Sunday, September 29, 2019

USTCC Go Go Go - In 3 days

Wednesday afternoon.  Phone call.

"Andy, I need your help.  I bought a car yesterday, super cheap - it hasn't be run in a over a decade, and I want it to race this weekend."

On the one hand, something every race driver wants to hear - someone needs them to drive their car.  On the other, so many questions.  Are there tires?  Condition of the shocks?  The engine works?  Setup?  Testing?  By the way, what kind of car is it anyway?

The car was a 5th gen Honda Civic equipped with a B18C of uncertain build.  Shocks had been rebuilt by the prior owner recently, the engine had started when they tried it, they had some old Hankook F200s laying around and all the rest would be taken care of at the track Saturday before the race Sunday.

Sure thing, I'm in.

This car turned out to be the newest to race for USTCC Team's stable, which includes other cars spread from the Sportsman class, where the Civic fit in, to the Super Touring class featuring a gorgeous S54 equipped BMW e90 driven by Lary Bani.  In fact, the team had another similar Civic painted in the distinctive team yellow-orange to be driven by Reza Arsham, which became my template for working things up, and figuring out what the car liked.

Saturday, with a reduced testing schedule, there was just time enough for the car's new owner Ali Arsham to jump into the car and give it a quick once over, as well as have to team update a few safety items before Sunday.

Warmup - Really Warm

Sunday dawned with perfect spring Sonoma Raceway Weather, sunny, 80 degrees and a light breeze.  I slid into the Honda, and headed out for a warmup.  The one minor issue noted in the shakedown Saturday was a slight tendency for the car to overheat, so with one eye on the temp gauge, I worked on figuring out the car.

After two laps, I'd started to drop my times pretty quickly - the little car had tons of stick, and could do more each lap.  The newly rebuilt shocks handled the uneven pavement well in T1.  T3 was a light dance.  T6 pulled my cheeks sideways and the chicane for T8 was well balanced all the way through.  Even the (not my favorite) FIA configuration chicane in T9 worked better than I'd have thought for a smaller car.

On my 3rd time across the line I got a signal to pit, so I came in, the GogoGear Guys did the tires, and we pulled in to look at the data from the run.

To combat the unusual water temperature, the GogoGear team put together a makeshift shroud to force more cool air through the radiator.  I discussed tire pressures and setup with Reza again, and we settled on the final plans for qualifying and the race.

Qualifying - If Ida Had One More Lap

For qualifying late morning the Gogogear team put me on scrubbed slicks, and I found it a challenge to get the big Hankook F200 race slicks warmed up on the 2300lb car.  After some major scrubbing, I got a decent lap in for the bank, and looked to really give it the beans, hoping I had enough thermal runway to make it a good one.  I had put everything I'd learned in the morning together and put a good lap together, but I got the signal to pit again, and had to abort the lap.

The setup on the car looked good, but there was still some tinkering to be done so we came in and started prepping for the race.  Edgar Lau's #9 BMW 330i had some legs on the field with a roughly 3 second advantage, but the next 4 of us were separated by a half second, putting me inside second row to start.

Go Go Go

At 1:10 PM the entire USTCC field took a green flag, and 22 cars left stripes of sweet Hankook rubber en route to a chaotic blast through Sears Point's T1.  While Lau quickly checked out, the rest of the SP field upended on the first lap.  I figured out a pretty good standing launch procedure and moved up, while both Bovenberg and Gardner had trouble getting away.  Reza Arsham made a great start up through T2 and made another pass into T5, but I managed to get around him on the mid-exit of T6, and come across the line in 2nd place on the first lap.

Awesome Race Start Video!

Awesome Overtake Video!

The battle for 2nd settled in Chittum - Arsham - Bovenberg - Milbourn - Gardner for the first 5 laps or so, and I was able to manage the pace, pushing harder for a lap, gaining a gap on the field, then taking it a little easier for a bit.  Coming out of T9 on lap 5 I was a little overly easy just to get the engine temperature down, and Reza managed to overlap me into 11.  I didn't protest too hard with my teammate, and we charged up into T2 together.

As I unwound the steering wheel for T2, suddenly, there was an impact on the back of the car, the car was pitched to the left, and I got a lovely view of the pedestrian bridge out the windshield as I slid sideways up the hill at about 80 mph.  It's always interesting to see what comes to mind in such a situation like this, and I recall simply - 'dontrollover, dontrollover, dontrollover' until a deluge of dirt and grass blasted through the passenger side windows and the car headed for the tire barrier.  The tires didn't catch in the dirt, and I came to an easy rest not too far from the tire barrier.  Barely missing a beat, I got the car back in gear and took off up T3, but there was a lot of dirt and grass built up, and it took a few slow turns to get the car to work normally again.

