Monday, September 8, 2014

SCCA SOLO National Championship 2014

It was finally time for the big show...the big race we've all been practicing and testing for the entire season. I left Bumblestook loaded on the trailer at SJF Performance after the alignment so I could easily just hook up the trailer to make the drive out to Lincoln.

Ready to head to Lincoln - SJF Performance- 9/1/2014
In general, the 1500 mile drive out was uneventful except for that one fuel stop where a pickup truck almost backed into the Touareg and missed it by two inches (NY reflexes FTW). We arrived there on Tuesday early evening just as the sun was setting, perfect for quick unload before heading to the hotel for some much needed grub and shut eye.

Arriving at Lincoln - 9/2/2014
The next day I finished registering and picked up the sweet 2014 Nationals jacket you could pre-order. I thought it was funny ordering a jacket considering how hot Lincoln gets this time of year but it would come in very useful a few days later when the temps dipped drastically into the mid-50s/low-60s. We also got tech inspection out of the way before heading out to the practice course to check for the car's balance on the Lincoln concrete. She felt a tad pushy so I cranked the rear bar up to about 50% and she was much more neutral.

2014 SCCA SOLO Nationals jacket - 9/3/2014
Tech inspection complete - Lincoln, NE - 9/3/20214
Practice Course - Linconln, NE - 9/3/2014
Photo By: Tomomi Uetani
We then went out for dinner and came back as the sun was setting before doing the course walks. Mostly, this was to escape the heat but with most people out to attend the banquet from the previous two days of racing, there weren't a lot of people to contend with to get a nice look at the course which made it extra nice.

Sunset course walk - Lincoln, NE - 9/3/2014
Photo By: Tomomi Uetani
The next day was day 1 of competition. The east course had some very fast sections and I knew I'd run out of gearing. I decided to try 3rd gear in a few spots but I really lost to much time bobbling the downshifts so I opted to just stay in 2nd for my last run to put in my fastest time. I definitely need to address this gearing issue next year. I also just put on the sticker Hoosiers and on the first run the mold release was really affecting grip. I wish I had scrubbed them in at the test course the day before. She was also very pushy and I had to crank up the rear bar to full stiff and decrease the front pressures by 1 PSI to get better balance. After day 1, we had toppled in the rankings just shy of the last trophy spot but with the west course looking like a much better course for Bumblestook's gearing, I was hopeful to jump a few spots on day 2. It was also a blistering hot 94 degrees that day but clear skies all around.

BSP Day 1 Grid - East Course - Lincoln, NE - 9/4/2014
On day 2, the temps had dropped overnight to the low 50s and just above 60 before our first runs. I put in a decent first run but coned it away then the bad news came. I blew sound at 103dB so I popped in the silencer I had put together in Wilmington to try and quiet her down. On the next run, I pushed harder, a bit too hard and spun out. I decided to stay off the throttle passing the sound station this time since I didn't want to use up my last warning in an otherwise throw away run. Before the last run, the skies had opened up and it started to rain. The ground was getting damp. I went out for the last run and lifted slightly by sound just to be sure. I went a tad slower and hit 2 cones anyway in the process and unfortunately was later told I still blew sound at 101dB. My understanding is that if I had tried to go full speed I would had the run disqualified anyway so in the end there really wasn't anything I could do in day 2 to move up and we found ourselves all the way down in 10th spot without a single clean run. Regardless of this though, I have to say the Lee Piccione designed West Course was by far the most fun SOLO course I had ever driven to date!

