Destination SSM One Miata's Journey through Hell

23Jul/15Off

BOE and Packwood

Posted by David de Regt

From the evening the car was dropped off at BOE, I started getting texts from Phil making fun of my engine bay for being hastily assembled and not very clean. He got right to work tearing things apart and found several issues out of the gate: the bypass valve wasn't fully closing, boost was leaking out of the injector holes (the spacers weren't the right size), and the car definitely wasn't making the power it was supposed to on his dyno.

BOE dynoIt took several weeks of diagnosing to come up with the conclusion that it was actually a bad set of cams from their supplier (BOE built the motor in the car) -- swapping in stock cams gained 30hp over the cams that were in there, and another set of the same cams was up almost 50hp over where it was at. On Phil's dyno, the car is around ~363rwhp now, having come in with around 300. The muffler setup that I keep on the car is very quiet to make sure that I stay safely noise-legal at 92dB sites (Pitt Meadows and Qualcomm, notably), as well as just for reducing insanity during daily driving. However, it's also robbing ~10-15rwhp according to m my and Phil's tests. I don't know if it's possible to make something that's just as quiet, still fits in the exhaust area of the bay, and makes any more power, but I'm open to suggestions...

IMG_3972While working on diagnosing the power issues, we agreed on a number of reliability upgrades to the engine bay and improvements to the cooling. In the end, the engine bay is incredibly more work-on-able, with much better cooling flow for the water-to-air intercooler radiator system (and a bigger radiator up front). It's pretty much a work of art in there now, far too pretty for my having been involved in it. I'll try to keep it as shiny as I can in there, Phil...

IMG_3942Getting the car home from BOE in time for the Packwood events turned into a surprisingly eventful week. I contracted out with one company who had a truck lined up to take the car, and on the pickup day, the truck no-showed and canceled all their orders without any reason. The company tried to find me a replacement, but 3 days passed and no word had come, so I found another company who picked it up the next day for a larger fee. I hate car transport -- any time I deal with it, it turns into a mess. At least the car got back to me, and a day ahead of schedule, with no damage. I'm still fighting with the first company to get my deposit back...

11695946_879423348761931_7764187561163499862_nA few days after this debacle, we tromped down to Packwood for the Packwood NT (champ tour?.. whatever, it's an NT.) The car immediately felt better out of the gate on the practice course -- much better throttle linearity and response, Phil did great work with the tune, above and beyond the power. A lot of the power was picked up at the top end, but even the midrange was more usable because of the tune improvements. The car was just a little faster everywhere. It proved itself out the next day, as well, taking top PAX for the first day. Both days, I laid down a decent first run, then coned away a several tenths improvement, and then blew my last run. It was good enough for first in class by 0.663, 6th overall in PAX, with Duke coning all runs on day 1, so his day 2 blitz wasn't enough to win (but would have been without the day 1 cone).

I only have video from day 2, since I forgot to charge the GoPro the first day. Whoops.

The Prosolo got a little more exiting, for a variety of reasons. Walking course on Friday, it looked like a mega torque/power course and I figured I was completely hosed against Eric Hyman's GTR. I had a good friend's wedding that weekend that I was skipping because the event was important, but I contemplated heading up anyway after taking morning runs if I was going to be super behind. I also went to fire up the car to take practice starts to learn that the car didn't want to start, with a low battery. Perplexed, we jump started it, ran it for a good half hour, did some practice starts, let it idle for a while longer, then turned it off. When I went to start it a couple hours later to go weigh, it was dead again. The battery was acting fine, so we assumed the alternator was having issues. Eric Hyman had a fancy charging unit so we plugged it in outside their RV for the night. It took several hours of charging at 4.5A before it topped out again, but then ran fine the rest of the weekend. So the alternator's getting a rebuild shortly here...

10647099_870600852026_2737258448898875847_nFortunately, I managed to be way in first after morning runs. For afternoon runs, Eric extracted his head from its hidey-hole and we had a crazy battle of swapping back and forth for the lead by a tenth or two every run. Immediately after I finished my afternoon runs, Russell went out for his runs and the studs all sheared off the right rear wheel on his first run, leading the car to, fortunately, safely skid to a stop on 3 wheels. The video's pretty amusing, I'm not gonna lie. Fortunately, damage was shockingly minimal and we managed to get a replacement combination of wheel bolts and wheel studs from Jay Zelazo and Ryan Johnson and were up and running in full form again for Sunday's competition. I managed to eke out a little bit of time, just enough to keep ahead of Eric for the win by 0.039, and also good enough for my first overall top PAX for a national event!

