Transmission

We took the Elise out of service the first week of November.

All my adult life when it came to cars, I thought I was pretty kind to the equipment. I kept my cars longer than just about anybody I knew. My brakes, tires, and clutches didn’t wear out as fast as they did for most of my friends and acquaintances.

It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve been beating myself up a bit about the Elise. I’ve had suspension failures and a bad cam. I haven’t heard of anybody else having the hub carrier plinth bolt issue, and nobody thinks it’s a maintenance issue. But after having both sides fail, I’ll be replacing the bolts every few years. The bad cam seems to be the luck of the draw. I went about 60k miles before having the problem. I’ve heard many reports of it happening a lot sooner. Then there’s my “money shift”. Pure driver error on that one.

And, now, the third gear synchro. It started going out about a year ago. Before I decided it was the synchro, I worried that it was damage resulting from the money shift. I went into third instead of fifth. Did that break my third gear? But, no, not related. More likely due to my not rev-matching. I don’t know. Anyway, the transmission is replaced at 92k miles, so it started at about 87k and 50ish track days.

But let’s go back to November. We didn’t park it until then, but I had been looking for a solution. What I ended up doing was buying a rebuilt transmission off Lotus Talk. The seller was at one point part of the Lotus Service Exchange and in this role rebuilt about 65 Elise/Exige gearboxes. (This one has the LSD, so I’m replacing same for same.) Seller says, “It had 9000-11000 miles on it when it was pulled for a notchy third gear. I installed a new synchro and inspected the rest of the gears.”

My original thought was just to get mine repaired. Michael and I could take it out of the car to save some labor costs. I talked to a number of people. I was surprised nobody wanted to do the work. The closest I got to anything like a quote on the work was nearly twice what I ended up paying for the rebuilt one. So it was cheaper to put in a repaired one with about 10k miles on it than to have similar work done to my 92k mile one.

In all my looking around, I came to the conclusion that these transmissions are notorious for third gear synchro issues. In the Lotus at least. The guy I bought mine from had two others for sale, and the one I bought the most miles on it. Searching the forums and talking to people, nobody I’ve encountered who has had the third gear synchro fail had anywhere near the mileage or track days I’ve done.

So I guess, in spite of all my repairs, I’ll continue to suffer from cognitive dissonance and believe I’m kind to the equipment.

The transmission arrived nicely boxed up. He built a frame of 2x2s with a plywood base, strapped it in so it wouldn’t jostle about, and stapled corrugation to the exterior. Unfortunately, we destroyed the box when we took it out. I wasn’t thinking about what I’d do with the one we’re taking out. I’m pretty sure now that I’m going to build this type of box for both the transmission and the motor I took out last year. Boxed up, they’ll be much easier to both move and store. I could stack them!

The whole replacement operation took a bit longer than we anticipated. My original hope was to be back on the road by Christmas, so I could participate in HPR’s customer appreciation day. We weren’t even close, but so it goes. Other than not wanting very much to work in the garage when it was cold, and it seemed all our warm weather was during the week, we also ran into a couple of minor issues.

One was the replacement transmission with where a stud mounts. The threads were damaged. Michael borrowed a tap and die set from his work and the repair was fairly easy. So we have an oversized stud in there now.

The other “minor” issue didn’t cause us any delays. I had to buy a couple of bell housing bolts. When we dove into the job, we noticed we had a few fasteners missing. Two of the bell housing bolts were gone, and so was a nut on the driver’s side motor mount. I know the race car guys are always going over their cars making sure all the nuts and bolts are properly torqued. I never worried about it, but clearly, the solid motor mounts are just vibrating the thing apart. So I guess I need to take the clam off once a year and check all the nuts and bolts.

I did a time-lapse of the clam removal. I was thinking it might be cool, but, frankly, I’m underwhelmed. I didn’t mean to leave the timestamp on the camera, but it lets you know how long the process took. I have a “quick disconnect” kit so we don’t have to take the seats out. Oh, and you may notice Michael removing a broken passenger side rear side-marker light.

I’ve only driven it around the block (before we put the clam back on — that always gets some odd looks). Going around the block isn’t a real test, but at least I know I can select all the gears. I’m quite happy to have it back now that the weather is getting nice!

LOG 40, Day 4

Monday, September 13

For me, today is it, the highlight of the trip.

I wouldn’t say that I attend LOG for the track day, but I can say I don’t think I’ll attend a LOG that doesn’t have a track day.

Utah Motorsports Campus is the seventeenth track I’ve driven, in the ninth different state.

The facilities are top-notch. Of the tracks I’ve been to, only COTA has better. In many ways, this is COTA but on a smaller scale. The garages are just as nice, only smaller. The meeting rooms are just as nice, but smaller and fewer. It has a go-kart track, an off-road track (with a giant jump). There’s a restaurant and a clubhouse. The parking lot is enormous.

As for the track, it has four configurations: East Course, West Course, Outer Course, and Full Course. We ran the Outer Course, which is 15 turns in just a bit over 3 miles. It’s not billiard table flat, but there’s not more than a couple of meters of elevation change. It’s fast: there are no second gear turns. For the most part, you don’t have to worry about hitting anything if you go off.

We were asked to arrive at the track by 8:00 so everybody could get checked in in time for an 8:45 drivers meeting. I left the hotel at 7 and was parked in the paddock promptly at 8.

I’ve been in a lot of drivers meetings. This one was perhaps the least polished. Polished or not, all the important information was covered. The four or five instructors introduced themselves then the lead instructor started running through the topics. At times, he’d falter a bit and one of the other instructors would jump in and complete the thought or provide something the others had missed.

There were a couple of things that were out of the ordinary. First, everybody got out on track and followed the instructors around a very slow lap. At the end of it, we parked in rows of three with the first row at the start/finish line. An interesting and unusual photo opportunity.

