Monday, November 23, 2009

Off season happenings

So, about a month ago I was daydreaming about getting a daily driver so I could make the WRX into a track-only car. This came about because my last track day took me about an hour and a half just to swap out the pads, reset camber and toe, change tires, load everything up, etc. And then once home, I still have a bit of work to put away tools, take numbers off the car, etc. It sure would be nice to be able to leave all that stuff alone. That, and I never really get a good alignment with my dickering around with setting and resetting the alignment each time.

So, I had the first tentative conversations with my wife about how "practical" it would be to have another car (she hates the WRX because the coilovers make it so stiff). In the end, it really wasn't that hard a sell at all. BUT, she wanted a say in what car we were going to get.

So, my head was all over the 2009 Pontiac Solstice GXP Coupe -- if you haven't seen it you really need to check it out. With a swept back body line, it's just got gorgeous lines. Well, my wife's not to enamoured with it because the T-top isn't very practical (to go topless, you have to take the top off and leave it behind; there's no storage for it). So, this kinda left the GXP (non coupe) in mind -- or about a dozen other candidates from z370, S2000, even BMW 135i. In the end, it was fate that came together. My wife spotted a Saturn Sky in the parking lot at the bank, and instantly fell in love with it. She came home to tell me that she found the car.

Well, as it turns out, I knew all about the Sky -- I had put them in the same category as the Solstice since it's based on the same GM Kappa platform. So, it's really quite similar to the Solstice anyway. I went online and found there were a few Redline models in the area (turbo model) and a few days later became the proud owner of a 2009 Saturn Sky Redline Limited Edition.

Here's a few pictures of my car done with cell phone, and also a few better pictures where you can really see the lines:

In the end, I think my wife's choice was a really good one. The t-top on the solstice coupe would have been a real pain to deal with; and this is much better in the end. The angular lines have actually grown on me a lot, the solstice seems almost too bulbous now. :-)

When I purchased the car, I also got the LNF Turbo Upgrade kit which replaces some of the sensors and re-tunes the ECU. The baseline numbers are about 260 HP and 260 Ft/Lbs. The upgrade is stupposed to boost the power up to 290 HP with up to 340 Ft-Lbs of torque. To test that, I waited for the break-in period and took it to Portland Speed Industries (PSI; cute, eh?) and ran it on their dyno. Here's the results (keep in mind these are wheel power and torque numbers):

So, assuming a fairly standard 15% drive-line losses, the adjusted crank (or brake) numbers would have been: 305.3 HP and 328.6 Ft-Lbs of torque. I was pretty impressed with it; the toque numbers are just a smidge under the brochure number, but the torque curve is very flat and wider than some I've seen. Also, the ECU has had only about a week to learn the new settings, so I would anticipate it getting better if/as I use it more.

It's definitely an amazing machine and am really glad I let my wife talk me into it. It's got enough power to spin up the rear tires (good thing it has traction control), brakes are good, suspension feels good on the street (might be a bit soft for the track, but that's nothing new). All in all, a VERY fun bit of kit.

Now, I just need to figure out what I'm going to do with the WRX... :-) I am pretty sure I want to do a proper race setup (alignment), but I'm also thinking about installing a front splitter to help get through Turns 4-5 (and 6) where it tends to push out under throttle. Should be a fun season coming up and I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, October 5, 2009

End of Season Wrapup

Well, it looks like it's the end of the season for me. I was waffling if I was going to run the October track event, but decided that I didn't really want to take a risk on the weather. At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to do six track days and it looks like I only did four. However, those were AR open track events so I kinda view them as at least two days worth each.

Over all, I think things have progressed to a point where it's really up to me to improve my driving now. I've figured out a good baseline setup for the car -- making the brakes work, setting up the camber/toe, and so forth. Now it's all about working the lines and hustling my way through the turns. In a lot of ways, the work really begins now. Many (most?) folks would get to this point quicker -- heck, I've done 11 track days and I still feel there's so much for me to learn -- but I don't mind. I'd much rather stay within my confidence envelope and come away from each event without a scratch than have the car towed away on a wrecker (or worse). I had been improving each event up to the last event; so I'm pretty happy with that.

For next year, I expect to run the FOPIR event in February(assuming they run it again); and hopefully the AR guys will have another season of open track events. They're so addictive that I don't think I can go back to the "regular" track day format.

