July 4th weekend double trackday and BBQ

I’m hosting a double track day and BBQ party on July 4th weekend.

Sunday July 3rd

It all starts with a casual trackday at Pineview Run with a special rate of $149! This is not an easy track to get onto, as you need a member to sponsor you for the day. I’m your sponsor for July 3rd. To get this special rate, buy a track pass online (https://pineviewrun.com/products/ols/products/guest-day-track-pass) and make sure to enter MARIOGUESTDAY-22 as the coupon code.

If you’re traveling from out of town, Pineview has two houses for rent, one that sleeps six and the other sleeps ten! You can also camp at the track for a nominal fee. Contact Pineview for more info.

  • Pineview does things differently, and takes safety very seriously. Everyone will need a Raceiver or similar one-way radio. You can use this with earbuds or plug it in the Aux jack in your car’s stereo system. These are available for rent.
  • If you’ve never been to Pineview, you’ll need to do the online Track Safety class and fill out all of the forms on this page. Please do this ahead of time, as doing this on site will seriously decrease the amount of track time. I highly suggest reading my track guide so you can get up to speed quickly and find gas stations with 93. You can read this with Kindle Unlimited for free, and there’s a digital-only copy on Amazon as well.
  • For people who have been to Pineview before, you must fill out the annual waiver, Covid policy, and tech sheet. All of this is on the same page.
  • If you want to go into the passing groups, you will probably need to do a checkout ride. Yep, even if you have a racing license.

Monday July 4th

I was supposed to help host a BBQ party up the street from me in Ithaca for a new brewery, Drowned Sailor. But I’m not sure what’s going on with that, that ship may have sunk. Whether it happens there or in my back yard, there will be lots of free food and beer, and large yard for yard games.

Tuesday July 5th

Track day at NYST. I’ve posted about this before, $195 for a ton of track time, food included.

Travel and camping

If you’re coming in from out of town and need a place to stay, I’m in Ithaca NY about 50 miles south of Pineview, and 100 miles from NYST. Not exactly close to either, but if you need a free place to crash, I have 6 spare beds in the house, 3 beds in my RV, and a large yard for camping.

We will be camping out at NYST on Monday night, so don’t get too sloshed at the BBQ or you’ll have to meet us in the morning.

If you need more info or want to chat about this, call or text: 415-two.six.nine-3246 – Mario

Triumph of an underdog

This is a departure from my usual articles on Miata aerodynamics and DIY, to pay tribute to a MotoGP rider I’ve been following for several years, Aleix Espargaró.

I first became an Aleix Espargaró fan in 2014. I was only dimly aware of his accomplishments before that time, but it was his teaming up with Colin Edwards that brought Aleix into focus. 

You see, I was really a Colin Edwards fan, starting way back in his AMA days. But it was his 2002 World Superbike title that made him a legend. Troy Bayliss had won the first six races, and won another five straight later in the year. In order to win the title, Colin had to win the last nine races in a row! Against all odds, against a dominant Ducati-Bayliss pairing, Colin did it.

So when Colin moved to MotoGP, I followed closely. His career had its ups and downs (nothing more down than catching fire on the Aprilia Cube), and it wasn’t always easy to be the biggest fan of a racer who never won a MotoGP race. From 2003-2014, Colin got a dozen podiums, but not a single win. 

In 2014 Colin was towards the end of his career and moved to Forward racing, and was getting regularly beaten by his teammate. When that kind of thing happens, you either hate on them for making your idol look bad (ahem, Jorge Lorenzo), or you begin to respect them. I was on the fence of how I felt about Aleix Espargaró. 

It was Colin’s support of Aleix that did it for me. First, loaning him his backup bike when Aleix had stacked both of his, and then a single word from Colin, when he tweeted: “Aleix!” after the Spaniard’s stunning pole position. Seeing Colin’s approval of his teammate, I began to follow Aleix. Of his many underdog accomplishments in 2014, his battle with Danny Pedrosa at Assen was the most memorable. 

Since 2014 I’ve been rooting for Aleix, and it was a lot like rooting for Colin. No wins in MotoGP, year after year. Underperforming bikes, then a factory Suzuki, then moving to Aprilia, it’s been a rocky road.

Many people have questioned why Aleix still had a ride, seeing as he’d never won a race, and you can count the number of podiums he’s had on one hand, without using all your fingers. The fact is, it’s really hard to evaluate a rider who’s not on top-notch machinery, or is developing a new bike.

What most people don’t know is that Aleix has outscored every teammate he’s ever had: Mikka Kalio, Axel Pons, Randy De Puniet, Colin Edwards, Scott Redding, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Iannone, and Bradley Smith. Maverick outscored Aleix in their second season at Suzuki together, and so they are 1-1, but Aleix has the upper hand against everyone else he’s been teamed with, on identical machinery, some of them World Champions. 

