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?

Big Wing Tests in 2021

Last weekend I went through the MSF Level 2 course taught by Hooked on Driving. It’s an amazing program, I learned a bunch, and now I can right-seat coach for a lot of HPDE organizations. That means more track time, and more aero testing!

The first thing I want to test is different wings at different tracks. For low speed, I’ll go to Pineview Run, where I have a membership and can go whenever I want. For high speed, I’ll go to Watkins Glen, which is 20 miles from me. Finally, for medium-speed tracks, there’s NYST and PittRace, which I’ll go to a couple times each.

All the wings need to use the same mounts, and I’ll make sure they are all optimized for angle. Then I’ll record min speeds through a few important corners, max speeds on straights, and of course the overall lap time. The wing contenders are the following:

  • 9 Lives Racing – I have their 60″ wing. Most Miata people order 64″ (body width on NA/NB), but I was going to eventually mount mine from the end plates and so it’s a bit shorter. With welded mounts and end plates it weighs 13.8 lbs, and has an area of 546 square inches.
  • APR GTC-200 – This is a 59″ wing in a 3D shape, carbon fiber, very light, just 5.2 lbs with end plates and all. I modified the wing slightly to fill it with lightweight expanding foam and I made new end plates because the old ones were seized inside. The 3D shape is wider in the middle than the sides, and has an area of about 442 sq in.
  • Areyourshop – This wing is sold under numerous names on eBay, Amazon, etc. It’s a single 53″ extruded aluminum wing with adjustable brackets underneath. I reshaped the bottom and set the mounts at 41.5″. I bought mine for $60, but they’ve gone up in price since. I threw out the mounts and end plates and made my own. It weighs 5.8 lbs with end plates and a small Gurney flap, and measures 297 sq in.
  • Mophon Double – Another MIC wing, this one I’ve had for a while, also sold under a variety of names. I’ve done a couple blog posts on this one already, it makes downforce, but too much drag. I’m trying to reduce drag this time and left off the top Gurney flap. I made new end plates and re-set the upper wing angle to 35 degrees. It weighs 8 lbs and has about 424 inches of total area.

All four contenders. End plates from street signs, $1 each.

There’s one final contender, but I’ll only use it at Pineview because it’s going to have so much drag it won’t be funny. Well, maybe a little funny. This is a triple wing made up of the two made in China wings.

The main wing is the single MIC wing, and the other wings mount via the end plate. First I drew out how to mount them on a scrap piece of plastic, which was a great way to get the angles.

Mocking up the wing angles

Then I transferred these holes to aluminum (street signs) and cut out a shape that felt pleasing to the eye. I put most of the end plate area low and forward, because that’s where the low pressure zone should be. I have a digital manometer and may verify this later, but I’m not sure how much it really matters. This is mostly a conversation piece, anyway.

Three wings is three times as ridiculous!

All assembled this wing weighed exactly the same as the 9 Lives Racing wing, 13.8 lbs, with a total wing area over 720 inches. Like I said, this will be for Pineview and autocross speeds only, I have no illusions that this would work on a big track.

What am I doing for front aero? You’ll just have to stay tuned. 2021 is going to be a fun year of aero testing!

Theoretical Best Laps (and what we can learn from each other)

Last fall, Sahir brought his Miata to Pineview and allowed Josh and I to drive it. Sahir had just won the C4 class of the Pineview Challenge Cup the week before and was on pace. Josh is a two-time Challenge Cup overall winner and one of the fastest people I know. I haven’t won any championships, but I’m a self-proclaimed Miata and Pineview specialist, and I go fast when those two things are combined. So we all know the track really well, but our driving styles differ. I wanted to see by how much, and what we could learn from each other. 

I imported all the laps in Race Studio and threw out the first lap of each session. For some reason, the first laps create fast sector times that are impossible. Then I created a track map with seven sectors. Formula 1 uses three sectors, MotoGP uses four. I wanted to get more granular, and see where each driver was doing their best. This put the track divisions on the straights between T2-T3, T5-6, T7-T8, T10-T11, T11-T12, and T12-T13. See the shitty image below. 

I then used the Split Report feature to see how we did in each split. If you click the History tab on each sector, this gives you a histogram chart that makes it easier. A long green bar is a slow sector. A short red bar means the fastest sector time. Check it out. (Yellow bars are rolling laps, ignore for now.)

  • Run 3 is Sahir. He does six hot laps (laps 2-7) with a best lap of 1:18.537. He sets the fastest time in the sixth sector, the Blind Hairpin. 
  • Run 4 is Josh. You’ll notice he only puts in two laps with a best lap of 1:18.873. In an unfamiliar car, in two laps, he almost matches Sahir’s time (and only .1 seconds off Sahir’s PV Cup wining lap). Josh kills it in Sector 1. 
  • Run 5 is me. I do seven hot laps with a best lap of 1:17.674. I set the fastest time in the remaining sectors. Enh, I’m fast in Miatas, and on this track in particular. 

As good as any of us are individually, if you put all of our best sectors together, we’d do a 1:17.192! That’s half a second faster than I went, and about 1.5 seconds faster than Sahir and Josh. OK then, what can we learn from each other? 

In the following speed traces, Josh is black, Sahir is blue, and I’m red. I’m using the two fastest laps from each person. First let’s look at Josh, he’s magic in Sector 1. Notice on the bottom graph (time-distance) that one black squiggle that’s below all of the other colored lines. He has a higher minimum speed in T2, and puts some time in his pocket.

Next is sectors 2-5, and I’m fastest at three points in particular, circled in orange: In T4, my line allows me to get to the throttle earlier; In T7, I use a straighter approach that allows me to brake deeper and harder on the entry; In the Knuckle, I take a deep double-apex line that keeps my speed longer. Interestingly, we’re all very even in the Uphill Esses (notice that all the lines in the bottom graph are basically horizontal from 1700′-2400′). Nobody is winning that part. 

Sahir is fastest in Sector 6 by .01 seconds. The time-distance graph has a dip at 3500′ which corresponds to his speed advantage at that point. He’s simply braking later than us chickens, and that’s understandable because the Blind Hairpin has claimed a couple cars on the berm. 

In the final sector I gain a little time by braking later (notice the height of the red lines at 4100′), and I get another boost of speed right between Turns 14 and 15 at 4500′. (Ignore where the cursor is.)

None of us are professional drivers, and we can all improve by simply looking at what each other is doing. But this is really only possible by using data. It’s a bit late to make a New Year’s resolution, but if you aren’t using data, make a resolution to do that now instead of next year. I’ll be your accountability partner!

205 vs 225 vs 245 on a Miata

This blog post is going to sound like a pissy rant. Fuck it, I’m due one.

Social media has created a dangerous situation where opinion is more important than fact. It’s almost like whoever yells the loudest and most often wins. And this brings me to a tired topic on Trackable Miatas. What’s faster, a 205, 225, or 245?

It’s a circular topic. At some point someone will chime in that it depends on power. Someone else will say you have to put a 205 on a 8″. That only lasts until someone says 205 is better on a 9″. Then another will say that 205s are proven to be faster than 225s or 245s on California tracks. As if tracks are different there? I’ve raced at Laguna Seca, Willow Springs, Thunderhill, and Sears Pt and they are no different than WGI, PittRace, NJMP or other east coast tracks I’ve raced at.