Maybe I'll see you out there.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Track Day #11 -- 2009/09/03

The AR Auto Service guys certainly know how to put on a great track day. I really enjoy the open lapping format where the track goes hot at 8:30 AM and stays hot (except for lunch) until 4:00 PM. You go out whenever you want to; no run groups, no delays. It's absolutely perfect for a day of testing, tuning and experimenting. I think there were about 25 cars in total and probably no more than maybe six or seven at any given time. In general, a nice open track.

There were a tonne of fast and fancy machinery out there and it was definitely an honour to share the track with them. Here's some pictures I took:

First up, is my car. :-)

Now some of the race cars:

And various other machinery:

The red Noble M400 (top two pictures) was parked next to my WRX. It's a 425 HP beast that makes 1.3g in the corners according to the owner/driver. We chatted a bit and I found out that he has only been driving on the track since about April and has done some of the prodrive courses. We even took each other out for rides; which is a real pleasure.

The M400 has huge torque and huge cornering power. He was able to really throttle steer it through T6; but a bit tentative in the brake zones (as you might imagine since he's only been tracking for a few months). Even with early braking, he's making 120 MPH. You can imagine what it's going to be like as he gains more confidence. I timed a few laps from the stands and he's generally at or a bit below 1:37 (I caught a 1:36.5 on one lap). That will almost certainly drop over time.

He seemed to enjoy the ride I gave him. He commented on how I was much closer to the limit in the corners than he is, and generally drifting it through all the turns. I also brake about 200 feet past his brake points; but I certainly didn't start that way. I think back to where I was in the learning cure a year and bit ago and realise just how far he's come in a short time.

Anyway, my day was great out there. Mechanically everything was near-perfect with the car. The brakes worked like a charm, no problems from the tie-rod ends, and I had no dramas on track; not even close dramas like in previous times. I'll upload some videos later (and update this page), but I did manage to get some passing in on a few of the cars out there. Most notably was the Ford Mustang (newer model) that was a bit tentative; I've even got a great video of passing out of T6 into T7 (liberal passing rules; gotta love it!).

My best time of the day was 1:34.8 which I did a few times; I wasn't really running for fast lap this time, I was working on keeping up speed in T2 and entry to T4. Looking at the data trace, I found that I was nearly 0.75 seconds up by T7 on my current best lap to date. I lost all that time in the back straight and T10 - T12. I think I might have been down a little bit on HP (perhaps air temp was higher?); also my shifts up into 4th were more deliberate, so that slows me down a lot.

First up, here's the video of my fast lap for the day:

Here's the fast-lap comparison this time out (blue and green) as compared with my previous best from May (red). It's really interesting how much more speed I got on the back straight back in May; I'm not sure what it is (I suspect air temperature giving different horsepower), but it ended up costing me about 0.75 seconds.

Speaking of gear shifts; on my last track day, I had a heck of a time shifting up into 4th. It seemed like the synchros weren't doing anything; I'd get a grind on most shifts and really was beginning to worry me. I talked with Eddie (owner of AR Auto Service) about it and he mentioned that when the gearbox gets warm, the gear oil thins out and can cause that problem. I should upgrade to a thicker gear oil which will ensure that the synchros are still working when warmed up; the penalty will be a baulky shift when cold (early in the morning, etc.). I think I can live with that...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tie Rod Ends...

OK, so I had a great time at the previous track day (the test and tune event put on by AR Auto Services)... But... you knew there was a but, didn't you...

I did my normal post-track day inspection and noticed there was some grease oozing from the tops of the tie rod ends; right where the rubber boots meet up with the steering knuckle. The rod ends are tight as a drum (no movement when pushing on the tire), but I figured that oozing grease would not be a good thing for the next track day. Therefore, I decided to replace the tie rod ends; should be a nice, simple job, eh? Well, almost.

I did a bit of research at NASIOC (North America Subaru Impreza Owners Club) to see if anyone has had trouble with tie rod ends. Nothing. Tie rod ends just aren't that interesting, I guess. I can't find much about them anywhere -- I even Googled them. So based on this, I assumed that they really didn't matter that much -- that is, anything would do the job is good enough.

So in response, I went down to my local Napa and purchased two sets of tie rod ends for about $85 (more than I wanted). I was not overly impressed with the Napa tie rod ends -- the nut at the top is a nyloc nut instead of castled (with cotter pin), so there's always going to be the fear that it might work itself loose. Also, the rubber boot is just held on by friction (stretched over the base of the rod end) instead of with metal wire clips like on the OEM parts. Oh well, I guess I'll just need to keep an eye on them...

