Penny-pinching car geek's guide to racing, track days, and car build. DIY projects, product reviews, and interviews.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back in Gainesville - What do YOU want in life?

Woohoo! I am back in Gainesville.  Although I liked being in the city, I missed my nice house, clean garage, and quiet neighborhood right on top of law school.  I had such a fulfilling experience in Orlando.  I saved up the money I needed to save up, met judges, attorneys, businesspeople, made new friends, got my kickboxing training on, and most of all gained work experience.  The only thing missing is motorsports.  I did not get to do any of such!  I had originally wanted to rent a kart but life caught up to me and couldn't spare the time or money.  

I did read a racing related book: Perry McCarthy's Flat Out, Flat Broke; Formula One The Hard Way.  This is an autobiography of Perry McCarthy's racing life.  He has a nack of making thing happen and his networking skills were no doubt important in making his career possible.  It was a very inspiring book and it fueled my desire to network, so it actually helped me get out there and meet even more people.  In my typical do-or-die fashion when it comes to finding jobs, I left my resume everywhere and shook hands with as many people as I could.  My father said face time is key in success, and I adhered to it the best I could.  We will see what happens as the years go by.  A couple of attorneys even asked me to give them a call when it is time for me to graduate!

I know the title sounds grand but what I want in my life in the short term is actually pretty simple.  I don't have grand, all-encompassing long term goals.  I am constantly thinking about these things, too.  It is what fuels my life: If I have something I want I can't stop thinking about it until I get it.  A girl, a car, a new pet, a job, you name it.  And boy will I get it.  If you remember, I wanted a koi fish pond.  That dream hasn't changed and my koi fish are doing fine in their 30 gallon plastic tub.  When I move them to a pond, I hope they grow to be behemoths.

This time, I am thinking about what car to get when I get my first job.  This is what I want in life.  My needs are very simple; cheap, seat time, reliable.  I've decided to add two more criteria, which shall surface in my writing as you read on.  My first car was a Ford Focus that I wrecked several months into driving.  I didn't know anything about cars so that doesn't count in what I am about to explain.  Subsequently, I've owned a Miata, a truck, two motorcycles, and another Miata.  I never owned more than one; the vehicle was my daily driver/rider.  My first Miata was a 99 which I drove 2006.  Truck was a 90, which I owned in 2008.  My first motorcycle was designed in 1986, and my second bike was designed in 89.  My current Miata is a 92 and has no air-conditioning, power steering, and has stiff springs and a race seat.  Do you see a trend?  Although, most of the year I get to drive my girlfriend's car which is quite comfortable.

So I'm sick and tired of driving uncomfortable, old and beat up cars.  But I can't bring myself to make the horrible investment of buying a newer car.  I've thought about buying a Hyundai Genesis; RWD, 3000 lbs, 200 horsepower and an LSD for 24k!  I've thought about buying an E36 M3.  Or a used NSX--my friend Walter got me to fall in love with these cars when he showed me his when I was twenty years old.  All great, awesome cars. But still, how will I feel when I bend a control arm hitting a curb on the track?  How much will it cost?  I can't bring myself to drive a nice car like that.  Besides, I've really wanted to start taking my girlfriend and the dog on a camping trip somewhere remote; what better than a 4x4 to do that?  This is the Josh Neubauer influence.  

Besides, nothing really beats karting in terms of experience vs money ratio.  My first day on a racing kart was on a KPP (Komer Piston Port, formerly HPV) kart at the old Moran kart circuit.  It was an amazing circuit with elevation changes, and I got to do it for 50 minutes.  I almost cried.  I am not kidding when I say this was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, right up there with when I got 4th place in my MMA tournament.  Impressions like that don't go away easily, and in the back of my head I can still smell the strong stench of burnt castor oil and feel the two stroke engine rattling my body.  Oh and the sensation of the tires scraping the tarmac.  It felt so direct and how can one forget that.  If I can find the time to race my kart once or twice a year, it would keep me very happy.

So instead of doing schoolwork, I spent hours researching what SUV to buy.  I finally figured out the perfect balance of all the things I need.  I wanted a car less than 10 years old for once which has a real audio system and air conditioning.  Also, it had to be a real 4x4, that can "go anywhere" as Josh says.  A Jeep rubicon might have done it but that is too expensive and gets absolutely horrible gas mileage.  I do not understand why that doesn't come in diesel!  I've thought of Samurais and Trackers but those are too old.
But I found it; 1999-2005 Suzuki Grand Vitara, the last japanese SUV that is imported to America that is was properly designed to go off-road.  I really don't need that much in creature comforts and with a locker and a set of appropriate tires, this little SUV should "go anywhere" including work and grocery stores.  I'll probably get a winch, portable tools, some lights and a roof rack to turn my urban attack vehicle into a capable camp-mobile.  Plus, it will have no problem hauling my kart trailer, even if I load two karts on it.

