Sunday, September 18, 2016

Just Slow Enough to Succeed

Losing Our Head

Last weekend USTCC Round 4 took place at the Utah Motorsport Campus, and I was really excited.  Not only would I be back in Rich Petersen's outstanding MINI, but the car was in really great shape after a promising podium at Laguna Seca in Round 2, and a dangit-could-have-passed-that-guy result at Sears Point in round 3.

The MINI had been to the engine doctor, tuned, re-tuned, had a minor miss and an ever so slight vacuum leak fixed, and looked to be really competitive compared to the rest of the USTCC TC field.  The other more powerful heavy RWD competitors were sure to be good on the long drag race from a standing start at UMC's 3500ft front straight, but fresh optimal tuning, forced induction, a base elevation of over 4000ft, previous experience on the track and the possibilities looked quite good for the little car.

In fact, morning practice on Friday went well - in the midst of a busyish NASA Utah practice session, we dropped down to 2:14s during those first few re-discovery laps.  Given the allowed mods and power to weight ratio for the TC class, this looked pretty promising for the following day's race.

But in the second practice session, the car had difficulty starting, and didn't want to stay running.  A problem with an improperly mounted tire brought the car right into the pits, and then a small coolant leak surfaced.

After some diagnostics in the paddock, it became apparent the small coolant leak had been letting just enough water out of the engine for just long enough to not set off any major bells or whistles, but to cause the engine some serious problems.  The old 'turn it over with a spark plug out' test produced a perfect geyser of clear coolant right out of the cylinder 1 spark plug hole.  Not good.  Need a new head gasket.  At least.

After a few minutes of consideration (we'd come a long way, the field was reduced in size, some other cars had issues as well, good opportunity to score points) Rich began the intricate process of removing the head gasket, and I scoured every auto parts store from Tooele to Ogden looking for the right head gasket.  If the car could be just patched up to finish half the laps of the race, we could salvage some of the trip.

After locating the part in Napa Auto Parts of Salt Lake City, I hopped into my rent-a-Prius and motored away, made the 74 mile round trip, and returned to the final unveiling of the head as it came off the block.

Brad from BTM Motorwerks applied his expert eye to the cleaned up head, and few things became apparent at that point.

1. There was about an 8 thousandths gap between two cylinders.
2. The valves weren't sealing properly in their seats anymore.
3. The MINI would not be racing this weekend, at least not with that head.

Plan B

There are a number of top notch motorsports shops and race teams headquartered at the world class UMC facility, and between talking to anyone that would listed to me, and touring the paddock for anything that would remotely fit into the USTCC Touring Car class (this discounted the race-prepped Lamborghini Rich found for rent) three reasonable options:

1. Tatum Racing's beautiful Martini & Rossi liveried Porsche Boxter.
2. Another team's professionally prepared 350z.
3. A Touring Car B Spec Ford Fiesta.

The Boxter seemed like the best option, but there was some question as to how close to legal I could get it in the short time I had before the Saturday race.  The 350z owner quoted me $3000 plus tires rental fee.  =:-o

Pass the Nachos - we're having a Fiesta!

The Race

The first thing you notice while sitting in a grid of legit touring cars making between 220 to 300+ hp at the wheels is how competitively quiet a TCB car is.  I was also glad I'd chatted with the driver of the USTCC Sportsman class e36M3 that was gridded behind me, so he was aware I would be doing my best, but proceeding from my standing start in my 120hp Fiesta, it would not be a breathtaking procedure to say the least.

I did manage to keep the back of the field in touch for the first lap, but once the field hit UMC's main straight, they basically disappeared, and I set about the business of proceeding as fast as I could manage.  One area the Fiesta has going for it is a really outstanding braking system.  But I quickly found in my first few turns that if you used more than about 50% of it for more than a fraction of a second, then you'd slowed down way too much.

Sometime later, the GT and Super Touring leaders came through at what seemed like FA-18 passing a pigeon speeds, and finally the TC class cars.  BTM Motorwerks' Mike Shawhan's e46 328 was closely followed by Speed SF's Patrick Chio's 350z and Gogo Gear's Gary Sheehan's Hyundai Genesis.  Looked like if I could just keep it on the track for a few more laps, I'd end up a respectable 4th.

But a few turns later, I passed two huge clouds of dust, one on each side of the track - I couldn't tell at the time, but I'm told the Hyundai was in one of them.  I came around for a white flag, finished the race, and learned I'd managed to squeeze out a podium from a weekend where we'd completely lost our head.

