On Sept 14th 2021, three Miatas set lap records. If you don’t know New York Safety Track (NYST), it’s two miles of undulating asphalt near Oneonta, New York. Despite the name, I wouldn’t call it the safest track; there are trees, tire walls, and not quite enough runoff before you encounter them. This weekend (9/21) they had their annual roman candle war, where people run around holding fireworks in their hands and shooting them at each other. The teams are shirts vs skins; I’m not making this up. Ahem, “safety track.”
But as tracks go, it’s a good measure of a car’s performance and a driver’s skill. A track like Watkins Glen is more about car performance than driver skill, and a track like Pineview Run is more about the driver than the car. But NYST strikes a balance, treating cars and drivers fairly equally, and I’d say it’s similar to a track like Mid Ohio in that respect. Average minimum corner speeds at NYST are in the low 60s, and there’s a long and uphill front straight, which doubles as an airstrip for small planes.
This HPDE event was organized by Doghouse Track Days, which is a group of Porsche instructors from the Niagara region who wanted to do something different than the typical PCA event. They started their own HPDE organization and have succeeded in creating a fun atmosphere, with lots of track time, and a great price point. I will be going to more track days with these guys in the future, and I hope they bring their party to more race tracks.
The conditions on Sept 14th were cool and wet in the morning, cloudy initially, but clearing throughout the day. An 8-9 mph tail wind down the front straight would turn into a head wind down the back straight and help dry the track out. With a maximum of 70 degrees all day, these were ideal conditions. Record setting conditions, if you will.
Lap record classes
The overall lap record at NYST is a 1:27.81 held by Mark Petronis in a C5 Z06 with aero. You can read about that here, and watch his humorous vlog here. Mark says it wasn’t a perfect lap, and the data says there’s a 1:26 in it.
Well, that’s the overall lap record, and Miatas will never be in that discussion, but there are other records for the taking. In official racing, you have different classes (Spec Miata, NASA TT5, Gridlife Club TR, etc.), but there are no “official classes” for HPDE. Generally, people say “fastest Miata” or “fastest street tire”or some other unofficial classification.
<rant>As a category, “Fastest street tire” is bullshit. The 200 TW autocross wars have ruined the entire concept of what a street tire is, and it’s ruining endurance racing as well. The fact is that A052s are faster than Toyo RR, Maxxis RC1 and many other slick or treaded tires in the 40-100 TW range. Anyone on Yoks should be put in the slicks category, which is what Gridlife does. If we’re going to standardize on a street tire, let’s standardize on Hankook RS4s. They don’t fall off drastically in a 20-minute session, last five times longer than A052s, and embody what a 200 TW street tire is all about </rant>.
So if there are no official classes for HPDE lap records, chassis and engine generations are at least a good place to start. Miata classes that make sense to me are the following:
- ND – I’d put ND1 and ND2 in the same category. But since there’s no easy upgrade path from ND1 to ND2, maybe they belong in different categories.
- NC – All NCs in the same class. MZR 2.2-2.5 swaps would go into a different category.
- BP – I’d put all the 1.8s into one group. The 1994-95 made a couple less hp than the 1996-97 , but many of these are on standalone ECUs now that they are 25 years old. You can also bolt up the later heads and intake manifolds to the NA8 bottom ends, so there’s not that much difference between a modified NA8 and a NB2.
- B6 – Compared to the 1.8s, the 1.6 has 15% less displacement, but more importantly, there’s no easy button for improving the intake manifold (square top, Skunk2) or port geometry (NB head). Selfishly, I have a 1.6 and the only way I’ll ever set a lap record is being in a class without 1.8s.
- Forced induction – Each one of the above “classes” should have its own FI class. Or maybe by by transmission, since the strength of that’s often the limiting factor. I wouldn’t distinguish between superchargers and turbochargers, it’s all
a mistakeforced induction to me.
- Engine swaps – This is a pretty broad category, and a good way to split these up might be by number of cylinders: normally aspirated swaps of 4 cylinder, 6 cylinder, and 8 cylinder.
- Kit car – I wouldn’t put Exocet, Catfish, or other Miata-based kit cars into the same classes as any of the above. I don’t really think of these as Miatas any longer.
- Open – Turbo V8 Exocet anyone? Anyone?
That’s a lot of Miata record classes, and after writing it all down, it’s kind of stupid. There really should be a better way to standardize and rank the performance of Miatas, or really any car, based on a universal performance index. I’m working on that, but let’s save that discussion for another time.
On this day, the lap records were set for fastest normally aspirated BP, fastest forced induction BP, and fastest Miata overall. Who done what?
Alyssa Merrill, N/A-BP – 1:37.908
Alyssa has a 1999 Miata with a few bolt ons, the engine probably makes 120 hp at the wheels. The aero package is good, with a DIY splitter, 3D-printed splitter ramps, and a 9 Lives Racing wing without a Gurney flap. None of that explains how she can go under 1:38 on Hoosier R7s. See for yourself.
As impressive as that lap is, she also did a 1:39.586 on RS4s. Going under 1:40 on an honest-to-god street tire (not a Super 200), in a street-legal NB1 still using the stock ECU… fucking unbelievable.
