Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stacked Odds

I haven't been to Toledo in four years. After the National Tour in 2005, when I was all but begged to drive Joel Fehrman's STi in SM but declined in order to drive my beloved Camaro in FS, I haven't been back. That Tour event, I finished midpack on the strength of my Sunday runs, after having had no chance whatsoever of a good, dry run on Saturday. You see, I spun on my only dry run, yet the course workers still barely had time to finish setting up cones from the guy ahead of me. If I hadn't spun, I would have gotten a rerun, which would have been rained out. In other words, I couldn't win.

For four years, I've avoided Toledo, because of that, because of the feeling that I literally can't win there. The best ProSolo finish I've ever had in FS was in Toledo, 0.302 behind Jason Burns, but it still wasn't good enough for a Super Challenge berth. I got a fifth place STS finish in Corey Ridgick's Subaru, but marred his front fascia enough from a cone hit that I thought I was going to have to pay for a new one. :( No, Toledo is no friend of mine.

I really don't know what I was thinking when I signed up for this. I'd already decided I wasn't going to the ProSolo Finale because I can't win L2 against Annie Bauer on her FSP index, and I doubt I can come close enough to even make the Ladies Challenge. However, it turns out that FSP isn't the only seriously borked index out there.

Upon arrival at the event site, I found the spot reserved for me by Billy Brooks, and started to unload my car. Practice starts were going on, but I wasn't interested, as I didn't really want to change tires, and I already knew the site was super flat.

Mike Shields and Chris Franson were among those doing practice starts; they were in Mike's Championship-winning DSP BMW. After Chris took some starts, Mike goes to take a few as well, and promptly has a catastrophic failure of the transmission. The next hour or so is taken up with a discussion of who they can get rides with. Despite Kevin Henry having an open seat in his E30 BMW, neither Mike nor Chris want anything to do with the E30 chassis (which is evidently tippier than their E36, which was bicycling last year at the Toledo Pro), so Mike ends up in Nathan Whipple's DSP Integra Type R, and Chris ends up in my car. This is a good thing for me, though, as it gives me a good driver in my car to compare to, plus it ensures that I won't bail on Sunday if Saturday isn't going well.

The site closes at 8PM, so I check into my hotel, then touch base with Sean O'Gorman for dinner plans. We meet at the world's slowest Chili's, in Maumee, and eventually, I make it back to the hotel for sleep. I hit the snooze alarm at least three times before I get a phone call that permanently wakes me up; it's Justin Rest asking how to get to the event site. I do the best I can with giving him directions, then get ready to go out myself.

Dark skies are threatening when I get to the site, and before long, the rain begins. I grab my rain tires from Ian Baker's trailer, and change tires -- few things are more miserable than changing tires in the rain. I have my rain jacket, but not my rain pants, so in short order, my too-long jeans are soaked from top to bottom. I am not happy about this, but there isn't much I can do, since all of my clothes are at the hotel. I don't bother walking the course in the rain, but instead focus on getting the car ready to go since I'm in group 2. Pretty much as soon as I'm done, Mike and Chris roll in, and Chris feels bad that he didn't help with the tire changing. I figure he and Mike had plenty to drink about with the broken transmission, so tell him it was no big deal.

So, my first runs are in the serious wet. It's no longer raining by the time L2 runs at the beginning of group two, but it's still very wet out. The rest of the class is either on Hoosier dirt stockers or A6s. I'm the only one on the radial wets. I think the way the conditions were at this point, I had the best tires. It was too wet for A6s, but too dry for the dirt stockers. It was no suprise that I was in the lead after the first session, with Denise Kugler in second.

After impound, I changed the tires to the brand-spanking-new A6s for Chris, since the rain had stopped, and the course was getting drier by the minute. I told him how to launch it, as well as any other little nit-picky things I could think of, and then reported to my impound assignment. He drove it fairly well, sitting in fifth after the morning runs.
heading into the saturday afternoon runs, photo by paul magee

The fact that the afternoon runs were dry made both Denise and I comment on the similarities to DC. I was hoping that Sunday morning wouldn't be the same half wet/half dry combination, but I wouldn't have been surprised if it was. I dropped some serious time, as did everyone, and when the results came out, I was somewhat shocked to find myself in second place, with Denise in third. I was behind someone I'd only met on Friday night at dinner, named Beth Smith. She was driving an FM F500. I knew I'd given up some time on my second two afternoon runs, since I'd been called for cones on the first two, but I didn't think I'd sat back so much that I'd be an indexed second behind the leader. I was somewhat perturbed.
photo by Jen Croy

