Wednesday, May 30, 2018

My Short Formula 1 Career

How You Think it Will Turn Out!

A few weeks ago I was driving in an online Formula 1 computer game contest, competing with thousands of drivers around the world in search of fame and glory. Well, there doesn't seem to be any fame or glory floating around the NMS-North HQ today, so let's just say it was fun to compete!

Maybe I was Dreaming?

In four different races on four different tracks, I have PROOF that I'm one of the world's slowest computer racers in the Formula 1 game! Hey wait a minute, maybe my computer was slow, or I had a bad connection, or the sun was in my eyes! That's what is great about computer games, there are tons of excuses you can use!

The winners of this computer gaming competition will still be competing for some big prizes, and get to go to some of the real F1 races to compete, so if you want to see some teenagers that can get around on the computer, check it out on the official Formula 1 website FORMULA 1


From the game screen shot above, you can see that in the final race at Monaco I managed an AWESOME 1,151st place out of 1,253 drivers. Hey, at least I tried, and somehow managed to finish ahead of 102 people. Sure, maybe that was the 102 people that had never played the game, or had their electricity go out in the middle of race, but shoot, it always feels good to NOT be LAST!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Sunday Sunday Sunday!

This Sunday is the annual BIG TRIPLE HEADER of motor racing. You can kick things off at 9am eastern time with the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, and heck, you can even pronounce it Mo-NAH-co if you want! Somehow they manage to drive today's cars around the tiny streets of Monaco, so this is the shortest course of the year, and in many ways the most challenging.

Noon time, return to the US with the Indy 500, which oddly enough will be held in Indianapolis Indiana again! Wouldn't it be cool if the Indy 500 was held in Pittsburgh or Sacramento? Nah, not really. OK, how about if the Indy 500 was 400 miles long? Well, I guess that wouldn't fit either, so let's just keep it how it is. Last year we had F1 driver Fernando Alonso competing in the 500, but this year he'll be back in his McLaren at Monaco. I've never driven the track at Indy, but have marched a lap several times with a marching band, and run on the track during a couple of half-marathons. My guess is that driving at over 200mph is WAY faster and more fun!

Finish off your BIG TRIPLE HEADER with the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte Motor Speedway. Our NMS drivers have done a few laps at Charlotte in our own cars, so I can pretty much guarantee it would be a blast to do it at higher speeds in a NASCAR ride too. With the banking on the big oval, Charlotte is a great place to drive.

Whatever type of racing you like, there should be something you enjoy on SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

NMS Drives BMW

Classroom time before autocross
Thanks to BMW

Sunday May 20th had the NMS-North team driving into New Jersey, more specifically the big parking lot at Met Life Stadium to drive some BMWs. This is a free event that BMW hosts at several locations across the country, and if you like driving someone else's car for FREE (our favorite flavor), then check this website to see if they're coming to a town near you! BMW Schedule

To be more specific, we were driving the BMW X2 Xdrive28i and the BMW 530e on an autocross type of course, with each driver getting a few ride alongs with the expert instructors, and then getting to drive 1 practice loop of each car. After all that practice, we got ONE SHOT against the clock to determine who was the fastest. Here's the standings from my group of 20 drivers:

Times DO NOT include CONE PENALTY!

So, as you can see, I took fastest in raw time behind the wheel of the mighty BMW 530e. HOWEVER, in the interests of full disclosure, I knocked over one cone, and like in autocross, that adds a 2 second penalty to my time, which means that I really wasn't the fastest and didn't get to compete any more. With the two second penalty my time was 32.31, so even with that extra time I would have been 9th out of 20. Oh well, I drove fast, and only injured one little plastic cone, so all in all not bad! Here's the judge's time sheet, which DOES include the cone penalty:

The judge's time sheet

Other than knocking over a cone, I had a great time, really enjoyed driving the BMWs, and would encourage you to drive one too. There are still some more dates of the Ultimate Driver Experience coming, so check out the link above and have fun. Here's a few more shots from today:

Welcome to Met Life Stadium

BMW i8

Hey, BMW makes motorcycles too!

Sure, I'll drive your car for you!

Free snacks, thank you very much!

Inside the hospitality area

Charge your phone while you're at it

BMW i3 electric, note how the rear door opens

Buy a BMW i3 and you get two years of charging from EVgo

Warm up area!


M760i, with 12 cylinders!

M760i interior

Coffee Bar

Two cars that we drove

How to correct oversteer: Correct, Pause, Recover (CPR)

Group 4, ready to go drive!

