The Trial of the Headlight

I don’t know what it is about the headlights on the Lotus, but it seems like I’m always replacing the bulbs. That’s an overstatement, obviously. I’ve had the car nearly ten years now and although it seems like I’ve replaced a headlight bulb a dozen times, it’s probably more like four or five.

On my Ohio trip my passenger side headlight died and last week I finally got around to replacing it. No trip to the store was required, or so I thought, as these bulbs are sold in two-packs and I still had a new one from the last time I did this.

Under normal circumstances, changing a headlight bulb is your garden-variety pain in the ass. Jack the car up, dismount the front wheel, remove the fender liner, unscrew the three bolts that secure the headlight cover, swap the bulb, then put it all back together.

Taking it all apart, though, it became obvious that it wouldn’t be the garden-variety pain in the ass this time. The bolts thread into little brass fittings that clamp over a piece of plastic. On the passenger side at least, one of the three brass fittings is missing. And the plastic where all three fittings go is broken. To be completely honest, I think two of the three were broken last time we replaced a light bulb. To continue the honesty, it may be that I’m remembering the plastic being broken on the driver’s side. So the problem likely exists on both sides. I’m going to ignore the driver’s side until one of those bulbs fails.

After a couple of hours of labor it became obvious that we wouldn’t be able to secure the headlight cover back on the car with the plastic all busted up. Before we started this operation the headlight cover was in place and secure, but we were unable to return it to that state.

A quick search of the internet provided some bad news: a replacement piece from Lotus will cost something on the order of $650. If you could order one. To say these parts are made of unobtanium wouldn’t be an exaggeration.

One fellow said he’d placed an order, but none were available. This was from a rather old forum post, but even if they were now available, I don’t particularly want to spend $1300. Because with the condition these are in, even if I didn’t think the other side was busted up the same way, it would look really silly to have one brand new one and one beat up one.

Michael found another forum posting about how these things could be fixed. That thread had a couple different flavors of the same solution. We’d buy some wire strapping from the plumbing department of the local home store, cut and fold and drill as necessary, and rivet them in place.

We only did two of the three mounting points. When we took it apart, only two were connected. And with the repair it’s much more secure than it was when we started all this.

The end product wasn’t quite a pretty as the second photo above as we had to enlarge the hole a bit to get the bolt to align with the fitting. But after some judicious Dremel work we had our fix completed.

In the end, Michael and I spent on the order of six hours over two weekends to replace one light bulb. The only supplies we needed to purchase was the 10′ roll of tab tape. It was the smallest quantity we could buy, but at least there’s plenty left to repair the other side when that light bulb calls it quits.

Concours and Weigh-In

I’ve been negligent recently. I attended two car events the last two weeks without making any notes. So here I am, in catch-up mode.

Colorado Concours d’Elegance

The 36th annual meeting of the Concours was held at the Arapahoe Community College back on June 9. It has been five years since I last went, so I figured it was time to make another appearance. Last time, the day began with nice weather but in early afternoon we had a tornado warning and everybody had to go into the school for a short while.

This time, the day began quite chilly. I took a jacket and a hoodie and ended up wearing both for much of the morning. It looked like it might rain heavily, but aside from a few sprinkles early we stayed dry. And as the day wore on it warmed up considerably, with the clouds breaking up and bright sunshine (if not totally clear skies) by the end. We had so much sun, in fact, that I managed to get a bit of a sunburn on my face.

We had eight Lotus turn out: a Stalker (a Lotus 7 replica), a Europa, an Evora, an Elite, an Esprit, and three Elises. I thought I was the last to arrive, but another green Elise showed up a few minutes later. We were directed to opposite ends of the line, so our Lotus contingent was bookended by green Elises.

I almost never have the roof mounted on the car. It hangs on a bracket on the garage wall. I’ve pretty much decided the only time I’ll put it on the car is for car shows. I have vinyl outlines of all the tracks I’ve lapped displayed on it, but nobody ever gets to see them. So the car shows are a good excuse to put the roof on, and the track decals serve as an explanation of the somewhat rough condition of the car.

I made a lap of the field mid-morning to get a look at all the cars. Because it’s not my first rodeo, I pretty much knew what to expect. The show is put on by the same car clubs every year, so the bulk of the entrants are regulars. Although Lotus Colorado is one of the hosting clubs our turnout this year is fairly typical for us, which means we’re one of the smaller clubs to appear. The other clubs tend to have much larger appearances: Alfa, Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, Saab, Triumph, and a few others. A highlight for me was seeing a handful of really old cars: what I might tend to call horseless carriages, those cars that are now a hundred years old or older.

As a part of my recon lap I scoped out the food choices. There were a handful of food trucks there with a variety of menu choices. Towards one o’clock I wandered over to grab some grub and first picked on the Cajun truck. I decided I’d have the jambalaya. The line was fairly long; I found myself behind about a dozen people. After a short while, there were only about six folks in front of me. Then a gal came out of the truck with a sharpie and crossed off about a third of the menu, including the jambalaya. That was disappointing.

So I decided to switch to Plan B: toasted ravioli from the Italian truck. Again, I found myself at the end of a significant line. I turned to the guy behind me and said I hoped he wasn’t looking to have the ravioli. “Why? Do you think you’ll get the last order of it?” “No,” I answered, “Somebody in front of me will get the last order and neither of us will get it.” Sure enough, a few minutes later somebody came out and crossed off a number of menu items. Luckily, the ravioli wasn’t one of those deprecated.

I spent most of my time hanging around my car. Lots of people commented on or asked questions about the track decals. I challenged a number of people to name as many of them as they could. Some had some off-the-wall suggestions, including Brands Hatch and Sebring.

It was an enjoyable day, in spite of a couple issues at the end. I’d neglected to plug the car into the trickle charger in the preceeding days and when I went to leave it wouldn’t start. Wes and Toni gave me a jump and I was on the road. Dave G., however, locked his jacket in the boot. That’s not a big deal, except that his key was in his jacket pocket. We tried to get the boot open without success, so he had to Uber home to get his spare.