Another unusual facet for me was that we never really used the paddock. Typically, we all empty our cars, placing our things adjacent to our parking places in the paddock. Today, we all unloaded our stuff into one of the garages and parked our cars on pit road. We could park anywhere along here when not on the track as we didn’t need to park near our stuff. And it was quicker and easier to get on and off the track. The relatively small number of cars made this possible. I can’t see it working with 60 or more cars. (I didn’t get a car count, but it was only about three dozen, including the instructors’ cars.)

The advanced/intermediate group was out first. I found myself behind our ghost town drive leader, Speedy Gonzalez. Turns 5 and 6 are the slowest. Not 2nd gear slow, but nearly. Speedy Gonzalez got to turn 6 and spun out. I was saving my camera batteries for later in the day, so I didn’t get it on video. Back in the pits, I asked one of the guys what happened. This is “hearsay evidence”, so not admissible in court, but I’m told he said that he “ran out of talent” in turn 6 and blamed cold tires. You’d think, after racing Formula Fords for hundreds of hours, he’d come up with an excuse that wasn’t the crutch of novices.

I cut my first session short. I was getting a brake warning light in some of the left turns. I needed to top off my brake fluid. I asked around and found a gentleman from North Carolina who kindly donated some to me. I’m sorry I didn’t get his name, but I really appreciated it.

I also cut my second session short. After a few laps, I started getting the rev limiter at 6000 rpm. Back in the pits, I tracked down Dave Simkin and TJ, who hooked their laptop up to my car. They quickly ruled out two or three possibilities and theorized I was low on oil. TJ checked the dipstick: it was dry. The switchover to the high cam is activated by oil pressure. Insufficient oil, no cam. I checked my oil before I left the house and it was okay. How am I a quart (or more) low?

To remedy my problem, I needed to make a trip into town. There’s an auto parts store about ten miles away, so off I went. I bought a quart of oil, poured it in, and now the dipstick showed oil almost to the top mark.

On the way back to the track, I decided to stop at the gas station in town to top off the tank. The pump wouldn’t accept my Discover card so I tried a Visa. Still no joy. A bit frustrated, I hopped back in the car and left. When I got back to the track, I noticed that I hadn’t closed the fuel filler door. And saw that I didn’t have my gas cap. Clearly, in my frustration, I forgot to put it back on. I’d driven off with the cap sitting on top of the car. So off I went, back to town, to find my missing cap. Luckily, someone had found it and given it to the cashier. Each trip to town was about half an hour lost.

When I got back to the track, my group was already on the track, so I quickly put my helmet on and joined the session. Each session was supposed to be thirty minutes. As I had cut my first two sessions short, I still hadn’t seen a checkered flag. In this session, when I saw that I’d done 12 laps, I knew I was well over the half-hour session length. By the time I was back in the pits, I was 14 minutes late. I never saw a checkered flag (which would have been shown to me at three different places), so I’m guessing they weren’t that strict about who was on track when. I never did see the checkered flag all day. But I get ahead of myself.

Anyway, all was good. A few minutes after the hour, I went back out. After 4 or 5 laps, I began having the limiter problem again. When I stopped back in the pits, the dipstick was dry again. Where is all the oil going? I’m not burning it; I’m not putting out any smoke at all. I’m not leaking it; there’s never a fresh drop of anything under the car, and a quart of oil would certainly overflow the undertray. And it’s not getting in the coolant, as the overflow tank is its usual pinkish color. Where’s the oil going?

I had no choice but to call it quits.

The instructors were giving rides. There were four Evora GTs we could ride in, but I’ve already driven an Evora on the track. One guy, Jonathan, had his 2-Eleven there, so I asked if he’d give me a ride. I don’t know how heavily modified it is. He told me it puts out 330hp, so it’s not stock. The body also features a lot of carbon fiber. This made it interesting getting in and out, as it has no doors and you must climb over the top of the roll cage without stepping on any bodywork.

We got me all strapped in and started down pit road. At the entrance to the track, the steward reminded Jonathan that the novice session was on track and he should take appropriate care not to divebomb the newbies.

The car is pretty amazing. It’s not quite twice the horsepower of mine, and at least 400lbs lighter. He’s running slicks (Hoosier R7), naturally, and he’s done thousands of laps here. There weren’t many cars on track, so we had an open run. On our out lap, in turn 6, he missed the turn and we went wide. “OPR”, he said: other peoples’ rubber.

Next lap around, in turn 6 again, where we went straight the first time around (and where Speedy Gonzalez spun on his first lap), all hell broke loose. The engine stopped, which threw the car into a spin. Jonathan took his hands off the wheel (so he wouldn’t break a thumb), we went around twice and were in a cloud of tire smoke. He restarted and went a hundred yards down the track toward the next corner bunker, which was showing us the “meatball” flag. He pulled off the track and stopped the car. We were leaking oil. A lot of it. There was a slick from turn 6 to halfway between turns 7 and 8. There was oil inside the cockpit, in the right front wheel well, and all over the ground under the engine compartment.

The rescue truck was there very quickly and the tow truck was right on its heels. Jonathan described the incident to the rescue crew as they winched his car onto the flatbed. He rode in the towtruck, I went with the rescue crew. First, we went back to the site of the spin (driving the wrong way on the track, which I’ve never done before). Leaving there, we made our way back to the pits using some of the infield service roads. Oh, and this was the first (and hopefully last) time I got to ride in the rescue truck.

I felt bad for Jonathan. After having my day ended due to an oil issue, to be his passenger when he suffered a catastrophic oil failure, made me wonder if I was suffering some bad oil karma for some reason. I know his problem was in no way my fault, but I felt some guilt nonetheless.

The cleanup took 45 minutes. By the time the track was green again, there were only about a dozen cars left. Everybody still there got to run as much as they wanted in the last hour of the day as they stopped running by groups.

