Friday, June 27, 2008

'Ring Runs

Today's blistering lap of the Nurburgring by the Corvette ZR1 spurred the Jalops to post a list of some of the fastest 'Ring runs to date, along with videos of most of them. (An in-car video of the ZR1's lap will be posted in a couple of weeks when the engineers return from Germany.) One of these videos features the Radical SR8, one of the not-so-production cars I mentioned before. Another video features a ludicrously fast run by the famous Porsche 956. If this kind of thing interests you, I encourage you to check out the vids.

ZR1 Takes the Lead on the 'Ring

Car enthusiasts in the readership may know that the a car's elapsed time for one lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife* has become a frequently referenced measure of it's performance potential. Why this time is just a scaler, it depends on many aspects of the vehicle's performance: acceleration, top spead, cornering, and so on. A 'Ring time certainly better characterizes than a simple 0-to-60 time, quarter-mile time, or top speed.

Not too long ago, the Corvette Chief Engineer claimed that the Corvette ZR1, which I like to call the uber-Vette, would be able to beat any production** car's time around the 'Ring. Around that same time, the Nissan GT-R came out and ran a 7:29 on stock tires. Now GM is reporting that the ZR1 ran a 7:26 on stock tires this morning, when driven by a race-driver-turned-engineer.

Having recently had the pleasure of being thrown around the interior of a fifth-generation Corvette Z06 (405 horsepower at the crank) on a track, I have a hard time imagining going more than 200 hp faster than that. I'm willing to wager it'd be fun, though.

I'm curious to see how this competition plays out. I'm sure we'll see slightly faster times from both GM and Nissan in the near future. Also, the GT-R V-Spec is on it's way, with slightly more power and slightly less weight. Meanwhile, Honda's CEO has instructed the folks developing the Honda/Acura NSX replacement that he wants the car to beat the GT-R's time. The prototype is already in the ballpark at 7:37. Additionally, the Lexus LF-A has been unofficially timed, by bystanders, at 7:24. This should be an interesting battle to watch.

Update: GM has released a video of the ZR1's attack on the Nürburgring.

* These time are usually measured with a rolling start, and from "bridge to gantry."

**I should point out that several so-called production cars have actually run much faster times than those listed here, but those are low-volume, barely road-legal cars, so I don't think their times count in this particular comparison.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Are We Boring?

Acivities not on our weekend to-do list:
I think we must be boring.

I'b Sig

Alison and I have both come down with some kind of respiratory infection. (Ah, the joys of cohabitation.) So, don't expect either of us to post any CrossFit PRs anytime soon.

Cuddle Puppy

Here are a few photos that Alison and I took of Newton one night when he was cuddling with her:


During Ashley's recent visit, she and Alison independently arrived at nearly identical outfits one morning. I took this photo of them that night, as they played Alison's first-generation Nintendo. Look how cute they are!

Congrats, Again, Ash

As regular readers know, Alison's sister, Ashley, recently graduated from college. About 2 weeks ago, she came to stay with us for a bit. One purpose of her trip was to visit us, but the principal reason was to attend a job fair being held by local high schools looking for teachers. As you've surely guessed by now, she found a job; she'll be teaching history in Charles County, Maryland in the fall. She also found herself an apartment and roomate, and she'll be moving to MD in just 2 months.

So, congratulations, Ashley. We look forward to having family in-state.

HPDE Update

I updated my last post with some photographs, so, if you didn't see them, you might want click here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

NASA and HPDE, Acronyms and Initialisms

I spent most of this weekend at a high-performance driver's education class run by NASA. No, not that NASA; this NASA, the National Auto Sport Association. The HPDE Group 1 (novice) class I attended took place at my not-so-local motorsports park, Summit Point, and it consisted of 4 classroom sessions and 6 on-track sessions on Summit Point's main circuit.

The indoor classes were frankly disappointing. Although the in-class instructor was a former professional racer, he spent most of the time telling us that other drivers on the highway are trying to kill us and reminiscing about various collisions he'd been in or barely avoided. I was hoping for a lot more information on the physics of driving. You know: weight transfer, the traction circle, slip angle, and so on. I've been told we'll discuss those topics in detail in more advanced classes. I hope so.

The on-track instruction was another story entirely. During the first session, I felt overwhelmed, not just by driving the course, but also by watching the other drivers and paying attention to the flag stations. I didn't drive very well, and I didn't have much fun. My in-car instructor, Vince, was both patient and encouraging, offering feedback throughout each lap. With each session, I learned a little, relaxed a bit,* and had a lot more fun. By the last session, I was more-or-less consistently hitting the same brake points, turn-in points, apexes, and track-out points on each lap. And I was pushing my little Miata harder than I would have thought possible. I reached over 105 miles per hour in the main straight before braking for Turn 1, but that wasn't my favorite part of the circuit. My favorite section was working through Turns 6** through 10 at an ever-increasing speed, shifting from third, to fourth, to fifth in the process.