Lotus Only Car Show

The next Saturday, the 15th, we had a LoCo Meeting at Ferrari of Denver. It wasn’t just a club event, but it was mostly club people. The big event of the day was a weigh-in. Prizes were given for lightest Lotus, heaviest Lotus (an ironic prize, no doubt), lightest Elise, and lightest car overall (because, even though it was a “Lotus Only” event, there were other kinds of cars). Oh, and there was a food truck serving up fish and chips

The whole time I’ve owned the car, whenever anybody asked what it weighed, I’d tell them “the previous owner told me 1965 pounds”. This was my chance to see it weighed and get a number that wasn’t hearsay. I didn’t know whether that 1965 pounds was accurate, or which wheels were mounted, or if the hardtop was on, or how much fuel was in the car, or even if I remembered the number correctly.

Photo stolen from Ryan’s Facebook post. Don’t know who took it.

We did the Elises first, and I was second on the scales. Dave G’s car was first and came in at 1964 lbs. He and I were joking before we were on the scales about who had less fuel in the car. My low fuel light came on on the way to the event, so I knew I was nearly empty. He said the same thing, so with his car at 1964 I figured he was lighter. As it turned out, mine came in at 1901 pounds, lightest Elise by 24 pounds. Knock me over with a feather. So I’m guessing that 1965 figure is with the lighter wheels and a full tank of gas. My prize was a gift certificate good at Ferrari of Denver.

Total weight: 1901 lbs

When they were going over the results and giving away the prizes, there was talk of doing it again next year. They’ll have to come up with different competitions than this time, or chances are all the same cars would win. Ryan said maybe something along the lines of “the biggest loser”, seeing who could shed the most weight for next time.

I’m game!

Mid-Ohio Trip – Autobahn Track Day

Day 6 – Thursday, May 30

Autobahn Country Club is a country club that, instead of being focused on golf or tennis, is all about performance driving. Members there have access to a race track that can be run in three configurations (North, South, Full Course), a skid pad, and a go-kart track. They can build a garage on-site for all their toys. Most such facilities are open only to members and their guests, but Autobahn sometimes hosts club track days. When I started planning this trip, I thought it would be worth a shot to ask if I could lap there on a guest pass of some sort. After a few emails and phone calls, it was all arranged.

And so, here I am, ready to see how the other half lives.

It was a leisurely morning as I didn’t need to be at the track until 9am. On Thursdays they run a later schedule that varies through the summer, based more or less on when the sun sets. So my first session wouldn’t start until 10:20am. Before that, I needed to visit their instructor. It wasn’t to get any instruction, per se, but to cover all the stuff we usually cover in the drivers meeting.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The clock radio in my room went off at 6:10 this morning, tuned to a Spanish language station. Much of this trip I’ve been getting up at 6:10, but today I wanted to sleep in a little longer. Didn’t happen.

Went downstairs for breakfast. Same fare as the hotel in Toledo, likely because it’s the same chain. The TV was on the news as it usually is in these places. I’m never particularly interested, but the weather report did catch my attention. They said that this May is now officially the wettest May recorded in Chicago history: a bit more than 8 inches of rain. We get about 14.5 inches of precipitation all year in Denver.

At the track, after getting registered at the front gate, I went to the clubhouse to introduce myself to Ron, the fellow who arranged for me to be here. He told me a bit about the place – when they opened, how many members they have, what improvements they’re working on, and so forth. Then he took me down to meet Tony Kester, one of their instructors. I guess you could call him their resident Stig. He raced professionally for some time, participating in the American Le Mans Series as well as at least one 24 Hours of Le Mans. (A golf club has golf pros, a tennis club has tennis pros, ergo a track club has race pros.)

We covered the usual drivers meeting material – flags, passing rules, passing zones, their LED lights, entering and exiting the track – and sent me on my way. I unloaded the car in an out of the way place. (“Over there by the bleachers is probably best. Members aren’t used to people laying out a bunch of stuff” as those who don’t have garages on-site probably trailer their cars.) Then I headed on to the track.

By now I had two wristbands. One said that I’d paid, the other that I’d had my meeting with Tony. (Presumably members get different color wristbands that indicate they only need the one.) The drill is to go to the end of pit lane and stop. Race control will have you sign in (actually, he just asked me my name) and when they’re ready they’ll release you onto the track.

The first session was horrible. Although it wasn’t raining, it rained overnight and there were rivers running across the track. Not just one or two, but nearly everywhere. At the time, I think there were only three turns that were dry. I crawled around the track. Even so, I was going sideways quite a bit. Not “sideways, this is fun!” but “sideways I’m not in control!” I put four wheels off once and was sliding around quite a bit. It was not fun.

As well, I managed to pick the wrong configuration for the lap timer so I wasn’t getting any data (I had selected the North course instead of the South course). In this case, good riddance. There wasn’t any worthwhile data from this session.

Back in the clubhouse I talked to Ron again. “Have Tony show you the wet line.” Great idea. We tracked Tony down. Rewind a bit here. When Tony and I had our little drivers meeting, somebody showed up and asked him if he gave rides to a couple of guys yesterday. “Yes, both at the same time. It was really wet. I don’t think they puked, but they sure looked sick.” So Tony gets a car (an Audi RS5 Quattro, I believe) and takes me for a ride.

The first time around he’s more or less on the line you’d take in the dry. Periodically, he’s doing massive steering inputs or abrupt throttle or brakes to see how much grip there is. It’s a little unsettling. The next two times around he’s following the “wet” line, which is taking the outside of the turn rather than hitting the apex. He was giving a running commentary: “It’s good here. Still pretty slick through here. You have to avoid this puddle” and so on. The wet line works most places, but not all. Anyway, I think I get the idea and he drops me off and puts the car away. His parting shot was, “It’s easier with all-wheel drive!”

While Tony was schooling me on the wet line, a Corvette was out on the track. Well, he was out part of the time. He put it well off the track in the same location I did, but while I was able to regain the track, he needed a tow. He gave up after that, having completed two laps. His times were in the three minute range, probably about what mine were.

After my lesson from Tony, Ron came and found me. He tells me he’s signed me up to drive their BMW M2 Competition Coupe for their touring lap session. In this session we’ll be driving around behind the pace car, not above 50mph or so. No helmet required. They have a Jag I’d like to drive, but Ron tells me it’s always reserved. So the M2 works for me. During the course of the day, several people tell me that’s their favorite car of the bunch. (They have a dozen or so cars for this purpose – Audi, Lexus, BMW, the Jag.)

