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Twin Studies: Driving Styles Examined

During our “Lemons from Lemonade” track day, Ian and I got to drive a few different cars and compare driving styles. I have a lot of laps at Pineview Run, and it’s not exactly a fair contest when it comes to straight lap times. However, Ian has been to PV before (three years previously, he got four laps) and has logged a lot of sim time on it in Assetto Corsa. Ian is also instantly quick out of the box on every track we’ve been to, and typically buries me on lap times, so I don’t think he’s particularly handicapped.

NB1 Miata

Clayton’s 1999 is a dual duty car that’s more street than track. We usually fit whatever take-off tires we’re trying to get rid of, and on this day it was shod with cycled-out 225 RS4s on 15×8.5″ wheels. On fresher tires, the times would have been at least a second faster, but for comparative times, used up rubber would be fine.

First let’s look at Ian’s three fastest laps. You can see his lines are mostly on top of each other, and that he’s got the track dialed. But he’s still experimenting in T1, the Esses, and the Knuckle.

Ian’s best three runs.

When I assemble his best sectors, he has a theoretical best lap of 1:19.927, which is about half a second faster than his best, 1:20.421. That’s damn consistent for such little track time.

Ian’s best theoretical lap.

I only did three laps in Clayton’s car, so I’m not going to show you my theoretical best, it’s my fast lap.

In general, Ian drives with more yaw, and he felt like the NB1 oversteered too much. Ian usually races a Yaris, which he has to aggressively trail brake to rotate, and a Miata will do that a lot easier, and that might have skewed his perceptions. I didn’t feel like the car oversteered at all, and my inputs and driving are more tidy. Here’s a lap of Ian first, then me.

One lap from each of us.

Let’s take a look at how those laps compare on the speed/distance and time/distance graphs. For the first 1200′ of track, Turns 1-5, we are dead even. At 1300′, where the cursor is, Ian is faster and gains a bit of time. I’m not surprised, everyone is faster than me on this downhill section.

Speed trace of our best laps.

But I trail the brakes better into T7, and have a slightly higher min speed. If you look at the view from above (switching Ian to yellow here), you can see my approach is straighter, and I sacrifice some track width on the entry, but it works because I don’t have to move track left and can brake in a straighter line.

Turn 7 differences.

The most significant difference is how we go through the Uphill Esses. From 1700′ to 2300′ on the distance graph, I gain an easy half second. This is mostly using a tighter line. I wrote about this in my track guide, which Ian helped edit before it was published, so I’m surprised he’s not taking my advice here. See below.

Tighter line is faster.

Next is the Knuckle, and this corner is a perfect example of how differently we drive. If you look at the graph, this isn’t a big deal, because from 2400′ to 3400′, there’s only .1 seconds difference. So while the outcome is close, the strategy is different.

  • Ian carries a higher entry speed and initially gains time on me. He brakes deep and stays in 2nd gear, using a line that optimizes acceleration out of the corner.
  • I short shift into 3rd gear before the corner, and maintain a higher min speed.

From there, I trail brake better into the Blind Hairpin and keep a higher min speed, and this gains me another two or three tenths. And I gain about that much again going through the S-trap and T15, which we do very differently.

Different lines through T13-15.

Ian’s Corner

This is the part of the blog post where Ian takes up the pen.

So which is the most important corner on the track? If you believe the usual wisdom, it’s the one that leads onto the longest straight. Alternatively, it’s the fastest corner. But if you look at the data, I’m actually losing a lot of time in the middle of the slowest corners. Any time spent going slow is bad, and in a slow corner, there’s a lot of time hanging around going slow.

If you watch the video, the most obvious difference is in the Knuckle, where I was experimenting with a lot of oversteer. I don’t normally drive that loose, I promise! In general, I like slinging the car all over and Mario likes driving tidy.

Beyond that one corner, the thing I noticed most was how differently we hold the steering wheel. You can see the muscles in his forearms quite clearly, his elbows are high, and he grips around the steering wheel with his thumb and fingers. In contrast, my forearms are more relaxed, my elbows are low, and I place my hands on top of the wheel, often with the thumb on top.

Mario
Ian

These differences in how we hold the wheel aren’t the causes of our driving styles but rather the result of them.

  • I create oversteer on corner entry and maintain it mid-corner. The car rotates off the rear wheels, which makes the steering light.
  • In contrast, Mario creates and maintains a little understeer as a way of feeling grip and maximizing minimum speed. The reason why his muscles are bulging is because the wheel is literally heavier as a result of understeer.

Despite being identical twins, we have completely different philosophies on how to navigate a corner. Which way is better? I think it depends on the car, track, and surface. I can say that over the course of the day I drove more and more like Mario. Understeer FTW.

NA6 Miata

Ian and I have driven my NA6 back to back a couple times. The first time was in 2018, when Pineview had just opened. At the time my car was at a lower spec (about 1/3 less power, an open diff, and Yok S.Drive tires), and we were going 9 seconds slower.

This was our first laps ever on this track, and so we were still figuring out which way the track goes. I see both of us making the same mistakes I wrote about in the Pineview track guide.