This event was an educational class, not a race, so there was no reason to be competitive; instead, we were encouraged to cooperate with each other, and not to let our egos lead us to chase the cars in front or try to hold off the cars behind. Thus, I let faster cars behind me pass immediately. Still, I must say that I'm quite proud that, although I was passed by seemingly everyone during the first session, during the last session, I passed numerous cars, including a 350Z and a stripped-out Mustang GT, both of which should be much faster cars than mine. Additionally, I was only passed by, I believe, a WRX and some late-model 911 variant.

Vince let me ride along in his Corvette (C5) Z06 during one of his track sessions. Certainly, he's a much better driver than I am, and his car is much faster than mine. The combination was impressive, to say the least. I actually began to feel nauseated by the end of the session.

I certainly learned a great deal from the class. Paramount among what I learned were number of driving skills, obviously---I won't trouble you by itemizing them---but I also came to a couple of conclusions not directly related to driving technique. The first conclusion, which I also reached after my first autocross class, is that there's no point in buying a higher-performance car until you've learned to push your current car to, or at least near, its limits. The second, which is really a corollary to the first, is that it's foolish to own a high-performance vehicle unless you take it to a track, an autocross course, or someplace else where you can explore its performance envelope. That's my opinion, of course; your mileage may vary.

HPDE classes were not the only events going on at the main circuit this weekend. There were also several races, as well as the qualifying and practice sessions associated therewith. I noticed some trends among the cars in the paddock. You're probably not interested in my observations, but here they are anyway:
  • First- and second-generation Miatas (NAs and NBs) were by far the most numerous cars present. Many of these were Spec Miata racers, but there were also oodles of non-spec Miatas in attendance; 4 of them were in my HPDE 1 class of 25 students.
  • There were a lot of Porsche 944s, too. They all seemed to be part of some Spec 944 race series; outside of that series, I didn't see any.
  • The third most numerous cars in the paddock were various BMW 3-series, mostly E46 M3s.
  • Corvettes, mostly C5s, were also present in force.

Overall, I felt the HPDE course was both educational and fun. If you are interested in learning to drive your car at its limits, you should certainly look into an HPDE course, whether offered by NASA or some other organization. However, I'd suggest you attend an autocross class or autocross competition first; autocross is less dangerous, less expensive, and probably more convenient for you.

Update: NAautoxer, a member of the forum whose wife, Carrie,*** was in my class, has posted some photos from this weekend to Flickr, and I've included some of the images of my group's sessions in this post. A few of the photos happened to feature me and my car, which is all dolled up with tape protecting the headlights and spelling out the number 144 on the door. One of these photos was taken, I think, when I was about to pass Carrie, in her white number-16 Miata with an unpainted aluminum hood.

* Probably every sports instructor I've ever had---from martial arts to Olympic weightlifting to inline skating---has told me I needed to relax. Tension is clearly an ongoing problem for me.

** Turns 6 and 7 can be combined into a single semi-circular corner by holding the wheel at a fixed angle and fine-tuning the direction of travel with the throttle.

*** This spelling is a guess.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Today, I set a new personal record for CrossFit Total. Here's how the workout broke down:
  • Back squat: 280 pounds. That's a new PR, and by 10 pounds.
  • Shoulder press: 125 pounds. This is well short of my PR, but it represents significant progress over my recent efforts, so I'm happy with it.
  • Deadlift: 315 pounds. This is a pound shy of my PR on the the deadlift, but it's 5 pounds more than my best deadlift during a CFT, so I'm quite pleased with it.
So, my CrossFit Total was 720, an 18-pound improvement over my previous best. Thus, I'm Brian with the overhead projector about my performance.

Monday, June 16, 2008

General Hardware Failure

The Red Ring of Death has struck my Xbox 360 down for a second time. And just when I needed Forza to practice for my upcoming HPDE class. Curses!