By now I see that I’m the only one dumb enough to waste his time at the track today. It’s just too wet. And the consensus is that the track won’t dry out, and we may actually get more rain. I’m not exactly pleased. I’ve decided that this whole thing may be a waste of my time and money. If it’s not going to get any better, I may as well leave and do something else. I was pretty down.

But I go out for another session. It’s still wet almost everywhere. I can’t follow the line I’d like to learn: the fast way around a dry track. I can’t turn in where I want, or apex where I want, or brake where I want, or even shift where I want. I’m always looking for the water. It’s drying out a little. I think. Maybe. But I manage to keep it on the track. For a long time. Technically, each run group is given a twenty minute session. But because I’m the only idiot out there, they’ll let me run until I give up. So after 35 minutes I give up. The good news is, I manage to steadily improve.

At lunch time I discover that I’ve somehow lost my credit card. It’s not my only one, so it’s just a pain in the ass and not a total disaster. No idea how I’ve lost it. I didn’t leave it at registration, and haven’t had to use it since. Where could it have gone? Anyway, after lunch is the touring lap session. Just as I’m finishing my sandwich, a gentleman comes by to give me the keys to the BMW. Well, a key fob anyway. There’s no such thing as a car key any more. Then he says, “Not to be demeaning or anything, but do you know how to put this car in park?”

Move the gear selector to “P”? This is not the correct answer. “When you pull into the parking space, leave it in drive and turn it off.” We head off to the cars for the laps. It takes me a few seconds to figure out how to get it into drive. Old dog, new tricks, I guess. It has paddle shifters but I don’t even try to figure this out.

BMW M2 Competition Coupe

Heading on to the track it’s the pace car, another BMW, me, and the Jag. We’re following the dry line even though there’s still quite a few wet spots and puddles. After a few laps it’s pretty obvious to me that we’re doing pretty good lap times. We’re not going very fast down the straights, but we’re not really slowing for the turns. I manage to dig my phone out of my pocket and get the timer running. I didn’t try to turn off any driver aids, but perhaps not all the nannies were enabled. I managed to get it somewhat sideways through the puddles a few times, as did the other BMW driver.

By the time we exit the track my soul has been a little bit crushed. Our parade laps were faster than what I managed the previous session. When I got out of the car, the other BMW driver was talking to Kyle, who was driving the pace car. “Thanks for those last two laps!” Kyle winked and said, “We never went over 50, did we?” Then I showed him my lap timer and my times from my previous session. He laughed (not in a malicious way). It is somewhat funny.

I got to talking with Kyle. He noticed my HPR hat and asked how I liked the place. He says he’s been wanting to run there but hasn’t been able to make it work yet. I told him about the facilities, that it’s a bit crude (no running water, for example) but that the track itself is great. He said he’d worked at a place like that: in the middle of nowhere and porta-potties instead of toilets. I asked him where that was. “Oregon Raceway Park”. Hey, I’ve been there!

By the time of my next session, the sun had been shining for a while, and we had a little breeze. The track was very nearly dry. I started really trying to get on it, on the dry line. There were still a few places where I couldn’t do it, where I had to adjust to avoid some water, or tiptoe through a turn to avoid spinning, but I was easily faster than before. All my laps were under two minutes, and my best was 1:53.27. Not a particularly fast lap, but maybe better than I’d have done in my first session had it been dry all day.

I had two more sessions after that. I improved my time to 1:48.05. In the clubhouse, they have a screen that is constantly updated with members times. All (or maybe just most) members run with transponders. Their times are displayed on a large monitor. I don’t have a transponder, of course, so my times weren’t included. But by now there were two members out running their spec Miatas. They were lapping in the 1:43’s. Tony asked me which Miatas they were. I described them and he said they were both very good drivers. He thought my time was pretty good given the conditions, my tires, and my lack of experience on this track.

Yours truly

In my penultimate session, I managed to kill another bird (my second on this trip). For a short while I was concerned it was stuck to my car somehow, mashed into the grill or something. Next time around the dead bird was in the middle of the track. At least is wasn’t in a place where I was going to run over it again.

In the last session I failed to improve my time. I got close, but couldn’t best it. (I’d have liked to run a few more laps, but I timed it perfectly. At the gas station down the street I pumped 9.8 gallons of gas into my 10 gallon tank.)

I finished the day with a beer in the clubhouse, packed up all my stuff, made a final search for my missing credit card, and hit the road. My first stop was the gas station a couple miles down the road. I’m glad it wasn’t any farther: I poured 9.8 gallons of gas into my 10 gallon tank.

My last session started at 6:05, so I didn’t leave the facility until about 7. On the way back to the hotel, at a stoplight a guy in the next lane told me my right headlight is out. So now I’m missing the right front turn signal and right headlight. There’s no damage from the bird strike, so I guess I’m just lucky all my lights are going dim at the same time. (Luck is when bad things happen; everything else is skill.)

Addendum: I found my credit card a couple days later, and now all the turn signals are working again. So it’s just the headlight.

Today’s miles: 72 road, 126 track Total miles: 1,729 road, 407 track

Autobahn Impressions

This is a very nice facility. This is the third track I’ve been to that is “members only”. The first was ORP, mentioned above. When I was there, it was more primitive than HPR. The other is Woody Creek, also very primitive. Nothing primitive about Autobahn.

The track is more or less what I expected. We’re in Illinois, so I was expecting it to be as flat as a tabletop. It did have some subtle elevation change, just enough to catch the eye but not enough to challenge the driver. Drainage was a bit of a problem, but as alluded to earlier, this was the rainiest May recorded for the area. In addition to the rivers that ran across the track there were several places where the water percolated up through the asphalt. They really have worked hard on drainage, but what can you do in extreme conditions?

For most of the day, I had the place to myself. The aforementioned Corvette made two laps, and a couple of Miatas ran maybe a dozen laps each. When they left the track, they headed to their garages. So I never met another driver all day. I met quite a few Autobahn employees in the clubhouse, and perhaps one or two members who were there but not driving. The lack of other drivers to talk to was largely due to the track conditions.

Having the place to myself was a bit odd. It was great not having to deal with any traffic at all. Every lap was unimpeded. That’s never happened to me before and probably never will again. On the other hand, track days are very much social events. I like wandering around the paddock talking to the other drivers. Mine was the only car in the paddock. But I’m sure if the conditions had been more normal I’d have had somebody to talk to.

