Saturday, June 03, 2006

Slower, Slightly Less Stupid

Wow. People actually care about shit. This is truly amazing me. Well, maybe they care for the wrong reasons, but still...

I'm scraping together a bunch of really fine cars for the RaceLegal program. Kinda tough to get people to give you cars for free--we don't have any support from local government, even though the sheriff's office and the local PDs came out and said, "Give this dude money now."

-Mitsubishi EVO VIII RS (stripped-down EVO with all the goodies the regular one has, with the exception of the big rear wing; no A/C or stereo)
-Subaru WRX
-Honda Civic Si
-Acura RSX
-Dodge SRT4
-Ford Focus SVT (list price is $32k, but you can get them used for cheap)
-Mazda Miata
-Mini Cooper S-Works
-Toyota Celica

So yes...we have enough cars to keep it interesting. There are basic front-drivers for people getting started, a light little rear-drive roadster for when they get acquainted, and some real powerhouses for when they get a clue (namely, the EVO, the WRX, and the SVT). And, of course, there's always the run-what-ya-brung option. We'll be using the local track, which is a sort of semi-GT course, and which has a nice little technical autocross track in the middle so beginners can learn things. All the cars listed above will be restricted to that autocross track, to keep the speeds down and prevent people from wrecking the damn things. Dealerships donated them to help sell their products. I just went around and said that we were doing this, and named the models I wanted. I was offered a Chevy Cobalt SS, but those suck, and I'm not gonna attach my name to such a travesty of a car.

The new Skyline is coming along nicely, and I heard that the new owner of the old one loves it. Thus far, I've installed an adjustable suspension and gave it the stock settings. Why? Because the car already has an ideal handling personality, I just wanted to improve how those settings are applied. Better damping, things like that. The engine is still stock with the exception of a tuned ECU, straight-pipe exhaust with a racing silencer, and cold air intake. I'm going to rip it out and send it to an as-yet-undetermined shop to have the head ported and polished, and the weights balanced. I'm not sure if I want to bore the cylinders out any. I mean, the added torque would be lovely, but I'm not sure if I want to sacrifice the engine response (and I've recently rediscovered my love of drifting). Ditto for a larger turbo.

I also plan on upgrading the soundsystem. Touch-screen LCD head unit in the dash, 5.1 surround sound speaker setup, with two high-powered 10" subs in the trunk. I want to be able to thump hard enough to frighten lesser drivers, watch a movie in surround sound if I'm ever bored (and to merely have the ability to do that), and still have really great, accurate sound reproduction for when excessive bass is really inappropriate (like at work).

But yeah...right back down the same old path.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

2 Fast, 2 Stupid

I'm really getting pissed. I mean, really, really, really pissed.

This is ridiculous. I mean, I'd be laughing if it wasn't so dangerous. They're making another Fast and the Furious movie, this time subtitling it Tokyo Drift. There are so many things wrong with it it's embarassing.

First, they shot the scenes of Tokyo at--get this--Wilshire and Sunset Boulevard in LA. I can look at stills from the movie and pick out places I've gotten a lapdance or had dinner. Understandable, you can't shoot a movie in Tokyo because the damn place is never quiet, but come on.

Second, they've got a Lotus Elise drifting. Look, you all know how I love the Elise. For the price of a Corvette, you get out-of-this-world handling, perfect balance, and the ability to just not care how hard you're turning. But you don't drift with them--they grip too much to be silly.

Third, the main character chucks an RB26DETT from a Nissan into a 60s Ford Mustang fastback, along with the drivetrain, thus creating "the ultimate drift machine". For one thing, that's not bloody likely. For another, he ain't gonna do that overnight, alone, in his garage. That's some serious custom machining right there. I know they built one RB26DETT-powered Mustang for the movie, but that took them a few months, a lot of help, and a boatload of cash.

Fourth, all that this movie is going to do is encourage more young drivers to go out and drive irresponsibly on the street. Let me be perfectly's going to kill people. I'm not removing responsibility from the ones that are going to do it. You're always responsible for the way you drive on the street. Always. But I don't pass out loaded guns to random people on the street, either. To my mind, the people that made this movie--producers, director, studio, and actors--should be required to give a percentage of their profits to RaceLegal programs nationwide. They wanna make a mess, they should be required to clean it up.

