Thursday, March 31, 2016

Predictions for F1 Race: Bahrain April 3rd

From looking at websites and the F1 page, here's the schedule I could find of what's happening with this week's F1 race in Bahrain. NBCSN continues with most of the broadcasts with live coverage of practice 2 (and not practice 1 and 3 in other words), LIVE QUALIFYING ON CNBC, and delayed Qualifying coverage on Saturday back on NBCSN, and then live pre-race/RACE/post race on Sunday. If you're a fanatic and want to watch all the practice sessions, you can get it on the NBC Live Extra App for free, or the F1 Official App that you have to pay for. There are other ways to find coverage on the internet, depending on where you live, so good luck!

My top ten questions for this race:

10: Will Mercedes continue to dominate qualifying and finish 1-2 again? (I'm going to say NO WAY, and GO FERRARI!)

9: Can Rosberg keep up the pressure on team mate Hamilton (counting last year that's 4 wins in a row for Rosberg!) (Sure, why not, Rosberg finishes ahead of Hamilton again)

8: Is there any way that Ferrari can make a great start last in Australia when they went from 3-4 to 1-2 at the end of the first corner? (With Kimi Raikkonen having finished on the podium in Bahrain 7 times, I'll say YES!)

7: McLaren, Manor, Sauber, and Renault don't have any points yet, so who will break through for these teams? (Late breaking news is that McLaren driver Alonso is out of this race due to injuries from the big crash in Australia. This leaves reserve driver and rookie Stoffel VanDoorne getting his first F1 race. Let's go way out on a limb and say he'll finish 10th, and score his and the team's first points of the year.)

6: With an awesome 6th in the first race, is there any way Haas team and Grosjean driving can match or better that? (Yes, if....they qualify better! I'll predict they qualify at least one car in the top 12, and use their reliability to score more points! Go HAAS!)

5: The big red flag incident really affected the outcome last time out, will we have an incident free race? (No, it's early in the season, cars may still be unreliable, and we now have another rookie out there for the first time. Given the complexity of F1 racing and all the other variables driving in the desert of Bahrain at night with cool temps and blowing sand, something is bound to happen!)

4: The Haas guys showed they have the pace to qualify up in the middle of the pack, will they get it done this qualifying round? (YES)

3: Despite the great start, Ferrari had a car fire and bad tire strategy to lose a possible 1-2, can they turn that around? (YES)

2: For the last two years (and this year), we've had only 4 different race winning drivers (Hamilton, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Vettel), so who's next to win? (Hard to tell, let's go with Felipe Massa from Williams)

1: Who else is glad this race isn't on at 2AM like Australia? Answer: Everyone in the US!

F1 Bahrain 2016 (all times are Eastern US)

Friday April 1
7:00 AM Formula One Racing Bahrain Grand Prix Practice 1 F1 and NBC Apps
11:00 AM Formula One Racing "Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice 2" LIVE NBCSN
11:00 PM Formula One Racing "Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice 2" Rerun NBCSN

Saturday April 2
8:00 AM Formula One Racing Bahrain Grand Prix Practice 3 F1 and NBC App
11:00 AM Formula One Racing Bahrain Grand Prix Qualifying LIVE *CNBC* and Apps
12:30 PM Formula One Racing "Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying" Rerun NBCSN
6:30 PM Haas F1: America's Return to the Grid NBCSN

Sunday April 3
1:30 AM Formula One Racing "Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying" Rerun NBCSN
10:30 AM Formula One Racing "Bahrain Grand Prix" LIVE NBCSN
1:00 PM F1 Extra "Bahrain" Post Race Show NBCSN

Monday April 4
12:00 PM F1 Original (pre race show?) NBCSN
12:30 PM Formula One Racing "Bahrain Grand Prix" Rerun NBCSN

If that's not enough racing action for you, Saturday evening you can catch the Indy race from Phoenix at 8:30PM on NBCSN, and the Formula E race from Long Beach on Fox Sports 1 at 6:30pm.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What is the Autocross "PAX" Time All About?