I’m not a man of the means required to be a member. My guest pass was a one-time thing, as a courtesy to an enthusiast passing through. If I lived in the area, I’d go back for a club day (North Woods Shelby Club runs there). I think it’s great that they open the facility up to non-members occasionally.

In spite of the rocky start, I had a great time. Everybody was friendly and made me feel at home. So I give a tip of the hat and a hearty “thank you” to Ron and the rest for hosting me.

Mid-Ohio Trip – Mid-Ohio Track Days

Day 3 – Monday, May 27

I was out the door by 6:30. I grabbed a spot in the paddock and went looking for where the meeting would be. I was early and watched some of the late check-ins, including a fellow who drove his McLaren from Ontario. He didn’t have a tech sheet with him, so they gave him one. He signed it and handed it back. “You need to check the boxes”.

McLaren 600LT

Meeting was at 7:15, all the usual stuff.

In the paddock, I ran into Ken, the only other Lotus in attendance. There were several others registered, all Exiges, but all but Mark canceled. That was a little disappointing. I’m used to seeing a bigger Lotus turn out.

My paddock neighbors were Mark and Don. Mark trailered in his Corvette, Don trailered in his S2000. Both very nice gentlemen. Don had a couple of 5-gallon gas cans and before we went to lunch we used one to fill my tank, then when we went for food we refilled it so he was back to his full allotment. I was a bit surprised that I took the whole 5 gallons. From the gauge it looked like I only needed 4. After running the two afternoon sessions, I was about to pull onto the track for “happy hour” and noticed that I was reading empty and the light was on. So I didn’t run. Later, when leaving the facility, the gauge read about a third of a tank. When I fueled up, I had four gallons left in the tank. Oh well.

Our first session was under full course caution, and everybody ran. I was immediately concerned as I thought it was extremely slippery. The consensus is that it’s a low-grip track. It got better as it warmed up, and by the time my group was out conditions were about as good as they’d get. It was pretty slick, but not any worse than, say, Portland was. By the time I’d run a couple of sessions at speed I was comfortable with the grip level.

Ken on the start/finish straight

For the two morning sessions I didn’t bother running the cameras. I was still trying to figure the place out. The organizers said they’d try to find an instructor for me, but I told them part of the fun for me was figuring it out on my own. This struck them as out of the ordinary. Why not get the advice of an experienced driver and get up to speed quicker? Different strokes.

After lunch, after Don and I got back to the track from our Subway/BP run, the novice group had a second classroom session. I had skipped the first one. This second one included a turn-by-turn analysis of the track. I figured it would be good for me. It was helpful. The best thing, in my mind, was that I’d figured out most of what he told us. One thing that I hadn’t started doing but knew I needed to, was using the curbs more. Most of them are quite flat. He told us to get a good time here you’ve got to treat the curbs as part of the track. For the rest of the day I took that advice. The only other helpful tip I hadn’t already figured out was gear selection for turn 11. I was taking it much too slow. He said that’s the most “under driven” turn on the track (everybody tends to take it too slow).

I was running in the Green group with the novices. We had forty cars in each group, I believe. That’s a busy group. I may have gotten a clean lap in my third session, I’ll have to look at the video. I didn’t get a clean one in the fourth. In spite of that, I managed my best time of the day in that session: 1:53.33. My goal is to lap in the 1:52’s, so if I get a few clean laps I should be able to reach it.

I have to spend a lot of time in my mirrors because there are so many fast cars in the novice group. I think the only car in my group with less hp is a Miata. There’s a Mini (I met the owner at the restaurant last night), he’s turbocharged and has more hp but is heavier. Then it’s Porsches, Mustangs, and Corvettes. Oh, and the McLaren. There was a WRX and a couple of BRZ’s (or variants). Some of the Mustangs and Corvettes were slower, but I think they were all more capable cars. One of these Vettes pointed me by then dragged me down the straight so I couldn’t pass him. (Yes, I specifically brought this up during the meeting.)

The weather couldn’t have been better. It was a bit warm, but not hot. It was dry, although the consensus is that we’ll see rain tomorrow. I talked to a couple of Porsche guys who will swap today’s slicks for something with tread for tomorrow. I’ll happily run in the rain. (Easy to say that now, never having done it.) It will send a lot of people home, that’s for sure.

A good, fun day.

For dinner, pulled into a Mexican place across the street from the motel. It was closed. Plan B was Arby’s, two doors down. It was also closed. I ended up at Bob Evans and had breakfast for dinner.

Today’s miles: 18 road, 134 track Total miles: 1,235 road, 134 track

At the front gate

Day 4 – Tuesday, May 28

For the most part, today was much like yesterday. Only muggier. Uncomfortably warm. The same temperature at HPR would be comfortable but the humidity made it not so much fun for me. It wasn’t bad, just not like yesterday.

KTM X-Bow GT4

One item at the drivers meeting was an instructor saying he saw some drivers waving “thanks” for a point-by. Here with Chin this is a no-no. Drivers need to keep both hands on the wheel. I was one of those drivers. Near the end of the day I mentioned this to a couple of the other guys and they said they thought it’s not a big deal. These things happen on the straights and not in the turns. I noticed that nobody gave me a “thank you” wave yesterday, so I realized it was different in this group. But even after it was mentioned this morning, late in the somebody did give me a “thanks”. So I wasn’t the only one.

Yesterday I don’t think I got a clear lap the whole day. I probably got a few, but it was a very busy day passing and being passed. Had you asked me yesterday if there was a way to improve things, I’d have said “fewer cars”. We started with forty cars in each group. That’s more cars per length of track than I’m used to.

Ferrari

I purposely didn’t make any attempt to move up to the blue group. Two reasons: I was comfortable with this group and by now was accustomed to their behavior and if a few drivers did move up, that would be more guys running blue and fewer running green. And that showed up today. I had several long sequences of clean laps. Maybe not fully unencumbered, but I did feel I had lots of “clean air”.

Today my best lap was 1:50.30, which exceeded my goal by quite a bit. This was in the fourth session. I’m quite happy with these results. Unfortunately, neither camera was running as the batteries died in both of them. I’d moved the old camera to the nose and the new one to the rear mount hoping to get a greater sensation of speed, but got nothing instead. I’ve had one camera poop out on me, but never both. I’d even swapped out the spare battery for the old camera and had the new one plugged in and charging. So it goes.