The installation went really smoothly as I already had a tie rod separator tool (screw type) which did a great job. The new tie rods when on super easy. I didn't even have to adjust the toe afterwards -- I measured it up, and by some magic I'll never understand the toe was actually perfect (within a 32nd of an inch with steering wheel centred and everything).

Of course this was not going to be the end of it. :-) I did my normal quick run around the neighbourhood to test out the steering and get a feel for the alignment and brought it back in for a quick inspection. That's when I noticed that the boots on the tie rod were rubbing against the brake rotor.

Well, that's not good is it? I can just imagine what would happen -- a few miles of that, and I'd get this very neat hole in the side of the rubber boot and I'd get grease oozing out all over my rotors. With my luck this would happen when I'm going 120 MPH into Turn 10 at PIR and I'd end up stuffing it into the tire wall.

So I leave the car for a week (good excuse to take the motorcycle to work) and dug into them this past weekend. I figured that since the original parts were fine except for the oozing grease, I would just clean them up and put them back on. It's amazing how much faster it is to replace these things after having done it once. I think I replaced both sides and aligned the car (no magic this time) in about 45 minutes. Quick trip back to Napa and it's like the whole thing never happened.

Moral of the story? Even if you don't see anything bad written up at NASIOC about a replacement part, you might just want to get OEM... :-)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Track Day #10 -- 2009/05/21

Yes, I had another track day. This time I went to an open track day event put on by AR Auto Service for experienced drivers. There were about twenty folks so plenty of open laps without much traffic. The mix of cars was mostly high performance sports cars and race cars; lots of GT3s, a few Miatas, BMWs, Ford GT, etc. In terms of raw performance, my poor little WRX was way outmatched here. I think there was maybe one Audi out there running slower lap times than me, but most folks quite simply blew my doors off.

The day was an open track even, meaning that they didn't divide us out into run groups. They basically just had 30 minute sessions where you were welcome to get right back in line to pre-grid on the next session if you wanted to. Track went hot for quiet/street cars at 8:30AM (or 9:00AM for race cars) and went cold at 4:00PM; with 30 mins off for lunch (Yummy lasagna catered in).

All this meant is that I had WAY too much track time. My first realization was that anything more than 30 mins at a stretch is really a bad idea. I ran half a session and stayed in line for a full next session and it was way too much; I need more breaks in between sessions. The other thing is that I got my full about mid-afternoon (2pm) so didn't really use up anything close to my full potential.

My plan for the day was to experiment with different things (both driving and car setup):
  • Zero out the toe when changing camber and evaluate.
  • Evaluate the Hawk Blue rear brake pad upgrade.
  • Experiment with tire pressures.
  • Play with lines and weight transfer, etc.
So, my results... well, I'd say they're kind of mixed. First observation is that I can't tell all that much from zeroing out the toe. It grips a bit better in T4 and doesn't wander so much on the straights, but the lap time didn't improve dramatically.

The second observation is that the Hawk Blues are a nice pad, and I can definitely feel the grip there (once it's bedded in) but it's probably not worth the extra money. I was able to get better trail braking into T7, and T1 was pretty consistent; but the pad was wearing pretty quickly and my data logger tells me that my overall braking performance wasn't really that much better. I'll probably stick with HP+ in the future.

Now on to tire pressures... that's an interesting one. I originally tried to shoot for 40 PSI front and 45 PSI rear (hot) and get pretty good feel out of it; however, I get quite a bit more tire noise in T12 when set up this way which goes away when using higher front pressures. I took a look at the tire temperature with my infrared pyrometer and I'm seeing about 160 on the outer edge, 162 in the middle, and 157 on the inner edge. This implies that I'm slightly overinflated and not running enough camber (even though I'm maxed out on camber). One observation I did have is that I had my fasted lap during session 2 where I had the tires set too high (48 PSI on the front left); so that argues (perhaps) that I need higher pressures? Clearly I still have some work to do here. One observation I did have is that track temperature has a huge impact on whether I can get a good lap time or not. The second session of the day was cool and dry (maybe 60F) and I was never able to reach even close to that time for the rest of the day as it warmed up. My best laps were always within the first 5 laps and then things settled out. I don't know if it's simply tire heat or if it's pressure related.