As it pertains to driving style, notice that Ian is howling the tires from the first corner, finding the limit, and making a lot of small steering inputs to correct. If you look at our runs through the Knuckle, not much has changed, for either of us. As Ian mentioned, I use understeer for traction sensing, and as a result I grab the wheel with Popeye forearms. Back then I was shuffle steering so much my hands looked like a groping teenager. These days I’m in a committed relationship with 9 and 3.

Ian and Mario, 2018.

Fast forward three years and let’s take a look at some data from our Lemonade day. Again we are using up old rubber (Pineview is brutal on tires), so we’re on 14-year old NT01 tires that have lost much of their grip and wear imperceptibly.

These laps are from the end of the day, where Ian is experimenting and trying to adopt my driving style. First, let’s look at Ian’s best theoretical lap. He doesn’t leave much on the table, and his best possible lap is a 1:16.828, just two tenths faster than he went.

Ian’s theoretical best

My theoretical best is a quarter second faster than my best, and I could muster a 1:16.424 if I could get my shit together.

Mario’s theoretical best

Next is the speed trace of our fastest laps. He owns the first sector, I take it back from the Crick to the Esses, he beats me at my own game in the Knuckle, I eke out a bit in the Hairpin and the result is the identical twins have identical times exiting T14. But the final corner….

In Turn 15, I enter wider, get the car rotated early, and I’m on the gas sooner. These are things Ian is usually coaching me to do. But this time I do it better than he does, and when we cross Start/Finish, the result is .3 seconds.

Veloster

Ian and I have an ongoing discussion about why Pineview is especially cruel to FWD cars. I know this to be a fact, but he can’t wrap his head around it for the following reasons.

  • On any other track, FWD is not at a disadvantage. As proof, he’ll cite the Miroshi videos at low-speed Tsukuba, and how the Inte-R beats on virtually everything.
  • In the Pineview sim on Assetto Corsa, FWD doesn’t have a disadvantage. He’s tried all the cars, and I believe him.
  • His Yaris out corners Miatas all the time, I’ve witnessed this firsthand.

And yet, at Pineview, in the real world, FWD cars are slower than their RWD or AWD counterparts. I have data from a Mini R50 on RE71R, a JCW on RS4, a Civic on Sur4G, and a Yaris on Conti ECS, and from Miatas on the same tires. In every case you can see it in the data, the FWD cars don’t have the same grip, but they get out of corners quickly. Ian will counter this data with “every car that over brakes on entry has good acceleration.” He’s also opined that perhaps Pineview hasn’t seen a good FWD driver yet. And I counter that with the list of seasoned FWD racers that have been to PV. And on and on the argument goes.

On this day, Ian and I would finally drive a good FWD car on good tires, back to back and settle this debate once and for all. For this A/B test we’d drive Chris Gailey’s Hyundai Veloster N on Falken RT660s. (As a data point, I drove Chris’s car last year on the stock PZ4s, which are about three seconds slower.)

I won’t do the whole blow-by-blow thing, because the biggest difference in our driving style is that Ian is consistently later on the brakes, and I’m consistently earlier on the gas. Take a look at the blue lines below – all of the peaks are to the right of the red lines. On average, Ian is braking two car lengths later than I am.

I think Ian was also trying very hard to get the Veloster to rotate, and it wouldn’t. He felt that a smidgen of traction or stability control was still on, and that the factory doesn’t allow you to remove all of it. Personally, I felt the car handled great, but I’m an understeer guy, and I’ve probably never properly rotated a FWD car.

But apparently I can drive OK that way, because if you look at the valleys, the red lines are all to the left of the blue lines. I’m backing up the corner better, and on average, I’m accelerating about two car lengths before he is. However, in the final corner, it’s a difference of three car lengths, and I get a little more time. This is pretty much the same thing we saw in my NA6.

In the end, I put down a really good lap and almost broke the all-time FWD lap record, I was just .2 seconds off! If Ian and I combined our best sectors, we’d have beaten the record by .2 seconds with a 1:15.136.

Does this mean that FWD cars aren’t handicapped at Pineview. No. Josh’s FRS had about the same lbs/hp ratio in 2019, and he was doing mid 1:14s on Z3s. On RT660s, he’d be doing 13s or less. Heck, Alyssa can do 1:14.5 in her 18 lbs/hp Miata on RS4s. Now I’m not as fast as those two aliens, but I should be able to do 14s on this tire and lbs/hp combination, and I can’t. I blame FWD.

So while we still don’t know why FWD is slower, there’s one thing we can conclude from this test, which is that I can drive a FWD car! Of the myriad reasons a FWD car is slower at Pineview, it’s not the driver. Or at least not this driver. Now we can concentrate on eliminating other factors, and maybe one day solve this mystery.

Ian’s final corner

Let’s start with the facts: Mario is faster at Pineview than me in every car we drove. He knows the course better, and his technique in slow corners is better. This isn’t very surprising. Over the last 2 years, he’s gone to Pineview dozens of times. In the last 2 years, I’ve had 6 hours of track time. It would be shocking if he wasn’t faster.

Rewind nearly 10 years ago, when we first started racing, and you would see that Mario was always faster than me by a few seconds per lap. Why? I think he understood traction better because of his motorcycling experience and a general knowledge of racing. I was of the opinion that cars were for commuting.