Riding on Michelin tires

Our BMW instructors

X2 ready to go on course

530e ready to go

Meet my instructor Kathy, she was awesome!

Free water bottle? Thanks!

Friday, May 18, 2018

NMS-North Autocross Standings

Fastest Italian
OK sports fans, before we get to the next event on June 10th, let's take a look at the standings in the Street Touring Class after the first three events of the season. Keep in mind that drivers score at each event and receive nine big points for victory, six for 2nd (AKA: first loser!), four points for 3rd, three points for 4th, two points for 5th, and all others get one little point just for playing our game!

NMS is sitting in 6th place, and at this point in the season we've finished fourth at our two events, and hope to move up in the future.

Looking at the cars involved, we see the most are from Japan (Miata, Subarus), then from Germany with the BMWs and VWs, some from the USA (hello Mustang and Ford Fiesta/Focus STs), and one from Italy. We'll have to give the Gold medal for autocross car building to Japan, Silver to Germany, and Bronze to the good old USA, but will point out who won WWII.

Spoiler Alert of the Day!

Looking across the field of 22 drivers, we see only one driver, Marc Rudon has competed at all three events, and six others have run at two events. One thing we've learned is that you have to play the game if you want to win, so it's important to compete as often as possible, ideally at each competition so you don't leave any points that you might score. My guess is that the rain at the last two events has kept the number of drivers lower, so getting into June and the summer should see more folks coming out. Another bonus starting in June is that the NY Region will be driving at the Nassau Coliseum, so that should be closer to more competitors and bring out a bigger field.

May at Splish Splash

We've had a different winner at each event, so that has spread the points out a bit. My guess is that there are plenty of drivers that could grab a lot of points and win the class or take a top spot, since there is plenty of driving still coming up! For what it's worth, the top four spots are taken up by rear wheel drive cars (Miata, Scion FRS, Subaru BRZ), and then we get into some front wheel drive and all wheel drive cars. The Street Touring Class certainly has it all, and also allows a reasonable amount of modifications to stock.

Subaru behind a Volvo

Speaking of front wheel drive, several of us are in the new Street Touring Hot Hatch or STH class that the SCCA just created this year. I'll be interested to see how the FIAT does in this class-within-a-class up against the Ford Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Honda Civic, VW Beetle, etc.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

May Autocross Report

The NMS FIAT returned to autocross action on Saturday May 12th, and like the previous event we started in the rain on a wet course at Splish Splash Waterpark! My day started with working on course, and at that time it was NOT RAINING. Then we swapped places, and as I got ready to drive, IT WAS RAINING!  Hmm, I guess life isn't fair!

I TOLD you it was RAINING!

Anyway, I had fun driving a very tight course four times in the rain in the morning. After that, we swapped places and I was back on course working again IN THE DRY, and then later got to drive four more runs without the rain! It was a busy morning working the course, since I was the guy with the radio and had to call in the many cone and off-course penalties. The challenging twisty course had a lot of drivers knocking over cones all day.

Here's the morning run times:

1. 29.006 It was wet, and since we were getting eight runs on the day, I decided to start slow and build speed on each run. Since by this time I knew that other drivers were into the 25 second range (at least), then I knew I had to pick up some speed from this starting point.

2. 27.048 About two seconds faster, that felt pretty good, but still way too slow. Time to find more time out there in the rain.

3. 25.908 Just over another second faster, so I started feeling pretty good about this. The cars wasn't really sliding in the wet much, because the course was so tight and slow. Hey, let's go faster!

4. This was my best run of the morning, 25.523 which put me in 3rd place in my class at the time, and 12th on PAX time out of all 50 drivers at the halfway point. Maybe I can improve in the afternoon, or even get some runs without RAIN!

After a quick sandwich, I was back on course working for the first run group, and then soon it was time to drive again. Afternoon wise driving looked like this:

5. 25.842 Almost as fast as the morning, and with the track drying I was hoping to improve. On this run I tried shifting back down to 1st gear on the slowest corner, but it didn't feel like it helped any, so I decided to launch in 1st, go to 2nd, and stay there for the rest of the runs.

6. 25.780 Well, less than a tenth of a second faster, so let's try this again. Since it was still wet, I started lowering tire pressures to see if it would help. 

7. 25.716 Hey, another tiny fraction of a second faster, but not enough to help my overall place, and still not faster than the morning. One more time to go. Hmm, time to lower the back tire pressures some more in an effort to gain more time.