BSP Day 2 Grid - West Course - Lincoln, NE - 9/5/2014
Bumblestook on West Course - Lincoln, NE - 9/5/2014
Photo By: Tomomi Uetani
When all was said and done, I still had a great time at this year's Nationals. It's unfortunate we couldn't do better but my take away is that I plan on addressing these issues next season:
  • The old exhaust is going back in. Not dealing with sound issues any further.
  • AP1 Transmission is going in. We need the gearing..stop being stubborn!!!
  • I need to stop hitting cones
2014 SCCA SOLO Nationals Done - Lincoln, NE - 9/6/2014

SCCA SOLO National Champsionship 2014
Lincoln, NE - 9/4-9/5/2014

She's a great car with lots of potential and as a driver I have plenty left to grow before I can deem myself worthy of such a beast. Now that the season is over I want to thank everyone who supported me this seasons. Evans Tuning for making this dream of a car a reality over the winter, Steve Farkas at SJF Performance for the countless alignments and suspension advice all season long, Dave Corsaro (now the new 2014 SCCA F-Street Champion) for his superb corner balancing work, Karcepts for the diff and suspension parts, ANZE suspension for the shock rebuild and setup, JoeFis Racing for the aero, Hoosier Racing Tire for the purple crack, Honda for what will always be in my mind the most amazing roadster ever built, my NESTR peeps for making racing more about the people than the cars and lastly to my girlfriend Tomomi for convincing me to stay with it and see the season through to the end when I was mentally just stretched to the limit and on the verge of throwing in the towel. Racing is far from being a single person sport and we wouldn't have accomplished what have we to date without such awesome people supporting us in our endeavors. Looking forward to what 2015 will have in store and hopefully bring home more hardware.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Final Prep for Nationals 2014

Bumblestook remained parked after coming back from both Wilmington events but it was time to get her out again and make her ready for the big show. I was supposed to get everything done two weeks ago but forgetting both the storage and car keys at home made it impossible to actually get her to the scheduled alignment on time. Steve at SJF Performance was able to carve out some time for me this weekend and he mounted the competition sticker Hoosiers to the other set of wheels and we rechecked the alignment.
Sticker Hoosiers for Nats - SJF Performance - 8/30/2014
Sure enough, all that grip in Ohio caused the little tabs holding the alignment washer in place to bend again and she was showing 0.5" of toe in at the rear when it should be no more than 1/16" total (no wonder I had to crank up the rear bar for the Wilmington Championship Tour). The front alignment remained perfect and didn't need to be touched. Steve reset the rear back to where it should be so hopefully we'll be all set this time around.

Final alignment of the season - SJF Performance - 8/30/2014
We also did a bit more fender massaging since I still managed to catch the driver side fender during the Wilmington Tour. We probably added another 1/8" of clearance so hopefully that's all we need to finally not hit the fender at all. She's all loaded and ready for Nats now.

Ready for Nats - SJF Performance - 8/30/2014
It's been one crazy year and looking back she's already surpassed my hopes for the season. Hoping for a solid performance at nationals against the other 15 drivers in BSP this year and bring home some hardware.

"Bumblestook is my race car. There is nothing like it and this one is mine. My race car is my best friend. It is my life. I must master my race car as I must master my life. My race car, without me, is useless. Without my race car, I am useless. I must drive my race car hard. I must negotiate corners faster than my competition trying to beat me. I must reach the finish before they finish. I will!"

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wilmington Championship Tour

I stayed in Wilmington after the ProSolo because the Championship Tour was the following weekend. I had to take care of one thing before the event. I blew sound at 101.3dB during the ProSolo and while sound rules made it impossible to really get disqualified for sound during a ProSolo, I knew I'd have to come up with a solution if I wanted to not have any issues during the Champ Tour. Bumblestook and the trailer were being stored at Full Throttle Indoor Karting in Cincinnati thanks to Joe O'Gorman who offered up an inexpensive storage solution for those of us wanting to keep our cars in a safe place for the week in between the events. I asked Joe if he knew anyone who could help me weld in a cone silencer into new 3" exhaust tip and I got pointed to Turn in Concepts in Cincinnati. I picked up a Dynatech Vortex 3" cone silencer at Jeg's in Columbus during the week then brought it over to them. They welded it into 3" piping which I planned to then swap into my exhaust if I blew sound again during the Tour.