Last, it mocks car culture. And it mocks street racing culture. I know I maintain that street racing isn't anywhere near as prolific as people think it is, but it's out there in some places. And it's a very vibrant, amazing culture with its own social codes, formalities, hierarchy, even music and clothes. And it didn't just appear overnight. It took a good sixty years to get to where it is today. Along the way, people dedicated their lives to it. This is something that consumes people as much as religion or anything else. And for Chrissake, I know people who died making it is what it is. If you're going to make a movie about it, you should at least be respectful of it. It's not glamorous. There's no money. There's not even very many women in bikinis or schoolgirl outfits hanging around. It's dirty, hard, dangerous, and everyone is always looking over their shoulder for the cops. Portray that's just as compelling, believe me.

So what the hell?

In other news, I'm starting a RaceLegal program over here. I got a couple dealerships to supply various cars. No specifics on models yet, but semi-sporty econoboxes abound, nothing more expensive than a high school kid with a decent job and a passion for autosport couldn't save up and buy. Prices will be kept below $30k. It should be fun. And in a way, I owe it to the world. I made money being part of an industry that makes some of its living off of illegal street racing, so it's only right that I try to do my part. Street racing exists only because people have no legitimate place to race.

Friday, May 26, 2006

New Car!

Just thought I'd pop in and make everyone envious. I know, I haven't been on in a while, it's summer, and I'm off from school. But anyways...

...the R34 GTR is gone. So long, good-bye. It was a nice car, but, well...I'm getting old. The new car is...drum roll please...

...a Nissan Skyline R34 M-spec Nur.

Subtle differences. The M-spec Nur is the baddest of all Skylines, short of the remarkable and semi-stupid Z-tune, which is just a used base R34 GTR made into a supercar by Nismo. The M/Nur, on the other hand, is just bad. The car oversteers and slides ridiculously easy. AWD? You bet, it's got the same ATTESA system as every other Skyline.

I considered leaving it stock. And then my bad judgement got the best of me. So I'm going to a truly bad-ass suspension, superlight flywheel, twin-plate clutch, slightly shorter final drive gear, race-type silencer and straight-line exhaust, a relatively small air-to-air aluminum intercooler, and a massively upgrades fuel system to keep the stock turbo happy while letting me turn up the maximum boost levels. I know I should probably bore out the cylinders for a little extra displacement, but that would reduce the responsivenes of the engine, which is the whole point of the build. Not so much to make boatloads more power (just a little extra torque), but to make an amazingly responsive engine and connect it to a serious street drift machine. Power-wise, with a little carbon-fiber and some "interior redecoration", I can easily compete with the fastest cars on the street around here so long as I have a highly motivated, pick-up-and-go engine and drivetrain.

The only thing I don't like about the car now is its tendency to dive and squat. Hence, the uber-suspension. I'll be dialing in some anti-dive and anti-squat, relocating some of the pickup points, and retaining relatively soft spring rates and dampers to maintain control, and to make a point: Ya'll solved your dive and squat issues with really stiff springs and dampers. I solved mine with a little geometry.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Eh. I can walk away from this one and feel good. It wasn't my fault in the slightest. It was my fault that I still finished as well as I did. Considering. And I had to lose sometime.

Around lap 15, I lost 3rd gear. Like, entirely. Gearbox just wouldn't shift into it. Felt like I was putting the car in neutral, and that's how the car behaved. The way this track is set up, most turns work out to exit at the top of second gear, which means that this was just a god-awful failure to have. Worst possible gear to lose. Actually, it forced me to completely change the way I drive.

I go slow-in and fast-out. Nice and safe, keeps me alive, keeps the car in one piece instead of many smaller pieces, keeps me in the game. And it gives me a lot of leeway when it comes to making a pass in mid-turn. Everyone drives slow-in and fast-out, unless they're crazy or really, really need to win.

With no third gear, and thus no way to go fast out, I had to barrel into turns in 4th gear, pop the car into neutral and just let it spin as I danced on the brakes and kept the engine revving with some light gas-work, and then abruptly put it back in gear after rev-matching it.


The embarassing thing is, I still finished third. Only the M3 and the S4/RS6 took me. And the margin between us was .536 seconds, with just .274 seconds in between me and the M3. I beat the Corvette, which came in fourth, by 2.173 seconds.