Awesome get punted off video!

By that time, the water temperature was right at the upper end of workable, so my best choice was to pull it in, and save the car rather than trying to chase down the field and risk blowing the engine.

Later, Ali expressed his appreciation that the car showed good speed in the class, and ran as high as second place.  It seemed like he was just about an upgraded radiator away from a very competitive car.  Maybe even at the next USTCC event, October 26 and 27th with NASA.  Maybe I'll even get another phone call.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Hot Hot Hill

The NASA Norcal Spec e30 racers slid into a seasonably warm and toasty Willows, California to contest Round 5 of the Championship August 3rd and 4th.   With temperatures forecast well over 100F and Spec e30 running the legendary track in the reverse direction for the first time in years, the event promised for thrills, chills, and some unexpected results.

In practice Friday a number of cars already suffering from the heat with Nick Theimann's car breaking a rocker, Round 4 winner Scott Clough's car's transmission mysteriously seizing up, and other various brake issues.  Teams worked through the evening, and the entire field of 15 cars made qualifying Saturday morning.


Bennett McMicking set the early time to beat with a speedy 2:08.8 on his first timed lap, and Nick Theimann came back next lap dropping a 2:08.5, but perennial pole sitter JP Cadoux dropped a 2:08.1 on his third lap which looked to be the fastest any e30 would set the entire weekend.  Behind the fast 3, Andy Chittum, Forest Cook, and Scott Clough, and Rina Balogh took up postion, with just around 2 seconds covering the top 8.

Race 1 took off with an incredibly long hold on the green flag, but the field tore away toward turn 15 after it finally fell.  The front of the field funneled in to the T15-14 complex in order with Cadoux, McMicking and Theimann.  Chittum, and Forrest Cook came out side by side on the exit of 15, with Chittum edging ahead by T12.  The front then consolidated into a train of 4 cars with Cadoux unable to drop the group, but nobody able to pass.

Crazy.  But that's how it goes.

At the back, the excitement started early with Team Unibrow CEO and driver James Gouvia getting a great standing start, while ahead of him Rina Balogh missed a shift.  With the slightest of scrapes, he made it by on the inside between the wall, and joined teammate John Lothrop's car side by side into the 15-14 complex.  Balogh quickly caught up, and the three battled the next lap.

"We had a good battle going for a little while, then she got our number, took off, and we never saw her again."  Said Lothrop after the race.

Lothrop and Gouvia continued the battle with multiple passes and re-passes until finally Gouvia pulled ahead just at the checkered flag.

Back at the front, the train continued.  McMicking had managed to put his nose around Cadoux early on in the race, but had settled into second.  After the halfway point, Chittum started attacking Theimann as well, overlapping in several places.  But the turning point of the race came about 8 laps in when coming down super fast 9 - 8 - 7 back straight Theimann made a move up the inside of McMicking.   In video review Theimann called the move 'somewhat overly optimistic' - braking from over 110 mph into the tight T6, he put two wheels on the dirt, then caught air off the edge of the inside berm, then nosed into McMicking's rear quarter panel.

This resulted in McMicking spun on the inside of T6, Thiemann crossed up sliding to the outside and Chittum neatly driving through the hole to take over 2nd place.  McMicking and Thiemann were both able to continue, but mixed into the rest of the field.

Post-race, two cars were found to be over power on the dyno including Cadoux, which handed the win to Chittum, 2nd to Forest Cook, and 3rd to Uwe Druckenmuller.


Cook challenged at the start.

Race 2 of the weekend started with Chittum and Cook on the front row, followed by Rina Balough and Uwe Druckenmuller.  The start proved to be exciting with Cadoux, McMicking, Thiemann, Scott Clough and Ari Balogh all at the back determined to charge though the field and make Chittum earn his pole position start.  This time the standing start went relatively uneventfully, aside from Lothrop taking a high-speed weed-whacking tour on the outside of T14.

Chittum, Cook and Rina Balogh ended up 1 - 2 - 3 for the first few laps while the back and midfield sorted itself out.  Slowly, Chittum pulled ahead while Cook fell back with braking issues.  JP Cadoux moved up quickly, but touched Rina Balogh on the outside of T9 - both ended up spinning off the outside of the turn and falling back down the field.

