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Below is a recounting of various car events I've attended along the years, from car club meets, autocrosses, track events, and enthusiast drives.

Table of Content for cars:

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2004/08/29 Track Day at Laguna Seca
π 2004-08-29 14:45 by Merlin in Cars



So, I've always been quite content running my car at Thunderhill. It may not be a famous track (although it's been featured in several commercials, like Mazda's and the Ford GT40), but it's both challenging, familiar (well, for me), and safe (everywhere is pretty much a runoff area, no walls to run into except in the start/finish straights. The only small shortcoming is that it's about 2H away at fast driving pace (or 1h50 if pushing) while Laguna is under 1H15mn away.


turn two, one of the more challenging ones in my opinion

That said, I heard Laguna Seca was a very nice track (which it is, the surroundings are indeed pretty), and well, it's known world wide, so it's always nice to have been able to run there once. Rotarynews had an all mazda track day (sponsored and subsidized by Mazda) for the incredible price of $165 (on a weekend day no less; this kind of price for Laguna is unheard of).
Cars ranged from 4 door saloon mazdas, to RX7 and old concept rotary cars, to of course: miatas (not counting a few odd balls like a ferrari 355).
Since this was an awesome deal, it was sold out almost as soon as I heard about it, except for the most advanced group. While I qualified for that group without problems with my experience, I was still uneasy about it, because I had never driven that track and would get thrown in with seasoned drivers who knew the track quite well (in the end though, I should have remembered that it was really only about being safe, predictable, and letting people pass you as needed, which I have no problem doing)
Anyway, I borrowed a playstation 2 with grand tourismo 3, and a steering wheel with force feedback (from nice coworkers), and used that to practise the track. The big question was of course "how useful would it be"?
Well, my impressions where:
  • The track was rendered really well in the game. I have to admit that it was a very exact replica. This was most likely the most useful part for me as I got to drive the track and its succession of turns many times in my living room before doing it in my car.
  • I got to pick between two miatas in the game: a stock M1, and a later model M2. The M2 was closer to my car's performance, but still short (on power, brakes, and tires). Yet, I felt it'd be a good exercise (if you really play the game, you can buy turbos and add mods to your car to make it closer to mine, but I didn't have the time, nor the inclination to go that route)
  • never quite got the hang of GT3, because you just can't tell how close you are to losing traction on a TV screen, even with a few hints from the feedback steering wheel, you just don't have the "seat of the pants" to tell you what's happening with your car. Yet, I still made better times in the video game than in reality (1:53 vs 1:56 on my very best real lap in my car). This just can't be as my car and driving performance were both definitely better on the track than in the game, so the game was clearly overly optimistic.
  • Their brakes are too good in the game. They were as good, if not better than the ones on my car, however mine were upgraded big rotors with 4 piston calipers and very good racing pads (which none of the original M2 is close to having)
  • GT3 got really annoying when one of its modes (whatever that was) would make the car oscillate left and right multiple times after coming out of a turn. Sorry, but real life just isn't that way, even if you're a mediocre driver: the car's weight settles after one "rebound", not 5 or more.
  • The one thing that seemed accurate, was the rendering of the stock miata's limited HP (making it struggle to go up in 3rd gear from turn 6 to 8), and the resulting speed you got (I had only a slightly higher speed with the turbo, and similar speed if I kept off it)
  • Oh, one good thing was that hitting walls in GT3 is less fatal than with your own car :)

So, for whatever reason, this is the second time in a row that I get sick before a track day, and that I recover somewhat the day before, show up, half-recovered, with red bulls and other things to hopefully keep me somewhat sharp while on the track. Yet, it turned out surprisingly well considering the potential for a bad day.
I was already apprehensive due to the new track, the group I was in, and of course, the concrete walls everywhere (that's why I love Thunderhill so much: nice runoff area just about everywhere, should you screw up), so being very tired and potentially not very alert, wasn't a good addition to the mix.




Yet, either the red bull, being in the car, or both, allowed me to be sufficiently concentrated to do a decent job around the track (pretty much all laps under 2mn, with a best time of about 1:56), and definitely do a better job than the 5 or so people who ended up hitting walls (not head on thankfully).


One of the several RX7 casualties

I sure didn't do my best driving ever, nor did I run around the track, riding with other folks and taking pictures of everything, but I went through the event without any incident (or even getting close to one), and was still able to push the car quite hard (the racing brake pads, as well as the stickiness, consistency, and predictability of my new RA-1s tires, was just amazing, and made for rather fast laps around the track, despite my below average shape and driving)
The highlight of the day were probably doing the 4th session with very little pad left on my front brake pad (if you pay too much attention to my car stories, you'll know why :), and changing the pads in 20mn flat between the 4th and 5th sessions (and boy did I get close to the backing plate and scratching my rotor). After that, I was able to run all 3 groups of the last session (about an hour of track time), and get more than money's worth before going home :)

There sure wasn't a lot left on those pads :)