Finish Line Timer (the little yellow thing)

Autocross competition is all about time, and trying to drive the course in as little time as possible. To measure the time to the thousandth of a second, electronic timers are used at the start line and the finish line. The actual time it takes to drive the course is referred to as the RAW time, and for drivers of identical cars it's a great way to see who is the fastest. However, with a wide variety of cars in the same event, in a lot of different classes, it wouldn't be very fair to have a 500 horsepower Corvette compare their time with my 4 cylinder Camry would it? Well of course not, so if you want to get me a Corvette for my birthday, thanks for solving this problem for me! But to compare different classes of cars, we can take the RAW time and then multiply it with a PAX Index factor to get a reasonable comparison of who was the fastest driver.
Start Line Timer, with a starting light on the white board

Sure, if I'm driving the big horsepower car that's modified and set up to be an autocross monster (say an all wheel drive high powered car of some sort that rhymes with Subaru WRX) I'll happily remind you that my RAW time was faster, but that faster time might mostly be due to the car being quicker than the 4 cylinder Camry that is NOT set up for hard driving (if you count things like suspension tuning, racing tires, etc.).

Computers track the timing for all drivers

So how does this PAX thing work? Hey, we've got something to show you! Let's stick with the many classes that are called "Street", which means these cars have very little modifications from stock. Our NMS team drives their Mazda, FIAT, and Ford in Street classes, so we can talk about these cars as examples.

Super Street 0.835 Porsche Boxster 60 50.1
A Street 0.833
B Street 0.826
C Street 0.819
D Street 0.811
E Street 0.807 99 Mazda Miata 60 48.42
F Street 0.814
G Street 0.806 13 FIAT Abarth 60 48.36
H Street 0.798 15 Ford Fiesta ST 60 47.88

For this example, let's say that a Porsche Boxster and the three NMS autocross cars managed to run the same event and all were timed in exactly 60.00 seconds. To compare times with these different cars, we could multiply each of their times by the appropriate PAX Index for their class, and then compare the new PAX times to see who really was the fastest.

NMS G Street FIAT Abarth

The higher performance Porsche has the largest index multiplier, so they end up with the slowest PAX time! The Pax Index between ES and GS is almost the same, but since the GS class gets a more favorable multiplier (with a lower number), then the 60 second run for the FIAT (48.36)  beats the 60 second run for the Miata (48.42). However, the Fiesta in HS has the best PAX Index, so would win our 60 second RAW time tie with a Pax time of 47.88, a good half second faster than the FIAT.
Remember that all four cars drove the course in the same time, but to do so in a Fiesta compared to the Porsche means that Fiesta driver was a much faster driver, in this case by over 2 seconds!

NMS E Street Mazda Miata

For the autocross driver then, they're looking at both their RAW time to see how they do against similar cars at any one event, and also looking at the PAX time to see how they fare against all drivers in all classes. I think that's one thing that makes autocross more interesting, since there are multiple ways to compare your performance with other drivers (or talk trash if that's your thing!). If you want to learn more info on the PAX Index, check out this link: 2016 PAX/RTP INDEX LINK

NMS H Street Ford Fiesta ST

Then just for fun, I'll point out that there is a class of highly modified quick cars, titled A Modified, that has a PAX Index of 1.00, so they get NO advantage with PAX times, which of course means that they are the very quickest of cars.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Abarth Results from the First Autocross of the Year:

New Season = New 2016 Helmet Sticker!

The autocross season finally kicked off way up north here in VA for the NMS-North Abarth, and we're happy to report another first place for #77 in the G Street class! As always, we will also be honest and point out that we drove the ONLY car in the class! In addition to the class results, we will get the overall PAX times to compare all 70 drivers later this week, so we'll see if I met my goal of at least being in the top 50% and even top 33% of drivers.