When you beat your teammates, they don’t stick around for long, and it’s been a revolving door next to Aleix, with very little consistency or support developing the Aprilia. He’s not one to badmouth a teammate. I can recall many times he’s come to the defense of his partner, spoken highly of their progress, and supported them retraining their rides. But despite Aleix’s excellent record against teammates, he was still winless.

After beating Jimmy Conors in 1980, Vitas Gerulaitis famously quipped “Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.” That is perhaps the most famous quote in tennis. Yeah? How about getting beaten 199 times in a row? 

Last Sunday, on Aleix’s 200th MotoGP start, he got pole position, set the fastest lap, and won his first GP race. Motorsports is full of great stories, and the comebacks are the best. Colin Edwards in 2002, Nicky Hayden in 2006, and now let’s add Aleix Espargaró in 2022. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because it’s a long season, with the closest field in history, but three races in, he leads the world championship. 

As a MotoGP fan, I went from pulling for Colin to Aleix, from one winless rider to another. I’ve spent 19 years supporting the underdog, and my poor wife has had to endure listening to me rooting for the winless for way too long. That’s over now.

I feel like this wasn’t just a win for Aleix, but for everyone still trying to get that first magic first. I’m not alone in recognizing Aleix’s amazing accomplishment. Sports fans across the globe have wished Aleix congratulations. As legendary commentator Nick Harris put it, “There has never been a more popular winner in the 74-year history of Grand Prix racing.”

Enhorabuena Aleix, you had this coming.

Website Changes

This side project of mine has finally borne fruit, and in the coming months my articles will be published on an industry-leading website. Ergo, I’ve password-protected much of my existing content, and will make them public only after they are updated and published on the other site.

You can still read the old articles if you have a password. If you have bought me a coffee in the past, then I may have already sent you a password. If not, get in touch with me.

I will continue to publish free articles on this site, but the focus will shift more towards opinionated drivel than researched technical content.

Classing Miatas for SCCA Enduro Nationals

Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has finally gotten into the budget endurance racing game. They are late to the party; 24 Hours of Lemons, American Endurance Racing (AER), Champcar Endurance Series, Lucky Dog Racing (also in Canada), NASA TREC, World Racing League (WRL) and others have been partying in this space for a while.

My brother and I are working on a blog post that compares SCCA Enduro Nationals to all of the other endurance racing organizations, and we’ll publish that on You Suck at Racing sometime in the near future. But I wanted to specifically talk about Miatas, and where they fit into SCCA’s new enduro ruleset.

Classing Rules

The SCCA classing rules are based on your car engine’s displacement, which determines its initial class, fuel capacity, tire width, and race weight. There are four classes, E1 to E4:

E1E2E3E4
Displacement (liters)6.24.52.91.9
Fuel (gallons)20171514
Tire (width )295255245225
Classing by displacement

Your car takes additional modifiers to its displacement for the following:

  • Drivetrain – A turbo doubles your displacement, and there are other minor modifiers for transmissions, etc. However, engine swaps and tuning is free.
  • Weight – Car weight may adjust the figured displacement up or down .5 liters. If your car is unusually heavy, it will get more displacement; if it’s too light, it gets less.
  • Suspension – Adjustable suspension, either valving or height, adds .5 liters displacement. If you have modified suspension pickup points, add 1 liter. I guess that means you take 1.5 liters if you have both, ouch.
  • Aero – A splitter or wing adds .25 liters displacement each. Aero is a somewhat grey area, I go into that in more detail.

There’s a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet/calculator to make things easier (download), but you should probably also read the full PDF. The rules are really quite simple once you wrap your head around the fact that it all revolves around displacement. I’ll go into some more details on these, as it relates to Miatas.

Excel calculator (wheel widths in the rules are wider than in the calculator)

Engine

Engine tuning is unlimited, which means a Spec Miata with a stock 1.8 engine is classed the same as a hot-rodded NB2 with cams and ITBs putting out 180 hp. Likewise, engine swaps are open. The rationale is because a more powerful engine burns more fuel, which requires more pit stops, and since fuel tank size is limited, this should make the cars even on speed over the course of a 6-8 hour race. Ahem. If you say so.

Turbos double the displacement, so a 1.4 Fiata is evaluated at 2.8 liters, a 1.6 turbo becomes a 3.2 liter engine, and a Mazdaspeed Miata is 3.6 liters.

Rotary engines are a 250% modifier. Thus, a 1.3 liter RX8 comes in at 3.25 liters and 3250 lbs. That’s a bit unjust for the 238 hp the engine puts out. I would have used the same modifier for both turbo and rotary, which would make the 1.3 into a 2.6, and a race weight of 2600 lbs, which is a lot more realistic than 3250 lbs.

For a Miata, the smart money is on the highest output, lowest displacement, normally aspirated, non-rotary engine you can swap in.