Okay, enough ranting.  So I can make these dreams come true, I am in the process of trying out for a journal in law school.  Having been on an academic journal really boosts your resume.  I've been procrastinating a bit but I am going back to writing this case-comment for the write-on competition.  I've been working on this paper all week.  

All of these things will come true and please keep track of me as I make this happen!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes I am going to continue developing my Miata.

Photo Credits: Photo 1: owned by Josh Neubauer in one of his 4 wheeling trips; I'm actually not even in the picture nor was I there for the trip.    Photo 2: my very first day on a racing kart at Moran Raceway.  This may sound cheesey but it was absolutely the drive of my LIFE.    Photo 3: 2005 Suzuki Grand Vitara.    Photo 4: A lucky photo of me proving that I actually used to race a kart. For a hilariously short period of time. I will be back though! Yes that is me.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Gainesville Test Track Day Report - 6/12/10 - From soft to stiff, compliant to responsive

I am new-york bound this weekend to see my girlfriend and my dear friend Nick.  I can't remember how many times I have been to New York City, but no more touristy stuff. Just food, old friends, and girlfriend is enough. I was sitting at the airport pissed-off at delays and bad Jetblue customer service. I thought this was a perfect time to get some work done, look at my track data, and write my report. So here goes!
Some mixed feelings with this track day. First and foremost, the e-bay coilovers held up fine. Nothing broken and although I have not taken measurements yet, the ride height looks the same. I event went off the asphalt this day and it survived it just fine. I think the perches and sleeves work well although how it will do with 100+ mph incidents remains to be seen.

It got very hot starting from very early in the morning. 80's throughout the morning and 90's past 11AM. In car temps must have been over 105 when the car wasn't moving. Very humid also. It reminded me of when I was living in Thailand.

Changes from my last event
Tire pressures: 36 front, 32 rear, later changed to 31 and 37.
Random eyebaleld toe-out settings
Max front camber (probably 2.5+ degrees)
Front ride height: 5"
Rear ride height: 5.5"
No corner balancing
(alignment and ride height set with 180lbs ballast in driver's seat)

Mobile 1 GL4 synthetic transmission fluid
Mobile 1 5w30 oil (I used to run 0w30)

Session 1

I immediately notice how much the car likes to oversteer. The oversteer hurt speed everywhere. The car would turn-in at much faster speeds but would not stay stable. On corner exit it punished me every time I got on the throttle. This session I managed to put two wheels off coming out of turn three. I spun out another time after turn-in at turn one. Not enough rear grip. Embarrased, I cut the session short and came back into the paddock area. I detached the rear sway bar and went right back out.

Session 1.5
Much better. The car was drivable again and I started adapting to the newly set-up car. The biggest thing I noticed was that the car was harder to drive. Not only was it faster in all of the corners and was more responsive, it was much less forgiving. I knew this would happen but experiencing it firsthand was something. By less forgiving, I mean that the envelope of "optimal" is a lot narrower. It felt like the  tires had a smaller range of acceptable slip angle. I can't quite wrap my head around it but I hypothesize that the added grip is from a better contact patch resulting from better camber control, and the edginess is from decreased tire compliance from the higher spring rate. This session was spent trying to get used to the thinner performance envelopes. Tough! Even though I do not think I was driving as well as my later sessions, I logged my best time this session of 1:02.5 due to optimal temperatures.

Session 2
I am figuring out some new lines with the car's setup. The drive out of turn 3 completely depends on how smooth you were throughout turn 2. As hypothesized earlier, turns 5-6 became a double apex corner with this better handling setup. Fast time 1:02.7. I am starting to get more consistent. I am no doubt just driving better than I did last time.

I took a bit of a break after the third session to cool off and hydrate. I brought my awning. Thank goodness. Shade helps so much. Plus, it makes you instantly more popular on the track. I did get to meet some new people that day, but I was able to stay focused. I'm really a pretty social guy, but usually at the track I try and force myself to be a track loner so I can concentrate on driving.

Session 3
Last session, I spotted another Miata on track and I followed him a couple of laps. The car had more body roll than mine but it was definately not stock. I was curious on how it drove. The owner was a nice man named Mike. I offered Mike a drive in my car in exchange of the same in his. Some people get selfish about their tires and car. Not me; it was always beneficial to gather more data about different cars and different setup, especially if you have some way to log your data. Plus, if you are dealing with a better driver, you can learn a lot about how your car can be driven also. To my relief, Mike wasn't selfish either.

