Sunday, August 30, 2020

2 Weeks Till 24

Next to last weekend before the race. Here's how it went down...
Saturday I got hood pin holes in the new hood, painted it, and added some very home-made louvers. A quick test of the shop fan aimed at the radiator had lots of air flowing out of the new vents. 
Sunday I got to work swapping in a new under-tray to replace the tattered original one, tightened up a few bolts, and spent some time tidying up a lot of the interior wiring. Last weekend there was just a floor full of spaghetti and now it looks like a car again. 
While I finished up all the small jobs around the car, Kyle finished the new ECU wiring so I can take it for professional tuning this week. 
With any luck, next weekend I'll knock out a little theme work and give the car new decorative LED lighting for the night racing and we'll be ready to hit the track. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

3 Weeks Till 24

Hot off the time trial weekend, the Columbia based team is hard at work on a slew of upgrades for the little purple car's second 24 hour race. We are really looking forward to benchmarking our performance at this race since our very first race in the car was a 24 hour at CMP. With fresh pavement, we expect better tire wear and faster lap times across the board, but hopefully we can finish in a top 10 slot. 
One big item is moving to an aftermarket ECU to control the engine. We picked up a used Megasquirt 3 online for a good price and I handed it over to Luke and Kyle to connect all the spaghetti while I worked on the car. 
Kyle sourced some fuel injectors that were 100,000 miles less used than what we had been using so I swapped those in. Additionally, we were given some free hoods, so naturally I cut big ol holes in one so we can vent some of the hot, high pressure air under the hood. Theoretically this will keep the engine running cooler and give the car a little less lift on the front. 
Another critical part of a new ECU is telling it how far open the throttle is. The old Miatas have pretty basic electronics so we had to use a BMW style sensor. This upgrade is so common when tuning these cars, popular parts supplier, Flyin Miata even sells an adapter. On top of telling the newer computer more specific information about the throttle, we wired in different air sensors for the intake and exhaust so it will know how much air is flowing through the motor. 
At the end of a long Saturday, we plugged the laptop in and got the car to fire up. There is still a bunch of tidying up to do, but we are on track to hand it over to local Miata racing experts, Panic Motorsports in a week to do final tuning on their dyno. 
The final cool piece of Miata engine trivia is that the cars originally are programmed to squirt fuel into the combustion chamber in a batch mode. This means that cylinders 1 and 3 squirt fuel at the same time and 2 and 4 squirt at the same time. Unfortunately, those pairs of cylinders don't need fuel at the same time and the stock computer is effectively dumping twice the fuel needed. We are working on setting up sequential fuel injection so we can only send fuel to the cylinder when it is needed. This should allow us to make more power while also improving fuel economy. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

First Time Trial

This past weekend NMS South loaded up and headed four hours north to take on NCCAR. This was going to be my first time trial event, so I had to borrow a transponder from a friend. Similar to racing, each car gets a transponder that sends a signal to timing and scoring every time you cross the start/finish line so they can track, well, timing and scoring. Other than a transponder, the Miata was ready to go!
I arrived Friday and set up next to Lemons teammate, John and later Kyle joined the party and stayed in the NMS trailer for the weekend. With approximately 200 square feet of living space, the trailer is probably just as good as some small apartments.
Saturday we ran the course clockwise and Sunday we ran counter clockwise. Not many tracks are designed to safely run both directions so this was a neat opportunity. The morning each day would be three qualifying/practice sessions and the afternoons would be three timed, competitive sessions. A third timed session was going to be added in for the final scoring but rain and lightning put a damper on the later half of Saturday afternoon. 
In the end the final results would be calculated based on the best time Saturday, plus the best morning time on Sunday, plus the best afternoon time on Sunday to give a final total time. I finished 3rd of 3, but not too far behind 2nd place. The Miata is no way prepared for the time trial rule set, so there was certainly performance left on the table. I had a great time and improved all weekend and brought everything home in one piece. The next few weeks we'll dial in the Lemons Miata and set out for our second 24 hour race in September.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Autocross Report: Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

+5 Horsepower!!