Left side video
Right side video

I unpacked the truck/trailer that evening and plonked the car in the garage, too tired to do anything about the gathering stack of todos. Tonight (Thursday), Russell came over and we tore both clams off the car and stripped them down to get them ready for painting. The mismatched clams and some new carbon fiber panels go in for paint on Monday, and in a few weeks the whole car will actually match instead of being a Frankenkar. We tore the alternator out as well so I can get that rebuilt next week.

Other jobs on the list while the car's being painted:
* Tearing all the shocks out and sending them back to Fred @ BWR to get them lengthened a bit -- with the drop spindles, the shocks have almost no droop left since they think they're at stock ride height (or higher).
* Installing all new studs and getting hubcentric adapters made for the wheels, to hopefully alleviate the whole "wheel leaving the car" problem.
* Replace the crushed ebrake cable (didn't like having 1/3 of the weight of the car dragging to a stop on it for some reason).
* Install SS brake lines while the clams are off. Hopefully get a little more stiffness into the brake pedal.
* Replace the inner heims on my rear toe links -- they're starting to get a little play already, so we're upgrading them to higher quality heims.

21Jul/15Off

Spring Nationals

Posted by David de Regt

After Crow's Landing, I was so drained from the mad rush on the car that I basically didn't touch anything for a couple weeks. I did a regional prosolo and normal autocross event combo for one weekend, where my only competition's car broke badly and so I ended up driving to an easy class win.

IMG_3536After that, I got back to work for some finishing touches. Doug and I designed a simple but effective splitter. We decided that the whole floating mounting mechanism that made the Miata splitter so easy to install and remove, but so hard to properly/reliably measure, wasn't going to work here, so we hard-mounted it to several places on the chassis. Better yet, I can even tie the car to the trailer with the splitter on, which saves a ton of time before and after an event.

IMG_3539Next, I got a smaller supercharger pulley from BOE and we spent a day trying an E85 tune. We, of course, ran into even more problems with the tuning software, which killed several hours, but eventuall managed to come to acceptance that something was definitely wrong with my setup. We managed to get 340rwhp on E85, but it should have been quite a bit higher -- high 300s. Nothing to be done about that, but still happy with the power bump, we gave up for the night and I headed home with the car.

2015-05-18 - AlignmentThe only other change to the car was that I removed a bit of front camber. From the wear pattern on the A6s at Crow's, it looked like I wasn't getting quite enough surface usage, so I went down from 3.4 to 3.1 on both sides, after buying some more shims to even let me get that low (the original 3.4 numbers were because that was as low as it would go on the stock shims.) The rear toe ended up having drifted a fair bit too, so we corrected that while we were in there.

11082420_10153342562077258_5343026237577062966_oI picked up a codriver (for likely the rest of the season), Russell Mayer, who towed the car out to Spring Nationals for us in exchange for a codrive. We had an uneventful first day of racing, leaving me a fair ways back from Erik Strelnieks and Randall Willcox in 3rd. On concrete, it was immediately painfully obvious how down the car was on power compared to our competitors. The 3rd session found us with a broken shifter cable, apparently a common failure on these cars (that I'd never heard of before, unfortunately) that must have actually broken at the end of the previous session. Unable to shift into second, this nuked all of our day 2 runs, so I was left in 3rd overall. Amusingly, this was still good enough for 4th overall in PAX.

Magically, being in the middle of nowhere, BOE was actually only a few hour drive away with a replacement cable, and Phil was super nice to stick around on a day off for us to grab it. I tore the car apart to get it ready for the new cable while Russell headed down and picked up the replacement. When he got back, we got about half the work done before they closed the site for the night, and the rest of it the next morning right before the NT started.

19419_681601957148_3643610247789309043_nThe NT was one of those annoying events largely determined by rain. On day 1, the session started out soaking wet but quickly drying. Everyone went out on wets for their first runs, then switched to dries for second runs and barely improved. Third runs came around and the course had dry spots, so line choice was crucial. Second drivers had a huge advantage over first drivers, and so 3 of us went out to put down our only run that mattered and ended up with a big lead over the rest of the pack, including Erik, who got screwed as a first driver. When it all settled, I was in 3rd, 6/10 out of first. Day two was dry and I drove fairly poorly, but held on for 3rd overall again. Due to the rain and general crappy driving, this was 66th in PAX.