Oh, and I'm way out in front in terms of championship points, which are worked out as a function of actual finishes, laps led, seconds above or below average, and average position over the course of a race. So it's very possible to win the thing even if you lead every lap, and then park 15 feet back from the finish line for ten minutes. Pathetic little championship points for a fake gold cup on a crappy podium made out of plywood and covered with a sheet.

In other words, the taste of victory distilled into pure state, without the big gold championship dish, the bikini-clad umbrella girls, the endorsements and the sponsors. Only two things...winning, and losing.

Monday, April 10, 2006

", I mean you're ON FIRE..."

Hey, at least we got the first crash out of the way.

Turned out to be a pretty good one, for me. It killed the Audi S4/RS6 and the Pontiac GTO, the only two guys in front of me. We went to yellow flag and I took the time to pit in, and was able to come out in the same position.

Here's what happened: The GTO's fat ass and massive torque likes to digest tires. Meanwhile, it's outsized engine likes to guzzle gas. They resolved the running-out-of-gas issue the only way they could, by cutting into the body and slapping in a bigger fuel cell. Cool! They learned math!

Problem: Gas has weight. Bigger fuel cell means more weight in the rear. Which is a good thing...they were able to launch harder out of turns. In the beginning, anyway. Race-grade gasoline weighs about 6.65 pounds a gallon (86-octane usually weighs about 6.216, and premium weighs around 6.35; it varies a little from refinery to refinery). Now, that translated to maybe 80-95 pounds of ballast in the rear. Unfortunately, when they retuned the suspension for the extra weight, they forgot about how that gas was going to gradually disappear.

Result: The GTO experienced massive tire-burning and unintentional throttle-on oversteer 15 laps after fueling. Around the time of the crash, he had basically no rubber left in the rear. "Bald" doesn't even begin to describe those tires..."scalped" is more like it.

So he did the natural thing and started braking earlier. Meanwhile, the Audi's driver was getting better behind the wheel, and he started making up time on the GTO. Eventually, they entered a sharp turn fairly close to one another, and when the GTO braked early...crunch.

Good night, intercooler. Good-night radiator. Good-night grille. Good-night intake. Good night, everything in front of the frame's nose.

The GTO, for its part, took the initial impact fairly well. The exhaust pipes crumpled up and twisted shut, which is a lethal hit...carbon monoxide will build up in the cockpit. Unfortunately, the GTO fishtailed and slid off the track and into a wall at a slight angle, which ripped the passenger-side wheel off.

Here's where the "fire" part comes in. I was a second or two back, with the Corvette, which was actually making a good showing. I hadn't gotten up to the point where I felt like really passing him, so we were kind of running side-by-side. I saw the crash, and the huge, hideous pile of Audi parts bouncing across the pavement, so I tapped the brakes and hung back in preparation for the yellow flag. The Corvette's driver dodged out in front of me and then noticed the enormous pile of debris.

One of the things I designed and built into the car was a little button that deploys two course mesh screens over the intakes. I figured, shit, both of them are right down at the front lip, it might be good to have a way to protect them while keeping them fully open during normal operation. My little button snaps the screens down in maybe a quarter of a second. I thumbed it just as I started braking.

The Corvette had no such trickery. What it did have was a big, open intake mounted on the hood. And as it roared through the debris field, it snorted a handful of Audi pieces.

But that's not where the fun stopped! The pieces ripped a big hole in the plumbing. And this hole occured after the Mass Airflow Sensor, which tells the ECU how much air is going into the engine so that the ECU can tell the injectors how much fuel to squirt into the cylinders.

The hole increased the mass of air going through the intake plumbing by virtue of giving it an unregulated opening to travel through before hitting the engine. The MAF saw all this air going down the tube and couldn't tell that most of it was getting sucked out through the hole. So it told the ECU, "Dude, there's a crapload of air coming in!"

The ECU replied, "Dude! I better tell those injectors to dump a crapload of fuel in!"

The intake valves, meanwhile, were weezing to let in a measly amount of air, while the MAF and the ECU clicked happily away in their own little world.

Now, when you get a whole crapload of fuel and not a lot of air, you end up with unburned fuel. Within the engine, this isn't too big a problem (unless you count detonation as a problem), since the fuel is mostly getting pushed out through the exhaust ports and into the headers.

All this fuel, which is travelling as a bunch of big, heavy droplets surrounded by a very fine mist, can only go so far before it hits something hot enough to ignite it.