Bennett McMicking and Ari Balogh proved to be the most deft at making their way through the field cleanly, and made it up to 2nd and 3rd with Theimann, Clough and Druckenmuller close behind.  Chittum managed to keep ahead of the fray and pull in his second win of the weekend.

Race 3 saw the highest temperatures of the weekend, with ambient just over 101, and the track temperature suitable for most forms of cooking.

The group blasted off for the final time of the weekend, and while Ari Balogh was able to get by Bennett McMicking, most of the rest of the field ended up about where they'd started.  The one real challenge was JP Cadoux starting from mid-field again, still with the fastest lap times at his command - could he get around the cars around him and chase Chittum down for the win?

Chittum's challenge was steady and fast, while keeping tires alive.

The lap chart shows the top 10 positions covered by just 1.3 seconds of lap time, with JP putting down a few laps a half-second faster than Chittum.  With about 4 laps to go, JP cleared the rest of the field, and started to bridge the 4 second gap Chittum had built.  On the fast west side of the track, JP had a few ounces of secret sauce to spend and made up time, but across the technical eastern section, Chittum seemed to have saved some tires to hold off the charge.

At the flag, Chittum held on by 2.240 seconds to take his 3rd victory of the weekend.

The exciting 2019 season will conclude October 26-27 at the legendary Sonoma Raceway, where we'll be once again hoping for a little rain to cool down the warm summer.

See you there!


Thursday, June 6, 2019

May Showers bring e30 Flowers 

A healthy field of 14 teams returned to the delightful Sonoma Raceway May 18th and 19th for round 3 of the NASA Norcal Spec e30 championship.  While the May event at Sonoma typically offers some of the most beautiful blue skies of the year, the forecast looked darker and more gloomy the closer the weekend came.  Teams readied their full treaded Toyo RA-1s instead of the speedy slick RRs in use since 2013.

Saturday Warmup and Qualifying

Usually things don't start really getting exciting until qualifying, but breaking all the rules, Nick Theimann broke a brake line in warmup entering T11, and gave the barrels at the apex of the turn a severe workout with the front of his car.  Undaunted, Nick began repairs immediately with a goal of making the race later that afternoon.

Nick gave himself a slight handicap Saturday Morning


Q1 quickly became wet for slicks

While the morning had been dry, as the cars sat on the grid to go out for qualifying, a light rain began, not causing major puddles yet, but significantly reducing grip around the 12 turn track.  Most of the field settled in with lap times a good 30 seconds slower than morning warmup, but two frontrunners emerged - Chris Belieu and Andy Chittum.  Working in and out of slower traffic, the two e30s started dropping 2 seconds a lap each lap, with Chittum ahead on the track, and Belieu catching up.   Chittum turned a 2:35, Blieu a 2:34.  Chittum got ahead with a 2:32 to Belieu's repeat 2:34, then Chittum finally dropping to a 2:31.028, and Belieu answering with a 2:31.00 as both cars hit the checkered flag on slicks in the rain.

Saturday - Race 1

With Belieu unable to make the start for Race 1, Chittum started on pole position, with Sylas Mongomery taking over Joe Nagy's car, and JP Cadoux, a functional but not pretty Nick Theimann, Ben Winter, and James Gouveia filling out the top 5.  With the race starting in very wet conditions, everyone opted for wet tires this time, and they would need them.

On the start, Chittum and Montgomery launched well, but JP Cadoux jumped from P3 up the inside of T1, and took the grippy wet outside line entering T2.  Unfortunately, a sizable pond had appeared on the outside exit of T2 which sent Cadoux spinning slowly yet inexorably off to the inside of T2's exit giving Chittum the lead and slowing Montgomery who was poised to take advantage of any slip ups at the front.

On lap 2, Mongomery was able to take advantage coming out of the Carousel T6, and make an outside pass on Chittum through T7.  At the same lap, the race went full course yellow to rescue a group of Miatas that had exited the track in turn 10.

A lap or two later, with the accident cleaned up, a column of Miatas and e30s slowly made their way out of T8, and both Chittum and Montgomery began looking for the green flag through the downpour across the track, but James Gouveia had the advantage with a proper spotter, and roared past the two to the front before they had a chance to react.