Sunday was my first event in the NMS 09 Cayman, first event with the Porsche Club of America, and first autocross in over a year. With a laundry list of excuses like that, you're probably thinking I finished in last place! Well, let me be all humble and say that autocross events aren't about winning or losing, and there is no prize money, and that it's all about improving your driving skills and going fast in a lower-speed not-on-a-track very safe way. Oh, make no mistake, there IS winning and losing, since each run you drive gets timed down to the thousandth of a second, and the results are available for all to see. So, I guess you could get all worked up about winning your class, or just maybe going faster than all the other cars, if you were one of those competitive types.

NMS 2009 Cayman in Ruby Red Metallic
Let's Just Name Her Ruby!
The day started with a high chance of rain, so along with packing my jack, air pump, tire pressure gauge, helmet, and a trusty PBJ sammich with some bottles of water, I threw in a rain jacket and a trash bag to store my gear and try to keep things dry. That's important because to drive faster and safer you have to empty everything out of your car, even the floor mats, so that nothing is flying around as you wheel thru the course. You really don't want a loose cup or cell phone jamming into your gas or brake pedal do you?

Pre-event inspection

Anyway, set up the car, and watched the rest of drivers set up, with about half of the 30 or so cars being various Porsches, and the rest a variety of Miatas, Corvette, Mustang, Hellcat! Mini, and even an older Saab. Saying "older Saab" probably dates me since they don't even make them anymore, but it was nice to have a fellow Scandinavian with my built-in-Finland Porsche! As we waited for the weather call to proceed or cancel the event, I had time to walk the huge course three times, so I felt pretty good about knowing where to drive, plus it started getting exciting to be back to driving quickly.
Walking the Course at Nassau Coliseum, Part Time Home of
the NY Islanders and Brooklyn Nets

Finally the decision was made to start, and have half the cars driving while the rest of the drivers worked on course, give everyone about 7 runs, and then swap places. This worked great, since the rest of the afternoon it just kept raining. The first driving group (not me) got in a run or two with just light drizzle, and by the time my group drove it was raining a little harder. Hard enough that I kept my windows rolled up and the wipers on during the driving, so yeah, it was wet. All the drivers in my class of S2 were in the second driving group, so all 5 of us in this class would face the same conditions, which makes it fair and takes away another great excuse I could have used!

Lined up to Drive!
Working on course I was the cone-getter guy, and got in a few short sprints to replace cones as the drivers knocked them over. It takes a bit of concentration to do this, as simple as it sounds, since it's easy to just watch the cars going by and see how they attack the course, instead of actually seeing that a cone got displaced. Oh well, it was only raining a little, and I enjoyed chatting with fellow Cayman driver Bob Eick while we were on course for about an hour and a half. This brings up another fun part of autocross or any other driving event, meeting other people with the same interests as you, and comparing notes on car gear, driving, and whatever else people talk about besides cars.

Metro NY Region, Porsche Club of America

Finally the first group finished up, and it was driving time, so I walked off the course and turned in my awesome fluorescent green safety vest that the workers wear, and got to my car and prepared to really have fun. This is where my "secret formula" for fast driving helps: PBJ Sandwich. Yes, the NMS secret formula PBJ of using TWO slices of bread, with the PBJ in the MIDDLE is what makes us faster than the average bear! Lucky for me, bears usually don't drive in autocross, so I can safely state that I am faster than the average bear, and in fact, MOST bears!

Porsche Boxster
It was raining, and I was sure that the switch to a rear wheel drive and higher powered car would have me spinning out a time or two, IN THE WET, but I did not spin out once! I'll have to give the credit to the Cayman and German engineering (#builtinfinland) for making this a fun time in the wet.
I managed to go too fast on one run and have to stop to avoid wiping out the finish line timer, so that run didn't count, and I had another run where the timing system glitched and I got another free "rerun" because of it, and on yet another run I hit a cone somewhere, but I honestly don't know where. That's out of 8 runs total, so I felt that this was a very successful day and just a lot of fun in this car.

