February 7-8 2004.
It's nice to be able to race year round. On the other hand it would be nice to have an "off" season to work on the car. With my new job, I didn't really have time to get the Miata ready to take to the track for the NASA event on Feb 7-8. A short while before the event, I got an email from my friend Edward, that he was signing up for the HPDE, and was I going to be teaching?
A couple days before the race my entry fees for the race magically appeared. So, in very short order I went from planning on blowing off the track weekend to both teaching and racing. I usually hate to do both on the same day. Each one can be quite draining. When I try to do both, I don't really have the energy to do either one well.
The weekend before the race, I brought the Miata over to RC's shop, which was finally finished enough that there was room to work on the car. Over the course of the week RC installed the Spec Miata suspension, braided steel brakelines and took care of a couple other maintanance issues. I had one of those weeks where things kept coming up and I wasn't able to get to RC's shop until Thursday night, after he had left for a long weekend.
When Edward and I got to the shop on Thursday, the first problem was that my cellphone had crapped out. The palm portion worked fine, it just didn't act as a phone. Since it was a replacement that I had gotten the day before I had to get in touch with Verizon immediately to try to straighten things out. After a hard reboot followed by a soft reboot later, it worked.
The next thing we tried to do was deal with a minor repair on his third gen Rx7. I don't know if you've ever seen inside the engine compartment of a third gen Rx7, but I doubt there is anything such as a minor repair. We couldn't even get to the manifold air temp sensor without removing part of the intake manifold. Edward didn't have the appropriate gasket, I didn't know how critical that gasket was, we eventually decided to punt on that and run the car with the bum sensor.
At this point it was getting on towards ten O'clock and we hadn't even started on the Miata yet. I decided to bleed the brakes first, as I could theoretically adjust the suspension by myself if Edward left. That left the problem of finding a hose to bleed the brakes. After a trip to my friend Sue's house, we managed a kludge using two different types of hose, that while messy, did work.
We then measured camber and toe, as well as we could, figured out what we needed to do and eventually finished up around 2AM. We loaded the car on the trailer, wandered over to the Denny's on Bowers for a quick snack and headed to our respective abodes.
Friday night, while I was packing, I once again vowed that I was going to put together a kit of stuff for the track, that just lived in it's plastic tubs, ready to put in the van and drive off. As it worked out, I think that I got stuff done early enough to get about five and a half hours of sleep, or slightly more than average for a Friday night on a race weekend.
I got to the track about 7:30. With 3 hpde (open track) run groups, a race group, another club running an event in one of the run groups and a big chunk of the paddock set aside for "drifting" it took a few minutes to find a spot.
Between the morning meeting, and an excessive undone todo list, getting the car ready was quite the challenge. My first on-track session was a lead and follow with Edward, who was my student on Saturday. I gave Karen a ride in that session while I tried to help Edward work on his line. Immediately after that session was qualifying for the race. Being a teacher I missed the first group 4, as well as the practice for the race. I got out on track and found that the velcro on my gloves would 'catch' on the window net so that every time I turned the wheel, it was like someone tugging on my hand.
I was running pathetic 2:14 laps. I finally realized that I could do something so that the velcro strap merely flopped around annoyingly, rather than catching on the net. I got in a few cleaner laps, finally qualifying at 2:09. Immediately after qual was a group 4 session. I took Edward out for a ride in the first group 4 session. I always like to give my students rides in the open passing sessios. I find that it not only gives them a good example of what the line is, but why. Going all of the way to the outside edge of the track makes so much more sense when they are in a car that slides out to there.
Instructing was fairly uneventful. Edwards's driving improved steadily throughout the day. I gave Karen rides in several of the sessions throughout the day. I worked on learning the car, keeping my foot to the floor in more places, figuring out gear choices for the Miata and left foot braking in turn 10.
Due to my poor qualifying time, I was gridded close to the back for Saturday's race. Knowing what the afternoon sun is like, I put some electrical tape across the top of my visor. In case the sun was in my eyes, I could drop my visor and the tape would keep the sun out of my eyes. On the warm up lap, heading up into turn 2, the sun was in my eyes, I dropped my visor and watched the Rx7 in front of me go through turn two to the right of the apex. Turn two being a right hand turn, he had turned down way too early, and cut through the dirt on the right.
At the start of the race a first gen Rx7 spun off track drivers right. It took me several laps to get around a blue and white second gen Rx7 who would hold me up in the corners, then rocket off down the straights. A few laps later, I got caught behind a black second generation Rx7 that did the same thing.
I worked on taking the viewpoint that this weekend ws a development weekend, and as I had no chance of winning, I should take advantage of the slower traffic as an opportunity to practice my "racecraft". More aggressive passes than are koser for open tracks and the like. It turns out that during the race, I turned a 2:02.310, about three seconds a lap better than my previous best at that track. Two of the cars gridded ahead of me in SM crashed, giving me a third in class. One of my best finishes yet in both relative and absolute position.
I also noticed that during the race, while chasing down other cars, I mysteriously gotten more comfortable holding off my braking later for the carousel. I wish that I could just pull out the red mist when I needed it (turns I chicken out on) and put it away when I don't (turns that I regularly overcook).
Over the course of the day, NASA was running a "drift school" in part of the paddock. While I was quite interested in checking it out, between teaching and racing, I was just too busy. At the barbecue that evening I ran into several friends I hadn't seen in a while. Brian Forster was actually running the drift event, and Victor was hanging out with him.
My Student on Saturday was a guy a few years younger than me driving his brother's M3. Craig was about 5'15" and there was no way that he was able to get into my passenger seat with the cage. It turned out that Craig was from Sacramento and owns 3 MGs, to Bs and an A.