Dynatech Vortex 3" Cone silencer
Turn in Concepts welded 3" piping with cone silencer exhaust tip - 7/31/2014
On Thursday night, my friend Rad flew in as he was going to codrive with me for the weekend. We arrived on site on Friday after picking up Bumblestook from storage. The first thing I did was work on fitting the silencer just to make sure everything fit right and found that while the piping was the right diameter, I had given then incorrect dimensions so the tip was too long and was hitting the axle. I reinstalled the normal turndown and we did a few runs on the TnT course to make sure the car was feeling balanced. She felt a hair pushy at the ProSolo so I cranked up the rear bar to half stiff and felt an immediate improvement on the practice course.

Practice Course - Wilmington, OH - 8/1/2014
After practice, we stopped by a muffler shop in town and had them chop off a good 3 inches from the back of the silenced tip and it finally fit with no clearance issues. It turned out to sound really good but without knowing how much power the silencer would rob, I opted to leave the normal turn down in unless I got tagged for sound again but this time I was going to at the very least angle the turndown away from the mic.

Shorter silenced tip - Wilmington, OH - 8/1/2014
Saturday was day 1 of competition. There was a 50% chance of rain forecasted for Saturday and sure enough an hour before we were about to run while putting the cars in grid, the skies opened up with lightning and thunder everywhere and they had to temporarily halt the event to let the storm go through the area. This worked in our favor because sure enough as soon as the rain clouds moved on, the sun came out and we started to enter drying conditions before our first runs.

Starting to dry up after the rain - Day 1 - Wilmington Champ Tour - 8/2/2014
BSP Grid - Day 1 - Wilmington Champ Tour - 8/2/2014
Unfortunately, day 1 didn't turn out too well for us. I managed to cone every single run so I was stuck in 4th place, out of trophies, 1.5 seconds off my codriver in 3rd. My head just wasn't in it and I was making plans to skip nationals if we couldn't put in a competitive time on day 2. Day 2 came around and I was mentally much better and more focused. I really didn't have anything to lose and most of my cones from day 1 were due to me hesitating and not trusting Bumblestook completely to stay in it. After second runs I was closing the gap on Rad's combined time but had another coned run. Rad found another 0.1 seconds on his last run but coned it away. On the last run, I went all out and put together a good run. I had managed to get within a couple of tenth's off Mike Lane's time (who went back from a day 1 deficit to win BSP for the event) and we both were able to raw time SSR that day. It also pushed me ahead of Rad, slotting me in for the last podium spot by a scant 0.015 seconds. The course was great, the grip of the lot was fantastic and Bumblestook survived the brutal back to back events on the grippy concrete. With the solid time in the books, Bumblestook made it known that she wanted to go to Nats so we're back on track to go to Lincoln, NE in a few weeks for the Championship. Also, I never went past 96dB during this event without the silencer so I ended up never using the silenced tip anyway.

Wilmington Champsionship Tour - 3rd Place BSP
Wilmington, OH - 8/3/2014

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wilmington ProSolo

We arrived at Wilmington Thursday night so we could take it easy and not feel rushed like almost every other race weekend. The temperature was a bit on the cool side which was a nice break from the recent heat but we were mostly concerned with the weather forecast for the weekend.

Wilmington, OH - 7/24/2014
We got on site on Friday to register and to get tech inspection out of the way. This time I decided to forego the practice launches as I was already resolved to launching at redline and didn't want the added stress of additional launches potentially breaking anything on the car before the race. We noticed that paddock was a good half mile to grid so rather than waste time walking back and forth, we went to the local Walmart and picked up a cheap BMX bike that was quickly modded to be what we shall now call "Bumblebike". Walking the course, I knew I was up for another uphill battle. The course this time was much more balanced than Toledo but the distance out of the line was longer than usual and I would be at a disadvantage from the launch being the least powerful car of the group. 