Next someone who is sick of being tread on will say, where’s the data? And all those people fall back on “it’s a proven fact,” without showing any. Honestly, I had to leave Trackable Miatas for a while because it’s the same people shouting the same nonsense without a shred of data to back it up.

It really is a bunch of hooey, and I’m just getting in a groove. First off, the notion that 205 tires are faster is flawed by the very fact that 205 tires aren’t all the same width. A 195 RS4 is wider than a 205 RE71R. A 205 Hoosier is wider than a 225 NT01. What 205 tire are you talking about? And then there’s the whole wheel width variable, as if offset, weight, tire pressure etc, weren’t factors to consider. And then some tracks are high speed and some are more about cornering.

I really have to question if any of the people that claim 205s are faster have done back-to-back testing using the same compound tires of different widths? Have they swapped wheel widths (same weight, same offset) on the same tire? If they have, they aren’t sharing the data.

Well, I can understand that, I haven’t either. But I’ll open the door just a tiny bit and shed some light on this.

Last Memorial Day four of us got together in Miatas and tested tires. Me, Alec Fitzgerald, Alyssa Merrill and Davey Thai got together in four Miatas and tested 10 sets of tires. We divided up the tires so that there would be some crossover.

  • Alyssa tested Hoosier A7s and R7s in 205, Maxxis RC1s in 245 and Hankook Z214 C51 in 2o5
  • I tested 225 RS4s on 8″ and 9″, and 245s on 9″, RE71Rs, and both Hoosiers
  • Alec tested RC1s, Z214, R7, and 245 RS4s.
  • Davey tested 205 Conti ECS, VR1, RE71R, 225 RS4s on 8″

We did this as scientifically as we could, recording air, track and tire temperatures, set optimal pressures, and ran multiple redundant sessions to gather data. I’m not going to share the lap times and data with you because information like that isn’t free. But I’ll give you this chart: same driver, same corner over 200′ of distance at 20′ intervals, two runs averaged, 225 RS4 on 8″ and 9″, 245 on 9″, and some other tires mixed in.

Average cornering Gs over 200′ of a corner.

Tuning a 1.6 Miata

Years ago there was a site called solomiata.com, and it was the best resource for people who wanted to tune their 1.6 Miatas. Later the author added information for 1.8s. The site was down, it was back up, it was down, and now it lives over here.

#57 Roswell Mazda Miata. Turner Field-Atlanta Aug 20, 2000 Photo by John Swain

The Solomiata recipe for cheap horsepower was:

  1. Advance the timing 4 degrees, for about + 2 hp.
  2. A cat-back exhaust, for about 4-5 hp.
  3. Replace the AFM with a larger flapper valve from a RX7. The standard Miata flowmeter is too small to flow at high RPM, and so this added 5 hp above 6000 RPM.
  4. Aftermarket header for another 3-4 hp.
  5. Add a programmable ECU, larger injectors, and an adjustable fuel pressure regulator.
  6. Shave the head .010″ for about 4 hp.

All of that would get you a maximum of 115 hp at the wheels. I think a more realistic estimate is 108-112 hp based on most stock 1.6 Miatas dynoing around 92 hp stock, and our cars being a lot older at this point.

The modern Solomiata formula

That was then, what do people do now? Swap in a VVT 1.8. A bone stock NB2 motor will put out similar horsepower as the Solomiata formula, and way more torque. I drove Napp Motorsports’ VVT swap back to back with my well modified NA6. My motor has only 5 hp less, but the torque difference was astounding, like it was a completely different car. It was the lightbulb moment where I was like “I made a huge fuggin mistake.”

However, if you aren’t ready to take the motor swap plunge, here’s the modern Solomiata formula for a 1.6 Miata.

  1. Standalone ECU. I got a Megasquirt PNP2, which is about $800, but these days you can buy a Speedy EFI unit for half that. It even comes with a variable TPS (the 1.6 Miata has an on/off throttle position sensor). A standalone ECU combines steps 1, 3, and 5 from the Solomiata formula.
  2. Cold-air intake. If you want to keep the stock airbox, get a cowl intake (Randall or DIY a snorkel). If not, find someone to 3D print you an intake.
  3. Cat-back exhaust. There are many to choose from. Optionally replace the catalytic converter with a high-flow cat for another 1-2 HP. Your OEM cat is worth over $100 at any scrap yard, so that will defray the cost.

My car with only a MS PNP2, cone filter, and cat-back exhaust pulled 106 hp on a Dynojet. I hadn’t decked the head at that point, but if I had, I’d be right in the Solomiata ballpark.

All of these mods can be done cheaper and easier than a motor swap, with about the same result. You won’t have shit for torque, but you’re used to that, right? You might have noticed I didn’t add a header to this list. The reason being, that’s specifically a 1.6 part and won’t work on a 1.8. You can do all of the mods above and still come to your senses and do a 1.8 VVT motor swap.

Up to this point you won’t need to dyno tune your car, either. You can use the ECU’s base map, as its programmed for mild bolt ons. But if you modify the car further, you’ll need to tune the ECU. And that’s where things get difficult. Not the tuning itself so much, but because the 1.6 head doesn’t flow well. Quality control on these heads wasn’t great, and there’s a lot of core shift between different heads, and the port geometry could be improved (and later was).

You might think that the shorter stroke means you could go after high RPMs, but if you do that, then the oil comes out of the hydraulic lash adjusters. So there’s a low ceiling on how far you can tune a naturally aspirated 1.6, both bottom end, and top end.

This is a smart place to stop modifying your normally aspirated 1.6 and look for a junkyard NB2. Unless you need to replace a head gasket or remove the head for some other reason, this is a smart place to stop reading.

I don’t care, I’m tuning a 1.6

If you’re going to modify a naturally aspirated 1.6 Miata any further than this, then you’re already beyond reason. If logic worked, it would have worked already. But misery enjoys company, so thanks for joining the club.

OK, so let’s do this. The next thing you need to do is pull the head. An older engine may need a valve job, and you can get a lot of things done at the same time.

