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June 7, 2008:
We managed to talk our way on to the track for a little play time.
All of the toys came out, as both Andre and Axel were eager to try the Targa Miata out as well. And of course I went out for a few laps. Well, I had to.

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.
entry 1420

July 7, 2008:
Autocross time!
I decided I'd been spending far too much time on the Targa Miata, and that it was time to take the little monster out again. And it felt good. The car is just so quick, even at 9,000' above sea level. It dances around so well that I'm able to exploit it fully quite easily.

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.
entry 1421

July 15, 2008:
Car for sale!
Well, briefly. Chris Fiaccone's bike-engined car was one of the four cars seen in the Car and Driver article. It was beautifully built and looked like a hot rod version of a Locost. The fact that it has a 900cc bike engine and weighs under 1000 lbs doesn't hurt. When Chris decided to put the car up for sale, I told him I'd mention it here.

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.
entry 1422

August 1, 2008:
Hello, police? It seems someone has stolen my differential...
While this is true, it was me who stole the diff from the Seven.

I was hoping to avoid this, but I need the Guru for the Targa Miata race car. The Seven will get a Torsen in exchange. It'll be interesting to see how it affects the behavior of the little car - has the Guru been masking any bad habits, or will it make no difference at all? I'll have the diff back in a week after the ring and pinions are swapped around.
entry 1423
Since it's out, here's a shot of my PPF substitute.
I don't think I ever took a good picture of it before. This bolts on to the front of the diff, and then three bolts are run through the side of the transmission tunnel. Everything was still nice and tight when I removed it and it's undergone a fair bit of abuse in the last few years - so I think it's fair to call this little bracket a success.

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!
entry 1424

August 12, 2008:
It's time to put the Torsen in the Seven.
After all, the FM Open House is this weekend. That's the fourth anniversary of the Seven's track debut. And this year, I have some serious competition. The Westfield was close last year, but of course it's grown a turbo since then. The turbo Caterham isn't liable to be a big challenge, but Brandon in Chris Fiaccone's old bike-engined car is liable to be a big threat. Brandon did really well with the car at a track day last weekend and he's a good driver. Yikes.

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.
entry 1425

August 14, 2008:
I'm never taking that diff out again.
What a royal pain in the butt. Anyhow, it's in place. The car's all buttoned up and ready to defend its honor at the track. Since the car hasn't been altered significantly in the last couple of years, if I'm going to go any faster it'll all be up to my driving. Let's hope I've learned something with the constant track time this year.
entry 1426

August 18, 2008:
While taking someone for a ride at the Open House, my left front fender was shaking more than it should.
Before we could get back to the shop, the front stay broke free and started waving around. I slowed, but it quickly grabbed the front tire and bent the remaining stay. I was able to stop the car before anything really terrible happened. A roadside fix that involved rebending the 1/2" bar and securing the pieces with a piece of string got us back.

A bit of bending and some welding and voila. Fixed.
entry 1427

Time for the FM track day.
The Caterham pulled 305 hp at the wheels the day before. The Westfield was all tuned up with a lighter aeroscreen and methanol injection. And of course, the dark horse: Brandon. It wasn't going to be easy keeping ahead.

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.
entry 1428

August 24, 2008:
There's an old saying in racing: "To finish first, you must first finish".
Brandon would like to amend that somewhat, to "To finish first, you must make it to the start line". Right after our battle at the Open House, he started having some problems with the carburetors on his car. He spent most of the week trying to chase down the cause but wasn't able to get it running in time. A frustrated guy. So our epic battle for the lap record is going to have to wait for a while.

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.
entry 1429

February 22, 2009:
I started off my Seven journey five years ago (wow!
) with a model of a Caterham. That's what pushed me over the edge to build the car. Well, things have come full circle. Russ DaCosta - that's him in the middle - is a friend of mine who's very quick in his STi and has a collection of the nicest kids you've ever met. They're involved in Cub Scouts, and it's pinewood derby season.
On the left is Christian, who won both the design and speed contests with his 1938 Auto Union. On the right is Scotty, holding his entry. Yup, that's what you think it is.
entry 1430
I was blown away when Russ sent me these pictures.
They were a surprise, and I'm incredibly flattered. The kids have seen the Seven at full tilt boogie a number of times as they come out to the track to cheer on their dad. But I had no idea. Isn't it amazing?
entry 1431
Not only is that my license plate, even the little Nuerburgring sticker under the left taillight is there.
The instruments are in the middle of the dash, the harnesses are red, there are louvers in the hood - everything is so good. I think the quality of the welding on the rollbar is accurately modeled as well!
Scotty won the design class (I'm assuming there are age groups involved, as his brother also took first in Design), but came in third in the speed contest. I could have warned him about this - the pinewood derby track is straight and the Seven's aerodynamics undoubtedly cost him. If he'd managed to find a venue with a few more corners, I'm confident he would have taken the checkered flag.
entry 1432

