I think it’s pretty cool to use racing slicks at the track. The grip is incredible. My best lap on slicks is 2:07, which is seven or eight seconds a lap quicker than with my street tires. Seven seconds may not sound like much, but it’s like driving a different car. I use a different gear in several places and I use a different line in a few turns. I can take turn three flat (foot flat to the floor) on slicks. It’s fun.
On the other hand, slicks are a bit of a pain. I can’t drive to and from the track on them, so I need to have somebody carry them (and a jack and impact wrench) for me. And even though seven seconds may not sound like much, the extra g-force in the turns is hard on the equipment. I spun once in turn 7 on slicks. The force was so hard one of my motor mounts broke.
So although they’re a lot of fun, I don’t think the cost/benefit ratio is favorable. I think I have a day left on the slicks and I want to use them up so I can put streetable tires on the track wheels.
Objectives, Goals, and Results
An F1 car can wear out a set of slicks in as little as a dozen laps. Obviously, Hoosier wouldn’t sell very many racing slicks to the track day crowd if they wore out that quickly. I bought these tires used. Years ago, I had a set of 60 treadwear tires that lasted four track days. I’m thinking these A7s would last about as long. So this is the last hoorah for slicks.
Ryan was kind enough to carry my slicks for me. It’s the second time: he brought them out for our Thursday evening session, but I didn’t use them because of the rain.
So, the objective for the day is to use up the slicks. What about goals? It’s important to have a goal every time you go to the track. Today’s goal is a big one: set a new personal best time. I did a 2:07 with Michael in the passenger seat. A passenger costs me about two seconds a lap. If the conditions are good, I should be able to do a 2:05.
The forecast high for Denver was 60, but the morning at the track was blustery and overcast. The ambient temperature was probably not much over forty and for the first couple of hours you couldn’t see your shadow; the track was cold. I wondered how that would affect my times. The usual case is that my times improve throughout the day. I expected the weather to improve somewhat, so that should help, too.
My best lap (2:09.95) was the 5th lap of the day. In spite of the improving weather and lighter fuel load, my times steadily got worse. My first clue that the tires were done was that I was never able to take turn 3 flat. By my fourth session, I was down to a 2:13.52. That was the last session for the slicks: I was down to the cords. The slicks were dead.
To end the day, I ran three sessions (more like two and a half) on the street tires and ran in the upper 2:13s.
Cars and Drivers
The paddock was a bit more upscale than I was expecting. There were some nice cars there.
I’ll start with the Lotus. Ryan and myself, of course, plus two Elises and an Evora GT for a total of five. In the red Elise was Cory, who I had met a few years ago. Neither of us realized we’d met until he mentioned spinning his car and hitting a stanchion. I was riding with him at the time. Buzz had a silver Elise with out-of-state plates. And the gray Evora was Kris, who also brought out his McLaren 570S.
There was a red Lamborghini Huracan there as well. I’ve seen a few Lambos at the track, but only in the paddock. This one ran laps. At one point, I thought I saw a red Evora, but I was mistaken. My view was partially obscured by a wall; it turned out it was an Alfa 4C. I never saw it in the paddock. Another car I’ve seen in the paddock but not on track was an Audi R8. This one ran some laps. The McLaren, Lamborghini, and Audi were fast on the straights, but were not turning quick laps. I’m not surprised – I don’t expect them to get driven hard. Even though they were running in the Experienced group, let’s just say they hit very many apexes.
I had some nice “battles” with a Miata and a Lemons BMW. On one of my street tire sessions, we found ourselves running together, nobody able to open much of a gap on the others. I had some nice conversations with the drivers. The BMW owner said he was surprised my last sessions were on street tires. He thought I was faster than earlier.
Conclusion and Highlight Reel
I shouldn’t have gone out for that seventh session. I cut it short, but not short enough. I had to buy five bucks worth of 91 octane at the track ($7 a gallon) to make sure I could reach the gas station in Byers. Good thing I did, because I’d have fallen eight or ten miles short otherwise.
Six sessions was plenty. With the abbreviated seventh session, it added up to three hours. It’s more physically demanding than most people think. A day later, my arms were still a bit sore and my spine, while not bruised was tender. I managed to keep my kneepad in place the whole time, so my knee isn’t very sore. It’s a thrill ride.
My visit to HPR courtesy of Ferrari of Denver seems like a long-ago memory. It’s definitely time for another track day; time to scratch the itch that cannot be satisfied.
I asked Ryan if he wanted to do a Thursday evening session. I had an ulterior motive. Ryan is a great guy, and I enjoy spending time with him, trackside or not. But the real reason I asked was: he trailers his car to the track and maybe he’ll transport my slicks for me. I’m so selfish.
It’s quite fun running on slicks. But I probably won’t buy another set. First, I can’t drive on them to and from the track, so I have to have help. Second, they’re really hard on the car. Before I used them, I’d never have thought going just a few miles per hour faster would be that big of a deal, but the additional stresses and forces applied to the car really are significant. Most notably, for example, is when I spun and broke one of the motor mounts.
I think I have about one more good day of use left on the slicks. Once I wear them out, I can buy some track tires that I can drive to the track on.
Thursday, September 15
Ryan kindly agreed to cart my wheels and jack to the track for me, so we signed up for our Thursday evening session. These Thursday evenings feature a hot track from 5 pm until 9 pm, or until nobody is still running. I’ve done a few of these and, because the track has no lights, I’ve never lasted more than a lap or two in total darkness.
One thing to keep in mind in this part of the world is the weather. For years I’ve joked that you could use the same weather forecast for any August day in Denver: “High in the mid-90s with scattered afternoon and evening thundershowers, possibly severe.” It’s September, not August, and we’re an hour east of Denver. But we’re pretty much still in that August weather pattern, so it still very much applies.
On Tuesday, Ryan texted me, “So rain and slicks tomorrow?” The forecast was for a 30% chance of thundershowers. The proper interpretation of a 30% chance is this: it will rain. But you have about a 1 in 3 chance of it raining on you. I responded that I would remain hopeful that it’ll rain north or south of the track and miss us.
We arrived at the track a few minutes before they opened the gates. I chatted with a couple of the other drivers, with our eyes to the skies. There was a significant weather cell to our south: rain, lightning, thunder. Typically, these storms move mostly west to east, so anything not west of us might not affect us. One of the guys got his phone out and brought up the current weather radar. The storm we were watching was headed straight for us.
