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July 1, 2006:
There's also a large version of this picture available to download.
Someone commented that I needed a faster steering rack. It certainly wouldn't hurt, although it's not going to be cheap unless I simply install a steering quickener. It's only on the autocross course that it seems necessary, and even then it's primarily in the slaloms. Something to think about, anyhow. It's always good to have a project!
After lunch, it looked as if the skies were clearing. The sun came out and it got truly hot. So I scooted home between run groups to grab a more orange car. It might only be a large kart track, but it's also only 10 minutes from my house! When I lined up for my first session, we'd decided to run the track backwards to give it a try. So no new lap records (much to the chagrin of a certain high-horsepower Evo 8 who had plans but never got within 3 seconds of my time) but a new challenge.
First off, the Seven shocked me after driving the Mini. That car is pretty quick, responsive and full of character. But it's nowhere near as aggressive as the Seven is. It's apparently been too long since I've had the chance to really stretch its legs. By the time I was going in to the second turn, I was starting to recalibrate myself for the acceleration, braking and grip of the orange car. Holy cow, it's a ferocious thing.
The track is huge fun in the opposite direction. The back "straight" is normally uphill and has a couple of little kinks in it. Going backwards, a faster entry and the assistance of gravity turns it into a very fast sweeper that keeps changing radius. It was all I could do to keep my foot flat to the floor until my braking point, and I don't know if I ever actually managed. There's one short straight section at the end which was just long enough for the Seven to brake hard and get slowed for the tight corner at the end, and the brakes were very reassuring and effective through here. I suspect it would be a lot less comfortable in a heavier car and I was taking full advantage of this ability. I had a hard time getting a clean lap going because the Seven was going drastically faster than everyone else, but I ended up with a 1:04.432 on my first fast lap. Technically that's a lap record because it's the first time cars have been timed this direction. Since the karts usually go a second slower in this direction, that puts my right on my usual pace. Nobody else broke 1:10. I hope we get to run the track this way more often. It's more entertaining and more challenging.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the day in the Seven was the last lap. My girlfriend Janel was driving her supercharged Miata out in front of me and I ran right up on her in the Seven. Now, usually I try to be nice to others on the track, but I was feeling mischievious. I locked on to her back bumper and hassled her for the whole lap. A year ago, she would have been flustered, distracted and nervous from having such a fast car so close behind her. Instead, she responded by driving harder and really working her car around the corners. When we pulled into the pits, we were both laughing. It's good to see her having fun on the track!
As soon as we were done that session, we threw everything in the cars and bolted - there was a massive rainstorm coming in across the desert. I made it into the garage just as the first drops started to fall. Phew.
Westfield has announced a single donor kit for their Miata-based SEi. It should run $13,995 at the port in NJ and theoretically needs nothing more than a ratty Miata to complete. I wonder what would be involved in fitting a 1.8 with the longer engine and larger differential? Who knows, I may get the chance to find out someday.
I had some new tires waiting, so I jacked up the trailer to pull off the wheels. That's when the axle broke loose of the frame! That's not good. At least it happened when the trailer was parked in front of a shop with full welding gear and not on top of a pass in the middle of the night with the Seven on board! I flipped the trailer up on its side, pulled off the wheels, took them in for the new tires, welded the axle to the frame (it had not been a stellar job last time), welded up a couple of other small cracks, rewired the whole lighting system from scratch, reinstalled the wheels and then went home to pack. Hey, we do this because it's fun, right? Sometimes it's hard to remember. The trailer is going to need some fundamental attention in the next year or so as it's about 30 years old.
Car and Driver has aired the radio show with a segment on "the homebuilts". It's not a high point in broadcast journalism and the hosts really don't say a whole lot worth listening to. Their research seems to consist of looking at pictures in the magazine after the segment has already started and making disparaging comments about the looks of Jon's amazing homebuilt nose cone. Larry Webster does have a number of good things to say about my car though, identified as "the expensive one". You can listen to it here. Things really get rolling around the 9 minute mark. Don't take the opinions of the hosts as being representative of Car and Driver, they're just typical guys who are hired for their ability to talk on demand as far as I can tell. One note - I'm not under 30. C&D just decided I was for some reason.
