No, this is not the story of how Indiana was settled.
Several months ago I found a set of “gently used” Hoosier A7 slicks for sale on Lotus Talk. The seller was in Fountain Hills, Arizona, which added a bit to the degree of difficulty in obtaining them, but only a bit. Michael was in school in Phoenix so he could fetch them for me if I managed to strike a deal. We knew we’d be bringing a load of his stuff back to Denver at the end of the summer anyway, so why not add a set of tires to the mix?
I contacted the seller, who wanted two hundred dollars. I told him they weren’t worth that much to me and asked if he’d take forty. After a long pause he countered with sixty and we had a deal. Michael went to his house to collect them, and when Michael graduated I went down to Phoenix and helped him move his stuff home, along with my set of slicks.
Here it is the end of September, and finally time to put the rubber to the road, so to speak. I’ve been thinking about the difference between the Hoosiers and the Dunlops for quite a while now. The anticipation was exquisite. How much faster can I go over the course of a lap? Specifically, I wondered if I could average two miles per hour over the whole lap. If I exited turn 3 two miles an hour faster, could I carry that two miles per hour down the length of the highway straight? How much faster could I go in the sweeping uphill right handers of turns 7 and 11? I was pretty sure I could take turn 3 flat. I was pretty sure I could take 7 in fourth gear instead of third. Certainly I could average two miles per hour better. Then I did the math. Two miles per hour works out to about four seconds per lap. Two miles per hour doesn’t sound like much, but four seconds per lap sounds huge.
Sunday, September 23
The thing about track wheels and tires for an Elise that is driven to the track rather than trailered is that a support vehicle is necessary. My last set of track tires were street legal – I could mount them on the car at home and drive to and from the track – but slicks definitely are not. I sure wouldn’t want to get stuck in even the lightest rain in slicks. Also, I’d basically use the tires up completely driving them the 140 miles or so for the round trip. So I can’t run the slicks unless somebody goes with me. Michael kindly volunteered, even with the proviso that there’d be at least one session where I wouldn’t want a passenger so I could try to set a fast lap. (I figure the weight of a passenger costs me something like two seconds per lap.)
This was an Emich sponsored event and they offer full day, morning only, and afternoon only sessions. I signed up for only the afternoon session, with (I thought) the drivers meeting starting at noon. They’d break us into two groups, fast and slow, and we’d get four half-hour runs. My experience with these things is that most of the full day runners give up by mid-afternoon and that I’d have the most traffic in the first run and least in the last one.
Michael and I met up with Scott at the park and ride and we caravanned to Byers where we filled up with fuel. Michael and I abandoned Scott at the gas station so we could get a head start on setting up our stuff. We brought not only my track wheels but some chairs and a “gazebo”. That’s what it says on the box, but I’d call it more like a canopy. It provides shade, anyway, if the wind doesn’t carry it off. This was a risk, as we didn’t have any bungees to allow us to use the street wheels as ballast. We weren’t expecting wind, but you never know.
Turns out I was wrong on the meeting time, which was actually 12:30. That’s not a bad thing, as we didn’t have to hurry with anything. We got the canopy deployed and I went to work swapping the wheels. Here I will interject that I was poking around the internet the night before trying to decide how often I need to replace the wheel studs. So I use the breaker bar to get the lug nuts started all the way around, then start at the left front wheel with the impact wrench. Wouldn’t you know, the very first lug comes off bringing the stud with it.
I showed it to Michael and said, “Well, I’m done for the day!” I was pretty crestfallen. I lost a stud several years ago at an Eiskhana event and tried to drive it home slowly. Before I got home another stud failed. I ended up getting towed that time.
Luckily, Mark happened to be there. I met Mark through Dennis. Dennis owned the car I drove in the ChumpCar race at Road America a few years back. Dennis ran his car in three different race series so he had to have a pretty long list of drivers available. Mark was one of those drivers. He was here today running his Miata.
Mark says, “I’ve got some blue Loctite.” So we put that sucker back in and had an hour or so to cure before I took it out. I was still pretty concerned during my first session, paying close attention for any unusual vibrations. But all is well, and at the end of the day when we swapped back to the street wheels the stud stayed in place. In any event, even though I don’t have an answer to “how often do I need to replace the studs” I do know that I’ll be replacing them in the next few weeks.
I went out for the first session without Michael in the passenger seat. I was a bit uncertain how the slicks would work. They’re autocross tires, designed to heat up very quickly. So they’re not necessarily suited to running a half-hour track session. I’ve been told they’ll get greasy pretty quickly. One experienced racer told me I might only get one good lap on them. And, as I said, I was concerned about the stud.
But the biggest problem in that first session was the traffic. It was a bit like rush hour. Scott wanted to follow me around for the first lap, so I took it pretty easy. By the end of our out lap we were catching up to people. Going in to turn 4 I was seventh in line. The fast group is open passing, meaning we didn’t need the slower car to point us by. And everybody in front of me had a horsepower advantage. Nobody was pointing anybody by, but nobody was able to execute a pass. I got by two BMW’s and next time into turn 4 I was still seventh in line. At the end of the lap two cars went into the pits and on the pit straight I passed two more and got another in turn 1. It was the fourth lap before I got a clean run. That lap ended up being the day’s best. It was the only lap of the session where I had no traffic.