Bumblebike - Wilmington, OH - 7/25/2014
Day 1 kicked off and we got our morning runs in the dry. The grip in Wilmington was very comparable to Toledo but more consistent all around. I was happy that we were able to light up the rear tires again at redline and thankfully I think the 10mm spacers worked and no more crumpling of the fenders occurred. There was a chance of rain in the afternoon so I inflated the Hoosier H20s in preparation of having to switch over to rain tires. I didn't expect to go faster on the wets but I've been wanting to do some testing since I've never run Bumblestook on Hoosier wets before.

Hoosier H20 - 245/45/17 - 7/26/2014
Somehow the rain skirted the airfield and we got dry afternoon runs as well. I was able to move up a few spots but was still too far off pace compared to other BSP cars running in SPA. I knew I was leaving a lot of time out there so I had to drive more aggressively and trust the grip level more. Overnight, the forecast was calling for severe thunderstorms. I had fully expected to have to run in a torrential downpour but again, we were saved and not only did we get to run in the dry but the sun even found its way through the clouds.

Getting ready to run Day 2 - 7/27/2014
I found nearly a full second between the left and right courses and was happy with the raw times but I coned away the fast left side run which would've left me in the trophies. Bumblestook's feeling really good right now though and I'm looking forward to the coming weekend for the Wilmington Championship Tour. The only minor issue is that we blew sound this weekend, getting logged as high as 101.3dB going flat out through the slalom so we'll have to find a way to quiet her down a few dB before this weekend so we don't get disqualified. However I think the position of the sound station, the low clouds and the strong winds contributed to this. Still, better to not take any chances.

Bumblestook at the Wilmington ProSolo
Wilmington, OH - 7/27/2014

Overall I think it was a successful weekend despite not finishing where we wanted. She's running great and handles exactly the way I want and didn't break anything. Being out of the points running, we're going to skip the ProSolo Finale this year and just go to the National Championship to save her from any further brutal launches until next season.

Packed up and ready to battle again next week - 7/27/2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wilmington Prep

With back to back races in Wilmington, Ohio coming up, it was time to go over Bumblestook yet again to make sure everything was still ok after surviving the brutal Toledo ProSolo. First up though was having my trailer modified by Steve at SJF Performance so I can carry an extra set of wheels with me. The Touareg is a fine towing vehicle but it's impossible to fit a set of rain tires, an extra set of race wheels and spares and supplies for such a long trip. Steve welded on removable threaded poles to the trailer tongue make let me bring extra race tires on the trailer instead. He did an excellent job and I can now operate the trailer in either configuration (with or without the extra wheels) without too much trouble.

Mount for removable wheel poles added - SJF Performance - 7/20/2014
Poles installed and wheels mounted - SJF Performance - 7/20/2014
Secured wheels - SJF Performance - 7/20/2014
Trailer loaded with extra wheels up front - 7/20/2014
We then put her back on the alignment rack to see if anything had shifted after running on the grippy concrete and sure enough the right rear toe had moved quite a bit with a significant amount of toe in. We suspect this could happen due to the wonky bolt but it also turns out that the forces back there had somehow also slightly bent the little tabs the alignment washers push up against. Steve hammered them back into place so everything is nice and tight and we replaced all the camber and toe bolts in the rear to restore my alignment back to what it was before Toledo except this time I could actually get the rear toe to 1/16" toe in. Steve's new machine can also take additional measurements of the car so we noted those down too for future reference in case anything ever shifts.

Alignment #5 - SJF Performance - 7/20/2014
Frame is nice and square - SJF Performance - 7/20/2014
Frame is nice and square - SJF Performance - 7/20/2014
We pushed the damaged fender out a bit so it looked a bit better and to address this issue, I switched from 15mm spacers to 10mm spacers and now the top of the tire is well within the edge of the fender. As a quick check of the diff health, we drained the fluid and it came out nice and clear with nothing scary (metal or otherwise) coming out. Cheap insurance for the beating we're about to take again in Wilmington.

