOW, everyone notices but it's not good,
- If you show up in a slow car and go fast, everyone notices and generates The Buzz.
- therefore, the only way to generate The Buzz is to drive a slow car fast. Plus, it's more fun.
We made a point of letting everyone around us know that this was the first time this car had been on the track, and that I had not really raced since 1992. Boy, did that seem to get folks to talking! We had several people ask us "what is that?", and we overheard many more talking about "that little red car."
For the next session we decide to drop the Kumho tires on for a direct comparison. I was not particularly impressed with them and what followed for the next two sessions was a good example of front-wheel-drive frustration. Based on the tire temperatures and pressures we went through a regiment of camber, pressure, and front swaybar changes, still resulting in lap times of 1:05 range and still resulting in a lot of push. We did, however, see a gradual improvement in drivability (slightly lessening the understeer) and our tire temperatures were coming across much more even. We were getting there.
When we had one session left we decided to toss the Hail Mary pass: we removed the front swaybar, tightened up the rear one to max full, pulled out every bit of camber that we could from the inside front tire (LRP is almost exclusively right turns), filled up the fuel tank, and re-toed the car. I went out and noticed an immediate improvement: the car, while leaning over more, turned in much nicer and I had to actually counter-steer to keep the back end in place! It surprised me so much that I didn't have the time during the session to really change my driving style to accommodate the changes, but I felt like I could really steer the car with the back end.
Even better, the 2nd lap Matt calls out "1:04 and change"! Ultimately, the changes we made dropped 1 second off the lap time, resulting in a best time of 1:04.3! Talk about Buzz now, we were the second fastest car there, behind Van Steenburg's 1:02 and change BMW! Best of all, our tire temperatures were evened out, so we have an excellent baseline for the first practice session on Friday.
It's also painfully obvious that this car needs some better shocks. The car is doing wacky things, like hopping across apexes and bouncing down the front straight. All of our checks reveal that we don't think our car is bottoming out the suspension, so it appears that the Koni Red shocks are far out-powered by the Eibach springs we're running. So, if we plateau and end up with more consistent lap times then we're looking at limitations of the car, requiring better tires, shocks, and a rollcage.
On the bright side, I found absolutely no reason to spend the money on a Quaife (or otherwise) differential. The stock one was working great, and unless we find another 50 horsepower it will work fine (as long as it lasts.)
I think that once we do some more tuning we can get into the high- 1:03s with the current setup, and I truly believe that with shocks, a better rollcage, and certainly with Hoosiers it's highly likely this car can challenge the track lap records at LRP!
The next hurdle is the OMP Import Challenge this weekend at Lime Rock Park. I'm expecting lots of competition, and hopefully not too much "rubbin". I'd like to make it through our first race(s) unscathed, and work towards improving this little red rocket (instead of repairing it).
Wish us luck!