Chris Safranski, FI-BP – 1:36.540
Chris and I might have met once before; he was the head mechanic on a team that was pitted next to us at the Lucky Dog 24 hour race at Buttonwillow in January 2018 . At that race, our Yaris ended up beating their Civic, but it was a pretty close race, and it’s a shame we didn’t start our friendship back then.
Chris has gone through just about every iteration of forced induction, from a M45 supercharger to his current turbo setup. It makes about 250 horsepower and has proven to be reliable over many seasons of tracking and instructing. His aero setup is a little different with a carbon wing and a homemade splitter that pivots upwards when it hits things, but otherwise it’s standard trackable Miata fare.
Chris is an instructor, but did his laps in the crowded Advanced group. He would have had more clean laps and a faster lap time in the Instructor group. Nevertheless, a record FI BP lap on this fine day.
Michael Giurintano, V8 Miata – 1:35.0
Michael’s car was originally an NA with an automatic transmission. He scrapped the driveline, gutted the tub, caged it, and swapped in a LS3. You can imagine it’s not easy to corral 400-plus horses in a small chassis, and so he’s got a homemade carbon fibre splitter and 9 Lives Racing wing to help high-speed stability.
Like most of us, Mike is not a professional driver, and he’s still learning. I’d expect him to drop another second next year, but for 2021, this is an impressive lap time, and the overall fastest Miata ever at NYST!
I got Lyme disease back in June, and I haven’t driven since, so I’m transitioning more into a role as track support and data nerd. I have a couple Aim Solos and I had them in both Alyssa’s and Mike’s cars. Chris has his own Solo, and so I was able to get data from all three cars. Chris had a different Start/Finish line set, but I was able to change this in Race Studio with Modify > Beacon Shift.
When I look at theoretical best laps in Race Studio, I throw out the first lap. I don’t know why, but it sometimes gives unrealistically low sector times. After that, I construct a map with five or more sectors, but usually less than nine. The point is to group the compromise corners together and divide the track into portions that are clearly doable in real life.
Alyssa’s record lap only had one sector that was her fastest; her theoretical best lap was 7/10ths faster, for a 1:37.200. I know Alyssa would beat herself up for that, but I’ve looked at a lot of other drivers, and a delta under 1 second is lapping consistently.
Chris’s Aim file included all of his laps together, and so I’m not going to show you all his laps and histograms, it’s just too large for the page. Stitched together, his best sectors showed that he could have done a 1:35.228.
That’s a difference of 1.3 seconds, but Chris didn’t get a lot of clean laps, and was often stuck in traffic. It’s actually somewhat humorous (and frustrating for him) how many slow sectors he had stuck behind people in the Advanced group.
It’s also worth noting that Chris was on Toyo RRs, and the others were on Hoosiers. The lateral-Gs show the Toyos are at a slight disadvantage, but it’s honestly less than I would have thought. Suddenly RRs are on the shopping list!
When I put the Aim in Mike’s car I asked him which side he wanted it on, and in hindsight, I shouldn’t have asked. It was out of reach once he was strapped in, and he didn’t turn it on for his record run. However, I got data from an earlier session that included a 1:35.830, and that’s still damn fast.
In the histogram you can see that he had good rhythm in the middle of the 1:35.830 lap, but botched the last two sectors. Putting it together he could have done a 1:34.574, one and a quarter seconds better.
Here’s all three drivers compared on speed/distance and time/distance. Alyssa is blue, Chris is red, Mike is green.
- A – Alyssa and Chris are both excellent on the brakes, going immediately from full throttle to threshold braking. Notice the sharp peaks and steep the slopes. This is an area Mike (green) can work on. Everyone reaches min speed at about the same spot on track at 1660′.
- B – Chris takes a different line, and has a higher minimum speed. However, this doesn’t translate into a better lap time because he’s later to full throttle. The end result is everyone is pretty equal in this corner.
- C – Chris’s line (red) has a hockey stick shape, indicating blending inputs, or trailbraking. If you watch his video, it looks like he’s scrubbing speed with wheel angle and yaw, rather than brakes. But whether through the hands or the feet, this is excellent work.
- D – We should put Alyssa’s name on the esses, she owns them. I looked at her data on RS4s and she’s faster here on street tires than everyone else on slicks.
- E – Mike backs up T12 very well, gets his braking and turning done early, and is accelerating earlier. This is how to drive a powerful car.
- F – Despite what looks like overbraking into T13, Alyssa continues to gain time in the autocross section (not the official name, that’s what I call it). The trend in this flat section is all downward for the blue line.
- G – Alyssa has a 6-7 mph min speed advantage over Chris and Mike in the final corner. They gobble her up on the front straight, just the same.
I don’t want to sound too much like Alyssa’s cheerleader, because it’s easier to drive a low-powered car to higher limits, and it’s not surprising that a turbo Miata and V8 Miata have more variance in the time deltas. But this was great driving by all three of them, and I challenge you, or anyone, to beat them. In the end, that’s what records are for: breaking. Who’s next?