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.

Thanks!

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), www.ustcc.com for our next adventure!




Saturday, September 22, 2012

USTCC, WTCC and the BTMMINI

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!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ticket to Ride!

Taking a break from the trials and tribulations of building and sorting a brand new race car, I'd been enjoying the summer with the odd karting date with Mrs. Racecarnology and Hats, running a few test days in the BTM Motorwerks 19 car, hitting the odd training ride, and just generally enjoying the fantastic weather of Silicon Valley. I'd even found a new day job which has been the most excellent company to work at since I can remember.

In the midst of my revelry, I got a call from Ali Arsham, the USTCC organizer that a long-time USTCC competitor was looking for a ringer driver to drive his car at the next event at Buttonwillow Raceway in a few weeks' time. He put me in touch with Rich Peterson, someone I'd raced against first at the San Jose Grand Prix in 2005 - would I like to drive his car - he'd just completed some power upgrades and 'thought there might be a podium' in the car with the right driver.

Yes Please.

A short conversation later with some assurance that all my experience in BMWs wouldn't detract from my ability to toss his Mini around, and the deal was set.



The Car

Rich's Mini is a 1st generation supercharged Mini, and it became quickly obvious that it was a very different beast than either of the BTM Motowerks Spec e30s, and even my old USTCC car, the BTM Motorwerks 328ti. With a short wheelbase, FWD, and a very extensive cage, it turns and squirts into whatever hole you point it at immediately. I was also unprepared for the engine upgrades...the details of which I remain culpably unaware, other than it wails to the point that I needed better ear plugs, and that it doesn't stop pulling until the fuel cuts out at 7700 rpm. Rich had done a very nice job at building a solid little car.

My first few laps in warm up went well, feeling the chassis out and figuring out what the engine and brakes would do - more and more as I tried harder. NASA Socal was running the #13 CW configuration, with the bus stop, but cutting out the Star Mazda turn for the sweeper. The Mini could be put very deep into the Offramp, practically ignoring the bumpy entry, but through bumpy Cotton Corners was difficult to get it to stay on the ground. But once through Grapevine and into the Bus Stop and Riverside, the stick of the little car was most impressive, flat on the gas all the way through Phil Hill. My mind spun with possibilities not just of where I could find more time with the little car, but also where it would be most racy against the other fine USTCC competitors and where racing opportunities would most likely present themselves later in the day. The car had a lot of good qualities, and would give several good racing opportunities.

Saturday Race

The first qualifying session went well, and we started the Saturday race on the second row in 4th. Curt Simmons, the 2007 champ on pole, Brandon Kraus, and Pete Bovenburg all in front of me, and Dave Brown multiple time champ right behind. The start was an unusual rolling start for USTCC, and nobody had a clear advantage going into Turn 1. The other three cars stacked up in Cotton Corners, and Dave Brown in his Mitsubishi got alongside the Mini, finally ending side by side as the Mini got a better run out of Grapevine and got back ahead.

Ironically, both Pete and Brandon suffered mechanical issues early in the race, and while I held off a charge from behind first by Felipe Cabezas' Mazdaspeed 3, then later a recovered Dave Brown, I found myself nipping at Curt's heels for the lead. As I caught up, I found I could carry much better speed through Riverside than the SRT4, and made a few different attempts going into and out of Phil Hill, before finally getting by Simmons coming out of the esses. Rich would later recall seeing his car come around the final turn onto the front straight in first, and he sounded very happy to see his hard work lead a professional race.

After that point, it was a matter of the typical drivers' conundrum - hold on to good laptimes while making the car last to the end of the race. I shouldn't have worried, though, given the mild temperatures and relative lightness of the car, it felt like it could have kept going at 100% all day long.

Sunday Race

Sunday proved to be a more difficult challenge. Between missing a driver's meeting (something a so-called pro driver shouldn't do!) and some weight adjustment, I qualified a little further back in 7th. Making things even more difficult, the NASA changed the course to exclude the bus stop, one of the Mini's favorite parts of the track, and the temperature climbed higher giving me concerns that the little 1.6 would suffer from heat-related issues.
The usual USTCC standing start proved quite event-filled as I lined up right behind Curt Simmons, but as the green flag few, he stalled his car leaving me with very little room to get moving. Two other BMWs got by the Mini, and I had my work cut out for me.

Brandon, Felipe and Pete took off and I ended up clawing my way back past the BMWs, right up to Dave Brown's Lancer's bumper. I was able to poke the Mini's nose in a few times, but the straight run through the Dog Leg gave less advantage to the Mini than it had the previous day.

Dave pulled out a three length lead that we fought over, and got some help holding me off.