Chris didn't improve much in the afternoon. He redlit away a 27.4 run, which would have had him about five spots higher in the standings, and he was wildly different from run-to-run in his 60ft times. Launches were owning him. He slipped from fifth down to ninth with the afternoon runs.
photo by Jen Croy

It was about that point that I realized that the FM index could be partly to blame for my position. As I walked up to the results to look at 60-ft times, I came upon Allen Kugler and David Newman, who were both frustrated with being deep in the R1 standings. Allen was pointing out that Darrin DiSimo was an indexed second behind the slowest FM driver, while I was the same behind Beth. I don't think I can remember ever seeing Allen as agitated as he was at that point. I told him that I'd backed off for my second two runs, so as to get clean runs on both sides, but he wouldn't hear of it. With all of R1 struggling against the FM drivers, it seemed that maybe it wasn't my driving that was the major issue at all.

I asked Doug Gill as the final group was entering impound if I could weigh my car, since I knew Greg had weighed his (since Billy Brooks was running it in SM) and I wanted to compare. He said to bring it in at the end of the cars that needed to be weighed, which I did. As Andrew Lieber's car cleared the scales, I helped push mine on. 3086lbs, with some really messed up corner weights (902/953 front and 649/584 rear). If I do the race seats (which I should), I can be close to McCance's 2912lbs.

Sunday morning was bright and clear, unlike the thunderstorms from twenty-four hours previous. I'd ridden to and from the hotel with Justin Rest, so I didn't need to do anything with my tires except get the pressures back up to par. I decided to walk the courses a few more times, just to reinforce a few things I needed to think about in order to maximize my times. I was still pretty confident that if I could get into the 27s, I could win; I was sitting on low-to-mid 28s at this point. I could pick out two areas on the courses that I knew would be huge time-gainers, and I decided to focus there.
photo by paul magee

Once group two runs came around, I went to implement my plan. The first two runs didn't go quite according to that idea, but the next two, yes! 27.7 on both sides! But, considering the cheering I was hearing from the FM camp, I knew she'd improved too. I had dropped nearly 1.5 seconds, but I had no idea how much she'd dropped, nor did I know how much of a different it would make. I went to impound to wait out my time, and once the results came, I was disgusted.

Martin Valent's footage shows parts of these runs (left side #1 and right side #2) from the outside of the car (fast forward to 8:13, which is when my car first appears).

1.4 seconds back. 1.4. Ridiculous. I was upset, and I didn't want to talk to Beth, because I knew it wasn't her fault that the index was so completely messed up, but I didn't want her to think I was mad at her. I knew I left time out there too, since Chris had run some raw times that were faster, and he was not familiar with the car. No, it wasn't until I made the mistake of pulling out my TI-83 and punching in Greg McCance's Saturday afternoon ESP times (which were good enough for the class lead at that point) and discovering that even Greg wouldn't be leading L2 that I wanted to just curl into a ball and cry.

I just can't win at Toledo. :(
the tape was gone by the end of my sunday runs; photo by paul magee

To add insult to injury, Brian Harmer told me to put my car in impound. I know it was an ugly laugh that I gave when I asked him if he was serious. Denise Kugler said the same thing. In any event, I needed to put my car back into grid, so it didn't stay impounded long.

Chris didn't improve on Sunday, coning away from faster left side times, and having sixty-foot times ranging from a car-best 1.7 to a terrible 2.1. He'd fall to 11th for the weekend. He put the car back into impound after ESP was released, on the off chance that I managed to make it to the Ladies Challenge.

It was for naught though. I was the ninth qualifier, and even if someone ahead of me had dropped out, I would have dropped too. There was no point in me trying to run against an impossible dial-in. On the other hand, it was a good thing my car was still in impound....

During Billy Brooks' runs in Greg McCance's car (Billy was running SM), I couldn't help but notice that it looked like the ABS wasn't working. It turns out that it wasn't working because there was serious left front wheel bearing failure possibly due to or maybe causing the axle nut on that side to back off.
that can't be good; photo by jen croy

After trying to fix it in impound, Greg gave up, and since I'd said he was welcome to drive my car in the Challenge, he came to ask me if he needed to do anything to drive my car, such as put his tires on it or whatever. I told him that he could run my tires if he wanted, but otherwise, he was good to go as soon as he put his numbers on.

So, Greg McCance ended up driving my diff-less wonder in the first round of the Hawk Super Challenge against Tony Savini, who is no slouch either.