Corvette in Black, Red Hellcat Too!

Run by run for me went like this
1 89.638  I wasn't tracking other drivers much, so I just wanted to get faster from here, which I knew I could by improving a few spots on this big course
2  90.593 is what the timer said, and I had a bad corner that slowed me down, BUT, one of the timers came over and said this run didn't count, and that I got a rerun pretty much right away, and getting one more chance at it always is a good thing!
3  88.157  Over a second faster, but on such a big course, no big deal, plenty more time to lose!
4  87.306  This felt pretty good, the car was handling great
5  DNF: Did Not Finish, too fast into the end and stopped to avoid the timer, all my fault, time to back it off in that one spot a hair
6  86.059  Over another second faster, felt great too! Right at the finish I saw a course worker just getting out of the way, so maybe I slowed a very little bit
7 87.221   Oops, went slower, early in the run my PDK automatic transmission sounded like it didn't know what to do, not sure if that made a difference, but still only 1.2 slower than my best
8  85.095 is what the timer said (and I have video), so this was almost another second better, BUT, this run didn't show up on the timing software, so maybe I won't get credit for it. Either way, I had fun!

White Miata, Some Porsches, and a Saab on the Right!

Winner? Loser?

-In my class of 5 cars, I was the fastest, so that was fun!

-Overall actual time, I placed 15th out of 30, so right in the middle. Also fun!

-On the PAX adjusted time to account for classification of the cars: 10th out of 30, so also fun!

-Link to unofficial results by class:  Aug 16 PCA Results

The Cayman was a ton of fun, I met some new folks, and had a blast driving even in the rain. If you're even remotely interested in cars, driving, or having fun, give an autocross a try, no matter what car you have, or even if it's dry!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Weekend Coming in Hot for NMS

For the first time in 2020, all two members of the NMS team will be back to driving events this weekend! They won't be in the same place, so let's take a look at what the guys are up to.

Better Trade in Those Hats for Some Helmets!

Saturday and Sunday: Brian kicks off two days of Time Trials in the NMS Miata at the famous North Carolina Center for Automotive Research (NCCAR) track close to the Virginia border in Garysburg NC. With long time NMS friends like Kyle Ray-Smith and various folks from VA, NC, and SC, this event will feature cars going for fast single laps over two days.  NC Region Weekend Event

Every Sticker = +5HP!

The NCCAR facility has some great pavement, constant radius curves, and will be running one direction Saturday and then reverse and go the other way on Sunday. Brian is going to be finishing up some work on the Chevy turbo-diesel truck to haul the updated trailer with the Miata, so a fun filled weekend of camping and driving is guaranteed to be had by all!

 Refueling Ready!
Sunday: Robert joins in the fun for the first time in the NMS Cayman, with an autocross event at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. Porsche Club of America autocross events have classes for P cars only, as well as classes for non-Porsches, so everyone can come out and drive their cars competitively. Driving in the P2 class, NMS goes up against another Cayman and one Boxster that have registered so far, so we're predicting a TOP THREE place in this 3 car class for now!

Sure, You're Smiling BEFORE Driving, Let's See How
It Looks at the Finish Line!
We'll be seeing how the Cayman performs on regular street tires, with very little experience in this car, so we'll settle for having a lot of fun. A little pre-event testing on appropriate launching feel for the PDK transmission might be helpful, as well as a quick check of the tires and brakes to make sure we're good to go on Sunday.

The NMS-North logistics department has some nice OZ Racing 18 inch wheels and brand new Hankook RS4 tires on order, but they are not expected to arrive for this event. Translation: we've got plenty of excuses if we don't place very well in this event!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Tow Rig Tune Up

The NMS South team gets around courtesy of a 2007 Chevy 2500 with the 6.6l Duramax turbo diesel engine. It was purchased from a friend in 2019 and is quickly closing on 260,000 miles. These engines can run 500,000 miles without major engine maintenance, so it is just getting broken in. It does have some signs of its long life that needed some work before the trip to NCCAR.