  1. Number all the valves and their locations and remove them (socket and hammer trick.) Clean up the ports with a Dremel tool. It’s free HP for a bit of your time. Remove casting flash, smooth any hard edges around the plunge cut, and blend the web between the ports. Polish the exhaust side, but leave the intake side a bit rougher.
  2. Take the head to a machinist and have them measure the valves and springs. Make sure to order new OEM valve guide seals. You might consider +1mm intake valves, this will add about 4 hp and torque. In any case, have them do a valve job.
  3. Have the machinist deck the head .040″ to bump up compression by one point. I’ve heard of people safely taking off more than that, but on Premium pump gas, you really don’t want to go much further. This will also retard cam timing a few degrees, which also helps. FWIW, there’s no bigger bang for the buck than decking the head, it cost me all of $50. If you need to replace a head gasket at any time, just deck the head and start using premium gas. I’d do this even on a bone stock NA Miata.
  4. Next is cams. The cheap way is an exhintake cam, modifying a MX-3 cam and putting that on the intake side. This gives about 8 hp when properly tuned. Or you can get a Kelford cam and double it. I went with a 203-B cam, which is about max for the street. A larger cam will have a rough idle, and you’ll need to replace valve springs, retainers, etc.
  5. With all that work into the 1.6 head, put on an aftermarket header. I have a Racing Beat in my race car and a Raceland in my street car. One of the welds failed on the Raceland, and the header was replaced for free. However, it was a hassle, and when you look at the difference in quality between Racing Beat and Raceland… well, you get what you pay for.
  6. Tuning is a must at this point. Reprogramming the ECU can range from free (your laptop) to $600 or more (dyno operator).
Getting the 1.6 tuned by Rick Gifford

This is pretty much where my car sits right now, with 129 hp on a Land and Sea dyno (which reads like a Mustang). This equates to about 145 hp and 122 ft-lbs on a Dynojet. An NB with all the bolt ons will have slightly less horsepower and more torque, and overall similar performance.

Where next, NA6?

OMFG you’re still reading? The smart people left the room a while ago. They swapped in a NB2, Honda K motor, Ecotec, or used forced induction.

Speaking of forced induction, the Miata 1.6 engine was originally designed for a turbo. Back then people would complain about turbo lag, but modern turbos with standalone engine management offer instant throttle response, fat torque, and a top end rush. My teammate’s turbo NA6 turbo is in my garage right now, so I know what a good turbo feels like.

But I don’t want a turbo. I can’t answer that logically. Somehow I’m keen to get a supercharger, even if it’s not as good. And then part of me just wants to see how far I can push the normally aspirated 1.6 envelope. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment and disappointment.

So let’s say we continue this normally aspirated experiment, just as a thought exercise. Where do we go next?

  • Intake manifold. The NA6 intake manifold is a single cast piece, so you can’t pull it apart and polish the runners or add volume with a plenum spacer. There are some things that can be done here. None of it is money well spent, but that ship sailed a long time ago.
    • Extrude hone. This is basically forcing liquid sand through the manifold, which polishes the places you can’t reach. I would expect at most a 5% gain in power for $500.
    • Manifold spacer. A piece of phenolic machined to the dimensions of the intake manifold runners would help lower intake temperature and provide longer runners. I’d probably have to space things out in the engine bay, and install longer studs in the engine. And there’s the issue of the injectors now being further from the port which might not be good for atomization.
    • Skunk2. The Skunk2 intake manifold is available only for the 1.8 block, and adds 5-10% more power on the top end. Could this be adapted to a 1.6 with a manifold spacer? Cylinders 1 and 4 would need the ports angled 6mm in, and the injectors would have to be welded into the manifold (they are in the head on the 1.8).
    • Log manifold. These are primarily for boosted cars, but might unlock some N.A power. The one from RZ Crew is beautiful, if nothing else. The intake runners don’t wrap around the bottom, and might be shorter than stock, which wouldn’t help.
  • NB6 head – In the USA, the 1.6 was last sold in 1993, but in Europe and Japan, they continued to sell the smaller motor. When the 1.8 went from NA to NB, so did the 1.6. The NB6 got the better port geometry, solid lifters, and I believe there’s a square-top NB6 intake manifold as well. I have the cam for the NA6, which has a different profile for the HLAs, so I’m probably not going down this route. But if someone were starting from scratch, this is a better starting point for 1.6 insanity.
  • Ram air. I’ve actually built one of these airboxes, and it worked out to 1% power gain hp at 100 mph. At less than 100 mph, and at partial throttle openings, there was no change in manifold pressure. But, pinned WFO doing the ton, I watched 4″ of water drop (intake manifold pressure change). This was later verified on a dyno with a leaf blower, adding 1 hp. My intake has gone back and forth, and is currently not a ram intake, but I might go back to it again if I go to Watkins Glen regularly and desperately need 1 hp.
  • ITBs. Some people have used Toyota AE101 intakes, other have used a more plug and play version from Jenvey. There’s a long thread on Club Roadster where a guy threw everything at a 1.6 including Jenvey ITBs and got 158 HP IIRC. My research says this is worth about 10% more power, and that’s after a lot of dyno tuning.
  • Displacement – There’s a cheap stroker kit, it’s called a 1.8 swap. So what options are there for boring the block? Most of the aftermarket big-bore pistons are low compression, meant for boost. On the other side are 12:1 pistons that would now be 13:1 on a decked the head. Yikes! Somewhere in the middle is a unicorn big-bore standard compression piston with my name on it.
  • The little things. I haven’t fooled around with cam timing yet. I might need new injectors. People say coil-on-plugs will do something more than nothing. Mathematically, the throttle body flows enough, but maybe boring it out would help.

In reality, it’s unlikely I’ll do any of these. My money is better spent on anything else. Just the same, stay tuned, I might venture further down the path of disappointment.

First Timer Building a Track Miata

A friend and his dad are just getting into track driving, and building up their NA8 Miata for that purpose. It got me to thinking, if I was in that situation, knowing what I know now… what would I do, and in what order?

My wife next to my first Miata, California 2012. Also the first hardtop I built.

Phase 1: Track Ready

The first thing is a car that’s track-legal, and safe. It’s also never too early to start collecting data.

  • 4-point Rollbar – Most tracks and HPDE organizations require this.
  • Brakes – StopTech 309 pads and high temp brake fluid. The StopTechs don’t have a lot of bite, but are great on the street, and handle track temps OK. Their big selling point is price, sometimes I find them for less than $40.
  • Tow straps – Baby teeth are fine, but if you removed them, you need something to attach a tow hook to, front and rear.
  • Data – If you’re just getting started, a phone app is fine. You’ll want to add a 10 hz bluetooth antenna eventually, or better yet, get an Aim Solo or similar device made for motorsports.

Phase 2: Mechanical Grip

Drive the car like that for a few events. Resist the urge to put on sticky tires; All-season tires and stock suspension are learning aids. But once you can slide the car through every corner, it’s time to get more mechanical grip. This is a big step, and requires several things at once.

  • Tires – A Miata on sticky tires is what momentum driving is all about. I like Hankook RS4s for their predictability and durability, but they aren’t super sticky. At the other end of the spectrum are take-off Hoosiers and Toyos from Spec Miata racers, which is an economical way to go fast. And there are a lot of 100-200 TW tires in between, the tradeoff is always between grip and longevity.
  • Wheels – The stock wheels will hold you back. A 15×8 +35 wheel and 205 tire will fit with no modifications. If you roll the fenders, you can use 15x9s and run 225s, which is the current go-fast formula.
  • Hubs – Sticky tires break stock hubs. The fronts are usually the ones to go, but my race car broke at the rear. I have BroFab hubs on my street car and Miatahubs on my race car. There are other options, and some people simply throw out the OEM hubs every year.
  • Suspension – Shocks with stiffer springs and NB top hats. Coilovers so you can corner balance. Stiffer front sway bar and a bracket so you don’t tear the mount. If your car has a lot of miles, it might need new suspension bushings. Ugh.
  • Alignment – You’ll probably need extended lower ball joints to get enough front camber, otherwise you’re going to wear the tires out. Get a proper track alignment.
  • Seat and belts – At this point you’re going to be thrown side to side more, and a race seat is nice. You might also want a 5-7 point harness, and with that comes the requirement of a Hans device.