Now on to my driving experiments. First thing to note is that I stopped shifting down to 2nd gear for T7; I just left it in 3rd. According to my data logger this is definitely the right thing! By doing this, I'm able to hit another 1-2 MPH by the end of the back straight, so it's going to be my normal approach here. I also played around with braking early and accelerating into T7 apex vs braking later and trying to get it to rotate down to the apex. In general, I think braking early and accelerate through works better. With the Hawk Blues I am able to rotate the car under brakes, but I've got to be more careful about it -- it's very easy to overdo it and end up missing the apex.

The other experiment I was running was to try to carry more speed through T5 and that worked out really well; a slight lift/touch of the brakes and then accelerate out. My problem then shifted down the track a bit to the transition of T6 where I was having a really tough time getting set up. The problem with T6 is that I'm carrying so much understeer through T5 that I have a bit of a "moment" as I transition from the right hander (T5) to left hander (T6). It's probably a matter of smoothness, which I'm working on; but also dealing with the understeer.

I didn't really play that much with T10-T11; just doing what I did last time, but not as aggressively. I know I can hit that better than I am, but it's also one of those things that requires some commitment from me and I had enough to work on. :-) I did try a few things in the chicane though (nice safe place to have some fun) -- mostly trying to get the car to rotate better for the left hander coming out of T2. Sometimes I got it, sometimes not. Occasionally, the car would rotate so well that I'd run up on the curb more than I'd like; so clearly I need more work here too (or just play it safe and not try to "drift" it around here...).

My fast lap for the day was 1:34.3 which is 0.6 seconds faster than my previous best. Here's my fast lap comparison from my previous best. As you can see, staying in 3rd gear for T7 really helps me get a good pull onto the back straight and propels me to almost 120 MPH. The interesting thing is that with all the better here but worse here parts in the lap, I'm actually at a dead heat for the entry of T12. This means that my pull onto the front straight was where I found my time. All the rest is just lost opportunities. :-)

And here's the video of the lap:

Here's some pictures of the other cars at the event. It was a lot of fun running with these guys, even if it meant they were blowing my doors off -- all except for the black Lamborghini who was going at a nice controlled pace; probably didn't want to risk the nice car. The Subaru guys came over and we chatted for a bit; he was running about 1:25-1:26 lap times, so clearly out of my league. He seemed to like my lines, so maybe I don't suck as much as I thought.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


So, up to now I've been basically living with the knowledge that my alignment at the track is not what you might call "spot on." I have a static alignment of approximately -1.0 degree camber at the front and -2.0 degree camber at the rear with zero toe all the way around. This is OK for street use, but not nearly aggressive enough for the track.

So, with my adjustable camber plates I can jack the weight off the front and swing the strut tops in towards the car centre and generate an additional 2-3 degrees of negative camber. I don't have a camber gauge, so I'm really just going off numbers I've read in the forums. In reality it doesn't really matter that much, I do have a infrared pyrometer so I'm able to get a rough estimate of the tire temperature across the tread, so I generally just use that to tune in my camber.

A few months ago I posted a note to one of the message boards about some mid-corner understeer that I'm experiencing in Turn 4. Essentially a long sweeper where I just can't stay on-throttle all the way through it, I need to breathe just a tad around mid-corner to bring the front in line; otherwise I'll push out (just like my oops video from earlier). I got an answer back that excessive toe out can cause this behaviour which got me thinking...

So I went home and ran a very rough experiment, with the car parked in my garage facing straight ahead I ran a plumb bob down the outer groove of my tire both front and back and put a dot on the floor and repeated it for both tires. Then I backed the car out of the garage and measured the distance between the two front dots and the two rear dots.

With the car setup for "street" driving (meaning the top-camber plate is reset to the zero mark) I measured 1/32" of toe in. Very much within specifications for WRX cars. I repeated the measurements for when the camber plate is pushed all the way in towards negative camber and found it to be 15/32" of toe out; which is a massive amount of toe out! I was really surprised by this finding; I expected a bit of toe out -- maybe 5/32 or so, but nearly half an inch was way beyond my expectations.

So as a consequence, I've invested in some toe plates from HRPworld which just came in this week. They're essentially two flat metal panels that you lean up against the tire with slots to put a tape measure in. With this you can measure the toe much easier than putting marks on the garage floor. I'll take the toe plates with me to the next track day and I'll see what changes it brings when I zero out the toe while I'm running the negative camber.

