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August 9, 2009:
So, even with me being a bit of a wimp, I was still almost on my pace from last year - less than a tenth slower than my all-time best. Why? Because there's a new concrete patch on the outside of the last two corners, and it means a much better drive on to the front straight. Some of the lap record action in the 2009 may be due to this faster line. Now all I have to do is fix my car, get myself back into shape and go hunting cars with more horsepower and less weight!
The Seven is showing signs of neglect.
It's time to go through the whole car, stem to stern. If I end up pulling the engine for a new crank, I'll make sure to sort everything out. I've learned so much since building the car, it's time to put some of that knowledge to good use.
The big thing was the engine, though. It's almost operatic. It howls and crackles and has a number of different voices depending on where you are in the rev range. It's got so much character and slugs you back in the seat coming out of a corner. I found myself goofing around on the cooldown laps just to make the engine talk. What a great sports car engine.
It's not perfect, though. I need to do a bit more work on the rear suspension to improve droop travel. I'd also like to run slightly less spring rate in the rear to cut down the oversteer just a bit. A quicker steering rack would be handy. Relatively small detail things, but things that would help the car out a bit.
But oh, that engine!
Is it bad when you can't even finish two laps of the track without two things going wrong with your car? At the track day today, I had the hood come almost completely free.
I was back up to speed pretty quickly. Remember, last August I turned a 1:01.893. Well, today I managed a 1:01.960. And if I'm reading the time sheets correctly, I managed to do it twice! Weird. So a year ago, that would have been a new lap record. But it's not a year ago. I was playing with some higher tire pressures and it's possible that improved grip was masking some rustiness on my part.
Bill didn't show up with the turbo Westie, so it wasn't a concern. Brandon, on the other hand, had been building a nice fibreglass airbox for his lightweight beast. Between that and a more aggressive driving style that was apparently modeled after mine (his girlfriend, being used for ballast, called it "terrifying") he was going faster than he'd ever gone. Not quite enough to beat the lap record, but very close. His 1:01.652 is only a tenth behind, and there's still more left in the car.
Uhoh. If you know Miata engines, you know the 1990-91 models had a crank nose that could break. Has the Seven fallen prey to the dreaded crank nose problem? Or is it something else, like a heavily abused 20-year-old harmonic damper that's failed internally? I don't know yet, but some disassembly will tell. The belt was retrieved undamaged, but I parked the car for the rest of the day. With the belt back on, it drove home happily enough. Even if it is the crankshaft, one of the other Miata drivers at the event happens to have a spare 1992 bottom end at his house. I could probably replace it in an evening. So it's not a big problem overall.
So that's it for a while. Time to do some real work on the car before it comes out of hibernation again.
Now, we've agreed not to chase lap records at the Open House this year so we can concentrate on giving rides, so I'll probably leave the Seven in the garage that day. But Saturday - Saturday is different. It's a full-on track day. Brandon will be there with his little lightweight, complete with a new airbox. He hasn't been able to touch the lap record quite yet, but he's within sniffing distance. Bill should be there with the monstrous Westfield, but running narrower 205 tires due to a small interference problem between his spring perches and his oversized wheels. So it might turn out to be an epic day.
Again, there have been no changes to the car in the past two years, but I've been spending a lot of time on the track. Is there room for a little more to be shaved off? Bill's only 0.3 seconds ahead. This is going to be good.
The times didn't quite match up to those coming out of the datalogger which was a bit odd, but an official 1:01.546 was enough to take my crown. That's still close enough that I could probably steal it back again with a bit more practice.
Brandon brought his car and failed to catch on fire, so that's good. In fact, it was the most uneventful day for him yet. His time was a 1:02.210 which is still pretty darn fast, but he seemed disappointed. Oh, how our standards have changed in the past year!
Remember my first visit to this track? I did a 1:09.6. Really.
Brandon's car was looking pretty good too. Other than a fire when leaking fuel on top of the gas tank lit up. No harm done, but his to-do list now seems to center around sealing the leaking filler neck on the tank. Good plan.
Watching the two cars play on the track made me wish I'd brought the little orange beast. Sure, it would have been slower. But still, it would have been so much fun to play.
However, Bill was only a hair over 0.1 seconds behind and was also gunning for the record. He spent part of the week fitting a front sway bar to the Westfield and fixing a bushing problem that had one front wheel moving back and forth by about an inch (yikes!). So he was primed for battle. Me? I left the Seven in the trailer after the Open House. It's not that I'm cocky, I just didn't have anything I could do other than replay the track in my mind.
The weather was hot with a high of 96. That's not good for lap times, and the turbocharged Westfield was down on power. I attacked the track, looking for little hidden pockets of time and found a couple of unexpected spots. On my second session, I did manage to knock a tenth of a second off my previous time, dropping the record to 1:01.893. I'm not even sure what lap it was, honestly, as I didn't think I had any clean ones in that session. I'd been fighting a wayward tail on the car. Later in the day, I was driving more cleanly and taking advantage of my newfound little secrets in the track, but the high track temp prevented the times from dropping any further. Bill turned a 1:02.187 - not exactly slow, but not quite as quick as he had been last week.
So that's a successful day. Everyone else went slower than they had the week before, in some cases by a fairly significant amount. That one quick lap helped me knock a little more time off the record and keeps me safe for a while longer. Whew! Now it's time to park the Seven for a while, as I'm leaving for the Targa Newfoundland in two weeks.
I missed the first timed session because I was making sure the track day was running smoothly. Ah, the price of being the organizer. But by the time the second one rolled around, I was at the front of the line. Everyone watching commented that I was driving hard - it looked as if I was on a mission. And I was! My goal wasn't just to break the track record, but to defend myself against everyone else who was doing the same. My time for that first session was 1:02.478. The old record? 1:02.471. So I was back on my old pace immediately. Bill was a bit further back and the Caterham wasn't in the hunt. Brandon was dealing with a broken axle but was going to have his car up and running soon.