But then I started studying with books and simulators. I also got into data analysis and coaching. It took hundreds of hours, but eventually I became fast by educating my mind and body. After all that work, it was gratifying that I was a few seconds per lap faster.

And now Mario is faster than me at Pineview. Why? He started studying. He got into data and coaching. He changed his philosophy from “I just show up and drive, man” to “how am I going to train today?” There is no shortcut to the process. You have to put in the hours. You have to practice. You have to study. If you’re not being coached, you have to become introspective and actually critique yourself. It’s not always fun. It is rewarding though. Eventually.

I made sure to say “at Pineview” above because I think I still have the edge at many other tracks, especially unfamiliar ones. The reason is sim racing. I’m much more tuned into reference points than he is. I’m also more comfortable recovering from bad situations because I have the luxury of being able to do stupid shit in the virtual world I’d never do in the real world. Again, these differences are the result of a commitment to hundreds of hours of study and training. At the end of the day, or the race, or the blog post, let that be the final lesson.

Making Lemonade from 24 Hours of Lemons

I’m standing in a puddle of my own shit and piss. I have it on my arms and legs, and I’m reflexively spitting because I got some in my mouth. I think to myself, maybe this is a sign?

Let’s rewind the clock a couple weeks. I’ve been preparing to race the 24 Hours of Lemons race at NJMP Thunderbolt. I’ve done Lemons races on the east coast and in California, but none in this Miata.

The first hurdle was passing tech. Most people think about 24 Hours of Lemons as cut-rate racing, and in some ways it is, but they cut no corners on safety. The Lemons cage rules are more stringent than any other series, and my car, which has passed tech in AER, Champcar, NASA, and SCCA, won’t pass Lemons tech. Whoever built my cage put the back stays in at a 29-degree angle, and they need to be 45 degrees, give or take.

I called my friend Tom Pyrek, whose minivan I race in 24 Hours of Lemons, and he agreed to help me out. Except that he didn’t have a lot of time, and things got pushed back a few days right when I was crunched for time. That was a headache I didn’t need, but that’s how these things go. Anyway, it gave me more time to work on the theme.

Most people these days don’t bother with a theme for Lemons, but I still think it’s an important part of the series. I wanted to do the famed Ferrari Breadvan, an iconic race car from the 1960s. Other people have done this theme (and probably better than we would), but I wanted to do it mostly to try out the aero.

The shape of things to come…

Our plan was to serve pizzas out of the back in the evenings, and so I wrote “Pizza is always the answer” on the side of the car. We were even going to deliver a pizza to the judges in the penalty box at some point during the race. If we didn’t get a penalty, we were going to do it anyway, just to recreate this moment.

Fast forward and it’s the Friday a week before the race, the new back stays are welded in, and we’ve just started the car for the first time in a while. There’s bit too much white smoke for my liking, and so we check the compression numbers: 165, 130, 130, and… 60. We put a bit of oil down the plug holes and the numbers come up, and so we knew it was rings.

Humph. Not terrible, but that one cylinder is concerning. The last time it ran was at PittRace, and we were the fastest non-swapped Miata. Alyssa was doing 2:03s on well-worn RS4s (faster than the Spec Miata record). We all felt the car was running well, so it never occurred to me to check if the engine was still healthy. There’s a mistake I won’t make again.

Ran when parked. Alyssa and Mario on grid at PittRace a few months before.

At this point I have three options. A) Run it as is and probably blow it up at some point during the race. B) Pull the engine and install new rings. C) Pull the injector and plug on one cylinder and run it as a triple.

Option C isn’t as insane as it sounds. In fact there are a whole group of motorcycle racers in the Pacific Northwest that neuter one cylinder of a 600cc four and effectively make a 450 triple out of it. They call these “Cripple Triples,” and it allows them to compete with 650cc twins on equal footing.

Now this option is so Lemony I want to do it, but when we try it, it’s super slow. I run it down the street and the engine feels like it has 50 hp. Somehow that missing cylinder, even with only 60 psi, is very important. So we decide to do option B, and rebuild it. Or at least throw in a new rings, hone the cylinders, and put in new seals. No problem.

The race was in a week, and so I ordered all the gaskets and a piston ring set from Auto Zone on Friday. I thought that should be plenty of time to pull the engine and assemble it, and in fact most of the parts came the next day. Except the piston rings. Monday came and still no rings. Fed-X said they were supposed to be there yesterday, and the new tracking info said Wednesday. Feeling queasy about that, I ordered another set from NAPA, this time next day air via UPS. I paid the price in rings for the shipping alone, but I wanted to cover my bases.

With the engine out of the car, it occurred to me that I had another block sitting on a shelf up at Berg Racing. That engine overheated and I’m sure the rings relaxed, and so it needs new rings as well. May as well do them at the same time. So I drive up and gather it, and we start the surgery of taking that one apart on the bench as well. I’ve got nothing else to do.

I just need rings

Tuesday comes and still no rings. Next day air, my ass. But I’m not sweating it, we can get the engine in quickly. I tidy up other things on the car and finish the theme.