This leads to giant-ass flames shooting out of the exhaust pipes. And the ignition of the bumper.

I clicked over to the driver's channel on the radio, which is kept open specifically for emergency events like this. The radio circuits we use were another little invention of mine. The driver's channel allows you to cut through all the bullshit--namely, your team and his team--and just talk to the guy. It plays through the left headphone, as opposed to everything else, which goes through the right. It's also encrypted, so we can use whatever language we see fit (everything else can be picked up by anyone with a VHF or even, sometimes, a clock radio).

Me: "Danny, ah, you're on fire."
Danny (Corvette): "I know, the car's dialed in today. What about keeping the channel clear?"
Me: "No, goddammit, I mean you've got some flames coming from the exhaust and your bumper's starting to go. Get it on the grass and kill the engine, for fuck's sake."

Luckily, it had rained the night before, so he didn't have to stop on the side of the tarmac. The grass was wet enough that it didn't light up.

We went to yellow for 5 laps and then raced the final 15. The M3 came damn close to acing me, and I thought the EVO was going to win until its tortured center differential finally gave out on lap 34. No matter...another win for better driving and the simple front-engine/rear-drive layout.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hooray to Me for Not Dying!

Well...that was fun. Deeply unsatisfying, but fun.

My little plan to draft the leader by the third or fourth lap failed miserably. I wound up entering the last straight (which is a really, really long one...we're talking Fuji's straight long) with three guys in front of me: The M3, the GTO, the Audi, and the G35. Not because I was turning crappy times, but because I underestimated their ability to block me. And really, not their ability as much as their aggressiveness in doing so. I mean, they were reckless about it. Bloody amateurs.

But here's the magic of such a situation: If you exit the final turn, a hairpin, just right, you can slipstream the tail car, the M3. Everyone has big fat-assed GT wings on their car, so the envelope for doing that is just enormous. From there, I screamed past the poor bastard and slipped into the GTO's air pocket, and then repeated the process with the M3 and the G35. I hit the drivetrain's top speed about halfway through, levelled the throttle, and just ran away.

From there, I built up my lead to what I consider to be healthy breathing room, about five and a half seconds. I suppose I could have worked up a wider margin, but I was trying hard to conserve both my tires and my fuel so I wouldn't have to pit in and get caught in the middle of the pack while the leaders ran away from me. The closest four cars pitted in on Lap 25, and that allowed me to turn in a burning-hot lap before popping in myself. My Pit Crew of Spectacular Talent managed to fuck up pretty badly, which completely killed my lead (I figure that I should have been out of there eight and a half seconds earlier...okay, so it wasn't a total fuck up, but it was a bad pit), and that forced me to nose out onto the track behind the G35, with the Audi S4 in a comfortable lead.

You remember. The Money Pit Audi S4. Turns out they bought a truly skilled pit crew in addition to the titanium-forged everything and all those RS6 parts.

But it was cool. I was back in the lead by Lap 30, and feeling very comfortable by 35. By the time 40 rolled around, I'd forgotten it was a race. Split time? Seven seconds. Not a whole lot, but it was only a 40-lap race, and I'm always willing to take a one-second lead over a ten-second lead that disappears when I break a gear, blow a damper, or burn out my l-s differential in the final lap. Also, I don't know if we have the money to buy a new differential if this one breaks. And I'm almost certain my boss isn't going to buy us a new engine if we kill this one before the season is over.

Enter victory lap, champaign, obligatory girls hired off a website for an escort service. You know, I kinda miss the ultra-annoying ass-kissing Japanese umbrella girls. At least they were, well, professionally sleazy. If I had my way, the winner would just get a beer. Fake-ass trophies are just dumb, and it's pretty silly to have a couple glammed-up girls do photo-op kisses on the cheek when so many women are involved with autosports now, and so many drivers are married.

Still, it felt good. I found that I still hate that flame-retardent gel. Stuff is still cold as shit. It was 75 today, and I was shivering out on the tarmac. The Nomex undergarmet still itches and scratches, and the car is still hot as hell. On the plus side, my legs can take two hours of 1g+ turns, which I was kinda worried about. And it was actually pretty refreshing to have a crowd just give a little cheer, as opposed to the unadulterated adoration the Japanese lavish on their drivers. I just seems so much more sincere when they only give you a little, and no more or less than everyone else. I mean, I always just look at anything I hear from the grandstands as the spectators showing their appreciation for my gift of dragging my ass out of bed at four in the morning so I can have my ears drilled on by an unmuffled exhaust by nine.