Weight

A car’s minimum weight (which is with a full fuel tank but without the driver) is based on the engine displacement, plus any drivetrain modifications at a rate of 1 lb./cc. In other words, if you have a 2.5 liter car, your race weight is 2500 lbs. There’s a minimum weight cap at 2,000 lbs, so all OE-engine Miatas (1600cc to 2000cc) are going to start at one ton.

Most Miata endurance racers are heavier than 2000 lbs, and so you’ll get some points back for being over the weight limit. You get .1 liter back, for every 50 lbs over the weight, to a maximum of .5 liters. For example, if your Miata weighs 2200 lbs (full tank, no driver), you’ll get .1 liter per 50 lbs, or a total of .4 liters back. Your 1.8 Miata is now a 1.4 liter Miata.

Aerodynamics

Aero also adds to your displacement, you must add .25 liters for a splitter or a wing (each). If you read further into the aero sections, there are some grey areas and unknowns. Section 3 states “The following aerodynamic modifications may be subject to modifiers in the class table” and then lists definitions for airdam, splitter, and wing. Let’s take a look at Section 3 in more detail:

a. Front Air Dam/Spoiler

An air dam is defined as such:

  • i. Shall be mounted to the body and may not protrude more than the thickness of the material (0.5” limit) beyond the overall outline of the body when viewed from above, perpendicular to the ground, or aft of the forward most part of the front fender opening.
  • ii. Openings are permitted for the purposes of ducting air to the brakes, cooler(s) and radiator(s).
  • iii. An undertray may be added. The undertray may close out the area from the leading edge of the bodywork (including the spoiler/air dam) back to the forward most part of the front fender wheel opening.

I understand what an airdam is, what I don’t understand is why they bother to define it? I can’t find a displacement modifier anywhere in the rules or the Excel calculator, which leads me to believe airdams are free. But if that’s the case, why dedicate a section to it and say that airdams “may be subject to modifiers in the class table”?

Many racing rules allow for some variance in angle of the airdam, but SCCA Enduro rules do not. You can’t use your 4.5-degree NASA-legal 9 Lives Racing angled airdam in the SCCA Enduro Nationals.

b. Splitter

The splitter rules seem pretty straightforward, and apparently allow “underbite” style splitters for free.

  • i. A splitter (horizontal, single plane aerodynamic device attached to the lower front of the vehicle, protruding forward) may be added to divert air and produce downforce through vertical pressure differential.
  • ii. Splitters shall have no vertical deviations and may protrude three (3) inches from the forward points of the front bumper, and be no wider than the outside edge of the front wheels when pointed straight.

Note that a splitter is defined slightly differently in the general rules, but you have to dig to find it. Within section 1.1, Classes; sub-section C, National Class Table; sub-sub-section 5, Adjustments; sub-sub-sub-section C, Aerodynamic: “Front splitter extending beyond the front bumper as viewed from above: Add 0.25L.” If I’m reading this correctly, then this picture below is not a splitter.

Doesn’t extend beyond the bumper as viewed from above = not a splitter.

c. Rear Wings

Wings are limited to a single-element, 720 square inches. Wings must be completely contained between the rear axle center line, the sides of the vehicle and rear‐most point of the rear bumper as viewed from above. The height of a the wing varies by body type. On a Miata, the wing may not be higher than windshield or hardtop, whichever is higher.

Missing aero???

The intention of the rules is to allow people to build the cars they want, but by not mentioning various popular aero items, it’s confusing. Are they free or are they outright illegal? Where do the following items go?

  • Spoiler – A spoiler and a wing are not the same thing. Is a spoiler free, or does it count as a rear wing?
  • Canards and vortex generators – Mostly worthless, but some people use them. If your car has them, what happens?
  • Underbody – Side skirts, flat bottom, diffuser… are they illegal? If they are legal, is there a maximum size?

Classing Miatas

OK, now that you know the basics of the rules (and gaps in them), let’s class some Miatas.

Because the E3 and E4 classes have a maximum displacement that ends in .9 (1.9 liters and 2.9 liters), and because coilovers and aero are each .5 liters, you’ll see that a that an engine that is a multiple of .5 liters gets screwed (1.5, 2.0, 2.5). It’s better to have an engine with 1.4, 1.9, or 2.4 liters.

1.8 Spec Miata – Class E4

Your average 1.8 Spec Miata weighs about 2200 without the driver. The SCCA Enduro rules have a minimum 2000 lb weight, which means the car is 200 lbs overweight, and so it gets some displacement back. The formula for that is .1 liter for every 50 lbs, and so you get back .4 liters of displacement (2200 lb car – 2000 lb displacement min weight). The car is now evaluated at 1.4 liters (1.8 original – .4 for weight).

