The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: July 2013



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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

What is the best mod to cut down lap times?




You've got some money saved. You have been thinking about modifying your car to make it quicker and now is the time to go shopping. If you're not sure what to get, the good news is that with track days and interest in lapping becoming more popular, you can easily find good resources online. Better tires are usually recommended as the best place to start and I couldn't agree more. If you want to improve the specs of your car, tires are definitely the best place to start. If you want to go faster, though, save your money..

Last weekend, I headed to the track for Atlantic Sports Car Club (ASCC) Time Attack #2, my first timed event. I've only been going to non-timed, lapping events for the past few years but I've wanted to start going to timed events for a while to make sure I'm moving in the right direction. The event included 5 sessions - a practice session and 4 hot sessions. I was planning on using my GoPro camera to film all timed sessions but, unfortunately, it got very hot sitting in the back (I didn't want it in the front to avoid distraction) so I only recorded the practice session. I will have to find another spot for it next time I go.




My goal was a lap time of 1:25.x or under by the end of the day. After my first session though, the practice session, I changed my mind about the "or under" part of my goal.. My fastest lap during the practice session was 1:28.7 (video below). That meant I had to find 3 seconds to reach what was initially my minimum goal.

I started to think of the places where I thought I am losing a lot of time and decided to work on the entries of corners 1 and 7 and the exits of corners 2 and 9. I stayed on the throttle slightly longer after the front straight (between corner 11 and corner 1) and carried more speed through corner one. Similarly, a little late braking at the end of the back "straight" meant carrying more speed through 7. At the exits of corners 2 and 9, I applied more throttle past the apex. I didn't get on the throttle any earlier, only rolled into the throttle more quickly. This combination of late braking, carrying more corner speed and quicker throttle application cut down 1.5 seconds off my practice time for a best lap time of 1:27.2 during the 1st hot session.

I liked the results so much that I decided to work on the same corners during the 2nd hot session, with more late braking and corner speed plus quicker throttle application. I was able to find another half a second for a best lap time of 1:26.7. This meant I was less than a second away from my goal and I had 2 more hot sessions to find that second!




For the 3rd session, I decided to add corners 3 and 5 to the list of corners to work on. I had only made changes to braking and throttle application up to that point but no changes to my lines. That changed for the 3rd session. I tried to apply more throttle coming out of 3 but I was running out of room on corner exit so I tried to turn in later coming into 3 and I immediately noticed a huge difference in speed. I carried so much more speed that I almost ran into the rev limit before braking for 4 - a first for me. At the entry of corner 5, I refrained from using the brakes at all and decided to rely on engine braking alone. As you can see in the video (go to corner 4 at 0:40 in the video), corner 5 is an uphill/downhill corner - corner entry is uphill and corner exit is downhill with the apex almost exactly at the highest point. Because of that, the car unloads mid corner and shifts to the right of the track around the time you need to get back on the throttle so you can't carry too much speed going into 5. As it turns out, though, engine braking is more than enough for my speed coming out of 4. I might need some braking when I get corners 4 and 5 better nailed down, but at this point, the result was.. *drum roll*.. another 1.2 seconds - yes, I was at my goal! A best lap time of 1:25.5 during the 3rd session.

For the 4th and final session, I used the same line that I used in the 3rd session with late turn in into 3 and continued to work on my throttle and braking application. The result was another 0.3 seconds for a best lap time of 1:25.2 for the session and for the day. We got a yellow a flag, though, because someone spun so we were offered one additional hot lap and a few of us took it. For this hot lap, I tried to work on corner 2 entry as well. This didn't work so well.. I got on the brakes a little later, tried to carry more speed and ended up going wide so I actually lost time compared to my best time of the day and got a lap time of 1:26.3.

I have no doubt that 1:25 is a good few seconds slower than what the car can do but I was happy with the results nonetheless. From 1:28.7 to 1:25.2 is an improvement of three and half seconds. The cost? $160. Short of forced induction and track tires, I would be hard pressed to find something that can cut down 3.5 seconds off lap times on a 1.6 mile track, let alone do it for $160. If you've got some extra money saved, don't spend it on modifications until you attend a few high performance driving schools and timed events. Nothing will give you more bang for your buck. A "driver mod" is the best mod to cut down lap times until you have accumulated many hours of seat time on a track.


Thursday, 18 July 2013

Mazda MX-5 (Miata) Defy Convention




Defy Convention.. that's how Mazda sums this ad. The ad starts out with a group of cars, all of which are convertibles faster than an MX-5 (Miata), lined up to set up for a drag race. The Mazda, an uninvited guest according to the ad, shows up as they're getting ready to launch and just before they take off, it starts "raining" (later in the ad you learn that a water truck starts dumping water on the track). As soon as it starts raining, they all "race" to put their top up before they take off and the Mazda gets the top up the quickest, takes off and finishes the 1/4 mile first.

I have no problem with a good play on words for ads. I love creative advertising. In this case, "the world's fastest convertible" is the one that takes the least amount of time to put the top up. The problem I have with the ad is the selling message. The Miata has never been about features. It has never been luxury, speed or power. It is isn't even about handling, from a measurable metric perspective. It is about the driving experience and keeping the car simple. That's the purpose of the car and has always been the selling message. Sure, it has attracted some buyers who have no interest in twisty back roads or going to a track but just about every mainstream car attracts some people outside of its target audience. The only reason this car gets praised and is probably still getting sold today is because of enthusiasts. I have seen far more Miatas on the track than on the road.

