COTA On Reflection

It’s confirmed. I’m no Lewis Hamilton. And I’m no Martin Scorsese. And I present videographic evidence.

This is the first time using two cameras. I kept the Hero 4 in the usual spot and used the suction cup for a rear facing view. I used the rear facing camera for the sound, as it’s right on top of the engine and a bit out of the wind.

I was using DashWare to render the gauges and data, but it quit working. I installed the latest version, no help. So I found another one, Race Render, but haven’t paid for the full version yet. So it’s demo mode – can’t do more than three minutes.

This is basically my entire third session. Rolling through the paddock, onto pit lane and onto the track. Then every car I saw, whether I was passing or getting passed. Then exiting the track and returning to my spot. But there’s not a whole lap in there, so I added my fast lap of the day.

Thursday I was notified my photos were available to download. This is the fourth time I’ve bought pictures. It’s the first time I didn’t drive away with the pictures. The photographer (PhotoMotion) did a good job, not the best of the bunch, not the least. I guess that doesn’t sound too complimentary, but the truth is I’m happy with the results and feel I got good value for the money.

No doubt where this picture was taken.

If I’m in front, that means I’m winning, right?!

I’m not real happy about the taped numbers.

From the third session.

The Austin Hill Climb?

When I travel to these tracks, I’ve been asked how wherever I am compares to other places I’ve been. This is my twelfth track, so it’s a fair question.

The Facility

This is the sixth track I’ve lapped that has hosted a major league race. Others are Portland International Raceway, Laguna Seca, and Elkhart Lake, which were perennial entries in the ChampCar calendar, and Sonoma and Pikes Peak International Raceway, which hosted NASCAR. This one’s Formula One. It doesn’t have that patina of age yet, and only time will tell if it gets it. (Does anybody talk about the F1 track at Indy?)

Circuit of the Americas dwarfs the others when it comes to infrastructure. It’s on the biggest piece of land, has the biggest grandstands, biggest parking lots, the most and best appointed garages, biggest meeting rooms. It can handle the most spectators. It has large video screens and the best public address system. Plus, it’s all still pretty much brand new.

This is the best facility I’m ever likely to visit for a track day.

The Track

I enjoyed driving on this track. A number of other folks talked about how smooth the track is compared to others they’ve been to. It’s smooth, but it’s not without its undulations and bumps you have to account for under braking.

My favorite tracks feature interesting elevation changes, a combination of fast and slow turns, with some blind or otherwise challenging apexes, and lots of run off. I really don’t like walls anywhere near my car. COTA does have elevation changes, but it basically boils down to one hill to climb, then slalom down. Perhaps I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to run on tracks that have a lot of terrain. COTA falls squarely in the middle of the road by this metric.

I believe it’s the fastest track I’ve been on. I’m over 100mph three times each lap with a top speed of 120. Each of these straights end in second gear left turns, so it’s a heavy braking track, too. (I wasn’t in the Lotus at Road America. It’s possible RA may be as fast.)

There is a lot of run off here, and most of it’s paved which is new for me. I never put a wheel off. HPR, ORP, and Thunderhill are in wide-open spaces where if you go off you’re just going to mow some weeds. You do some agricultural driving. Here, when you go off you may as well be in a parking lot. Obviously, the surface is in excellent condition. Although none of the other tracks I’ve driven were better, all the newer tracks have nice surfaces. So I was pretty comfortable pushing a bit.

And there are some fun bits to push through. I found the esses challenging and I enjoyed the carousel (almost as much as the one at Road America).

The Track Day

Edge Addicts ran a very professional operation. It was well organized and well staffed. The event ran on schedule but for a slight delay late. I never lost any track time due to an on track incident. There was an outfit there to help you with tire pressures and other services. A professional photographer was on hand to get good photos for everybody.

I didn’t ask for a car count. I’m assuming they want more cars than I want, given the price of operating the facility. There were a lot of cars there, but it didn’t feel crowded. The track day fees for one day would pay for three days at HPR (but I’m spoiled; it’s more like two days at a California facility). There were a lot of nice cars there. Didn’t see anything like a Lemons car. Everybody was well-behaved.

Sessions were short, about twenty minutes each. I’d rather have four twenty five minute sessions than five twenty minute ones – it also means fewer in and out laps. I got five “fast” laps each session, so more than a quarter of my track time was either an out lap or an in lap. A side effect of the short sessions is that cars are released onto the track nose to tail. Immediately you’re in a train of cars. At one point I was tenth in a line of fifteen cars. The flaggers just held up their blue flags for the whole string. With the shorter sessions they’re pretty much forced to get everybody out quickly.

For my California track days, at least, another side effect of the shorter sessions is the need to hustle people back to the pits when the checkered flag is shown. At home the in lap is done with the idea that you don’t use your brakes, let them cool off. Here, like on my California trip, we kept going fairly fast. But I was able to not use my brakes until making the final turn into the paddock.

The Bottom Line

I had a good time. I’m happy to have done this.