Waiting to drive, no rain!
With four runs on tap for the day, I was sitting in my car enjoying the lack of rain, and thinking how  great it is to drive in the dry! First run I didn't go all out since the concrete was still wet and planned to gradually go faster all day, so on run 1 my time was 45.132, with three more chances to go faster!

After one run in 2016 = RAIN!
By the time run number two rolled around, it was definitely raining! Off I went, and it felt like it was a pretty good time, but alas it was just a hair slower at 45.236. A very small tenth of a second slower, so still very consistent with the first run despite the wetter conditions!

Right hand drive Toyota!
Run three time and it's still raining! Going much faster through the first half of the course, and really hammering the slalom the second time around when the car just slid off to the right and didn't obey my steering wheel! I was close to having an "off track excursion" into the grass, but managed to brake enough to stop and then finish the extremely slow run with a big fat "Did Not Finish". Oh well, there was still one more run to go, and the rain was just extra fun!

Your humble Fastest Italian Car of the Day reporter!
So the final run for me felt pretty good, and somehow it was my fastest of the day at 45.124. This was a minuscule  0.008 faster than run number one! My math isn't great, but 8/1000ths of a second is NOT a galactically ginormous improvement, but I'll take it! If that little bit means I also hit my goal of progressively getting faster, then it was nice to make your last run the fastest of the day. For what it's worth, since starting to autocross in 2013, this was the first event where I've driven on wet pavement. My guess is that the new Bridgestone tires played a role in keeping me going the right direction in the wet too!

Here's the times for all the GS class drivers!

1 GS 77 Robert Nixon 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Red 45.132 45.236 55.604+dnf 45.124

The Timing and Scoring Trailer stayed dry!

This was a really fun course at Pungo, but don't take my word for it, check out this video. This is my first run in the dry, so it's a better video than looking through rain drops like the other three runs!

Awesome license plate!

Here's a look at some of the cars and drivers that competed at Pungo on Sunday.

FDD = Fastest Dog of the Day!

Finish line timing system

Driver's meeting

Pre-race discussion

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tidewater Sports Car Club Novice School

VW Golf with awesome license plate
The Tidewater Sports Car Club (see link over there on the right of this page) kicked off their 2016 autocross season with a one day Novice School for new drivers on March 26th at Pungo. As the biggest competitive car club in the Tidewater (Virginia Beach and Norfolk and a lot more) area, the TSCC has been around since 1953 and provides not just autocross, but also other driving events throughout the year.
Nissan Skyline GTR!

It was a great day of instruction for about 20 new drivers, as each of them got to work with an experienced club member to learn the basics and some of the finer points of walking and learning the course, and then getting behind wheel and making your car go faster in a safe way. The large number of variables in finding the fastest way around an autocross course (speed, turning, braking, accelerating, setting the car up for the next move, fine tuning car components, etc) leaves a lot of room for improvement for even the best drivers. Even real racers that might do hundreds of laps on the same track usually admit they have never driven a perfect lap.
Start your day with safety- during technical inspection

Drivers went through the normal autocross event schedule of signing in to make sure they were registered and in the system for the electronic timing. After that they had to prep their cars for the simple technical inspection or Tech, just to make sure the car is safe and has four wheels (among other key components!).
Club president Brian Wells in the blue shirt welcomes drivers
After Tech, each driver was matched up with their instructor for the day, and then given time to walk the course to learn not only the right path, but also to start planning on how to drive it the fastest way around. Most of the drivers started very slow on the first run, just to make sure they were following the right path out there in the cone field, and gradually they all gained speed with practice. This is a great way for drivers to get the hang of going fast in autocross, and I'm glad the club was able to offer this experience this year.

Easy to remember where we were, in Pungo, next door to Pungo Pizza!

All the students were divided into two run groups, so they all got to drive one session in the morning and again in the afternoon. When not driving, they each learned how to work on the course to replace any run-over cones too. The TSCC even threw in a free lunch!

