Category: SCCA Club Racing
Posted by: Mike
So I haven't posted about my racing in a while because, not surprisingly things haven't been going too well.

A few months ago I posted a video of differential “problems” due to running it low on oil. I ended up pulling out of the race early. In the end it's something that shouldn't have happened, and ultimately I can only blame myself for the oversight. This was after a flat tire and thunderstorms limited my $225 practice day to a few laps in the dry with two shaved and two full treaded tires and the perpetual down on power issue.

With a long break before our next scheduled race, I vowed to prepare better then ever and spend the time and money to get the car as best as we could. Rather then risk limping by through more races on a differential that might maybe work, or perform some other shoddy stopgap fixes due to just not knowing any better, I had our mechanic source another rear end and swap it on; we can mess with the other one over the off-season. And since it seemed we could only make our power issues worse, I also had him dyno and tune the car. It was down 7-9HP, that doesn't seem like a lot but when you are barely over 100HP, I'm thinking it could be significant. He was able to get 6 more HP out of the car, which I was more then happy with.

Behind the scenes I worked on doing an inventory of our tools and spares, making sure we brought the right spare parts and tools to the track to reasonably fix what ever we could when things went wrong. I tracked past maintenance to better determine service intervals, went back and documented costs in detail so I could establish a realistic and more stable budget. With research and past experiences, we performed some additional maintenance on the car that we just overlooked or for whatever reason didn't get around to in the past.

I didn't want to repeat all the mistakes from earlier in the season and all the times driving without being confident in the car. I wasn't going to go on the track unless I made sure we did everything we reasonably could to be competitive and safe, and I think we did that.

Still all that doesn't ensure good performance and results. On Friday morning I had barely moved the car a few hundred feet from the storage area to the paddock in preparation for practice, when suddenly 3 of the 4 wheel studs on the left front wheel fell off. It's not the most comforting feeling thinking what may have occurred if that happened on the track! We were able to buy new studs and put them on, to find that one would not tighten enough to take the needed torque from the lug nut. I guess we ran with the stud too loose and damaged the threads on the rotor which somehow loosened the other studs to the point of failure. Rather then rush out for practice with 1 loose lugnut which we may have done in the past, I opted to change the rotor which the studs screw into. Although I felt I needed to practice after a long break and the new rear end on the car, I'm no longer going to benefit from running practice with an unprepared car, better to just save the money. We spent the afternoon changing the rotor and doing a few other maintenance things and setting things up rather then frantically scrambling.

On Saturday we were now faced with a lug on the rear that wouldn't take torque! Perhaps it was just coincidence or perhaps we were over anxious in tightening the studs down after the problem with the front, and damaged the threads. Since the rear studs screw right into the axle, and we did not have a spare, I opted to just run with one lug loose in the rear. Yeah, this went against my not going on the track unless I was confident in the car, but this was a race day and I wanted to do what I could to get out there, and felt we did the best we could to prepare.

So I went out for qualifying and the car felt good, the power off the corners felt much better, almost like a different car. The car did seem to lack some grip, and we came off with the pressures a little low. It was cloudy and cooler then usual, so I guess I missed on the pressures. I was fine with qualifying 8th of 11, considering the stud issues and lack of grip and having no practice in 2 months. I was optimistic about the cars performance and felt for the first time this season that if I drove well I could have a good result, it was finally in my hands as a driver.

By the afternoon the ambient temperature was up a lot and the sun was out, so I only raised 3 tires by 1 PSI. But the stud issue was only getting worse, everything we did to try and fix it only seemed to make it worse, for the race in the afternoon we could only get even less torque on that lug. I went out hesitantly for the race. After a few laps I put the hesitation behind me and started to pick up some pace. I was just getting into a groove, and interestingly felt a grip and sensitivity for the tires better then I ever have before. Maybe it was the combination of tires we were running or nailing the pressures, or just developing as a driver, I'm not sure.

But it was short lived as I came down through the chute (turn 4) faster and faster, I got on the brakes as I was straightening out the wheel a little too hard too soon. I locked up the right front bad, which I have done before but probably not this bad. I guess maybe with the new rear end I had too much brake bias forward, and I was carrying more speed since I have more power now. Those could have contributed. I do have difficulty sensing lockup since I cannot see the wheels like I could running the open wheel cars at the racing schools. Anyway, after the lockup I noticed a major vibration. Normally, I think I would have been able to realize this was probably from a flat spot, but now all I could think about was that loose lug and the wheel falling off. I went around for another lap or two somewhat cautiously, but finally decided to just pull it in early.

In the paddock I found the lugs on the wheel to have loosened slightly, but we were unsure if it was enough to cause such a vibration. We wondered for a while, before Keith found a flatspot down to the cords on the right front. Then it all made sense.

