The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: July 2016



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Sunday, 31 July 2016

Porsche Club of America (PCA) - Acadia Region Track Daze




Last week, I spent another couple of days at our track with the local PCA to participate in their annual High Performance Driving School (Track Daze - link here). There was great turnout with plenty of cool cars, including the new 991 GT3 RS in the picture below, which you can also see (and, more importantly, hear) pass me in the video at the end of the post at 5:55. Weather did not disappoint either, presenting us with a dry track for two full days. This is the first time I have been able to attend, as PCA run their schools on weekdays and I wasn't able to find time the last few years. Luckily, this year, I planned it well in advance and made it there.




The school has four run groups - Green for novice students, Yellow for intermediate students, Red for advanced students and newer instructors, and Black for experienced instructors. The local BMW club - BMW Club Atlantic - also arranges HPDS's (Advanced Driver Training - link here), which I have been going to since 2011 and where I started high performance driving. They have an identical run group setup, with one trivial exception of intermediate student group being "Blue" instead of "Yellow". Since I run in the Red group in the BMW club school, I requested the Red group in the application form for the PCA school and that's where I was placed.




Both events are huge fun, with a great group of like minded people. I have also said a huge part of the fun of the BMW club school is the social part and the Porsche club school is no different. The main difference between the Porsche and BMW clubs' schools is the exercises. The BMW club school starts off with two sessions of slaloms, emergency braking, and threshold braking. After that, you get to the open lapping sessions. The Porsche club school does without the exercises sessions and goes straight to lapping sessions. Which one is better? It depends. Porsche club school has more track time. I think the BMW club school is more suited for beginner and intermediate drivers. The slalom, in particular, teaches a lot about the behavior of the car - its balance (i.e. understeers, oversteers, or neutral), its transitional response and how quickly it loads and unloads, grip levels, steering response and effort, etc. Threshold braking (max braking from 100 km/h or ~ 62 mph) also helps a lot to get a feel for the car's braking power.

You can easily learn all these things from lapping alone, but there's a lot of information to take in during a lap for a beginner and I think learning these things separately is a great help and speeds the learning process. The quick transitions of a slalom can also amplify car strengths and weakness and is great. On the other hand, practice and seat time is invaluable so the additional lapping sessions are a huge help, and not to mention fun. There are great instructors at both clubs and quite a few instruct at both so you can't go wrong. If you don't know how to decide, go to BOTH! You won't regret it. Anyhow, back to the Porsche club school.




I was assigned Jay Barthelotte as an instructor, who you might remember as my team mate for the 95 GTI race car. Typically, the first thing you do is get to know the instructor and he/she you and discuss your goals for the day/event but since Jay and I know each other well as far as track experience and goals, he just strapped in and we went for our session. I had to adjust from the race car. Most of the lines are the same (defensive racing lines notwithstanding), but turn in points, braking points, and throttle roll-in are very different so it took me about two laps to re-familiarize myself with the car. Jay didn't say much, as he knew what was going on.

At the end of the session, I asked him for feedback and he said not much - just try to use more of the track in exit of turn 2, and later entry into turns 5 and 11. He gave me a few pointers about areas where I could be smoother as well and then left me to my devices for the rest of the day. Before the last session of the day, though, I asked Jay if he wanted to come along and he did. The session went great. I asked him if he had feedback and he said "Hard to critique that." I was pretty happy about that, thanked him, packed up my stuff, and headed home.




We were a little worried about the weather on the next day because it had rained a lot overnight but the track dried in time for the first session. I was able to get that session on my GoPro. I wanted to get some sessions from the first day but there was a requirement to tether the camera to something in the car in case the suction cup fails and I didn't have anything so I had to wait until the next day.




After this session, I asked Jay if he had any critique and he said no, they were great laps. I asked him to nit pick and he said I could use a little more of track in exit of 5 but I was leaving that on purpose. I unwind a little more slowly with a little less throttle than I could, although I do that on purpose, to leave some room for error since the car gets unloaded at the crest of 5 and the back end can come a little loose so I want to have room for error to catch it if it goes. There are a few other places where I could use more throttle that I'm still being a bit cautious about to make room for error, such as exist of 2, corner 8, and exit of 11. He said it's very hard to critique, again, and that all inputs are smooth and progressive. Most importantly, though, he said I do section 3 to 4 very well and "could teach a course in corner 3." Of course, what he meant is that corner 3 is basically maxed out. What I heard was very different and more along the lines of "You are the BEST driver I have ever SEEN!" I am still working on convincing myself of the former.