As the three charged into a T11 barely visible through the rain and spray, Theimann's newly resurrected car charged into view, and for the next two laps all 4 cars raced side by side, maximum attack, maximum downpour.   Gouveia was able to hold off the group for quite some time, but finally, Mongomery was able to make a pass stick by getting inside entering T6, holding station side by side all the way up to T7, and taking the long way around, and finally making the pass stick going into T8.  This gave Theimann room to attack Gouveia a few turns later, but he slightly overcooked a wet T1, sliding slowly off into the mud.  Chittum took advantage of the mayhem to overlap Gouveia in T2 and T3, and finally asserted position going into T4.

Nick's comeback - yes, the same mangled car as above.

Free to chase after the departed Montgomery, now several seconds ahead Chittum charged on, only to suffer from a broken windshield wiper, which somewhat tempered his ability to attack...and to see.  A series of on and off yellow flags between the other cars on the track effectively froze the action until the end of the race with Montgomery in 1st, Chittum second, Gouveia 3rd, Ben Winter 4th, and Daniel Hayward moving up to 5th.

Sunday - Race 2

Rain continued steadily through Sunday, and while Saturday morning there was some question about the correct tire, nearly everyone was convinced the 10:10am start for Race 2 that wet tires were the way to go, even though it had stopped raining some hours before the race.

The standing start lined up with Nagy on pole having taken over for his teammate Sylas Montgomery, Chittum on the front row, then Dave Brown in for his teammate James Gouveia, Ben Winter and Daniel Hayward.  At the drop of the flag, Chittum managed to get a very good start, gapping Nagy and the rest of the field.  Nick Theimann also got a good launch, and after just a few laps of battling, Chittum led the way with Brown and Theimann hot on his heels. 

Nature threw strategy for a loop again, as the drivers rolled out, it seemed the track had dried out more than most had thought, and Dave Brown's decision to go with slick tires seemed to be a master move in the first few laps of the race, slowly catching Chittum as the track continued to dry.

However, 3 laps into the race, a light rain began, and by 5 laps in had started to puddle up the previously-drying track.  Brown hammered on, and in fact had run faster than Chittum for every lap except the first one, but succumbed first to the attack from a charging Theimann, 5 laps in and by 8 laps in, Chittum managed to pull his lap times down 2 seconds beyond the rest of the field in the pouring rain through to the end of the race.

Sunday - Race 3

Last race of the weekend also started on a well-puddled track, a very muddy T6, lakes entering T8, exiting T10, and in the middle of T12.  Chittum lined up on pole, with Thiemann on the front row, Brown and a resurging Chris Belieu row 2, and Forest Cook / Bryan Shiflett on row 3.

A lakeside view...entering T10

The final flag of the weekend dropped, and Chittum again got a great start and out of T2 without contention.  Theimann and Brown charged ahead, but a few laps in Brown's e30 was pushed out wide off T6 by out of class contact, and Theimann got ahead.  Coming from further back and also showing his rain racing prowess, Chris Belieu made his way around and was in P2 by the time another full course yellow was called.  The pack was bunched up costing Chittum an 11 second lead, but as the green fell again, Chittum pulled away again with Belieu, Theimann, Winter, and Brown making up the top 5 at the end.

Up Next!

NASA Norcal Spec e30 will return June 15th and 16th, back at Sonoma Raceway at Sears Point.  Certainly many of the drivers will be hoping for drier conditions, while a very few will not.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Spring Hill Spec e30

Round 2 of the 2019 NASA Norcal Spec e30 Championship saw 11 teams make the trip to a lovely springtime version of the legendary Thunderhill Raceway Park.  Cool temperatures made for hot racing, and plenty of power to set some speedy lap times around the 3 mile track.

Qualifying Saturday

Bright and early the racers headed out and immediately set some very fast lap times with JP and Bennett dipping into the 2:06s, and five more cars within the next second and a half.

Saturday Race

A green flag saw the entire field cleanly launch with Bennett jumping JP from the outside front row, and Bill Shawhan moving up two rows by turn 2.  Zanotto's stylish ultimate tanning machine jumped from 9th to 5th by the exit of turn 6, also taking advantage of 1st lap mayhem in Thunderhill's twisty eastern loop.  Both Ben Winter and Andy Chittum fell back, but ended up in an epic battle side by side with Chittum on the outside of T8, 9, 10, and 11, finally making the pass stick going into T14.

Meanwhile, ahead in the mid-pack, Zanotto kept up the attack on Shawhan Senior, moving ahead to 4th while JP moved ahead of Bennett, with Nick Thiemann just behind in 3rd, ready to pick up the pieces of any mistakes.