The day before a track day and my trailer is undergoing fairly major surgery.
I went out with my girlfriend Janel to help her get comfortable in her little supercharged Miata. Bill and I were sharing the Seven in exchange for towing duties, so he jumped in the Seven. It was a long time before I saw him come back in! When he got out, I asked how he liked it. He was grinning so hard he couldn't answer. Okay, that's a good sign.
I went out in the Seven and found myself chasing my friend Josh in his modified WRX. He's the closest car to me on the kart track but we figured that the long straight at Pueblo would give him a good advantage. I tucked in behind him on the tighter section of the track, got a good drive off the last corner on to the straight and then drafted him all the way down. All he could see was my visor and all I could see was a huge black car. It was a good tow, I went in to the first corner pretty quickly! I stayed glued to his tail for several laps until he waved me by. He had to lift to let me past on the straight, but as soon as we hit the corners I started to put a fair bit of distance on him. It surprised both of us, actually. By the time we got back to the front straight he was pretty much gone from my mirrors. I can report that it's a lot of fun following a WRX on the track. The car heels over, sets into a drift and then sits there all the way through the corner. Meanwhile, he could hear me on the gas behind him out of the tight corners even before he'd started to accelerate. I took Josh for a ride in the Seven and he was quite impressed with the immediacy of the little critter.
As soon as I got away from the WRX, I caught sight of the SV and the Superlight up ahead. Thanks to some well-placed Miatas slowing them down, I was soon right on their tails. The next few laps were a riot. The SV waved me by on the next lap and I went to work chasing the Superlight. He wasn't hanging around. It was piloted by a good clean driver and running some good tires. I was able to hang with him down the straight (to everybody's surprise) and through most of the course. His speed on turn 1, a very fast sweeper, proved to be too much for me and he'd take some distance. Turn 2 is my weak point on the track so he'd gain a little more room as well as on the exit from the hairpin at turn 7. But overall, the cars were close enough that it was fun playtime. We were pulling 110 mph on the front straight, about the same as I'd seen when drafting the Subaru. The SV was dropping behind a bit on the straight - interesting, as this is the same car I'd been running with in Aspen. Every lap we'd catch a Miata (or three) and pass on the back straight, triple-teaming the poor cars. I'm going to relive this session in my head many times. We had a great time playing. I'd always wanted the Seven to be not just quick, but truly fast and world-class. I think I'm there.
Every time I was out of the Seven, Bill was in it. He had some memorable dices with a few cars and really bonded with the little booger. Every time I turned my back the car was scooting out of the pits to go chase something. Every time I'd pull into the pits, Bill would be walking towards me with his helmet in hand. I think there's going to be another lightweight car in the Flyin' Miata stable eventually! He even got comfortable with the brakes - he discovered that while they take a bit of a push, the car just hauls down and stops without wheel lockup problems.
I had one graphic illustration of how I'd become used to the Seven. After spending all day in the little car, I jumped into Janel's Miata to chase the WRX and Mark in his Miata. We powered out of the pits, into turn 1...and I think I scared Janel. All of my inputs were met with weight transfer, body movement and sliding tires where the Seven would simply do what I asked and get on with it. This isn't a stock Miata, either, but one with suspension work and decent tires. I don't think I've ever pushed that Miata quite that hard before and I did get in a little trouble with the owner because of it. Especially when I took "the Seven line" though the hairpin and came out sideways with smoking tires! No harm done and they're my tires anyhow!
The Caterham and Lotus owners were very welcoming, even if the Superlight driver (in good humor) "refused to be passed by a Locost". There wasn't really much danger of that, as the Locost was simply trying to keep up! They assumed I'd done something to the motor due to my improved straight line speed. I can't really explain it, but the Superlight had just been dynoed at 158 wheel hp while I have about 145. It's also supposed to be under 1100 lbs while I'm carrying at least 200 lbs more. I did have my windscreen off and have a less aerodynamically messy roll cage than the Superlight, which also did not have a windscreen. The handling of my car was definitely improved since the last big track test and I suspect I might have carried a couple of mph on to the straight that the Superlight didn't. Still, his approach to turn 1 had me wondering if his brake lights were actually working! His speed there had to be seen to be believed. We had a lot of fun and I think Bill got the chance to run in close company with them as well.