Phase 3: Hurt Machine

Bolt-on power and areo are next on the list.

  • The usual suspects – A cold-air intake, header, and cat-back exhaust will each unlock about 5% power, which is still doable on the stock ECU. You might bump the timing a few degrees and do other minor tuning tricks if you haven’t already.
  • Maintenance items – Some performance gains can be had if you’re replacing parts. If you need a clutch or throwout bearing, then do a lightweight flywheel at the same time. A 10-lb reduction in flywheel is worth about 7 hp in 1st gear, 3 hp in 2nd gear, and 1.5 hp in 3rd gear. If you need to pull the head for any reason, deck it .040″. That’ll cost about $60 and you’ll have to use Premium gas, but it’s the best bang for the buck. A high-flow catalytic converter will get 1-2 hp, but you can sell your OEM cat for almost the same price.
  • Front aero – Airdam, undertray, ducted radiator, and hood vents. You have to do all of these at the same time because they are related. Brake ducts are optional, but easier to do that now than later.
  • Rear aero – For a car that does more street than track, I like the looks of a spoiler. It needs to be at least 4″ high, preferably 7-8″. For a dedicated track car, use a 9 Lives Racing wing and add a splitter to the undertray.
  • Misc aero – Fender vents, side skirts, flat bottom, diffuser, etc., are all worthwhile. Just say no to vortex generators.

At this point the car is the Trackable Miata build many people aspire to, and it’s a damn fast car. The engine is still basically stock, and you can beat on it all day. You can also beat on average drivers in Porsches, BMWs, etc. This is a machine that can hurt a lot of feelings.

But if you want to run with a well-driven Porsche, Corvette, or whatever, you need more power. This is the point where you decide if you’re going to NA tune the engine on a standalone, swap the engine, or go forced induction. Those decisions are like diets, religion, and politics: you don’t bring them up in pleasant company. And so I’ll leave my opinion out of it, except to say that anyone tuning a normally-aspirated 1.6 deserves their beatings.

Where Drag Comes From on a Miata

The total coefficient of drag on my racing Miata (hard top, airdam, splitter, wing) was measured precisely at Cd .48. Where does that drag come from, and how can you reduce it?

The following table shows estimates of where that drag comes from. You’ll notice a splitter reduces drag, but every other feature adds to it. This data is largely from Katz, but I’ve supplemented this with some Miata values and racing parts (airdam, splitter, 9LR wing) and included a value for the windows being open (we are racing, after all).

FeatureDrag
Splitter-.01
Mirrors.02
Rear wheels + suspension.023
Engine bay.024
Front wheels + suspension.025
Wing.03
Cooling drag.048
Windows open.05
Rear surfaces.085
Underbody and chassis.085
Bodywork.1
Total drag coefficient.480
Parts of the car that contribute to drag, and how much.

There are lots of ways to reduce drag. One way is to use a fastback, which reduces the drag in three places: bodywork, rear surfaces, and open windows (my fastback is narrower and considerably less air goes in the windows).

My fastback reduced drag by .07 to a Cd of .41. What does a 15% reduction in drag do for lap times? I’ll run a quick simulation in OptimumLap (2375 lbs, 125 hp, 1.15 grip).

CdWGINYSTPineview
.482:20.551:39.401:15.38
.412:19.321:39.011:15.32
Miata lap times changing only the drag value.

Right away you can see that drag reduction at a course like Pineview (or autocross) is nearly worthless. At a medium-speed track like New York Safety Track, it amounts to less than half a second. But at a high speed track like Watkins Glen, drag reduction is worth 1.2 seconds! So the value of drag reduction depends entirely on the venue.

For endurance racing, drag reduction is almost always worthwhile, but you need to make large gains. A 15% reduction in drag works out to only 2% less fuel usage at Watkins Glen. But if you’re right on the cusp of a 1:55 stint time, that’s huge.

Every once in a while someone talks to me about reducing the drag from their wing, or choosing one single-element wing over another because it’s more efficient. If you look at the table above, my 9 Lives Racing wing only adds .03 drag. Even if you could reduce your wing drag by 20% (doubtful), that would be a .1 second per lap at WGI and .03 seconds at NYST. Seriously, there are bigger fish to fry!

When setting a course for drag reduction, start at the bottom of the table, where the biggest items are, and work your way up.

Wing Angle, Efficiency, and Downforce

If you have a wing, your next question might be, is it better to run less angle and have a more efficient wing, or more angle for downforce? Assuming you can set the car up to handle equally in each situation, which would be fastest?

Let’s run another simulation. I’ll use my data for a 9 Lives Racing wing and use three values: 0-degrees AOA representing the most efficient setting, 10 degrees with a 1/2″ Gurney flap representing the most downforce and drag, and 5 degrees no Gurney to split the difference. I’ll use the same car and the same three race tracks.

SetupWGINYSTPineview
Zero angle of attack, L/D 14:1, Cd .4612:21.221:39.901:15.66
5 degree, L/D 13:1, Cd .482:20.551:39.401:15.38
10 degree, 1/2″ Gurney, L/D 8.5:1, Cd .522:20.761:39.331:15.27
Wing angle and lap times

What’s interesting to note here is that the most efficient setting (zero degrees angle of attack and no gurney flap) is the slowest at all tracks. The setting with the most downforce (10 deg AOA, 1/2″ Gurney) is fastest at Pineview and NYST, but not at WGI.

The best wing angle for your car is obviously track dependent, but if I was going to set it and forget it, I’d run the wing at 5 degrees and add a 1/4″ Gurney flap. I’m not going to run that simulation for you, I have to keep some speed secrets for myself.

Calculating Wing Downforce

How much downforce does your car wing make? Mathematically, you can calculate downforce using this formula:
downforce = 1/2p * A * Cl * V^2.
If that means anything to you, then you don’t need this website. If that calculation scares the shit out of you, read on.

You can break this formula into four parts:

  • 1/2p – I’ll simplify this as a constant value of .00119. That’s all you need to know about 1/2p. (OK, someone actually asked about this, it’s air density, which changes due to elevation, temperature, and humidity. If you want to calculate downforce at sea level, on a cold and wet day, versus a hot and sunny day in the mountains, go ahead. Or just accept my static value and move ahead.)
  • A – This is the area of the wing in square feet. If you have a 64″ 9 Lives Racing wing, then your area is about 4 square feet (64″ x 9.1″ / 144 ).
  • Cl – This is Coefficient of Lift. It’s a tricky value because it changes with different shapes of wings, how fast you’re going, the wing angle, and turbulence. For the time being, you can use a value of 1. Multiplying by 1 is easy, and I’ll explain later why this is also a reasonable value.
  • V^2 – Velocity in feet per second, squared. For this you need to know that 1 mph = 1.467 feet per second.