Yep, he went off course after the slalom. He says he got his foot caught under the brake pedal. Oh well. I'd been looking forward to seeing what he could do with the car.

But, it meant I could leave early too. Billy, Jason and Greg helped me change tires and load the car, and I was gone by 4:15, and home around 11:45. Not the ending I wanted from this ProSolo, but Chris was able to push me a bit, and also was able to help me with some concrete setup. Greg was able to give a little feedback on the car, too. So, while I was horribly disappointed with the final results, I did get some information from the weekend.

Now I need to decide whether to drive all the way down to Moultrie, GA for the Southeast Divisionals against... no one. Or to stay close to home and run the DC points event on Sunday. Moultrie is concrete. DC is the same old-same old. I haven't decided yet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Not So Common

After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided to make the trek down to Danville, Virginia for the 20th anniversary of the Coventry Commonwealth Games of Virginia autocross being hosted by the Blue Ridge Region SCCA. Knowing how Friday traffic in the DC area can be, I decided to try to leave between noon and one. It still took me seven hours to get to the event site, though that included getting pulled over for my exhaust (though I got barely even a verbal warning, as the officer decided he wasn't going to push the issue with a Maryland vehicle, and in fact, only told me "Your exhaust is illegal in Virginia. Have a good day," and didn't even ask for my license or registration).

Saturday morning was more leisurely than I am used to, with registration check-in and tech ending at 9:30 and first car off around 10:30 or so. I walked the course once, and was fairly unhappy with the finish slalom that was the bare minimum in terms of space between the cones. I'd be even more unhappy with it later.

There were only about 65 people running the Saturday portion of the event, and with three run groups, things progressed very, very quickly, despite five runs. The first heat was primarily two-driver cars though, and that made things tricky as there was little-to-no time for car cool down. Even in the third run group, when I ran, there wasn't a lot of time to think about the course or converse with others about various elements.

My first run on Saturday was a respectable 42.7. I was near the top of second gear going into the turnaround at the far end, and just couldn't get the car slowed down. This was a problem throughout most of my runs. My next run I ran the same time to the tenth, and made pretty much the same mistakes. By the third run, I was backing off a tick sooner into that crossover, but still trying to get on the gas too soon coming through the turnaround. I did improve just over 0.2s on the third run, and the fourth run (which would prove to be my quickest for the day) was barely quicker than the third.

That fourth run was good for fifth fastest raw time of the day, and seventh on index. I wasn't particularly happy with that, and I knew what I needed to do on my last run -- most of which involved the turnaround at the far end, as well as the finish slalom, which was a horrible little rinky-dink element that upset cars into the finish more than slowing them down. I felt bad for the course workers in that section.

In any case, I did what I needed to do in the turnaround on my last run. I got the car hauled down from nearly 70mph to probably 25mph (off boost sigh), and eased into the gas coming out so that I wasn't getting the horrific push off the crowned runway. I was in an awesome rhythm coming back through the offsets towards the finish; right, left, righ.... crap. I realized later that the spacing of the two cars delineating the offsets was the same as the spacing of the finish slalom. I crushed the second and third cones of the slalom as I finished with a 46.5+2. Oh well.

We finished competition runs around 2:30, so there was time for fun runs. I really wanted to get into the 46s clean, so I decided to participate. For the first of the two that I took, I grabbed O'maley to ride with me (the fact that O'maley's my passenger should be warning enough for the language).

The second fun run was back to the 47.0 range, and the car was handling weird on that run, likely because the Hoosiers had finally exceeded their optimum temperature range.

Sunday morning, I was asked to come up with the run groups, since I'd inquired about having only two groups instead of three. Ten minutes later, I had pretty evenly divided up the groups so that two drivers cars would have time between drivers, and also so there would be plenty of workers. But, some people went and screwed up my work by still asking to run in the opposite group. So, the second group ended up about 30% larger than the first group. Oh well.

The course looked to be significantly faster on Sunday, and there were no ridiculously tight slaloms this time around. A crossover near the beginning of the course meant that there would be nearly a 30 second interval between cars, but considering the lethargy of some of the course workers, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

I'd only walked the course once, so when I pulled to the line for my first run, I was a bit perplexed. I couldn't exactly remember the course; I knew where it generally went, but as for specifics (offsets then slalom or vice versa?), I was lost. I nailed two cones on a decent enough run.