Incidents of note. In the second morning session, I was reeling in Don. I caught him early but there was quite a bit of traffic, some we caught, some caught us. By the time we’d cleared it, I thought he’d worked quite a way ahead but I found myself right up with him. He’d been having minor clutch problems and was ending his runs a lap or two before the sessions ended. When he pointed me by, instead of ending his run he decided to stay out for another lap so he’d get some good footage of me. He was right with me from the start/finish to the chicane, but when I got on the back straight he was nowhere to be seen. Next time around I saw him parked on the infield.

I was concerned something bad happened, as he never moved again. Turns out he just ran it out of gas.

By the end of the day, most folks had cleared out. So the last session was great and I was looking forward to “happy hour” when everybody can run (and we use green group passing rules). Don donated a couple of gallons to me so I didn’t have to worry about suffering his fate. For those laps, I ditched the hot fire suit and went out in shorts and t-shirt (but still with gloves). I was much more comfortable. That comfort ended when it started raining. In reality, I’d be better saying that it started sprinkling. I was getting raindrops on the windshield, but I’d had this much rain at HPR and it was really no big deal.

Everybody who’d run here in the rain said it was really slick. I figured they were exaggerating. The first drops hit my windshield about turn 1. Coming out of the keyhole I half spun the car, coming to a rest in the middle of the track, facing 90 degrees to the right. I got going quickly and continued at a somewhat reduced speed, only to nearly do it again in the next turn. I thought I was going to go off sideways (which I never want to do) but managed to somehow keep it on track. That was enough for me, and I made my way, slowly, back to the paddock. I think everybody else did the same.

The rain looked quite threatening and as I started packing up it really began to come down. So I packed up in a bit of a rush. Just as I was finishing up it quit raining, at least here at the track.

I headed to Toledo. Leaving the track I had short journeys along state routes, then followed a combination of US 30 and US 23 through some heavy weather. Big lightning strikes were hitting in the near distance, but somehow the highway turned slightly each time to avoid the worst of the rain. I did encounter a short cloudburst that had traffic down from 75mph to more like 40, but never hydroplaned. Finally, a short Rule #1 violation up I-75. Had a nice visit with Ruth and Loral. Found a motel and checked in.

Porsche

Chin Motorsports

This event was put on by Chin Motorsports. They do these a a long list of tracks east of the Mississippi. They run a well-organized event. As is usual, it’s a bit on the expensive side compared to home, but that’s mostly because I’m spoiled here. It’s more everywhere than here. This one was more than either of the Hooked On Driving events, and like them you need to buy an annual membership. This two day event plus the membership would get me three full days plus half a day of open lapping at HPR.

There were a lot of high dollar cars here, probably the most expensive crowd I’ve run with. Not a LeMons car to be seen. Quite a few of the cars were fully prepped race cars. I saw a Miata with a hammer and sickle on the hood and wanted to talk to the driver. He left not feeling well. When I saw it back out on the track I thought he’d returned. But no, the guy driving the car was his coach, working on some setup changes. So it’s a bit of a different crowd than I’m accustomed to.

They had plenty of instructors on hand and at least three classroom sessions for the novice drivers. Everyone followed the rules and there were no incidents that I’m aware of. Certainly no contact, either car vs car or car vs wall. The only yellow flag during any of my sessions was for when Don ran out of gas. In the meetings we were told to expect blue flags but I never once saw one, so I’m guessing they use them at some of their other tracks.

They had a photographer there. I glanced through his shots of me but passed. His prices were a bit lower than the other guys doing this, but I’ve already blown my budget for this trip. I tried to talk him into giving me five or six shots for twenty bucks. His counter offer was one for twenty. As long as it was cash.

Today’s miles: 134 road, 147 track Total miles: 1,369 road, 281 track

Emich Rant

Sunday, April 28

I registered for the afternoon session of the most recent Emich sponsored track day. After all the changes we made to the car, it’s only prudent to get her out on the track before I drive cross-country for events at Mid-Ohio and Autobahn.

I’ve done a few Emich days before. In fact, my last track day was an Emich day. That didn’t end well. I was running on slicks, made a minor driver error, spun the car and broke the motor mounts. Aside from that, I thought it was a pretty good day: everyone was fairly well-behaved and each track session had less traffic than the one before as many of the folks who registered for the full day got tired and left.

But this may be the last.

When I picked up my wristband I asked about the car count. “Seventy or so. Not too bad.” If equally divided between novice and experienced, that’s three dozen cars on track at the same time. That’s a traffic jam. Oh well, it will get better as folks leave.

But my assumption is that the guys (and it was all guys) running in the experienced group are actually experienced and not novices.

I’ve been to so many drivers meetings at HPR I could easily run them. All the usual stuff gets covered: how to get on and off the track, what the lights and flags mean, and passing rules. For the experienced group, we have open passing. Meaning you don’t need a point-by to pass, and you can do it wherever you think it’s safe. There are two things of particular interest to me, and if Glen doesn’t mention them, I’ll raise my hand. First is reminding the high horsepower cars that if they see a low horsepower car in their mirrors, please don’t race down the straight and that they’ll need to lift to let us by. Second is that it’s the responsibility of the passing car to go around the slower car. It’s not the responsibility of the slower car to get out of the way.

I brought up the first one, and somebody else brought up the second. When I made my comment about horsepower differences, Glen reinforced it by saying that horsepower doesn’t matter: if somebody caught up to you, they’re faster. Let them by. The other point was reiterated as well. The slower car should not deviate from his line.

I Lose My Composure

In my second session I caught up to a silver Corvette. I was faster everywhere on the track except the straights, where he used his horsepower to get away. I was behind him for nearly a lap, and when we got onto the long straight I expected him to let me by. Instead, he hauled ass ahead only for me to catch him in the next turn. Later that lap, I pointed Dave Green by me. At the start of the straight Dave pulls out to pass, but the Corvette hauls ass again, totally unaware he is now holding up two Lotus behind him. We finally get around him after turn 5.

Next time around there are flashing yellow lights: said silver Corvette is stopped on the inside of turn seven. Well, he won’t be holding anybody up any longer. But he is there for the rest of the session while the tow truck deals with him. So we have yellow flag (actually, flashing yellow lights) conditions there: get off the throttle until you pass the incident.