OK, so let’s figure out about how much downforce a 4 square-foot single-element wing produces at different speeds. Three things will remain constant, the 1/2p value, the wing area A, and the coefficient of lift, Cl. Multiply all those factors together and you get a value of .00528836. Now all we need is to multiply .00528836 by the velocity in feet per second, squared. I’ve also added the Reynolds number (Re) at that speed for later discussion.

VelocityFPS ^2DownforceRe
40 mph3441.816.5 lbs270k
60 mph7744.037.2 lbs405k
80 mph13767.266.2 lbs540k
100 mph21512.1103.5 lbs675k
120 mph30976.0149.1 lbs810k
Downforce at various speeds, 9LR 64″ wing, Cl 1.0

How Much Added Grip?

If we assume that tire grip is linear with weight (it’s not, but I’m simplifying it), we can calculate the amount of grip you gain at different speeds. Downforce helps lighter cars more than heavy cars, because the percentage gain is greater. I’ll use the same wing and speeds to illustrate this.

Speed2400 lb car3000 lb car
40.76%.60%
601.70%1.36%
803.03%2.43%
1004.74%3.79%
1206.82%5.46%
Grip increase at different speeds using the same wing.

You can see that at low speed, downforce isn’t very effective, and you might question its use for autocross (40 mph avg). To be fair, drag isn’t very consequential at low speed, so as long as your aero parts aren’t heavy, or at the polar ends of the car (which they usually are), then low speed aero is somewhat useful.

At medium speeds, downforce is a noticeable advantage. If you’re looking at this table and thinking 3% grip isn’t that big of a deal, it is. On a Miata, that’s the difference of about one second at most race tracks.

At high speed, over 100 mph, aero is a game changer.

Coefficient of Lift

In the above calculations, I chose a Cl value of 1.0. In reality, a good single-element wing in free-stream air, at high velocity (high Reynolds number), can create 50% more downforce than that (Cl 1.5). Meaning that if we can place the wing in non-turbulent air, and drive faster (creating a larger Reynolds number), the wing will be at peak performance.

In the real world, you can’t get to peak performance. There is always some degree of turbulence, whether from your roofline, the wake of other cars, crosswinds, etc. Turbulence destroys lift. I saw this firsthand when I changed only the roofline shape on my car and back-to-back tested them: no roof was a 250% loss in rear downforce. A fastback was a 130% gain in rear downforce. Turbulence is a HUGE factor in generating lift. When I swapped roofs, there was probably a degree or two of change in the angle of air moving over the roof, but that wasn’t going to change things on this order of magnitude.

So this is a very long-winded way of saying that a coefficient of lift of 1.0 is fine for rough calculations, on a single element wing, on a Miata. For a properly designed dual element wing, you can use an equally rough value of Cl 1.5. My original dual element wing measured more like 1.3, but I’ve made more modifications since, and it’s probably closer to 1.5 now.

In another post on low speed wings, I investigate how wing chord and speed affect the Reynolds number, and that wings perform better at high Re numbers (faster speed or larger chord). Conversely, low speeds and narrow wings generate lower Re numbers. You could use that to fudge the calculation slightly. For example, for a Reynolds number around 300k or less (low speed or narrow chord), use a coefficient of lift of 0.8 or so, and for a Re of over 800k (high speed or big wing), use 1.1.

Since coefficient of lift is affected by roofline shape, use the following modifiers when you calculate downforce for a Miata:

  • If you have an open top convertible, divide the wing’s downforce by 2.5.
  • With a choptop (or a hardtop with the window removed), cut downforce in half.
  • With an OEM hard top (also probably applies to a convertible with the roof up), use the figures in the table as is.
  • With a fastback, multiply by 1.25.

If you want to nerd out on it, you can experiment with wing shapes, angles, turbulence, and lift using the NACA wing calculator and see for yourself. If you want real values, you don’t do calculations, you hire a professional (not me) to measure the real-world differences on your car.

Light Makes Right? Wrong.

Someone on Facebook said this title was click bait. That’s fucking hilarious since I don’t sell anything, there are no ads on this site, and I have absolutely no reason to mislead you, or anyone.

If you’re tracking a car in HPDE or racing in a series where weight doesn’t matter, obviously make the car as light as possible. As Colin Chapman said, “Simplify, then add lightness.” But some racing series are based on power to weight ratio, and in this case, lighter is not always better.

The NASA Super Touring series, Gridlife, Pineview Challenge Cup, and many others use the weight of the car divided by horsepower as the primary balancing factor. And why not? Mathematically, that seems like a good way to create parity between different cars. Well, if they were all racing in a vacuum.

In the real world, air has resistance, and overcoming resistance requires power. Drag increases at the square of the speed, so there’s about twice as much drag at 100 mph as there is at 70 mph.

Let’s take a look at two cars with identical shapes. They both have a frontal area of 20 square feet and a coefficient of drag of .48 (typical race car with windows open). The cars differ in weight, one is 1800 lbs the other is 3000 lbs.

If I input those numbers into the RSR calculator, I find out that it takes about 81 hp for the lightweight car to reach 100 mph, and about 85 hp for the heavyweight car. So weight is not a large factor here. For both cars, 60 hp is lost to drag.

Now I’ll increase the speed to 120 mph to simulate the back straight on the closest track to me, Watkins Glen. The lightweight car needs 137 hp to reach that speed, while the heavy car needs 143 hp. For both cars, over 110 horsepower is lost to drag. If these cars were in the same class based on 12.5 lbs/hp (GLTC or NASA ST4), the light car would have 7 hp remaining at 120 mph. The heavy car would have 97! Because these cars have the same power to weight ratio, they both accelerate at the same rate. But once they reach 120 mph, one car can barely maintain that speed, while other has power to spare.

In other words, at a faster track, you want power at the expense of weight. To illustrate that, let’s see what happens in OptimumLap when we add power, but keep the power-to-weight ratio the same. In the following table, all cars are at 20 lbs/hp. I’ll run simulations on three very different tracks, Watkins Glen, New York Safety Track, and Pineview Run. (Conveniently all within 100 miles of me.)

LbsHpWGINYSTPV
180090150.10104.9678.55
2000100149.14104.6278.47
2200110148.36104.3578.41
2400120147.53104.0278.32
2600130147.00103.8478.28
2800140146.54103.6878.25
3000150146.00103.4778.19
All cars at 20 lbs/hp, Cl -0.3, Cd .45, Cg 1.1

As you can see, the heaviest car is the fastest at every track. It’s a small difference at Pineview, and a significant 1.5 seconds at Safety Track, but a whopping 4 seconds at Watkins Glen. The simulator shows the difference in top speed is 12 mph at WGI. Wow. A difference of 4 seconds and 12 mph with cars that are supposed to be equal!

But don’t lighter cars corner faster? Not really. Friction (grip) depends on weight, and the more weight, the more friction. Don’t lighter cars stop faster? Not really. A lighter car still has less grip because of less weight. The simulator factors all this in so we don’t need to.

But it’s worth noting that OptimumLap is a single-point-mass calculator. It can’t factor in elevation changes, track camber, or the fact that your car has four tires. When cornering, the outside tires are loaded more, and on a heavier car, even more. At some point you get diminishing grip from the outside tires, and so lighter cars do grip and change direction better than heavier cars. I just can’t simulate that in OL.