The truck has been showing two fault codes when towing after a few hours. One is most likely an indicator that the fuel injectors are due to be replaced and the other suggested a clogged EGR valve. I brought the truck down to the local dealer and spoke with their diesel mechanic and got a quote to complete the repairs. At $10,200 it was going to cost as much as the whole truck. No thanks.

I decided to start on the work myself. Step one was addressing a possibly failing EGR cooler and cleaning out the EGR system. For $200 and a couple of cans of brake cleaner, I was already up $10,000! The job looked simple enough, so I got the truck into the shop and started disassembly. Sure enough the system was caked in sludge and restricting air flow. Above is the before, dirty intake housing and below it is clean and the new EGR cooler is attached and awaiting install.

All of the components were cleaned out, the new cooler was installed, and then it all went back together. Hey, no spare parts! Toss in a fresh oil change for about $60 (still $9,940 ahead) and it should be good to go for the weekend. If all goes well, there should be one less light glowing on the dash this trip. If it goes poorly, I'll get to write another article about how to properly fix it. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Farewell FIAT

2019 at Watkins Glen International, with Kyle Ray-Smith Instructor
Photo by Wind Shadow

I was going to make this blog all about my FIAT Abarth being for sale, but, it sold in just a few days on the Facebook Marketplace, so you'll have to go do your used Abarth shopping somewhere else. Here's a look at some great memories and highlights of owning a 2013 FIAT 500 Abarth for 7 years, 11 months, and 9 days. 
Brand New, About to Leave the Dealer Floor at Stateline FIATin SC, September 2012. 

The Virginia Plated FIAT Ready to do Some Charity Laps at Virginia International Raceway. 

Early in 2012 I test drove a regular FIAT 500, since I'm a fan of all things Italian, if by "all things" you mean food and cars. Not being in the income bracket of people that buy new Ferraris, the return of FIAT to the USA meant I could afford an Italian car! The normal 500 made about 100 horsepower at the time, and while it was fun to drive, it somewhat lacked in power, so I held out to test drive the turbo Abarth 500. How did the 160HP Abarth compare to the regular 500? Like night and day. 

HPDE Track Weekend at Carolina Motorsports Park
Photo by OG Racing
After the test drive I figured that I'd like to get a red one, and even trade in my 2004 Mustang GT convertible to get one. Since the local dealer didn't have any in stock, I got to order one from the factory. The North American model Abarth was being built in Mexico, in a factory where they used to build the Chrysler PT Cruiser, and since FIAT had bought out Chrysler after the 2008 economic meltdown, a US version FIAT would be a unique Italian car built in Mexico for the USA. Hey, it's an international thing, and I'm all for world peace too! By the time I ordered the car, the run of 2012 (first year of production) Abarth had just ended, so my car would turn out to be a 2013 year model, basically the same as 2012. The wait began. With a link to the right website, I could track the production in the factory, and then track the car movement on it's railway journey to South Carolina. There was a hurricane threatening New Orleans right about this time in September 2012, so the train diverted from the southern US to farther inland. This was kind of fun to follow along, but also made me hope I didn't have a car that I didn't even own yet get derailed or flooded in a hurricane before I'd even seen it!

FIAT at Home in Virginia Beach, it's 2nd Home. 
Remember, Every Sticker is Worth +5HP.

Finally the car arrived at Stateline FIAT, on the border of SC and NC (the first FIAT dealer in SC), so I picked it up on September 21. The window sticker even had my name on it, so that was a nice touch! After the first 500 miles of careful driving, which the owner's manual recommended as the break in period, it was time to do some faster driving. This lead to starting to autocross with the Abarth, the birth of NMS, and a huge boost to the economy as we bought more wheels, tires, brake pads, travelled, and had a blast with this little roller skate (as my friend Sarah calls it) up until today. Thanks to my job making me move, I've been able to compete in autocross and drive some fun track days in several locations, while living in SC, VA, and now NY. If you can't find a fun place to drive or a car show to visit where you live, I'm going to guess that you either live on a houseboat or don't get around much!
NMS South and North: Assemble the Red Cars!