Meanwhile, in my mirrors I see a brown Cadillac catching me. Sort of. He’s not making any headway at all in the turns but is much faster on the straights. On the highway straight he gets optimistic and pulls to the inside thinking he’ll outbrake me into 4. He’s not even close. He doesn’t see that I’m braking much later than he is.

Next time around, he’s still quite a ways back. He dive bombs me again and is able to sneak inside. He doesn’t remember the comment during the meeting that “there are no F1 scouts here today. Nobody will be impressed by dive bombing somebody into a turn.” Under ideal conditions, he can’t take the turn as fast as I can, and it’s even worse for him because he’s way to the inside. So we go through the turn about 20 mph slower than normal for me. But he’s ahead now, so he’s happy.

A few seconds later we’re in the yellow flag area, passing the tow truck and the stricken Corvette. At the hairpin we are good to go to full throttle again, and we do. We’re headed through the downhill esses, a right-left-right combination under full throttle. A glance in the mirror and what do I see? A Camaro moving to my left, attempting to pass here. This is the second worst place to try to pass on this track. Where does he think I’m going to go? Does he expect me to just disappear?

It’s the faster driver’s responsibility to make a safe pass, and the slower driver should keep on his line. My line goes apex to apex to apex, crossing the entire width of the track twice through here. And this guy is going to pass?

The Corvette driver was being oblivious and rude by not paying attention to his mirrors. But he wasn’t dangerous. The Cadillac driver was overly optimistic and in a hurry; couldn’t wait to actually catch me. He didn’t understand the differences in our cars and abilities but because he did this at the end of the straight, I had no trouble seeing him and knowing where he was. He could easily have put me off by forcing me to slow down so much more than usual; I couldn’t take my line because he stole it. If I couldn’t slow down enough I’d have gone off.

Where the Camaro wanted to pass me is a different story. It’s not straight. He put himself in my blind spot; I couldn’t tell where he was going. I have a split second to act. The only sensible thing to do is to stay on my line. If he presses his pass, either we collide or he goes off. Any experienced driver knows this is a bad place to pass and will wait the few seconds to pass.

He passes me after the turns. And I express my displeasure with an extended middle finger. I lost my composure. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m generally pretty good about not doing that on the streets, and I’ve never done it before on the track. I was wrong.

But the Camaro driver was a dangerous idiot.

Who promptly found me in the paddock. If I’d have been able to track him down to chat, I’d have started by apologizing for flipping him off. But instead I got a face full of belligerence. “You got a problem with my driving?” and “I’m allowed to pass anywhere” and “I’m going to wrap your head around your steering wheel” and “I’ll kick your ass”. My response to the last was “Bring it on.” I figure if he assaults me, he goes to jail. Then he changed tack from threatening to insulting: “You’re a shitty driver”, “Your car is stupid”, “Your jumpsuit is stupid”. He continues: “I’ve been here several times, you don’t know what you’re doing out there.” He finally decides to walk away, but keeps turning around and continuing: “You’re shaking your head. You’re shaking! You’re a coward!”

Obviously, I’m writing this a couple days later. Yesterday I looked at the video. Should I have seen him before I did? It turns out that he showed up behind me because he didn’t slow down for the tow truck. I don’t know if he was on full throttle up the hill, but he caught me and the Cadillac from a great distance. We didn’t slow to a crawl, and I’d guess the Camaro was doing 15 or 20 mph more than us. That might not have been full throttle, but it was way too fast with the tow truck right there.

I lost my composure because these three things happened back to back to back. It’s not the first time for any of these things but the combination made me lose my cool. I will learn from it. But I really don’t think the other drivers will. I’m reasonably certain none of them knows that they did anything wrong.

So my self-defense will be to avoid HPR track days where I expect a big car count. CECA days may be more expensive, but there aren’t as many cars and the core group is pretty steady, so we know each other and have some built-in expectations that we can rely on.

Okay, enough navel-gazing.

Aside from that drama, it was a good day. The car worked well. No problems with the clutch, motor mounts, wheel studs, or battery tie-down. A pair of new tires for the front and an oil change and I’ll be ready for my big trip.

And there was one lap where it was rather fun to be in traffic. Here I am, for a time sandwiched between a McLaren and a Ferrari.


Battery Tie-down

Twice now I’ve had the battery break loose at the track. It’s held down by two small clamps that clearly aren’t up to the job. I’ve searched high and low for a solution, but nothing looked good to me. I found a couple of commercial solutions, but they are for the small marine or race batteries. I don’t want to downsize the battery because I don’t want to be forced to keep the car on a battery tender all the time. I want to be free to take my road trips that span as much as two weeks.

I found a couple of DIY solutions that looked promising. These were variations on using an aluminum bar. I found something at Home Depot that might serve: an aluminum bar 36″ long, 1 1/2″ wide, and 1/8″ thick. But I don’t have a vice, so it might be tricky to bend. A similar bar 1/16″ thick might be better, but I didn’t see one.

Instead, I picked up a tow strap. I looked for some material like this, but I couldn’t find anything that was just the strap material. Seems a bit of a waste to spend $20 for the little bit I need, but at least this way if I mess it up I have plenty of material to give it a second shot.

First, I measured the battery to figure how much strap I’d need, and added a couple of inches for safety margin. I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to cut this strap, or how much it would want to unravel. So I started by taping both sides of my cuts. I mounted a fresh blade in my utility knife and started cutting. It was pretty easy, just five or six passes and I cut through.

To keep the thing from unraveling, I hit the cut ends with a torch to melt the material, cauterizing it, if you will. Sorry for the poor picture. A few seconds on each cut and it was a nice solid end.

Next problem was how to put holes in for the bolts. I picked a drill bit just smaller than the bolt diameter and went for it, one person working the drill and another holding the strap in place. Then we cauterized the holes. They’re just about perfect; you actually have to thread the bolt through.

The photo above shows the finished strap. The bolts and washers shown are the original equipment. We found a couple of bolts a little longer and with bigger heads, and an assortment of larger washers so there’s much more surface area holding the strap.

The finished product

I’ve had it installed two ways. One with the “5000 LBS” showing and one all black. Obviously, the two bolts won’t hold 5,000 pounds, but I think the strap is a big improvement over the stock batter restraints.