Just before I left, there was a bit more excitement. When they opened the track back up, a yellow Evora that had been parked for a couple of hours got started up. That produced a fairly big cloud of white smoke. It wasn’t clear to me if it was oil or coolant or something else.

I took this as a sign for me to make my exit and go back to the hotel.

I bought three more quarts of oil and put a quart and a half into the engine before the dipstick indicated it was full. Still no smoke, no drips, no contaminated coolant. Where did it go? I’ll just have to check the oil every time I make a stop on the way home.

Both there at the track and back in the hotel parking lot, I discussed my experience with several people. Everybody had a look under the car, both front and back (the oil cooler is in the front), checked out my coolant reservoir, and scratched their chins in wonder. Nobody had any ideas.

After dinner, I started packing the car with the idea of making an easier departure in the morning. While I was doing this, Dave and TJ came by and we discussed the situation. They said the oil coolers and lines held about two quarts, or maybe two and a half, they weren’t sure. They said the oil cooling system doesn’t operate except under track conditions. It sounded to me like they thought this would somehow explain it, but it still didn’t make sense to me.

I didn’t run enough laps to thoroughly learn the track; I know I could have picked up a few more seconds. Particularly, I know I can take turns 1 and 11 faster. That said, no Elise passed me. I did get passed by some Evoras, but most of those were instructor-driven. I got passed by the 2-Eleven and an instructor’s 911. And I got passed by a couple of Exiges and the V6 Cup car. I could only manage 118 on the long straight. It was so long I expected to be able to top 120. I am somewhat disappointed that I only ran half the number of laps I expected to, but so it goes. I think I acquitted myself well.

It was an interesting and unforgettable day, that’s for sure.

Tomorrow, hopefully, my trip home will not be so interesting.

LOG 40, Day 2

Saturday, September 11

I began the day with a breakfast sandwich from the Starbucks in the hotel lobby, which I ate at a tableful of fellow LOCOs.

The first activity on today’s agenda was the group panoramic photo and Concours. We’d drive from the hotel to a local high school parking lot. But first, everybody was out cleaning up their cars. It rained yesterday evening, so it was mostly a matter of wiping the cars dry. My car, somehow, was already dry and still quite dirty. Is there something about my car that makes any water on it dry unnaturally quickly, leaving only the water spots?

I really don’t care that much if my car is dirty. I often joke that, whenever I take it to, say, Cars & Coffee, I’m always in the running for the Dirtiest Car in Show award. Half a dozen people must have asked me, “Aren’t you going to wash it?” Nope!

We independently headed for our photo at Cottonwood High School. Arriving there, we more or less randomly parked at the west end of the lot. This felt a lot like your typical Cars & Coffee, except that almost every car was a Lotus. While we wandered around, checking out the cars, asking the owners about their customizations, and deciding who gets our votes in the various classes, it started to rain lightly. My car was no longer noticeably dirtier than anybody else’s, and I’ll admit to experiencing a bit of schadenfreude in so many people wasting so much effort cleaning their cars.

After a fair amount of socializing, we were told to go to the east end of the lot, with the newer cars (Elise/Exige/Evora) in one line and the older cars in another. Many of us are independent thinkers and eschewed neat lines. Let’s just say it looked a lot like people trying to get out of a parking lot after a concert, and it took about as long.

During this operation, the rain really started coming down. A number of cars didn’t have tops; umbrellas were deployed. Some people looked pretty miserable. It was a quick shower, then gone.

As soon as we were all shifted, we were moved back to the west end of the parking lot, arranged by model in a big fan in front of a scissor lift. This took even longer than it took to make the first shift. The photographer, atop the lift, directed traffic. Once all the cars were in place, we took a picture with everybody standing behind their cars, and one with no people.

The photographer starts on his left and works around to his right. When he snapped the first shot, two guys up front start running behind the lift to the other side in an attempt to be in the picture twice. I’d have had trouble doing it but these guys never had a chance. It would have been nice if they’d pulled it off, though.

As I said, this was also the Concours. I don’t take these too seriously, it’s not really my thing. But some people are pretty into it. So I was somewhat amused at how many people spent so much time looking my car over. The odometer topped 91,000 miles on the way out here, and the more than fifty track days haven’t been kind to the finish. The nose is terribly pitted, paint is coming off the tow ring, I’ve worn holes through the fiberglass, in the back there’s the damage from the loose battery, and the big chunk taken out by the incident with the dolly.

More than one person said it adds character. One guy said he’d vote for it if he had a ballot (he didn’t have one, some issue when he checked in). I always figured I’d be the last car to get votes in a Concours, but I’m a bit curious if somebody voted for me because of all my battle scars.

Those 91k miles are well above the average for an Elise, but I have nowhere near the most. I talked to one guy from San Diego with a long commute (daily from San Diego to 29 Palms?) who has put more than 120k on his, and somebody told me there was a guy here from Michigan with 160k. I’d have liked to have chatted with him.

All morning I pondered which self-directed drive to take. The local chapter had devised about ten of them. I was thinking I’d like to head to Antelope Island. I asked several others where they were going, many were non-commital, and nobody seemed that interested in Antelope Island. In the end, I stayed in the high school parking lot until there were only a dozen or so cars left.

The agenda for the evening was a cash bar at 5, a banquet at 6. I got dressed up for it, wearing a sport coat for the first time since LOG 35. I had a couple of Lotus Lagers and struck up a rather lengthy conversation with Richard, a very pleasant man who laughed at all my jokes.

When it was time to have a seat in the banquet room, I saw that there was a seating chart. Evidently, I was supposed to pick my seat when I checked in yesterday. Nobody told me. Here it was, almost completely filled in. I found an empty seat at a table in the back, but I didn’t have a pen and didn’t put my name in the blank on the chart.

Due to various travel restrictions, the guests we had planned on having in the room couldn’t make it. Instead, we got a short video with Richard Parramint talking to two Lotus mechanics from the F1 glory days. They told some funny stories of the practical jokes they used to play on the other teams.