Speaking of track days, the next one should be a fun one for me. It's an AR Auto track day run more like a test/tune day than a track day. Basically there won't be any run groups, just 8am to 4pm (with a break for lunch) and you go out when you want to and come in when you want to. This is perfect for this kind of tuning because I'll be able to make a change and test it right away throughout the day. While I'm there, I'll be collecting data on tire pressure, camber changes, sway bar settings; along with collecting some ECU data (boost, RPM, timing, MAF, etc) using my access port in a data logger mode. It will be a lot of fun, and of course; I'll do a writeup afterward.


I spent a bit of time on the weekend to figure out how to adjust the toe so I wouldn't waste time at the track learning this stuff. I came away from the experience with a few lessons:

First, you really need to mark the tie rod in some way to know when you've done a full revolution -- it's too easy to get out of sync without something marked on it. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson a bit late (after I messed up) but I did come away with a quick solution. My tie rods have fairly wide flats on them to accept a 13 mm wrench, so I wrapped a cable tie around the flats to hold it in place and I can just watch the position of the ratchet part to know when I've come fully around.

Second, to re-centre the wheel you want to toe out on the side the wheel points and toe in the opposite side. For example, if you're driving down the road straight but the wheel is cocked over to the right, you'll want to toe out the right tie rod and toe in the left (by equal amounts) to re-centre it.

Third, if you get the tie rods of of sync it takes a lot of finicky work to get it aligned straight again. :-) It's the typical cycle of adjust, drive around the block, adjust again, drive again, etc, etc until you get it straightened up.

Fourth, one full revolution of both left and right tie rods will change the toe by approximately 1/2". So in my case, at the track I will end up putting in one full turn of toe in for both left and right sides when I slam in the camber.

In the end of the day after about 2 hours of fiddling around, I was able to successfully adjust the toe with the camber set at full negative and recover back when I put the camber back (zero toe and centred steering). Due to the experiences I went through, I think it will be much easier at the track now so it was definitely time well spent.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Track Day #9 -- 2009/03/21

Overall it was another good day for me. I used my tire tail for the first time so I had both my street tires and race tires at my disposal -- and as you'll see below, I had need of both. To give an idea of what the tire tail looks like, here's a picture of the car loaded up the night before:

Once I got to the track, I unpacked my stuff and went looking for the other cars. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the economy, there really weren't that many cars at the event. I think I counted about 25 or so on the web site, and perhaps a few more walk-ins but nothing like last year.

Here's some pictures:

Nice looking racecar.

The blue alfa here ran in my group and when following him you really got a sense of how much the car is leaning over. I'm really glad I put on the stiffer coilovers...

These ran in the advanced group and were VERY Fast. I timed the black winged GT3 at a 1:27.

And here's a picture of my little beastie:

My game plan for the day was really down to these four things:

  1. Improve braking consistency, especially into T1. I felt that previously, I'd modulate the brakes in order to hit the turn-in speed I was looking for. This time, I was going to try to always brake on the threshold and hit the turn-in speed by varying my brake point.
  2. Improve my steering smoothness through T4. One of the comments from last year was that I was taking T4 with too much steering input; it should be nice and smooth with a single arc.
  3. Increase speed through T10 and into T11. In the FOPIR track day, I started wagging the tail a bit in T10 by getting off the brakes smoother and earlier and carrying more speed in; I wanted to continue the trend.
  4. Have fun!!!
This event was run by the Alfa club here in Portland, and is somewhat ironic because my very first trackday was with them (back in January of 2007). As I found out, I probably should have entered in the advanced group -- while it's great to see wonderful Alfas out there on the track, tearing it up, many of these machines are quite a bit older and have pretty small engines. Looking at them reminded me a lot of my old Triumph GT6 I used to have. In fact, to underscore my point -- there was even an MGB running out there in my run group. :-)

The weather started out looking promissing -- cloudy, but not too much wind or any rain. The track did have some dampness from the morning/evening, but nothing major. The first two sessions were nothing but traffic fest -- even with only about six cars out there (including me), I just kept coming up on traffic. Never got a clean lap in. My third session however saw a few laps where I was able to put down some clean laps. Even got a chance to better my previous best with a 1:34.9 (or 1:34.8 according to TrackVision). I believe that I could get even better, but just never had a chance to get in a groove... and trust me, I need time to get into the groove.