Aerodynamic lift affects lighter cars differently than heavy cars, as well. If your car makes downforce, then the lighter car has an advantage. If your car generates lift (most street cars have a Cl of around .3 or .4, meaning they lift at speed), then the heavier car has an advantage.

Another way lightweight cars are handicapped is by having to run skinnier tires. In many series, a lightweight car might be limited to a 205-width tire, while heavier cars could use 225, 245, or whatever. And what’s the logic behind that? I’m not sure. As you can see, the lightweight cars are already at a power disadvantage (anywhere outside of a vacuum), and limiting their tire width only makes it worse.

Here’s the current rules for GLTC, and you can see that lighter cars are penalized with narrower tires.

WeightSlick100 TW200 TW
2250lbs or less205245265
2251 lbs – 2600 lbs225255285
2601 lbs – 2950 lbs245275295
2951 lbs – 3300 lbs275295315
3301 lbs or more295315335
GLTC tire widths.

In addition, if you win a GLTC race, they add 150 lbs to your car. On a lighter car, this is a greater penalty than a heavier car. For example, on a 2200 lb car, it would go from 13 lbs/hp to 13.9, and on a 3000 lb car, from 13 to 13.65.

In the NASA system, not only are lighter cars penalized with narrower tires, but as cars get lighter, they take additional penalties to HP. So if your car weighs 2450 lbs, it takes a .4 lbs/hp penalty. If it weighs 2250 lbs, that’s a .5 penalty. And so on. This is completely the opposite of how it works in the simulation, because lighter cars need more power to be competitive.

For example, if you race in NASA TT6, you can have a Miata at 2140 lbs and 110 hp, with 205 tires. Or you could have the same car at 2450 lbs, 128 hp, and 225 tires. Do the math and the heavier car has both a better power to weight ratio, and wider tires, and would win in a simulation and the real world.

Corrective Factor?

Ideally, there should be a reverse corrective factor that balances the lbs/hp ratio for cars of any weight, so that lighter cars get a bit more power, and heavier cars less. Let’s take a look at what that factor could be. Ideally, you’d like to see the 1800-lb car, the 2400-lb car, and the 3000-lb car in the same second at all tracks, not 4 seconds apart.

If I do a corrective factor to figure lbs/hp like this:
Lbs/(HP+((2400-Lbs)*0.016))
Then I get simulated lap times like this:

LbsHpAdj HPLbs/HpWGINYSTPV
18009099.617.65148.32104.0278.21
2000100106.418.52148.00104.0178.25
2200110113.219.30147.74104.0178.29
2400120120.020.00147.53104.0278.32
2600130126.820.63147.52104.1478.39
2800140133.621.21147.45104.1978.45
3000150140.421.74147.38104.2578.50

The heaviest car still wins at Watkins Glen, but it’s only a 1 second difference, not 4 seconds. At Pineview, the lightest car wins, but only by 3/10ths. And at New York Safety Track, it’s mostly a draw until the cars get heavier than 2400 lbs, but then the greatest difference is only 2/10ths instead of 1.5 seconds.

Naturally the formula could be adjusted slightly, by using a different median weight (2600 lbs instead of 2400 lbs, for example), or changing the hp factor from .016 to a lower or higher number. In any case, for a series that used lbs/hp series for classing, they can make it more fair by using such an adjustment. Of course they won’t, but data supports that they should. I mean, ideally, they’d have a different adjustment for every track….

I wrote the rules for the Pineview Challenge Cup series, and those rules also use lbs/hp as the basis. Pineview is a slower track (72 mph top speed in this simulation), so there’s much less in the deltas. One of the benefits of this series is the thin rule book, so I’m not tempted to complicate things. But if we ran our series at any other track, I might make an adjustment like this.

Full disclosure, I’m a weight weeny. My street Miata with a full interior, rollbar, splitter, and wing weighs in at 2070 lbs dry. It’s just about as light as I can get it while still keeping it streetable. So I’m not the guy who says that heavy cars are better, I’m the guy who drills out his keys to save weight!

However, the reality of it is, if you race in a series that uses power-to-weight ratio as a balancing factor, you’re probably better off with a heavier car and more power. This often gets you into a wider tire size, as well. Adding lightness is adding slowness.

Driving Other People’s Cars in 2020

I was lucky to be able to drive a lot of other people’s cars this year.

I have Aim Solo data for most of these, as well. For each car I’ll give my quick thoughts on what I liked and didn’t like, and then go into a longer description. At the end I’ll put up a chart with lap times and other stats for comparison.

BMW Z3

What I liked: Great torque, soft rev limiter
What I didn’t like: Unsupportive seats, shift knob falls off

Pineview owns a 1998 Z3 with a hard top, which is used for rentals and instruction. It has all-season tires, which are slow but a lot of fun. The seats suck. The shift knob fell off twice, once at my feet (I found and put it back while at speed), and a lap later it went to the small of my back, where I left it as a lumbar support. The seats suck.

The Aim data shows this car has the same acceleration as my 1.6 Miata, and both cars have similar lap times on all-seasons. But the Z3 is softer everywhere, and has a lot of body roll. It’s a pity Pineview doesn’t have a spare set of wheels with good tires, because on RS4s, this car should be able to do a 1:16.

BMW 128i

What I liked: Snug cockpit, holds 4 tires, lots of power
What I didn’t like: Light switch power delivery

Napp Motorsports has a youtube channel where they test cars and build things, and in one of their episodes they got to track test Andrew Johnson’s modified BMW 128i at Pineview Run. I was there that day, and they were nice enough to let me try it.

Andrew’s modification list is long and includes swapped parts from other BMWs and the end result is a lot more power. As in 250 wheel horsepower . Andrew also added some kind of fancy diff. I don’t think it’s a Torsen or a clutch pack, but maybe some weird combination of the two. I’ve never driven a car that hooked up so immediately. I didn’t like it.

I don’t know if it was the diff or the power delivery, but this was the most difficult car I drove this year, it plowed into corners with understeer, and as soon as I got on the throttle it transitioned to massive oversteer. I like to play with throttle modulation, but this car’s power delivery is a light switch; on or off. I only did a few laps, and I had to completely change my driving style in order to get in a good lap. Stephan is a good driver, and also struggled to put in a good lap, so it wasn’t just me.

There’s a lot of potential in this car, and with a softer hit on the bottom, and maybe tuning the diff (or fuck it, an open diff), it would have been a lot faster. Maybe at other tracks it’s perfect, but at Pineview it was a handful. Weirdly, this is on the short list of cars I’d buy tomorrow. The cockpit is super nice, the seats fold down to hold four track tires, and 128s are a used car bargain.

Ford Focus RS

What I liked: 4WD and lots of power
What I didn’t like:
Felt like FWD

Steve Wilson’s Focus RS is a good looking car with rally roots. I like virtually everything about it, except it behaves a bit too much like a FWD car. There are different modes, such as Sport, Track, and Drift, and I drove it in the Track mode.