There are other places too where I am holding back simply to preserve the front tires, especially corner 4 and corner 9. The problem is that the car has a lot of grip (perhaps a very good problem to have) but when combined with a heavy curb weight and front end weight bias, you get a lot of tire shoulder wear. The problem is exacerbated by soft bushings, which are great for ride quality but awful for maintaining front end geometry under load. Camber and wider front tires helped the problem dramatically but those simply allowed me to go quicker, undoing all of the help so I am learning to hold back until I get stiffer front control arm bushings, wider wheels and tires, and probably some weight saving. For a detailed list of car setup (it is mostly stock), check out the My 2012 Mustang Boss 302 Progress post.

To make a good couple of days even better, I ended up winning a draw for a $200 gift certificate redeemable at ISI Automotive (read about my first visit here).

There's another event in September with the Porsche club, although it is a one day event unlike this one. It has no classroom sessions and even more track time so I'm really looking forward to it and hope to make it.



Photography by Jeff Sandal

My 2012 Mustang Boss 302 Progress




My car is mostly stock but I thought I'd make a post about my progress with the few things I've done and their purpose.

- TracKey (purpose: performance): This is pretty obvious. I have read plenty of articles about the development of the track key with numbers ranging from 200 to 400 parameters in the PCM being changed, including throttle response, torque management, intake and exhaust variable cam timing, ignition timing, among others. It also automatically sets the steering weight to heavy (adjustable with the regular key) and relaxes stability control safety nets. I feel like ABS is also less intrusive/aggressive but have never read about that so could just be in my head. The intent was to tune the engine to run like the Boss 302S race car, dialed back only for street durability requirements and emissions.

- Ford Racing Torsen Diff - OEM spec (purpose: performance): I bought my car used (with 231 miles, mind you). It's a long story but the point is, I didn't order it or even search for my favourite at different dealers. It was a great deal since it was previously registered but unfortunately did not have the optional Torsen limited slip differential and came with the standard clutch-type limited slip differential. The difference after the switch in traction and ability to put power down made me a massive believer in Torsen differentials.

- Tires - F: 275/35/18 & R: 285/35/18 Michelin PSS (purpose: PSS have a little better grip than the stock PZeros and wider front section for longevity). I have been going up in section size from stock (255) in the front to improve the car's balance and help with tire wear. I am going to 285 next for a square setup, to hopefully improve wear and allow rotating. I went with Pilot Super Sports since they seem to be the best street oriented performance tire available now - in terms of noise, comfort, longevity, and dry and wet grip. With that said, I am considering trying Bridgestone Potenza RE-71Rs when it's time to for new tires.

- Wheels - 18"x9.5" TSW Nurburgring's (purpose: save weight and better 18" tire selection): I went with 18" to drop the weight a little and TSW Nurburgring since they seem to have a good reputation for track performance and are the only ones in the price range that were good quality and forged (rotary forged) wheels as opposed to cast. The fact that they are relatively light for the size - about 22 lb a pop - combined with the claim of being stronger than cast was the selling point.

- Maximum Motorsports Caster/Camber Plates (purpose: performance and longevity): This is obvious, to introduce some camber and I am running -2.3 degrees. This was to reduce tire roll over rather than increase performance, improving tread wear and eliminating a squirm I got in turn 7 (the fastest turn on the track) after turn in as the car rolls onto the tire shoulder and back.

- UMI Lower Control Arms - Roto Joint (purpose: performance): I did this to eliminate wheel hop under heavy throttle, especially on rough roads as well as better traction out of turns. For a quick review and how-to install, check my initial post.

- JLT Catch Can (purpose: longevity): I got this to reduce oil being mixed in with the air fuel mixture in the intake as much as possible. For a review, please click on JLT Oil Catch Can Review.

- Saleen S281 Front Grille (purpose: longevity): I did that to improve air flow under hood and reduce heat build up. I've never had an issue with the stock grille but the 2013's come with removable fog lamp blocking plates and the 302S has a wire mesh in its place so I figured it's a good idea. For a comparison, read my Saleen S281 Grille vs Stock post, including temperature readings.

- Brake Pads - downgrade (purpose: longevity and streetability): This is a bit of an odd one, but I switched to street pads that are a downgrade in outright stopping power and feel from the stock brembo pads after they wore down. The two reason being are a) this is by no means a track car, spending most of the time on the street, so braking performance and bite at street temperatures is more important and improved, plus there is reduced dust and noise, and b) I haven't been able to get the brake cooling ducts yet and I fear that if I run track pads, they will allow me to run harder for longer before they heat and, in turn, the fluid might fade first. Once I get the brake cooling ducts and install them, I will probably run HAWK HP+ pads, at least on the track, and switch back to street pads at the end of the day.