The second run was better, and dropped down to within a few tenths of FTD, at the time held by David Clemens in his XP Corvair. I took Tara on a ride on the third run, and managed to slow down. Then my fourth run, I just felt "on." There was just one problem -- a cone was out of place near the end of the course. I opted to not stop, and to instead try to give it the room I should (or even more room) so as not to have a rerun. That run would end up being FTD over Roger Garrett's ASP C6 Z06 by only 0.003s. Would the cone have made a difference? Possibly. Here are runs 2 and 4 for comparison.

My last run, I took Scott Hoffman for a ride, and like with the other ride alongs, the comment "this is not a DS WRX" was made. Nope, it's not a DS car any more.

Overall, I think I was third fastest for the weekend, and fourth on index. Dave O'maley took top PAX honors, and Roger Garrett had top raw time. Full results here.

So, I'm liking the improved throttle responsiveness from the dyno tuning. The car handled well on the gritty asphalt of the airport, but I'm wondering how it's going to behave on the concrete at Toledo this coming weekend. Depending on how the next few weekends go, this could be a major testing weekend for me, as I don't think I'm going to be able to get onto any more concrete before Nationals.

Next up? Getting sticker Hoosiers mounted up at IAG on Wednesday afternoon (and maybe taking the front swaybar off, since it's been disconnected for a month), and then it's off to Toledo for the ProSolo. My fingers are crossed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rolling Along

I dropped the car off at Gabe's house on Friday morning so he could take it to the IAG tuning session on Saturday. The trip home was a bit on the awful side, as I ended up huddled against the window on the MARC train because the 'tard next to me couldn't keep his ass in his own seat as he leaned over the aisle to talk to his friend. So, with that in mind, I didn't want to ride a shuttle bus to the rental car place and walk from there. Instead, I decided to walk the 3+ miles from the train station home, but I was in flip-flops that aren't made for walking long distances. The blisters I got, especially on my left foot, were hideous enough, it was painful to walk even around the house, and so I ended up not leaving for Atlanta until close to 8PM.

I stopped just south of Blacksburg and slept for about five hours in the Camaro. I love sleeping in the Camaro; the seats are more comfortable than many hotel beds. I had my blanket and my Hoosier bear, so waking up at 5:30AM was a chore. :) I got down to Kevin's just past noon, took a shower, and then once Shuman showed up, we headed down to Atlanta Motor Speedway in his Miata with the top off.

Meredith Najewicz had offered up a ride in her husband's STX-prepped BMW, and when I arrived on site, several others asked if I wanted to drive their cars. In the end, I caved to Mark Davis's needling about "best 2-of-3" and signed up to drive his ES MR2, the car formerly owned by Brian Priebe. We walked the course with Steve Waters and Tommy Pulliam, and then settled in to watch the first heat.

The first phone call with regards to the WRX came about then. I saw that it was JJ calling, which had me concerned as I figured any call regarding the car would come from Gabe. He said they'd started warming the car up, and that it was running warmer (about 10 degrees) than it really should. I asked where the dashboard temperature gauge was, and he said about halfway up. I remarked that the only time I'd seen it higher than the quarter mark was in Wendover, after our Saturday competition runs, so something was definitely up. He said it could be an air pocket in the system (though how that would have gotten there is a good question), as initially, no heat was blowing through the vents. Mainly, he wanted to know if I still wanted them to put the car on the dyno.

I told him to go ahead. The car was fine when I had them do the pre-dyno inspection on Wednesday, and it was fine when I dropped it off with Gabe on Friday. The only place Gabe had driven it was to the shop from his house, and I seriously doubted that he blew something up on that trip (though anything is possible, I guess). In the unlikely event that something catastrophic happened, it wasn't my only means of transportation.

Then, I had to go drive the MR2, with the question of the WRX lurking in the back of my mind.

My first run was tentative, as it's been a while since I've driven an MR2, and I was tired and couldn't quite remember the course. Turned out that even driving conservatively, third gear was necessary for a good chunk of the course, and I told Mark that when I came in. Needless to say, he then proceeded to crush my time on his first run.

Gabe called then, and told me that they were done with the tuning, somewhat early. I asked if they did a race gas map, and he said no. I guess it was partly because of the hotter-than-normal engine, as well as the fact that the blowoff valve was evidently working for all it was worth already. I'll find out more about that later. I told him I couldn't really talk, since I was in the middle of my runs, and I'd get back to him later.

