Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Formula 1 Hits Texas This Week!

Formula 1 racing officially started way back in the 1950s in a little country we Americans like to call Europe-World, and F1 has always had an image of glamor, speed, excitement, danger, and a whole lot of European guys driving incredibly fast around "tracks" that aren't oval shaped! Well, mostly Europeans anyway, and mostly guys but there have been some women drive in F1 events. And it's not just European, because we have our own Americans like former World Champion Mario Andretti we can claim, or Dan Gurney who won a few races and even in his own car! Yes sir, nothing is more American than still seeing our own Mario Andretti today, although he was born and grew up in Europe himself!

Now to the important part of this post, the F1 race this weekend will be at the Circuit of the Americas just outside of Austin Texas, and if there's anything the F1 folks love it's BBQ and cowboy hats, so it's going to be epic! This track is now in it's third year, so we've seen both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel win, and maybe someone like Nico Rosberg will win this year. At the end of F1 races, the top three drivers come out and celebrate on the podium like in the Olympics, typically with a baseball hat, but in Austin two years ago, winner Lewis Hamilton was wearing a winner's COWBOY hats! USA, USA, USA!  You can see Lewis on the NBC Today show, Wednesday morning some time between 8-9AM EST, so I'm looking forward to seeing his Mercedes F1 car parked at Rockefeller Center!

For those of us that won't be there live and in person, the friendly folk at NBC and NBC Sports Network will crank up their coverage to include all three practice sessions starting Friday, qualifying on Saturday, and of course the live race on NBC Sunday afternoon. Going head to head with the NFL should prove to be interesting as far as who garners the most viewers, and I can only predict that the NFL will have more, just not at my house!

As NBC promotes their F1 coverage, they are also throwing everything but the kitchen sink on the air this week to get the F1 blood pumping, so let's take a look at what they are planning below. You can find this info at:    F1 on NBC

Time (ET)
Thurs., October 30
  Off The Grid (Encore)
7 p.m.
“1” – F1 Documentary
7:30 p.m.
Road To Mercedes (Premiere)
10 p.m.
Road to Ferrari (Encore)
11 p.m.
  Fri., October 31
/DRIVE on NBCSN (Encore)
12 a.m.
/DRIVE on NBCSN (Encore)
12:30 a.m.
Road To Mercedes (Encore)
1 a.m.
Off The Grid (Encore)
12 p.m.
F1 United States Grand Prix – Practice 1
12:30 p.m.
Road To Mercedes (Encore)
2 p.m.
F1 United States Grand Prix – Practice 2
3 p.m.
F1 Countdown
4:30 p.m.
F1 United States Grand Prix – Practice 2 (Encore)
10:30 p.m.
Sat., November 1
F1 United States Grand Prix – Practice 3 & Qualifying
1 p.m.
Sun., November 2
F1 United States Grand Prix – Qualifying (Encore)
12:30 a.m.
F1 Countdown
2 p.m.
F1 Countdown
2:30 p.m.
F1 United States Grand Prix
3 p.m.
F1 Extra
5 p.m.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dead Man's Curve Volume 4: Completion

And now, the dramatic conclusion of "Dead Man's Curve"...

Needing more excuses to drive the Miata I headed up to the newly redone road to see how much more safe it is.  With nice fresh pavement, more visibility around the corner with trees cleared back and a slightly less sharp corner I'm sure the team responsible feels good that it now is much safer.  Those of us in a sports car may have found it easier to carry more speed and traveled even faster around it.  Next time you're in Blythewood, go check it out and decide for yourself if it's safer or just faster.  Either way, I conclude it's still a lot of fun.

Friday, October 24, 2014

99 Miata build Part 8

The stereo was finally sounding good once the mismatched speaker was corrected, but there was no AUX input for hours of iPod music and the CD player wasn't working. Even just the one trip out to Darlington proved once the local radio stations drop out of range good stations are sparse.

Pulled out the old CD/radio/cassette player in favor of a new unit that does it all (okay so I lost the tape player but gained USB, BT, and AUX)

The unit needed a special wiring harness to keep the stock Bose amp and speakers.

And that needed some further modification! Thank goodness for miata.net and thousands of other people who have already figured this stuff out.

A few minutes of troubleshooting and wire swapping and I finally got it running.