To anyone that's raced at Buttonwillow with a full track of hard-charging nutballs, one of the well-known features are the incredible dust clouds that can gather when someone puts a wheel or two or a whole car off into the dirt. Being in the middle of California's Central Valley, the runoff areas are flat and quite uneventful, but the prehistoric lakebed dust is fine, and can easily be shot a hundred feet in the air by a speeding race car with hot tires.

It just so happened that I chased Dave over Phil Hill, and he was able to dive into the sweeper ahead of a lapped car. As we looked into the turn, we realized there was the mother of all dust clouds just hitting its peak as we turned toward the esses. Dave bombed into the cloud unfazed, but the lapped car hit its brakes just as it entered, disappearing into the cloud to slow somewhere unseen.

Slowing myself to avoid hitting a mystery-dust shrouded car, I turned off the track and cut a path through the dust and dirt, finally rejoining halfway through the esses. I'd managed to avoid collecting another car as a hood ornament on Rich's lovely Mini, however, Dave's Mitsubishi had taken advantage and gained a half straightaway on me that I wasn't able to regain.
Ironically, none of the other cars broke or went terminally off the track, so I brought the Mini home in 6th, safe but dusty, and plenty of grit between my teeth.

Aftermath

Up at the front Brandon managed to score another victory just tenths ahead of Felipe and Pete, and they managed to spray plenty of champagne to hose off the Buttonwillow dust in the usual USTCC podium ceremony. The Mini ran some very good times though, especially in the standard #13 configuration - just a few odd circumstances kept us from a much higher finish. USTCC's season finale will be at Infineon in early November, here's hoping that Rich has us back for another chance on the most technical, twisty track in California. Seems like it would suit a Mini.

Pictures and video to follow!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The MaxQ Review

The first product I’ll review on Racecarnolgy will be the MaxQ VeQtr system by MaxQData (www.maxqdata.com). This system is an interesting package for the Racecarnologist because it uses mostly off-the-shelf parts available to the average nerd to accomplish something that previously was only done by expensive, dedicated hardware.

The system I received came with the following:

  • A high quality 20Mhz Bluetooth GPS
  • An Asus EeePC 901 loaded with MaxQData Software
  • A higher and a lower quality webcam
  • Various cables and a slim low-power power inverter

Essentially, the concept is the GPS and the PC are connected through Bluetooth, you plug the webcams into the PC, start the software and hit the track. The software determines when you’re moving, starts the timer, then extrapolates power, braking and lateral G’s from the GPS data. The intention is, since EeePC has a solid-state drive, the goal is for it to be rugged enough to survive inside the race car while recording everything realtime, and that even saves a step from having to download the data to analyze it. The idea and the workflow is good in theory...but more on the practical side of this later.

What’s also nice from a do-it-yourself standpoint, is it’s possible to assemble the individual pieces yourself, GPS, laptop, webcams, etc, and buy a copy of the software to get them to all work together - MaxQ makes a license for their analysis and data capturing software available starting at $29 for basic 5Hz Bluetooth compatibility to $149 for 10Hz GPS unlimited data comparison and video overlay. The ability to mix and match pieces, particularly given many of us might have a laptop, some webcams or a Bluetooth GPS laying around might really be MaxQ’s secret super power. The whole $1300 system with 20Hz data is all-inclusive, but rivals the cost of entry level versions of the popular Race-Technology DL1 data logger, or the higher-end Race-Keeper SE Video Data System.

Here’s a sample video with the high-end 20Hz system mounted in the BTM Motorwerks BMW 328ti, during a practice session at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana:

BTM Motorwerks 328ti Cal Speedway Fontana Test from MadManMotors on Vimeo.

Preparing to race at Fontana with USTCC, some video footage showing the track with light NASA traffic. Driver, Andy Chittum, video overlay MaxQdata



What we liked:

One of the really nice parts of this system is the ability to add an external mic (again, don’t we all have a cheapo one just laying around?) or grab sound from one of the cameras. The main camera in this setup is mounted right in front of the rearview mirror, showing an excellent view and getting wind-free sound from up by the windshield. The second webcam is mounted by the passenger door to give a full view of the driver in action. Up to 4 cameras can be added to the system.

The MaxQ’s QView view of the data does a nice job of showing acceleration and braking in blue and red respectively, as well as wider rectangles for lateral Gs. It’s easy to see where I wimp out going into NASCAR T1 and lift slightly, as well as a few other areas I did well, or needed to work on - the more intense the color, the more dramatic the input.

The Chart software in general allowed for most of the standard comparisons one might want to see - comparing lap to lap or sector to sector with different runs, calculated hp, typical power curves, and in general is a completely serviceable way of analyzing data, with both typical plots for the data or the marching rectangles you see in the data overlay in the video.

What we didn’t like:

While the MaxQ’s strengths do lie in its modularity, some of its downfalls come from that as well.

