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.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

350Z-R Hits the Track

wwWe have racecar! It is complete! And that last sound you just heard was money going down the drain!

Okay, so the project hemorrhaged cash like you wouldn't believe. We're waaaay over budget, but that's how projects intended to design and build a racecar off of a streetcar go. And really, the cash overages didn't come from parts or fabrication, they came from manpower expenses. These guys just worked slower than shit putting the thing together. This does not bode well for my chances of actually winning a race, as I'll have to pick a pit crew from among them. Believe me, if it were strictly my choice, I'd pick up the phone and have half a dozen wrench-spinning engineers from the Rally America Championship and American Le Mans here in three days. And most of them would work for free because they like spinning wrenches.

The 350Z-R is our dealership's entry into a little local race series they put together, basically to show what you can do with the standard sports car from each manufacturer. I'm driving for the Nissan team that my boss is fielding, even though I work in his non-moneymaking ultra-luxury/sport boutique thing. The other cars are as follows. The cars I fear are in bold, but not necessarily because of their capabilities bone-stock. They've just been built up to be evil:

Mitsubishi EVO VIII RS
Subaru WRX STi
Pontiac GTO
Dodge Charger
Ford Mustang GT
Infiniti G35 Coupe
Mazda RX8
Audi S4
Volkswagon R34 (I know, I thought they'd be smart enough to run a GTi)
BMW M3
Mercedes-Benz of some damn kind
Chevrolet Corvette C6
Chrysler SRT8 (based on the 300M)
Cadillac CTS-V
Volvo S40 T5 (otherwise known as "fresh meat")
Saab 9-3 Turbo

Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm driving a 350Z in a field with an M3 and a Vette, and I'm worried about the S4, G35, Mustang, and GTO. Well, the Z can easily handle any stock Vette, and that team blew so much money buying themselves a Vette that they didn't have anything left over for nice things like non-leaf spring suspensions. Also, they're not particularly gifted, engineering-wise. They'd be better off trying to win with a truly badass Cobalt SS, and you know how much I hate the Cobalt SS.

The WRX is a badass car, but the Suby guy just didn't feel like hucking that much money into it. We're running a race series to market our cars' capabilities...and you sell one of the dominant tuner cars...but you don't feel like trying...

The Dodge Charger has a fat ass. Enormous power, fat ass. It's not even going to kill people in the straights it's so fucking heavy. It's gonna suck the whole time. And they're gonna have to sell pieces of trim to keep the thing in tires.

The R32 is not what you want to use for a serious racecar. Let's just leave it at that.

The M3 should win, but their driver blows ass.

The Mercedes...ah, well, I fear no Mercedes other than the SL65 AMG and the SLR McLaren.

The SRT8, well...fat ass means crappy handling. And it's not getting enough gas mileage. These are 40-lap races, about 2 miles a pop, and that equals 80 miles at a time. They're running a car that normally gets only 17 or 18 mpg, max, tuning it, and then running it balls to the wall. That means maybe 10 mpg. Now factor in a 12-gallon fuel cell. And combine that with the fact that they don't have my amazing "knowledge of how to keep the fuel pickup submerged in a turn". Ha ha! No gas for you! Every time they do try to turn hard at the end of the race, the engine will cough and sputter. And that reminds me...these cars are reaching peak cornering g-loads of 1.5g. I think that might be enough to pull all the oil away fromthe pickup! Ha ha! Kiss my 7.5-quart fully-baffled oil pan, asswipes!

The CTS-V could be fearsome, but there's not enough aftermarket support to make it so, and they didn't have the money or the talent to custom fabricate a whole bunch of stuff.

Volvo S40 T5...gets the "good try`er" award for showing up. It's just not a sports car, no matter how much Volvo tries to tell people it is.

Saab 9-3 Turbo...due to reliability issues caused by trying to increase the boost while retaining stock internals, I predict that they might be able to finish a race if the driver remembers to not try to win. Trying to win will likely result in melted pistons.

And now...the things I'm afraid of and why.

Any EVO is dangerous, and a super-tuned EVO VIII RS is downright deadly. The RS, for those of you not familiar with how the old Diamond Star labels their cars here, is a stripped-down model that features all the mechanical badness of the EVO lineup. No giant rear wing, no A/C, no stereo (A/C and stereo available if you get the $1500 Urban Warrior package). But you get a center differential and the ability to power out of a slide. This particular example has been completely shelled, and had its engine completely reworked with forged internals and a larger turbo. It's wearing killer tires wrapped around ultralight wheels, and the drivetrain's been overhauled. Also, I hear they had a voodoo witchdoctor tune the dampers really nice.