Mike's Miata is the same 1.6L Miata, with some sort of handling package installed. I had originally thought the car oversteered too much from watching him drive. However, I was pleasantly surprised. First, the power steering was nice. It made steering the car a lot more pleasant to drive, albeit at the expense of steering feedback. Second, due to the lower spring rates, the chassis and suspension reacted slower as wheels go through their travel motions. This gives you much more time to figure out what the car is doing and anticipate what is about to happen and react timely. The car did not oversteer and it was very neutral.  It was comparable to my FM spring setup.

This car had front and rear sway bars. I think running adjustable front and rear bars with lower spring rates is really the answer, instead of eliminating the rear bar and running higher spring rates like most Miata guys do. My car is in the latter camp. It is hard to tell from data if that is better or not since my car's exhaust and lighter flywheel makes it accelerate faster, so I will have to wait to drive Mike's car again to use my butt-data-logger.

Session 4 and 5
I am beginning to experiment with different lines going into the turn 7-9 complex. This time I am entering the corner much faster; the new setup allows me to shift the weight of the car around and make the left turn right at the geometrical apex. I still can't figure out if coming in fast and barely making the lines is faster, or if coming in slow acellerating earlier is faster in this section. Data says coming in slower is 0.1 seconds faster than when I dive-bomb it. Unfortunately, in this session someone had kicked up dirt right after that apex so I could never tell if it were faster. It seems that I am losing 1-2 mph worth of acceleration from hitting the dirt.

On session 4 I went off-course. I think I almost flipped my car coming out of turn 3. At one of the laps, I had a very good drive out of turn 3. I was not used to all the speed and got two wheels off the track, maybe three. I flew back on, sliding. I thought to myself, "I might just flip this car in a few moments" as I was correcting the oversteer, thinking that I was going to end up in the grass on the other side at a bad angle. I didn't. The ebay sleeve/perches survived that. I think I must have been doing 50 mph at the time.

I was kind of disappointed because my lap times kind of sucked. This is partly because of the hot weather. Still, I felt that I learned a lot more than I usually do from this track day. Maybe that is why I have a much longer entry. Stiff cars are faster but harder to drive. I felt that in my bones today. Being smooth pays off, and you should experiment with different lines and always use real data to make judgments on which is faster.

Notes on fitness
I am a pretty fit guy. I have stamina stacked up somewhere from my fight training days, and I still excercise a lot despite school. This summer, I have had two jobs and I barely get to train. So basically my fitness levels have dropped. I found myself taking longer breaks. I found the heat from the sun, firewall, transmission tunnel distracting quite a bit. This bothers me; I want to develop a mental toughness and get back into shape so that I can drive hard. Just like fighting, I think practicing hard driving under adverse, fatigued conditions is what makes you faster when you are not tired.

Air temperature
Fastest time 1:02.5. Only 0.2 seconds faster than my previous record. I think this shows how much impact air temperature has on laptimes. Data says I probably would have gone a full second and a bit more faster if the air temps were the same. 2% faster in all the corners, and the better handling balance allowed me to get a much better drive out of the corner. My rudimentary math shows that on  this track, temperatures of 10 degrees differences nets about a second difference. Of course, if it gets really cold I think grip levels change also so the curve is probably not flat.
I am on my plane now. It has been an annoying and agitating night with multiple delays. Getting yanked around here and there. I kept getting told that it was weather, but when I pressed the issue I discovered it was due to maintenance. This poor girl in front of me swapped tickets just like I did for another faster flight; except she believed the weather excuse and paid 40 dollars to do so. Turns out that staffing the second flight was contingent on the first flight. Wow! Airline staff could have figured out. Basically, this girl gave Jetblue 40 dollars so she can be late anyways. Caveat Emptor! Experience definitely counts in the airline business. Delta, while as ghetto as Jetblue, runs its flights much smoother. I don't understand why I keep flying Jetblue, it is really not worth the 30 dollar savings over Delta.

This is a picture of me and my friend Josh Neubauer in Grand Central Station. Josh has a Toyota 4x4 that he uses to do rock crawling; his truck has been featured in off-road magazines. Josh currently is a cake specialist at Culinary Institute (the school Anthony Bourdain went to). It was very nice to see him again. Maybe we'll do an entry about off roading sometime! Josh has made all sorts of cakes from Jeep wheel and tire to a Chinese dragon. He still owes me a Miata cake, but hopefully it will be a Formula Ford cake or something cooler by the time he gets around to it!

Note: Sorry, my report is over a month late. With the multiple jobs that I have been working I simply could not find the time to do this. Plus, I have been kickboxing-crazy. Every spare moment I had I spent at the gym. I am getting better and better, training with very good fighters. Every day something is bruised and I'm trying very hard not to fall asleep at work. I usually fail. Please forgive me, the head coach is a legendary former world champion! You wouldn't pass up this opportunity either. Back-dated on July 16th, post made on around July 9th