Here's the fast lap as compared with my previous best on the race tires (today's lap in red, the June 08 lap in blue):

Overall, you can see that I'm much faster through T4 and T10; but gave up a little ground in T5. Seems like the speed trace really isn't enough to tell the story, so here's a plot of the longitudinal acceleration (essentially how many g's I'm accelerating or braking):

Notice how much better my braking efficiency is for T1 -- not only am I harder on the brakes than I used to be, but I have a reasonably flat floor now rather than a peaky or rounded curve shape. This means I'm doing a better job at keeping the tires at their limit for the full duration. I did however, wimp out a bit on turn in rather than trail brake it all the way into the apex for T2. That's something I'll work on for the next one.

The slower speed in T5 shows up very well in the second trace as well -- it's just a matter that I'm hitting the brakes trying to kick the rear end over to help with my turn in. That's something I didn't do before -- call it an experiment. I was hoping this time that it would allow me to get a better drive out of T5 and into T6. It does help a bit, but not enough to compensate for the lower apex speed through T5 -- so I'll probably do that less next time.

Here's the video for my fast lap:

And for a bit of fun, here's a short video of me almost loosing it at T5. This was early in the first session where the track was a bit damp and the tires were still a bit cool (not to mention the driver):

As you can see, I slide a bit wide after the apex for T4 and ran up on the rumble strips. Other times when I've done this, I've been OK -- sure the car jolts around a bit, but you wait it out turn back in and all you've lost is a bit of lap time. This time however, I must have hit them harder than normal or the strips were slippery from the morning dew -- in any case, you saw the result. All in all, not a terrible thing; a quick bit of opposite lock catch the back end, then point it straight to prevent the fishtail and all is good and I can continue. It did serve to wake me up though. Other than a bit of a loose condition in my fast lap, I pretty much stayed out of trouble all day. And I didn't even get a black flag for it!

The fourth session was pretty interesting because it started to rain while I was out on the race tires, so I got to experience what it's like when you run on a wet track. It didn't rain enough to get standing water anywhere -- I would have brought it in to the pits if it did -- but it did get slippery out there. I ended up backing way off in the braking zones for fear of slipping off and just trudged around in about 1:44 kind of range. It was fun to get the car up on the rear tire for once and throttle steer it through T12.

As soon as I came into the pits everybody was changing over to the street tires, and I followed suit. It didn't really rain that much, but it never dried out either -- so the fifth session was pretty much a wash (literally). Again, nothing great here - just running in the 1:42 to 1:44 range; keeping it clean, but having fun anyway. As part of switching to the street tires, I moved the camber back to the 0 mark on the top plate. I've noticed in the past that street tires get really chewed up by the negative toe that you automatically get when you push the camber in.

On the final session -- yes there were six sessions, but short -- the track started to dry out and I was able to push the tires a bit harder. I think I got a best time of low 1:39s; nothing to write home about. I think it was a combination of the 0 camber and still-damp track, but that's all I was able to get (and yes, I was disappointed with myself...sigh).

Now, on to the mechanicals ... I didn't change anything for this day, so I was really just trying to dial my self in and have some fun. And as it turned out, the brakes and tires really worked pretty well. I put some temperature paint on the rotors for the first couple of sessions and my paint tells me that the rotors were between 1075 F and 1326 F (Yellow colour). The next colour up from that is green, and since it didn't have any green in the colour, I think I'm on the lower end of the spectrum. Once I got a look at them, the pads were a nice even wear with lots of life on them and the rotors looked great. So I really am happy that I've got the braking problem solved.

Unfortunately, on Sunday morning (the day after) I noticed a puddle underneath my car -- and no, it's not water from the AC. After jacking the car up, I got a look underneath and it seems like the fitting for the power steering rack is leaking. So I'll have to make an appointment with Carr Subaru on Monday when they open. Sigh... As things go, it's just one of those things I suppose. I'll update the blog when once I get the work done if there's anything interesting to report.


I took the car to the dealer (Carr Subaru) to have them look at it and they just called me back -- about 45 mins later. It was just a hose fitting that had vibrated loose. Nice and easy, and cheap.

They also reported that there's a minor exhaust leak so I'll need to replace the exhaust gaskets. So I'll look into that; I wonder if it makes sense to put in an up-pipe or something at the same time -- problem is, I doubt there's anything I can do and still be emissions legal. Worth a bit of research though...


The exhaust leak turned out to be the up pipe. There was some exhaust coming out between the heat shield and the flange. I had them replace it with an invidia up pipe, so everything is good.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Happy Second Year Anniversary!