Next up was the awards ceremony. Ross got the task of announcing the names. This went well for about two minutes. Instead of announcing the names of the winners, they used their LOG registration numbers. To add to the confusion, they somehow cross-threaded the awards and classes. That is, they’d announce a Seven owner as the winning Elan. They managed to get it squared away eventually; names in their proper categories. Ross handled it as well as anybody could have.

I didn’t count, but it seemed to me that more than half the winners were LOCOs. I’m sure it wasn’t that many. We are particularly well-represented here this weekend, though, and Lotus Colorado took more than our share of trophies home. About the only ones we weren’t in the running for were longest drive and best personalized plate.

Tomorrow I think I’ll take the guided drive down to the ghost town.

2021 RAKC

It’s time again for RMVR’s Race Against Kids Cancer.

The forecast said there was a 70% chance of rain with a high temperature in the mid-70s. They nailed it. We had the occasional sprinkles, but it didn’t rain until after I got back home.

I only gave three rides. There was a pretty good turnout for the race, but not as many people getting rides. My second passenger was a kid, about eight years old, who survived cancer.

We had a bit of an inauspicious start. They put the first passengers in our cars in the paddock and we lined up in the hot pit. We waited quite a while. After four or five minutes, the guy in front started going, and we all went out after him. The only problem was, we weren’t supposed to go yet. I don’t know why they didn’t have a marshall out there to direct us. There’s always a sign there that says if the lights are flashing, the track is closed. The lights weren’t flashing. At the start of our third lap (out lap, hot lap, in lap) we all got black flagged.

All the Ticket To Ride drivers are supposed to be experienced. We’re taking passengers out on a track with no corner workers. There’s zero tolerance for mistakes. Seems like there’s always one guy, though, that clearly shouldn’t be out there. This time he was in a Ferrari. I didn’t see the spin; by the time I got there, he was stopped in the weeds between turns 6 and 7.

McLaren 650S Spider

I met Kevin on our club drive over Trail Ridge Road. We were parked together at the Alpine Visitors Center and again at our next stop. He has an Elise, but that day he was driving his freshly purchased orange 2015 McLaren 650S Spider. As you might guess, his car was the center of attention everywhere we went.

It’s natural to assume that anybody driving a McLaren is going to field a bunch of questions about the car. And it’s not much of a stretch to think that a guy wearing a race track hat and with numbers on his car might find himself in a conversation about track days. So, naturally, the topic of Kevin taking the McLaren to the track came up. And, of course, I had to ask if I could drive it.

Before long, it was all arranged.

Thursday, July 22

I like these Thursday evening sessions. The heat of the day is over, and there aren’t as many cars as usual. Generally, the first hour is broken into fast and slow groups, with the rest of the evening open for everybody. You can run in the dark if you’re hardcore, and there’s always the chance of showers.

Kevin and his wife, Erin, were gassing up when I arrived. We picked our spot in the paddock, trying to have enough room for four cars. It was Kevin and Erin, myself, Scott (Elise), and his friend (BMW M2). We got checked in, then attended the drivers meeting.

I reminded Kevin that I’m not an instructor, but that I’m happy to give him some tips. We agreed that the best sequence would be for him to ride with me in the Elise, then I ride with him, then I drive his car.

With Kevin as passenger, we did an out lap, then four full laps, then an in lap. This is Kevin’s first time on a track, so when he got behind the wheel, he’d only really only been on track for four laps. And he’s only had the car for a short while, and there’s no place on the streets to really drive the car. So he was facing a daunting task. Add to that, my lack of awareness: I didn’t think to make sure he had all the drivers aids enabled.

Let’s just say his first few laps were difficult.

I’ve never had any instruction on the track. And when I visit new tracks, I like to figure them out on my own. At Portland International, I had an instructor for a session, more of a navigator, really, and again for a few laps at COTA. There wasn’t a lot of communication – with the engine right behind my head, with a helmet on, and a case of tinnitus, I can’t hear anything the passenger might be saying. So it’s down to hand signals. With only 15 or 20 laps of this sort of thing, I really don’t know what I’m doing.

I was not giving him any help at all for his first couple of laps. I wasn’t really sure what to do. But after a while I got comfortable. The first signal I needed was to brake: I held my hand out, palm down, and pushed down. I don’t know if that’s generally the signal, but he understood immediately. I quickly had four or five signals and none were misunderstood. All right! I’m helping!

The big thing, though, for his first session behind the wheel was that he had disabled some of the aids. That unnecessarily added to his difficulties. He was facing a steep enough learning curve as it was. He turned them all back on at the end of that first session.

I faced a bit of a learning curve myself. As a passenger, I got a sense of the power of the car, and felt the braking. But it’s not the same as driving. We had it in automatic mode, so all I needed to do was brake and steer, but that was plenty. Starting it wasn’t a problem, but Kevin had to put it in drive for me, as I couldn’t figure it out on my own.

I think, given my experience, if I had a couple of full days with this car, I could drive it fast with some of the aids turned off. I think.

It’s quite a machine. At 650hp, it’s the most powerful car I’ve driven. It’s almost three and a half times the horsepower of the Elise. On the other hand, it weighs over fifty percent more than the Elise. Still, it has a much higher power-to-weight ratio than the Elise. It’s on bigger, softer tires, it has bigger brakes, and active aero. We drove it with the top down.

You put your right foot down and the car just launches out of the corners. We hit 137 on the highway straight. That’s 25mph faster than I’ve done in the Elise. I managed to go at least 10mph faster on all of the straight bits of track.

I felt challenged by the braking and cornering. The Elise is very light. Even the two cheap race cars I drove were pretty light. The McLaren felt very heavy to me. I’m not sure how often the computers stopped me from doing bad things, but I don’t think it was often. A few times, I felt a bit of delay on the throttle exiting turns, but I didn’t really feel the sorts of things I felt when I was a passenger in the Ferrari 458. Nothing obtrusive.