Breadvan theme was ready

Wednesday no parts, either by truck or by air. I went to Auto Zone and Napa and made them call the manufacturer and find out what the problem was. In both cases the shipper hadn’t picked up the packages yet.

Are you fucking kidding me? The manufacturing plant in Tennessee says the parts are right there waiting for pickup, but neither UPS or Fed-X can be bothered to actually get them? I’m feeling like this is a sign or something. We are also having trouble getting rear brake pads. I ordered them a week ago, and they still haven’t arrived.

Around this time my support vehicle (Honda Element) started making belt noises. We use the Element for bringing extra tires and spares, and I really don’t need it to break down on the way there, or the way back. We mess with the belts and the noises go away, but then it throws an engine code. Bad omens or what?

And then my RV, which is race headquarters and also my tow vehicle, throws engine codes for a misfire. And then the brand new tire that I just replaced is slowly leaking. FUUUUUUCK! Everything was falling apart at the same time!

For the past few weeks this has been happening in little subtle ways. I’ve been looking at all these signs, portents, and omens and patently ignoring them. But I pressed on for good reason: My brother was flying in from California; My buddy Chris was flying in from Detroit for his first ever wheel-to-wheel race; And I don’t believe in omens. So I was going to make this happen, my dog spinning upside down on the ceiling and speaking latin backwards, or not.

I then went to dump out the RV tanks at a local state park. I was doing this on the down-low, without paying the sewage fees, so trying to be a bit sly and get it done quickly. Well, some genius (ahem) left the guillotine valves open last winter, and so when I unscrewed the cap to attach the sewer line hose, my own shit and piss sprayed out all over me. Yep, I literally shit all over myself.

It was at this time, standing in a widening brown puddle, my arms and legs covered, no longer the least bit stealthy about dumping my waste tanks without paying for it, reflexively spitting and wondering how sick this shit would make me, that I began to believe in omens. I stitched together all those signs and portents and finally figured it the fuck out. I contacted all my teammates and told them we were done. We aren’t racing. As my brother put it “when the shit hits the man, it’s time to reassess the situation.”

And Yet, Lemonade

Instead of racing, I invited all my teammates to Pineview Run. They were all coming east anyway, it was the least I could do. We spent the day hooning and gather data, and fun was had by all.

Ian drove my wife’s Honda Civic. We didn’t use it much because the VSA really overwhelms the brakes. (See my blog post Autocross N00b for the 10-step procedure to turn that off.) It wasn’t fast or fun to drive anyway, and Ian got in a lot of other cars.

Clayton drove his NB, and both Ian and I got to drive it and compare notes. I’ll follow up on this data in another post, it’s rather interesting to see how differently we drive the same car. We also got to see how Clayton drives, and while he’s off the pace, his instincts are really good. He’s a natural driver, and will keep getting better.

Jim brought his 240 hp turbo 1.6 Miata. I didn’t get a chance to try it, but I’ve driven it on the street and it’s a blast. Turbos are not my choice for track cars, but street cars, yes please. Unfortunately the charge pipe kept coming loose, both on the track and on the drive to and from, and by the end of the weekend Jim had replaced every hose and clamp.

The front end of Jim’s car is called a Wizdom. It wasn’t exactly an easy fit, but we made it work. I also made a custom undertray and left it long in front to make a splitter, and added a hood vent. It’s a bitchin car all around.

Fitting the Wizdom bumper, before splitter and other enhancements.

Chris brought his Veloster N, which is an impressive car and I regularly think about buying one. He fitted Falken RT660 tires, and while his car isn’t set up with lot of camber, he wisely got the tires heat cycled from Tire Rack before delivery. Meaning, the tires didn’t delaminate, which is what they do when run without heat cycling and with less than ideal camber.

I ran a 1:15.565 in the N, exactly two tenths of a second slower than the all-time FWD record lap time (CRX on A7s). On A052s or Hoosiers, I’d own the FWD record. In a bone-stock car. I need to make this happen.

Ian also got to drive the Veloster and I was thankfully faster than him, but only by half a second. He’s a FWD expert, and I’m a Pineview expert, but I sure as shit was not going to lose to my brother on his second ever visit to the track! Phew.

I drove my 1.6 Miata mostly on 14-year old NT01s (I shit you not), and they still grip, and wear imperceptibly. I also finally got a chance to try some take-off 245 R7s. Oddly I didn’t go any faster than I did on 205 R7s (1:14.5). The steering effort was absurd, and I overall didn’t love them. I’ll have to play with pressures and stuff and see if I can get them to work.

Honestly, it was a fantastic day, maybe even more fun than racing because we were all on track together, with five cars instead of one. Yeah, I had to eat the Lemons entry fee, the NJMP practice day, all the parts and labor to prep the car, and $800 worth of track fees at Pineview. So I lost over $3000 on this “race” weekend, but I guarantee it would have been worse if we had gone to Thunderbolt. Something bad was going to happen. Every force of nature was against me, every step of the way, I just wasn’t listening. I am now, tho.

My wife says, you win or you learn, and education costs money. It reminds me of the old joke: Do you know why divorce costs so much money? Because it’s worth it. Missing this race was oddly worth it; we made lemonade out of Lemons.