Under any other circumstances, I don't worry about Pontiac GTOs. Those of you in the UK know them as Monaro XVRs. The GTO is a mid-size sedan fitted with an enormous engine. We're talking a 6-liter with a redline of 6500RPM, making 400hp stock, without resorting to forced induction. I don't even want to think about its torque production. The one I'm going to face has some big, evil supercharger banging around under the hood, so it's very possible it's making a solid 550-600hp. Yes, that's more power than a Z06 Corvette. Like all the other cars, it's got no interior other than bare metal. The hood and rear decklid are carbon fiber, and the glass has been replaced with a lightweight polycarbonate substitute. Race-weight flywheel, twin-plate clutch, carbon driveshaft, and shortened final drive gear complement the big-power engine. This car could reach 170mph when it rolled out of the factory. Now...well, that's another thing I don't want to think about. I can definately beat the hell out of it in the turns and corners, but it's going to own all whenever it's in a straight.

The Ford Mustang GT isn't really a super-serious performance car off the lot, but it's easily made into one. 300hp, a crapload of torque, all mated to a silly and outdated live axle. This particular example is twin-charged--that is to say, it features a supercharger and a turbo. The super means it starts making boost as soon as the driver, who happens to be a guy I know and respect, hits the gas coming out of a corner. When the RPMs climb too high and the super starts becoming inefficient (since it drains a little horsepower by virtue of being driven by an engine pulley), the turbo starts hitting its stride and really begins wheezing air into the engine. And at midrange, forget it. Both blowers are screaming and the whole thing just drips power. Suspension and rubber selections are good, the drivetrain mods are decent, and the balance of everything else, combined with all that damn power, means that the GT is a competitor.

Infiniti's G35 Coupe is a low-power, rear-drive version of the Nissan Skyline. As such, it's a solid car, even if it does have a fat ass and has been hijacked by Pimp My Ride wannabes. This car is just balanced: turbo'd, race suspension, superb drivetrain modifications, sticky rubber, decent driver. I don't think it's going to win any races outright, but I think it's going to be near the top for all of them, so it might win in the points. It's going to be an annoying presence in my rearview the entire season, and that kinda pisses me off.

I know, I know, I'm afraid of an Audi S4 of all things. The S4 really isn't much to talk about...it's a good car, but it's not great for its price or market segment. What frightens me about this one is the sheer weight of all the money that got poured into it. Huge segments of the suspension came off of a crashed RS6 and found their way into this monster, along with powertrain and drivetrain components. Aftermarket? We don't need no stinkin` aftermarket. These fuckers just custom-fabricated...umm, I think they custom-fabbed everything they couldn't pull off the RS6. Everything they couldn't make themselves, they had someone else make up. Their driver is okay, and with such massive funding, I think he could easily win. What this car amounts to is the representation of the old maxim "speed costs money". I know, for a fact, that it can out-turn, out-accelerate, and out-run the 350Z-R without even really trying. Whether the driver can out-turn, out-accelerate, and out-run me is still up in the air. If he figures out how to get a hold on the thing, it's over.

First race is in two weeks.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Germany! Again!

Nurburgring has not changed a bit since I left it. Which is just fine. I got two runs in on it yesterday, another three scheduled today. The Car--which is about all I can say about it, a la Non-Disclosure Agreement--is very, very nice. I can say that they've got it too dialed in. One of the reasons why the Ring is so great for testing a production car is that it rewards a smoothness, forgiveness, and stability. Set something up like a racer, with super-stiff spring rates, non-flexing antiroll bars, and ultra-low ride heights, and the Ring will promptly throw your ass off.

Which is why I rolled the damn prototype into the grass twice on its inaugural run. Super-stiff, so finely balanced it went sideways with too little effort, with very curious tires that had amazing grip but absolutely no progressive breakaway whatsoever. One minute, everything is fine. The next, the car is perpendicular to the road. Not really my fault...this usually happened at the tail end of a downhill turn that had a bump in it, and I finally figured out that it was because the crappy suspension was bottoming out.

But, that's all fixed now. I can turn an 8:49 lap with the thing, which is not half-bad (a JGTC car can run an 8:00 most of the time, and my personal record is 7:49). Also, I can keep it on the road the whole length of the track, which is also good. We're gonna play around with this some more, and then I have to do a meeting, followed by another car for testing and another damn meeting before flying back home to return to school. Thank God Lisa's with me...the problem is that we run into all these people that, you know, know me, and then I have to figure out a way to stealthily explain that me and her are in a slightly more involved relationship than "I'm screwing her at the moment".