Workflow - While there are some newer systems available to mere mortals that can update more often or realtime, typically the engineer descends upon the returned car wtih his laptop, downloads the data and looks at it with the driver. The MaxQ system relies on its included netbook to perform all functions, and it’s not designed to copy the data to another system. This leaves the team to first mount and supply power to a netbook in the race car, then get to it quickly after a session. But instead of a larger screen and more processing power that one might have in a laptop suitable for the paddock, all analysis, data processing, and video processing is done on one tiny Asus Eeepc 901.

In fact, a number of issues arose around the use of this netbook as the system brain:

- The system would start recording automatically as designed when leaving the grid, but when stopping for a standing start, it would stop recording, freezing while saving the data recorded thus far. The system would sometimes realize it was running again and start up invariably just after the typical early-race shimozzle, sometimes not at all. There is a setting to force the system to wait for a period of inactivity after stopping (say 5 minutes) but in practice we couldn’t reliably get the system to handle standing starts.



- While the Eeepc is rather rugged with its included 12GB SSD and withstood the odd bump and jiggle of racing, it did not withstand the heat of a typical race car (120+ degrees) very well. Hotter events in Sonoma and Fontana saw the system either shutdown and leave the team with a corrupt data / video file, or leave just a .asf file that would need some conversion before being useful. Certainly, a team could design a cooling system for the laptop in the car along with its mount and power needs (and we did have some success with this), but this is yet another detail that a small team would likely rather not deal with if necessary.

- Processing the video and data into the combined view seen above would have to be done on the Eeepc. While it was functional, there are certainly faster processors than the basic 1.6Ghz Atom for doing this. MaxQ could help this issue by allowing their software to be used on more than one PC at a time, but the release we tested only allowed one PC per copy.

- And lastly the UI. There are some environments where a simple friendly UI for the office just doesn’t quite cut it. A typical racecarnology reader might find Windows XP a very easy way to interact wtih a computer while sitting in the office, but as has become more obvious in the past few years, tablet based OSs, whether iOS, Android, WebOS or other are much more suitable to an outdoors, ‘I just want to punch a few buttons and have it work’ type of activity. The last thing that an engineer or crew chief needs to be doing when prepping the car for the track is booting up a PC, clicking icons, making sure USB and Bluetooth devices are connected and troubleshooting any of that.

The original versions of MaxQ did apparently run on Windows Mobile 6.x, but even Microsoft won’t admit to that OS anymore for the same reason - an epic fail in terms of a mobile UI. Many of the UI elements in the QView software could likely be adapted to a simple touch interface on, say, a 7” or 9” tablet. I don’t know about the reliability of such a device in a hot car, but it would be much better way to interact with the data, certainly. Perhaps an added benefit there would be mounting such a device in a way to provide dashboard-like feedback, laptimes, etc.

Accuracy:

Our engineer noticed some discrepancies with the measured HP values in a few different situations - it appeared the MaxQ did not take elevation changes into account when measuring horsepower. So - looking at max HP on the run out of the carousel up to T7 at Sears Point looks a bit different than the front straightaway at Thunderhill, but Ed at MaxQ pointed out comparisons like this are still valuable day to day, if not track to track.

Another issue we weren’t able to confirm, running with USTCC (who use the system to police max HP on cars) the naturally aspirated cars’ HP values appeared to read high compared to the forced induction ones when we ran at Miller Motorsports Park, which is 4400ft elevation. The telling thing was nearly the entire field was impounded and run on a dyno - it was the two naturally aspirated cars that appeared to read high by comparison. Once we returned to Buttonwillow the following month, the readings followed the same distributions we’d seen previously at other near-sea level tracks, such a Sears Point and Thunderhill.

Neither accuracy issue are particularly deal-breakers, particularly with an affordable system, but worth noting.

Expandability:

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the Chart software takes video inputs via USB (up to 4 cameras) and external GPS inputs via Bluetooth, but no additional channels of data appear to be supported. For the processing limitations related above, we tested with a maximum of two video cameras.

Summary:

Overall, the MaxQ set of products are a nice way to begin analyzing data that a beginning or amateur racer might generate with his or her car, looking for trends, and beginning the process of visualizing in data the hundreds of factors that lead to a fast lap time. Given some of the limitations of the system, it’s likely going to suit a driver or team that have more time and ingenuity than outright cash, and as such could be a valuable part of a low-cost system. But before spending more than a few hundred dollars on the various components of the system, the up and coming racer that will eventually want more should definitely investigate the systems that begin in the $1200 range and see if it make more sense to buy the entire VeQtr ™ system from MaxQ or go with the entry level offerings of a higher-end manufacturer.

Picture by Head On Photos, driver Andy Chittum