Unfortunately, pushing to take advantage, Thiemann spun in 6T, doing a full snap 180 in the lovely soft springtime greenery.  A verdant green burnout put Nick back in 7th, looking to make up lost time.

While JP slowly pulled away from Bennett, Chittum managed to catch back up to the Senior Shawhan-Zanotto battle, and

zipped by both cars up the inside of T1.   Fresh from the fields, Thiemann made it back up to 4th by the end of the race, setting the 2nd fastest lap of the race.

Unfortunately Thiemann and Chittum's cars both went over post-race dyno limits, each by less than a single horsepower, and were sent to the back of the field for Sunday.

Sunday Race 1 (Qualifying)

Exercising their right to creative control, NASA officials inverted the top 8 grid positions for the Sunday race, which put Tony Domenici on pole, with Ben Winter outside front, Team Shawhan and Zanotto row 2, and JP and Bennett row 3.  After running to and fro most of the morning with a dodgy axle that was replaced with the group's help, Team Shawhan substituted in Micheal Shawhan, former series champion to add spice to the lineup.

At the drop of the green flag, Shawhan Junior did indeed get an amazing start, and took the lead from the 2nd row by the time the field rounded T1.  Winter slid in behind, getting ahead of Dominici, while JP slotted into 4th.  Flying high and barely lifting for the bypass, JP slid inside of Dominici at T6, and set off after Shawhan and Winter.

Meanwhile, from the back of the grid, Thiemann motored through the field, reaching P6 by the end of the 1st lap, with the midfield just out of reach.  JP also made it around Winter, and his battle with Shawhan was on.

With the #52 Shawhan car still equipped with the legacy suspension rather than the newer Ground Control suspension, both drivers had advantages in different parts of the track, overlapping in some areas, and pulling away in others.

Finally, late in the race, Shawhan got a slight advantage in lapped traffic, and was able to make a gap stick ahead of JP to the end of the race.

Mid-field, Thiemann arrived just as Bennett was making a neat outside pass on Winter, and was able to take advantage of his lost momentum to get into 5th.  Catching Bennett through the east course, he just about threw it away in T6 again, but this time hung on and set after the Zanotto - Bennett train.  Also aggressively not giving up, Winter joined in, and a cavalcade of mayhem ensued while all 4 cars traded position nearly every lap in and out of lapped traffic, until Chittum finally caught up on the last lap and made it 5 cars passing over the line all within a few tenths of each other.

Sunday Race 2

For the final race of the weekend, Team Shawhan bowed out with mechanical issues, and JP started from the back, putting Bennett and Thiemann on the front row, with Zanotto and Winter on the second.  Chittum and Dominici made up the third row.

At the drop of the flag, Bennett got away fastest, and a solid train, Thiemann, Zanotto, Winter, and Chittum formed up behind him.  Shortly, JP caught up behind Chittum, and joined in the fun.  Several laps later, making a late move up the inside of 10, JP passed Chittum, making his move on Winter in the same place a lap later, then attacking Zanotto's ultimate tanning machine a few laps after that into T1.  At the same time, Chittum got inside Winter in T1, and the entire train started to re-shuffle.

JP and Thieman took off into the sunset, separated by a gap, while Chittum made his way by Zanotto, then finally catching Bennett and taking advantage of lapped traffic to move into 3rd with just a few laps to go.

The Norcal Spec e30 Circus will return May 18th and 19th at Sonoma Raceway.  Follow us here for all the latest news and excitement!

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Andy Chittum

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Sound Engineering vs. The Corkscrew

At this weekend's United States Touring Car race at Mazda Laguna Seca every car in the field sported new appendages.  In previous years USTCC had run on one of the few unrestricted sound days at the lovely facility, but this year sharing the track with SPEEDSF, a whisper-quiet 92Db was the rule.  If you fail sound once, you're done for the session.  Fail again, pack up and head home.

There's a number of reasons behind these rules, and if you're curious about their genesis at Laguna Secca, then I'd recommend listening to Gill Campbell's interview in Episode 17 of Dinner with Racers.  This post won't discuss the why.

What we will explore is the science, engineering, craftsmanship and, dare we say, art behind the protuberances behind the cars that kept them quiet along the unique 2.214 mile course in our season opener this year.

We begin with none other than the #85 Minideck Motorsports / BTM Motorwerks MINI Cooper S driven by yours truly.