 

COTA Blitz: The Big Event

Sunday, June 11

I woke up a few minutes before 2am to a bit of a racket coming from upstairs. Was somebody doing jumping jacks in the room above me? Running in place? Definitely calisthenics. A few minutes later it was quiet. By now it had become obvious to me the true reason I woke up. Let’s just say I was having some gastric distress, perhaps a side effect of the tasty tacos.

I woke up for real at a quarter to 6. Got showered and checked out of the hotel. In the days leading up to my trip I kept an eye on the Austin weather forecast. A few days earlier the forecast for Sunday in Austin was 93 degrees. That didn’t sound bad to me, but I wasn’t taking the humidity into account. I had to wipe the windshield down with paper towels, there was so much dew.

On the way to the track, the sun was a red ball sitting on the horizon and a thin layer of ground fog filled the low spots in the land. There was no traffic. I didn’t see three cars together the whole way until I pulled into the gate at the track behind a silver Elise and a Porsche.

The track’s waiver wristband is pretty cool, as these things go. It’s a tubular fabric secured with a one-way sliding bead. Takes a pretty sharp blade to remove, I found out later. “Have you ever been here before? Know where you’re going?” Not me. “Through the tunnel, past the gas pumps, down a ramp on the right.”

This is a giant facility. It’s not as big a piece of land as Road America, but measured by the infrastructure it dwarfs everything else. Big grandstands, big parking lots, big video monitors, expansive garages. It has an amphitheater. For all that it is, I really didn’t see that much of it. The interesting bits, for sure, but I never left the garage area and the track surface. I’d like to attend the F1 race and see the place in the usual way.

At the bottom of the ramp the first car I see is a yellow Elise. It had the full aero package – big wing, splitter, big diffuser, half a set of side skirts. “Is this the Lotus parking?”

“Yep, pull right up.” Thus I met Eric and his wife. They are clear evidence I’m not the only one who makes trips like this. They lived here in Austin for a while, not long ago. They live in Detroit now, after a stint in the UK. On their way here they did a track day at Autobahn near Chicago. He’s run lots of European tracks and spent a lot of time at the Nürburgring. When he lived here in Austin he was a member at nearby Harris Hill Raceway. He reckons he’s done on the order of two hundred track days. He bought the Elise new back in 2004 and has made a number of upgrades. In addition to the aero, it’s supercharged and has all the requisite suspension bits. He’s run many laps here at COTA.

We walked over to the registration desk together. We got a schedule, an aerial picture of the track – not a map, and the turns were not numbered. My pack included two wristbands, the yellow one to indicate my group and the “tie-died” one to signify I’m a solo driver. After my experience with Hooked-On-Driving, and given the cost of the event, I expected them to have numbers available to us. At HOD they were five bucks for the set. Surely they’d have them here. Alas, that was not the case and many of us used painters tape.

We began festivities with the drivers meeting. For me it was actually two consecutive drivers meetings as we had our yellow group meeting immediately after. In both meetings we discussed the usual topics – signalling, passing rules, and flags. When they got to the debris flag, it went like this: “We’ll show it for one lap. After that, be aware that the debris may still be on the track. The flagger needs to be ready to show other flags so the debris flag won’t be shown continuously. The debris could be a part from a car, or it could be a critter like a turtle or rabbit.” I’ve seen birds and squirrels and ground dogs and, yes, rabbits. But never a turtle.

After the drivers meeting I had just a few minutes before my group was out. I got both cameras mounted and running. When I’m in a hurry is when I make mistakes, like not being sure the camera is running. Today is my first time running two cameras. Level up! On the drive yesterday my suction cup mount for the phone came unstuck. The heat killed it and I was unsuccessful getting it to work. So the phone spent the day in my pocket. It works, but I don’t like it. Since I can’t see it until after the session is over I have no idea how I’m doing on the track. The feedback is valuable.

Now I’m feeling the anticipation of that first lap, that first time on an F1 track. I’m pretty much only minimally prepared. Chad kept offering to bring his sim rig over so I could practice, but I declined. I watched several you tube videos. I searched for cars similar to mine to get an idea of the speed. Any videos I found with data were Exiges or supercharged Elises. The NA ones I found didn’t even have lap times. But I thought I at least knew which way the track went.

The first session I was at sea. I really had no idea where to put the car. The track is wider than others I’ve been on (though not as wide as I was expecting). There appear to be a number of different lines of rubber down. Whenever I was following two cars, they both ran different lines and neither looked particularly great to me. I struggled particularly with the esses.

My very first lap, the out lap on my first session, I saw a turtle on the rumble strip in the esses. It didn’t register with me. What did I see? A piece of bodywork? The next lap was carnage. The scene changed every time I drove through it. It wasn’t until our after session meeting that I learned what it was. One of the guys said he thought the shell was part of a brake disk.

After my first session, I took the SLR and went in search of my Lotus people. Including me, there were eight Lotus: five Elises (mine, two yellow, one silver, one red), two Evoras (silver and blue), and a black Exige.

The silver Evora belonged to Richard. He’s English. The Evora is not his first Lotus. He has a Rover Elise at his dad’s house in the old country. He still goes back and drives it.

The second yellow Elise was driven by an instructor here. He told me he had a busy day yesterday. He ran in all the groups except blue and logged 159 track miles.