The car behaved perfectly all day, despite being on the track constantly. I checked fluids at midday and everything was good, so we just had to keep dumping gas into the tank. It was one of the fastest cars there running with the big boys. Nothing fell off, nothing overheated and every driver and passenger in the car had a good time. That's what I built the little thing for!
Can you see my grin through the helmet? Chasing the Superlight R down the front straight.
Jon Winterhalter sent me a link to some build photos. This is the $2500 car from the Car and Driver article and the photos focus on the metal shaping aspect of the build. I've also received a few photos of the GRM Locost that was a sister car to mine. You wouldn't know it from seeing the car now, though. It's obviously a track-only beast and it looks really good.
Just for interest's sake, I did a little counting. I've used the word "fun" 128 times in this build diary so far. "Boring" was used once, in reference to wiring. I think that's a good ratio. On that note, I'm off to Canada for a couple of weeks before diving back into preparing for the Flyin' Miata open house and the track day that is involved. We'll have a couple of Lotus Elises and hopefully a Lotus Seven S3 in attendance, so this will be fun stuff.
The ex-GRM Locost today.
There's a new member of the family coming. My friend and Miata guru Bill Cardell put in the order for a Miata-based Westfield today. It's not a big surprise after his reaction at the track a couple of weeks ago. This is going to be fun. We'll try installing the larger 1.8 diff and it's going to be very interesting to see how Westfield approached the car. Once it's up and running, we'll probably end up installing some truly ridiculous horsepower. Well, you have to.
Apparently Kit Car magazine has a feature on the Southwest Se7ens Fest. I haven't seen it yet.
Meanwhile, the track day at the Flyin' Miata Open House is approaching in a bit over a week. This will mark the second anniversary of the Seven's track christening. Two years ago, I was thrashing away and changing the transmission and chasing fuel problems at the last minute. This year, I'll clean the car and give it a quick check. How times change. Speaking of times, I've also taken 6.2 seconds off my lap time at the track since that first outing and 2.2 seconds since the event last year. It's almost all due to the car setup.
One program that is available is Top Gear's Caterham challenge. Definitely more entertainment than education, but the fact that they actually get the car to the self-propelled stage in time is impressive. That one is on YouTube.
I took the Seven out this weekend to show it to my friend Werner from Germany. He's very familiar with my long-term obsession with these little cars and he's a fan of small, light cars. I wanted him to get a good idea of what the car was like so we headed out to the track near the end of the day. It usually gets pretty quiet at that point in the day, and with a little sweet talking we had the track to ourselves. It was good fun, running both forwards and backwards around the track. It's the first time I've ridden shotgun in the car with a quick driver and it's a pretty interesting experience. Also in the "interesting" category was the throttle sticking open twice when Werner was driving. No harm done, but it was odd. I've only had that happen once before when part of the mechanism was binding. That piece has been removed, however, and it's not shown any signs of similar problems before. I found a small cotterpin that seemed to be hanging up if you moved the throttles just right so hopefully the problem is gone.
After a few "sessions", the car started showing a high idle and blowing some oil smoke when starting from a stop. Hang on, I've seen this before. I pulled the PCV valve out and it was broken and hollowed out - the exact same problem that I'd seen in Texas! This is truly bizarre, as we've never seen one of these break in a Miata and now I've done it twice in two months. Is it the heat? Unlikely, as turbo Miatas do a pretty good job at generating heat. Vibration? Possibly. Physical contact with something? I don't think so, as the valve goes into a baffled part of the valve cover and that's all stock. Annoying? Oh yes. I've replaced it with a brand new Mazda part intended for the 323 GTX so there shouldn't be any question of reliability now. We'll see what happens at the Open House.
A broken PCV valve compared to a brand new factory unit from a 323 GTX.