2009 September

Another Day at the Track

Sunday David and I drove out to Harris Hill Road yet again. I had two main goals for this trip. I wanted to practice my 2/3 line and work on my car setup with my ridiculous 400 treadwear rating street tires. It didn’t take many laps for me to grow accustomed to the tighter entry into 2/3, which was probably a good thing, as it didn’t take many laps for those crappy tires to overheat. I softened the back shocks a few more clicks, just to further reduce the car’s sensitivity with the greasy feel of the too-hot tires. However, I learned that these tires have two stages of “too hot.” In the first stage, things get greasy and grip drops significantly. This is… tolerable. It’s annoying to have the lowered grip, but certainly easy to adjust to. But it’s clear the tires are not designed for this kind of treatment. Just a few laps into the greasy feel, things worsen. The tires become unpredictable. In one corner, I’ll have some grip. In another corner, I’ll have no front grip at all. Yet another time, the back of the car will just do its own thing, and it takes everything I can do to make sure the car stays pointed basically the right direction.

I had two offs on Sunday. One was two wheels off. The car just couldn’t hold the line and drifted out just a bit too far. The front tires just did not have grip. With just two tires off, I easily brought the car back on in an appropriate spot, no damage done. The other time, I was going through a rather fast kink and yet again, the front tires just didn’t want to do a thing. I had no control over the direction I was going, so I just braked hard, scrubbing as much speed as I could before I hit dirt. The car hit the dirt fairly slowly and pointed forward, I was alone on track so I came back on, and I checked out the car. Yet again, no damage done.

I also learned that a few slow laps is not enough to get these tires to cool down. After two gentle laps, they were just as unpredictable as they were immediately after four hot laps. These tires did decently enough on a wet surface, but give them a dry track and they just overheat. I need to get some good track tires on my 16″ wheels.

David had brought out the GT3 RS. We went out together, with me behind the wheel, to show him some of the new lines I was trying. I got in a few fun laps and then gave the reins back to David. Later in the afternoon, after giving up on my tires, I asked for another chance. David let me out there on my own.

I was completely alone. It was GT3 RS, 1.8 miles of track, and me.

I could have stayed out there until the tank was dry (and almost did). Having David in the car calms me down a bit. I’m less aggressive. When I was alone out there, without even another car for distraction, I could really play. I played with a few different lines and a few different shift points. I played with the car’s rotation. I played with the brakes. And I learned a few things. I learned that the car wants to be downshifted in the hairpin, not because it needs the torque to pull it out of the corner, but because it needs the engine drag to rotate it at the beginning. With some good engine drag from high revs in second gear, the car rotates easily and at a relatively high speed. Rolling on the throttle gently straightens the car back out and plants the back tires. I can reach full throttle early and hold it. The shift to third is made with some lateral load on the car, but even so, it was easy to make it smooth. With the power of the GT3’s engine, it surged through 3rd gear quickly, and I was back up to 8,000 rpm before braking down for corner 1.

The GT3 RS is an amazingly capable car. I’m eager for more track time in it, and I’m eager to see David build his confidence and use more and more of that car’s abilities. We have another track weekend coming up soon, at TWS, and I’m eager to hear the speeds David can reach on the big straight.

By equiraptor on 22 September 2009 | Track Time
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2006 Miata

My primary vehicle is a 2006 Mazda MX-5 GT with premium package 1. It’s “Nordic Green” with a tan cloth top. As the power retracting hard top was not available that year, it was, in stock form, one of the heavier cars that year. I bought the car used, already modified. It has JIC FLT-A2 coilovers, spring rates of 6kg front, 5kg rear. The car had the AEM / Mazdaspeed CAI on it when I bought it, but I switched that to the K&N Apollo to remain legal for CSP. The car also has a lightweight flywheel, aftermarket clutch (nothing extreme), and a custom exhaust with resonators from Silverline. I have three sets of wheels for the car: the OEM 17x7s, 16×8 wheels from an FD RX-7, and 18×9.5 Enkei RP-F1s. I use the OEM wheels on the street, the Enkeis for autocross, and the FD wheels are waiting for some track rubber.