You also have to figure in the displacement modifier for shocks. Spec Miata shocks are height adjustable, and so they add .5 liters of displacement. Add that up, 1.4 liters + .5 liters = 1.9 liters. A 1.8 Spec Miata makes it into Class E4 like it was meant for it. (As long as it weighs 2200 lbs or more.)

1.6 Miata with a wing- Class E4

If you start with a 1.6 Miata, you can add a wing. Let’s start the car at 2250 lbs. This could mean adding ballast, but you’re allowed up to 250 lbs, of which only part of that would be necessary. At 2250 lbs, you’d get back the maximum displacement of .5 liters, which brings the car down to 1.1 liters of displacement (1.6 – .5 = 1.1). Now add coilovers (.5) and a wing or splitter (.25) and you’re at 1.85 liters. Personally, I’d take a wing over a splitter. But if spoilers are free, then that might sway things towards a splitter and a spoiler, rather than a wing. The only way you can use coilovers, a wing, and a splitter on a 1.6 Miata is by using non-adjustable shocks, and if you’re going to do that, start with a 1.8.

Aero 1.8 – Class E4

I’m a sucker for aero. If I was going to enter my NA8 endurance racer in the E4 class, I’d fit non-adjustable shocks so I could go all in with aero and use a splitter and wing. I think aero is worth more than the Spec Miata suspension I have on my car right now, maybe if I had Xidas I’d feel differently? I’d get the car to weight in at 2200 lbs, which would get back .4 liters of displacement. To this I’d add the aero, putting the car at 1.9 liters of displacement, right at the class limit.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to use my fastback: “Aftermarket hardtops are permitted, but may not change the aerodynamic profile of the vehicle.” Every other endurance racing series allows fastbacks. Maybe I won’t race with these guys after all.

NC – Class E4 or E3

  • E4 – NC Miatas are 2 liters, and thus 2000 lbs, but are probably going to weigh more than 2250 lbs, and so they’d come in at 1.5 liters adjusted for weight. No NC will be on adjustable shocks, because that would put it over 1.9 liters, but one could use a splitter or a wing.
  • E3 – Class E3 cuts off at 2.9 liters, and so a NC could use coilovers and either a splitter or a wing, but not both. This is not a very compelling car.

NC with 2.5 swap – E3 or E2

  • E3 – The class is based on 2.9 liters, and so a NC with a 2.5 swap starts at 2500 lbs and can’t use coilovers unless it adds weight. Using the standard formula means you have to add 50 lbs. So, 2550 lbs (without driver) and 190 hp-ish without aero. That’s OK, but there are better options.
  • E2 – If you put aero and coilovers on it, you could run it in E2. This would be 3.5 liters, and you could then remove 250 lbs to get the maximum benefit (car weighs 2250 lbs) and be at 4.0 liters. This is under the 4.5 liter ceiling, and underperforming in that class.

ND – Class E4 or E3

  • E4 – NDs also start at 2 liters and the same 2000 lbs, but if you pared one down to 2050 lbs, it would come in at exactly 1.9 liters adjusted displacement. That’s a car without aero or adjustable suspension, but at that weight, it could be a hugely fun car to drive. At 2125 lb lbs, you could add either a wing or a splitter, but no ND in class E4 can use adjustable suspension, or both a wing and splitter, as that would be over 1.9 liters.
  • E3 – Class E3 cuts off at 2.9 liters, and so ND Miatas can use coilovers and one aero item, but can’t use both a wing and splitter.

K24 Miata – Class E3 or E2

  • E3 – A much better swap than a 2.5 is .1 liters less, for 2.4, it just fits the classing formula better. If you have a 2.4 liter K-swapped Miata, your minimum weight is 2400 lbs, which would put you into the E3 class right away (meaning a larger 15 gallon fuel tank and 245 tires). The E3 class is capped a 2.9 liters, and so you’d have .5 liters of displacement to “spend”. Likely choices would be coilovers or aero, but you can’t take both.
  • E2 – You could also add the full aero kit to coilovers and go into the E2 class. In this case you have .5 liters to spend on weight reduction, and the car could weigh 2150 lbs. That’s a car that sounds like a lot of fun, but it’s .6 liters under the displacement limit.

Turbo 1.6 Miata – Class E2

Forced induction doubles the displacement, and so this would put the car at 3.2 liters, way under the weight value of 3200 lbs (recall that race weight is the same as displacement CCs). That means you’d have to take .5 liters for a weight penalty, bringing the car up to 3.7 liters. Add coilovers and a wing and the car is at 4.45 liters, just barely making it into class E2, which tops out at 4.5 liters. That means you can’t use both a wing and a splitter, you have to choose. Or use a splitter and spoiler, if the spoiler is free. But is it?