The silver Elise was another Eric. I see very few Elige drivers wearing kneepads. Eric was. This naturally led me to relate the ordeal of the camshafts, with the result that my kneepads are missing, along with the rest of the contents in the box. He kindly donated his other kneepad to me. “I have a bunch of them, use them for go-karting. You can keep that one.”

I never did track down the owner of the red Elise. The black Exige was Rich, and his wife drove the blue Evora. I only talked to Rich briefly and never did make the acquaintance of his wife.

I didn’t think to ask the organizers about the car count. There were a lot of cars there. There were probably a hundred cars in the garages and more, like me, spread across the paddock. I’d guess at least twenty five cars were in the yellow group. At one time I found myself tenth in a string of fifteen cars. The corner workers just displayed the blue flag to everybody.

Before the second session I was talking to a guy who was driving a BMW. I told him how I was struggling to find my way. He offered to ride with me and give me pointers. Only instructors can be passengers, and he had the proper wristband. I didn’t realize he as an instructor, as he wasn’t adhering to the published dress code. But, sure, hop in. I told him I wouldn’t be able to hear him. He didn’t say or do anything the first lap, watching where I was going wrong. The second lap he started with some hand signals. He corrected my line in a couple of places and suggested an early fourth gear in the carousel.

With my passenger’s tips I was able to improve my time by about a second. I always wonder how big a penalty in lap times a passenger is worth. Even without his instruction, I’d have been faster in the second session than the first. It’s just a matter of how much. The only number I could hang my hat on was top speed. I managed 118 in the first session but only 114 with the instructor. I picked up three seconds in the third session and another in the fourth.

There were quite a few interesting cars – lots of Ferraris, a few Audi A8’s (all together in the same garage), a couple McLarens, and the usual large numbers of Corvettes, Porsches, BMW’s, and Mustangs. Also a few Dodges, including a Hellcat. In an afternoon session I pointed the Hellcat by me then managed to keep up with him until the end of the checker. He pulled far ahead of me on the straights, but I always closed up on him quickly under braking. That car weighs 4200 pounds and he struggled in the twisty bits. I talked to him after the session. The car is only a few weeks old, and it was his first track day.

My goals for the day were to turn a 2:50 lap and hit a top speed of 120mph. I never did accomplish the lap target, doing a best of 2:51.3, and on that lap did manage 120.5mph on the back straight. I’m confident that I could do the 2:50 if I had another day. By late afternoon I think the temperature was not in my favor on my street tires. In the final session I was getting sideways a lot. It was great fun, but doesn’t make for quick laps.

After lunch we were offered a tour of race control. I was expecting big things, this being an F1 track. It was somewhat better appointed than race control at HPR. Instead of two or three monitors showing all the camera views, there was a wall of screens showing dozens of cameras. One screen was devoted to a list of all black flag incidents. For today’s event, only a couple of people were working. For Formula One the place would be packed.

Our meetings were held in one of the rooms above the garages. You enter from the back. There are several rows of seats directly above the pits and across from the main grandstand. I stood out here for a few minutes. When the high horsepower cars blasted up the main straight the building shook. I can only imagine what it’s like when a field of F1 cars go by.

The event organizers also do F1 viewing parties here at the track. If I wanted to watch the Canadian Grand Prix, all I had to do was sit there above the garages. I didn’t want to know the results, though, so I minimized my time there.

I wandered through the paddock and garages several times. There was a wide variety of interesting cars. I spotted a yellow Ferrari with Montana license plates, but didn’t find the owner.

I didn’t have a full tank of gas at the start of the day, so after three sessions I went to the gas pumps on site. They had regular unleaded for about thirty cents a gallon more than typical retail in the area and 93 octane for five bucks a gallon. They also had high octane race fuel at eight bucks. I pumped three gallons of 93 hoping that would get me through the day. In the end, I cut the last session short by a lap or two because my low fuel light came on.

My last session was due to start at 4:00 and end at 4:20, but things got delayed a bit. There was a charity event of some kind. A bunch of Ferraris lined up at the back of the garage. They did some parade laps. I was standing next to one of the event organizers and heard a message on her radio: “No more than fifty miles an hour!” I told her I thought that hardly seemed fair. She said they were giving rides to blind kids. I bet they got a kick out of the sound and motion, even at slow speeds.

With the small delay, I didn’t get out of there until about five o’clock. After nearly not getting a room the previous night in Clayton I made reservations in Snyder. That meant I didn’t really have the option of finding a room any earlier. And with an ETA in Snyder of nearly 10pm it meant some more night driving.

It felt good to get out of the driving suit. It was pretty toasty and with the humidity the heat index was probably about a hundred. For the last session I briefly considered ditching the suit. If they let instructors out in shorts and short sleeved shirts, why not me. But I was a good boy and kept the suit on. Even with the heat, I felt pretty good at the end of the day. I’d been diligent about drinking a lot of water. Although I wasn’t exactly looking forward to five more hours behind the wheel, I wasn’t fatigued at all.

Note

I’m waiting on an email from the official photographer and expect to have those photos by the middle of next week. I’m also working on putting together a video or two. I’ll post an addendum when I have the images.

