RMVR/RAKC

Saturday, July 29

It’s that time of year again, when Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers do their big event and raise money for the Race Against Kids’ Cancer, benefiting the Morgan Adams Foundation.

On the road to the track, it was overcast and cool, and a few raindrops fell on me. I was looking forward to a cool day. It was not to be. At the track the sun was shining brightly through scattered clouds, and it was warm and muggy.

My contribution to the event involves giving rides during the lunch hour. It’s called ‘Ticket to Ride’, and people donate $50, $100, or $250 for a ride, depending on the car. A couple years ago I was a $100 car. This year I’ve been demoted to a $50 car, which is where I figured I should be, given the other cars that were there.

Photo courtesy Mike Rogers, Driven Imagery

This year the goal is to raise $150,000 that will be used to purchase a machine called an IncuCyte ZOOM. It’s used by cancer researchers in the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Program. Just before I went on track, Heike came out of race control and chatted with me a bit while I was lined up waiting to get into pit lane. She said they had already exceeded their target. It gives me a bit of a “warm fuzzy” to be able to contribute, even just a little.

The program says people are buying three laps: out lap, fast lap, and in lap. I did this year what I did last year, and ran a second fast lap. I asked them all if they wanted to do that extra lap, and the all gave me the thumbs up. Sometimes we got stuck for a while behind slower cars, so I felt that was a good excuse to put in that second lap.

I gave four rides. My first rider was a kid who could barely see out the windshield. You can’t even see his helmet in the video. My second rider, maybe 20 years old, told me the Elise was his childhood dream car. Third and fourth riders were grid girls. They get free rides. The first girl screamed a lot. It was her first time in a car on track. At first I thought they might be cries of terror but she kept giving me two thumbs up. The second grid girl had just gotten a ride in a BMW.

The first thing I did when I got out of the car was turn off the cameras. The rear mounted one wasn’t running. It was powered up but not recording. I was sure I had pressed the shutter. The battery wasn’t dead, and the memory card was empty when I started so I’m not sure why it stopped. My lap timer recorded for 54 minutes, I got 54 minutes on the front facing camera, but only 44 minutes on the rear one. Seems like it’s always something. If my major malfunction for the day is losing 9 minutes of video it’s a good day.

Each year, the array of cars running lunch laps gets more interesting. This year, Kent brought his BMW i8. There was a 2006 Ford GT, a fully race prepared Aston Martin Vantage, an Ariel Atom, a Porsche Carrera GT, a Subaru rally car, and an assortment of 911s, a Corvette, a recent Mustang, and a 350Z. A few of the RMVR racers had passenger seats, and these ran as well: a classic Mustang and Firebird, and an old MG. Ralph Schomp BMW brought out a bunch of BMWs and Minis. I was the only Lotus today.

With Tanner Foust. It looks like I’ve been sucking on a lemon.

This is the seventh year RMVR is doing this. This is the fourth time I’ve driven the lunch laps. The whole event seems to get bigger each year. I think this is the second or third year they’re doing a Pro-Am race. This years pro drivers include Alex Figge, Nick Ham, Robb Holland, Robby Unser, Randy Pobst, Tanner Foust, and a couple of others. One of the others is a guy called Paul Gerrard, who was The Stig for the American version of Top Gear.

Last year, after we were done giving laps, we drivers were treated to a lunch and plenty of cold beverages. I looked around but didn’t see where to go. I was hungry and thirsty so I bought a burger and soda and sat in the pavilion and ate. While I was eating, William came by and told me he had gotten a ride with Randy Pobst. William told him he wanted to learn something, so Pobst kept up a running commentary of how to get around the track, all the while going at a pretty good clip. William particularly wanted to see Pobst’s footwork, but said taking his eyes off the track made him a bit queasy.

About half way through my burger I saw where the lunch drivers were congregating. I didn’t need any more to eat, but certainly could do with some more hydration so when I finished my burger, I went over and joined the crowd.

The driver of the Ford GT was there. I needed to apologize to him. He was going quite slow and I needed to pass him a couple of times. The first time was between turns 2 and 3. I was sure he pointed me by on his right but before I was around him he was moving toward me. He was pretty casual about it. It looks pretty close to me on the video. Rather than pointing me by, he was putting his fist in the air, which signals he’s going into the pits. That was inappropriate here, we were nowhere near the track exit. Fortunately, I passed him pretty quickly and there was no drama. In viewing the video, I see that he was always using this gesture.

