I'm quite confident, gentle reader, that you haven't been pining away, wondering when I would post an update on my exploits autocrossing in the SCCA's Street Touring R class. Well, here is said update anyway.
My lackluster---nay, terrible---performance in the Washington DC Region's practice event, which I reported earlier, was delivered with Zelda in mostly stock trim. I'd installed stiffer engine mounts (to reduce engine motion), a stiffer, adjustable front anti-roll bar (to reduce body roll), and a lighter, higher-flow axle-back exhaust, and I had removed the Induction Sound Enhancer (because it was unnecessary), but the car was otherwise unmodified. I discovered on the course that stiffening only the front swaybar did reduce roll, but it also yielded substantial understeer. I did my best to compensate with differential tire pressure, but I only achieved partial mitigation. Even so, I made steady progress during my 4 runs; each was faster than the last. My final run was substantially quicker than the others, and I knew it as I headed for the finish. Sadly, I hit the last or next-to-last cone on the course and incurred a 2-second penalty. So, I finished an embarrassing 10th out of 10 drivers, but only by 0.003 s. Curse you, Aure!
The class winner at the practice autocross was driving a well prepared Clown Shoe. Also present were an M Roadster, a Z4 roadster , an S2000, and various generations of Miata. One of the things I like best about this new class is the variety of makes and models which are able to compete on a near-level playing field due to the wheel- and tire-width restrictions, which fact segues nicely into my report on my next autocross. Of course, the playing field is not completely level. I hope to post a quantitative analysis of of the potential performance of the most conspicuously competitive cars in the this class sometime soon. For now, I will only say that I expect the car to have for STR will be either a 2008-9 S2000 CR, a 2006-8 Miata Club Spec or SV (the trim level with the 5MT and without air conditioning), or a 2009-10 Miata Touring 6MT (in other words, my exact car).
For the next WDCR event, which was the first points event of the season, I fitted new rolling stock: Enkei RPF1 wheels, size 17x9+45, and Yokohama Advan Neova AD08 tires, size 255/40-17. These wheels and tires are the maximum width allowed in STR, and the tires' treadware rating of 180 is near the 140 minimum allowed in the Street Touring category. Just for comparison, the stock wheels are 17x7+55, and the stock tires are 205/45-17. This change should give Zelda more grip potential that almost any car eligible for the class. Again, my times improved during the event, although everyone struggled on the newly resealed and thus slick surface. With Zelda's new shoes, I was able to finish 9th out of 15 entrants. This time, the class winner drove an M Roadster.
Below is a photograph, taken by my Miata clubmate Kate Claffie from SCCA WDCR #1. This photo shows the wider wheels and tires that I've fitted. Note that I'm not looking directly ahead here; I'm looking at the exit of the left-hand sweeper I've just entered in this shot.
Here's another shot, this one by Danny Kao, from the same event. This is probably my favorite shot of Zelda so far. Because I'm turning left in this shot, the car has rolled to the right, and the ridiculous static wheel-well gap is hidden. If you could see the car from the other side, you'd be amazed at how high the left side of the car is.
For the second points event, I made no modifications to the car, other than tire pressure. However, I did change my approach to driving in an effort to improve my times. In particular, I used a bit of visualization to help memorize the course and plan my line. I was frustrated with my first 3 runs, but I somehow managed to uncork a fast run on my final attempt, and I finished 5th out of 13. The drivers who had won the previous two events were absent---this event's winner was behind the wheel of an AP2 S2000---which almost certainly helped me as much as or more than my more careful preparation. We did have a couple of non-competitive drivers in second- and third-generation MR2s, though, which added some nice variety.
Below is a photo, by Kate Claffie, from SCCA WDCR #2. The car looks quite attractive in this shot.
Below is a photo, by an unknown photographer, of me queuing before the start. It appears I'm concentrating on planning my run. In actuality, I believe I'm squinting because the sunlight is quite bright, but I don't want to lower my tinted visor, thus blocking off cooling air flow, until just before the green light.