In the Elise, I use a CG lock on the seatbelt. Without it, I’d move around quite a bit more. The McLaren just has regular seat belts. I felt secure in the seat and didn’t move around at all.

Visibility was pretty good. Or, at least, not any worse than the Elise. Except in one case: under heavy braking. The rear wing pops up as an air brake. It fills the rear-view mirror. I never did get used to it. I kind of like knowing where any following cars are when I’m hard on the brakes.

Somewhere around here, I’d give you my lap time. But I don’t have a lap time.

And I don’t have a video.

I ran the lap timer with the phone in my pocket. I’ve done that a number of times before and not had any issues. But today the GPS track it recorded is not anywhere near where I drove. It was fine in my car, mounted to the dash, but miserable in my pocket.

As to the video, I took a suction cup mount that I had in a drawer. I exercised it the night before, but when I went to put it on his car, it broke. I had a backup plan, though. I had also found a curved adhesive mount and stuck it on my helmet. I didn’t want to put it on the vinyl, so I put it below my visor. It was out of my sight, which was good. But it was facing too low. All I got was ten minutes of the steering wheel, dashboard, and my arms and lap. Not exactly compelling viewing.

I will recount two notable incidents.

When I exited the track the first time in his car, the track manager, Glen, motioned me to stop. “You crossed the commit line.” This is a major foul. There’s a white line separating the track from the pit exit. You’re not to cross this line. I was certain I didn’t cross it. “Yes, you did. I just got a call from the corner worker.”

After we parked, I went to talk to Glen. “I don’t want to argue, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t cross the line.” He repeated that the corner worker reported me; it was not Kevin. “I can show it to you on the video.” Please do. He rewound the footage, found the McLaren, ran it a couple of times over. “You are correct. You did not cross the line.” Vindicated!

My second time in the McLaren, I finally put together a nice lap. I don’t know how nice a lap it was, sadly, but it felt good. The previous lap I missed my braking point going in to turn 4, the fastest place on the track, and ran quite wide. For a while I was thinking I wouldn’t keep it on the track, but in the end I had six inches to spare. But that’s not the second notable incident.

The lap after my nice lap, the car felt quite sluggish under acceleration. On the long straight, we only got up to 100. Then I saw the warning: “High Clutch Temperature”. A few turns later, we were definitely in limp mode, unable to top 35.

“Sorry I broke your car!”

By the time we parked, the warning was off and all was well again. I believe Kevin did get the same thing later in the evening. It doesn’t seem right to me that it would overheat like that so quickly, but perhaps it’s partly to do with the mode we were operating the car in. I really don’t know anything about it. There are two selectors with three or four positions in each. Perhaps we were using a combination that wasn’t expected on the track.

In addition to me giving him a ride in the Elise and attempting to give him hand signals when he was driving, we tried to do two lead/follow sessions. The idea was, he’d try to follow my line through the turns but not pass me on the straights. I had it in my mind that I’d go slow. But I didn’t go slow enough. I’ve seen enough first timers on track to know they’re going to be slower than me. Maybe much slower. I didn’t account enough for that.

As well, we had to deal with traffic. A couple of times, cars that Kevin would wave by wouldn’t pass me. So we got separated a few times. And for one of these sessions, I was giving Erin a ride. After I got a certain distance ahead of Kevin, I put my foot down and turned my fastest lap of the day. Gotta show off for the passenger, right?

Normally up at the start of these reports, I give an inventory of the cars in attendance. I didn’t wander around and talk to any of the other drivers. This time, it was all about the McLaren.

I had a blast.

I can’t thank Kevin enough.

FBLOD Track Day

“Ferrari Bentley Lotus of Denver” that is.

Sunday, July 11

I seem to randomly get invited to these things. Didn’t get invited last year when I spent money in their shop, did get invited this year but haven’t spent a nickel there in eighteen months. So it was very nice of them to include me. I’m a big fan of free track days, and even though I can’t tell any of the Ferraris apart, it’s pretty cool to see so many of them in the paddock.

I was told the car count was forty or forty-two. Eight were Lotus, unless I miscounted. I saw an Audi in the paddock but don’t know if he went on the track. There were four or five Porsches, two of which I saw on the track. And I think all the rest were Ferraris. And there were some Ferraris there that didn’t go on the track for a total of maybe three dozen.

I get a real ego stroke from these Ferrari track days. Totally undeserved, but prideful nonetheless.

Somehow, the car still gets admiring looks, even in this crowd, even with all the wear and tear of nearly 90,000 miles and 50ish track days. I’m starting to call her a “thirty footer”: looks best from thirty feet away. Most people tell me it’s great that I drive it so much. In this crowd, I felt I had to point out that my car had nothing theirs had: not a stitch of leather, no cup holders, no radio, no air conditioning, no cruise control, no traction control, no horsepower. And on hard tires.

At the drivers meeting there was a show of hands: about half the drivers hadn’t driven on a track before. That’s pretty normal for this crowd. We’d have novice and experienced groups for the first hour, but all afternoon would be open track. So I’d be out there with the guys that don’t know how slow they are. I try to keep in mind how slow I was my first time, and that there’s a bit of sensory overload, but it does annoy me when they don’t pay attention to their mirrors.

I am reminded of that scene in The Gumball Rally when Raúl Juliá says, “The first rule of Italian driving is, what’s behind me is not important.” Whereupon he throws his rear-view mirror out of the car.

Let’s break the Ferrari guys into groups. The first group are the few who are in over their heads. Totally clueless. They’re the ones not looking in the mirror. I wonder how they managed the lead/follow session. They should start by taking a ride with an instructor. They do a few laps but leave as slow as they arrived. They’re big fans of hauling ass down the straights but take the turns twenty or thirty miles an hour slower than I do. I’m guessing they’re one and done so far as track days go.