Cram all the wires in there and go for a cruise with all kinds of tunes!
This one has a huge range of color choices for the display so I even got it pretty closely matched to the stock green colored instruments.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

99 Miata Build Part 7

Not too exciting today but the car got a radiator/coolant flush. Now running much  closer to the recommended 30% coolant 70% water. Even picked up some distilled water and the correct mutant green coolant. 
Removed the overflow container after it had been drained into a container for proper disposal and rinsed the last tiny bit of crud out.
Getting ready to reassemble and fill up. 
No more brownish-orange fluid!

Monday, October 20, 2014

99 Miata Build Part 6

The journey continues...

Today fellow autocrosser Harlan joined the action at the NMS South garage to assist with some fluid changes.  Harlan's tearing it up in a MINI Cooper S in Novice class but is looking for a Miata for next season, so it was time to get some hands on with the roadster.
I jacked up the car and started poking around the rear, inspecting everything when I saw a part I didn't recognize.  I grabbed it for some reason and it immediately broke free.  My initial guess that it was a CIA GPS tracking device from the car's previous life as a spy car turned out to be incorrect.
Almost even better, it turned out to be a hidden key.  Unlike the 2 keys I got with the car, this one is a Mazda OEM key and is in much better condition.  Woo hoo!  Now onto fluids...
After the weird sounding 1-2 shifts I thought I might as well flush and change the fluid in the transmission and differential.  The diff was pretty gunky and after a few minutes I managed to shave another few kilograms off the rear end of the car.  Both of these jobs were really easy to do with a hand from a friend to make sure all the fluid goes where it needs to.
Based on an experienced recommendation, I had some Amsoil oil that would work for the shifter turret, the transmission and the rear differential.  This is a sample of the gooey fluid from the shifter, but I guarantee both the transmission and diff looked equally bad.  Everything is now topped off with high quality fresh stuff and shifting is smooth like butter.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

99 Miata Build Part 5

Okay, time for the last big key maintenance items before race day; brakes and shifter.

First up we started with the shifter that needed some new bushings and boots to keep the heat and dirt out of the cabin and smooth out the shift action.

The old rubber boots were completely shot and ripped and were heating up the cabin pretty bad.  The first job is to remove the center console again, remove the old boots and pull out the shifter.

Old dirty fluid was removed and everything cleaned up.  New bushings installed and new clean fluid added. The top leather boot was even replaced to top it all off. Finally the car had that good, mechanical shifting feel.

Now the brakes.  All around the car wasn't stopping as quickly as I'd like and the brake pedal felt a little too soft. The rotors looked a little warped and the pads were squeaking so we opted to replace everything and do a bleed of the fluid to make sure there weren't any air bubbles trapped in the line contributing to the issue.

The front rotors came off easily and were replaced with shiny new ones.  The pads also were swapped out easily.  The right rear rotor and pads followed suit but the driver side rear refused to come free.  With the help from both Kyles and other autocrosser, Philip joining in the fight we still struggled to get it free.  Even after a late night run to pick up a propane torch to heat the stuck area of the caliper and repeated blows from a big ol' hammer, nothing budged.

By 1am we called it a night, gave up hope for it, and re-assembled the rear brakes both with all of the old hardware to keep things consistent. A new caliper and bracket will be procured in the coming weeks so we can fully rebuild the back half of the car, but for the time being, it would do the trick.

The car was put back together and we took it out to bed in the brakes just in time to finish cleanup and send everyone home around 2 am.  It took help from everyone just to get the car in shape to roll out at 5am for Darlington.

Running on less than 3 hours of sleep, I still managed to get to the race track and help set up on time.  We had six runs each but I still couldn't manage to get a single one in without hitting at least one cone.  It was a really unfortunate day since I consistently ran faster than the 3 other Miata drivers.  In the end I was 2nd place (even with a 2 second cone penalty on my fastest run!), and more importantly was extremely happy with how the car performed and felt.

The shifter or transmission sounds a little funky going into 1st after a few runs, but I'll keep troubleshooting it this week to see if it can be smoothed out.  Everything is still running strong and I'm really looking forward to the next event and getting that new vinyl top installed.  It's even looking pretty good after a good wash and wax.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Victory in Virginia!

Today's cars lined up before the event (no, the Navy ships behind us won't be competing on land!)

While it's nice to finish in first place like I did this morning, I have to be honest and mention that in today's Military Appreciation Autocross in Virginia Beach that there were a total of only four cars in GS class today with the other drivers probably first timers.  But still, first is first!  Mostly, thanks to the Tidewater Sports Car Club for sponsoring such a great event, it was a great way to introduce a bunch of Air Force, Navy, Marine, and two Army guys to autocrossing!  Check out their website to see what else the TSCC is up to: TSSC Autocross

Out of about 30 military members there, Jeremy Garrido and I were the only two Army Soldiers driving, so I'm happy to report that we took 1st and 2nd in GS class, with Jeremy's times very scarily close to mine, so he did a great job at his first autocross!

