Destination SSM One Miata's Journey through Hell

2Nov/14Off

The Miata is Dead, Long Live the Elise

Posted by David de Regt

10450276_628275863068_9111196888486650278_o[1]My last post was full of optimism for a serious attempt at a season of autocross with the car. Unfortunately, the reliability gods decided against that. Over the course of the season, pretty much everything in the engine bay caused some sort of problem. The season started with the supercharger breaking at the Crow's Landing Prosolo before I could even take any runs, then taking way too long to get fixed because, as always, vendors suck at keeping to their promises. That caused me to get it back on a Thursday night, throw it frantically into the car (the night before the Packwood Pro), where, during practice runs, the car showered its engine bay down with oil when something else failed. Later that event, the upper ball joints broke out of their press fits, requiring frantic tearing apart of the car between run groups to get them welded back in. It's just been a year of a series of unfortunate events everywhere I tried to take the car. In the end, after considering the option of towing my car out to nationals, I instead just went to nationals in Ron Bauer's DP car after almost bailing on the event altogether for the first time since I started.

10172764_623243607748_4414811543945212468_n[1]This April, despite the Miata seeming to be in okay shape, I enacted phase 1 of my SSM contingency plan and picked up an Elise from New York and drove it back across the country to Seattle. The plan was to daily drive the car (I had been dailying our Forester for a while and was getting bored of that for some reason) and slowly just mod it into a fun and fast street car. I also knew that, in the end, it was probably a better platform for SSM than the Miata, and that it would likely someday take over, but I was thinking it'd be a couple years before that plan started unfolding. I was wrong.

10583987_636369762828_5461914175468102933_n[1]Shortly after the SC blew up at Crow's Landing, I tentatively made the decision to move up the timetable for the Elise. The first step was that I wanted to make sure that I could actually kill two birds with one stone with the car. I wanted the true unicorn -- the daily driveable SSM car, and not just "could" daily drive, actually "want to" daily drive. So, I decided that the first thing to do would be suspension/wheels/tires for the car, so that it was in basically full SSM stiffness trim and I could try that out before committing to the full build.

10592827_636689142788_6586557377148567369_n[1]While researching how I wanted to do that, an opening came up in a local performance driving school (high speed exercises + instructed lapping of Pacific Raceway) that I'd wanted my wife to take for a while. I had the perfect excuse to throw some money at the car and test it out at the same time. After talking with Fred Zust at Blackwatch Racing, we hatched a plan to quickly ship me a bunch of parts and get the car together in time for the track day. Much to my surprise, everything showed up on time and I had time to actually get the car aligned and do some shakedown on the street before the event. Needless to say, the car was a blast on the track and worked great, despite being somewhat down on power (which I later verified on the dyno as ~15% down). I daily drove the car for a couple weeks and quickly decided that I was completely fine driving the car this stiff on the street.

IMG_2880When the Miata had the several issues at the Packwood Pro, it was really the death knell, after I had already gone that deep into the Elise. In a local event right after nationals, I took the car out officially as the "last hurrah", and, of course, to spite me, it immediately catastrophically broke again. It made it nice and easy to take the car home, roll it into the garage, throw it on jackstands, and immediately strip every sellable part from the carcass without remorse. Since then, I have been selling off the parts at a reasonable pace on all the major Miata boards.

With money coming in from the Miata parts, at this point, I've paid for a good portion of the first phase of the build of the Elise. I hope to have everything together by the end of 2014 to have a winter/spring to work on the tune and really dial in the car to be ready for the season next year. I'll be posting more detailing the build of the car as the more interesting parts start showing up and the motor comes out. The site will soon transform to only have history of the Miata on it and instead be focused on the Elise, so keep in touch.

2Jul/120

Packwood National Tour

Posted by David de Regt

The whole month of June has been filled with rainy weekends that we didn't even bother bringing the car out to autocross in.  One of the downsides to running a high power car is that, in the wet, you just get hosed on PAX.  So, as little fun as I have autocrossing in the rain in general, it's also uncompetitive, so the idea of towing for 3 hours each way to get creamed in the rain is unappealing.  Seattle might not have been the greatest place to build this car...

Fortunately, it gave me some time to mess around a bit with the car.  I bought a 12+1 tooth crank trigger wheel from Trackspeed Engineering, and after ~20 hours of trying to make it run reliably, I gave up and switched back to the stock wheel.  I don't know if there's noise on the crank hall sensor from something or if the AEM just doesn't like getting that many tooth updates, but it's off the car until I have time to spend more time debugging.  I replaced both the cam and crank angle sensors with brand new ones from Mazda (they had absolutely no effect on the 12+1 wheel, incidentally,) and replaced the main relay (the relay that broke in Lincoln) while I was in there, which, interestingly, had been superceded by a much different part.  We also learned that we're not allowed to run shoulder harnesses in a non-rollbar-convertible, so we pulled the 4/5 point belts and put in simple lap belts, which removed a bunch of weight from the car and made it a lot easier to get in and out as well.

After having no problem with power application in Lincoln (and even limited problems with power in Packwood,) I upsized the crank pulley (that the SC feeds off) from 120mm to 125mm, and spent a bunch more time on the dyno.  We're up to 330rwhp and 258rwtq and spent a lot more time on the low RPM portion of the map.  The car is now faster and has much smoother power ramp-up, so it's more drivable too, and is better at putting its power down than it used to be.  I think this will be the end of my attempted power mods before 2012 Solo Nationals.  It's time to work on the suspension setup and on my driving.

The 2012 Packwood National Tour arrived in a real hurry.  I spent 2 weeks messing with the trigger wheel to no avail, and had to rapidly switch back to the stock wheel on the Monday night before the NT.  Wednesday the car went in to get a new muffler, since we were consistently blowing 102dB at Lincoln (over the limit.)  Thursday I spent 3 hours on the Dyno at Pina Motorsports, and then 6am Friday morning we pulled out from Redmond to head down to Packwood.