The second group are slow, but they’re trying. They’re paying attention. Today there were more of these than the first group. Two of them caught my attention. I was somewhat faster than they were. They’d easily pull me on the straights, but I made up more time than that in the corners. Each one pointed me by and slowed to get behind me. Each was able to keep up, and after a couple of laps behind me, they were better in the turns. That gave me a warm fuzzy.

In one session, I reeled in three of them, one after the other. I’d have them in my sights for a lap and a half or so, and when I’d get close enough I might pass them in another lap, they pulled into the pits. My enormous ego wants to believe they saw me coming and didn’t want to get passed by an Elise.

The third group had spent some time at the track. One chap I talked to used to have a Lemons team. One yellow Porsche sported numbers on his doors, one Ferrari was trailered in. I think every Ferrari and Porsche there was capable of a sub-two-minute lap. I don’t know that anybody did one, but there were a few that were close.

I gave rides to all who asked, which amounted to two of my Lotus brethren. Nobody got sick, and they seemed to enjoy it, so that’s good.

As the day wore on, more and more people told me they were impressed with my speed. An ego stroke, for sure. But given the experience difference, I think it’s a bit like playing basketball with a bunch of sixth graders. I’d be a dominant player, no matter how expensive the kids’ shoes are.

When not on the track, I struck up a few conversations. Any Ferrari driver I talked to for more than a few minutes, I asked if I could take their cars out for a few laps. Nobody laughed, and nobody told me to fuck off. But I didn’t get any takers. I figure it doesn’t hurt to ask. Heck, I’ve been asking to drive strangers’ formula cars for years now. (Not that I’ve had success there, either. One guy said he’d be happy to let me drive his formula car, but he died before we got it arranged.)


Somehow, my lap timer app failed to record any of the OBDII data. Somehow, the phone wasn’t paired with the dongle. I paired them, and the settings look correct, but I didn’t get any data. Also, on my third run, I failed to get the forward facing camera started. If that’s the worst operator error of the day, it’s a good day.


I had a great time hanging with the one-percenters. I had a blast on the track. My gracious hosts fed me lunch and kept me hydrated. I spent some time with people who share one of my passions. We couldn’t have asked for better weather. What’s not to like?

LOCO on Trail Ridge Road

Saturday, June 19

Seems like I’ve missed the last few club drives for one reason (excuse?) or another. I enjoy going on the club drives for a few reasons. One of the main reasons is that we’re often driving routes that include some time on roads I’m not familiar with.

This time, though, we took a route that is quite familiar to me. My typical modus operandi when I hike on the west side of RMNP is to take I-70 west to US 40, cross Berthoud Pass, cruise through Winter Park, Fraser, and Granby, and from there catching US 34 through Grand Lake and into the park. After my hike, I typically take Trail Ridge Road into Estes Park, then head home on US 36. Today’s route was exactly this, but in reverse. Nothing new here for me to see.

But it’s always a pleasure to meet up with a group of folks with whom I share a passion. And, besides, my annual park pass has expired and I need to get a new one. And, finally, this would be my first chance to get a glimpse of the damage done by the East Troublesome wildfire that blew through the Park late last summer.

We met at the Safeway gas station in Estes Park early enough that we didn’t need any timed entry passes for the day. Which meant we needed to be through the entrance station by 9am. I’m typically in the Park and on the trail by 7 or 7:30, so I didn’t really have any idea how many people are trying to get in at about 8:30. It turns out it was a good thing we left our assembly point a few minutes earlier than planned: the line was already quite long, about half way from the entrance station to the Beaver Meadows visitor center.

It was a long wait. I didn’t time it, but I’m sure it was 20 or 30 minutes. This proved to be an uncomfortable wait for some visitors. A few cars in front of me was a family in an SUV. At one point, the father got out of the car and helped his son. The son, about 4 years old and still in his pajamas, really, really, really needed to pee. Dad got him a few feet off the road where he dropped trou and let fly. Like a firehose. I’ve never seen anybody pee such a great distance. I’m sure he was quite relieved!

Once we were into the Park and moving again, I don’t think we topped 25mph on our way to the Alpine Visitor Center. I’m not sure the timed entry passes are keeping visitors out of the Park. Everybody knows when access is restricted, so they (like us) just planned to get there before a pass was necessary. All the parking areas along Trail Ridge Road were pretty full. I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to park our more-than-a-dozen cars. My concern was unfounded: there was still plenty of parking available.

Our planned photo stop was at a small dirt parking lot at Beaver Ponds picnic area. It’s just big enough to get all our cars into, assuming there’s nobody else already there. We were in luck: there were only a couple of cars there. The kids who were there were much more interested in looking at our cars (and asking lots of questions) than they were in the beautiful natural scenery.

From this stop to the entrance station, I was quite curious to see the fire damage. The main problem I had was that I was driving. As such, I’m pretty much required to keep my eyes on the road. So I just held the camera one-handed out the window or over my head, pointed it more or less in the direction of whatever I wanted to see, and snapped away. I shot a couple of dozen pictures this way. The combination of my inability to compose a shot and moving at something like 50mph makes for less than stellar pictures. But some were interesting nonetheless.

One of the things that struck me was the number of trees that were broken eight or ten or twelve feet above the ground and all facing in the same direction. I’ve hiked many times through burn scars and have never seen anything like it before. Typically, these dead tree trunks just topple over, lifting a disk of roots with them. I’ve only seen tree trunks snapped off above the ground by avalanches. In those cases, I’m thinking the trunks are snapped off six feet above the ground because there was six feet of snow on the ground when the avalanche struck.

Here, I can only think the wind must have been the agent. Why else would all the downed trunks face the same direction? And it wasn’t just in one spot – I saw this several times along those few miles of road. True, the trunks aren’t always snapped off. Quite often the trees are just bent over with the tops touching the ground. I find it very interesting.