I only did three hot laps because when I drove by Start/Finish, I noticed Steve had both of his hands up to his head, like he was freaking out that I was going to crash it. But I think he was actually taking video on his phone, and I misinterpreted the gesture. Alas, three laps is enough to get to know most cars, and I set a decent lap.

For sure the car needs more camber, and the RE71Rs were just about spent, and had already been flipped once, so that didn’t help. I’d like to spend more time in the car to figure out how to rotate it. I got it to pivot on the nose once and it felt brilliant. If Steve lets me try it again I’ll throw it in Drift mode and see if I can drive it like a rally car. Either that or put some harder tires on the rear.

Steve and I looked at the Aim data, and if we combine the parts of the track where he’s fast with where I’m fast, this car is capable of doing 15s for sure.

Honda S2000 AP2

What I liked: Honda-ness, cockpit
What I didn’t like: Lack of torque

Melody and a couple friends came to Pineview to do an autocross experiment, and while we won’t be doing autocross at Pineview, we had a great time messing around in cars. I got to try Melody’s AP2, and loved it. Mostly.

I’m a Honda guy. My first motorcycle was a Honda, most of my cars have been Hondas, and I will probably have more Honda motorcycles and cars in the future. So it’s pretty hard to disappoint me in a Honda.

And yet while the car is Honda-perfect, the engine is a little disappointing. Even this longer stroke version that’s supposed to have more torque, well, doesn’t. The VTEC has a wonderful hit, but it happens so late in the game. In hindsight, I should have used 1st gear at least in the S-trap. At some other track I would be singing its praises, but not at Pineview. This car would be a predator at Watkins Glen. At Pineview, it’s prey.

Hyundai Veloster N

What I liked: Everything
What I didn’t like: 19″ wheels

I drove two Veloster Ns this year, Chris Gailey’s and Philip Milligan’s. I have Aim data for both, and they are similar, but not the same. This might because of the different driving modes you can program. I don’t recall what I used in Chris’ car but in Philip’s I told him “turn everything off.”

In hindsight, I should have left rev matching on. Not that you get out of shape by downshifting a FWD car, but it’s such a cool feature and it pleasantly surprises me every time the engine blips automatically right before I throw it in the gate.

The motor is a mass of torque, and it tempts you to short shift and ride the rising boost, rather than spin it to redline. In fact I created a Veloster in OptimumLap, and it also short shifts in the computer world. So don’t rev it, ride the wave.

I’ve driven 4WD cars that felt more like a FWD car than the Veloster. I’ve driven RWD cars that felt more like a FWD car than the Veloster! Mash the throttle in the corner and of course it understeers, but if you trail brake on corner entry and transition to throttle, it’s very neutral. The power, the balance, the shifting, this is as complete of a package as I’ve driven in a FWD car.

If I was going to buy a new car tomorrow I’d buy a Veloster N. This is coming from a Miata guy who was teetering on quitting racing and buying a ND2. Yeah, the Veloster is that good. I would roll the fenders flat and fit the widest 18″ wheels and tires that would fit, add a splitter and a wing, and fucking dominate.

NA Miata

What I liked: Miata everything
What I didn’t like: Miata power

I have two NA Miatas, my cammed NA6 and my NA8 race car. They put out about the same power and both are solid little cars. When I jump in another NA Miata, I pretty much know what to expect. Sahir’s NA Miata has Vmaxx coilovers and 225 RS4s, and I had a good idea how it would handle. Which is why I found his NA8 a bit puzzling.

It was loose. Not just in the sense that it oversteered, but it also felt disconnected, and had more roll than it should have. On the first lap I spun the rear wheels in the Toe, T9 (the uphill 180 left) and in the S-trap. On the plus side, there wasn’t a lot of power, so the oversteer was easy to manage. In fact I probably made it through the S-trap faster in his car than mine.

But my overall sense was that this was a car that wasn’t quite the sum of its parts. Maybe it needs new suspension bushings, a stiffer front bar, an alignment, or shock adjustments, I don’t know. I managed a decent lap time driving around the problems (faster than I did in the K-Miata, ahem), but when this car is sorted, it’s a PV Cup class C4 killer. Oh wait, it already won that class. Class C3 beckons.

NB1 Miatas

What I liked: NB > NA
What I didn’t like: NB > NA

I was lucky to drive three different NB1 Miatas this year, from Davey, Clayton, and Alyssa. NBs are better cars than NAs, and if I was building a dedicated track Miata, I’d start with a NB. I have two NAs, and it’s taken me a while (and some tears) to come around to admitting this.

Davey’s Miata has stock suspension because he also uses it for ice racing, and ice is super bumpy. Therefore, his car lacks a bit of speed and grip compared to other track-modified Miatas. But it’s really fun to drive and reminds me that a stock Miata is a wonderful thing. I forgot what lap times I ran in his car, maybe low 21s? But by the end of the season Davey was doing low 20s on well worn VR1s.

Clayton’s NB1 is a bit more modified, with some bolt on performance, Tokiko shocks, and FM dual-duty spring rates and sways. When I drove it the alignment wasn’t fully sorted out, but it felt exactly like a NB should.

Alyssa Merrill’s NB1 is the quintessential budget Miata track car. It has Delrin bushings, Blisteins, 800/500 springs, 15×9 wheels, 245 RS4 tires, a chin airdam, splitter, and 9LR wing. The motor has the usual bolt ons, but still a stock ECU.

The interior is gutted and it has a race seat bolted down, and this was my only problem with it, I couldn’t adjust the seat or heel-toe shift. This isn’t entirely why I was 1 second slower than Alyssa, but I will hang onto every excuse I’ve got. I recall I did a low 16 that day, to her low 15. Later that year she’d do a 1:14.580 and move the goal posts to the near impossible.

Alyssa’s car is also a rolling laboratory, with sensors for wheel speed, throttle, and brake, with all that going through a 5 hz GPS device tracking the usual variables. There isn’t a better track-sorted Miata that’s been to Pineview, and she hasn’t really gotten around to the motor yet. Fawk.

K-Miata

What I liked: It’s a Miata
What I didn’t like: I wanted more from the engine and tires

Stephan Napp’s K-Miata was disappointing. It dynoed at almost 200 hp on Rick Gifford’s Land and Sea dyno (which reads like a Mustang) and on a Dynjoet this would be about 220 hp. That’s a lot of power for a Miata, and so it better have good tires. And it did: 225 Rival 1.5 S. I forgot what it’s got for suspension, maybe Xidas? It’s not lacking in any specification.

If you’d asked me before I tried this car, I would say the car should be doing 1:15s. I created a model of this car in OptimumLap and the computer says it should do a 1:15.32. And yet I could only get within 2.5 seconds of this time. What gives?

For one, I didn’t like the tires. I looked at data, and the peak Gs are great, they generated more grip than RS4s, which are my benchmark tires. But the Rival 1.5 S just doesn’t work with my driving style I guess. Alyssa or Josh might get a lot more out of the these tires, but I lacked confidence and couldn’t adjust.