Yeah. I was up at 4 AM Saturday, and it is now 6 AM Sunday. I have not slept in 26 hours. Well, only 25. Daylight Savings Time.

Lisa was very cool about everything. She was worried, but only the natural kind of worried. Not hyperventilating. I had already sat her down and talked with her about it. I'm going to tell you all the same thing I told her. Racing--and by which I mean, racing professionally--is like crossing the street. Every time you do it, you're putting your life in the occasionally-buttery fingers of complete strangers and, worse, random chance. You're trusting that they're going to be safe, skilled, and responsible drivers. And you're trusting that you've taken as much of the process out of the realm of random chance as you possibly can. A guy crossing the street looks both ways. I inspect my car, from top to bottom and inside to out, no less than a dozen times myself, in addition to all the other people that look at it.

And yeah, racing's dangerous as hell. And I hear some people get hit by geriatric Cadillac drivers while they're crossing the street.

First real race after the accident. Next stop? Hit a more serious circuit after this rather short season is up. I've got a professional vendetta against Toyota and TRD Sports. And yeah...returning to "real racing" means I lose my fucked-up-driver money. Oh, well. Some things are worth it. Revenge is one. Racing's the other.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Great Weather, a Cool Second Job, and an Upcoming Race

My God, this weather is spectacular. It's 60 every day, bright and sunny. Absolutely gorgeous. Real ragtop weather. The sin of it is, I don't have one, but the Skyline is nice with the windows down. I'm wondering if I can get a sunroof installed.

I got an interesting call the other day. The State Police were looking for a guy to teach their people how to drive cars very fast on the highway while keeping reasonably safe. In particular, they want someone that can show them how to handle the powerful pursuit cars. Here in America, state police typically use Camaros--big, beefy coupes with V8 engines. These babies wear Z28 bodies (the low-power version style, the Z28's engine "only" makes 260-some-odd hp) but pack secretly-modified SS engines and trick suspensions. Basically, I think it amounts to an ECU reflash combined with an OEM performance intake and exhaust. But they're seriously powerful, and can travel in excess of 180mph.

Problem is, very few recruits have ever driven a car that powerful, and even fewer have ever crossed the trible-digit line.

So, after my delightful little attempted carjacking incident--I'm still laughing at that poor bastard that thought he could rip me for the CLK--they flipped back through the Rolodex and dialed my number. I've got the Class A international license, which basically means I'm permitted to race JGTC, DTM, and extreme rally events like Dakar, I've graduated from half a dozen racing schools and two advanced street driving schools, and I like to think of myself as pretty good behind the wheel of anything with four rubbers. To their mind, that makes me uniquely suited to teaching the basics of driving really goddamn fast. Also, they saw me put that CLK sideways at 170 and slide it around a semi in maniacal attempts to toss the carjacker around the CLK's cockpit.

Long story short, they interviewed me, conducted a background check, and offered me the job the day after the interview (part of which involved me intentionally putting a Camaro pursuit car into a spin, rotating it 1080 degrees/three times all the way around, and then magically breaking the spin, pulling a hairpin, and stopping). Naturally, I took it. The money's good, it's fun, and I'm doing my civic duty. Also, the cars are not half bad. The guys are a lot of fun, too.

But...I got that bloody race Saturday. The 350Z-R is set and prepped, fully dialed-in, and I already turned five or six really hot laps in the thing. I'm certain I can finish in the top five, and I think I stand a good chance of winning. Better than even. I'm going to intentionally throw the qualifying laps so I can start three or four cars back from pole (I'm qualifying dead last, so I'll know exactly what time I need). I like that position because it'll let me draft and pass on the first two laps and then draft the leader on the final straight by Lap 3, which should put enough space in between me and him that he won't be able to draft me on Lap 4. After that, it's just a matter of maintaining the split time, not pushing the car too hard, and pitting in a lap after my nearest competitor, using the one-lap gap to squeeze one more really strong run to open enough space so that I don't lose the lead.

And yeah, I know it's dumb to be printing my strategy on the internet, but what's it going to change? Not like the competition is professional, and thus likely to know how to keep me from doing all that.