The practice course was the dirtiest (gravel/etc.) course I've ever driven on, but we did some rough shock tuning and the car was working really well.  Ironically, both of our paddock-mates' cars broke, so we spent some time helping fix them.  The rest of the weekend, the car performed perfectly (despite us driving it inadequately,) and I managed to put a 1.776 second victory on the class, running fairly consistent times.  At the end of the weekend, we rolled the car onto the trailer and drove home, ready for the Pro in a few short days.

We learned that the car's fuel starving at around a third of a tank, which will require some investigation after the ProSolo.  I am also sure at this point that the car will be faster with more confidence-inspiring brakes, so that will be another focus for after the ProSolo.  The traction control also needs some further tweaking, and the wing really needs some string+video attention and a Gurney Flap.  Time, time time...

Here's some videos of my fastest runs for the weekend (expand for 720p.)  As you can tell, I'm still driving the car incredibly abruptly.  It's still more than a bit of a shock, coming out of stock class.  At this point, I have at least as much speed to be gained in learning to drive than will be found with further car setup...

29May/120

Spring Nationals

Posted by David de Regt

Because of the alignment and truck issues, we, of course, had another frantic last minute prep session.  We spent Monday afternoon pulling the front UCAs off to bend them more, reinstalling them, and getting the car to an alignment shop with zero notice in time for them to work on it.  While some of that was in process, we had to pull the alternator off the truck and get a rebuilt alternator and install it.  That evening we finally got to clean up some last minute stuff on the car and packed up the rig to head to Lincoln.

2 days of towing later, we arrived to glorious 90 degrees and humid Lincoln, NE.  We spent Thursday doing practice starts to figure out how to launch the thing (which neither of us ever got any good at – my best 60ft was 2.01s.)  Everything was going well, so we retired to beer.

Friday (ProSolo day 1) morning, I got 3 runs then the car sputtered and died sitting in line to take my 4th run and wouldn’t restart.  We pushed it off to the 2nd driver line and let it sit for a minute.  We checked everything – nothing obvious was wrong, but a minute later we tried firing the car back up, and it happily did.  My dad then got 2 runs in before it died in the same way for him and we retired to impound.

Very perplexed, we guessed it was a fueling issue, and I’d been worried about my fuel pump since the Packwood weekend of harness melting/shorting.  So, at lunch we changed the fuel pump to the new Deutchwerks pump.  I didn’t get a right side run (apparently I rolled out of my one right side run, grr), so my dad got to go first.  We sent him out without a hood for afternoon runs, on the off chance something was overheating, to get some more ventilation into the engine bay.  He got his 4 runs in, so we hoped it was fixed and put the hood on for my runs.  I got one run before it died again briefly after I departed for my second run.  We again retired to impound and had an evening to consider.

Fortunately, I had noticed, when it wigged out on me, that the tach was going nuts, implying that the ECU had lost cam/crank sync (or something far more heinous, possibly.)  I asked around the paddock and found two very nice competitors (Bill Schenker and Mike Heinitz) that had spare crank and cam angle sensors to loan me, and swapped them onto the car.

The next day, we decided the better part of valor was to run without the hood again (but we “replaced” the hood with a strip of tape, which is technically legal under SSM rules, stupid as that may be) and I went out for my runs.  The car had no issues, and I managed to save for 3rd place, and my dad also got his 4 runs in without issue.  When we tried to start the car up again after weighing it, it wouldn’t start, or even show any signs of ignition signal.  We towed it back to the paddock and poked around at it for a bit.

I found nothing wrong, but finally decided to try swapping the main relay out for a spare I had lying around, and the car sprung to life.  That relay had likely been damaged in the wiring debacle of the Packwood weekend, but it’s still a little distressing.  The car seemed fine after that, so we declared victory and went for celebratory BBQ and beer.

The NT went mostly without issue.  They yelled at us after the ProSolo, because apparently our exhaust was blowing 103dB consistently (limit of 100dB), so we had to attach a clamp on muffler for the tour.  I had a small power burble on day 1 in the middle of my third run, but it’s vaguely possible it was just fuel starvation.  We made it through -- I got 3rd again, 1.4 off the win.  The only day two issue was when, on the way out to grid for our day 2 heat, my dad drove the truck over the hardtop I've been using to keep the car dry/sealed overnight, which is now forcing me to come up with some new solution...

On the drive home, so far, I’ve ordered brand new replacement relays from Mazda and also new crank and cam angle sensors.  I noticed the cam sensor and the main relay had both been superceded, and reading up on miata.net, it looks like my issues are pretty known issues, so I’m vaguely hopeful that I’ve discovered the cause(s) of my more major problems.

We also had a chance to play with the Hoosiers vs. Goodyears at the Prosolo, and we both agreed that the Goodyears make the car much more drivable, so for the forseable future, it looks like it’s going to be a Goodyear car.  They seem to be able to put down power much better, and also they don’t overheat nearly as badly as the Hoosiers do, both of which are good things for an SSM car, especially at a hot site like Lincoln.

I hopefully will have time coming up to work on some of the other projects for the car: a front brakes solution, possibly moving to a permanent carbon hard top, venting the hood for real, tuning the rear wing, canards, etc.  The really short summary, though, is that the car, for its first showing, when it was working, proved that a Miata can get it done in SSM (if I stopped driving like such an idiot.)  So, despite all the other stresses of the weekend, it was a resounding success.  I also had some more time to mess with the data system that I'm developing, and worked some of the usability kinks out, which was helpful at the events and should be even more useful as the year goes on...