Our next stop was lunch in Winter Park, at the Winter Park Pub. They had cordoned off most of their parking lot for us and we basically occupied all their outdoor seating. I couldn’t help but be amused that they pretty much were out of everything I wanted to order. I’d have loved to have had iced tea, the turkey avocado bacon sandwich, and onion rings. Before ordering, I changed my mind and decided on fries instead of rings. In the end, I had diet Pepsi (“Sorry, we don’t have any iced tea.”), and substituted chicken for turkey on the sandwich (“We’re out of turkey”). Kevin ordered onion rings, but they were out of those, too. I can’t help but wonder what they’d be out of by dinner time.

There were quite a few people on this drive who I hadn’t met before. I generally try to introduce myself to anybody I haven’t met before but somehow managed to sit at a table with folks I’ve known for quite some time. I’ll have to try harder next time to mingle. These drives aren’t just about the cars and the roads: it’s the people who make it all worthwhile.

Lunch was the end of the organized portion of the drive. From Winter Park, we were all on our own to get home. The only real effect this had was that, rather than keeping together in a tight group, we got spread out over the countryside. Most of us were still more or less together over Berthoud Pass, and I wasn’t on my own until I was just a few miles from home.

Exxon Valdez no more

We took the Lotus out of service on February 1.

Ever since we did the engine swap last winter the car has been leaking like the Exxon Valdez. In the end, it was two issues. The first we found and fixed quite some time ago. It was just something we missed in the swap – a small part we should have replaced but didn’t. But that wasn’t the only issue.

So we took the clam off, cleaned the engine, and fired it up. With the clam off, the problem was obvious: we had a major leak in the timing chain cover gasket. To make this repair, you really replace three or four gaskets. And we may as well change the water pump at the same time, because it’ll never be easier.

But “easier” is relative. Easier than what?

The intransigent bolt

The first big issue was getting a bolt out. With stock motor mounts, you can take out two mounts and clock the motor to remove the bolt. With my hard solid mounts, you have to take out three and employ an engine hoist.

I called Stevenson Toyota and ordered the parts. I’d pick them up on the way to the club meeting. But the meeting got pushed to Sunday, so it ended up being out of my way. Mountain States Toyota is closer. At the parts counter, I tell the guy I’m here to get my order. He goes into the back. He’s gone for a long time. He finally returns, has a pow-wow with the other parts guy. They can’t find the timing cover gasket. They know it’s in the building, it came in from Kansas City, but they can’t find it. “Do you need that part?” Yes, I need it, it’s the object of the game. They order another one from Kansas City. It’ll be here by Wednesday.

The damaged gasket (photo credit: Michael)

There was also a discussion of the sealer I’d ordered. The guy says it’s really expensive, like $80 a tube. On the phone, he’d said $8 or $10. Now he tells me their techs get several applications in a tube, and the price he quoted was for an application. He suggests I use a different one, the one commonly used. “Here, I’ll just give it to you.” Cool.

He’s the guy I talked to when I originally ordered the parts. When they couldn’t find the gasket, he said, “You’re the Lotus, right?” And on my second visit, he called me “Lotus”. This time he gives me the gasket, no charge.

Once we had all the parts, Michael could work his magic.

And then the unfortunate happened. The bolts that secure the cover each has a torque spec, but there’s no sequence specified. When Michael was torquing a bolt, he heard a distinct “ping!”

The cover was cracked.

“Ping!”

I went down to the garage and found him sitting on the floor, studying his phone. He told me what happened, and a quick search indicated we could get a replacement for $450.

I know how I’d feel if it was me that had done this. I’d have burned with shame. I can feel the heat just thinking about it.

He’s a good mechanic, and he’s proud of his work. So when I tell him it’s no big deal, it doesn’t make him feel any better.

I do a quick internet search and find a replacement on eBay for $150. I’m just about to buy it when I realize we already have one: it’s on the bad motor in the shed. Now all we need is another set of gaskets.

I call the guy at Stevenson to place the order. “Have you ever used our website?” I say “No.” He tells me I should, as it’ll save me a bunch of money. It didn’t occur to me that it’d be cheaper, but so it goes. Even with ten or eleven bucks postage, it saved me money. This gasket, by the way, came from Los Angeles. Makes me wonder how many of these gaskets are available.

(photo credit: Michael)

There is more than one size of bolt for this cover, and Michael says it’s possible he had gotten one wrong (but, it’d be two, right?). When he pulled the cover off of the old engine, he transferred the bolts to the cracked cover so there’d be no such error the second time.

(photo credit: Michael)

Early on in this endeavor, I figured we’d be done with this before the end of April, so I bought a track day for April 25. All this drama: parts going missing; an upsetting “ping”; the bolt that won’t come out short of (damn near) removing the engine. All this just added a bunch of stress and put the schedule in jeopardy. Even the schedule was a self-imposed stress: I could get a refund if I cancel at least a day in advance.

But we Michael got it done, on budget and on time.

On Friday we filled it with fluids, hooked up the battery, and fired it up. We ran it up to temperature and were happy to see no leaks anywhere. Saturday was a LoCo meeting, so that would make a nice shake-down cruise.

Saturday morning I washed the car. I still had the undertray and diffuser off. Both were well coated with oil and grunge. I washed the car first, with car wash soap. I used Dawn dishwashing liquid (“3X the grease cleaning!”) on the undertray and diffuser. When I was done, they were cleaner, but not quite clean.

Michael came outside to help me button up the underside of the car. “What time are you leaving for your meeting?” he asks. “I’d like to leave by 11:15.” “It’s 10:54 right now!” We got them put on, but not totally fastened down. We had trouble locating a few fasteners. This would be okay for a short drive, but we’d have to have it buttoned down properly for the track.

It was nice to drive it, finally, after three months.