I also didn’t love the engine: VTEC on top, nothing down low. Just when I got into the power I had to jump on the brakes. Like Melody’s S2000, this car might be awesome on a big track, but at Pineview, it’s a scalp for the taking. To put a point on this, both Stephan and I drove my 1.6 Miata about a second faster than we each drove his K-Miata. So this wasn’t a case of car familiarity, or lack thereof.

Stephan is boosting his K-Miata over the winter, and that’ll help the torque curve a lot. I’d like to get this back to Pineview, preferably on a different tire (I have lots, borrow mine!), and put this car into the 14s.

VVT Swapped NA Miata

What I liked: Best Miata motor ever
What I didn’t like: (this space intentionally left blank)

This car started as a 1.6, got a NA8 swap, and then later a VVT swap. The head is decked, ports cleaned up, standalone ECU, custom exhaust etc. It made 135 hp on Rick’s dyno (150 Dynojet), with lots of torque down low.

This is hands-down the best Miata motor I’ve ever driven. Instant throttle response, very tractable power, and perfectly suited to the Miata chassis. I don’t think a Miata needs (or wants) more power than this. When I look at the Aim data, the VVT has the same acceleration off the corners as the K-Miata, and if these two cars were on equal tires, my money is on the VVT, despite being down 70 hp.

Unfortunately they weren’t on equal tires, Dylan was running on S.Drives. I drove that tire all last year for giggles, and it makes nice noises, slides well, but doesn’t set very good lap times. We later fit some 8-year old Z214s to Dylan’s car and he went .5 seconds faster than he did when driving Stephan’s K-Miata. Not apples to apples, but there you have it, the VVT was faster than the K-Miata with the same driver.

Stephan obviously knows the recipe for a great VVT motor, and can make another one just like it. Anyone looking for an ideal Miata motor should get in touch with Napp Motorsports and specify the same build. I hear that Dylan is boosting his car this winter, and it won’t surprise me if it goes slower around Pineview afterwards. But he’s a street guy, and I’m a track guy, and so we have different priorities.

Mini R50

What I liked: Flickable, planted, sorted
What I didn’t like: Acceleration

When I met my wife she had a Mini Cooper S with sport suspension. It was love at first sight. So when Adam Gerken brought his Mini R50 to Pineview, I begged for a drive in it.

Adam did a lot of sensible upgrades, like later model aluminum control arms, brakes, some weight loss, and RE71Rs. I believe the motor was untouched, or at least if felt it. Yeah, slow. On the street it might feel peppy, but on the track it could hardly get out of its own way.

And that’s why it’s surprising to me how much I enjoyed it. In fact, I almost bought it! The steering is quick and precise, with a darty lively feel that people always say is like a go-kart, but I find it more like a Miata. Through the Knuckle I could lean on the power all I wanted and it was planted, without a hint of understeer. The brakes were strong, it shifted great, and the whole experience put a huge smile on my face.

For fun factor, this car was the biggest surprise for me, and I’ve been looking at R53s since (no sunroof, LSD, 20004 +).

Porsche Boxster 3.0

What I liked: Solid torque, solid chassis
What I didn’t like: Care and feeding

Dieter was there for the autocross testing day and let me drive his baby. Compared to Melody’s S2000 it felt torquey, more planted, and faster everywhere except the end of the straights. I didn’t have my Aim Solo in the car, and we were running an abbreviated track with cones, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. But in back-to-back testing, the Boxster was faster than the S2000. I really liked the Boxster, thanks Dieter!

Used Boxsters are cheap now, but I’m not in the market. Mostly I’m worried about maintenance and consumables. Oil changes, brake parts, and the other consumables are Porsche-money, and for a guy used to buying $20 rotors and $40 brake pads, uh-uh, no way.

Scion FRS, Supercharged

What I liked: Motor, chassis
What I didn’t like: Diff, shifter (v1)

Ronald Xheng has been really cool about me driving his car. I didn’t even drive other people’s cars much before this, but Ronald kept insisting I drive his, and this has led to me driving all the cars on this page. Thanks for getting the ball rolling Ron!

The first version of his car was a well tuned N/A making 190-ish hp, lots of weight reduction, good suspension bits, etc. I drove it on RS4s and it was pretty magical. People trackside could see my stupidly wide grin as I passed Start/Finish. Ron’s Aim Solo was in the car instead of mine, so I don’t have the data, but I believe I did mid 15s. There was a 14 in it, but I missed half the downshifts into 2nd.

If you pull the shifter all the way left, it gets caught in no-man’s land and won’t go in the gate for 2nd gear. Ron fixed that in V2 of his car, with an IRP shifter, which is short and buttery. He also got a clutch-style diff and a supercharger. I could take or leave the diff, and honestly the supercharger is a bit more power than I’m comfortable with, and I needed more laps, but then I broke an axle. Not my fault, this is the 3rd axle this car has broken.

Part of my lack of comfort was the Champiro SX2 tires, which I have no familiarity with. They are somewhere between a RS4 and ECS in grip, and start howling when you’re still thinking about corner entry. Lots of fun, and I could grow to like them, but I need more time, especially with the supercharger. Which is awesome. And I want one.

Toyota Yaris

What I liked: Familiarity of an old shoe
What I didn’t like: Speed of an old shoe

This was the first year in many years I didn’t race my brother’s Yaris. His is B-Spec prepared, handles well (if soft), but needs more power and a LSD.

I needed some FWD car data for the Pineview Cup, and so when I saw that Nick Dixon had just bought a Yaris, I asked him if we could test it at Pineview. Nick obliged, and the car came wisely shod on Conti ECS tires. I had a bunch of tires stored at Pineview, but the fenders weren’t rolled so only my 205 Toyo RRs on 15x7s fit it. For the most part the car felt like a Yaris (both good and bad), and handled better with the RRs, but it had issues.

The main problem was it kept cutting power out. I’d go through T2, ease off the brake and onto throttle, and then… nothing. It just fell flat on its face. If someone was close behind you, this is an accident waiting to happen. Nick later found out the problem was stability control, and when it engaged, you sat there for a full second while the ECU mulled things over. I’m not sure if it can be turned off or not, maybe there’s a fuse you can pull, but the car is miserable and unsafe on track with this feature on.

Volvo Wagon

What I liked: Turbo, 4WD, brakes
What I didn’t like: Sticky throttle, heavy, understeer

4000 pounds and a long wheelbase aren’t the recipe for going around Pineview quickly. But this Volvo wagon has the T5 turbo and 4WD, and puts the power down. It understeers a bit, and if it were my car I’d move the bias rearward with tire pressure, but The Family Truckster is fun as is.

The most disconcerting part was when I’d lift off the gas, the engine kept going! It’s only for half a second, but it makes transitioning from throttle to brakes a little weird. In a way, it’s like driving a Tesla for the first time, but you soon get used to it. By my second lap I had forgotten about this altogether and put in the necessary pause from throttle to brake.

The Firestone tires are every bit as good as people say they are, on par with Conti ECS in my book. They didn’t overheat despite the weight, and were predictable the whole session. The big Volvo also stopped really well, and overall handled better and was more fun than I thought it would be.

Summary Data

Here’s a summary of the cars I drove this year, with tires and lap times. I’ve included my 1.6 Miata on different tires, as a benchmark for performance.