I can't thank the fine staff of NASA Utah, Dave Kizerian for helping me scope out rental cars and especially Cheri Miller for loaning me a great little car...that went just fast enough.

USTCC will be back at Sonma Raceway at Sears Point Oct 29th and 30th - stay tuned to USTCC.COM and for all the hard charging action.

Monday, November 2, 2015

I hit a crow. And My Movie Is Ready!

I planned for the focus of my racing this year would be to qualify for and run the 2015 National Autosport Association (NASA) West Coast National Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

After hitting a racing peak in 2012, I'd only done a few races in 2013 and 2014, and planned to get back to running a Spec e30 more regularly this year.  Considering the hundreds of drivers, the opportunities for contingency payouts, and the general grandiose presence of Laguna Seca, focusing on making it to this event looked to be great fun.

The racing began Friday and would feature a number of warmups, qualifying sessions, qualifying races, and finally a big whopper of a finale race on Sunday Morning.  Generally there is a mad dash to line up and get out on track as early as possible, but I managed to line up first for our Friday warmup and led a varied group of cars out for one of the first warmup sessions in the event.

Laguna Seca is a fast track with long uphill sections, a number of fairly simple looking 90 degree turns, and of course the beautiful 'Legendary Corkscrew' dropping down the backside of the hill and up to a slightly more than 90 degree turn back to the front straight.  In actuality, it is a very easy track to drive at about 95%, there is fairly forgiving runoff in most places, and only a few large walls ready to turn your beloved automotive machinery into a metal pretzel.  

But as your drive the track faster,  you realize that you keep running just a little wide in turn 3.  That you didn't get turn 5 just exactly right and there is a very large car-scarred wall on the inside of the exit of 6, just as your car is light from The Dip at the apex.  And turn could write an entire post about the turn named for the 3 time MotoGP Champion Wayne Rainey.

It just so happened that after a pace car controlled lap, it was that very turn where all the excitement happened.  I was several lengths ahead of the next car, got in and out of the corkscrew neatly, and set the car for the long left turn 9.  Just as was doing this, I noticed that there was something on  the track, a little less than a car width from the apex.  

Now, there are a lot of ways to handle turn 9, but I'm convinced nearly all of them involve staying on the gas and floating through in an arc, and none of them involve flailing around avoiding mystery objects right in my path of travel.  It turned out in this case, there was an animal carcass positioned such that if I lifted a little extra on the entrance and was a little slow on the exit, I could avoid the whole thing.  Just as I'd committed to that path, and approached it, a crow who's morning meal I'd rudely interrupted hopped off the top of it, and flew directly into my grill.

Odd. That wasn't supposed to happen.  But, the car appeared undamaged, and racer's priority took over, and I finished my warmup session setting the 3rd fastest time on the track in my class.  By the time I'd reached the paddock, I'd nearly forgotten anything had happened, until one of the mechanics asked me what had happened to my grill.

Rewinding, I recalled what had happened, and a few of the guys crowded around extracted the corpse, and gave me a first rate zip tie job, that put me through the rest of the event.  As usual, with anything that happened in the paddock, I snapped a few shots of the repair with my phone, mostly as a 'you never believe what happened' moment.  

My first driving event ever, in fact, had been on the same track just a little over 13 years previously, and I'd heard of the odd squirrel getting hit, but never heard anything like someone scooping up a bird in their radiator and bringing it back.

So, I went on with the event, had a great time racing with some great friends, and that was that.

Until a few days after the weekend, Google Play notified me I had a new story and Sony Xperia Movie Creator notified me I had a new movie.   And shit got weird.

First Google the Google story.

Story 'Weekend in Monterrey'.  Cover photo fades back and forth from a crow corpse brandished in front of a slightly broken BMW e30 race car, and the 2016 Mazda MX5 in Soul Red Metallic.

Day one.  Thanks in part to the Indiana Jones style animated map jumping intro, the story appears to be I smuggled a dead crow from San Jose to Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterrey in my radiator, one wing hanging below the car like some horrifically dystopian aerodynamic device. The avian corpse is then brandished like a third world delicacy and laid on the cement in front of a broken car.

Day two.  The 2016 Mazda MX-5, some E30s, and other random cars, and a beautiful BMW 3.0 CSL.  

Day three. A sweeping panorama of the Laguna Seca from turn 5 to turn 9 showing the utter lack of vegetation due to California's drought.  The End.