Turbo 1.8 Miata – Class E2 or E1

  • E2 – Displacement doubled puts the car at 3.6 liters, and at the 3300 lb max weight limit. Add in the .5 liters for being grossly underweight, and you’re at 4.1 liters. This doesn’t leave you with enough points for coilovers, but you can choose a splitter or a wing. Compared to the normally aspirated builds, this one’s a loser.
  • E1 – A particularly bad option is to put a full aero car with coilovers into E1. Your car would be at 5.1 liters with coilovers and aero, a full 1.1 liters under the class limit, with nowhere to go. You get 20 gallon fuel tank (where would you put it?) and 295 tires. Good luck with that.

Conclusions

The SCCA Enduro Nationals rules aren’t finalized yet, and things like maximum stint time and minimum pit stop time are as yet undefined. They are missing some aero definitions as well. The first race is in March, and teams need to prepare, so I hope they finalize this soon.

While the classing system is untested, it looks fair (at least within each class), and the rules are at least easier to understand than the SCCA autocross rules (370 pages) or the SCCA road racing rules (1000 pages). Of course all rules need some adjusting after a season, but these seem like an OK start. As an avid endurance racer, it’s great to see more options.

As it goes for Miatas, NA/NB cars have some interesting options in E4. NC Miatas are not particularly good choices. An ND with aero and shocks looks like it would be a solid contender in E3.

Personally, I wished the SCCA allowed convertibles with altered rooflines (fastbacks, shooting brakes, etc) like every other endurance racing series does (as do sprint racing series like GLTC, NASA ST/TT, EMRA, etc.). I could throw my street hardtop on my racecar, and fit non-adjustable suspension, but since I’m already racing in other series, why would I change my car fit into the SCCA’s rulebook? The answer is, I wouldn’t.

My own track day? July 5th!

I’ve been doing car stuff for a bit over 10 years now, and I’ve been thinking about what I would consider the Ultimate Track Day. If I rented a race track for a day, how would I run it?

Briefly, it looks like this:

  • Open passing – Point-by recommended, but optional.
  • Lap-time-based run groups – It’s fun to dice with cars of similar speed.
  • Skills and drills – One run group dedicated to drills.
  • Competition – All-day time trial leaderboard. No prizes, just for fun.
  • Schedule – A schedule that’s easy to remember, and has session times that works for both short time attacks and longer endurance runs.
  • Freebies – Food and drink all day, event photos, and some kind of giveaway. All that should be free.
  • Cheap – I want all my friends to come, even the cheap-ass ones.

I’ll explain some of this in more detail below, but if this already sounds like something you’re interested in, mark your calendars for Tuesday July 5th at New York Safety Track. I’ll send out a registration form and open up payment sometime in the Spring.

Since writing this blog post, I’ve made a bunch of changes. Specifically, my track day on July 5th won’t have a skills and drills session, nor will it have a time trial. Let’s keep things as simple as possible.

Open passing

I started endurance racing after one HPDE. I’d never heard of a point-by before, and was competing with open passing (or rather, being passed) from the start. After 20-something endurance races in AER, Champcar, Lucky Dog, and Lemons, I’ve found open passing to be quite safe.

On the contrary, I haven’t found point-by passing to be safer. Many students are confused by which way to point, most of them don’t execute the point in a timely manner, and it all takes away concentration from what really matters. The student in the following car then has to make a late pass, offline, and with too much speed. Then there’s a situation where there’s a train of cars because the point-by rules state only one car at a time.

From what I’ve seen, point-by passing is not safer than open passing, it doesn’t teach you track awareness, and isn’t really connected to the real world (racing) in any way. Still, some people who are used to doing point-bys are probably safe doing them, and I’d have one run group for that. But in the other run groups, a point is a courtesy, and it’s fuggin optional.

Time-based run groups

One of the most fun days I’ve ever had was when we had our three track cars together at Thunderhill. Three friends in cars of nearly equal performance, swapping cars back and forth: Toyota MR2 AW11, NA8 Miata, and BMW E30 (320e chipped). I can recall similar times endurance racing where me and another car hooked up for a long stint, dicing through traffic, and it’s those memories that stick with me the most. So that’s why I would split run groups by lap time, not driver ability.

At NYST, I’d have two run groups with open passing, split on a lap time, say 1:45. Faster than 1:45, go in the fast group, 1:45 and slower, go in the slow group. I’m not 100% sure I’d use 1:45, I’d balance the run groups based on who’s attending, but that’s the gist of it.

But wait, open passing, and grouping by lap time, what does that mean for novices?

No novice group

I’m all for educating novices; I’m a Motorsports Safety Foundation Level 2 certified instructor. But if I’m running my own track day, I’m not adding formal education to it. There are many driving schools and HPDEs that make a business out of up-leveling novice drivers, and I would require people to go to those before attending my event. For example, go to the Doghouse Track Days event on June 6th and 7th and learn how to drive at NYST.