March 6, 2009:
I knew this would happen eventually.
I was at the track today testing the Targa Miata, and Bill came along with his Westfield. Brandon had his bike-engined car as well. We didn't have any transponders on the car but I was playing with a Traqmate data acquisition system that will do lap timing and datalogging. After playing with the Miata for a while, I stuck the setup in the Westfield. Bill came back in with a 1:00.3 showing on the screen. Yes, 1.5 seconds faster than my existing lap record. After reviewing the logs, I think it's actually a 1:00.8 or so - but regardless. Consider the record well and truly smashed. This was on a day when the track was pretty slow, too, with low temperatures and a lot of dust blown on.
Yowza. Nice work, Bill. Since the Open House, the Westfield has received a new intercooler, a sway bar and a set of Nitto NT-01 tires in a 225/45-15 size on 15x8 wheels. Those tires seemed to be the key, as the car was glued to the ground and Bill could make use of the car's ridiculous power/weight ratio.

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.
entry 1433

May 12, 2009:
Well, it's official.
Bill has the lap record. We had a track day last weekend and while I'd originally planned to bring the Seven, I ended up driving a V8 Miata instead. It was good - I took it around the track faster than any other Miata has ever managed with a 1:02.889 - but Bill was there with the Westfield and a transponder.

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.
entry 1434

July 30, 2009:
While procrastinating on the latest book, I found myself flipping back through this build diary.
The Flyin' Miata Open House is coming up soon and I just realized that it will mark the 5th anniversary of the Seven's track and public debut. 5 years! It's hard to believe. It's also hard to believe that for the last two of those five years, the car has really only come out of the garage for the Open House. It's a real shame. So I took it for a short blat to make sure everything's working properly (answer: yes) and then proceeded to prep it for a track day.
It's shameful. I've been distracted by the Targa Miata and V8 Miatas. It's time to get back to first principles.

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.
entry 1435

August 1, 2009:
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.
Three of the four latches undid themselves, and the hood started to fly once I got over 60 mph or so. Quite eye-opening. Because of this, I aborted my first session in order. When I came into the pits, it became obvious that my quickie repair to the front fender stay (remember that from the Open House last year?) had come undone. Whoops.
So, off came the otherwise-undamaged fender and stay. No problem, it's two bolts. I'll fix that at home. A bit of tape over the latches solved that. So it was back out.

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.
I got a chance to tuck in behind him on one session after he did a little half-spin. It was very interesting. There certainly isn't much between us. A small mistake in braking into turn 4 and he picked up a car length, but overall it was a close match. Until, while screaming down the back straight, the back of the Seven stepped out. The next braking zone - the hairiest part of the track in any lap - was quite exciting. And it wasn't a one-time thing, it was as if the right rear tire had deflated or got covered in oil. There was just no grip back there. The left rear wasn't feeling so good either.
Since it was the last timed lap, I was on my way in anyhow. I cooled the car and then pitted. Tire pressure was good. I think I simply overheated it. Hard to believe with such a light car, but I do get a fair bit of wheelspin at times. Everyone was complaining about their tires getting greasy.
Unfortunately, I never got a chance to find out if that was the case, as the photographer reported that my car appeared to have thrown a belt. It was still running cool, but a peek underhood revealed that this was true. It had thrown the alternator/water pump belt again! That's the second time, and I'd just tensioned it the day before. The pulley setup is stock Miata, and they don't usually throw belts. They don't usually turn over 8000 rpm regularly either, but still. The car never did it before. An eyeball alignment check showed that the front crank pulley seemed a bit cockeyed. Starting the engine up confirmed it - fairly serious pulley wobble.

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.
entry 1436

So what was it like driving the car after such a long vacation? Awesome.
Oh man, I'd forgotten just how good the car is. Places where I was expecting to have to baby the car through a corner, it simply tore through. It talks and talks, it slides around beautifully, it just does what it's told. There's one spot on the track between turns 1 and 2 where I can get a good burst of full throttle in the Seven. In other cars, those two corners are linked. They simply make more of a fuss getting around the corner.

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!
entry 1437

August 9, 2009:
The Seven is showing signs of neglect.
It's been used so hard with so little TLC over the last few years that it's getting a bit rough. Tom Heath from Grassroots Motorsports was in town for the Open House and took the car for a short drive. The car was missing a fender (that didn't get fixed from last week), the throttle bodies are a bit sticky at slow, light throttle openings (such as driving in traffic), the rear suspension was "direct" (he was being very kind) and there was a weird noise coming from underhood that may or may not have been related to the crank problem. On top of that, the differential didn't seal into the housing the last time I installed it so it's dripping a bit.

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.
entry 1438

I had a Traqmate datalogger in the Targa car this weekend when I was at the track.
I reviewed the logs and saw some interesting things. In that car, at least, I'm not anywhere near the limits on the back straight. That used to be the strongest part of my lap, but you can see that I'm neither cornering at maximum effort or accelerating hard - at least, not in the Miata. I'm wussing out. I also need to review my old videos to find out just what my line was there, as we were discussing options and I managed to confuse myself!

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!
entry 1439

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