- Fays2 Watt's Link (purpose: stability): I got this due to very good reviews to people who switched from a pan hard bar setup to a Watt's link. The problem with a pan hard bar is that it attaches to the chassis at one point and the axle at one point (and runs parallel to the axle). Its purpose is to locate the axle laterally as it moves up and down but since it attaches only at one point on the chassis and another on the axle, it draws a very slight arc as the axle goes up and down. Steeda (I believe) did a test once, measuring the deflection left to right and it was very small. Most people probably won't notice but the Watt's link improves ride quality over bumps immensely, especially at speed, making the car feel a lot more secure. Most people credit little to no improvement in performance due to switching from a PH bar to a Watt's link.

- Open side-exit pipes (purpose: noise): As many people know, the Boss 302 came with a neat quad exhaust system - two pipes exit out the back and two exist at the sides just in front of the rear wheels. From the factory, Ford installed baffling plates, which are basically blocking plates with small (perhaps 1/8") holes to quiet the car. Remove them, and the car sounds even more phenomenal.

- Ford Racing Boss 302R Steering Rack (purpose: steering feel and future proofing bushing upgrades): I got this during a time when I thought I had a steering rack problem. On the plus side, the 302R rack has less filtering for better feedback and prevents the steering shake that is common with stiffer front control arm bushings.

- Heartthrob Flowpack Axle Backs (purpose: mostly noise and a little drop in weight): I did this for sound and weight, as they are 20 lbs lighter than stock. Here's a link to my initial post for a review and another link for a comparison video vs stock.

- GT500 Spoiler (purpose: looks): This was purely for looks, although it does have a gurney flap that can be replaced with more aggressive flaps to give some downforce but the one I have is an OEM GT500 spoiler with the SVT package. It isn't flat but I suspect that, at best, it might reduce lift a little but nothing more. 


Friday, 29 July 2016

Cool Local Race Cars




Mk3 VW GTI: The first one is the 95 GTI IT-B car which, frankly, isn't too cool. It is a great car to drive (read more about my first race here) but besides that, there is nothing special about it. Until you find out about the work that went into it. I'm not just talking about the standard stuff, which in itself took a lot (a lot) of time and money to have the car as it is today, but I learned something even more impressive during the last race weekend.




The team apparently ran the cars on stock OEM hubs and never had a problem with them. Then, VW decided to switch the manufacturing for the hubs from Germany to China. The change in quality was dramatic. How dramatic? The wheels would fall off. The team tried to source the same hubs but to no avail. The solution? Build them. The team builds their own wheel hubs because they can't find the right parts. Brian Gay, who takes care of a lot of the maintenance and repairs on the race cars, machines the hubs for the cars. He also races (primarily) an E36 M3, which I mentioned in the last post about the last race weekend (The Ram's Eye is Racing (Again)!), and a Mk5 VW GTI. Speaking of which..




Mk5 VW GTI: I like this car because of the potential it has. It is owned by our team, Vantage Motorsports, who has been working on it to get all the issues sorted out and it's not quite there but it finally ran well the last race weekend. By well, I mean no boost leaks, no computer limp mode, etc. The suspension is still getting tuned and there are some fueling issues to keep up with the new found power..






The team turbo swapped to a K04 turbo and is putting down around 330 hp and 330 lb-ft torque - a massive increase from the stock 197 hp. It weighs around 2,600-2,700 lbs I believe so power to weight ratio is really good too. The team also added a helical gear differential to help put the power down. The car is now running 1:18's but I suspect it'll be able to go much quicker once it's all sorted out.



E36 BMW M3: Finally, there is this E36 M3. At first, it looks unsuspecting. Then you notice the funny looking exhaust. Then you hear it and you realize it's very different.




The car is V8 swapped. It has a small block Chevy out of a Cadillac Escalade. They said it was out of a first generation Escalade but I'm not sure if they are referring to the actual and short lived first generation up to 2000 or the second and far more popular GMT800 Escalade. The car is putting down around 450 hp, far, far more than all other race cars, with the exception of a Monte Carlo Stock Car that was not running in the June race weekend. The car was a bit tricky, though, as I was told it was set up for drifting, including the diff, which makes it very tail happy. It's a lot of fun to watch but would be tough to drive fast, although it is already a quick car, running a best time on Saturday of 1:16.243. The team had some car trouble, unfortunately, and didn't run on Sunday but once the car is sorted out, including probably being tuned for road racing, the car should be even quicker. Some would consider an LS-swapped M3 sacrilege but I think it's cool. Which do you think sounds better, the first (blue) one or the second (white) one? Watch the video below and decide.





Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Ram's Eye is Racing (Again)!




I went back for the second (and third) race days of the season. I heard this is the first time we had a double header weekend since 2009. For a lot of the teams (basically all local), it's tough to make sure cars are race ready for two race days in a row, due to limited budgets, crew, and resources in general. Unfortunately, due to the same constraints for the organizers, a July race day couldn't be arranged so the option was to have one fewer race in the season, or do a double in June. Obviously, the decision was made to do a double in June.




As I mentioned in the previous post, the car I am racing is a 1995 VW Golf GTI. I am very fortunate to have the Vantage Motors team. They maintain and transport the car so I had a lot less to worry about for the weekend. This time, I shared the car with Jay Barthelotte and, once again, Derek Lugar. This is how we split it for the days:

1- Qualifying A: Jay
2- Qualifying B: Myself
3- Race A: Jay
4- Race B: Myself
5- Unlimited (no classes): Jay
6- 1 hour Challenge: Myself & Derek




Each race is a 30 minute sprint, except for the 1 hour challenge (obviously). The schedule was the same for Saturday and Sunday, except for the 1 hour challenge being done by me and Jay on Sunday instead of Derek. The 1 hour challenge requires a minimum of one 5 minute pit stop. On Saturday, Derek drove for the first 20 minutes while I drove the last 40. On Sunday, the plan was for me to drive the first 40 minutes and Jay drives the last 20 but that didn't work out so well.. more on that later.

Saturday didn't start off too well.. On the first race, and on the first green lap, one driver lost control in corner 7 - the fastest corner on the track - and skidded off to the tire wall. I saw it all in real time from the tower. He was carrying a lot of speed and caught some air on bumps off road leading to the tire wall that caused the car to almost roll and hit the tire wall at quite a steep angle. Miraculously, the driver was not hurt and the car landed with the shiny side up, minor front end damage, and was racing the next day. And the race weekend continued to be eventful..




This tire rubber spaghetti is unfortunately my fault. Prepare yourself for some class A racecar driver excuses.. Our team had a bunch of old used Hoosiers that they wanted to use up. I had no prior experience with Hoosiers. The car has no ABS. Front wheels do most of the braking on the vast majority of cars, more so here due to the car's loose suspension tuning. Combine all those factors together, and the result is tire murder. Brutal tire murder. I locked up the tires more than once and flat spotted them. They held up for my qualifying session, but got destroyed in the first race. Jay had a good battle and would have ended up in 5th place, but the tires and my ham fisted (footed?) braking cost him the position - the tires let go a couple of laps before the end of the race so he had to pit and he came in last. Note on Hoosiers: they are very unforgiving. I heard that a lot before but obviously hearing and experiencing are two different things. I was a lot more careful during my race, which was rather uneventful.




The unlimited race, though, was far from that. It was huge fun to watch. Brian Gay (blue E36 M3), who was supposed to start upfront, missed the grid and had to start from the back. He made his way through the whole field and had to battle Joel Nelson for first place. The race was epic. They both are awesome drivers. Brian's car is a little faster but both are in the same class. It was almost guaranteed that Brian would catch up, the question was whether he would catch up with enough time to capitalize on an opportunity to take the pass. He caught up and there was better racing for a couple of laps than almost an entire season of F1.






The endurance was even better for me, though. Because, well, passes! During the race school and the first race day, I didn't take any passes. I only moved up one position, but only due to the misfortune of SCG (Slower CRX Guy, as he has now labeled himself). In the endurance race, I took two positions! Up until that point, every single pass I've done on the track was done only after getting permission to do so. That's a rule in all HPDS's, lapping days, and time attack events in our region and for good reason. The reason is obviously to improve safety, to make sure a pass is taken when both cars are aware of the pass and cooperate to complete the pass safely, especially considering the short and technical nature of our track. Anyhow, I digress. The point is, passing during the race was far more satisfying.




More importantly, it was more fun. You have to work harder for it and strategize for it. When you see an opportunity and decide to take it, you have to stick to it and follow through. Moreover, in slower cars like the one I'm driving and the ones I can compete with, you can't really count on trying to setup for a better corner exit and use power to carry you through. There is no power. Most of the time, you're going to have to be able to carry more speed into the corner and maintain it to make the pass stick, all while making sure you have enough room to do so. It takes more work which makes it both more fun and rewarding, in addition to making you a better driver.

I left feeling very happy. My best lap time for the day was 1:23.46 so I cut about 0.7 sec off my last time. I was on better tires, but they were older, used Hoosiers and it was a very hot day and track was greasy. In fact, a lot of people were running about 1 second slower than the last race week day so I was very satisfied with my progress.