Second run, I dropped a good bit of time using third gear through the back part of the course. I was still tentative towards the end of the second slalom because I really didn't know where to start slowing down and downshift, plus Mark's car doesn't have ABS, and so I didn't want to lock the brakes up. Mark goes out on run two and nips me by a tenth or so again.

Atlanta Region's Pro class only counts the first three runs, and so the next run was the last one for all intents and purposes. Even with a passenger, I managed to drop down to a 52.0, as I got on the brakes a bit earlier in the fast slalom, and didn't push out into the marbles through the following sweeper. I knew I still had time out there, and watching Mark's third run, I thought for sure he had me, but he coned it and gave up. He had to sit on his 52.5 from run number two.
photo by Perry Bennett

So, for the last (not-counted) run, I asked Mark if he wanted to ride with me, and he jumped in. Shuman had pointed out to me something about how Mark took a particular turn, so I tried to mimic it, and while I'm not sure how well it worked (segment times or some kind of data acquisition would have been awesome at that point), I did end up dropping another half-second, while Mark's final run was a bust with cones.

In the meantime, Gabe had texted me the results from the dyno tuning:
"Driving impression: the car feels awesome! 224hp 286tq. Throttle is a lot more sensative. Pulls a lot harder. No overheating on the drive home. I adjusted the shocks and the feels much better on the street."

I wasn't particularly happy with the numbers, but I didn't know what to expect either. When I got home, I did look at Greg McCance's ESP build to see what his numbers are, and mine are in line with that. I guess that's good. :dunno:

Anyway, I called Gabe back during the break between heats and told him to check the coolant level once the car had cooled down, and top it off, then check it again in the morning. He put coolant in it when he got back to his apartment, based on the fact that the reservoir looked low. And since it was okay in the morning, he took it to FedEx Field to run the DC Region event.

He said it was certainly handling more in line with what he likes (throttle off oversteer), and that he doesn't want to mess with the rear swaybar right now. I'd asked about removing it, since that's what the spring rates were for (no sway bars at all), and he says, if anything, he'd want a bigger front bar. Travis Finlay had this to say when I quipped, "Why don't I get yet another engineer's opinion, so I can have three different ideas?"
prodarwin: no front bar + big rear makes it drive like a FWD car
prodarwin: except with rear inside spin on sweepers
prodarwin: no rear bar + big front makes it drive like a RWD car with more traction
prodarwin: that being said... I paxed 17th with the front bar disconnected
prodarwin: then again, that event I was 1.519 out of first
I don't know what to think. I figure I can drive the car pretty fast no matter what, but I'd rather not dump money into it if I don't need to.

So, Gabe evidently finished just about 0.4 behind Kenny Sorensen, even though he felt pretty good about the car. He thinks he just wasn't pushing it hard enough, though he's certainly not happy with the two seconds he's behind Burdette. I wonder how I would have fared.

My next event right now is the Toledo ProSolo, and I really don't want that to be my very next event in the car. I'm kind of looking at doing the Commonwealth Games in Danville, though I'm not particularly enthused about the site or the possible course design. Harry Hogenkamp's offered up his WRX wagon for a rallycross at Summit Point, and that could most definitely be fun too, but I probably should look for some seat time in my own car to be on my best game for Toledo. After all, I haven't been back there since the disaster of 2005, and I'm not particularly looking forward to dredging up those memories.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Compression Perfection

The WRX was at IAG for the pre-dyno inspection and 60K service on Wednesday. While it was there, I had them install the up-pipe and CAI that Billy at Mode Racing had sent.

The verdict? The compression had extremely little variance across the board -- 136, 137, 135, 139 -- pretty excellent for a car that has been ridden hard for the last year, especially with the power mods done over the last two months. I guess the previous owner did take care of the car pretty well during the 15K he owned it. Rick at IAG said that it's more usual to see up to a 10% variance between the cylinders.

Now, I've been using Mobil 1 5W30 since I bought the car, but I let them do the oil change with Motul 8100 5W40, since so many Subaru owners complain about the Mobil 1. I know I haven't had issues with Mobil 1 in my green Camaro Z28 1LE that currently has right around 390K on the odometer, but I also know that the formulation has changed in the past few years, so maybe there are better alternatives.

The dyno tuning session is scheduled for 5:30 tomorrow evening. I dropped the car off at Gabe's this morning, and he's going to take it there and report back (and hopefully take a picture or two). I have no idea what to expect out of it, but it's going to get a race fuel map as well as the 93 octane map. We'll see.

In the meantime, I'm still pondering how two different mechanical engineers can come to opposite conclusions on the need for a rear swaybar.