Sure enough, by the time the drivers’ meeting was over, we were getting rained on.
Sometimes, these storms can dump almost biblical amounts of water, accompanied by quite the light show. These Thursday night sessions are “rain or shine”, and will be stopped only for lightning in the immediate vicinity (so they can get the corner workers off the track) and if the rain is really extreme. We didn’t have either of these issues, so we ran.
I elected to not mount the slicks, but Ryan had no choice: all he had with him were slicks. I went right out and ran some laps, while he stayed in the paddock watching the size of the roostertails the cars were throwing off.
My fastest lap of the day was in this first session. The track wasn’t yet wet. At first, I only needed to put the wipers on intermittent. It wasn’t long before I had them wiping continuously, and the track started getting pretty wet. I only ran 5 timed laps (that’s 5 laps, plus the out lap and the in lap, or about 18 minutes). It rained pretty steadily for the next half an hour, with very few people brave enough to go out.
We spent the time watching the weather from the relative comfort of Ryan’s trailer. It was parked with the ramp to the south, where the storm was coming from. For a while, the wind was stiff enough to blow the rain six feet into the trailer. Then the wind died down, meaning the storm almost stopped on top of us.
With Ryan and me in the trailer was Tony, owner of a Dodge Challenger, who was participating in his first track day. We gave him some tips, mostly having to do with the sensory overload that first-timers experience. When the rain more or less stopped, I went out for a few laps to scout the conditions. Tony rode with me. I knew I wouldn’t be going very fast, so it was probably a great way to show him the racing line. Provided I was able to stay on it.
I’d never driven laps in wet conditions before. On a Thursday a few years ago, we got sprinkled on but it was never enough to turn on the windshield wipers. I got sprinkled on at Mid-Ohio, too. That track has a very low-grip surface, and even a few drops were enough to cause me to lose control twice in a single lap. I called it quits.
Tonight I wouldn’t give up so easily.
Let’s just say it was challenging.
The laps with Tony as passenger were the most interesting. I learned the places where standing water formed puddles and where water flowed across the track. A good lap time in the dry on my street tires, with a passenger, is in the 2:18 range. We only did 3 laps, with 2:56 being the best.
In the drivers’ meeting, we learned that they installed small reflectors on the track last weekend for the Lemons race last weekend. I couldn’t see them until it got pretty dark. They were fairly small, and a number of them had already been broken off. Even these small and incomplete reflectors are a big improvement over not having them.
It’s easy to think that the amount of fun you’ll have is directly related to how fast you go: if you’re going faster, you’re having more fun.
That isn’t really the case for me. Sure, speed is a part of it. But I definitely have more fun when I’m pushing myself and the car to the limit. Can I brake at the last possible moment and still make the turn? Can I put the throttle down? How fast can I take this turn without going off?
The limit for me and my car on a dry track with these street tires is maybe 2:15. When everything is wet, it’s quite a bit slower.
As the evening progressed, the track was drying out. As I said, it was bad enough at the start that we had puddles and rivers. By my last lap, the track was getting to be dry. The braking zones for many of the turns had completely dried. The places where water obviously flowed across the track weren’t dry yet, and there was no obvious flow of water, but I could see they were still quite wet and wouldn’t dry for some time.
I tried to drive to the limit. I never lost control – managed to keep the car pointing (more or less) in the right direction, never spun, and never put a wheel off the track.
At one point, there was a BMW catching me. We were heading down through 9A and 9B, into 10, where I planned on pointing him by in that short straight. At the entry of 10, I got quite sideways. I wasn’t looking out the passenger window at the BMW, but I wonder if I gave him a bit of a “code brown” moment. I gathered it in without too much drama and pointed him by, but it was a bit of a thrill.
Most of the rest of the evening featured incipient drifts, slight drifts, occasional wiggles, and quite a few instances of applying the throttle too quickly exiting turns, resulting in some oversteer.
I had a blast.
Later, Ryan posted video of a few of his laps. As I said, he was running slicks. In retrospect, once the standing/running water was gone, I think I’d have gone faster on the slicks, even though it was still damp. In his video, it looked like he had no issues at all with traction. Even in my last session I was struggling for grip and could manage nothing within 20 seconds of my dry times. Live and learn.
Because it was raining, I left the top on the car until the last time I went out. So I mounted the older GoPro on the nose and the newer one on the tail. Any camera on the nose will get pelted with small stones; I have a couple of replacement lens covers for the old camera but none for the new one.
When you turn on the newer camera, it takes a few seconds before it’s ready to start recording. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and fail to wait long enough. When I press the start button, nothing happens. This happened for the first session, so all I have for that one is the front camera. That’s okay: if I’m only running one camera, it should be facing the right way! When I got out of the car after my last session and went to turn off the nose camera, I saw that the battery had died. So for the last session, I only got a couple of laps with good video. No big loss here. Those laps included my fastest lap of the day, but as that was still 20 seconds slower than a good dry lap, and I never had any cars around me, it’s no big loss. None of those laps would have been as visually interesting as my earlier “night” video at HPR.
I didn’t bother with a lap this time. I present five clips. First, passing an older 911 in the rain. The second and third clips involve a Mustang GT 350 (at least, I think it’s a GT 350). First, I pass him, then he passes me under braking into turn 4. Technically, we aren’t supposed to pass under braking, but no big deal in this case. Next, a short clip demonstrates water flowing across the track and standing in puddles. Finally, my excitement entering turn 10 with a BMW behind me. Note that the light level is more accurately shows in the rear-view camera. The front camera is adjusting the exposure.
Today was Ferrari of Denver’s customer appreciation track day. I’m not sure why they keep inviting me, as I haven’t spent any money there in about three years. But I’m very happy they continue to include me.
I was hoping to run on my slicks, but I couldn’t arrange transport for them. The day I registered for the event, I asked Ryan if he was going. Unfortunately, he did not get invited. In prior years, Ferrari of Denver had a trailer, so I asked them if they could take my wheels for me. Either they no longer have the trailer, or it was unavailable for this event. So, no shot to set a new personal best at HPR. And I really want to use up the slicks so I can get track tires that are street legal.