We still had the the lug issue and going back to being confident in the preparation of the car, I wanted to do what we could to fix it rather then keep running with it as is. With the suggestion of fellow racers, we were able to take the axle off and found another racer to weld the stud to the axle. It was great to have this help. I was looking forward to the next two days of racing and maybe finally pushing forward and making some progress.

By the next morning we had everything back together, but then minutes before qualifying, the welded stud broke off when we re-torqued the lug nuts. I guess I felt this time it was just too much, without the time to replace the axle, and with the stud now unable to stay in at all, I made the decision to withdraw from the Sunday and Monday races. I felt it was the last straw and I just didn't have the faith anymore for the weekend, and like I vowed I chose not to run instead of limping around.

At that moment I felt frustrated and defeated but also relieved. The stress of the race weekend was off my shoulders. I thought a lot about what I was doing. I can't honestly say I'm always having fun, which makes me question what I'm doing this for. I'm spending a lot of time and money on this, and sacrificing a lot for this. I thought... maybe there's a reason there's no one else like me on the track... because no one else like me is stupid enough to attempt such an endeavor.

By the night though, I was longing to be racing, wondering what I was missing out on. I want to prove to everyone, and perhaps most importantly to myself what I can do. So I don't think the flame is dead yet. If I gave up now I'd just be another person that quit when the going got tough... another person that didn't have what it takes. One of those people that I consider weak!

I think one thing that really bothers me is running a whole year and never once going faster then that ONE race last year, my first race! That is just mind boggling. And it wasn't for lack of effort. If you told me that would be the case a year ago I couldn't fathom it.

As of now I can say my heart is still in racing. At the least though, I think next year I will have to have a different approach and mindset. But I haven't worked out the plans yet.

07/12/2011: Uh oh

Category: SCCA Club Racing
Posted by: Mike
We had more problems last weekend. Here's how the weekend ended...

Doing some reflecting before posting a full write up.

06/18/2011: RX-7 On Board Videos

Category: SCCA Club Racing
Posted by: Mike
Here's a few on board videos from the rx-7 so far this season.

Practive session from the April race:

Sunday Race this past weekend:

It's been a struggle but we've been learning and will hopefully improve through the rest of the season.
Category: SCCA Club Racing
Posted by: Mike
Well, it was another tough and exhausting weekend. On Friday for practice we had a problem with a flooded engine. I think we may have flooded it a few weekends before when we were doing some work on the car and having trouble starting it due to a flat battery and some issue with the battery or kill switch circuit or something. The result was I was cranking the engine with the throttle open for quite a while. Anyway, we had trouble starting the car all Friday until the last session which cost as quite a bit of track time. Also, when I went out on an alternate set of tires we wanted to run this weekend, at least one wheel was way out of balance and I experienced a massive vibration, so we had to go back to the original set. To top it off I had an issue setting the GPS timer, the car was still sputtering a little more then my liking, and there was a lot of traffic (as always). It was kind of frustrating to pay $225 for 25 minutes of track time in heavy traffic, but what can you do!

Saturday morning qualifying was pretty uneventful and slow. The car felt fine, about the same as for MARRS1, I was just not going that fast. I finally had some clear track and got back into a rhythm, realizing I was making some mistakes with my line and getting back to the throttle. Last race, I was just off after the long winter and lacking confidence after the spin into the tires in qualifying. Now I was feeling better and picked up half a second or so over my times from MARRS1, but still not near where I wanted to be!

The Saturday sprint race was more of the same. A big struggle was I was doing an extra downshift into turn 5 as taking it a gear higher was just bogging too much now but I was missing the downshift and the upshift pretty frequently. Otherwise though I was slowly picking it up on other parts of the track and improved my times a few tenths more over qualifying, but the field still slowly drove away from me. I needed seconds, not tenths! After the race, SCCA impounded all cars in the class (usually they only impound the top 3) I guess my joking about only following the rules if you finish in the top 3 bit me. I knew we were close to minimum weight and had been using gas to try and make weight, but with all the other things going on I hadn't really made a good enough estimate on how much fuel was in the car before the race. We were underweight and disqualified. It was certainly my mistake and I took the penalty. I certainly wasn't trying to gain an advantage running underweight, it was just carelessness. Didn't matter much since we finished second to last anyway. So no points for Saturday, but we could still race Sunday.