On Sunday, I found another two tenths of a second and got my best time down to 1:23.2 or almost a whole second quicker than my best on my first day on yet another hot day. The rest of the day was rather uneventful, until the 1 hour challenge. The plan was for me to take the first 40 minutes while Jay would finish off after the mandatory pit. Unfortunately, just over 18 minutes in, and on the back straight, the car all of a sudden pulled to the right and a bad wobble and vibration befell the car.. I had lost the front passenger side tire. I had to pit and was done racing for the day. The upside, though, is that I had done two more race days, in addition to the first race day in May, for a total of three, which qualified me for a full race license and down came the novice triangle from the back window! 

Overall, the race weekend was once again a fantastic opportunity to have huge fun, learn, and hang out at the track with like-minded, equally inflicted people (i.e. race car drivers). Moreover, when I wasn't racing, I tried to pull my weight around the paddock more than the first weekend. The more involved repairs/troubleshooting were still done by the seasoned team members but I tried to help with the grunt work - moving/replacing wheels and tires, checking pressure, torque, fuel, etc. At the end of the weekend, I helped pack up the trailer and tie down the cars, and headed home. August race weekend can't come soon enough!



Photography by Colin Carroll

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Is the Corvette automatic really slow shifting?

I lost count of how many times I've read a post about the new eight speed automatic in the Corvette and some Cadillacs, due to disappointment in the claim that it shifts as fast or faster than Porsche's PDK. I didn't doubt GM's claim when I read it but I lost faith after all the disappointment. After seeing this video, though, I'm starting to regain trust in GM's claim.

I think the trouble is that people are expecting it to act like a PDK or a good double clutch transmission all the time and I don't think GM intended that. I think GM wants it to act like a traditional torque converter automatic - slower and smoother - unless you're flat out and that's where the frustration comes from. If you keep that mind, the transmission works as advertised. Want to see how fast it shifts flat out? Skip to 1:05 of this video.





Thursday, 7 July 2016

Service at ISI Automotive




I wanted to get an alignment done for this season so I decided to call my friends at ISI Automotive. My car has camber plates so there is a good range of caster and camber adjustment for the front wheels. I already did an alignment when I got the camber plates but my mechanic doesn't deal with alignment varying from factory settings and aftermarket parts of this sort so I called Phil Tuff at ISI Automotive to take it in.




Phil is the service manager who runs the shop with Steve Phillips, the owner. They have worked at VW and BMW dealerships for many years and decided it was time to open a shop, but it isn't just a job. Phil has 1981 BMW 320i. Well, it used to be anyway. It is a lot more M3 than 320i now. I always bombard him with questions about the build because I think it will be awesome when done. I asked him to send me details of the build so I will make a separate post about it. In summary, though, the current engine is based on a US spec S14 M3 engine. "Based on" is the key word here, as everything has been modified including internals, head, valvetrain, intake, exhaust, and throttle bodies. It dyno'ed 219 whp at 7,600 rpm. On a Mustang dyno. That should work out to approximately 253 hp at the crank - a very healthy increase over the stock 195 hp rating and nearly 900 rpms higher. Although the engine is slightly bored, it is still very much a 2.3 litre. By the time he's done with it, though, it will be a 2.7 litre and will make around 300 hp. Remember when I said it's an awesome build? He's currently in the process of switching to an Evo3-based 2.5 litre block that he will turn into 2.7 litres. Stay tuned for the build post!




Steve is no less interested in cars. He worked in professional racing as a mechanic for marques like BMW, Porsche, Aston Martin, and others in series from IMSA, Grand Am, and ALMS. The impressive list of events he participated in include the likes of 24 Hours Of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, Petit LeMans, and the 25 Hours Of Thunderhill.  He even worked on classic cars from IMSA, Trans Am and NASCAR while working at a Vintage racing shop at Sonoma Raceway in California.




Moreover, both are still involved in regional amateur racing and are huge car guys. They do everything from regular maintenance items, to big repairs, performance upgrades/tuning, all the way to race car building and prep. If these guys don't know how to do it, it probably can't be done. 




With that in mind, I was looking forward to a new, more accurate alignment, which should help. The initial alignment turned out to be quite off. One side was -2.3 and the other was -1.9. I was aiming for -2.0 for both. They are now both -2.3. I talked to them a little about recommendations as far as toe and decided to keep it as 0 for a good compromise between street and track driving, since I spend most of the time on the street. Now it's all ready for the next event - the Acadia Region Porsche Club of America (PCA) High Performance Driving School!