The Punchline

Saturday afternoon, the day we were supposed to be racing in New Jersey, I got a phone call saying that the rings arrived at NAPA (five days late). The next day, Auto Zone called to say the other set of rings arrived (seven days late). In the race of rings, UPS next-day air beat Fed-X freight by a day. But they are both fucking losers in my book.

Maybe I should have spent more time on mechanicals than theme?

Everturrible Race and Tire Report

This is an overdue race report from April. At first I was waiting for the Lemons wrap-up video to come out (it was late), and then I just got to doing important things. Anyway, it was a fun time, and there’s some neat data to look at if you stay with me to the end.

Every year I race Tom Pyrek’s minivan in the 24 Hours of Lemons. We’ve done NJMP Thunderbolt, Thompson, and PittRace together. The van has been the source of some really good themes, and is better on track than it should be. It’s a first gen Honda Odyssey (also badged as an Isuzu Oasis), the one with 4 doors instead of a slider, and with an anemic 4-cylinder Accord engine. Tom’s minivan racecar has thankfully been manual swapped, but it still struggles with an open diff, terrible aero, and a lot of weight.

Tom has been down the road chasing performance, and it’s just not his gig any longer. He’d rather have fun racing an underperforming slug than stress out over performance. I can understand that, but I’m also about incremental improvements. I can’t do anything about the power or diff, but I’ve been subtly adding performance year by year.

The last time we raced the minivan I begged Tom to allow me to add an airdam and splitter. I did that modification overnight between race days, and so we got to A/B test the modification. It was noticeably better, and so Tom even left it on for street driving after that. Yes, it’s street legal, and he drives it regularly.

Front end aero. Worth it.

This year Tom also allowed me to remove the spare tire from high up on the passenger side window, and remove the third row seat. I was like “Bruh, do I even know you?” The wide-screen TV set would still remain bolted to the rollbar, because I don’t have that kind of influence yet, and Tom is still Tom. But I’ve made some solid progress on both aero and weight.

Theme

The minivan is a source of countless themes, and we’ve had some good ones. The first time I raced with The Awkward Corner, we were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Clockwise from top: Tom, Brian, me, somebody’s borrowed kid, Melody, Dieter.

I think we kept that theme for Thompson. The first time we raced PittRace, we changed it to Mister Rogers Neighborhood Trolley. Mr Rogers is from Pittsburg, so this was appropriate. The Swangers in the pic below are just for show, we didn’t race on them; the spokes can come loose and they weigh like 80 lbs each.

L to R: Melody (driver), Eric, me, Dieter, Tom

This year we were stuck juggling theme ideas until the Evergiven tanker got stuck in the Suez canal. Lightbulb! It finally got dislodged before the race, but we stuck with the theme.

The Awkward Corner race team. Everturrible.

There are more theme pics at the very end, with keen details to appreciate.

The Race

The race went from good to bad, and then to good back to bad again, and then good. Pretty normal.

The first problem was tires. PittRace is notoriously hard on tires, and we’d fitted budget Accelera 651 tires. These are unusual 200 TW tires because they have three center grooves instead of the usual two, and come with a FREE MONEYBACK GUARANTEE. They are cheap (arguably free), and come highly recommended by my friend Brian Smith at Easthood Racing, so we figured we’d try them out. We chunked them in our second session.

The Accelera 651s chunked quickly

In foresight, I’d brought two wheels from my wife’s Honda Civic, with the intention of A/B testing them for one session, and then secretly putting them back on her car before she knew. Her wheels were shod with Nexen NFera Sur4G 200TW tires, which we’ve raced on the van before (in a 16″ size, not these 17″ ones) and they’ve worked well.

So we changed the tires quickly to my wife’s tires, and on the plus side, this gave me some great back-to-back data that I’ll share later. On the down side, the tires delaminated, and now I’m sleeping on the couch.

The Sur4Gs delaminated just as fast!

If you’re thinking the minivan racecar doesn’t have enough camber, it has -3.5 degrees. Tom says that tire deflection has a lot to do with wear, and that it was the 7″ wheels that were to blame. So we rotated tires around as best we could, and used some older tires that were well heat cycled (or cycled out) on the front, and did our best to finish the race.

So with our tire woes somewhat sorted, the next thing was our brakes. I could hear something grinding and vibrating, so I brought the car in. We got the wheels off and noticed it had a cracked front rotor.

We just can’t catch a break.

We replaced that, put the car down, and I didn’t get to the track entrance before I brought it back in with the same sound. It was, in fact, the rear pads that were shot. These were brand new parts-store ceramics, which usually last a couple races when the parking brake isn’t dragging. Which it was. We replaced these with a used set of organic pads, but those barely lasted one session. Luckily we already had someone out and about buying spare parts, and so we got more rear pads to finish the race.

Punted

At one point I got punted from behind by another driver in a E30. In a Lemons race, anyone involved in contact gets a black flag, regardless of who’s fault it is. And so this resulted in me collecting my first black flag since 2013. If you watch the video, I think you’ll see this wasn’t my fault; it may not matter to Lemons, but it matters to me.

I later confronted the driver, who was a total douche about it and called it my fault. But after the race the other guys on the team said their apologies, and I countered with “racing incident”, and we’re all good now.