Plenty of shiny new loaner helmets if you need one!
If you want to autocross, you can come on out and autocross just about any car and even borrow one of the club helmets if you don't have your own. For more info you can contact any of our favorite clubs in our LINKS section, such as Brian's South Carolina Region, or up here in VA with the Tidewater Sports Car Club or the Old Dominion Region of the SCCA. The SCCA is the national organization that has autocross events all over the USA, and you can find their link right here on the NMS home page too.

Following the Novice School on Saturday we hope to see these drivers come out and compete on Sunday and at our future monthly events too.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Charity Laps at VIR: March 25th

Exiting the pit onto the track!
The NMS team wants to remind you that your next chance to drive YOUR car on a great race track (and benefit charity at the same time) is coming up on Friday March 25th. Every year the folks at Virginia International Raceway sponsor these open house type of charity events, and it's a great way to spend your time on earth by having fun and helping other people. You can read about the history of VIR at this VIR LINK

Facilities at VIR
Last year I drove the Abarth at VIR and enjoyed it a lot! In the interests of safety, this is not a race, no passing is allowed, but it does give you a chance to drive on a real track in your real car. Helmets are not required, you just need to make sure your car is in good shape. I think my top speed last time was around 95mph, so to do that in a safe place legally, with a track of both right and left hand turns, and with varying elevation on a beautiful day in southern Virginia was just a plain old lot of fun!

For each 15 minute session of driving, you just have to donate $25 to charity, so you just might want to do it more than once! Here's their link on Facebook for more info: VIR Charity Laps LINK

A few photos from last time out:

Charity Lap Driver Meeting

Beautiful VIR, track beyond the building

Lined up for laps!

Lamborghini on track

Welcome to VIR

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dixie Tour 2016 - Additional Analysis

This past weekend I wasn't expecting to be so close to last place, but none the less, I was one position out of last. Unfortunately the only person I beat was Luke in the blue Miata of "Team Too Tall". On the up-side, the Team Too Tall guys and the NMS Miata team were there together to share strategy and learn together.  Check out the video below.  Brian (52.578) is on the left and Jason (51.540) is on the right.

After doing a video review, matching Jason and my final runs from Sunday as closely as possible, it's much easier to see where I lost time and some spots I may have done better. It's fun to watch the video multiple times and focus on different aspects to see who is doing what differently; steering wheel inputs, shifting, listen for throttle application, car position, where is the driver looking, etc.

Although I was a full second off the pace of Jason, we can see that I was almost dead-even until the turn-around section half way through the course and then I lost a lot of time on a bad entry to the s-bend just before the slalom at the end.  I'm very glad to see I'm mostly setting a pace much closer to mid-field as I had hoped.  There is still another two seconds out there to chase down before getting into trophy territory.  If we lose even a tenth of a second at each turn of the car and get slightly off of the perfect racing line, that's over 20 turns / inputs and we find where our two seconds from first went.
Team Too Tall checks air pressure between runs in grid next to NMS-South

I'm glad to be working with Jason as a co-driver and also having Team Too Tall competing beside us so we can have some good friendly rivalry for the season and push ourselves to be even faster.  And in the long run, The NMS-South Red Miata team was 0.2 seconds faster over the weekend than Team Too Tall and we'll call that a win.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

NMS-North Autocross Season Goals and Preview

NMS-North FIAT Abarth Number 77
In a press conference somewhere in scenic Virginia Beach today, the NMS-North team announced that their 2016 season will kick off this coming weekend with two events. At the Pungo International Autocross Center of Excellence, the Northern squad will launch into competition with the Tidewater Sports Car Club on Sunday, as well as be supporting the Novice School held on Saturday. Also made public for the first time this year, the Abarth driver and crew stated that their goals in 2016 included the following four key points:
1: have fun!
2: drive safe!
3: drive fast!
4: make the car go faster!