The Ordeal of the Camshafts

Last summer, you may recall, my check engine light came on when I was in Monterey. I spent a sleepless night in advance of my track day at Laguna Seca after reading horror stories about terminal misfire codes. When I got to the track I had a short discussion with Rob Dietsch, an expert on the Elise. I was able to run that day, with only minor difficulties presented by an open thermostat.

These cars have been known to have issues with the camshafts. The hardening sometimes fails, causing abnormal wear on the cams and resulting in serious problems. Rob said, “You should have your cams inspected every 30,000 miles. When’s the last time you did it?” Let’s just say I was overdue.

Months later, I finally got around to scheduling an appointment to have somebody do the cam inspection. I dropped the car off at High Mountain Classics on February 25. I won’t go into all the factors that led me to going there. I’ve toured the shop a few times over the years and seen a variety of interesting vehicles there, including eight figure Bugattis, a ’50’s era Formula 1 Ferrari, and other assorted museum pieces. The owner, Victor, is a Lotus aficionado and fellow Lotus Colorado member. Although the modern Elise isn’t exactly in their wheelhouse, I had no doubt they’d take good car of me.

In addition to the cam inspection, I’d have them replace the thermostat (which had given me no problems since that day at Laguna Seca), see if they could do anything with my failed left rear turn signal, and a couple of other minor, things.

They were quite busy with projects and it took a week or so before they got to my car. So it was approaching mid-March when Victor called. “You brought it in just in time. The hardening is beginning to fail.”

Notice the discoloration

We talked about whether I should consider upgrading the camshafts to performance parts. It didn’t take much research before I decided to stick to the stock Toyota camshafts. I briefly considered the Stage 2 camshafts from Monkeywrench Racing. Installing those would require replacing the valve springs and they recommend also upgrading to titanium retainers and replacing the valves as well. That’s quite a bit of extra expense, and the result would be a car that’s more fun on the track but less drivable on the street. I enjoy my track time but have no interest in making it harder to drive on the streets. It was an easy decision to stick with the stock parts.

So they picked up a camshaft from the local Toyota dealer and installed it. When they put it all back together, they idled the engine for about forty minutes then took it out for a test drive. Where it promptly died. We were on the phone for a while making sure it wasn’t something silly, like the alarm or the inertia switch. They got it back to the shop, took it apart, and went about diagnosing the problem.

… down the rabbit hole …

It quickly became obvious that something had gone seriously wrong. There were gouges in the cam journals. The head would have to be replaced. When the cams were machined, they left burrs inside. Some of these dislodged and tore through the motor. Victor took the part to the Toyota dealer. They inspected the brand new cams in dealer stock and they had the same issue. It looked like Toyota had a bad batch of cams and poor quality control.

Clam off, factory service manual open

Victor had no doubt that Toyota would reimburse him for the cost of rebuilding the top of my motor. They had him provide estimates from two other shops for the repair. Toyota sent a couple of engineers to Victor’s shop and inspected my car. They agreed that the damage was done by their bad cams. At one point it looked like the only obstruction in making us whole was that we couldn’t enter my Lotus VIN into their warranty software because it wasn’t a Toyota VIN.

Week after week went by with no progress. Finally they agreed to replace their bad parts with good ones but under no circumstances would they cover the cost of repairing the damage their bad part caused. In the end, the camshafts that were finally installed had same defect. Rather than wait for another (potentially bad) cam from Toyota, Victor’s machine shop cleaned them up.

Now things were a bit uncomfortable for Victor. His shop concentrates on old cars; they don’t do much with modern engines. Having his guys work on my car meant they couldn’t work on their bread and butter. And he had to carry the cost pending a trip to small claims court. He felt the best route was to subcontract the complicated repairs out to an expert. So he got a hold of Ryan Chapman, factory certified Lotus mechanic.

This turned into a potential scheduling problem for me as Ryan would do the work on the side. He did the work in Victor’s shop, lacking some of his specialized tools, working on weekends. I was getting pretty nervous about the calendar. See, I had already paid for a track day in Austin at Circuit of the Americas on June 11. It’s the most I’ve ever paid for a track day and it’s non-refundable.

Ryan came through like a champ and got it done on Saturday, June 3. I was ecstatic when Victor confirmed it would be ready for me to pick up at the end of the LoCo drive. Then I was crestfallen when he told me it couldn’t be ready before Tuesday. A sensor had failed and the fan wouldn’t turn on. He couldn’t get a replacement until Monday. But in the end, he got it working by disconnecting and cleaning it.

To recap, I took it in to have the thermostat replaced and the cams inspected. In the end, the final tally was a new thermostat, new cams, a brake flush, and new rear brake pads. The new cams came the hard way, with a complete rebuild, utilizing a new head and new cam caps, with the old valves, springs, retainers, and lifters. Everything cleaned up and flushed out. New fluids all around: oil (with upgraded filter), coolant, brake and clutch.

Victor will have his day in small claims court sometime in July. He showed me all the evidence he’s put together: the defective cam, with burrs, photos of the other defective cams, metal chips, and so on. I asked if I could have the cams as a souvenir after the case is over.