On Saturday, since I rode with Craig in the first group 1 session, qualifying was my first session, fast or slow on the track. I ended up qualifying with a 2:04.201. Craig Smith (it was the day for Craigs) qualified at 2:04.160.
During qualifying, I was working on threshold braking, especially in turn 7. I lose a bit of time by coasting before braking, and by not braking at absolule maximum. Unfortunately, in working on this I'd lock up a front wheel and ended up flat spotting one of the tires.
I then had a couple of group 4 sessions for practice. Between them, Joe Craven showed up to give me an old race seat. I enlisted his help in rotating the tires, to put the flat spotted tire on the rear. During that process, he noticed that the other front tire was corded on the inside. We also discovered that the nut on one of the lower front shock bolts was AWOL.
Since my student Craig's third session was immediately before my race, and I didn't have any crew to help me with the car, Barry Hartzel was kind enough to ride with Craig that session. Luke and Karen, from tech, were kind enough to help me on pre-grid. I spaced out and left the remote for my camcorder at home and needed someone to start it just before I went out on track. It's also difficult to deal with the window net, and close the door, from inside the car.
The race on Sunday, was probably one of the closest I've ever been in. I don't think that Craig and I were ever separated by more than two seconds. At the start of the race, we were caught behind a couple of slower cars, which it took us a while to get around. There seem to be an awful lot of sedans that like to "race with" people who aren't in their class.
About 5 minutes into the race, I passed Craig. Five minutes later, I blew a line in a turn and he passed me. His car definitely accelerated better than mine and if I blew an exit, he'd easily pull me on the straight. On the last lap, I started to pass Craig going into turn 4. Coming through turn 5 we pulled up next to an NSX that had passed us on the straight about minute and a half before. There was room for my car, with several inches to spare, between Criag's Miata and the NSX.
I held Craig off for the rest of the lap, until coming into turn 11, a black Civic, decided that he had to pass me on the inside, to get one more pass of a car that wasn't in his class. I got way off line, was fighting the fornt end, couldn't get any power down and Craig followed the Civic under me and passed me between turn 11 and that finish line.
After reading my race report, Mike Quan sent me an email that the guy in the black Honda was in a dice for first place in his class. Mike sent me a link to his (the guy in the black honda) incar video of the race. He and Tom Lepper had caught up with us somewhere between 5 and 6. Tom Went on the inside, he went on the outside of Craig and I in the Carousel. The carousel isn't quite wideenough for four cars abreast at speed. He "lost it" in the marbles, and was chasing down Tom for the rest of the lap. It was one of those frustrating cases where two races for position, at a critical time, overlap.
It turns out that Elvis' car broke a differential during the race, so rather than racing for 3rd place, we were racing for 2nd. Not that we would have driven any harder had it been for first. My best laptime in the race was a 2:01.388, my personal best at Sears Point, in any car so far. Craig's best time in the race was a 2:01.995.
I did notice during the race that when I'd get overadrenalized, chasing someone down, I'd push the car too hard. My lines would get sloppy and the tirews would squeel and complain as I tried to force them to do more than they were able. There was also a part of my brain which noticed that my turndown, especially for turn 11, was too aggressive. It's a common mistake of students to turn in too slowly, equating smooth with slow. However, it takes a tire some time to "adjust to the greater slip angle" and too quick of a turnin can cause problems too.
Another problem of mine that I noticed, was that when I was braking into the hairpins, my attention would be focused straight ahead, rather than through the turn. I wouldn't turn my head until I turned the steering wheel.
Sometime during the day on Sunday, possibly during the race, I got a lot more comfortable with keeping the accelerator floored through turn 10 and using a little bit of left foot braking to slow me down. The car certainly handles a lot differently doing that than with a lift. Again, I worked on looking through the turn on the entrance to help me focus on a late apex. Immediately after the race, I was pretty well spent, and still had a follow the leader session with my student Craig. I had planned on just blowing off the nominally two hour open track at the end of the day. That was a decision that lasted until they called a meeting for everyone in the open track session. The rules were simple: No banzai passes. If you didn't want to be passed in the turns, put an "N" on the back of your car. The flaggers would watch us like hawks and if anyone wasn't playing nice, they'd get black flagged.
Despite what some folks may think of the advisability of such a session, with mixed skill levels, it went amazingly smoothly. Everyone was exceptionally polite throughout the whole session. I really appreciated the apportunity to work on my line and learning the car. I much prefer sessions that are longer than 40 minutes. I worked on looking further ahead, and being smoother on my turndowns. To my surprise, when I analyzed my videotapes, most of my laps were in the 2:04 range, with only one at 2:02.14. I certainly felt like I was faster and smoother.
The full Spec Miata suspension made a significant difference in performance. Something like 4 seconds a lap. I don't know how much of that is in the car gripping better, or the car feeling more comfortable, so I can push it closer to the limit. We did not have time to install the limited slip, or the race exhaust. I still need to get a better air filter too. I hope that these mods should be good for a few seconds in my laptime.
I also see quite a bit of room for driver improvement. My laptimes will vary by a couple of seconds a lap, though some of that is due to traffic. I will occasionally get turn 2 right, so that I keep it on the track at the exit, but slide on out to the berm. I lose time in, and coming out of turns 7 and 11. My speed at the exit of turn 10, doesn't carry me quite out to the edge at exit either, so I'm slowing down more than I need at the entrance there. I'm too early off the gas and on the brakes going into 6, the carousel.
I haven't quite figured out if the car will do 3 and 3A, or the esses, flat. It's right on the cusp of doing it, but I suspect a bit of a lift to get the weight on the front wheels at turndown, will actually be faster.