It just occurred to me that I've been tracking my car for two years now. The time went by really quickly and I hardly noticed it. In that time, I've done a tonne of development on my car and hopefully improved as a driver too.

Here's a list of things I've done to my car:
  • Perrin Front & Rear 22mm ARB with Perrin Endlinks
  • Perrin Short Shifter
  • Schroth Quick-Fit 4-point Race Harness (driver & passenger)
  • COBB AccessPort with Stage 1 ECU Reflash
  • Megan Racing Street Coilovers (8k/6k)
  • Perrin Positive Steering Response System (PSRS)
  • Wilwood SuperLite-6 Caliper with 12.9" Rotor and Stainless Steel pistons and TCE stainless steel brake lines (Uses Wilwood 7416 Pad type; 0.65" / 16mm thick)
  • RacingBrake OEM Rear Caliper Upgrade Kit (290mmx10mm slotted rotor)
  • Fumoto Oil Drain Plug
  • Gruppe-S Stainless Steel Brake Lines (rear only; replaced front with TCE lines as part of Wilwood upgrade)
  • Sport Edition D Wheels (17"x7") with Nitto NT-01 DOT Competition Tires (225/45/17)
  • CruiseCam In-Car Camera Mount with AIPTEK A-HD camera and adapted Sunpak 0.5 wide angle lens.

That's quite a list and as recorded in my blog, I've taken a pretty conservative approach when upgrading the car. I certainly didn't get all that stuff at one time.

Looking back over the changes, I think my favourite changes were the Schroth 4-point harness and coilovers. I haven't run the NT-01s enough, but given some run time on them I'm sure I'd be adding them to my favourite list. Regarding my mistakes? Well, I think that clearly going from the stock brakes to the dynapro-4 to eventually the superlite-6 was the most painful/expensive. If I had the funds at the beginning, I should have gone straight to the big brake kit. Also, my use of the AT-2000 camera was a waste -- I should have gone straight to a mid-range video camera.

Of course, my car wasn't the only thing that's changed over the past two years. The largest change was with the track itself when they repaved it last year. Not only did they update the track surface but they also changed the layout in places as well.

The track surface is now smooth as glass with no cracks to speak of -- the old surface used to have little rocks and dust from all the cracks that would stick to your tires and reduce your grip. The new surface is clean and smooth enough that my coilovers actually feel really good (no bouncing, unlike the street/highway).

The layout changes were the most dramatic in Turn 7 where the shute leading up to the turn was straightened and lengthened along with the turn itself being much wider and sharper. It ended up being quite a bit slower than the old configuration. Here's a map showing the line I drove way back in May of 2007 (first time out with PerformanceBox) as compared with my Feb 2009 track day:

Even though the track isn't the same as before, it's illustrative to show the lap comparison graph. Certainly the line from Turns 1 through 6 are pretty much the same, and you can get a sense of how much more speed I'm carrying (red line is Feb 2009 track day and blue is for May 2007):

It surprises me how much I've developed as a driver (and car development too, of course). My speed into Turn 1 has increased by 10 MPH!!! and I'm braking later and harder. The entire time through the twisties (T2-T6) is faster than I used to be and in fact, except for T7 (due to layout changes) I'm faster just about everywhere. While it looks like I'm slower in T12, I think it's really because the new track is slightly longer than it used to be with T7 changes so the graph doesn't really line up right. I think the slowest point for both red and blue should be about the same point on the track. So I'm now about 3-4 MPH faster in T12 as well.

The laptimes show the story as well. Back in May 2007 I ran 1:43.6 whereas Feb 2009 I ran 1:37.4. This is 6.2 seconds! Of course, if I had data from my very first track day in Feb of 2007, it would be even more dramatic!

It's been fun so far, and I hope to just continue with my progress. I am thinking that I'll be moving up to advanced rungroup during this year -- I'll run some intermediate sessions first to see. In terms of lap times, I really don't have an idea of what I can achieve -- I know some areas I need to improve (e.g., braking into T1 and T7, carrying more speed into T10, etc.) but I don't know how to correlate that to time on the clock. I'm hoping to see the same sort of improvement on my race tires as I've seen lately on my street tires -- if so, then maybe I'll see 1:33s sometime this year. We'll just have to see how well my prediction works out.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Track Day #8 -- 2009/02/22

So today was the Friends of PIR (FOPIR) lapping day put on by the Porsche Club. These guys put on a pretty good show and even though it was scheduled for a half day, it looked like I was going to get some descent track time.