To be safe, we added another 25 pound plate to the car before the race Sunday so we now had 95lbs of ballast on the passenger floor. Sunday was another lonesome race. I went back and forth with another guy for the first two laps (he seemed down on power) before eventually pulling away. The rest of the cars were long gone after that. I pushed pretty hard through most of the race, just lapping, experimenting and doing everything I could to find more time, driving probably harder then I ever had in the rx7. A few times I had the car way sideways and I went four off once in turn 1 but recovered quickly. Although I picked up another half second from the Saturday race, it was still 2 seconds or so off the main pack, and half a second slower from my laps in traffic last year! It was hot and I was pretty exhausted mentally and physically after the race.

So overall I have to say I'm pretty disappointed now. I feel pretty comfortable with the car, I feel I'm improving my driving but the times are just no there, where I thought I could be at this point. Looking over data and video and getting good feedback from the team and many friends helps and gives me ideas, and I already see some things I can do that I'm convinced will pick up some time, but in the end I won't know what works until I get back out on the track again. I'm not sure if the car is off, everyone seems to have different opinions. I definitely don't want look like an ass and always blame my equipment, but so far any way I look at it I haven't been able to account for the 3-4 seconds I'm off from the leaders. Anyway, I have a lot of time now to think about it and come up with a plan before the next race.
Category: SCCA Club Racing
Posted by: Mike
So after a long offseason (filled with lots of indoor karting and iRacing of course) I was finally back on track for the Mid Atlantic Road Racing Series opener at Summit Point Raceway. This would be my second race in the RX-7. We got to the track Friday for practice and resolved some minor issues after the first few sessions. Near the end of the day, I was pushing harder but was not that satisfied with my times. I was slower then what I did in the race last year and not really sure why.

But it didn't matter much yet, as Saturday morning the rain started. I was definitely glad I'd brought up the the rain tires I'd just bought earlier in the week that morning (I couldn't bring up Friday anyway because they wouldn't fit in my Civic with all the other junk!). And after checking the weather forecast and going though all the hassle of buying and bring up the rain tires, I decided I might as well used them. It was a scramble to get the rain tires on in time, but I rushed out to the grid at 8:15AM just as the group was going out on track, and it looked like a lot of guys hadn't even made it to the grid yet. I think some were making last minute tire changes. Once out it was apparent full treaded rains were the right decision, although it wasn't raining too hard, the track was wet enough to see rooster tails coming off the cars, and I quickly found it was quite slick too. The guys in front of me were crawling around, and I was too, but not as much as them! The new Toyo RA-1s with full tread depth were definitely doing their job. Through the session I was slowly picking it up and I was soon feeling pretty confident.

I really enjoy the challenge of racing in the rain and I was working hard in the car to figure out where the grip on the track was and how much. I put down a few decent laps but knew there was still more speed. Then in turn 1 I got it too sideways and got into a tankslapper. Thought I had it saved 5 times before finally spinning around. I slid backwards with the wheels locked but the wet track and grass did very little to slow me down. I was backwards into the tires. After trying futilely to drive it away, a friendly flagger came up to help me out of the car. It wasn't till then I realized The rear of the car was up on a stack of 4 tires! So I stood at the flag station for the rest of the session with 50 things going through my head, then the tow truck came by got the car off of the tires without damaging it further, and I was able to drive it away! The damage wasn't bad at all. A slightly crinkled rear quarter panel, but everything under the car looked fine and the car felt fine driving it back.

So it was on to the race and apparently I had gotten the fasted lap in the class before I spun! I was starting on the pole for my second race ever in the car, and the track was even wetter with puddles everywhere. Not wanting to look stupid, tear up my and a bunch of other drivers cars, or break the no two crashes in a weekend rule, I took it really easy on the start and through the race. 3 guys got by me on the first lap after that I continued at a moderate pace, my best lap 2-3 seconds slower then my qualifying. I maintained my position for the rest of the race and was pretty relived to finish.

Sunday would bring dry conditions. We got to the track early again only to find out that several races had been canceled yesterday afternoon once the rain really picked up, so we would only be going out after their make up races. We had plenty of time to change back to the shaved tires although in a way I almost wished the race was in the wet again due to my lack of pace in dry practice. For the race I would start in 4th but like practice I just could not find any speed. The race was pretty uneventful as I ran by myself for most of the time with my pace about the same as what I'd done in practice. I finished 6th.

The performance in the dry was pretty frustrating, as I was several seconds off the pace of what I did last fall when I expected to lower my times. Maybe I was rusty, maybe the 8 year old tires had just fallen off too much, or maybe I just suck. Perhaps some combination of all of the above. So I'm going to look at a test or practice day before the next race to hopefully try a few things with the car, work on my confidence and maybe try another set of tires.

I have to give a big thanks to the team and my friends, both for prepping the car and supporting me at the track this weekend. Overall, I have to say it was a fun weekend, I was very happy to get my first pole in the SRX7 class, and am anxious to get back out there and figure out where I can improve.