Start line at Pungo in 2015

When questioned further, the driver of the NMS number 77 FIAT Abarth did confess that there really wasn't any "crew" or "support staff", or things like "a paycheck" for autocrossing, so he also went on to state "OK, I also want to finish in the top half of the field on PAX time, beat everyone else in my G-Street class and repeat as class champ, maybe even get in the top 33% on PAX time at each event".

Where we ended 2015

As far as answering the question of which of the NMS drivers was fastest, NMS-North replied that "If we both enter the same event in the same car then we'll see how that goes, but it's not a competition, it's all about finding that inner driver that can go faster than the last run. Life is all about the journey and not the destination" or some such nonsense, but by then this reporter was off to the NMS food truck for some free BBQ and grits. Everyone knows that drivers are full of hot air, but you can't miss a chance to get a free lunch!

Ready to fly in 2016

Bottom Line: Number 77 returns to autocross action this Sunday March 27th at Pungo Virginia with the Tidewater Sports Car Club. You can get more info on this event at the  TSCC LINK
We'll be back next week with the results, a photo feature on cars spotted in Pungo, and if we pay the cable bill, some video from the event!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dixie National Tour 2016 Wrap Up

First off, I have to give a massive thank you (again) to everyone who has helped work on, helped fund, or put up with me dealing with putting the Miata back together.  It all came together this weekend and I know it was only because of all my awesome family and friends who are willing to support me.  THANK YOU!
All loaded up early Friday morning.

For the first time attending a national tour event, in the largest (22 drivers) and possibly most competitve class with multiple national champions in the mix, my goal was to not finish last.  The good news is I succeeded, the bad news is that I was much closer to last than I would have liked.  A lot was learned and we had a great time having fun down in Cecil, Georgia this weekend.

In line for test and tune on Friday afternoon.

We arrived on-site for the event around 1pm on Friday and had just enough time to get through tech inspection and join the optional test and tune session that afternoon.  It was good to get 3 runs in the car for the first time in 9 months!  That would be the only practice before 6 total competition runs that weekend.
Sticker time.

Finally made it official and added the J. Rucker with B. Nixon
Once the test and tune session wrapped around 4pm, we were back to paddock to apply more stickers!  Some of the stickers are for sponsor contingency payout programs, so if we had put the car in the top three positions in the class those sponsors would have sent a check.  Mostly we all know stickers add power and make the car look cool.

The first two rows are all the ES class ready for competition runs on Sunday.
Saturday started off damp and threatening to rain all day, however we saw drying conditions and even sun by our last run group in the late afternoon.  The car performed better than I did but still wasn't quite as dialed-in as we wanted. I ended up dead last place after all three runs on Saturday.

SCR Miatas moving up to the starting line on Sunday.
Saturday night we checked over the suspension nuts and bolts and moved the front sway bar to a more stiff setting to help prevent the back end of the car from coming around on us.  We wrapped up Saturday night with a video review session at the hotel and identified improvements for Sunday. The national tour events are won by the best combined time from Saturday and Sunday, so we had lots of room to improve on day 2!

Jason launches the car for his final run on Sunday.
Sunday the sun was out all day and we were ready to run with our newly tuned suspension settings. The course was slightly changed so that we were running it mostly backwards from Saturday.  Overall I learned a lot and managed to improve by one spot for the weekend and finished 21st out of 22.
With the new wing, the trunk doesn't like to stay open. Good thing we have a breaker bar!

I've learned a lot autocrossing at local events, but taking it to this next level was a great experience. Just nine total runs or about nine total minutes of actual seat time this weekend and I already know what I can work on this season to start making massive improvements.   I'm glad Jason, my co-driver did better than I and took the car to 14th overall.  We've got our eyes set on the big national championship in Lincoln in September and we can't wait to keep improving.