On the subject of tires, the street tires I’ve been using since I bought the car are no longer available. The fronts are still the Dunlops, but I recently put Kumhos on the rear. They’re the same treadwear rating (460) and have similar tread patterns. I figured they’d be a good match.
I think I figured wrong. I don’t think the tires like each other. On the interstates, where the surface is grooved, the car wants to change direction all the time. On the track, I found things very … unpredictable. In a straight line, it’s okay, but when changing directions, it’s darty. I’m thinking perhaps the Kumho sidewalls aren’t as strong. Maybe I can improve things by adding more pressure to the Kumhos.
Meanwhile, I’m still working on the transmission cable adjustment. When we put the new transmission in, third gear was an issue. I adjusted the cable and thought I had it fixed. I didn’t, so I adjusted it some more. It got better, but I don’t think I’m done with it. I discussed the symptoms and my attempts to fix it with FoD’s Lotus mechanic. In the end, he said that, if it’s a high-mileage car, I should replace the cables. I forget what number he used as high mileage, but it was quite a bit smaller than my actual mileage.
I understand the day was fully subscribed with eighty cars. I didn’t actually count them, but I know that not everybody who registered showed up. We had six Lotus: three Elises and three Evoras. One of the Evoras was Wayne, and one of the Elises says we’d met once before, and the others were new to me. I didn’t count the Ferraris, but there might have been thirty. And then there was a mish-mash of other marques: Porsche, Mercedes, Tesla, Audi, BMW. (See slideshow for a few examples, along with my guesses as to what each might be worth.)
I gave a ride to one of my new Elise friends in the morning. At the end of our lunch break, I stopped by to chat with Wayne. He introduced me to Dave, who owns a 458 Spider. He was the third Ferrari owner I asked about getting to drive a few laps in their cars, and the first to agree.
First, I gave him a ride. I’d been running in the experienced group, but for his ride, we ran in the novice group. I enjoyed the session. I got to pass quite a few Ferraris. It’s not fair, of course, as I’m no novice. Many of these folks have never driven really fast. I was really slow my first time. But what disappointed me was how many drivers missed things from the drivers’ meeting: pass only with a point-by, pass only on the straights – not in turns, don’t pass under braking, and don’t get out of the faster car’s way. There’s a fair amount of sensory overload when you’re new to driving on a track, so I get that some drivers will get overwhelmed. But these are all very accomplished individuals who really don’t want to bend their expensive toys.
I had people go off-line to point me by, I had a guy pass in a turn without a point-by, and a number of people got out of my way and pointed me by in a turn. A couple of times, cars came right up behind me, then got in my blind spot. I don’t need to be wondering where people are hiding. These things happened in the experienced group, too, but not as often.
Anywho, after I gave Dave a ride, we switched to his 458. He drove a few laps first. It has paddle shifters, but we had it in automatic. In this mode, you only use the paddles to select or deselect neutral (or reverse, presumably, but we needed reverse). It’s a seven-speed gearbox and it’s pretty impressive.
I told him I’d be okay if we left all the driver aids on, but he dismissed that idea right away. I don’t know how to work his car, but it looked to me like we were in “race” mode, whatever that is. Dave isn’t a particularly fast driver yet (I passed him once or twice in earlier sessions), but he was error-free and his car control wasn’t bad.
I was behind the wheel for only three laps. I didn’t push it at all, but with each lap I was quicker. I was always pretty easy on throttle and brakes. As with when I drove the McLaren, the lap timer doesn’t work well in my pocket, so I don’t know what my lap times were. I did hit over 130 on the highway straight. I only made the tires squeal once.
The Ferrari 458 Spider is a V-8 that pumps out 560hp, which is just short of three times what my car manages. The 458 is about three-quarters of a ton heavier. The brake discs are enormous and the big wheels have fairly sticky rubber on them. I think I could get the car going pretty quickly if you gave me a day with it. Oh, and in normal highway driving, it gets as many miles per gallon as mine does at the track.
We ran with the top on. I think the only thing the Ferrari has less of than my car is headroom. Yes, I never run with the top on, so I have unlimited headroom, but with the hardtop on, my helmet doesn’t touch the top. In the Ferrari, I had to keep my head in a restricted area.
It was a blast to drive. It was great of Dave to let me drive it.
The whole day was a blast. Many thanks to the fine folks at Ferrari of Denver for their hospitality. They had donuts, plenty of cold water and other beverages, and fed us a nice barbecue lunch.
For today’s video, I’m doing something I haven’t done yet: post an entire session. This is with Dave as my passenger. It’s the novice group, so we encounter lots of traffic. It’s only a handful of laps, none of which are fast. But there are a lot of cool cars in it, so there you go.
I’ve had the Lotus for twelve years now. I still love it. But sometimes it’s a bit of a chore.
Leaving last month’s LoCo meeting, Chad pointed out that my driver’s side headlight is out. Sigh. Here is where I try to make a joke. How many Daves does it take to change a lightbulb? On the other hand, I wonder how much I might have been charged had I taken it to the Lotus dealer for the replacement? Note that the Lotus dealer is Ferrari of Denver.
The process is not exactly straightforward. You start by taking the front wheel off. From there, remove part of the wheel well liner to access the back of the headlight housing. The manual says to remove the three “socket head bolts”. That’s probably just a poor translation from English to American. I wouldn’t call them “socket head bolts” as they’re properly removed with an Allen wrench. In this particular instance, there are two rather than three.
After removing those fasteners, you just lift the cover off and it’s a relatively easy task to get the old bulb out and install the new one. It probably only took me half an hour to get to this point. Halfway there, right?
But why only two bolts?
The bolts thread through threaded clips and the clips are slipped over plastic tabs. And the plastic tabs break. One was completely broken, which explains my shortage of fasteners.
When I went to put it back together, it quickly became clear that it was a hopeless task. So I called on my resident mechanic to supervise.
I asked him if he had some glue that would do the job, but I knew it was a bad question as soon as I uttered it. Almost immediately I asked if, perhaps, we could bend some metal over it and fix it that way.
I’m not a fabricator, so I don’t have any bits of metal easily to hand. I thought maybe we could use some aluminum from a pop can, but as soon as I cut one up it was obvious it would be way too thin.