The other funny part was when I got black-flagged on one of my last laps, pitted to find out what the reason was (maybe they didn't like the drifting I had just done in turn 11 :) and I was told "93.6". I said "what?". "Your car was measured at 93.6db, above the 90db sound limit for today". Turns out (as they had warned us), that this was a 90db day, and that cars louder than that would be pulled off the track after 3 warnings. I knew my car could get a little loud when pushed and hot (which it definitely was with 105F weather outside, I was quite thankful that my cooling system and its mods were enough to keep the car from overheating), but I had no idea that it would end up being as loud as the Ferrari 355 that day. ROTFL :)

The pictures can be found here
2004/08/23 I guess it was a car week :)
π 2004-08-23 00:05 by Merlin in Cars

Current Music: DJ Pi - Trance Empire Volume 10
Current Mood: Tired, but smiling :)

(warning, I'm tired, the following "prose" is somewhat readable, but barely better than the half non sensical raw stuff that comes out of my brain :)
Saturday morning, I woke up without wanting to go to step. Ok, I guess I went twice this week already (instead of boot camp) and that those classes were more fun than the somewhat lame class I take on saturday, but still... I figured I'd make it up with mountain biking the next day. (little did I know)
After some undetermined time on my laptop, I started installing the new wheels and tires that I had just received for my car.
At the same time, I took the opportunity to bleed all my brake lines (the most likely reason why I had uneven braking and why my front left tire would lock up first), and replace the entirety of my brake fluid with fresh stuff, in time for the track.
In the process, I swore in several languages while trying to remove the overtightened bolts that held my original wheels with the original wrench that came with the car (too short, not enough leverage), as I was actually standing on the tip of the wrench to use my weight for getting the damn bolts off. After getting one wheel out, I broke one of my socket wrenches while trying the breaker bar I had just bought as a result (I was tightening the new different-sized bolts for my new wheel).
Several trips to the hardware store later, I had 3 of my brake lines flushed, and the 4 wheels changed, along with their fresh, very gummy tires (I like the inscription "recommended for competition events only" on my Toyo RA-1s :)



(yes, I know it looks like a catheter, but trust me, it's not :)

I was never able to remove the 4th speedbleeder nut with my adjustable wrench though, as it was overtightened, and because I had prior plans with Meggin (movie: The Village, which turned out to be quite slow, and sushi & catching up after that, which was the better part of the afternoon/early evening).
My short ride to the movie theater and back already put a smile on my face due to the incredible grip my new tires have (and anyone who's ridden with me before knows that my previous tires, Toyo T1-S'es, weren't bad to start with), but trying them out further was enough incentive to get my sorry butt out of bed at 06:20 on sunday and meet Jason and some coworkers in Saratoga for a drive around the twisties.
Long story short, I beat the crap out of my car, and it performed absolutely perfectly. Its only downfall was its light weight and shaddy overall grip on a very uneven and baddly paved piece of the drive. The highlight was probably taking some air at 80mph+ on a nice bump :)
We didn't have that many cars, but it was also fun to have the fastest car in the group (in a straight line, it might have been close for a few of us, but in turns, with the grip I had, and my upgraded brakes with racing pads, I had a clear advantage in the foot down, brake hard, turn and accelerate to the edge of traction game :)
On the way down from skyline, I went to pagemill to ride that road that I'm now somewhat familiar with since I take my bike up and down it almost every week (in my other car that is), It was fun to drive it with my fast car instead of the poor beat up mazda protege :)

(the rest of the picts can be found here )

The only shortcoming from racing pads is the instant dust you put on your rims, even if they're brand new, or freshly cleaned (check the bottom part of the rim to see what I mean)


On my way home, I went to get more tools I was missing (including some very small open wrenches in order to get my last speedbleeder nut out, which I proceeded to do when I got home). I tried to find true distilled water for my radiator without succeeding, and got my oil changed (or refilled depending on how you want to look at it :)
At this point, my car is actually ready for the track Saturday. I can't wait.

The plan after that was to go mountain biking, back in the same place I just came from, but I felt just too tired, so when I finally got home after shopping (gosh, I even ended up at Fry's on the way), I took a short nap, and worked on my laptop instead.
Oh damn, I was supposed to get a haircut...
2004/08/20 Smog vs Computers
π 2004-08-20 21:21 by Merlin in Cars

Finally, my car passed smog this morning. I should be able to get a new registration now :)