After SCCA #2, I fitted higher-performance brake pads. The new parts are still "street"pads, rather than "race" pads. Race pads resist fading at higher temperatures but need to be heated to an elevated temp to work properly. In autocross, since the runs are short and nonconsecutive, the brakes need to work at ambient temps, and brake fading is not typically a concern.
The next event was not a competition but yet another school. This time, that school was the DC Region's Level 1. I suggested to Alison that she enroll as well, and she agreed. I was quite proud of her performance. I was worried that she would be tentative, afraid to hurt my car by stressing the engine or driving over pylons. Before we arrived, I encouraged her to use full gas and full brakes when necessary, and to hit the cones if she needed to. Based on how she drove, I believe she took me at my word. She drove faster than most of the first-timers in the class, including all 5 of the other novice women. For comparison's sake, I think my fastest clean run of the practice course was 33.o s, and Alison turned in several cone-free runs ranging from 37.7 to 37.9. That's not a bad performance differential for her, given how much more experience I have.
Last weekend brought my most recent events. I was involved in 3 days of autocross-related activities surrounding the SCCA Northeast Divisional Championships. On Friday, before placing the required decals and passing technical inspection for the Divisional, I attended the Evolution Performance Driving School's Phase 1 class. The class was helpful, certainly, though I struggled to improve my times much after the first few. The looking-ahead drill was quite challenging, as well.
Saturday and Sunday made up the Divisional proper. There were 4 runs of each day's course on each day. The lowest Saturday time and the best Sunday time were combined to yield a total time for each driver, and the total time was the figure of merit. I somehow managed to finish third on each day and---wait for it---third overall, out of 7 drivers. That high a placing might incite you to ask about the competition, and you'd be right to be suspicious. Several of the faster local drivers were absent, and only one competitive driver traveled in for the event. He won the event in his well-developed S2000 CR. My friend and fellow Miata driver James finished second in his 2006 6MT NC. I somehow finished ahead of Noel and his Z4. Noel has beaten me in every event where we've met so far. He said he was pushing his car as hard as he could, but that it just wouldn't give him any more. He also pointed out, quite rightly, that his car is not likely to be competitive, given equal driving talent. The Z4 has about as much power as an S2000, but weighs 200 lbs more and is limited to equal-width wheels and tires in STR. That means weaker acceleration and grip. Meanwhile, his wife said that eye's been eying S2000s. So, if Noel shows up to the next event in an S2k, well, I called it.
Here's a photo of me on Saturday by Danny Kao. Note that, although I've barely turned the wheel, I'm looking far off to my right toward the exit of the element I'm entering. This picture also shows off the Tire Rack banner required of all participants in the Divisional Championship. (The Tire Rack is a major cash and merchandise sponsor of of SCCA Solo.)
Below is a shot from Sunday by Kate and Alan Claffie. This is another of my favorite photos of Zelda, because the blurred wheels and background suggest significant speed. This shot shows 1 of the 2 Divisional Championship decals required for the event.
This next photo, is also by the Claffies and is also from Sunday; you can tell because I've removed the front license plate to maximize cooling on the nearly-90-degree day. This pic shows clearly that I have the happiest car at the whole championship. Mazda really needs to dial down their corporate smiling grill, at least on their sports cars.
So, what's next for Team Grondul Motorsport? I hope to install an STR-legal cold-air intake this weekend to help bring my torque-to-weight ratio more in line with the competition. In a week and a half, I'll be attending one of the regular points events of Autocrossers Incorporated, an SCCA affiliate organization that uses the SCCA rules and has a strong membership overlap with the DC Region. A week later is the DC ProSolo. ProSolo combines autocross, which the SCCA calls Solo, with a drag-racing-style start, and there are only about 8 ProSolo events each year, in the entire country. It sounds like great fun, so I am very much looking forward to it. A week after that is the WDCR's points event number 3. So I'll be pretty busy autocrossing for the next month.
Meanwhile, somewhere during that time frame, I should finally receive the custom coilovers I ordered a couple of months ago from Fat Cat Motorsports . Once I get them installed, no doubt with significant help from members of my local Miata club, the car should be much less prone to roll, and it should have much, much more grip on all surfaces. I hope so, at least.