Now let me backpedal a little bit, because I might take a novice if they bring their own coach. Say their buddy is also signing up for the event, has done NYST a number of times, and will right-seat the novice. Yeah, I could see OK-ing a novice under those circumstances. Or if the person was especially skilled through autocross or whatever, and had been to NYST before. That level of novice might be OK on a case-by-case basis (and not in the open passing groups). But I’m not taking someone green, who had never been to NYST.

Which is not to say that my event isn’t educational. Everyone has something to learn, and I’ve been meaning to get some friends to right-seat coach me (help me out Josh, Alyssa). There are also skills I’m working on (left-foot braking), that I don’t want to do in the heat of a fast session.

Skills and drills

I’m not going to have any formalized education for my event, it’s just too complicated this time around.

I’ve attended a few driving and riding schools, and what separates them from HPDE is doing drills: At the Keith Code Superbike school, we did full sessions of “4th gear no brakes”; At the Evolve GT school we did almost an entire day on trailbraking; At Skip Barber, we did a wet skid pad and also raced through a timed course trying to keep a tennis ball from sliding off a lunch tray on the hood of the car.

I’ve learned how to play many songs on the guitar by isolating parts of the song, repeating them slowly note by note, and then putting the whole thing together. What’s missing from driver education is the process most people use for learning anything: slow it down and repeat individual parts of it over and over again, then assemble the whole.

But does anyone do this at a HPDE? No. Part of this is because it would cause traffic jams and upset people who are just trying to have fun. But if you want to learn, you need to practice skills by doing drills. In many cases that means slowing down, doing the same thing over and over again.

So, there’s going to be one run group dedicated to skills and drills. You could run in this group all day, but also anyone in any other run group would be able to jump in this group at any time. It might get a bit crowded, but this one is slow, with repetition, one note at a time.

Competition

I’ve decided not to do a time trial at NYST. It’s not really a good venue for pushing cars to the limit, and I’m not in that business anyway.

I wouldn’t host a track day with wheel-to-wheel racing, that’s insane (wait, is it???). But an informal time trial makes sense. Bring your own timing device (Aim Solo, phone app, etc), log your time on the leaderboard, and gloat. No prizes, no sessions dedicated to it, just record a fast lap sometime during the day, on your honor.

I’d do the classing using a modified version of the rules I invented for the Pineview Challenge Cup. The formula is basically lbs / hp / grip, but I’ve factored torque into the power side of the equation, and aero into the grip side. I’m still running simulations to balance the classes at NYST, so more on that another time, but it will be eight classes, for a more granular measurement.

Schedule

How many times have you been to an event where you’re constantly looking at the schedule saying “When do I go out again? Oh yeah 11:27, how could I forget?” I’d make the schedule easier to remember, and also make it fit both short runs (which is good for the informal Time Trial competition), and longer runs to get me in shape for endurance racing.

Typical NYST member days use four 15-minute sessions per hour, and I’d start the day on that same schedule. Admittedly, these are short runs, but it’s easy to remember since you go out at the same time every hour.

I’d also borrow from Chin Track Days and use their “happy hour” at the end of the day, which is an open track for 60 minutes. It sounds insane, but by the end of the day, most people are tired, some cars aren’t running, and the pace has cooled down.

Photos

I’ve paid for event photos maybe a dozen times in my life. One of the photos is huge, printed on aluminum, and cost me $500, but mostly I get a snapshot here or there. But really, event photos should be free. Memories are part of what makes a great event. Peter Levins will be shooting the photos and video, and everyone will get full access.

Food and drink

I’m a big eater, or rather, I’m annoyed when I pay a lot and get a small portion. I also get annoyed when the food sucks. I’ll offer free food and drinks all day. Sandwiches, awesome sides, some deserts and fruit, and that kind of thing. As much as you want.

Cheap-ish

Most track days are $250-350, and I consider that a fair value. But since I rented out NYST on a weekday (it’s a company holiday on my calendar), the rate was low enough that I can charge $175 per car. That includes food, drinks, event photos, raffle, etc. Fuck yeah, I’d hit that.

Thoughts?

Well, that’s how I imagine it going. Do you have ideas of your own to add? Great, rent the track out for yourself! No, I’m kidding, really I’d like to hear some feedback. Would you do something differently? Would you add some other programs or features? What would you have in your Ultimate Track Day?

Resources

I’ll update the following info as it gets closer to the date:

Tire Testing Accelera 651 Sport

If I was going to pick one tire to use for everything, I’d use the Hankook RS4. It’s not the fastest, but it’s fast enough, decent in the rain, has great feedback, lasts forever, and is available in three 15” Miata sizes. The 195 is really a 205 width, and a good choice for Miatas on stock power and skinny wheels. The 225 is an ideal choice for most upgraded Miatas on 8-9″ wheels. The 245 is good for tight courses and for more powerful cars on 9-10″ wheels. This is my favorite tire and I see no reason to do HPDEs or endurance race on anything else.