The drive to and from the meeting was uneventful.

A few snaps from the meeting:

Elite
Elise S1
Eclat

Leaf Peeper Tour

Wednesday, September 30

Lotus Colorado and the Peak to Peak Miata club got together today to take a drive in the mountains to get a good look at the aspens. At least that was the excuse. It was a nearly perfect day for a drive in the mountains. Being a Wednesday, I wasn’t expecting very many cars to show up, but we started off with 22.

Traffic generally wasn’t bad, but all the overviews and pulloffs and roadside parking spaces were pretty full. I guess lots of people had the same idea as us.

Today’s route was notable for me because it’s my first time over Guanella Pass. It doesn’t cross the Divide, but it’s a high one: 11,669′. It’s narrow, has neither center stripe nor edge lines. It’s a nice road with a smooth surface.

At the first stop
Plaque in Dave’s new Evora 400. One too many letters!
The rare Aubergine
At Guanella Pass. Mount Spalding, the Sawtooth, and Mount Bierstadt

We ended our group tour in Georgetown and were on our own for the return home. I-70 was stop and go starting in Idaho Springs. I followed Greg off I-70, through Central City, and up the Peak to Peak highway. I think the best aspens were around Central City. I parted ways with Greg at Coal Creek Canyon. I had almost no traffic, which surprised me.

I was also surprised when I exited the canyon onto Rocky Flats. The smoke over Boulder looked like a big haboob. I thought it must be from Cameron Peak, but evidently it’s from a different fire, up in Wyoming. I found the stark demarcation between smoke and clear (or relatively clear, anyway) interesting. I wouldn’t expect a smoke cloud that’s gone a hundred miles to have such a distinct edge.

Thursday Night Lapping

Thursday, September 17

Due to 2020 being generally shitty, this looks to be my only track day of the year. It could be argued that, if I had any sense, I wouldn’t even do this one day. A paranoid person might think that it is tempting fate: why give 2020 additional opportunities for mayhem?

The original plan was that I’d have a guest. For a while it looked like one of my track buddies would attend as well. None of that came to pass: my guest messed up his back last weekend and my track buddy decided to be a responsible parent and attend a parent-teacher conference. So it goes.

I arrived early because I wanted to be relaxed in my preparations. It seems whenever I have any time pressure, I mess something up. Never anything serious, but I prefer to have things go smoothly. So I had a bit of time to kill. If the food truck had been open, I’d have spent some of the time eating. I brought a snack with me, but not a meal.

We are typically split into fast and slow groups. I picked the slow group. When I signed in, I asked if we had enough cars to do this. It seems we did. However, during the drivers’ meeting, we were told that the number of entrants was marginal. We’d do fast/slow groups the first hour and after that, we could run as we pleased. Judging by wristbands at the meeting, I guessed there were more slow cars than fast ones.

I was the only Lotus.

The track’s website listed rules for COVID: only people in your own household could be passengers; social distancing should be maintained; masks are required when not wearing a helmet. It didn’t appear that these rules were being enforced. Few of my paddock neighbors wore masks, and some even attempted to shake my hand when introducing themselves.

The weather was ideal, unless you count the smoke from the forest fires, be they here in Colorado or on the west coast. There was no obvious smoke smell, but the haze was significant. The temperature was pleasant and there was no breeze to speak of.

The slow group was up first; we’d have a half hour, but by the time the meeting was over and I made it out on track it was more like 25 minutes.

This is the first time on track since the engine replacement, lighter flywheel, rear brake pads, and new diffuser. I didn’t notice any particular difference, but it has been nearly a year so it’s not a good side-by-side comparison.

I had some considerable traction issues that I’m blaming on tire pressures. (That said, I didn’t change pressure in any sort of attempt to correct the problem.) The real issue of the evening was my brakes. Midway through that first session, my brake pedal started getting long. Brake fluid level was okay. The problem is most likely old fluid. The brakes cooled down between sessions, so things were okay at the start of each session and I’d have increasing fade lap after lap. None of my sessions was very long, so this was an annoyance and something to be closely monitored rather than a significant problem. I can only think it would have been much worse on a regular summer track day when the ambient temperature is twenty or thirty degrees higher.

When I went out for my second session, the check engine light illuminated. I came back into the pits immediately and checked the codes. I had two: P0463 and P1302. P0463 is “Fuel Level Sensor Circuit High Input” which indicates a fuel level that exceeds the fuel tank’s capacity. I filled up in Byers but didn’t fill more than usual. Certainly, after 17 highway miles and 8 laps, I wouldn’t expect this code. I’ve had the P1302 (misfire) once or twice before. I cleared the codes and went back out. If they returned, I’d call it quits. They never did.

I ran a short third session. I would have liked to have gone longer, but was limited by my brake problem. I called it quits after that, as the sun had dropped below the horizon and I figured that by the time my brakes were sufficiently cooled, it would be too dark to put in any good times.

My best time was in the first session, 2:13.40, which I think is a decent time for the street tires. Not spectacular, and I won’t bother putting that lap up on YouTube. Today’s video is mercifully short. This time of year, the sun sets directly over the highway straight. This would normally be quite bothersome, but with the smoke it’s not an issue at all. The camera doesn’t do the scene justice.

And there are my two errors, both exiting the corkscrew. First, I’m too abrupt when pulling out to pass the M3 and I get quite a wobble. The second time, I hit the curb, unsettling the car and causing me to put two wheels off. (The guy behind me on that last one caught it on his camera, but hasn’t sent me a copy yet.)

My Stig impression

At least my brake pads are quiet now. (These pads handle high heat, work when cold, are relatively dust-free, and quiet. Except when brand new, when they sound like a locomotive horn when coming to a stop. They need a track day to get quiet.)

Considering how few laps I ran, I was surprised at the physical toll. When I got home, I was quite fatigued and the next morning I had a few more aches and pains than I was expecting.