Here's that look you get after trying autocross for the first time, as modeled by Jeremy!
Also, there was more driving in the afternoon, so until we get the results on line there is a chance that someone drove faster, so we'll see how that turns out.  In the meantime, here's a few highlights on how my drives went:

First run was 36.575 which put me in second place for the GS class, just .676 out of first. Not sure who the other two cars in our class were, maybe a V6 Mustang and a VW GTI.

Run number four and I dropped my time to 34.592 and into first place, almost 2 seconds faster than the earlier run, so that felt really great.  On run five I dropped just a hair to 34.438, so I was getting the feeling that I was just about as fast as I could go, although after every run you get that "I KNOW I could have gone faster" feeling!

Next up, a nearly identical 34.457, and then an even quicker 34.301, so my times were pretty consistent, but it looked like I was stuck in the 34 second range. As a comparison, the fastest time of the morning was at least a 31.5 or faster, so you can tell that even the mighty Abarth with my driving abilities is not setting the world on fire!

Sure enough, the next run was 34.311, just 10 THOUSANDTHS slower than the last run, dang! After that, they announced final runs, so I had one more shot to improve, and it felt pretty good but the timing says 34.376, so another 34.3 and some change.

This photo reminds me to mention that the location for this event was very nice, right on the Chesapeake Bay, on a large concrete pad used by the Navy for some of those big air cushioned vehicles you see behind the row of cars above.  Thanks to the Navy for sharing their facility with the TSCC, and again, thanks to the TSCC for giving back to the military in this event today, it was awesome!
Jeremy about to work on the course, and yes, that's the Chesapeake Bay back there, no one drove into the water!

Friday, October 17, 2014

99 Miata Build Part 4

With some significant help from friends and fellow Miataphiles, Kyle and Kyle, attention turns to the doors.  When we bought the car we knew the driver side window was in bad shape.  It would barely roll up or down.  The passenger side was better but not great.  We assumed both had not been given any attention for the entire 15 year life of the car. Our assumption was correct...
 Opening the passenger side door started off as expected, but took a weird turn when we noticed the speaker...
 Someone in the car's past had done some "custom" installation work.  This is NOT a factory speaker or OEM duct tape.  It was working but looked pretty horrible.  The 99 is going to be a track day and autocross car, but at least for the foreseeable future, it will be driven to all events.  This means up to 3 hour road trips and I'm not willing to forego a working stereo for those long drives.  We put that part of the project on hold for a day.
 Pulling out the window we were able to clean up that layer of gunk you can see that resides just below the door frame and cleanup and replace the plastic guides that keep the glass going up and down in the metal track.
 Here's a close up of the old plastic guide in my hand, looking pretty work out and dirty while the new Teflon guide is installed and lubricated on the window.  We moved on to replace the passenger side window into the frame and got it sliding up and down like new and then worked on the driver side.  Remember, this is the side that barely moved at all and needed some muscle strength to assist the electric motors to make anything happen.  It turns out the metal track in the door was bent (still on the unsolved mysteries list), and not even the new, overly-greased guide would go in.
 There was only one solution if we were going to get the car put back together for autocross this weekend, and that was a trip to Panic Motorsports in West Columbia.  They were kind enough to step away from the Spec Miata on their dyno and help me pull a working, matching speaker from their parts shelves and salvage a replacement door window rail from another door they had. A few hours later they were hitting the road for another race weekend with a few trailers full of Miata race cars, so it was pretty awesome to get their support for my little project even when they were prepping for some serious track time.
 Ahhhh.  Now the car has 2 proper speaker installed.
 And finally, with the replacement window track installed, the driver side window now rolls up and down better than the passenger side!  Woo hoo!  I can only wonder how many years it's been since these windows have worked properly.
 The aftermath of pulling old grease out of the window tracks.  You can see the really dark yellow gunk, which is 15 years old from my car and is mostly solid.  To the left is the stuff from the replacement part I got, which I must guess is newer and is somewhat soft and might allow some sliding.  The brand new stuff that I applied is almost clear.
Re-assembly is reverse of dis-assembly.  Everything is now back together and working just about good as new.  The stereo even sounds better!