After the event, I decided that something had to be done about the power issue immediately, and Eric Anderson generously drove the car on A6s through a rainstorm down to BOE's shop outside Kansas City on their way home to Tennessee while Russell drove home to Seattle with an empty trailer (that ended up losing a bearing half way home anyway, so that was good timing!)

21Jul/15Off

The Mad Dash to Crow’s Landing

Posted by David de Regt

Now we're at April 1st and the car has a barely-broken-in motor. The Crow's Landing NT is 4/17-4/19, so I need to hit the road on the morning of 4/16. This doesn't leave a lot of time.

IMG_3493The first road tests determined that my tuning software was missing a bunch of maps that I needed to do anything useful with the car, including live tuning. So, that stopped me pretty dead in my tracks almost immediately. While debugging that, I killed some time adding a digital boost gauge and wideband gauge to a cute little cheapo Lotus-specific gauge pod that doesn't actually bolt to anything. A little Gorilla tape fixed that problem.

Throughout the week of 4/5 to 4/13, Hannah was off in Europe on a trip, so I had all the time in the world to go batshit on getting the car ready. This turned out to be essential, since I basically barely slept that week. The tuning issues took a few days to sort out, and, on the second outing, the car puked out the lever arm that attaches the bypass valve to the VSV on the supercharger, so it was randomly boosting and not boosting. BOE was awesome and overnighted parts on 4/8 so that on 4/9 I could continue my tuning. While this was all going on, I was frantically trying to line up the last work that needed doing on the car to get everything done in the last week -- dynoing, ballast, alignment, wing mounting, clam cutting, etc.

IMG_3509The front clamshell had still not come in yet from ORE (3 months late at this point). I told them that if it doesn't arrive by 4/10 that I would reject the package, reverse the credit card charge, and just cut up my factory clamshell. I was out of time. Magically, late in the evening of 4/10, I get a call from the shipping depot that the clam actually showed up. It was bashed to shit with lots of cracks, but at least it showed up. A call to ORE had them offer to pay a body shop whatever it took to get the clam fixed to OEM, so home it went with me.

IMG_3511The next morning was dyno day. As it always does, it turned into a total cluster. The tuning software had more issues (you'll notice a theme here), and we had to tune without live tuning. So, any change to any tune parameter required shutting the car off and initiating a 4 minute reflash. What was supposed to be a few hour afternoon endeavor turned into a 13 hour death march.

2015-04-11 - First TuningWe didn't even get around to an E85 tune or anything, with all the issues we had with the fuel pump wanting to die if we ran it too warm, etc. We ended up right around 300rwhp/200rwtq on 92 octane. Not anywhere near what I was hoping for (mid 300s), but the best we could do at the time, and it was a nice safe, consistent tune. I put the car back on the trailer and got back home at 4am Sunday morning.

I wish I had pictures of Sunday, but at this point, I was so drained from the last week of absolutely nonstop work that I didn't take any. The clamshell from ORE, in addition to being all bashed up, also had almost no mounting tabs or boltholes or anything precut into it. Fortunately, my friend Scott came over and spent ~6 hours with me as we slowly ground down things, measured and cut holes, and got it closer to working. After he left, my dad came over and spent another 6 hours with me continuing on more of the same. Around 2am, the clam was finally on the car with all the lights somewhat attached (corner lights attached with duct tape since they wouldn't stay in the holes themselves.) I loaded the car onto the trailer and went to bed.

2015-04-16 AlignmentNext morning, the car went down to Chase Race for the final round of work. The car still had no wing, no alignment, no ballast, and couldn't fit big tires. Doug threw it on the scales with all the parts that were going to go on to get a rough number for final weight. We got to 100 lbs of ballast being a good answer. We measured it out and decided a rhombous of steel at the passenger footwell would be the best answer. Doug continued working on the car while I called everyone in Seattle trying to find someone to make me laser-cut steel plates on zero notice. I managed to get someone in south Seattle to make me some plates by Tuesday afternoon, so I ran and got those while Doug got the mounts ready. The plates were exactly 49.9 lbs each, right under the per-segment limit. Perfect! Over the next day, Doug finished creating mounts for the wing, cutting the fenders for the larger tires, notching undertrays to clear the exhaust, and then finally aligning and corner balancing the car. After finding out that, at the new ride height, the street wheels definitely needed spacers, I secured the car to the trailer and dragged it home, having never rolled the car on the race wheels yet. I went home, packed the truck/trailer, and slept like the dead.