Joining the Sports Car Club of America and competing with the South Carolina Region was a great place to have fun and meet people, and the Abarth entered events at Darlington, Charlotte NC, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Carolina Motorsports Park, and at the Michelin Proving Grounds. Oh, and also the big banked NASCAR track at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Martinsville NASCAR track. Competition wise, the Abarth started in SCCA GS class and I tended to finish right behind the leaders in season points, and kept trying to get faster. Next stop on the Abarth tour was living in Virginia Beach, and with two great autocross groups like the Tidewater Sports Car Club (TSCC) and the Old Dominion Region of SCCA in town, there was a lot more driving to do! From here I also drove a few track day events at Virginia International Raceway, the North Carolina Center for Automotive Research track, and a fun event at a secret location in NC. Most of the autocross events in Virginia Beach were at the former Pungo airfield, and a great location on the Chesapeake Bay on the Little Creek Naval Base. The highlight for me was that the TSCC had not only the year long competition for each small class (I won three in a row against very few people that entered events all year, so no big deal) but they also had a points system for ALL cars in all classes each year. This was a lot of fun to work on improving my driving, excuse me, I mean, improve the Abarth's performance, and from 29th place the first year, then up to 20th place the next, and then 10th overall in my last year there, that was a ton of fun. The TSCC also offers great door prizes and trophies at their end of year dinner, and my little 10th place may not sound like much, but I think it's pretty cool.

Welcome to State #3 in NY, With Just a Little Bit of Snow.
The Abarth then moved on to New York, and has only competed in a few autocross events with the SCCA there, out at Splish Splash Waterpark, and the Nassau Coliseum. Definitely the highlight here has been joining the National Auto Sport Association (NASA, not the outer space guys) for track driving (with a coach, I REALLY need a lot of coaching!) at Pocono and the awesome Watkins Glen International. Driving on tracks like this explains a lot of brake pad wear and new tires, but man oh man it's a blast, even in a little red Italian-Mexican car that's not really a race car. Watkins Glen has hosted NASCAR, Indy Car, and even Formula 1 back in the day, and with some long straights, lots of corners, and elevation changes, just a really nice facility to say the least.

Showing Off the 2017 Tidewater Sports Car Club Hardware, 1st in
Class and 10th Overall for the Year.
All Earned by the FIAT More Than This Driver!
 So the FIAT has been sold to a new owner in Manhattan, and NMS-North (since I seem to keep moving that direction for the past 10 years) is driving another car, but it was a lot of happy times in the FIAT.

Rosso (Red) FIAT 500 Abarth, Now Living in Manhattan!
Stealth Technology Looks Like No Driver!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

NMS-North Shifts to German Engineering

NMS-North announces the addition of a Porsche Cayman to the stable, which means a dramatic increase in the percentage of German cars in the team. The Porsche and the NMS-South BMW are in addition to the long standing Miatas and the FIAT Abarth. In further developments, team managers have decided to offer the FIAT Abarth for sale, as the NMS squad seeks bigger horsepower gains, more track time, better road handling, more tires and brakes, as well as what scientists call "money."
This is a 2009 Cayman in Ruby Red Metallic, currently wearing 19 inch wheels. The Cayman is the hard top version of the convertible Boxster, and 2009 marks the first year of the 2.9 liter flat 6 engine, and the PDK automatic transmission.
Rated at 265HP, the Cayman tops the Abarth power by 105 more HP, and with the rear wheel drive will require the NMS-N driver to actually learn how to drive! Observant car fans will know that the Porsche crest shares a black horse with the famous Ferrari logo, so we'll just conclude that if your car has a black horse on it, uh, well, then good for you!
While Porsche has a long history of German engineering, the Cayman was assembled in Finland, which gives NMS a nice Germany/Finland car, to match the Mexico assembled Italian/Mexican FIAT. While many people think that the Miata is assembled in Japan, rumors say that they are really built by elves living in a hollow tree that moonlight building Keebler cookies. Nothing else explains the fun of driving a Miata, so we're willing to believe it.