I grabbed my second bottle of water and a tiny square of dessert and took a seat. I was with Foust and Pobst and a few other guys. It didn’t take long to figure out that they were the pros. It turned out to be Ham, Figge, and Holland, but nobody was using any names. Robb Holland and I finally introduced ourselves to each other in the end, but I didn’t know who they were until later. I had it pretty well narrowed down, but didn’t know which names went with which faces.

I would say that I spent an hour chatting with them. It may be difficult to believe, but I didn’t say much. I just listened. It started with somebody asking Foust if he was going to watch the new season of Top Gear, which led to him to talking a bit about his time working on the show. He said it was one hundred fifty days of work a year, and the days were long with every hour planned. He said nobody on the show knew who the Stig was except whoever wrote the paychecks. He knew who it was, though, as he knew Paul and helped get him the job. When he was on the set he never spoke and didn’t shake hands with anybody. But sometimes Paul would show up for dinner on shooting days, “just coincidentally” in the area. Nobody ever suspected he was the Stig.

Foust got up and left after a while. The rest of the guys kept chatting. They had all raced against each other for years, sometimes as teammates. They were waxing nostalgic. “Remember that time at Miller where my car broke?” “And mine broke at the same time and I parked behind you?” “And the time you had that crash at Miller.” “That was a bad one, but the crash in Detroit was the worst.” I could have listened to them for the rest of the day.

I wonder how many of the pros were on track while I was doing laps. William tells me that only a couple were doing lunch laps, but that many of the others were out with their Pro-Am partners testing the cars. I know Pobst was driving the Focus and I did see a couple of the Schomp Minis in and out of the pits. Although I was running laps with five or six or seven pro drivers, I don’t think I passed or was passed by any of them.

I’m a big football fan but I’ve never had the delusion that I could ever do what Joe Montana or Terrell Davis could do. I was never going to throw a perfect spiral fifty yards down the field while stepping up in the pocket, facing a safety blitz or catch a screen pass in the flat and go the distance. I also don’t have the delusion that I could do what Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton could do. But I can watch a sports car race or a touring car race and imagine doing it, and doing it well. Sure, it’s a delusion too. But I just ran a bunch of laps on a race track with a half dozen accomplished professionals and never got passed. My delusion survives intact!

And I think it’s pretty cool that I got to see some pretty cool cars get out on the race track.

I had a really good time.

WarBird Auto Show

The WarBird Auto Show is a combined car and air show. I’m not sure how long it’s been going on. I think this is the third year. This is my first time.

They wanted us registered cars to be there by 7:00, but I shot for more like a quarter after. On I-70 I passed a Model A Ford that was doing about sixty. That’s certainly as fast as I’d want to go in one of those. Automotive safety hadn’t been invented yet. The tires, the brakes, no seatbelts. As I got closer to Front Range airport, I found myself a few cars behind a line of Jaguars. When we got onto the apron, the Jags were sent to the left and I got sent to the right.

I found myself parked with about twenty other cars between two hangars. They left a big open area here, only parking cars along the east and south edges. The were running a shuttle bus from the parking area and this is where it turned around. All the other cars were between the hangers and the taxiways. I would rather have been out there. This was sort of out-of-the-way.

Of the twenty or so cars, only two were imports: myself and the mid-60’s Karman Ghia on my immediate left. We were also the only non-front engined cars. There were several mid to late 60’s GM cars – a few Chevy Impalas, a Pontiac Tempest. The 1931 Model A I passed on the interstate, a 2016 Saleen Mustang, a few other modern cars.

Next to the Model A was a 1965 Chrysler Newport. When I was a kid we had a ’64 Newport, so I recognized it right away. The car was straight but needed some care. The light blue paint had no shine, the steel wheels were rusty, but all the parts looked to be there. It could be a nice car, given a bit of TLC. But I must be the only one to like this era Mopar car. I never see them anywhere.

At the end of the row were three Shelby replicas. One had a nice wrap that simulated an airplane: aluminum panels with rivets and seams, pinup nose art, and pilot’s, co-pilots, and mechanic’s names “painted” on. I watched him fire it up and drive out of his spot. He never returned to our cul-de-sac but I did spot him later.

Being out-of-the-way wasn’t without its advantages. We were close to the food trucks but out of the traffic. Porta potties were also close, but not too close.