In the past, this car has been a lot louder, yet for this event, Rich Petersen, the car's owner and Chief Tinkerer had fortified the new stainless steel muffler system some unknown amount of 'special high-tech packing'.  And proving size indeed does not matter, the car stayed clear of the dreaded meatball all weekend.


Stealth: 9/10
Tech Level: 9/10
Slim 'n' Trim Factor: 9/10

Mike Shawhan's Mighty BTM Motorwerks #22 BMW 330Ci sported a new custom setup just for the weekend.

Reportedly made from 'A Mustang muffler with MINI tip welded on the end' Mike's car was so quiet, hardly anyone could event hear it go by.  The whisper smooth I6 didn't suffer much as Mike led at least half of the race and finished a close second.


Stealth: 8/10
Tech Level: 7/10
Raid the BTM Parts Bin Factor: 9/10

Tom Milburn's #14 Bay Area Drafting RSX ended up with one of the more shiny and high-tech noise deflectors.

Reportedly, he'd been worried about both intake and exhaust noise, and got a strike from his peppy Honda exhaust note.  A passing wisenheimer quipped he should put an intake elbow on his exhaust pipe to pass sound.   That's exactly what he did, and he ran trouble-free the rest of the weekend.


Stealth: 6/10
Tech Level: 8/10
Make 'em Eat their Words Factor: 10/10

Mike McColligan's gorgeous #36 MC Racing RX-8 was right at home at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway.

And he went right to the off-the-shelf for his sound deflectors.  No irony that it rained during the final race, and drainpipe was his weapon of choice.


Stealth: 6/10
Tech Level: 5/10
Home Improvement Factor: 10/10

Patrick Cho's #88 Speed SF Nissan 350Z has been a regular at the front of the TC field.

And he played the part well, with the longest shiniest cannon style muffler in the field.  V6's always sound a bit odd to me personally, but this bit of kit stayed under sound and ran some very fast qualifying times to boot.


Stealth: 5/10
Tech Level: 9/10
Super Shiny Factor: 9/10

The two Honda S2000s in the field, the Hartanto / Ostby Prima Racing #98 and the #82 S2000 driven by Victor Ng chose the same strategy.

Bone stock.  Considering the gains from a typical aftermarket S2000 Exhaust (not much) and the sound restrictions, this was a wise move.  Even wiser once Andrie took the checkered flag just a few feet ahead of Mike Shawhan's Mustang-mufflered BMW.


Stealth: 8/10
Tech Level: 9/10
Soichiro Knows Best Factor: 9/10

George Kibilov's #24 Speed SF e46 M3 sported a somewhat dented stubby elbow that appeared to carry equal parts DNA of both Supertrapp and Trumpet Mute.

At some point during the weekend, the M3 had issues which were thought to have been caused by the increased backpressure, but they were later attributed to a loose hose up front.  Once repaired, George proved to be speedy and sound great, handily winning the ST class.


Stealth: 4/10
Tech Level: 5/10
Blame it on the Exhaust Factor: 8/10

Daniel Akhromtsev's #16 Red Star Racing BMW M3 has run at the front of the GT field for some time now.

His offset elbow featured an additional sound deflector which looked like an up-side down smokehouse chimney.  Minus the bacon of course.  Mmm bacon.


Stealth: 3/10
Tech Level: 7/10
Spend a Lot of Time With the Welder Factor: 8/10

The Initial P Lexus IS300 driven by Edgar Lau chose a somewhat disturbing tentacle shaped design.

While effective on the race track, it reminded me of the limb of Chaos Eater from Dark Souls.  Late in the race, in fact, the exhaust took a hit in hard-fought action, and the speedy Lexus had to retire from the race for exceeding sound once it was broken.


Stealth: 2/10
Tech Level: 5/10
I'll Dream About Tentacles Tonight Factor: 10/10

And Finally, the King of Marching to His Own Drummer, Pete Bovenberg's #2 MBO Motorsports Honda Civic.

Pete's tailpipe actually began shorter earlier in the event, was meatballed, then grew steadily until in priapic fashion it finally reached its full potential.  Multiple bends?  Check.  Many yards of heat resistant / sound deadening wrap? Check!  A disturbing sound diffusing tip that resembles a shotgun pierced coffee can, yet appears to be able to light the whole back of the car on fire? Heck yeah! Check!

Stealth: 0/10
Tech Level: 4/10
Pete's Dragon Factor: 11/10

United States Touring Car will return to action May 20-21 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, where sadly, sound is completely unrestricted.  We'll be keeping an eye out for more bits of technology enhancing the racing action.

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.