It was a dicey moment at the time. I had to react quickly to go straight off, then turn and gas it right before hitting the tire wall, which vectored me away so that I only grazed the right rear. But this gave me more speed which I had to scrub quickly to avoid getting T-boned in T18. I stopped it before re-entering the track, barely.

These are, unfortunately, the moments I live for.

Teammates

This was my first time with a three-driver team, and I prefer four. We had a lot of downtime in the pits fixing shit, and a fourth hand is helpful for that, and if we didn’t break so often, we’d have had the same amount of track time anyway.

I haven’t mentioned our new teammate Stephen Kent. Tom found him on the Lemons Rally, and so I already knew he was good people. What I didn’t know is that in his first race ever, he’d impress the hell out of me.

Stephen was fast (2.8 seconds off me), did a lot of work on the car, bought food and drinks, and generally was the ideal teammate. Never mind the fact that this autocrosser (I’m making the X sign and backing away) had no previous racing experience and had never been to PittRace, he had excellent situational awareness, stayed out of trouble, got consistently faster, and played up the theme to a 10. Yes, he was the one that blocked the track exit at the end of the race. PittRace officials didn’t find this funny, Lemons people did.

We also had a pit crew member Ari, and he was a great help all weekend. He’s been doing some autocrossing, and with some help from Stephen, maybe we’ll have a fourth teammate after all.

Staying “in theme” and Lemons Wrap-up

To be theme-tastic, we purposefully stuck our van in as many places as we could: We blocked the tech garage in the morning; We held up traffic at track in, and track out; When we were pulled in for a penalty, we wedged the car between the building and a pole. We were Everturrible.

24 Hours of Lemons did a wrap up video on the race, and we are featured singing a Whitney Houston song, and generally playing up our theme by being assholes.

Tires and Data

As promised here’s some interesting tire data comparing the Accelera 651 to the Nexen NFera Sur4G. I chose a couple representative laps from each without traffic. (If you want to measure your laps vs a portly minivan, my best lap was a 2:23.135 with a top speed of 97.4 mph.)

On the speed trace, Nexen is red and Accelera is blue. You can see the Nexen makes a better lap time by about 1.5 seconds, but what’s interesting is where the Accelera if faster: on the straights. Once into high gear, the 651s have less drag, less rolling resistance, and less weight, and this translates into a consistently higher top speed.

The Accelera’s are the lightest 225 street tire I’ve weighed and are a couple pounds lighter than the Nexens. When you put both 225 tires on their sides, you can see the 651 is a narrower tire. This weight and narrowness is probably where the top speed comes from.

Tire width, L Nexen NFera Sur4G, R Accelera 651

Next take a look at lateral Gs, and this is where you can see the Nexen’s have an advantage. And they should. Sur4Gs are known to be a 200 TW autocross tire, and the 651 is a budget 200 TW tire. You can see that the red lines are both higher and lower than the blue lines, indicating more grip (low means left turn, high means right turn).

As for how they drive, I liked both, but I was able to trail brake better on the Nexens. In the friction circle, you can see the red lines are not only wider than the blue lines, but more bulbous shaped, meaning I can blend inputs better.

I drove the Acceleras slightly better than my teammates. They were about 2.5-3 seconds slower on the 651s than the Sur4Gs, while I was only 1.5 seconds slower. I practice on all-season tires, and so I’m used to a car that moves around a lot. It could be that training, or it could be that their driving styles don’t mesh as well with this tire.

Anyway, the Accelera is a slower tire, but it still might be a good endurance racing tire, the jury is still out. I need to get these tires on a Miata with proper camber, and not a FWD van that destroys anything you put on it. I have a feeling that the three grooves on the 651 will make it a good wet tire.

I sent this data and some comments over to Kaylee at Tire Streets, to say that I’m intrigued by the tires, but until you come out with a wider 15″ tire, I’m not buying. First, because all they offered was a 195/50-15, and second, 651s seem to run narrow. Well, not long after sending that email I found out the Accelera 651 is now available in both a 205/50-15 and a 225/45-15. I bought them immediately.

My plan was to A/B test them at the NJMP Lemons race vs RS4s, but due to recent circumstances (which you can read in maybe the next late race report), I have not tested them yet. I can tell you that the 651s measure exactly the same width as 225 Maxxis RC1s, and so they might not run narrow in this 15″ size.

More Photos

24 Hours of Lemons is a weekend of fun on and off track. It’s not just about racing, it’s about having a good time. The series is going more and more towards performance cars, but I wish more people brought shitty cars with themes.

We parked here in the dark and blocked tech in the morning
We pretended to get stuck a lot (that’s me in the shark costume)
Just before taking a bite out of Randy Pobst
It’s all about the props.
The source of so many memes
It’s still about the props
We made custom containers on each side of our “ship”
All of the containers… find your team!
A rare shot of us not misbehaving
Living up to the theme

Autocross N00b

I recently attended my first ever autocross with my twin brother, Ian. He blogged about his experience, and it’s a fairly accurate read from my perspective as well. We are endurance racers first, track people second, and probably would have never done an autocross, but we started discussing doing One Lap of America, and that event has a few autocrosses mixed in. So we figured we’d better learn how to dodge cones.