And yet… I keep buying different tires! Some of this is wanderlust, to just see what else is out there. Some of this is bargain hunting: I got Yokohama S.Drives on closeout and was out the door for $200 mounted and balanced; I bought 225 Maxxis RC1s on closeout for $108 each, with free shipping; I’ve bought Douglas all-season tires for $36 for sliding around and training. And then I’ll stumble across cheap take-off slicks that are priced so well that I don’t have a choice.

As a result, I have 36 tires in my garage right now, and 28 of them are mounted. After upgrading my NA6 to NB Sport brakes, I gave up on 14″ wheels and so all seven sets are 15″ wheels. One set of wheels is 7″ wide and has street tires on it, all the others are 8-9″ wide, with track rubber. Shockingly, only two sets of wheels have RS4s, the rest are rotated regularly for tire testing.

Tire testing is a hobby, but also something of a responsibility. I wrote the rules for the Pineview Challenge Cup, and I rank every tire individually. Some of that ranking comes from online tire reviews, but a lot comes from my personal testing. The primary way I evaluate tires is to look at the lateral Gs in Turn 2 at Pineview Run, a long right hander.

Turn 2 for tire testing

I export the data to a CSV file, and then average the lateral Gs through 200 feet of that corner. This removes the peaks and valleys from the 10hz GPS data, and also idiosyncrasies of driving style and line, and gives me a solid number I can use to compare to other tires.

Tires that I have personally tested and have the lateral G data for are the following: Achilles ATR Sport 2, BFG Rival 1.5 S, Bridgestone RE71R, Champiro SX2, Continental ECS, Douglas all-season, Dunlop DZ102, Falken 615K+ and RT660, Hankook RS4 and Z214, Hoosier A7, R7, and SM7, Maxxis RC1 and VR1, Nexen N’Fera Sur4G, Nitto NT01, Pirelli PZero PZ4, Toyo RR, and Yokohama S.Drive. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but you get the idea. I often put one of my Aim Solos in other people’s cars, and the list of tires that I have lateral G data for, but didn’t personally drive, is about twice that many.

I don’t know of anyone else who has such an extensive database of tire grip, but then I wouldn’t expect to! It takes a lot of time, money, and effort to gather and collate this data, so this is the kind of thing one keeps to themselves. Or at least it’s not something that’s shared with other people without some means of compensation.

Tire Test: Accelera 651 Sport

I recently tested the Accelera 651 Sport, and I’m not shy about sharing this data, because it’s not a competition tire. Most of the people using this tire are drifting, and even though the treadwear carries a 200 UTQG rating, this is a mid-300 TW tire, grip wise.

I’ve driven on the 651 Sport previously, but in a Honda minivan, in a 24 Hours of Lemons race. That car is brutal on tires, and I didn’t feel it was a fair test of this tire. You can read that report over here, but the gist of it is that the 651s were fast in a straight line, but lacked cornering grip compared to the N Fera Sur4G.

The reason I hadn’t previously tested the 651s on a Miata is because Accelera only made them in a 195 width. Given that these tires run narrow to begin with, I wasn’t interested. But starting this summer Accelera started offering the two most popular Miata sizes: 205/50-15 and 225/45-15. I ordered a set of 225s as soon as I’d heard about them.

I had the tires mounted at Shade Tree Auto, my favorite car mechanics in Ithaca. Jack, the owner, races in Champcar, and his team regularly kicks my team’s ass, and so I know that he knows what he’s doing. Jack did my alignment at the same time, and when he was finished called me to report something very strange going on. The car pulled to the right on acceleration. He knew it wasn’t the alignment, and suspect diff bushings, a worn out Torsen, or something else in the drivetrain.

I picked up the car, drove it home, and noticed the same thing. On the gas, and on the brakes, the car would veer to the right. At 80 mph and on the gas, the car felt unsafe.

I really didn’t want to take my rear end apart, but I had to see what was going on. When I pulled the tires off, I set them up against the wall instead of stacking them on top of each other, as usual. I don’t know why I even looked, but I noticed they were different heights. Two of the tires were about 1/4” taller than two others, weird. I installed two of the tires with the tread facing backwards, so that I could get the same size diameters on the front and rear, and viola, the on-throttle steering returned to neutral!

I got two tires flipped on the rim so that my tread pattern is all going the same way now, and now as long as I run the larger ones on the rear (or front), the car tracks perfectly. I contacted the tire importer Tire Streets to tell them about this, and they rectified the situation with a new set of tires. They didn’t have the 225s in stock, so I got 205s instead, but in the 100 TW compound instead of 200. A+ for customer service, even if it did take several pictures and measurements before they believed me. The replacement tires are in a heated basement waiting for next year and another tire test.