That said, I have to share how painful it was (and it really shouldn't have been): to pass smog, I had to reprogram my engine computer with a laptop that had a serial port.
My original laptop died the day I was planning to upload the new maps. I ended up getting a replacement, but that didn't have onboard serial ports anymore (they're gone from most laptops now)
I tried 3 USB serial port adapters for my new laptop, and none worked (i.e. the windows app couldn't talk to the car computer). A PCMCIA/serial card was $150, so I didn't go that route, but turns out that with a port replicator, there is actually a way to get a serial port out of my laptop.
Full of hope, I plugged it in, and it still didn't work, even with a bona fide onboard serial port. WTF?
(apparently, I now think that it just doesn't work with Windows XP at all and the laptop won't run my Windows 2000 image. Lovely...)
While I was trying this, I bought an ancient laptop for $20 at the flea market last weekend, and I went through hell to try and get windows running on it (the first hard drive died, the second didn't get recognized at first, but worked eventually, and it took about 3H to get a PCMCIA network card to work on the thing, I just forgot how badly windows sucked back then (safe mode, deleting drivers, re-installing them multiple times until it pseudo randomly worked eventually)).
Anyway, that laptop eventually worked, and I was able to use it to load new maps in the car's ECU, tried smog a second time on tuesday, failed by a very little bit, got a new map for thursday, never made it to the smog shop since my transmission became non functionning, go it fixed yesterday, and finally made it to the smog shop again and passed this morning.
Yeah! :)

(Jason gets real credit for helping me out with all this, and providing me with the multiple smog maps to help me pass)
wideband tuned.bin:
RPM  %CO2  %O2  HC MAX/Ave/Meas  CO% Max/Ave/Meas  NO PPM Max/Ave/Meas
1853 14.4  0.9         93/21/61    0.57/0.06/0.03         720/150/1328 << fail
2086 14.4  0.6         59/13/36    0.55/0.05/0.00         774/136/1394 << fail
emissions2.bin:
RPM  %CO2  %O2  HC MAX/Ave/Meas  CO% Max/Ave/Meas  NO PPM Max/Ave/Meas
2962 14.7  0.5         93/21/63    0.57/0.06/0.13         720/150/660
2979 14.7  0.4         59/13/30    0.55/0.05/0.00         774/136/840  << fail
emissions3.bin:
RPM  %CO2  %O2  HC MAX/Ave/Meas  CO% Max/Ave/Meas  NO PPM Max/Ave/Meas
2970 14.7  0.4         93/21/23    0.57/0.06/0.01         720/150/480
2945 14.7  0.3         59/13/12    0.55/0.05/0.00         774/136/597  << pass
2004/08/19 The funs of owning a car
π 2004-08-19 21:12 by Merlin in Cars

So, I was going to a smog place for my (hopefully last) time since Jason gave me a fuel/timing map that further detuned my engine and should have made it pass smog.
Except for the fact that I had a really hard time putting gears in (i.e. wouldn't shift at all) when I wanted to get out of my driveway, and I realized that I had pretty much lost hydrolic pressure in my clutch.
Luckily, I found a clutch place 10mn from where I live (by foot that is), and managed to drive my car there without the clutch (that's when my training of up and down shifting without the clutch paid off). I kind of did run a red light just a little bit (at low speed when it looked safe) so as not to have to stop the engine and restart the car with first gear engaged while cranking the engine, and I made it to the shop without the clutch.
We found out pretty quickly that I had a leak in the clutch hydrolic system and that I was completely out of fluid (just like losing your brakes, but less fatal :)
The mechanic found that my slave clutch cylinder had to be replaced, and fixed it for less than $200 today, so this wasn't a big deal after all, and hopefully I can take care of smog for good tomorrow morning and set my ECU fuel and timing maps to slightly more fun levels :)
It kind of sucks that all the ways to reduce smog pretty much reduce performance (do you remember MTBE in your gas not that long ago? They found out that it reduced performance by more than it saved on gas polution and finally repealed that in california recently).
The other "fun" one is that cars need to have an EGR (exhaust gas recirculation), which basically means taking exhaust from your engine and feeding it back with fresh air in the intake. If you are wondering "but wouldn't that reduce performance since you're reducing the amount of air to burn", the answer is yes. So, almost all of the smog reduction techniques reduce power, and usually cause the manufacturers to put bigger engines that use more gas as a result. In some cases like a catalithic converter, it makes sense as the polution reduction is substantial. In many other cases, though, the gains are much more debatable, or even negative if you normalise them with power output. Ironic, isn't it?
Oh, and for Ford enthousiasts, my mechanic said "oh, I love fords, they break down all the time, lots of good work for me" ;-)
2004/08/17 Son of a bitch, I got it
π 2004-08-17 23:36 by Merlin in Cars

Current Music: Armin Van Buuren - 003 In Motion - 13 Rising Star - Clear Blue Moon
Current Mood: Good

After a good farewell sushi dinner with Daniel and Patrice (bye guys, we'll miss you), I was driving back and trying out my brakes, and locked my front left wheel again (too early for my taste), when it finally hit me: it was my front left tire that I flat entirely spotted two months ago, and it's also the tire that had been locking up a bit easily. Here's a picture of the bad tire after it came out, the flat spot is kind of obvious :)

Then, I remembered that I swapped that front left caliper a few months ago, and bled that brake line (means removing air and old fuild from the brake lines). My big mistake is that I didn't bleed the other lines.
End result? My current guess is that when the hydrolic pressure is spread across the 4 calipers, the front left one brakes a lot better because its fluid is newer and bubble free, causing the tire to lock up before the other ones.
This should be easy to fix after I flush the rest of the fluid with some help manning the speed bleeders while I press on the brake pedal :)

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