8.  25.756 +1 cone, so no help there! Pushed it too hard on this run and knocked down a cone at the end, so BLAH! Changing tire pressures didn't really gain me much time, so the only positive part of the afternoon was four runs that were consistent, all within 0.126 seconds. Since I didn't win or go faster than EVERYONE you might think that "sure, it's easy to be consistently SLOW" but I'll take this kind of consistency as a positive for today, thank you very much!

Ford Falcon!

So bottom line, this put me in 4th place in the Street Touring category for the day, just like the last event! On PAX time, 16th out of 50 drivers, (not bad), and on RAW time, 22nd out of 50, and anytime I'm in the top half of RAW time I'm a happy little FIAT driver. 


One other way that I am measuring  my driving is dividing my PAX time into the fastest drivers PAX time, which will give me a score like the Tidewater Sports Car Club in Virginia uses for their overall club championship. Last year I finished with an average score of 93 or so, and sure enough today's PAX time math gave me a 93.3 so despite my frustration with the RAIN RAIN RAIN, I probably drove OK for me.

Based on my calculations, after 3 events this year I'm sitting around 8th place in the Street Touring Class, so I need to place higher than 4th every time to move up in this competition.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

FIAT Brake Light Replacement

FIAT 500 Abarth

One thing I like about modern cars is that somewhere deep in their electrical control units is a brain smart enough to not only tell me there might be a problem with the car, but often it will narrow it down to exactly what is wrong. For instance, yesterday I had a light on my Abarth dashboard that said there was an issue with something. And then another part of the dash told me it was one of the brake lights! About a year ago I had the driver side brake light bulb go out, so I'd already figured out how to replace one, so this one turned out to be the passenger side brake light. Compared to most car repairs, this one is easy, and if your rear brake lights go out you can save yourself a lot of money and fix it yourself. Since my car is now about 5 and a half years old, having to replace a little light bulb sounds reasonable, so let's take a look at how to do it.

My guess is that out of 100 car owners, there are maybe 80 that take the car into the shop for just about everything from oil changes and mysterious sounds to serious stuff. Then about 18 more people like to work on cars themselves, and plenty of them do it all, like engine rebuilds and new transmissions. That leaves only say 2 out of a hundred that might learn something from posts like this. THAT IS THE POINT! If someone like me with very little experience can fix ANYTHING on their own car and save money (a common theme at NMS!), then we'll be happy to help out the 2 percenters! We realize that this leaves 18-98 percent of the population that will laugh at how easy it is to change your oil or replace a light bulb, but that's OK...I'm just going to guess that most them can't read and would only look at the pictures anyway! No, seriously, I'm kidding, I love everyone and especially all those of you that know more than me, which I will again estimate at 100% of the population!

From replacing the first bulb I still had an extra one, since the ones I found were sold in packages of two, so I didn't even have to go to an auto parts store or order on line. The only tools you need are a socket with a 10mm and a screwdriver. A flat blade screwdriver would be better than Phillips, but either one will work.

Light Bulb, screwdriver

All the tools you need! This handy little set from Blue Hawk
comes with sockets and the screwdriver star bits you need. 

After raising the back hatch, loosen the two bolts that hold
the entire rear light assembly in place.

Loosening the second of two 10mm bolts. 

The two bolts are off, gently pull the assembly away from the
body. Notice the electrical connection. 

Use a screwdriver or your hand to pry open the electrical
connector and remove the wires. Next we'll remove the
four star pointed screws to get to the light bulbs

I'm not a mechanic, so whatever the real name for these are escapes me.
This is the bit that fits in my socket to unscrew the four screws. 

Here's one of the screws that need to come off. It's easy. 

Now that we've taken the cover off, you can see that there
are three bulbs in the assembly. They are all different sizes, one is
a different color, so odds are that I won't replace the wrong one!
 At this point, I'd like to quote all the repair manuals and just say "Assembly is just the opposite of dis-assembly!" In other words, After replacing the bulb (it just snaps in and out), put the cover back on and screw the four screws back in. Next, re-attach the electrical connection and it will snap into place.
One last thing to point out is that when you're ready to put
the entire assembly back on the car, the outside edge (towards the tire) of the assembly
doesn't have bolts to screw in, since it just has two prongs that snap into
two holes, which in the photo above is off to the right of the electrical wires. 

Snap in the prong on the outside, refasten the two bolts on the inside edge, and you're good to go!