I had a nice chat with Ryan on Monday. He talked a bit about the data dump from my engine. I didn’t make notes, so I may have the numbers wrong. But he said my engine has been between 7,000 and 8,000 RPM for more than three hours. This is about three times longer than any other Elise he’s worked on. I’ve had a massive amount of wide open throttle as well. I’ve done somewhat less than double the typical miles he’s seen, so that’s a factor. But a bigger part is the thirty track days.

So now I’m trying to get everything ready for my trip to COTA with a pretty short lead time. My passenger headlight is out. My left rear turn signal has been out for years now. Ryan says he has a ballast I can put in that will likely fix the problem. And I haven’t been on the second cam yet. Victor recommended not wringing its neck in the first hundred miles. Ryan says I can, but that I shouldn’t run a steady RPM level on my way to Austin – modulate between fifth and sixth to vary my engine speed.

Oh, and the brakes squeal like mad. They’re fine except when braking at under 5 MPH. So it sounds like hell every time I come to a complete stop. I’m hoping this goes away soon. My previous set of pads only made that noise occasionally, and not nearly as loud.

Finally, it just so happened that Victor moved his shop from Greeley to Ft. Collins while my car was under his care. I had a box in the boot with some things I’d like to have with me on my trip, like a can of fix-a-flat, my front license plate, a tire gauge and some tools. And my volleyball knee pads. I wear them on track days so my left knee doesn’t get all bruised up. We went through his shop but didn’t see the box. I’m sure he’ll track it down, but I don’t expect I’ll have it before I leave.

Later…

Chad kindly picked up the ballast from Ryan and agreed to supervise my light bulb replacement. It took me an hour to do the job, because I’m software, not hardware. It’s the third time I’ve performed the operation and I’m still totally inept. But I needed to get it done because I’ll be violating Rule #2 by doing some night driving this weekend.

Unfortunately, the ballast was a no-go. It was as easy as Ryan said, took about two minutes but still no workie.

The car was in the shop for 100 days. Feels like forever.

The noise the brakes make is embarrassing.

Laps in the Chrysler

April 2, 2017

I joined Lotus Colorado before I had a Lotus. At my first meeting John Arnold announced a track day at a brand new track, High Plains Raceway. I asked him if he’d laugh at me if I took the Chrysler. “What kind of Chrysler?” So the first car I ever drove on a race track was the Chrysler.

I have no idea what sort of times I put in that first day. In my misspent youth, I hung out a lot at Malibu Grand Prix playing pinball and video games. Their big attraction was the cars. They were rotary engined, bigger than go karts, capable of seventy miles an hour in a straight line. The track was a half mile long, never more than twenty feet in a straight line. Most folks had no problem putting in a 65 second time. My first shot I thought I was really hauling ass. It was 90 seconds. That first track day in the Chrysler, I thought I was really hauling ass. For the last couple years I’ve wondered what sort of time I could to in the Chrysler today, now that I know the track and have sort of learned how to drive a car fast.

So why do I bring this all up?

Several weeks ago I paid for an afternoon of lapping on April 2nd. Then I took the Elise in to the shop for some work. Unfortunately, she’s still there, five weeks and counting, likely some more weeks to go. I’ll save the gory details for another time, but the short version is that a defective Toyota part has caused some complications.

I made a half-hearted attempt to give my sessions to somebody else but found no takers. So I decided to satisfy my curiosity and run a few laps in the airport limo. The plan was to do an out lap and two or three laps then quit.

That first time, the 300M was ten years old and had been garaged all her life. Now she’s about to turn eighteen and has been sitting outside for seven years. The clear coat is peeling like a bad sunburn; windshield is cracked; rear-view mirror is off for the fourth time, adhesive failure. She’s tired, wanders a bit on the highway, needs new bushings all around. Any more than a few laps would be cruel to her.

When I got off the highway in Byers, the check engine light came on.

I ran a few laps anyway.

What an entirely different experience than the Lotus. The steering wheel feels giant when wrestling the car through the turns. I was all elbows, like a power forward grabbing that contested rebound. The car is nearly twice the mass of the Elise. It has more rubber on the ground and has brakes about the same size as the Elise. But with all that weight I felt like I was driving a bus, giant steering wheel and all.

After only a few laps the brakes were getting pretty hot. The pedal would get long along with the stopping distances. Not long into the session I also noticed that the car figured out I was doing something unusual as it turned off traction control for me. Pretty clever.

I expected to be the slowest car on the track, so I ran with the novice group. I wasn’t quite the slowest car. I only ran two sets of laps, an hour apart. The first session, I spent most of my time waving cars by me. A couple of very slow cars waved me by. I didn’t get anything like a clear lap. The second session was better in spite of being stuck behind a truck the whole time.

It was an F-150 Lightning. I don’t know my trucks. I’m working under the assumption that it’s an SVT because if it’s an older one, I got owned by a bigger, older vehicle with less power. This guy slowed me down only slightly. He had more power, could pull me on the straights and up the steep hills, I caught him in the twisty bits. I could have gone a little bit faster if he’d have let me by, but it’s always fun to run nose-to-tail with somebody doing similar lap times. Even if you can measure them with an hourglass.