I enjoy a twitchy car, so I tend to go with more extreme toe settings than most would have. I prefer a bit of toe out on the front (just over .05º, but under .1º) and straight toe on the rear. I go with about .5º more camber on the rear than the front, with the exact amount depending on my emphasis this time around. If I’m autocrossing extensively, it’ll get more camber. If it’s mostly street and track, it’ll get less.

The car is an absolute joy to drive. The lightweight flywheel causes the throttle response to be quick and predictable. The clutch is similar to stock in feel and grab, and rev matching downshifts with this combination is easy. Unfortunately, people unfamiliar with the car tend to stall it at first, as the revs drop sharply as you clutch out at a stop. Once you know what to expect, it’s easy enough to drive. The transmission shifts from gear to gear easily, but the shifter has a notchy feel. Some complain about it, but I love it. The notchiness provides great feedback about gear selection, so I’m confident of every shift. The alignment combined with the somewhat firm suspension means the steering is quick and responsive, and the wheel communicative about the road surface. Of course, this communication is dependent on the tires, as well. Some tires provide a better quality ride and mute the feedback, just a bit, while others provide details about every little bump and scratch on the road surface. I prefer the latter – my spine can take the jarring, I want to know exactly what’s under me!

It’s that responsiveness, that twitchiness, that on-edge behavior that makes the car so much fun. Even when you’re well under the handling limits, the car provides huge amounts of information about what’s going on, and a quick flick here or there causes a lively, invigorating response.

By equiraptor on 21 September 2009 | MX-5

Meeting a GT3 RS

For the past few years, my boyfriend owned a 2007 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet – a 997 C2S Cab, in Porsche-speak. The car was a fantastic introduction to 911s for us, but as it spent more and more time on the track, it was clear to us this wasn’t the most appropriate car for him. He’d been tossing around the idea of getting a 997 mark 2 coupe, a 997 mark 2 GT3, or a 997 mark 1 GT3 RS.

We were discussing road trips and ways to move through the U.S. without spending the drive on the interstates. I mentioned the Natchez Trace Parkway, a road I’d seen as a kid, vacationing with my parents. This prompted David to search for a GT3 RS in Nashville, just to see if there was something there. He found something… An ’07 black and orange GT3 RS listed as a GT3. He called the dealership that Monday morning, and things were in motion. Two weeks, later, we flew to Nashville.

The car was sitting there, right in front, black and gleaming. Was it beautiful or was it hideous? I wasn’t sure, but I was sure I was smiling. David had completed all the paperwork before we left Houston, so we just got the keys and drove away.

So what can I say about the GT3 RS? It’s an interesting machine. There are some significant differences between the GT3 RS and the C2S Cab. The suspension is firm with stiff springs and dampers that control them well. Unlike with the C2S Cab, every bump in the road is transmitted to the driver. This allows the driver to know exactly what’s beneath him, inspiring confidence in the car’s grip. The shifter in the GT3 RS is notchy and firm, leaving the C2S Cab’s shifter “mushy” by comparison. The lightweight flywheel means the engine soars to its 8400 rpm redline, and combining this with the informative clutch makes rev matching a joy. But there’s no doubt the car is a 911, just as the C2S Cab was. Both share those rear engined handling characteristics – understeer punctuated by oversteer on a throttle lift. The GT3 RS provides a surprising amount of rear grip allowing the car to use its 415 horsepower well.

As we drove the car home from Nashville we truly tested its abilities as a road car. We spent hours in the car on a variety of roads, from interstates to a one-lane barely-paved road just off the Natchez Trace. The car made its way through small towns and heavy traffic with ease, with only the occasional exceptionally harsh driveway causing a scrape. The nose of the car has a plastic part that’s essentially disposable, so minor scrapes are insignificant. The strain on us, driving for hours on end, was no worse than in a sedan. The one shortcoming on the street that we encountered on our drive home was idling. That car does not want to idle. The idle is rough and the lightweight flywheel clatters.

We had a fantastic drive home. People everywhere smiled and waved as we drove by, and the grins from kids still make me smile.

By equiraptor on 17 September 2009 | First Drives