Miata Classing

My first stop was to investigate which class my Miata would go in, so I went to the rules and dove headfirst into the (OMG) 380-page rulebook.

First I looked at the “Street” classes, and while those allow me to change anti-roll bars, tires, and shocks, I can’t upgrade springs. Huh. Who upgrades shocks and not springs, is that even a thing? I’ve definitely seen people put lowering or stiffer springs on stock shocks, but not the other way around. Anyway, I’d also need 6″ wide wheels for this class, and I don’t have anything near that.

So next is “Street Touring” and that looks good except I replaced the 6” ring gear with a 7” ring gear and a Torsen. The 6″ ring gear can break, even under stock power, and so most people upgrade to a 7″ ring gear. And when you do that, may as well do a Torsen at the same time. That’s what sensible people do, but not STS people, so I’m out of that class.

But there’s another “Street Touring Roadster” class for Z3, Z4, S2000, ND, Boxster S, and other convertibles. This class also allows 1994+ Miatas if you feel like being outclassed. Mine is a 1993, and so not technically legal, but maybe they won’t notice. However, I have shackle-style motor mounts which are slightly lighter than stock, and that kicks me out of the class. Fuck, that’s a pretty specific rule!

M’kay, next is the “Street Prepared” class, where my car would go into CSP. I can have a splitter (yay), any wheel, any DOT tire, and even a spoiler. But not a wing, and no cams, and no decking the head over .01″. Well sheesh, my head is decked .035″ and I have a mild cam. So CSP won’t have me either.

Next is the “Street Modified” class, which allows a rear wing (yay), any tire, canards, and a splitter…. But the splitter can’t have any end plates or fences. FML. NA Miatas have cute little bumpers and the tires stick out, and so I have little fences in front of them to divert air around my tires. Bodywork that covers the front tires is standard on virtually every fucking car made in the past 20 years, but those little tire fences put me out of SSM.

OK, so next is the “Prepared” class, and I guess DP is where I go? Splitter end plates OK! Spoiler or wing OK! Cams and decking the head OK! Fastback? Doesn’t say…. That word doesn’t appear once in 380 pages of rulebook. I have a lot of different tops and I could certainly use an OEM hardtop (or remove the top), but it worth noting that I can’t go in this class with my fastback or shooting brake tops. Best to be prepared and see what’s left.

Finally I get to the “Modified” class, and SSM looks like the only class where you can significantly change the roofline shape. The rules say I can change the bodywork as long as “the shape of the body must be recognizable.” So that would put me in a class with basically unlimited cars. Great. For any car with an aftermarket fastback, or this track-bred 1993 Miata that’s on equal terms with a stock NB2, I’m racing against the fastest cars in the paddock.

Finally, I say fuck it, I’ll leave my Miata at home and race my wife’s daily driver, a bone stock 2018 Honda Civic.

2018 Honda Civic

This is a great daily driver, I get 48 mpg on the highway, and 40 mpg in mixed driving. It’s a 6-speed manual with a turbo that’s tuned for torque, and it weighs around 2800 lbs. What’s not to love?

The stability control, for one. I’ve tracked the Civic at Pineview and Lime Rock, and it overheats the brakes like crazy. I think this is the stability control, which Honda calls VSA. It must apply the brakes constantly trying to keep the car balanced. My front and rear rotors are at 800 degrees with mild tracking.

Turning off the VSA requires the following ridiculous procedure.

  1. Start the car.
  2. Make sure the electric parking brake is off.
  3. Push traction control button off and then on again.
  4. Press and hold the brake pedal. 
  5. Turn traction control off and then on again. 
  6. Release brake pedal.
  7. Turn electric parking brake back on. 
  8. Turn traction control off and then on again. 
  9. Press and hold the brake pedal.
  10. Turn traction control off and then on again.

If you get it all right, the traction control light flashes on the dash. If you get any part of that process wrong, nothing happens, and you have to start that whole thing over again. If you turn the car off in between runs, of course the VSA goes back on again.

Until recently, Jenna’s Civic had 200 treadwear N Fera Sur4G tires on all four corners. But I took two tires to PittRace as backup tires for a minivan I was racing, and we decided to use them at one point during the weekend. And they delaminated. So now the Civic has Sur4Gs only on the front and 7oo treadwear all-season tires on the rear. This should make the handling… interesting.

The Event

The autocross was held at nearby Seneca Army Depot. In the 1980s, the Depot was in the news a lot because they stored nuclear weapons there, and as a result there were a lot of protests and demonstrations. Quite possibly related, this area has an abundance of albino deer, and until recently, you could even book a tour to go see them. Apparently they even glow in the dark! (OK, I made that part up.)

As an event location, it’s pretty awesome. It’s a flat airfield, with a mix of blacktop and concrete, with a few bumps to give it more character. It’s not a parking lot rectangle, but shaped like a lowercase “q” (although the locals call it a “p” for some reason).

We got our cars teched and classed, and both Ian and I were in H Street (HS). I found out Clayton’s Miata was put into a class called “Extreme Street B”. This wasn’t in the rulebook, but apparently different regions have their own classes, and if I knew that I guess I might have brought my Miata after all. FWIW, the XSB class is for track-spec cars with things like aero and whatnot, on 200 TW tires. There are two classes for different weights, but engines are basically open, so my 1.6 Miata would go up against turboed and V8 swapped Miatas. So while not a class that has a lot of parity, the rules are simple, and my car would fit in just fine.