Then Xperia Movie Creator.

A jazzy saxophone mood solo rises as a tattooed fellow and a slightly broken BMW crossfade to a few different shots of a crow corpse.  The video fades with a sideways picture of warmup results, and you are gently reminded this vignette was brought to you by Xperia Movie Creator.

Tad disturbing to say the least.  XMC appears to be much less canny about what it does, just figuring out if you've taken a few photos for the day, throwing them together with a random riff or two from Sony's library and posting it to your phone for review.  

I'd kinda thought at this point that Google Photos might be able to determine what a dead animal was though, and avoid putting those into an auto-created story.  You figure, these are the same algorithms that will be driving you to work hands-free in the next five years.

To be fair, structurally, Photos does a nice job creating this collection.  The pictures it chose from the weekend are mostly the best-composed, most technically correct and have the most visual impact.  Without knowing anything about the subject matter, other than some things generally look like other things, it did just fine.  Though they aren't exactly as any human would know.

Context aside, just to see what it did and didn't know I tried a few searches, using the newish Google Photos image search feature:

- 'race cars' - lots of pictures from the past few years of real race cars, including lots of e30s, Miatas, Spec e46, two 917s, and a ESR Norma raced here locally.  

- 'sports cars' - several cars from a recent local 'Cars and Coffee' outing including a MacLaren P1, some 00s and 60s Ferraris, an AE86, the aforementioned 2016 MX-5, and a good old Smokey and the Bandit vintage Firebird.  Neat it can tell the difference between a racing car and a sports car, though it did find the 917 again.  Can't complain too much, it is a 917 after all.

- 'birds' - A few beach shots, and a few shots of an F35 flying overhead landing at Moffatt near my day job in Sunnyvale.

- 'crows' - mostly groups of people - it looks like it's autocorrecting to 'Crowds' 

- 'road kill' - nothing.

So - as we know, we're not quite ready for our algorithmic overlords to take over and decide everything for us just yet.   Even if roadside animals aren't exactly safe, at least we can hope a self-driving car won't be making a wrong turn and heading out on the track at Laguna Seca. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Back on the Road!

As hundreds of thousands of rabid fans have noted in truckloads of mail - this blog hasn't been updated in a while.  Been a little busy.

Some required bodywork this year.

Fighting the Good fight.

Annoying a few people.

But we're all friends now. =:-o

And of course one newer project that got off the ground a little while ago.

But it seems we've got a few stories to buckle up!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The MINI goes to USTCC with WTCC

Friday, September 21st - 630am.  Arrive Sonoma Raceway.

After a drive from Southern California beginning at 10pm the previous night, Rich Petersen towed his MINI Cooper S into the paddock at Race Sonoma where Andy Chittum had just arrived with the BTM Motorwerks Racing Trailer ready to set up for three days of US Touring Car racing.  This weekend would promise to be a real crowd pleaser with The Maserati Trofeo World Series arriving from Paul Ricard, and both World Touring Cars and Auto GP arriving from the  Autódromo Internacional de Curitiba.

In addition to these international series that would be competing, the US Touring Car Challenge boasted a field of 31 cars that would also take part in the weekend’s racing.  In the MINI’s previous outing with USTCC, a 2 hour race at Thunderhill Raceway, Andy managed to show some speed in the MINI, but the race effort was cut short as the MINI was pulled into the pits for exceeding sound restrictions.  How would the team fare in the biggest USTCC race since 2005?

1000 am - Free Practice 1.

The team set up quickly and got the little car prepared, and was the first to grid.  At the green flag, it was the MINI that took to the track first, and kicked off the weekend’s proceedings with a few hot laps before coming into the pits for tire readings and adjustments.  Generously, the schedule included full 45 minute sessions for practice, which gave the team time to try a few settings, and Andy to re-familiarize himself with the car.  It was a surprise when the team found out their time on the modified course, a 1:58.9 was second fastest, only a tenth away from the fastest car, the KPAX Volvo c30 driven by Robert Thorne.  

1145am - Free Practice 2.

After setup adjustments, the team returned to the track for some longer running, and to test further changes.  While the team was only 4th fastest this time, the consistency the MINI showed was very encouraging, especially in the hot Sonoma weather.  Though they completed nearly a whole race distance, the MINI’s driver side CV joint let go toward the end of the session, necessitating the team to jump into action to find a replacement part.  NASA regulars on the team Hans Dinse and Mickey Kennedy set about removing the broken part, and Brad McClure of BTM Motorwerks came to the rescue with a replacement.  The piece arrived 25 minutes before Q1 began, Andy strapped in 15 minutes later, and the car hit the ground just as the end of the field filed out to start qualifying.