Luckily, Michael is a fabricator of sorts: he customizes die-cast models of big rigs. He found a piece scrap of scrap sheet aluminum that looked like it would make a nice repair. So, snip here, trim there, find some appropriately sized nuts and bolts, drill some holes, et voila! Job done. Well, something like that. We had to do this with both bolts. (And I probably should have done it for the missing one, too) It took a bit of fiddling to get things in the correct place, as all this has to line up with the holes in the back of the housing. But we made it work, and the cover is now more securely fastened than it was when we started.
And it only took 5 labor hours: 3 for me, 2 for Michael.
We took the Elise out of service the first week of November.
All my adult life when it came to cars, I thought I was pretty kind to the equipment. I kept my cars longer than just about anybody I knew. My brakes, tires, and clutches didn’t wear out as fast as they did for most of my friends and acquaintances.
It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve been beating myself up a bit about the Elise. I’ve had suspension failures and a bad cam. I haven’t heard of anybody else having the hub carrier plinth bolt issue, and nobody thinks it’s a maintenance issue. But after having both sides fail, I’ll be replacing the bolts every few years. The bad cam seems to be the luck of the draw. I went about 60k miles before having the problem. I’ve heard many reports of it happening a lot sooner. Then there’s my “money shift”. Pure driver error on that one.
And, now, the third gear synchro. It started going out about a year ago. Before I decided it was the synchro, I worried that it was damage resulting from the money shift. I went into third instead of fifth. Did that break my third gear? But, no, not related. More likely due to my not rev-matching. I don’t know. Anyway, the transmission is replaced at 92k miles, so it started at about 87k and 50ish track days.
But let’s go back to November. We didn’t park it until then, but I had been looking for a solution. What I ended up doing was buying a rebuilt transmission off Lotus Talk. The seller was at one point part of the Lotus Service Exchange and in this role rebuilt about 65 Elise/Exige gearboxes. (This one has the LSD, so I’m replacing same for same.) Seller says, “It had 9000-11000 miles on it when it was pulled for a notchy third gear. I installed a new synchro and inspected the rest of the gears.”
My original thought was just to get mine repaired. Michael and I could take it out of the car to save some labor costs. I talked to a number of people. I was surprised nobody wanted to do the work. The closest I got to anything like a quote on the work was nearly twice what I ended up paying for the rebuilt one. So it was cheaper to put in a repaired one with about 10k miles on it than to have similar work done to my 92k mile one.
In all my looking around, I came to the conclusion that these transmissions are notorious for third gear synchro issues. In the Lotus at least. The guy I bought mine from had two others for sale, and the one I bought the most miles on it. Searching the forums and talking to people, nobody I’ve encountered who has had the third gear synchro fail had anywhere near the mileage or track days I’ve done.
So I guess, in spite of all my repairs, I’ll continue to suffer from cognitive dissonance and believe I’m kind to the equipment.
The transmission arrived nicely boxed up. He built a frame of 2x2s with a plywood base, strapped it in so it wouldn’t jostle about, and stapled corrugation to the exterior. Unfortunately, we destroyed the box when we took it out. I wasn’t thinking about what I’d do with the one we’re taking out. I’m pretty sure now that I’m going to build this type of box for both the transmission and the motor I took out last year. Boxed up, they’ll be much easier to both move and store. I could stack them!
The whole replacement operation took a bit longer than we anticipated. My original hope was to be back on the road by Christmas, so I could participate in HPR’s customer appreciation day. We weren’t even close, but so it goes. Other than not wanting very much to work in the garage when it was cold, and it seemed all our warm weather was during the week, we also ran into a couple of minor issues.
One was the replacement transmission with where a stud mounts. The threads were damaged. Michael borrowed a tap and die set from his work and the repair was fairly easy. So we have an oversized stud in there now.
The other “minor” issue didn’t cause us any delays. I had to buy a couple of bell housing bolts. When we dove into the job, we noticed we had a few fasteners missing. Two of the bell housing bolts were gone, and so was a nut on the driver’s side motor mount. I know the race car guys are always going over their cars making sure all the nuts and bolts are properly torqued. I never worried about it, but clearly, the solid motor mounts are just vibrating the thing apart. So I guess I need to take the clam off once a year and check all the nuts and bolts.
I did a time-lapse of the clam removal. I was thinking it might be cool, but, frankly, I’m underwhelmed. I didn’t mean to leave the timestamp on the camera, but it lets you know how long the process took. I have a “quick disconnect” kit so we don’t have to take the seats out. Oh, and you may notice Michael removing a broken passenger side rear side-marker light.
I’ve only driven it around the block (before we put the clam back on — that always gets some odd looks). Going around the block isn’t a real test, but at least I know I can select all the gears. I’m quite happy to have it back now that the weather is getting nice!
I wouldn’t say that I attend LOG for the track day, but I can say I don’t think I’ll attend a LOG that doesn’t have a track day.
Utah Motorsports Campus is the seventeenth track I’ve driven, in the ninth different state.
The facilities are top-notch. Of the tracks I’ve been to, only COTA has better. In many ways, this is COTA but on a smaller scale. The garages are just as nice, only smaller. The meeting rooms are just as nice, but smaller and fewer. It has a go-kart track, an off-road track (with a giant jump). There’s a restaurant and a clubhouse. The parking lot is enormous.
As for the track, it has four configurations: East Course, West Course, Outer Course, and Full Course. We ran the Outer Course, which is 15 turns in just a bit over 3 miles. It’s not billiard table flat, but there’s not more than a couple of meters of elevation change. It’s fast: there are no second gear turns. For the most part, you don’t have to worry about hitting anything if you go off.
We were asked to arrive at the track by 8:00 so everybody could get checked in in time for an 8:45 drivers meeting. I left the hotel at 7 and was parked in the paddock promptly at 8.
I’ve been in a lot of drivers meetings. This one was perhaps the least polished. Polished or not, all the important information was covered. The four or five instructors introduced themselves then the lead instructor started running through the topics. At times, he’d falter a bit and one of the other instructors would jump in and complete the thought or provide something the others had missed.
There were a couple of things that were out of the ordinary. First, everybody got out on track and followed the instructors around a very slow lap. At the end of it, we parked in rows of three with the first row at the start/finish line. An interesting and unusual photo opportunity.