I had no idea that 1/4” in diameter would have this kind of effect. I posted about this on the HPDRE group on Facebook and found that other people have had similar problems with different brands of tires, even well known name brands! FWIW, three of the tires all had the same date codes, one was different, but two of them measured undersized.

If I can pass along this one piece of knowledge – measure the diameter of your tires – and keep someone else from disassembling their car looking for answers, then my work is done here.

When mounted on 15×8 wheels, a stack of four 225 Acceleras measured exactly the same height as a stack of 225 Maxxis RC1s. The 651s I drove on the minivan were narrower by comparison, and so perhaps new Accelera sizing is more in line with other tires now?

My initial plan was to use these tires in a Lemons race, but that plan when to shit, quite literally. My first chance to test the tires was at the final Pineview Challenge Cup race. I hadn’t driven in 14 weeks, and still not feeling 100%, but I figured that getting back on track might kickstart my system.

My first few laps with the tires were tentative, and I initially thought the 651s might be similar to all-seasons. But I think it was just cobwebs, since I got better and better as the day went on. The time trial race is just three laps per session, one warm up, and then two hot laps. In my first run I barely broke a 1:20. My second run I did a low 19, and started feeling more myself. In the final run I did a 1:18.6, and that felt like a pretty good lap. I initially set the tires to 28 psi cold, but after checking the pyrometer, added 4 psi all around to bring the center of the tire up, and that helped lap times as well.

The tires felt really good, with great audible feedback and predictable breakaway. They are a little vague on turn in, but are responsive to mid-corner steering and throttle inputs. I was a little disappointed in the lap times, being 1 second off the time I set using Continental ExtremeContact Sport (ECS). But like I said, I’ve been out practice for a bit, and I’m comparing to a different day, with different conditions.

So let’s look at the data. The following image is lateral Gs comparing four laps on Conti ECS (red) vs four laps on Accelera 651 Sport (blue).

Lateral Gs – 651 (blue) vs ECS (red)
  • A – This is Turn 2, where I do most of my lateral G data gathering. If I went by peak lateral Gs, then the 651s would win, and this is why I average the Gs over 200′ of distance
  • B – This is a right/left going down the hill, and it’s not a peak G corner, but it’s a good measure of driver confidence. On average, the ECS are giving me a bit more confidence.
  • C – This is T11, also called the Knuckle, a long left hander. You can see red and blue overlap quite a bit here, and lateral Gs are just about the same.
  • D – This is the Blind Hairpin, a cambered 180 with a downhill braking zone that requires a lot of turn-in confidence. In this section, the Conti ECS has more grip.
  • F – This is the S-trap, a super tight right-left switchback that loads the tires a lot. Again, a very slight advantage to the ECS.

Now this wasn’t a back-to-back comparison; track conditions were different both days. The wheels were different as well. The 205/50-15 Contis were mounted on 15×6.5 wheels, while the 225/40-15 Acceleras were mounted on 15x8s. If the Conti was available in a 225, and it was on a 8″ wheel, I think the Conti would be a clear winner, but as it is, there’s not much to choose between them.

While I haven’t tested the Accelera 651 Sport for longevity, they are so similar to the Conti ECS I bet they are the same in that way as well. Like the ECS and many other 300 TW tires, the 651s have three center grooves, and I would guess they make a good rain tire. All in all, I think the Accelera 651 Sport is a solid alternative to the Continental ECS, Firestone Firehawk Indy 500, Michelin Pilot SuperSport, PS4S, and other 300-340 TW tires. The 651s are a step above the older 300 TW summer tires like Yokohama S.Drives, which Miata people generally liked.

I guess it all comes down to this: for those situations when I don’t care about lap times, and just want a playful and responsive tire with great feedback, I would be happy to drive these tires all the time. I’ll even go on board to say they are my second favorite tire right now.

Accelera tires are imported by Tire Streets, and have a unique 30-day money-back guarantee. They are priced well, and are a bargain in the larger sizes. I plan to use up this set as a dual-duty tire, and then mount the Accelera 651 Sport Xtra tires I got in exchange. These carry a 100 UTQG rating, but based on the 200 TW 651 Sport being more like a 300 TW, I’m betting the Sport Xtra 100 TW is more like an actual 200 TW. But I’ll only know that after I flog them through Turn 2.

Setting Miata Lap Records at NYST

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.

18 turns, one long straight, lots of elevation.

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 mistake forced 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 1:41.834 on RS4s. Going under 1:42 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!

Fastest Miata at NYST in 2021.

Data

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.

My 7-sector map. I don’t know why Race Studio numbers some of them and not others.

Alyssa

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

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!

Mike

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.

Mike

Comparisons

Here’s all three drivers compared on speed/distance and time/distance. Alyssa is blue, Chris is red, Mike is green.

All three drivers.
  • 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.
Driving line.

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?

Get used to this view.