245pm - Q1

Chittum hit the ground running, and thanks to quick work from the team, the MINI was right back to form, posting another 1:58.9, in spite of the late afternoon Sonoma heat.  Brandon Kraus, the 2011 Champ posted the fastest time in his Honda Civic, while KPAX’s Robert Thorne kept his lead, leaving the MINI third in Q1.

Saturday, September 22nd - 1215pm.  Q2.

Overnight, BTM Motorwerks again made suspension tweaks on the MINI and made some weight adjustments to ensure the MINI could run a full race distance and still end at the right weight.  Even though most teams were slower, the MINI was still able to run a 1:58.9, and qualify P3 again for race 2.

420pm - Race 1.

The field lined up for the traditional standing start under the newly constructed starting lights at Sonoma raceway, and blasted off as they went out.  Dave Brown, starting from 4th next to Andy in the MINI got an astounding start in his AWD Mitsubishi Lancer, and shot to the front.  Thorne and Kraus got good starts as well, though the MINI wasn’t any faster right behind them.  Larry Bani’s M3 managed to get alongside the MINI and for several laps challenged before the speedy car got clear.  Kraus and Thorne got around Brown quickly, but the Chittum had to wait a few laps for the powerful Lancer to heat up, so good was its traction out of the slower turns.  Finally, Chittum made a daring move around the outside of T6, and got the inside line to T7, and drove away from the powerful car.  Late in the race, Chittum caught Thorne’s ailing Volvo c30, but only just as the checkered flag fell.  Perhaps a few more laps, and Chittum could have taken his traditional spot on the second step of the podium.

Sunday Saturday, September 23 rd - 315pm.  Race 2.

Once again, Chittum lined up P3 behind Kraus and Thorne, however, this time it was Chris Lock’s Honda Prelude that lined up in P4.  Without threat of Brown’s Lancer blasting through the field at the start, there was a little more parity at the front, but just to keep things interesting, Kraus bogged his civic down on the start, and Thorne, Chittum, and most of the front of the pack went flying by.  This left Thorne in P1, and Chittum in the MINI running P2 for the first part of the race.  But the additional rewards weight, the 50lbs added since Race 1 was to play a vital factor in the race.  The MINI’s tires only lasted a few laps this time, and in turn, Lock and Kraus were able to get by, with the MINI eventually finishing 5th.


This weekend would have not been possible without the support of

  • Mickey Kennedy
  • Hans Dinse
  • Niello MINI
  • Brad McClure and BTM Motorwerks Racing support
  • Josh from BTM Motorwerks
  • Jason Chittum
  • Mary Walters
  • Jennifer Chittum on the headset
  • Rich Peterson RM Petersen Construction, for building a really outstanding little car - not only a real kick in the pants to drive, but the fastest and most reliable MINI to USTCC specifications

And the fans.  The team handed out tons of autograph cards and Niello MINI T-shirts this weekend, and the little car was a true crowd favorite.  We’ll hope to see you all at our next event! Follow us here on this blog, on Twitter @mmmotors (Andy Chittum) and @USTCC (US Touring Car Challenge), for our next adventure!

Saturday, September 22, 2012


September 21-23 the BTM Motorwerks of Campbell tuned MINI Cooper S build by Rich Petersen of RM Petersen Construction is racing at Sonoma Raceway! Stop by the BTM Motorwerks paddock area for a tour of the mighty MINI.

In addition to the US Touring Car race, FIA World Touring Cars are racing, along with a number of other series.

Keep track of the weekend's action by following Andy @mmmotors on twitter, and come on down Saturday and Sunday to root for the little car!  And get a MINI T Shirt!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Spec e30 2012, Part 1

The first half of the race season has been going great! Be sure to check out all the updates at for all the NASA Norcal Spec 30 series-leading action! Recent video updates for the 2012 season have just been posted as well!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Season Wrapup for Norcal Se30

Don't forget to visit BTM Motowerks' season wrapup here!

We were fortunate enough to have a storybook ending to the season and come away with the win for the year. And Happy New Year to everyone - 2012 should be outstanding! And may see the emergence of yet another fine BTM Motorwerks race car!