Another unusual facet for me was that we never really used the paddock. Typically, we all empty our cars, placing our things adjacent to our parking places in the paddock. Today, we all unloaded our stuff into one of the garages and parked our cars on pit road. We could park anywhere along here when not on the track as we didn’t need to park near our stuff. And it was quicker and easier to get on and off the track. The relatively small number of cars made this possible. I can’t see it working with 60 or more cars. (I didn’t get a car count, but it was only about three dozen, including the instructors’ cars.)
The advanced/intermediate group was out first. I found myself behind our ghost town drive leader, Speedy Gonzalez. Turns 5 and 6 are the slowest. Not 2nd gear slow, but nearly. Speedy Gonzalez got to turn 6 and spun out. I was saving my camera batteries for later in the day, so I didn’t get it on video. Back in the pits, I asked one of the guys what happened. This is “hearsay evidence”, so not admissible in court, but I’m told he said that he “ran out of talent” in turn 6 and blamed cold tires. You’d think, after racing Formula Fords for hundreds of hours, he’d come up with an excuse that wasn’t the crutch of novices.
I cut my first session short. I was getting a brake warning light in some of the left turns. I needed to top off my brake fluid. I asked around and found a gentleman from North Carolina who kindly donated some to me. I’m sorry I didn’t get his name, but I really appreciated it.
I also cut my second session short. After a few laps, I started getting the rev limiter at 6000 rpm. Back in the pits, I tracked down Dave Simkin and TJ, who hooked their laptop up to my car. They quickly ruled out two or three possibilities and theorized I was low on oil. TJ checked the dipstick: it was dry. The switchover to the high cam is activated by oil pressure. Insufficient oil, no cam. I checked my oil before I left the house and it was okay. How am I a quart (or more) low?
To remedy my problem, I needed to make a trip into town. There’s an auto parts store about ten miles away, so off I went. I bought a quart of oil, poured it in, and now the dipstick showed oil almost to the top mark.
On the way back to the track, I decided to stop at the gas station in town to top off the tank. The pump wouldn’t accept my Discover card so I tried a Visa. Still no joy. A bit frustrated, I hopped back in the car and left. When I got back to the track, I noticed that I hadn’t closed the fuel filler door. And saw that I didn’t have my gas cap. Clearly, in my frustration, I forgot to put it back on. I’d driven off with the cap sitting on top of the car. So off I went, back to town, to find my missing cap. Luckily, someone had found it and given it to the cashier. Each trip to town was about half an hour lost.
When I got back to the track, my group was already on the track, so I quickly put my helmet on and joined the session. Each session was supposed to be thirty minutes. As I had cut my first two sessions short, I still hadn’t seen a checkered flag. In this session, when I saw that I’d done 12 laps, I knew I was well over the half-hour session length. By the time I was back in the pits, I was 14 minutes late. I never saw a checkered flag (which would have been shown to me at three different places), so I’m guessing they weren’t that strict about who was on track when. I never did see the checkered flag all day. But I get ahead of myself.
Anyway, all was good. A few minutes after the hour, I went back out. After 4 or 5 laps, I began having the limiter problem again. When I stopped back in the pits, the dipstick was dry again. Where is all the oil going? I’m not burning it; I’m not putting out any smoke at all. I’m not leaking it; there’s never a fresh drop of anything under the car, and a quart of oil would certainly overflow the undertray. And it’s not getting in the coolant, as the overflow tank is its usual pinkish color. Where’s the oil going?
I had no choice but to call it quits.
The instructors were giving rides. There were four Evora GTs we could ride in, but I’ve already driven an Evora on the track. One guy, Jonathan, had his 2-Eleven there, so I asked if he’d give me a ride. I don’t know how heavily modified it is. He told me it puts out 330hp, so it’s not stock. The body also features a lot of carbon fiber. This made it interesting getting in and out, as it has no doors and you must climb over the top of the roll cage without stepping on any bodywork.
We got me all strapped in and started down pit road. At the entrance to the track, the steward reminded Jonathan that the novice session was on track and he should take appropriate care not to divebomb the newbies.
The car is pretty amazing. It’s not quite twice the horsepower of mine, and at least 400lbs lighter. He’s running slicks (Hoosier R7), naturally, and he’s done thousands of laps here. There weren’t many cars on track, so we had an open run. On our out lap, in turn 6, he missed the turn and we went wide. “OPR”, he said: other peoples’ rubber.
Next lap around, in turn 6 again, where we went straight the first time around (and where Speedy Gonzalez spun on his first lap), all hell broke loose. The engine stopped, which threw the car into a spin. Jonathan took his hands off the wheel (so he wouldn’t break a thumb), we went around twice and were in a cloud of tire smoke. He restarted and went a hundred yards down the track toward the next corner bunker, which was showing us the “meatball” flag. He pulled off the track and stopped the car. We were leaking oil. A lot of it. There was a slick from turn 6 to halfway between turns 7 and 8. There was oil inside the cockpit, in the right front wheel well, and all over the ground under the engine compartment.
The rescue truck was there very quickly and the tow truck was right on its heels. Jonathan described the incident to the rescue crew as they winched his car onto the flatbed. He rode in the towtruck, I went with the rescue crew. First, we went back to the site of the spin (driving the wrong way on the track, which I’ve never done before). Leaving there, we made our way back to the pits using some of the infield service roads. Oh, and this was the first (and hopefully last) time I got to ride in the rescue truck.
I felt bad for Jonathan. After having my day ended due to an oil issue, to be his passenger when he suffered a catastrophic oil failure, made me wonder if I was suffering some bad oil karma for some reason. I know his problem was in no way my fault, but I felt some guilt nonetheless.
The cleanup took 45 minutes. By the time the track was green again, there were only about a dozen cars left. Everybody still there got to run as much as they wanted in the last hour of the day as they stopped running by groups.
Just before I left, there was a bit more excitement. When they opened the track back up, a yellow Evora that had been parked for a couple of hours got started up. That produced a fairly big cloud of white smoke. It wasn’t clear to me if it was oil or coolant or something else.
I took this as a sign for me to make my exit and go back to the hotel.
I bought three more quarts of oil and put a quart and a half into the engine before the dipstick indicated it was full. Still no smoke, no drips, no contaminated coolant. Where did it go? I’ll just have to check the oil every time I make a stop on the way home.
Both there at the track and back in the hotel parking lot, I discussed my experience with several people. Everybody had a look under the car, both front and back (the oil cooler is in the front), checked out my coolant reservoir, and scratched their chins in wonder. Nobody had any ideas.