There were two Lotus there, Ryan with his orange Exige and a new guy with a red 05 Elise. I think he told me his name was Cory. He’s had the car a bit over a year and this is his second track day. It’s supercharged. He gave me a ride and I tried to give him some pointers. I didn’t say anything for a couple of laps, to get a sense of how fast the car would go. I thought it would be a bad idea to suggest my braking points if he’s going ten miles an hour faster.

The car seemed to be more of a handful than mine. I think the track pack makes quite a bit of difference. I’m sure I’d have a better sense as a driver than passenger, but there seemed to be quite a lot more pitch and roll.

After we got the checker, he kept pushing it. I figured he’d go until we caught the guy in front of us, but he kept going fast, too. Then, cresting the hill in turn 7 he lost it, fully sideways one way, then fully sideways the other, big swings of a pendulum. The second swing wasn’t as big and I thought for a split second that he caught it, but no. The car was half in the weeds, showering us with dust and dead grass. He had a GoPro mounted on the windshield, but I don’t know that it was running.

Before we left, I wanted to put some air back in the tires. The car stalled when I went to back it up to the air hose. And it was reluctant to start when I was ready to leave.

So, here’s the lapping video nobody really wants to see:

Million Dollar Ride

Saturday, September 24

I spent my track day budget on my Laguna Seca trip so I didn’t register for CECA’s second track day at HPR. But it was a nice day and I decided I could postpone mowing the lawn and changing the oil in the Lotus so I could head out to the track and perhaps get a ride or two. I knew Scott would be there in his Miata, which I haven’t seen on track yet. And Ryan is generally there with his Exige, he might give me a ride.

Upon arrival, I made my way out to the wall between pit lane and the track to watch the cars. It looked to be the usual variety of CECA entrants: mostly Porsches, Corvettes, and Mustangs leavened with others for variety: 2 Exiges, Scott’s Miata, a few Cobra replicas, a Pantera, a couple of Vipers. It looked like there were several interesting cars running without passengers, including a pretty red Ferrari 458.

Ferrari 458 Speciale

Ferrari 458 Speciale

I wandered around the paddock for a while, checking in with my track rat pals. As usual, Ryan had a covered spot. He was only a few spots away from that 458. I made my way down the row and introduced myself. The 458 was owned by John. I asked him if he wanted about 190lbs of ballast in his passenger seat. He didn’t get my meaning at first, but it clicked eventually: “Oh, you want a ride!”

When his group was up I grabbed my helmet and jumped into his car. He told me he wasn’t out to set a fast lap time and I told him it didn’t matter to me. Onto the track we went. We hauled ass onto the track; faster, by far, than I’ve ever entered the track. From the passenger seat I couldn’t see the speedometer but I did have the forethought to start the lap timer on my phone before we got started.

The 458 is quite the machine. The steering wheel has about as many controls as an F1 car. One of the dials is called a manettino. This is where the driver selects the mode: low grip, sport, race, and so on. I’m not sure whether John had it in sport or race. John told me he could put the transmission into auto but at the track prefers to use the paddle shifters. He allowed that auto might be faster, but he enjoyed doing the shifting.

The car is fast. John said he hit an indicated 145 mph (my phone said 135; the truth is probably in between). We ran about five laps but never managed to have a clean lap. My lap timer showed a best lap of 2:08 (for reference, I’ve managed a 2:09 in the Elise). He had a theoretical lap of 2:01 (that’s a lap made of the three best sector times). I have no doubt that several seconds could be trimmed from that time. I don’t think he’s had a lot of laps at HPR, and certainly not a lot in that car.

Braking is fantastic. The discs are huge and he’s running on large, sticky tires. The seats are very nice, do a good job in cornering. Still, CG-Locks on the seat belts would be helpful. Exiting the turns I could feel the car squirm just a bit as all the electronics worked to keep it pointed in the right direction. John was missing the occasional apex, and his line is quite a bit different than mine in a number of places. It felt much faster than the recorded lap times. Certainly, with a traffic-free lap John could set a very quick time indeed. It’s a seriously fast car.

In the spot next to John was another Ferrari, one of much older vintage. I introduced myself to Bill. I told him I don’t know my Ferraris so he told me a little about his 365 GTB/4. It’s a V-12 (the 458 is a V-8). It predates all the computer control of modern cars. In contrast to the silky smooth modern 458 the 365 snarls and growls, pops and sputters. It sounds incredible.

Ferrari Daytona 365 GTB/4

Ferrari Daytona 365 GTB/4

Bill agreed to give me a ride. His car is much more like a race car than John’s 458. It has a roll bar, five point harnesses, and an array of old-school switches and dials on the dash, including a dial to adjust the brake bias. Headroom is a bit cramped with the helmet on – if I sat up straight my head rubbed the top. Less headroom than the Elise with the top on, but quite a bit wider.

Like John, Bill said he wasn’t going to go fast. I used to talk this way. For a few years I told my passengers we’d be one of the slowest cars on the track. I think there’s a bit of expectation management in this. I didn’t really think I was one of the slowest cars on track, and I don’t think John and Bill weren’t trying to scoot.