10mm spacers and new diff fluid - SJF Performance - 7/20/2014
Other miscellaneous fixes included adding some screws to the rear bumper cover so it stops flapping around after I broke the tabs off from contact. We also added a drop of loctite on the nuts holding the throttle cable in the bracket to address the throttle debacle from Toledo. Thankfully there isn't a lot of stuff we have to do for pre-big race prep anymore. Hopefully we can do better in Wilmington and at the very least get some good set up data before nationals.

Ready for Wilmington - SJF Performance - 7/20/2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Toledo ProSolo...where 100% isn't enough.

It was finally time for the first big event on concrete for Bumblestook this season. All the testing, practice and prep the past few months would be put to the test at Toledo where all that grip would surface any issues around reliability and speed of the car. Practice starts went quite well on Friday. Despite going up to 315s in the rear this year, I was still able to get some wheel spin launching at redline (8600rpm) and overall Bumblestook felt strong and healthy.

Practice Start - SCCA ProSolo Round 7
Toledo, OH - 6/27/2014

Practice Start - SCCA ProSolo Round 7
Toledo, OH - 6/27/2014

Street Prepared Index A (SPA) Sat Morning Grid - Toledo ProSolo - 6/28/2014
We finally got to walk the course and I knew I'd be in trouble. I counted only 4 actual corners where I'd have to lift and it was very likely the other cars in my class wouldn't have to lift either thanks to the massive grip of the concrete surface. It was clearly going to be a power course especially with a hair pin that shuts you down a lot and where torque would be crucial. Without driving the course yet, this was just purely speculation so we'd have to see on day 1 how bad the situation would be.

Grip - Toledo ProSolo - 6/28/2014
Photo By: Perry Bennett -
Launch - Toledo ProSolo - 6/28/2014
Photo By: Perry Bennett -
Sure enough on Saturday, it drove as predicted...flat out in all but 4 corners and riding the rev limiter all over the place. With my top speed in 2nd limited to about 62mph due to gearing, it would be cake walk for the Vettes that could go well over 70mph in 2nd. Shifting to third would be an option but it really didn't help too much. To make matters worse, the grip level allowed me to three wheel the car out of a corner putting more load in the front corner than I had ever tested and the result was carnage on the driver side front fender.

Moment of impact - Toledo ProSolo - 6/27/2014
Photo By: Perry Bennett -
Fender damage - Toledo ProSolo - 6/28/2014
Quick Fix - Toledo ProSolo - 6/28/2014
I was able to fix it after the morning session and was ready to give it another shot in the afternoon. Unfortunately, my luck continued to run short. On my first launch, I suddenly lost throttle and the car was just stuck idling. I managed to use the momentum to roll off the course and found that the nuts holding the throttle cable in place had vibrated loose causing the cable to come off. I remounted the bracket but lost all my afternoon runs in the process.

Throttle cable off the bracket - Toledo ProSolo - 6/28/2014
Throttle cable secured back onto bracket - Toledo ProSolo - 6/28/2014
Sunday would be my last chance to redeem myself. There was threat of rain in the horizon but luckily it just skirted around the venue and we were able to get runs in the dry. I managed to drop some significant time on both sides but simply coned away my fast right side runs. Either way, with the course laid out the way it was, even going 100% and not hitting cones still wouldn't be enough to come close to a final trophy spot. The dirty runs tumbled me down in position ending up the worst I had finished this year in 11th out of 15. To add insult to injury, my wheel had touched the fender again this time creating even bigger damage.