After dinner, I started packing the car with the idea of making an easier departure in the morning. While I was doing this, Dave and TJ came by and we discussed the situation. They said the oil coolers and lines held about two quarts, or maybe two and a half, they weren’t sure. They said the oil cooling system doesn’t operate except under track conditions. It sounded to me like they thought this would somehow explain it, but it still didn’t make sense to me.
I didn’t run enough laps to thoroughly learn the track; I know I could have picked up a few more seconds. Particularly, I know I can take turns 1 and 11 faster. That said, no Elise passed me. I did get passed by some Evoras, but most of those were instructor-driven. I got passed by the 2-Eleven and an instructor’s 911. And I got passed by a couple of Exiges and the V6 Cup car. I could only manage 118 on the long straight. It was so long I expected to be able to top 120. I am somewhat disappointed that I only ran half the number of laps I expected to, but so it goes. I think I acquitted myself well.
It was an interesting and unforgettable day, that’s for sure.
Tomorrow, hopefully, my trip home will not be so interesting.
I began the day with a breakfast sandwich from the Starbucks in the hotel lobby, which I ate at a tableful of fellow LOCOs.
The first activity on today’s agenda was the group panoramic photo and Concours. We’d drive from the hotel to a local high school parking lot. But first, everybody was out cleaning up their cars. It rained yesterday evening, so it was mostly a matter of wiping the cars dry. My car, somehow, was already dry and still quite dirty. Is there something about my car that makes any water on it dry unnaturally quickly, leaving only the water spots?
I really don’t care that much if my car is dirty. I often joke that, whenever I take it to, say, Cars & Coffee, I’m always in the running for the Dirtiest Car in Show award. Half a dozen people must have asked me, “Aren’t you going to wash it?” Nope!
We independently headed for our photo at Cottonwood High School. Arriving there, we more or less randomly parked at the west end of the lot. This felt a lot like your typical Cars & Coffee, except that almost every car was a Lotus. While we wandered around, checking out the cars, asking the owners about their customizations, and deciding who gets our votes in the various classes, it started to rain lightly. My car was no longer noticeably dirtier than anybody else’s, and I’ll admit to experiencing a bit of schadenfreude in so many people wasting so much effort cleaning their cars.
After a fair amount of socializing, we were told to go to the east end of the lot, with the newer cars (Elise/Exige/Evora) in one line and the older cars in another. Many of us are independent thinkers and eschewed neat lines. Let’s just say it looked a lot like people trying to get out of a parking lot after a concert, and it took about as long.
During this operation, the rain really started coming down. A number of cars didn’t have tops; umbrellas were deployed. Some people looked pretty miserable. It was a quick shower, then gone.
As soon as we were all shifted, we were moved back to the west end of the parking lot, arranged by model in a big fan in front of a scissor lift. This took even longer than it took to make the first shift. The photographer, atop the lift, directed traffic. Once all the cars were in place, we took a picture with everybody standing behind their cars, and one with no people.
The photographer starts on his left and works around to his right. When he snapped the first shot, two guys up front start running behind the lift to the other side in an attempt to be in the picture twice. I’d have had trouble doing it but these guys never had a chance. It would have been nice if they’d pulled it off, though.
As I said, this was also the Concours. I don’t take these too seriously, it’s not really my thing. But some people are pretty into it. So I was somewhat amused at how many people spent so much time looking my car over. The odometer topped 91,000 miles on the way out here, and the more than fifty track days haven’t been kind to the finish. The nose is terribly pitted, paint is coming off the tow ring, I’ve worn holes through the fiberglass, in the back there’s the damage from the loose battery, and the big chunk taken out by the incident with the dolly.
More than one person said it adds character. One guy said he’d vote for it if he had a ballot (he didn’t have one, some issue when he checked in). I always figured I’d be the last car to get votes in a Concours, but I’m a bit curious if somebody voted for me because of all my battle scars.
Those 91k miles are well above the average for an Elise, but I have nowhere near the most. I talked to one guy from San Diego with a long commute (daily from San Diego to 29 Palms?) who has put more than 120k on his, and somebody told me there was a guy here from Michigan with 160k. I’d have liked to have chatted with him.
All morning I pondered which self-directed drive to take. The local chapter had devised about ten of them. I was thinking I’d like to head to Antelope Island. I asked several others where they were going, many were non-commital, and nobody seemed that interested in Antelope Island. In the end, I stayed in the high school parking lot until there were only a dozen or so cars left.
The agenda for the evening was a cash bar at 5, a banquet at 6. I got dressed up for it, wearing a sport coat for the first time since LOG 35. I had a couple of Lotus Lagers and struck up a rather lengthy conversation with Richard, a very pleasant man who laughed at all my jokes.
When it was time to have a seat in the banquet room, I saw that there was a seating chart. Evidently, I was supposed to pick my seat when I checked in yesterday. Nobody told me. Here it was, almost completely filled in. I found an empty seat at a table in the back, but I didn’t have a pen and didn’t put my name in the blank on the chart.
Due to various travel restrictions, the guests we had planned on having in the room couldn’t make it. Instead, we got a short video with Richard Parramint talking to two Lotus mechanics from the F1 glory days. They told some funny stories of the practical jokes they used to play on the other teams.
Next up was the awards ceremony. Ross got the task of announcing the names. This went well for about two minutes. Instead of announcing the names of the winners, they used their LOG registration numbers. To add to the confusion, they somehow cross-threaded the awards and classes. That is, they’d announce a Seven owner as the winning Elan. They managed to get it squared away eventually; names in their proper categories. Ross handled it as well as anybody could have.
I didn’t count, but it seemed to me that more than half the winners were LOCOs. I’m sure it wasn’t that many. We are particularly well-represented here this weekend, though, and Lotus Colorado took more than our share of trophies home. About the only ones we weren’t in the running for were longest drive and best personalized plate.
Tomorrow I think I’ll take the guided drive down to the ghost town.
It’s time again for RMVR’s Race Against Kids Cancer.
The forecast said there was a 70% chance of rain with a high temperature in the mid-70s. They nailed it. We had the occasional sprinkles, but it didn’t rain until after I got back home.
I only gave three rides. There was a pretty good turnout for the race, but not as many people getting rides. My second passenger was a kid, about eight years old, who survived cancer.