Top Gear USA

It looks like this ill-advised series is officially going to happen.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Because I was skating Friday through Sunday, I didn't get a chance to tackle CrossFit Total last Friday with Alison. I took on CFT today in place of the prescribed Workout of the Day. Here's how it broke down:
  • Back squat. I set a new PR of 270 pounds, an improvement of 7 over my previous best and about 10 more than on my last CFT. I was happy with that performance.
  • Shoulder press. This lift was a disaster. A few months ago, my shoulder press max dropped off precipitously. I think I must have injured my left shoulder or upper arm; I just can't seem to support any substantial weight with the left arm. I've been adding a few dumbbell presses into my workouts in an effort to bring my left arm up to parity with my right, but it doesn't seem to have helped much. I managed to eek out 122 pounds, a small improvement from last time, but about 17 pounds down from my personal best.
  • Deadlift. I lifted 310, 6 less than my PR, and 1 lower than my best CFT deadlift.
As a result, I managed a CrossFit Total of 702, just 2 pounds better than my best previous CFT. It's a PR, so I'll take it, but I'm not entirely happy with this workout.

Monday, June 02, 2008

I am the Stig

Dirty, then Clean

We took Newton to Quiet Waters a couple of weekends ago, so he could play in the surf. He got very dirty. Observe:

It's okay, though. We were already planning to have him groomed a few days later:

Where Have You

This nelogism slipped out tonight:
where have you, noun phrase. Other locations of the same sort.
This phrase should not be confused with otherwhere.

Eddy Matzger SkateFarm Roadshow

Apparently, I like taking weekend courses to learn various sports. In the last 8 months, I've taken a 2-day class on Olympic weightlifting, 3 1-day classes on autocrossing, and, this weekend, a 2-and-a-bit-day class on inline speed skating.

In particular, the class I took was the SkateFarm Roadshow, which is taught by famous inline racer* and skating personality Eddy Matzger. We worked on balance, edge control, fall angle, cross-over turns, and, of course, the double push. Eddy didn't teach us how to skate up or down extreme slopes, while towing a rickshaw, while mopping, on a waterwheel, on hand rails, or backwards while video-recording students.

There were 12 students in the class, approximately evenly split between men and women, and they ranged in skill level from obvious newbies to apparent athletes with lots of skating experience and some form of DP. I was one of the more skilled skaters, but by no means the best.

Eddy is a very good instructor who takes an accentuate-the-positive approach to teaching. (Apparently, his childhood piano instructor, who repeatedly told him he was terrible, left quite an impression.) Additionally, his enthusiasm and ebullience made spending 7 hours each day in my skates less painful than it would otherwise have been. His various antics and obvious skate control---even on enormous 110-mm wheels---kept us interested. Usefully, he sent us away with individual, hand-written "report cards" to remind us what to reinforce and what to relearn.

Here's a photo Eddy took of the two of us. The face he's making is typical of him.

So, if you are interested in learning to be a better skater, then I encourage you to sign up for Roadshow the next time it passes near you or to journey to Virginia for the non-traveling SkateFarm.

* Eddy has won Athens to Atlanta something like 4 times, more than anyone else.

Music Review: Oh Perilous World by Rasputina

As promised in my last music review, I bought another album by the self-described chamber-rock trio Rasputina. I chose their most recent album, Oh Perilous World. This album is something of a concept album; the songs mostly address the dangerous world in which we live, the climate change, Hurricane Katrina, Schistosomiasis, the war in Iraq, Osama bin Laden, child soldiers, and more. More interestingly---to me at least---about half the tracks also tell an alternate-history story in which the residents of Pitcairn Island, lead by Thursday October Christian, revolt against Queen Mary Todd Lincoln of Florida and her fleet of airships.* Here are assorted comments on some notable songs from this album:
  • "1816, The Year Without a Summer" is probably my favorite track on Oh Perilous World. It describes the Little Ice Age, in particular, the Year Without a Summer, and mentions both Mary Shelly and Benjamin Franklin.
  • "A Cage in a Cave" reveals where Flecther Christian goes for solitude on Pitcairn.
  • "Choose Me for Champion" chronicles the plight of the Pitcainers and mentions the younger Mr. Christian.
  • "Oh Bring Back the Egg Unbroken" concerns the Birdman Cult on Rapa Nui (Easter Island).*
I don't find the songs on this release quite as musically pleasing as those on A Radical Recital, with the exception of "1816." However, the lyrics, and stories they tell compensate for any musical shortcomings. Thus, I rate this album exactly on par with the live album. Overall, I give it 9.0 out of 10 for those of you who like this kind of thing; if you think a trio playing songs of alternate-history on 2 cellos and a drum kit while wearing exaggerated faux-period costumes sounds intriguing to you, then you will enjoy Oh Perilous World. For those that don't have a particular interest in music of this type, I'd give it a 7.0.

* These songs piqued my interest in the history of Rapa Nui and the story of the mutiny on the Bounty, which both turn out the be quite fascinating. I was also reminded of the sinking of the Essex, which is the very interesting story that inspired Moby Dick. I encourage you to learn all of this history if you haven't already.