Shakedown Cruise

Sunday, April 7

After a ship gets a major overhaul or a crew change, it goes on a “shakedown cruise” to simulate working conditions and insure that all the ship’s systems are functional. Today I went with a small group of fellow LoCos on a pleasant little drive south and west of Denver to give the Elise a little shakedown.

The highlight of the drive was Tarryall Road. The club has driven this road several times recently but somehow I’ve never gone with them until now. Tarryall Road runs about thirty miles, from the little town of Jefferson on US 285 at the foot of Kenosha Pass to a junction with US 24 at Lake George. It’s a nice Lotus road – curvy rather than straight, featuring beautiful scenery and little traffic.

I very nearly described the town of Jefferson as “not much more than a wide spot in the road.” That would be incorrect. The word “town” is an overstatement. It’s one of those places on US 285 that is best described as “blink and you miss it.” It was founded in 1879 and in its heyday had a population of 55 and even had a hotel. Today, I conjecture that the only people who go to Jefferson on purpose, people who aren’t just blasting through on the highway, are hikers on the nearby Colorado Trail who come here to get provisions.

I understand the name “Tarryall” was coined by a group who discovered gold in the area. They thought there was enough for everyone and called their camp “Tarry-all”. I saw no sign of gold mining. In other streams around South Park there was extensive dredging in placer mines, but none here. And there were no tailings piles from hard rock mining. In the end it appears there wasn’t that much gold here after all.

Jefferson was founded by ranchers, and serves ranchers today. Driving the thirty miles of Tarryall Road we pass by dozens of ranches. Some are obviously thriving operations today, others are rustic to the point of near total decay.

Our lunch stop for the day was the Iron Tree Restaurant and Funky Town Brewery. The menu we ordered from was the brunch menu, featuring a number of variations on Eggs Benedict. I had their “Country” version: English muffin, sausage, poached egg, hollandaise sauce, with country potatoes. Quite tasty. None of us was daring enough to order beer with brunch.

Europa, Elan, 3 Elises. Not pictured: Esprit and Triumph TR 6

Okay, so what about the shakedown?

This was my first real drive with the car after our extensive repairs. I’d taken it around the block a couple of times and down to Ferrari of Denver for Ryan to do an alignment. But that was all city driving and not typical of how I drive it.

In my trips around the block, my first impression of the new motor mounts was mostly negative. The shifting is much improved, but the vibration of the engine isn’t absorbed by the motor mounts at all. It all goes into the car. My first joke was that it wouldn’t be long before the fillings got vibrated out of my teeth. I was sure Genae would never want to ride in the car again.

The trip across town did show me that it’s not as bad as I first thought. Once you get it above about 3500 rpm it gets, well, not exactly civilized, but certainly much quieter. When I first bought the car I had to train myself to keep the revs up over 3000 as it doesn’t do well at low revs. Now I have incentive to keep the revs above 3500.

Below 3500, you see, the car plays a symphony of rattles and buzzes. Every part of the car vibrates, and everything within it. All engine speeds between idle and 3500 set various bits going; as you run the speed up some rattles go away and other vibrations start. Think of it like an orchestra. Before the symphony begins, all the players tune their instruments; an unpleasant cacophony. But when the orchestra is in full song, it’s marvelous. Above 3500 rpm, to be sure, the car isn’t quiet, but it’s in full song – the players have stopped tuning and the music starts. I can’t wait to get it onto the track.

The other major work was the clutch. I will admit that I was somewhat concerned that I’d end up with a much stiffer pedal. But my worries were baseless. The new clutch feels pretty much the same as the original equipment. I’m quite happy with it.

So I’d say the shakedown cruise was a success. The car works wonderfully (if a bit of a rattletrap at low rpms) and I had a pleasant drive on some beautiful Colorado roads and had a nice meal with friends.

Maximum Distress, Part Last

Saturday, March 30

Technically, I may be premature in saying “Part Last”. We still have a few items on the punch list, but I’m happy to say that my level of distress is no longer at maximum: the car is put back together, sits on her four wheels, and has even been around the block. She both goes and stops.

Michael and Daniel spent quite a bit of time over the last week, most of it without my presence in the garage. Not surprisingly, things went much quicker. I’d like to chalk it up to my absence. At the grocery store, no matter which line I choose to stand in, it will be the slowest moving. In traffic, the lane I’m in is slowest and changing to a different lane won’t help: the slowness property follows me. So I say they could work faster without me in the room, but they tell me that things went faster because all the hard work was already done and all they had left was the easy bits.

A few days ago I had to go buy the fluid for the gearbox. Google told me it was available any number of places, but calling around the first place that actually had what I wanted was Peak Eurosport. So I headed down and picked it up. While there, I had a brief chat with Ernie. He had recently replaced the clutch in an Elise. He said it was hard enough with the car on a lift and couldn’t imagine having to do it on the floor. He told me the car he worked on had relatively few miles, only 20,000 or so, but it was a track-only car. He also said the clutch he replaced was in worse shape than mine was. I find that hard to believe, but Ernie’s a straight shooter.

So here’s a recap of what we’ve done since about the end of November:

  • Replaced the motor mounts
  • Replaced the clutch
  • New ball joints on the rear lower control arms
  • New hub carrier plinth bolts

Although maximum distress is over, we still have some work to do:

  • Fabricate an improved battery tie-down
  • Replace the wheel studs, all four wheels
  • Get an alignment

I’ll take the car to the track at the end of April for an afternoon of lapping. Need to get refamiliarized with her at speed before I hit the road for points east in May.

She’s back on terra firma!

Shortly after this picture was taken, I went around the block a couple of times for a quick test. When idling, the vibration from the solid mounts is… extreme. But once you’re moving it’s not nearly as bad as my first impression was last time I took it around the block. I don’t know if it’s because it’s been so long since I’ve driven it that I can’t make a proper comparison, or that it actually is better with all four new mounts than with just the fore and aft mounts. It also seems that the clutch feel isn’t noticeably different than the stock clutch (which is good) and that the gear shift is much improved (also good).

My crack team of mechanics has already identified a list of additional work we’ll need to do after the summer driving season. We’re thinking stainless steel brake lines and new rear rotors.