We had a bit of an inauspicious start. They put the first passengers in our cars in the paddock and we lined up in the hot pit. We waited quite a while. After four or five minutes, the guy in front started going, and we all went out after him. The only problem was, we weren’t supposed to go yet. I don’t know why they didn’t have a marshall out there to direct us. There’s always a sign there that says if the lights are flashing, the track is closed. The lights weren’t flashing. At the start of our third lap (out lap, hot lap, in lap) we all got black flagged.
All the Ticket To Ride drivers are supposed to be experienced. We’re taking passengers out on a track with no corner workers. There’s zero tolerance for mistakes. Seems like there’s always one guy, though, that clearly shouldn’t be out there. This time he was in a Ferrari. I didn’t see the spin; by the time I got there, he was stopped in the weeds between turns 6 and 7.
I met Kevin on our club drive over Trail Ridge Road. We were parked together at the Alpine Visitors Center and again at our next stop. He has an Elise, but that day he was driving his freshly purchased orange 2015 McLaren 650S Spider. As you might guess, his car was the center of attention everywhere we went.
It’s natural to assume that anybody driving a McLaren is going to field a bunch of questions about the car. And it’s not much of a stretch to think that a guy wearing a race track hat and with numbers on his car might find himself in a conversation about track days. So, naturally, the topic of Kevin taking the McLaren to the track came up. And, of course, I had to ask if I could drive it.
Before long, it was all arranged.
Thursday, July 22
I like these Thursday evening sessions. The heat of the day is over, and there aren’t as many cars as usual. Generally, the first hour is broken into fast and slow groups, with the rest of the evening open for everybody. You can run in the dark if you’re hardcore, and there’s always the chance of showers.
Kevin and his wife, Erin, were gassing up when I arrived. We picked our spot in the paddock, trying to have enough room for four cars. It was Kevin and Erin, myself, Scott (Elise), and his friend (BMW M2). We got checked in, then attended the drivers meeting.
I reminded Kevin that I’m not an instructor, but that I’m happy to give him some tips. We agreed that the best sequence would be for him to ride with me in the Elise, then I ride with him, then I drive his car.
With Kevin as passenger, we did an out lap, then four full laps, then an in lap. This is Kevin’s first time on a track, so when he got behind the wheel, he’d only really only been on track for four laps. And he’s only had the car for a short while, and there’s no place on the streets to really drive the car. So he was facing a daunting task. Add to that, my lack of awareness: I didn’t think to make sure he had all the drivers aids enabled.
Let’s just say his first few laps were difficult.
I’ve never had any instruction on the track. And when I visit new tracks, I like to figure them out on my own. At Portland International, I had an instructor for a session, more of a navigator, really, and again for a few laps at COTA. There wasn’t a lot of communication – with the engine right behind my head, with a helmet on, and a case of tinnitus, I can’t hear anything the passenger might be saying. So it’s down to hand signals. With only 15 or 20 laps of this sort of thing, I really don’t know what I’m doing.
I was not giving him any help at all for his first couple of laps. I wasn’t really sure what to do. But after a while I got comfortable. The first signal I needed was to brake: I held my hand out, palm down, and pushed down. I don’t know if that’s generally the signal, but he understood immediately. I quickly had four or five signals and none were misunderstood. All right! I’m helping!
The big thing, though, for his first session behind the wheel was that he had disabled some of the aids. That unnecessarily added to his difficulties. He was facing a steep enough learning curve as it was. He turned them all back on at the end of that first session.
I faced a bit of a learning curve myself. As a passenger, I got a sense of the power of the car, and felt the braking. But it’s not the same as driving. We had it in automatic mode, so all I needed to do was brake and steer, but that was plenty. Starting it wasn’t a problem, but Kevin had to put it in drive for me, as I couldn’t figure it out on my own.
I think, given my experience, if I had a couple of full days with this car, I could drive it fast with some of the aids turned off. I think.
It’s quite a machine. At 650hp, it’s the most powerful car I’ve driven. It’s almost three and a half times the horsepower of the Elise. On the other hand, it weighs over fifty percent more than the Elise. Still, it has a much higher power-to-weight ratio than the Elise. It’s on bigger, softer tires, it has bigger brakes, and active aero. We drove it with the top down.
You put your right foot down and the car just launches out of the corners. We hit 137 on the highway straight. That’s 25mph faster than I’ve done in the Elise. I managed to go at least 10mph faster on all of the straight bits of track.
I felt challenged by the braking and cornering. The Elise is very light. Even the two cheap race cars I drove were pretty light. The McLaren felt very heavy to me. I’m not sure how often the computers stopped me from doing bad things, but I don’t think it was often. A few times, I felt a bit of delay on the throttle exiting turns, but I didn’t really feel the sorts of things I felt when I was a passenger in the Ferrari 458. Nothing obtrusive.
In the Elise, I use a CG lock on the seatbelt. Without it, I’d move around quite a bit more. The McLaren just has regular seat belts. I felt secure in the seat and didn’t move around at all.
Visibility was pretty good. Or, at least, not any worse than the Elise. Except in one case: under heavy braking. The rear wing pops up as an air brake. It fills the rear-view mirror. I never did get used to it. I kind of like knowing where any following cars are when I’m hard on the brakes.
Somewhere around here, I’d give you my lap time. But I don’t have a lap time.
And I don’t have a video.
I ran the lap timer with the phone in my pocket. I’ve done that a number of times before and not had any issues. But today the GPS track it recorded is not anywhere near where I drove. It was fine in my car, mounted to the dash, but miserable in my pocket.
As to the video, I took a suction cup mount that I had in a drawer. I exercised it the night before, but when I went to put it on his car, it broke. I had a backup plan, though. I had also found a curved adhesive mount and stuck it on my helmet. I didn’t want to put it on the vinyl, so I put it below my visor. It was out of my sight, which was good. But it was facing too low. All I got was ten minutes of the steering wheel, dashboard, and my arms and lap. Not exactly compelling viewing.
I will recount two notable incidents.
When I exited the track the first time in his car, the track manager, Glen, motioned me to stop. “You crossed the commit line.” This is a major foul. There’s a white line separating the track from the pit exit. You’re not to cross this line. I was certain I didn’t cross it. “Yes, you did. I just got a call from the corner worker.”