This event was run a little bit differently than their normal events; it was a lapping day, not a track day. This meant that there were no novice drivers and no instructor sessions. Just Intermediate and Advanced. I signed up for the Intermediate session but somehow ended up in Advanced -- probably to even out the run groups, but it was still interesting to run the faster sessions. And yes, I did get passed a fair amount.

The day got off to a rocky start when a car leaked oil from turn 4 all the way through pit exit over in T11. This was towards the end of the first run group; while I was in pre-grid actually. So I had to wait in my car until they got it cleaned up, which took about an hour. Not exactly the best way to start the new year. I ended up loosing a run group at the end of the day due to this -- there just wasn't enough time to put in a full four sessions. Oh well, at least I did get three sessions in.

Once I got out there it was great. I was tentative at first, remembering all my brake points (it's been 6 months after all) and getting back in the groove of things. Unfortunately the track was wet for the entire session, so I never really got a good lap in. Somewhere around 1:42 or so. And the interesting thing is that the track really started to get slippery towards the end of the session. A few other drivers were commenting on it, so it doesn't seem to be something I invented. I looked at my data logger and saw that I was about 1 to 1.2 seconds slower in the last five laps than I was up to that point; so it's in the data too. When I got back in the pits, I checked my tire pressure and they barely went up 2 degrees from cold temps -- I clearly was just unable to get any heat into them.

The second and third session got better both weather wise and my driving. I was getting more confident to the point where in the 3rd lapping session I was really wagging the tail out during the transition from T9 (back straight) into T10 and T11. That sequence is really a blast once you start getting willing to let the car move around a bit.

My best lap of the day was in the third session and got a new street tire personal best time of 1:37.4 (0.3 seconds faster than July). I figure this is great news because of the cold and wet weather compared to July. The 6pot brakes were fantastic. I was able to lock up the wheels on demand pretty much at any speed -- I definitely don't need more brakes. Now it's down to learning the skills to modulate the brakes better and trusting how late I can get on them. Once I got home, I took off the pads and found that the wear rate is pretty good with almost no taper. I should be able to get 4 to 5 track events out of a set of pads; which is much better than I used to get.

Here's a video of a reasonably fast lap during the 3rd session. It's not my fastest lap because my video camera developed the habit of turning itself off after about 20 minutes, so I only got part of each session -- but it's enough to show the progress I'm making in keeping my hands at 9 and 3 (instead of hand over hand) and trying to be extra smooth through T4 and T5:

And here's a comparison of my fast lap (1:37.4) this time to my fast lap from July.

Looking at the lap, I see that my braking effectiveness into T1 is much better than before. I'm braking at about the same point as last year, but am doing such a good job with braking that I have to ease up toward the end of the braking zone to keep the entry speed up. I can definitely brake about 50 feet later and hit my entry speed at turn in right (something to work on).

Sticking to the good stuff for a moment; my T4 entry speed is really, really good. I'm up about 7 MPH and didn't sacrifice anything through 4b. That's just pure time, right there.

However, T5 is a bit of a different story. I was braking a tad to get the car to rotate and it clearly cost me a lot of time on exit. But, I do enter T6 faster, so it's probably a matter of getting balance out of it (brake a little bit to get clean exit, but don't sacrifice so much).

Turns 6 and 7 are pretty good. I was downshifting to 2nd gear in T7 this time to try to get a good exit speed and you can see the effect of it from about 4500 to 4700 foot marks. Unfortunately, for some reason my car was way down on top end power. You can see it starting at about 5000 foot mark all the way to the end of the back straight. By the time I'm entering T10, I'm about 3 MPH slower. I hope this is just crap winter gas. With any luck, this will improve once we switch to the summer blend.

The last twisty bits in T10-T11 are done a bit better than before. I'm definitely carrying more speed into it and through it; but I also still have a lot of work left, especially going into T10. In the plot between 7500 and 8200, I really should not have a trough. The plot should be a simple downward slope probably hitting about the same spot going into T11 (75 MPH). I just need to grow some balls and enter T10 faster. :-)

The last turn (T12) is a bit of a mix of good and bad. My brake point into T12 is later, which gives me some speed but I was just a tad bit late on the gas coming out of it so lost time from the exit of T12 all the way to the S/F line.

I'm expecting to go to the Alfa event in March 21; so look for another entry around then. With any luck it might even be a dry day; I would love to bring out the NT-01s again!