11149406_10204444739414767_5272960899409277639_nEarly Thursday morning, we (my dad and I, in separate vehicles) departed for Crow's Landing. After rolling the car off the trailer Friday morning, I changed over to the race wheels and carefully drove down past the paddock area to some open runway and proceeded to slalom a bit at 15mph to see if any horrible noises came out. Much to my surprise, none did. So, I headed over to the practice course and took some runs. On the very first run the car ever took in anger, other than hitting 3 cones (killed em dead, apparently this car actually turns in when you tell it to), it set the fastest raw time of an SSM car on the course and left me with a huge grin from the drivability and handling characteristics of the car -- it just did what you told it. I was already more confident than I ever had been in the Miata. Unfortunately, a quick look at the tires showed a bunch of rubber stuffed against the rear fenders, so I had to locate Ryan Johnson, another Lotus racer on site who, fortunately, had fender-cutting equipment with him, and shaved off a bunch more from the fenders. I took two more practice runs, found more rubber, and repeated the exercise. I guess Doug and I guessed wrong about how much suspension travel I'd get in real-world use...

IMG_3517From there, the rest is history. There's really not much story to it. That weekend, the car had zero issues, and I drove to an 0.875s victory over the class, 17th in overall PAX. We flew home, flew back the next weekend, and I drove to a 1.375s victory over the class, 5th in overall PAX. The course was pretty ridiculously tailor-made for a slalom-happy car, but I was still pretty happy with that showing. Other than the fender rubbing, the car didn't raise a peep either weekend. We drove home and let the car finally rest.

I neglected to take any video at the NT -- I was just too focused on making sure the car worked and learning how to drive it to deal with video. For the ProSolo, I remembered to bring and charge a camera and took some (crappy) video: Left Side and Right Side.

21Jul/15Off

What Really Happened

Posted by David de Regt

It's cute. I read the end of my last post, and it was so optimistic. I should have known better...

IMG_3325BOE actually had their shit together and sent me all their parts when they said they would. Everyone else missed their targets by varying degrees. The transmission went deep into February before it was finished, so that was stopping me from assembling the full transaxle. Once I got the transmission, though, it wouldn't come out of the first gear I put it in, so it required a couple trips down to Portland to get solved.

IMG_3342Due to all the delays and the transmission issues, it was the middle of March before I got the motor in the car for first fitment testing. At this point, I had blown right through any chance of hitting San Diego/El Toro. There was a brief period where I thought everything might magically come together, but it just wasn't going to happen, so I settled in for what I thought would be the "safe long haul" for Crow's Landing in April...

IMG_3348The E153 conversion kit had several assorted fitment problems, culminating in needing to chop a small chunk out of my frame rail for a lobe on the transmission to clear it -- the same thing Glagola and others have had to do, so at least it was expected. After sorting through that and the pile of other fitment problems (axle clearance, shifter forks having a "bearing" made out of plastic, and other fun adventures), the motor was, finally, hanging in the engine bay supported by engine mounts, and I could start hooking things up.

By 3/22, I'd managed to get most of the important stuff hooked up and dealt with a bunch more random wire routing, bracket fabrication, and shifter cable madness.

IMG_3482The rest of the week was spent finishing up a pile of other fun tasks -- flushing all the oil out of the oil coolers and corresponding lines so that I could plumb them into the intercooler cooling loop (water to air intercooler), figuring out the tuning software since it had several issues getting my car to work out of the gate, slowly filling everything with fluids, fabricating mounts for the intercooler pump, etc. Projects just kept arriving out of the woodwork.

IMG_3486Finally, on 3/28, I had the first startup, which somehow went flawlessly. After spending the rest of the evening tracking down various fluid leaks and finishing up the remaining wiring and Clamhinge equipment, everything was finally in place and the car touched the ground! Some quick driving around the driveway determined that there was a pretty massive oil leak at the oil cooler fittings, which took some time to get working properly.

10421601_673750830868_2687974158906828802_nOn the evening of 3/31, the car hit the road for the first time and I managed to get some good early rough tuning in enough to get ~50 breakin miles with lots of engine breaking, varying rpms, and a decent bit of light to medium boost. My Facebook post that evening that came with this picture: "Mismatched colors, a rough-as-hell alignment, and a whole lotta broken-in motor. Damn this thing is gonna be fun."

I was right.