After we parked, I went to talk to Glen. “I don’t want to argue, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t cross the line.” He repeated that the corner worker reported me; it was not Kevin. “I can show it to you on the video.” Please do. He rewound the footage, found the McLaren, ran it a couple of times over. “You are correct. You did not cross the line.” Vindicated!
My second time in the McLaren, I finally put together a nice lap. I don’t know how nice a lap it was, sadly, but it felt good. The previous lap I missed my braking point going in to turn 4, the fastest place on the track, and ran quite wide. For a while I was thinking I wouldn’t keep it on the track, but in the end I had six inches to spare. But that’s not the second notable incident.
The lap after my nice lap, the car felt quite sluggish under acceleration. On the long straight, we only got up to 100. Then I saw the warning: “High Clutch Temperature”. A few turns later, we were definitely in limp mode, unable to top 35.
“Sorry I broke your car!”
By the time we parked, the warning was off and all was well again. I believe Kevin did get the same thing later in the evening. It doesn’t seem right to me that it would overheat like that so quickly, but perhaps it’s partly to do with the mode we were operating the car in. I really don’t know anything about it. There are two selectors with three or four positions in each. Perhaps we were using a combination that wasn’t expected on the track.
In addition to me giving him a ride in the Elise and attempting to give him hand signals when he was driving, we tried to do two lead/follow sessions. The idea was, he’d try to follow my line through the turns but not pass me on the straights. I had it in my mind that I’d go slow. But I didn’t go slow enough. I’ve seen enough first timers on track to know they’re going to be slower than me. Maybe much slower. I didn’t account enough for that.
As well, we had to deal with traffic. A couple of times, cars that Kevin would wave by wouldn’t pass me. So we got separated a few times. And for one of these sessions, I was giving Erin a ride. After I got a certain distance ahead of Kevin, I put my foot down and turned my fastest lap of the day. Gotta show off for the passenger, right?
Normally up at the start of these reports, I give an inventory of the cars in attendance. I didn’t wander around and talk to any of the other drivers. This time, it was all about the McLaren.
I seem to randomly get invited to these things. Didn’t get invited last year when I spent money in their shop, did get invited this year but haven’t spent a nickel there in eighteen months. So it was very nice of them to include me. I’m a big fan of free track days, and even though I can’t tell any of the Ferraris apart, it’s pretty cool to see so many of them in the paddock.
I was told the car count was forty or forty-two. Eight were Lotus, unless I miscounted. I saw an Audi in the paddock but don’t know if he went on the track. There were four or five Porsches, two of which I saw on the track. And I think all the rest were Ferraris. And there were some Ferraris there that didn’t go on the track for a total of maybe three dozen.
I get a real ego stroke from these Ferrari track days. Totally undeserved, but prideful nonetheless.
Somehow, the car still gets admiring looks, even in this crowd, even with all the wear and tear of nearly 90,000 miles and 50ish track days. I’m starting to call her a “thirty footer”: looks best from thirty feet away. Most people tell me it’s great that I drive it so much. In this crowd, I felt I had to point out that my car had nothing theirs had: not a stitch of leather, no cup holders, no radio, no air conditioning, no cruise control, no traction control, no horsepower. And on hard tires.
At the drivers meeting there was a show of hands: about half the drivers hadn’t driven on a track before. That’s pretty normal for this crowd. We’d have novice and experienced groups for the first hour, but all afternoon would be open track. So I’d be out there with the guys that don’t know how slow they are. I try to keep in mind how slow I was my first time, and that there’s a bit of sensory overload, but it does annoy me when they don’t pay attention to their mirrors.
I am reminded of that scene in The Gumball Rally when Raúl Juliá says, “The first rule of Italian driving is, what’s behind me is not important.” Whereupon he throws his rear-view mirror out of the car.
Let’s break the Ferrari guys into groups. The first group are the few who are in over their heads. Totally clueless. They’re the ones not looking in the mirror. I wonder how they managed the lead/follow session. They should start by taking a ride with an instructor. They do a few laps but leave as slow as they arrived. They’re big fans of hauling ass down the straights but take the turns twenty or thirty miles an hour slower than I do. I’m guessing they’re one and done so far as track days go.
The second group are slow, but they’re trying. They’re paying attention. Today there were more of these than the first group. Two of them caught my attention. I was somewhat faster than they were. They’d easily pull me on the straights, but I made up more time than that in the corners. Each one pointed me by and slowed to get behind me. Each was able to keep up, and after a couple of laps behind me, they were better in the turns. That gave me a warm fuzzy.
In one session, I reeled in three of them, one after the other. I’d have them in my sights for a lap and a half or so, and when I’d get close enough I might pass them in another lap, they pulled into the pits. My enormous ego wants to believe they saw me coming and didn’t want to get passed by an Elise.
The third group had spent some time at the track. One chap I talked to used to have a Lemons team. One yellow Porsche sported numbers on his doors, one Ferrari was trailered in. I think every Ferrari and Porsche there was capable of a sub-two-minute lap. I don’t know that anybody did one, but there were a few that were close.
I gave rides to all who asked, which amounted to two of my Lotus brethren. Nobody got sick, and they seemed to enjoy it, so that’s good.
As the day wore on, more and more people told me they were impressed with my speed. An ego stroke, for sure. But given the experience difference, I think it’s a bit like playing basketball with a bunch of sixth graders. I’d be a dominant player, no matter how expensive the kids’ shoes are.
When not on the track, I struck up a few conversations. Any Ferrari driver I talked to for more than a few minutes, I asked if I could take their cars out for a few laps. Nobody laughed, and nobody told me to fuck off. But I didn’t get any takers. I figure it doesn’t hurt to ask. Heck, I’ve been asking to drive strangers’ formula cars for years now. (Not that I’ve had success there, either. One guy said he’d be happy to let me drive his formula car, but he died before we got it arranged.)
Somehow, my lap timer app failed to record any of the OBDII data. Somehow, the phone wasn’t paired with the dongle. I paired them, and the settings look correct, but I didn’t get any data. Also, on my third run, I failed to get the forward facing camera started. If that’s the worst operator error of the day, it’s a good day.
I had a great time hanging with the one-percenters. I had a blast on the track. My gracious hosts fed me lunch and kept me hydrated. I spent some time with people who share one of my passions. We couldn’t have asked for better weather. What’s not to like?