Final fender damage - Toledo ProSolo - 6/29/2014
Our fastest raw times - SCCA ProSolo Round 7
Toledo, OH - 6/29/2014

Despite all this, I still had a great time in Toledo. The grip is intoxicating! I verified that Bumblestook could handle the grip and felt well balanced on that surface with no changes to any settings on the car. If the course was designed to be more balanced, I think we would've had a fighting chance so I'm looking forward to the rematch in Wilmington next month where hopefully someone can design an autocross course and not a simple drag race.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Final Prep Before Toledo ProSolo 2014

After the successful testing we had two weeks ago despite the ITB failure, I dropped Bumblestook off at Evans Tuning to have the ITB issue sorted out before the Toledo ProSolo. While it was at the shop, Karcepts released new spherical upper shock mounts. I've been wanting to replace the modified Tein top hats on my Motons for some time now so this was perfect timing. I assumed that my Moton Triples were the same dimensions as the Moton Club Sports so Brian Karwan at Karcepts sent me spacers for those shocks but when Jeff DeVos (JDV) at Evans Tuning tried to install it, we found they wouldn't fit. It turns out the triples were slightly different but thankfully after getting the new dimensions to Brian, he quickly fabricated a new part and shipped it to the shop overnight for perfect fitment and we were back in business. The new top hats a bit narrower and lighter than my previous ones so replacing them actually dropped the car all around for a super hellaflush look (temporary). The ITBs were fixed and reset and TPS recalibrated.

Measuring Shocks - Evans Tuning - 6/17/2014
Shocks back together after new spacers arrived
Evans Tuning - 6/19/2014
New Karcepts upper shock mounts installed
Evans Tuning -  6/21/2014
Super hellaflush - Evans Tuning - 6/21/2014
After picking her up from the shop, I dropped her off at SJF Performance for suspension tuning. First Steve took care of the brake bolts that I lost at DC. Robert Thorne sent me new spacers and bolts so he put those in for me..the clearances are super tight on this kit!

Brake bolts replacement - SJF Performance - 6/21/2014
Being paranoid about ProSolos, I had Steve change the diff fluid again to handle the abuse I'm about to put her through next weekend.  We also put on the competition set of tires I'll be using for the weekend.

Fresh diff fluid - SJF Performance -  6/22/2014
Then it was on to some serious business. First up, with all the weight reduction the car underwent after the NJ Championship Tour and the new top hats, we had to reset the ride height and corner balance. Dave Corsaro is the man for this job and we got the car up to near stock height where I like the car to be (raising all corners around 0.5") and got the corner balance spot on for absolutely perfect cross weights in race trim. With the help of some static weight reduction and running a lot less fuel, Bumblestook dropped a solid 66lbs in race trim from when we won at the DC ProSolo two months ago. On top of that, I dropped 9lbs so in total Bumblestook is now a significant 75lbs lighter than in DC.

Pre-corner balancing, no driver weight - 2556lbs
SJF Performance - 6/22/2014
Absolutely spot on cross weights - SJF Performance - 6/22/2014
Dave Corsaro setting up the scales - SJF Performance - 6/22/2014
Corner balancing in progress - SJF Performance - 6/22/2014
Once corner balancing was completed, it was back on the alignment rack for the third alignment of the season. With the ride height slightly altered (rear is a tad lower than before) and the rake set to about 1/4", we got some more caster back in the car (maxed out at around 5 degrees) and a tiny bit more front camber. I asked Steve to compensate by adding another 0.1 degrees of negative camber in the rear and resetting the rear toe back to 1/16" total toe in. Unfortunately, there's some wear in the toe adjustment bolt so it didn't want to set at 0.3 per side, so we kept it at 0.4 which is a tiny bit more than 1/16" toe in. I have to make sure to order new bolts before we realign for Wilmington next month. As always, Steve painstakingly got all the alignment perfectly to spec...and damn, she really needs another wash :(

Alignment #3 - SJF Performance - 6/22/2014

Finally to help manage tire pressure build up in between ProSolo runs, all the tires had the air vacuumed out and replaced with Nitrogen.

Nitrogen fill in tires - 6/22/2014
It was a long weekend but I'm glad that the car is as perfect as she can be for Toledo. Everything was checked and re-checked for 100% performance so it's all up to me to not screw it up. There are no excuses! The concrete and a fairly stacked SPA class will be a true test of how fast Bumblestook and I really are nationally so we can make adjustments if needed before Nationals in 2 months.