All packed and ready to go home. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Formula 1 Predictions 2016

With the first F1 race of the season coming up Sunday in just over an hour from Australia, it's now or never time to make some wild guesses, errr uhm I mean, very scientific predictions for how the season will turn out. If these are really good predictions then I'll write it up at the end of the season in November with plenty of "knew its" and "told you sos". If my predictions are wrong (like normal), then we'll just say "wait til next year" and not even mention it ever again!

As a brief intro to this year, keep in mind that Mercedes has won the last two team titles, and their driver Lewis Hamilton has taken the driver's championship both years also. So far it's hard to tell from the limited eight days of pre-season practice and the first two practices before the Aussie race, but it looks very likely that Mercedes and Hamilton will repeat. The strongest contender to take the title from Mr.  Hamilton would be his team mate Nico Rosberg. That right there will be interesting to follow all season, as these two drivers compete first for team best, and likely to also be 1-2 for the overall championship.

Their closest rival is my favorite team Ferrari. Why? Maybe I just like red cars, or all things Italian! Real answer, well, I like red cars and all things Italian other than Communist party politics! With their own four time champion Sebastian Vettel and one time former world champ Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari has all the resources and driving skill needed. Will they be close to Mercedes and make a game of it this year? I sure hope so!

My newest favorite team is the hometown heroes Haas F1, based right here in the US. Other than their facilities and most of the workers in England where most F1 teams are based...and their Italian built chassis from the Italian company Dallara (also makers of the Indy and Indylights cars). Oh, and Haas has Ferrari engines and other suspension components, but trust me, they are American! Just one look at their French and Mexican drivers tells you that they are as American as Egg Drop Soup! Seriously, I'm going to root for Haas as the biggest underdogs in the world. To take on such a challenging sport, they will be lucky every time their cars complete a lap, much less go faster than anyone else or even (shocking!) finish any one race in the top ten places and score points! Anything like that or even close to that and they will be gigantic over-achievers. F1 is just that difficult.

OK, here we go, buckle in! The Driver's Championship will end up as follows:

1 Nico Rosberg
2 Sebastian Vettel
3 Lewis Hamilton

I'm going way out there and saying that no way Lewis Hamilton wins 3 in a row, so his team mate Rosberg puts it all together and takes the prize! The Mercedes car turns out to still be just a bit better than Ferrari's, despite the great driving talent of Vettel, and poor Lewis finishes "only" third!

Tune in to F1 racing all year, mostly on the NBC Sports Network, or on the NBCSN App, or the official F1 App at F1 LINKI


Friday, March 18, 2016

NMS Rides on Bridgestone Tires!

The Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R in the wild!

A new tire brand was announced for both the NMS Miata and the NMS FIAT Abarth today at their regional test facility in Virginia Beach Virginia. The drivers of number 86 and number 77 have both chosen to go with the Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R tires for the 2016 autocross season. This high performance Bridgestone model has proven to be the quickest tire in autocross (at the 200 UTQ rating required in Street class) and while we like having good excuses as much as the next guys, driving on the best tires sounded like the thing to do this year!

Ferrari Wheels at NMS? Not until we win the lottery!

A spokesman for the team was quoted as saying that "Yes, we won a lot of events and the Tidewater Sports Car Club G Street championship with the old Dunlop Direzza ZII tires, but based on the outstanding results of the Bridgestones, it was time to look for replacements, and the reviews and results of events across the country show that the Potenza RE-71R is the way to go!"
FIAT Abarth wheels being administered oxygen!

When asked if this guaranteed better results this year, an anonymous NMS team member whose name rhymes with Brian Nixon stated that "well duh, all the other drivers have good tires too, so to answer your dumb question, 'no'."
Your wheels and tires are a reflection of you!

Nixon Motor Sports further suggests that if you are in the market for tires, check out the brands and prices available from Tire Rack on line. We've found them to be the go-to source for tires, information about tires, and great customer service.
Sometimes it feels like the Wild Wild West out there!