I forgot to take a single picture. Clayton’s NB.

After tech we lined up for a track walk, which was marginally useful, but because I’m used to seeing the road from inside a windshield, I can’t say the track walk helped that much. I had a lot of questions like, “why are there three sets of cones there” and “why is that cone tipped over” and such, and the track walk was good for learning the lexicon.

One curiosity is that they don’t allow novices to drive the course ahead of time. Not even at 5 mph. For a HPDE track day, the first session, or at least the first laps, are under a full-course yellow. This helps people who have never been to the track know which way the corners go. Autocross is so focused on the competition aspect that they don’t want anyone to get a glimpse of the course ahead of time. Not even a novice that’s never been to an event before. As if novices are going to threaten the competition? (Nevermind the fact that someone had to set up the cones and test drive it at least once.) Ergo, the track walk was as much as any of us novices would experience before racing. This is so fucking dumb I’m not going to put any more words to it.

But they don’t leave the novices out to dry, there’s coaching and ride alongs all day. I had a coach in my car in just about every session, and it was very helpful. All of them were super nice, very knowledgable, and passionate about the sport. I didn’t do any ride alongs because I was feeling a bit queasy, and I sometimes get seasick as a passenger.

The Racing

Autocross is fun! It requires fast learning, and it’s always enjoyable to learn a new skill. Dodging cones requires reading. Literally. Instead of words, it’s a lexicon of cones and shapes, and when you’re literate, it’s probably even more fun than when you’re learning to read.

I wasn’t very literate, it took me a long time to read the course. It’s a vision-based skill, and I just wasn’t processing the information very quickly. In my six runs, I didn’t hit any cones, but I also failed to read the course correctly and flat out missed some turns entirely. I only fully completed one run, and that’s because my coach was telling me where to turn.

On the plus side, when I finally got the VSA turned off, the Civic was a hoot to drive. I got oversteer on some sweepers and was able to drive the car more or less how I wanted. After three runs lasting a bit over a minute each, we began the first of two long working shifts.

My twin brother driving his C30 (nobody can tell the difference between us anyway)

The Working

In between the sessions, you have to work. And this means standing out in the heat, trying to avoid getting hit by a car, and then running out to go put a cone back in place before the next car comes through and tries not to hit you.

I have $100k into my knees, with metal plates and screws holding the bones together. My doctor says I’ll need two total knee replacements in the near future, and when that happens depends entirely on how much I abuse my knees. So I quit skateboarding, and for the same reason I sure as shit am not running anywhere. I’ll walk briskly to go set up a cone, but if you fucking yell at me for not running to put a cone up, I’m still not running. I have bigger problems than keeping your event on time.

Speaking of which, there were a few timing errors and re-runs, and that made the day drag on a bit longer. But kudos to the organizers, they did their best, and mistakes like this always happen. The entire event was really well run.

The Lyme

While sitting next to my cones I was chatting with another fellow, and he just got a phone call saying that he was positive for Lyme. I told him that happened to me last year, and TBH, I was feeling a bit Lyme-y myself that day. Lyme disease feels a bit like being drunk, but not in the good way, more like you had one too many. You’re confused, don’t put things together quickly, and your balance and vision are off. These are not great symptoms to have when trying to drive anywhere, much less autocross.

Welp… I got my test results back and I have Lyme again. I knew something was up. I’m usually a fast study, but I was driving like shit. And I needed some kind of excuse anyway.

As I write this I’ve just used the last dose of a 21-day prescription of doxy, and I’m feeling no better. I can’t drive, I can’t always think straight. I’m going for more tests and to see two different Lyme specialists. Apparently I can still write, and so I’m doing that instead of driving. But goddamnit I had so many plans this summer and now I’m not racing bikes or cars. Fuuuuuuuuck!

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Autocross is the most popular form of motorsports competition for a reason. You don’t need any special car prep. You’re not going to hurt your car, or yourself. Every other form of motorsports competition is way more expensive. When I do a track event at PittRace I always see more people in the parking lot doing autocross than I do on track. It makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.

Looking back in time, I can definitely see a point in my life where autocross would have been relevant. In my dirtbag 20s, with more time than money, I would have loved autocross. It’s cheap if you’re a student, and if you also consider it an all-day sporting event. And sitting around with your friends talking about cars is fun.

But as someone who is in their mid-50s, with more money than time, no. Paying $60 for an eight-hour day with 7 minutes of track time is not worth it. Honestly, if it was free I wouldn’t do it again. Would I do it without the work requirement? Maybe. It’s still sacrificing a whole day for a very limited amount of track time, but autocross is a lot of fun, and a skill that I would like to acquire.

In the end, I get why people are passionate about autocross, and while I highly doubt it, maybe I’ll be one of those people one day. I love motorsports, and I love competition. It’s a great group of people, with a perfect venue, and it’s nearby. Wait, did I just talk myself into another event, or is that the Lyme-brain again? Hm.