That best lap beat by previous best by two seconds and my best on the Dunlops by nearly five seconds. So I managed to get my two miles per hour. It was a little like driving a different car. Because of the greater cornering speed, I didn’t have to resort to my unusual line through 2, 6, and 11. I took 3 flat once or twice and was easily on cam in fourth gear through turn 7. I was six miles per hour faster in the pit straight, ten miles per hour faster through turn 4 and six miles per hour faster through turn 7. And yet I was slower on the highway straight. It was exhilarating. And I felt I could beat that time by another two seconds if I had a few clean laps.
The next two sessions I took Michael as a passenger. I’m thinking a passenger costs me about two seconds per lap. The first session with him I managed a 2:10, which isn’t much slower than that two seconds. The second session with Michael I had two laps in the 2:07’s, just a fraction slower than my best lap of that first session. If my two second guesstimate for the passenger is correct, my goal of doing a 2:05 is within reach. My lap timer confirmed that: it says my optimal lap in my first session was a 2:05.53. (That optimal lap is comprised of my best times in each of the three sectors put together as a theoretical lap.)
My last session started at 4:30. By now most people had left. I should be able to run eight or nine laps without any traffic. The tires still felt great, never felt greasy once. I was feeling good. I was psyched.
In my first timed lap (according to the data) I entered turn 7 two miles an hour faster than I had all day. Going up the hill I was in fourth gear and on cam. At the time, I’d have said I was doing it just as I’d done two dozen times already. But the data shows that I got off the throttle a little earlier than I had before. With the extra entry speed, I must have felt I was running wide at the exit, so I got off the throttle a little early.
I lost the back of the car, went into a spin, dropped the rear off the track. After 180 degrees was momentarily rolling backwards up the track before the car spun another 180 degrees. The car stalled and the oil light was illuminated for a second or two. I was going again right away. I never went more than a few inches off the track. But it was a violent spin. I’ve been sideways many times and always caught it. The only two times I spun the car before this was when I had the hub carrier bolts shear.
At the end of the lap I reported to the black flag station. Glen was already there talking to another driver. When it was my turn he asked what happened. I told him I lost it, that I spun all the way around. But I said maybe it was 180 one direction then 180 back the other way. “You don’t know how many times you spun?” I was there, I did it, but my eyewitness testimony was unreliable.
Everything felt okay, and Glen looked the car over and let me rejoin the session. On the next lap, as I was nearing turn 4 a car lost it between 4 and 5, first going off the left side, then crossing the track and going off the right side. He kicked up an enormous dust cloud and the lights in the turn 5 bunker were flashing yellow. I went pretty slow through the cloud of dust, not really sure where that car ended up.
Next time around, when I entered turn 4 I tried to downshift from fifth to fourth. But I couldn’t find fourth. I eventually got it back into fifth, but something was wrong. I continued slowly, trying to find a gear other than fifth. I eventually got one, but things were not good. I exited the track and going slowly through the paddock I heard a new noise. The noise went away when I engaged the clutch, came back when I released it.
With the car stopped I was able to select any gear. Michael jumped in and we drove slowly through the paddock. Gear selection was working again, but the noise was still there. We looked things over to the best of our ability when we remounted the street wheels. Nothing looked amiss with the suspension. Michael suggested that I’d broken a transmission mount. That would fit the symptoms. After a short discussion we decided I could drive the car home, taking it easy. So we packed everything up and hit the road.
Monday, September 24
At lunch today we put the car up on the ramps, took off the access panel under the engine and had a good look around. The rear engine mount is clearly broken, but the other three look intact. None of the bolts or studs appear to be damaged and everything else looks good.
I spent a fair amount of time looking at the video of the incident. I’m going to have to go with driver error. I shouldn’t have lifted until I had the car straightened out. For years I’ve heard that LOTUS stands for “Lift Off Throttle U Spin”, but I’ve never experienced it. That was quite the introduction.
Next on the agenda is ordering a set of motor mounts. I’m going to go with an upgrade from OEM. I’ve done a fair amount of research and will go with the Innovative mounts. I expect to feel a fair amount of additional vibration in the cabin, but these mounts will be better suited to the track and will likely improve shifter feel.
I’ll also order a new set of wheel studs.
I’ve been happy running track days on my street tires. I don’t feel the need to run on slicks all the time, and I really don’t want to spend a bunch of money on tires. The last set of track tires cost me about $800 and lasted four days. I got these Hoosiers because they were a bargain. I will continue to use these tires until they’re used up, whenever I can get somebody to cart them out to the track for me. But I know running slicks greatly increases wear and tear on the car. I do want to run better tires at the track, but ideally I could drive them to and from; ideally they’d last ten or twelve track days. I’ll keep looking.
But there’s no denying the thrill I got from these tires. Until the end there.