The cars were lined up at the east end of the apron and a swap meet was on the west end. I made one pass through the swap meet but didn’t find anything that caught my interest.

I’d say there were perhaps 175 cars there. Most were classic American iron, Ford, GM, and Chrysler cars from the fifties and sixties. There were a few antique cars and several hot rods. Not many exotics and not many imports. A vinyl wrap outfit had a couple of Lamborghinis. I didn’t see any Ferraris, Astons, or Alfas. One or two Minis, less than a handful of BMWs. There was one other Lotus: an orange Elise.

I asked several people if they’d been to this show before. Quite a few had. The consensus was that the earlier shows had more cars but fewer planes and there were fewer people this time. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I was expecting a good number of planes and may have been disappointed had there been fewer. And I liked that the crowd wasn’t too bad, but I have no idea how many people have to attend to make it a going concern.

Some of the planes were there when I arrived. Others flew in over the next hour or so. Until all the planes where there, we had to remain behind the rope. Once they were all parked we had free run of the place.

The star of the show, I think, was the B-25 Mitchell. I’m not a good plane spotter. I know only the most common WW II planes. There were two P-51 Mustangs, two T-6 Texans, a French jet with a tail like a Beechcraft Bonanza, two biplanes, and a P-40 Warhawk that didn’t fly today due to a mechanical issue.

There were a couple of Russian Yaks. One of the owners wore a t-shirt that said, “YAKs Don’t Leak Oil – They Mark Their Territory” I’ve seen similar on shirts for British sports cars.

During the little time I spent by my car I let several people sit in it. Usually it’s just little kids, but today none of the kids wanted to. But about six guys did one after another. One guy asked, and I agreed. Then I couldn’t really refuse the others. Everybody got their picture. One of the plane owners was letting “civilians” sit in cockpit. It was quite a production. Certainly a lot more involved than my simple instructions for getting in and out of my car.

I didn’t know they had sunroofs

I saw a fellow reading a small plate on the tail of the French jet and making notes in a journal. I asked him what caught his interest. He’s an FAA inspector. He wasn’t working, he’s just a plane geek. He keeps a log book of all the tail numbers he sees. We talked for quite a while. We compared and contrasted inspections of cars (for HPDE events and sanctioned races) to the FAA aircraft inspections.

While we were talking, we wandered towards the F-40 where we met the owner of that plane. The two knew each other, and the FAA inspector had done the inspection for this plane. They wouldn’t be flying the F-40 today. They brought it in last night, but it was not running right so they’re not going anywhere until it’s fixed. I believe the plane is newly restored. He said the engine had less than a hundred hours on it.

The air show, if you want to call it that, consisted of about half the planes going out in twos and threes to do passes over the runways. Each plane did two or three or four passes. Some of the pilots better at showing off their planes than the others – give a side view on pass, show us the top on the next. Some were hotdoggers – taking off in a short distance and putting wheels up within a few feet of the ground.

Not long after my chat with the FAA guy I found myself in conversation with one of the volunteers. We were interrupted by another volunteer who wanted help marshalling a car into place next to the B-25 for a photo. It was the Shelby replica from earlier. It was a good match. Clearly, the Shelby is meant to look like a bomber and not a fighter as I originally surmised.

A nice pair

It immediately occurred to me to ask if I can bring my car over for a picture. It can’t hurt to ask, can it? So I did. “Does your car have nose art on it?” No. “What kind of car?” A Lotus. And I’d like to park it next to either of those green planes there. “If the owner says it’s okay, we’ll get you in here.” Cool!

Unfortunately, festivities were coming to an end. They were clearing the area and moved the crowd back behind the ropes. They fired up the French jet, which had about half the people putting fingers in their ears. It warmed up for quite a while before it taxied off. This may as well have been the ending bell, as the cars quickly packed up and departed.

During the flybys, I ran into Mike. We visited quite a bit for the rest of the day. We were just about the last ones there. We sat by my car while he had a late lunch. He might have been the last to buy a hotdog; they’d already stowed the condiments. Mine was the last car in my whole section; pretty much everybody but the food trucks had gone. The last few spectators came by to take snapshots.

I’d like to do this show again. I’ll ask if I can get a picture of my car next to a plane. It probably won’t work. It was that guy’s nose art on his car that started the process, I was just the afterthought. Even if there were a Spitfire in the show, I can’t think of a good reason my car should get special treatment. But it can’t hurt to ask!