Was the ad made just to get attention and not to "sell" you on the car? Possibly but clever ads that get attention are not rare. An ad that uses the strengths of the car (or any product) and sends a straight message to the target audience in an interesting or entertaining way, now that's something else. 


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

2014 Corvette Stingray gets 30 mpg, rated at 29 mpg EPA highway!




How does it get 30 mpg, yet it's rated at "only" 29 mpg on the highway? Well, you may remember from an earlier post - Corvette Stingray makes 460 hp! - that one of the new engine technologies for the Corvette is Active Fuel Management (AFM) which saves fuel by shutting down half of the engine's cylinders under light load driving conditions. Many enthusiasts, myself included, were not too sure what to think about the AFM technology from a performance perspective. Will throttle response be delayed or dull to prevent firing up all 8 cylinders? Will the auto transmission shifts be slower or hunt for a higher gear on the highway to activate AFM? These are among the questions that were worrying me but, as it turns out, enthusiasts need not worry.

At the live reveal of the Corvette earlier this year - The Stingray is back! - Chevy announced that the car will be available with a 5-mode Driver Mode Select (DMS) feature which varies attributes like active handling, throttle maps, magnetic ride control and others. The 5 modes are Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport and Track. If you don't want to worry about shutting down 4 cylinders, simply don't select Eco. That's right, the AFM feature is only enabled in Eco mode so if you're going on a long lazy drive and want the added fuel economy, select Eco. If you don't want to worry about the AFM feature, don't go into Eco mode. That's an excellent strategy by Chevy. When equipped with the automatic transmission though, AFM is enabled in all drive modes unless the driver engages manual-shift mode using the steering wheel paddles.

When equipped with the 7-speed manual, the Stingray achieves 28 mpg highway using the EPA test cycle in Tour mode. Using the cycle in Eco mode results in 30 mpg highway. Chevrolet took the average of the two, 29 mpg, and set that as the rating so although it is capable of 30 mpg on the highway, it is rated at 29 mpg. In the city, it gets 17 mpg. Ratings for the automatic are not available yet but will be finalized soon. For comparison, the current Corvette is rated at 16/26 mpg city/highway when equipped with the manual and 15/25 mpg city/highway with the automatic.

These ratings make the Corvette class leading (although that depends on what you consider to be in the same class). The Corvette's closest competitor, in my opinion, is the Porsche 911 Carrera S which makes 400 hp, 60 hp less than the Corvette, but only manages 27 mpg highway. It does beat the Corvette's city rating though. 

Chevrolet pointed out that no other sports car offers comparable power and fuel efficiency. For example, the Jaguar F-Type S makes 495 hp but achieves only 23 mpg highway. The Audi R8 V10 makes 510 hp and achieves 19 mpg highway.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Porsche Cayman achieves 30 mpg but makes only 275 hp while the BMW Z4 sDrive28 achieves 34 mpg but makes only 241 hp, nearly half as much as the Corvette. 

So far, on paper, the Stingray appears to check all the right boxes and then some. How will the hp numbers and EPA ratings translate into real world performance numbers? Stay tuned to find out once the car is tested!

Source: Chevrolet


Monday, 8 July 2013

Discount Tire Direct - A Canadian Order That's Tough to Beat




Last December, I bought light weight 18" wheels to replace the heavier 19" stock wheels. I had been planning on doing it this summer but I was forced to do it at the time (find out why here). I always have several automotive parts website bookmarked. Whenever I want to buy something, I open up the related sites (in this case Tire Rack, Discount Tire Direct, 1010Tires, etc.) and decide (mostly) based on prices and shipping charges, the latter are often a lot for orders shipping from the US to Canada.

I ended up on Discount Tire Direct (DTD) because they had the best prices and they were very helpful over the phone. I was happy to find good service but was very disappointed that Discount Tire had the best prices.. let me explain. If you go to the home page of 1010Tires, you'll see "We are Canadian, Eh! All Canadian orders are shipping from Canada, Pay no duties, Pay no brokerage fees, etc." A clear selling message that if you're in Canada and you buy from them, you'll be paying less but that simply would not have been the case.

Let's look at the tires that I bought. I got 4 285/35/18 Continental ExtremeContact DW from Discount Tire. I went on Discount Tire's website, priced them and got an "out the door" price of $1,092 (US), $20 less than how much I paid for them in December. Using today's exchange rate, that's $1,184.49 CAD. Getting the same tires from 1010Tires will set you back $1,499.55. That's an additional $315.06 CAD.. very disappointing. You should expect at least as good a deal, if not better. And Discount Tire continued to impress.

A few weeks ago, over 6 months after my order, I was at the track and 3 of the 4 wheel centre caps fell off. I sent an email to Discount Tire with my order receipt attached and asked for a replacement. I got a reply the same day and the rep left his phone extension. I called, confirmed my address and he sent 3 replacement caps, for free. No questions asked. All I had to pay was duty and brokerage - $15. That's about the same as a decent, individual aftermarket centre cap. Shipping? That was free too.

I don't know how good the service is at 1010Tires but that area isn't lacking at Discount Tire (i.e. you can often be driven away from a vendor that has better prices because service is bad). If you have good prices and good service, that's very tough to beat. I won't blindly return to Discount Tire for my next purchase - I will research again but I can say for sure that unless 1010Tires or another vendor has a much better deal, I will be buying from Discount Tire.