The two cars are quite a contrast. The 458 seemed a bit like a video game. All the controls are on the wheel; a flick of a finger to shift up or down. (And a misplaced finger to start the windshield wipers. John had to come into the pits to shut them off – he doesn’t drive the car in the rain and had difficulties turning them off, even putting two wheels off at one point dealing with the distraction.) Bill was working much harder in the 365 – double clutching, blipping the throttle on downshifts. Dancing on the pedals and sawing at the wheel.

The lap timer gave Bill’s best lap as 2:13, with a theoretical best of 2:12. As with John we encountered a fair amount of traffic. Bill gave everybody lots of room. I have no doubt he could log a quick time on an open track. There was the occasional clumsy downshift, but he was hitting his apexes pretty consistently. The car is a real chore to drive. When we got back to the paddock his first remark was along the lines of “I can’t imagine driving a 24 hour race in one of these.”

I will admit here that I’m not a good passenger. Typically, my discomfort arises due to not being in control. I don’t like riding with most drivers; too many people don’t pay enough attention. It’s a mental discomfort. Today my issue was in my gut, not in my head. I never have problems with motion sickness when I’m behind the wheel but if we’d have stayed on the track much longer, I’d have been signalling my desire to get out of the car. I’ve seen videos of people puking in their helmets and I don’t want to go there. Particularly in a Daytona 365GTB/4. (This is certainly not a critique of either Bill or John.)

I’m guessing that, together, these two cars together are worth about a million bucks. They are truly exotic creatures. Most folks only see them on display – like animals at a zoo – at shows and auctions. I’m happy to have gotten a taste of them, running wild, on the track.

33rd Colorado English Motoring Conclave

Sunday, September 18

I’ve been to the Conclave as a spectator twice. Three years ago I registered the car but the floods caused a postponement and the rescheduled date didn’t work for me. I figured I was overdue for a return trip.

"What's it say?"

“What’s it say?”

When I got back from the Laguna Seca trip I decided to get track outlines for each track I’ve driven it on. I’d put them on the hardtop, which sits in its canvas bag on a shelf all the time. I’d like to build a wall mount for it, put it on display and free up some shelf space. I haven’t figured that out yet, but I can certainly mount the roof on the car for car shows. I have all the tracks except CSP, which should be available soon. In the mean time it’s nine tracks. I can’t remember when I last had the top on, it must be at least three years.

The car is pretty filthy. I need to get all the road grime and black marks removed. I didn’t even give it a good wash; I just rinsed it off, didn’t touch the wheels. It definitely looks like a road warrior and not a show car. I figured I might have the dirtiest car in the show.

I made up a picnic lunch, took water and sunscreen, threw a chair in the boot, and headed to Oak Park. Registration started at 7:30, I figured 8:00 would be good. Arrived at the planned time. I was the second Lotus. A couple cars ahead of me I saw a mid-fifties Chevy. What’s a Chevy doing at an English car show? Then I noticed it was right hand drive and thought that was the answer. But it was misdirection: the car isn’t English after all, it’s Aussie.

2016-09-18-12-33-56sThe other times I attended there were about fifteen Lotus, a third of which were skittle colored Eliges. I think we had two Evoras as well. Today there were no Exiges, no Evoras, and I was the only Elise. There was an Elite, an M100 Elan, two or three Europas and the rest were Esprits and Caterhams. One of the Esprits was shod in Giugiaro design tires. I had no idea such things existed. I heard dozens of people say “That’s the James Bond car” but never heard one Pretty Woman reference.

2016-09-18-12-17-11_stitch_scaleWhen we moved to Colorado fifty odd years ago, my Mom and Dad and brother and I drove two cars from Ohio. One was a 1962 Hillman Minx, light blue. I don’t have any vivid memories of the car, other than crossing Nebraska in the summer in that Hillman. Air conditioning wasn’t common and neither car had it, but Dad’s car had a radio. Mom’s Hillman didn’t. My brother and I took turns in each car, so we didn’t even have each other to pester. We sold it soon after we got here. Parts were impossible to find here.

2016-09-18-12-18-22sSo, of course, I always look for a Hillman. There was one the last time I was here, but not a Minx. It stood all alone in one corner of an area for miscellaneous marques. Today there were three: two Huskys and a Minx convertible. I chatted with the owner of the Minx. He has replaced the motor with a different English make. He also told me that in 1959 Hillman was the second most imported make. Funny, then, that by the mid-sixties parts would be so hard to find. When I first approached him, he was telling another gentleman, “It’s rare, but that doesn’t make it valuable!”

Powered by Lotus

Powered by Lotus

One of the Huskys is worth mentioning. It has a bunch of medallions on the grill. When I was walking up to it, I noticed that one of them was a Lotus roundel. I wondered what that was about, as to the best of my knowledge Lotus didn’t have anything to do with Hillman. Normally it doesn’t, but this fellow powers his Husky with a Lotus motor.

My track decals were a topic of conversation. One older gentleman asked me what it said. “I don’t recognize the language.” Another guy said he was thinking of buying an Elise. I had him sit in it; he didn’t say it, but I think he was concerned he was too tall. He was maybe an inch taller than me. He had a bit of trouble getting in and out. I know I did the first time I sat in one.