La Junta, July 8

This year, CECA’s track day calendar features an event in La Junta. I’ve been wanting to go there for a while. I had considered attending a Porsche Club event there, but I never put much effort into making it happen. A CECA visit there makes it easy.

Scott wanted to go, too, so we caravanned on down. It takes about three and a quarter hours to get to La Junta from my place, so we left Friday afternoon and spent the night in a motel. You can either head south to Pueblo and take a left or head east to Limon and go south. I figured it was better to avoid Friday rush hour traffic on I-25, so we took the Limon route.

We caught up to a thundershower approaching Limon. When I drove through southeastern Colorado last month I passed through a bunch of small towns I’d only known from weather reports. Those reports generally involved hail or tornadoes. It occurred to me that there’s a small but real chance we’d find ourselves in such weather. My tires handled the rain easily, but Scott’s tires were more suited to the track, so we slowed down quite a bit.

We stopped for fuel and dinner in Limon. Without particular dinner plans, we took a target of opportunity: Oscar’s Bar and Grille was next door to the gas station, so we went there. The parking lot was pretty full, and the dining room and bar were packed. We found ourselves a seat at the end of the bar and got some menus.

The place was movie themed, as the name might suggest. They have an old 35mm movie projector by the hostess station when you come in, and movie posters adorned the walls. All the menu items were given the names of movies. The bacon cheeseburger is Grease. Halfway through our meal we got to watch a little scene as the bartender ejected a customer.

Dinner over, we headed back to the parking lot. There we met a father and son. “Are these your cars? We’ve been checking them out.” The father said, “I see you have GoPro mounts on your car.” I now have three of them glued on. One has been on for several years but this is the first time anybody has ever commented on them.

“I have them all over my truck. We’re storm chasers.” Amateurs, true, but storm chasers nonetheless. They’ve gotten as close as a hundred yards from twisters. He showed us pictures on his phone. “Here’s a tornado: see the striations in the funnel cloud? The debris flying through the air? This one was anti-cyclonic, fairly uncommon.” This is just another little example of how driving this car has affected me. I’d never have met these guys if I’d been driving the Chrysler.

Back on the road, a pretty sunset to our right, we headed south. The storm had continued its way to the east as we ate and our road was dry but for the occasional puddle. Lightning strobed the storm clouds to our southeast for the remainder of our trip.

We checked in to the Red Lion Hotel. It took us a while to track down somebody at the front desk. There was no doorbell, no bell on the desk. Eventually the clerk arrived. “The wifi password is written here. But the storm knocked out the internet.” Our room had no pictures on the wall, no mirror in the bathroom, none of the four lights above the beds worked, and there was a funny smell in the bathroom. Is it mold? Urine? Moldy urine?

In the morning we went in search of the track. My phone said it was just a half mile away. Even after Google Navigator has led me to believe it wanted me to dispose of my own body off a dirt road in Death Valley, I keep trusting its guidance. This time it led us to an automotive shop in a residential neighborhood. I knew as soon as we turned down the street that we weren’t in the right place. Scott got us on the right track, though, when he found something called “La Junya Raceway”. It looked to be adjacent to the airport, which confirmed for me that it was the right place.

I later learned from Alan, the track manager, why Google sent us to his shop. Google needs a mailing address. Evidently, they send a postcard to verify the address, and there’s no mail delivery to the track’s actual address so he used his shop’s address. I didn’t think to ask him about “La Junya”, though.

The registration email for the event indicated that entries for the day would be limited to forty cars. We fell far short of that with only fifteen cars by my count: a Miata, a Viper, a Camaro SS, a Mini, two recent Corvettes, a 2016 Challenger (Plum Crazy), a Corvair, a Porsche GT3, a recent Mustang and two classics, and three Lotus (me, Scott, and Ryan).

The track is built from some old airport assets – an apron and taxiways. As such, it’s flat with perhaps as much as five feet of elevation change. It’s also pretty short, at 1.2 miles. The track map indicates seven turns, but you could easily say turns 1 and 2 are really just one turn. They are all right-hand turns but one. In the drivers meeting, they characterized it as “easy to learn, difficult to master.”

I don’t know that I’d say it’s difficult to master, but it is more interesting than the track map might indicate. Turns one and two, as I said, are one big arc, with a transition from asphalt to concrete that is accompanied by a significant bump. The concrete isn’t exactly smooth, so the car is jittery under braking. Early on, I decided it might be possible for me to take the turn flat out, on the gas until the transition. I was able to do this several times, but typically found myself feathering the throttle.