Between all this work the car made it downtown to Complete Car Care who were able to set the car up with a custom alignment.  They were great to work with and also fellow racers, so if you need car work in the Columbia area, I recommending getting in touch with them.

Coming up Friday, the Kyles and I re-convene to tackle the bleeding the brakes and replacing the rotors and pads.  If we have time we will attempt to flush the transmission fluid and replace all those gnarly looking shifter boots and some other bushings in the shifter assembly.  Getting closer to autocross!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

99 Miata Build Part 3

More parts continue to show up at the NMS Columbia facility this week as the 99's first autocross approaches.  There's not going to be time to get everything done in time but all the basics will be done over the next few days. Monday was spent cleaning out the interior, removing 21 cents worth of weight, and adding a few stickers for speed.
The convertible top's latches aren't locking too well so I researched a quick fix that saved me from spending $140 apiece for new ones. All it took was filing down a little bit of the old ones.
Wednesday is a whole Miata party here as some other autocrossers come over for some burgers and fixing some stubborn windows that aren't sliding up and down easily any more and then maybe a brake job. Thursday the car will get an alignment at a local shop and then hopefully my shifter rebuild kit will arrive in time to fix the sloppy shifting action and then change out the transmission fluid.  If time allows, the 99 might even get that new fuel filter I bought installed! 

Announcing Nixon Motor Sports North!

Nixon Motor Sports announced today that driver Robert Nixon and the number 77 FIAT Abarth has moved to Virginia Beach to maintain his day job in support of financing more autocrossing!  With the move of half the team drivers to another state, NMS-North has entered their first event this Saturday October 18th at the Little Creek Naval Base on the Chesapeake Bay.

Special thanks to the sponsors of this event, the Tidewater Sports Car Club for encouraging active duty military members to come out and learn all about autocrossing. believe it or not, they are offering this event FREE, so thanks to the TSSC!  You can read all about the event at the link:    Military Appreciation Autocross 

One cool thing about this event is that not only is it held on a Navy base, but that it will be  held on the concrete pad of Air Cushioned Unit 4, which is a specialized Navy unit that operates the hovercraft vehicles!  Look for some cool shots of this event in the near future.

With the move to Virginia it looks like the #77 won't be competing in any more events in the SC Region this year, so as of right now that leaves NMS in third place for the season:

gs – ‘G Street’Points W/DropsE-1E-2E-3E-4E-5E-6E-7
1TMichael Arnold464661048810
2TJustin Robinett3131108310
3TRobert Nixon2727558234
4TJohathan Clark1111362
4TTimothy Bridges111156
6TWilliam Harris101010
6TRoss Hennings101010
6TClark Doggett101010
9Luke Armstrong888
9Andre Goncalves888
11Eric Hecht666
11Joshua Dupree666
11Zach Bohach666
11David Baltazar666
15Robbie Solesbee55050
15Will Harris555
15Don Bridges555
18Terry McClure444
18Elizabeth Flannagan444
20Brandon Lee333
21Kenneth Bury111

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

99 Miata Build Part 2

Wednesday has finally come and that means new tires and brake pads arrive!  I'm going to run Mazda OEM pads again because for $60 per set you can't beat their balance of performance and long life.  They will sit in the garage with the fresh rotors until next week when I can enlist some friends to assist with a full brake job, including bleeding the old fluid.

In the tire department the Miata will be wearing brand new Dunlop ZII Star Specs in 205/50/15. These are pretty popular autocross and track day tires  that are as sticky as we are allowed to run in Stock classes. This moves both NMS cars onto the Dunlop compound for the 2015 season. 

The all season tires that came with the car were pretty shot and looked like the previous owner was trying to drive a little too fast with them as chunks of rubber were coming off the outer edge. I loaded up the trusty Ranger with the new rubber, the silver rims that came with the car and the older set of rims I painted black that still had the newer all seasons I put on last year for when it got too cold for the summer tires on the Mazdaspeed. The guys at the local tire store did a great job of quickly discarding the bad tires that came with the car, moved my good all season rubber to the silver rims and the new sticky Dunlops onto the black rims. 

I'm now back to a performance set of wheels and an everyday/cold weather set of wheels. Now we wait for Darlington to really break them in!

As a final project today, I took a peek under the center console and at the shifter boots that block dust and junk from getting into the transmission and the interior of the car.  As I suspected, all of the rubber boots are ready for replacement and some cleanup was needed. It was interesting to peer down through to see through the car and also get a look at the aftermarket security system thing that is installed. Time to order some shifter parts and do some more install work next week!