It was quite the enjoyable day. The weather was fine – sunny, clear, calm, a bit on the warm side but not hot. I talked to people who were interested in the car. I made a couple circuits of the place and saw at least one of damn near every British car make I’ve ever heard of. Yup, it was a good day.

2016-09-18-12-29-50s

CECA at CSP

Saturday, August 20

I was the beneficiary of Scott’s misfortune. He had registered and paid for the track day with CECA at the Colorado State Patrol training facility. But his car was still in the shop. The original plan was I’d show up for a while and he could give me a ride. Instead, I ran in his place and I gave him a ride.

This was my third time here, the other two were back in 2012 and 2013. Back then the dirt road leading to the facility was heavily rutted and a challenge to navigate. We had to crawl up, often switching from one side of the road to the other to avoid bottoming out. It was a pleasant surprise to see that it has been substantially improved. It’s hardly the same road. This road will never get ruts like it used to.

There was a nice turnout. The event was limited to forty cars. I had heard that with a week to go there were only eleven entrants. I didn’t count but would guess there were twenty five or thirty cars. I could be over estimating, though. CECA allows second drivers for free, so several cars went out in more than one group. In any event, CECA is back to break-even for the season

Nissan Skyline GT-R

Nissan Skyline GT-R

It was an interesting mix of cars. There was another Elise, Mark, who’s had his pretty blue car for only a few months. A Caterham made up the rest of the Lotus contingent. There was quite a group of 1960’s cars. CECA days always have a Hertz GT 350. There was also a nice orange Mustang fastback, a green Firebird, a white Falcon (1964, maybe?), and a red Corvair that smoked like he was spraying for mosquitoes. There was a later Mustang, a race car, but pretty beat up, and a recent GT 350. A few Miatas, a few very expensive 911’s, two silver Scion FR-S’s.There must have been a Corvette, certainly, but… perhaps not.

Two cars in particular attracted my attention. I couldn’t help but notice a Nissan Skyline GT-R, right hand drive. Not a flashy car, grey inside and out, but unmistakable. It has something I’ve never seen on a coupe or sedan: a wiper for the back window.

The other was a recent Mustang. Metallic blue, with gold stripes, a GT-500 Super Snake. He just had it dyno’d – seven hundred ninety something horsepower at the flywheel. He thinks it’s capable of 180mph and says that to get it to 200mph it would cost an additional $20,000. He was running in the green group and we were never on the track together.

Mustang GT 500 Super Snake

Mustang GT 500 Super Snake

I have no data from my earlier visits. I may have had a lap timer on my old phone, but if I did the data is long gone. Laps are counter-clockwise and cover about 1.4 miles. Depending on how you count it’s either eight turns or three turns and a chicane. A lot of the guys say it’s flat, but that’s not true. There are two big humps that make some passengers nauseous. And the entry of one turn has enough downhill grade to make late braking more challenging. One thing I like about it is that there are no long straights: it’s not a horsepower track. That said, I manage to hit 100mph twice each lap (well, most laps) and average 70, which is a higher average speed than I manage at HPR.

Caterham

Caterham

The weather couldn’t have been much better. It was cool in the morning, clear and calm. It stayed clear, with the usual brilliant blue Colorado sky, but never got hot. In the morning, oversteer was a common complaint. Everybody expected it to get better as the track got some heat into it, but my car felt loose all day.

Scott seemed reluctant to take a ride. He said he didn’t want to slow me down with the additional weight of a passenger. But I like giving rides. I told him I don’t really notice much change in the car, and doubt that my times are significantly slower. We speculated that it might be two seconds a lap here. It turned out to be more like a half second. I was able to do a 1:13.6 in the second session and 1:13.4 in the fourth. Most days my times improve each session so I might have been able to do a 1:13.5 in the third. With Scott as a passenger, I managed six laps in the 1:14’s with a best of 1:14.1.

When Scott got out of the car he complained of a bit of nausea. I hope it was the humps and not my driving. I missed a lot of apexes and took some funny lines. And made my biggest mistake of the day: braking too late on the downhill section. I couldn’t get the car around the corner and put four wheels off. I wasn’t black flagged but should have self-reported. I didn’t. I had the car straight and under control, down to 25mph.

The fourth, final, session was open track – all groups could run. But a number of people had had enough by then. There weren’t many cars on the track, even with whatever green and blue drivers were out. I managed six consecutive laps without traffic. Scott took a few laps in Mark’s car; he exited the track just as I was catching him. Then Mark drove and did the same thing. I was hoping to get his car on camera for a few turns but so it goes.

After the last session I had a nice chat with Bill and Heike. Bill had an interesting proposition. “The track,” he said, “isn’t really a track. We use it like a track but it’s really an endless two-lane highway.” He’s correct, of course. It’s built like a road. It has a crown like a road, it is striped like a road. The Troopers use it as a road. Bill suggests “Stay in your lane and see how fast you can do a lap.” Next time I come here I’ll have to give it a shot.

The video is two laps plus my off. The map gauge worked this time. I have no idea why it works sometimes and not others.