The only niggling item at this point is the one extra bolt we have left. The three of us looked the car over for about half an hour and can’t find anything amiss. In the end I found a cover for one of the motor mounts that we neglected to put back in. We’re thinking the bolt is for that. But I’m thinking we should have two bolts for that, not just one. Hmmm.

Scuderia Rampante

Saturday, March 30

This month’s Lotus Colorado meeting was held in Erie at Scuderia Rampante, a high-end Ferrari restoration shop. Calling the place a high-end Ferrari restoration shop is a bit redundant, I guess, but I think I can get away with it. If you had a Ferrari and wanted some work done on it, how far would you be willing to send it? They’re working on a car that, when they’re done, will go back to Hong Kong. I’m not sure there is anywhere farther from Hong Kong than Erie, Colorado.

They called the event a “shop tour”. That probably overstates it. To me, a tour implies some sort of guide telling us what we’re seeing: what’s important or interesting. Nothing like that today, we just wandered around the place. Several employees were there to answer questions, so we weren’t completely on our own.

This was not our first visit. We were here a few years ago. Not much has changed, and for somebody not very interested in cars it might be fair to ask what there is to see a second time. For those of us quite interested in cars, there’s always something to see. I’m not particularly a Ferrari fan – I’ll never own one and probably never drive one – but I think they’re fascinating examples of engineering and technology.

And it’s not just Ferraris. There are a variety of other cars there as well. Most are stored in a giant rack but a number are in various states of disassembly. To do engine work on most of the Ferraris, they simply remove the entire engine, transmission, and rear suspension and put that assembly on a table or rack.

As I said, I’m not that into Ferraris. For the most part, I can’t look at one and say, “That one is a 430 and that one is a California.” I don’t know what any of them is worth (other than more than I’ll ever spend on a car) or how much it might cost to have one worked on. On many of them, I’d guess a clutch service would go for perhaps as much as I paid for the Elise. So I won’t go into any detail on any of the cars I saw.

F40 and F50

On prominent display were an F40 and an F50 side by side. The F40 is the red one, the F50 is the black one. The F40 was built between 1987 and 1992. I have no idea how many of these they made. A quick look on the internet tells me if you want one today, you can expect to spend about $1.6 million. The F50 dates from 1995-1997. You’d need to sell two F-40’s and kick in an extra few hundred thousand dollars beside to pick one up. I’m guessing you don’t get to see these cars side by side very often.

Lamborghini 350GT

I know even less about Lamborghinis than I do Ferraris. This one is an example of the first Lamborghini model made. It’s a 350GT. They hadn’t yet started naming their cars after bulls. There was a 350GT and a 400GT. If I understood correctly, this car was an interim car – a 350GT with the motor from a 400GT, which makes it quite rare. Even so, it probably could be had (were you to find one for sale) for somewhere in the neighborhood of a million.

Cadillac Fleetwood

I thought the Fleetwood was interesting. I don’t know what year it was, but it was a giant. I believe this one is a 1952 Fleetwood Seventy Five limousine. It’s about a mile long and has more chrome on one car than on all Cadillacs built in the last decade. Looking at it, I couldn’t help but wonder what the thing weighed. I was guessing it might be 6,000 pounds. That was way off. In fact, these cars were closer to 4,700. For comparison, my 1967 Imperial was 4,900. The Imperial had a giant 440cid engine, while this Fleetwood was motivated by an eight cylinder 331cid motor that cranked out 190hp. Again, for comparison, my Elise generates 190hp.

They don’t just work on cars here, they store them as well. I didn’t count them, but they can probably stack something like forty cars in this giant rack. I’m sure it’s quite the operation to get one off the top: move the bottom one out of the way, rotate the stack down, take the next one out, repeat. Every car in there looked to be hooked up to a battery tender, so you could just jump right in and drive them off, once you managed to get to the one that belongs to you. Not all of them are super-exotics. In this photo, the car on the other side of the Testarossa is a modern Ford Mustang. And there were a few examples of Detroit iron from the same era as the Fleetwood above.

Engine test

Here’s one of the engines they had taken out of the car. It’s the engine, transmission, and suspension. This one was hooked up to a device that lets them run the thing. I wasn’t in the room when they fired it up, but it was much quieter than I expected. I guess you’ll get that, given the size of the muffler hanging off the back.

It wasn’t just cars. In the back corner they had a little sitting area with a couple of stuffed bears (including a polar bear smoking a cigar and holding a pool cue), a couple of cabinets filled with knick-knacks, and some vintage race posters on the walls. This portrait of Steve McQueen caught my eye. It’s made up of articles, photos, and advertisements from magazines.

Not a bad place to spend a Saturday morning.

Maximum Distress, Part 4

Here we are, four weeks into a planned two week operation, and still plenty of work yet to come. I think I can safely say that “maximum distress” now relates more to Fripp’s sense of the term (Murphy’s Law) than my own distress at seeing my car in parts on the floor of the garage. It could be that I’m just becoming used to it in that state, or it could be that we’re finally making some progress at putting the thing back together.

Today we actually accomplished a few things. The transmission is married to the motor, the starter and master cylinder are installed, and although the car is still on jack stands, the motor and trans are supported by (half) the motor mounts instead of floor jacks.

Engine and transmission, not supported by jacks

It took a bit of jockeying to get the transmission attached to the motor. We had one floor jack supporting the motor and used two smaller ones to levitate the transmission into place. This was a bit of a challenge, given the cramped quarters. But when we finally managed to apply the correct roll, yaw, and pitch and got things lined up there was much rejoicing!

Michael announced that we’d just completed the hardest part of the operation. Then we went to work on installing the starter. We used various English swear words (English, not American) on the previous step but now upped our game. A quick search of the internet got us the proper Japanese swear words and we were able to compose an incantation that did the trick on the starter.

Both Michael and Daniel think we can get the rest of the work done in one more day, but I’ll believe it when I see it. We still have a fair amount of work to do, and what makes them think we’ll be any more efficient at reassembly next weekend than we’ve been the last two? We still need to replace the passenger side motor mount and install the trans studs for the fore and aft motor mounts. And we need to borrow the use of a press to remove and replace two ball joints before we can reassemble the suspension. When that’s all done, we can replace the wheel studs.

I’m happy that positive things are happening, however slowly. Distress is being replaced by anticipation.