I again failed to get fully successful in capturing video and data for the event. With the older GoPro, you can start recording immediately after turning it on. With the newer one, you have to wait several seconds before pressing the shutter. I was evidently impatient once as I missed getting a forward view for the second session. And, even though I retethered the OBDII dongle to the phone I again failed to get telemetry from the car.

Generally, CECA runs in three groups: green for novice, blue for intermediate, and red for advanced. I had signed up for blue (for people who have driven on a track, but not this specific track) but because there were so few cars switched to red. Also because there were so few cars, they combined the blue and green groups. With just the two run groups, we’d get something like a twenty minute session each hour. In the end, we got six sessions and everybody had had enough by three o’clock. The last session was just us three Lotus. I think other cars may have started the session, but it wasn’t long before I realized we were the only ones left.

I was prepared for the extra sessions – I brought extra gas. After lunch I went to pour it into the car but found the nozzle was malfunctioning. It’s one of those where you have to hook the end of the nozzle on the edge of the filler tube in the car and press down for the fuel to flow. The nozzle was stuck and every time I tipped the can up to pour, gas spilled all over the outside of the car. Scott let me use his gas can, so I poured his five gallons into my car then decanted my gas can back into his can. I managed to not spill much more gas.

The other notable event was when I blew my exhaust. After the fifth session, Ryan asked me if I thought my car was louder after the session than before. I said I didn’t think so. He said, “When I was behind you, you blew a big wad of packing out your tailpipe.” Reviewing the video, I can see that some packing is coming out the tailpipe in the first few sessions. Just a flash of white fiber every now and then. But in that fifth session, two big wads blew out. The camera is mounted very close to the exhaust and you can hear it happen. But it wasn’t audible to me inside the car, with my helmet on.

Luckily, I have the stock exhaust in the attic. I’ll put that back on while I research muffler repairs. I’m thinking I can get this one repacked cheaper than I can replace it. Michael will help me with the swap. Then I don’t need to feel under any deadlines to get it repaired. Let’s just say the budget was busted with the camshaft repair.

There are practically no facilities at the track. There’s a building with bathrooms and a classroom. There’s a small control tower and a flag tower at start/finish. Lunch is available from a concessionaire trailer. On the menu are “Magic Potatoes”. With a name like that, they must be good. And they were – baked, buttery, cut into chunks, with spices and a bit of bacon. They broke when stabbed with a fork, hot and delicious. Bill and Heike invited Ryan and I to sit in the control tower with them and enjoy the air conditioning. It was a capital idea, as the day was a bit warm and none of the picnic tables has shade.

I had a nice chat with Fred, who drove the Camaro SS. He has a number of track stickers on the side, mostly from around here but also including Laguna Seca, COTA. the Nürburgring, and Spa. I asked him if he’s driven this car on all those tracks. He said, “The kills follow the pilot.” He says he participates on some sort of car event, generally a track day, about twenty five times a year. I’m not sure why I find it reassuring when I find people who are more extreme about things than I am. If what I do is somewhat crazy, it’s good to know I’m not the craziest person around.

Ryan’s BFW

While Fred and I were chatting, a fellow and his four boys were interested in my car. Two were his kids, the other two were nephews. They were golfing nearby and heard the cars. “Put those sticks away, we’re going to find out what all that noise is about!” I had the kids take turns sitting in the car. I offered to take dad out for a few laps if he could find a helmet. Then, during lunch when they’re running parade laps, the youngest kid ran up to me. “My dad says I can ride with you on a parade lap!” So I belted him into the car and off we went. He could hardly see out the windshield, but his brother and cousins saw him. That made his day.

COTA On Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

No doubt where this picture was taken.

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

I’m not real happy about the taped numbers.

From the third session.

The Austin Hill Climb?

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

The Facility

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

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

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

The Track

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

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

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

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

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

The Track Day

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

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

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

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

The Bottom Line

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

 

COTA Blitz: The Big Event

Sunday, June 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note

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

The Ordeal of the Camshafts

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

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

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

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

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

Notice the discoloration

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

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

… down the rabbit hole …

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

Clam off, factory service manual open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later…

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

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

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

The noise the brakes make is embarrassing.

Laps in the Chrysler

April 2, 2017

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

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

So why do I bring this all up?

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

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

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

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

I ran a few laps anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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