The next session saw me get down to 1:02.3. So there's a new record then. Brandon didn't manage to put down a time and Bill was a still a little ways off.
I got a shock after the third session, though. I was slightly faster but still in the 1:02.3 range. Bill pulled out a 1:02.1 and Brandon was also down in the 1:02.7 range. As you can imagine, it was game on.
I pulled my windshield off while Brandon headed out with some of the slower groups to work on his line. Bill announced his intention to see a 1:01 on his timesheet. There was a lot of excitement in the pits. Brandon and I went out in the slow group just before our session to make sure the tires were partially up to temp - and it began.
I knew I would have to be more committed than ever, but without overdriving. It's a difficult balance. My first lap wasn't all that fast, the tires hadn't reached full temperature yet. On the second, I overcooked the entry into turn one and went around the corner in a big slide. Probably my best drift in the car - and definitely appreciated by the spectators - but slow. So it was all down to the third lap.
I nailed turn one, then got a quarter-second of full throttle in the transition into two. That's an area of the track where I'd found a little bit of time. The next couple of corners were smooth and quick, so it was all going well. I didn't take too many liberties through the chicane to keep things tidy. Down the back sweeper, I had the car in a four-wheel drift with a ridiculous slip angle, throttle pinned and a silent scream echoing around my head. It's a big commitment, but required to get a fast time. Brake hard, around the hairpin, then make sure I get a good drive off the slow corner on to the straight. It sure felt good.
And it was. When I pulled into the pits, a coworker came running over yelling "you did it!". My time was a 1:01.985, the fastest any car's gone around the track in either direction. Bill wasn't able to improve on his 1:02.103 and the Caterham was well behind. Brandon? Well, he managed a 1:01.988. That's 0.003 seconds behind me. At 70 mph, that translates to 4 inches. 4 INCHES. Wow, what a race.
The track record took some damage, that's for sure. Three cars beat the old mark, but I managed to beat it more than anyone else. So I stayed on top again. And I did it with driving, because the car hasn't changed since I set the record in 2006. But Brandon's a worry. He's still learning that car and there's lots of development left in it. I have a few things to do to to the Seven, but unless the upcoming ECU change unlocks some big horsepower I'm not liable to tear off big chunks of time.
There's another track day next weekend. I fully expect Brandon to wrest the record away from me. But he's not going to get it without a fight.
A bit of bending and some welding and voila. Fixed.
Of course, that's assuming I get the diff in. It's a real puzzle, twisting and turning the differential to get it in and out. I haven't stumbled across the magic orientation yet, and it gets tiring with a 75 lb diff. So it's time to take a little break and let the diff think about what it's done.
Less successful was the fact that I managed to pull the driveshaft out of the transmission while removing the diff. I'm not sure I have access to that without pulling the interior transmission panels - I hope I don't have to do that!
But it's not for sale anymore. I also mentioned it to my coworker Brandon. Okay, maybe "mentioned" is the wrong term, I called him up and told him to buy it. He's wanted a Locost for a while and this one is a fine example at a very reasonable price. He agreed, and now there's a third seven-style car hanging around Flyin' Miata. It would seem they're contagious. And it's going to be tough to keep in front of Brandon at the autocrosses, we usually have pretty good battles when we're in similar cars.
I took the fastest time of the day in a fairly competitive race, but the Seven really is in a different league than most other cars. I could tell when I'd put in a good run by how much I was giggling when I got to the end.
Both of the visitors absolutely loved the car. Axel spent all of his time countersteering and laughing, while Andre was turning some pretty good times. Both really enjoyed themselves.
For me, it was the first time to have the car on the track since last August - and the first time to drive it on the track in the "forward" clockwise direction in a long time. I've been spending every possible track minute in the Targa Miata, preparing it for the upcoming race. Driving the Seven was a bit of an eye-opener to be honest. I'd forgotten how physical it was. The brake pedal is rock-hard and needs a good firm push, the throttle pedal is a bit heavy (due to an extra throttle return spring that's an experiment) and the steering requires a surprising shove. Of course, everything in the Miata is power-assisted and it's a more delicate car to pilot - as it has to be, since I'll be driving it for a week of 12-hour days. But would the Seven be more effective if it was a bit lighter to drive, or would it simply be more effete? I'm not sure, I'll have to think about that. I might back the brakes off one more master cylinder size just to try.
The Seven is also set up to oversteer. Now, this is quite a bit of fun and you never have to worry about the front sliding out on you. But my driving style must have changed somewhat over the past months because I initially thought the car had a problem with the rear tires! A fast lap is mostly spent managing the rear. Very entertaining, but perhaps a little less hairiness might make the car easier to drive and quicker, without giving up the ability to rotate it on a dime. I have some ideas, this will be fun to try. Don't get me wrong, the car doesn't handle badly and it's still a complete riot. I was turning mid-1:04s which is pretty respectable - my best time in this configuration is a 1:03.3. But I wonder if it can be improved with a few fairly minor tweaks to the alignment and master cylinder sizing.
The Targa car benefited greatly from my experience with the Seven, and now I think it's time for the pollination to go the other way for while.
Axel reported that he actually fits quite well, something that's never been true of any similar car. He put a fair number of miles on it as we travelled around the area visiting various spots, such as the garage housing the berzerk turbo Westfield. That got him grinning.
Andre is a Caterham fan who's had the chance to drive a CSR 260. So it was quite interesting to hear his feedback on the car once we made it to the track. The track? Of course.