It had been a while since I got up early to fly to Thunderhill (well, not that early, 6:15), almost 2 years. Damn... Beautiful flight:
Thanks to Ren and driveclub for inviting me to their track day. Lots of cars, lots of drivers of different ability and it worked beautifully considering, I was beyond impressed.
I arrived just in time for a group picture, but got in trouble for getting there a bit too quickly (oops):
Social distanced-ish meeting time, and then driving most of the day:
Lots of different cars:
I rented a Porsche GT4 clubsport from SP Motorsports, and Paul took good care of me (thank you). It was a fun new car for me to learn to drive. It had enough power, the brakes were really good, the included tires were scrubs, so that was the main downside (real slicks cost a lot). Still, eventually got the car down to 1:57 when it's apparently good for 1:53 with proper tires and a real driver, so that's not too bad:
after a good day of driving where I used up all the brakes :)
That was my best lap in the afternoon on one of my few almost clean laps (didn't get many) and 2nd set of scrubs before they went downhill. 1:57 is 9 sec slower than what I would do in my F458 GT3, but well, that car is a bit cheaper too :)
After that, the scrubs got worse, and I got more tired, so I went back to 1:58 and above, but still had a great time.
Thank you to everyone involved in making the day happen, it was lots of fun!
The flight back was also nice and uneventful (i.e. good):
Damn, it's been more than a year since our last drive. It was short and sweet, but after so long, it was nice. Lots of people on the road though, but I was lucky enough to get mostly clear roads for most of the fun bits:
really nice, inside
social distanced meeting
We then went for the drive. It was fun once I was able to get some free road on hwy84, all the way to the beach:
huge line at alice's resaurant, we skipped it and went home
We got a Kuga Campervan for a road trip from travellers-autobarnrv. While the underneath platform is a crap chevrolet with a gas guzzling engine, unreliable AC/heating, poor build quality across the board (gaps in the door seals creating major wind noise, we had to fix them with duct tape), and not even a glove box, it actually worked pretty well for our national parks trip, and as much as the platform vehicle is on the poor side, the campervan conversion is quite good.
We definitely looked at competing options, but turns out they were both a lot more expensive and had a very poor kitchen in comparison (including total lack of 120V support of any kind, and of course no microwave, and microwave is great to quickly heat food and drinks on the road)
You can read about our two trips with it, here:
It doesn't win beauty contests (ok, the decals and color scheme don't help), it's top heavy and will be happy to tip over on a curvy road if you drive it like a regular car, but it is practical and much easier to handle than a full RV:
the Kuga didn't like twisty mountain roads though, it was a boat to drive and the seats in the back would fly around
One plus side of the gas guzzling V8 though, was that I never felt it didn't have enough power. The van was ECU limited to 100mph, as the engine could do more, and I was easily able to reach 85mph+ climbing at altitude. Too bad the vehicle doesn't have a more efficient V6 turbo like some competitors.
That said, the conversion inside is the better one I found amongst rentals I looked at:
decent size fridge fully powered by big enough solar panels (it'll run forever without plugging in or driving). Competition often required you to plug in if parking for a few days, or run the engine
The kitchen is legit. Proper gas burners with an 8 gallon propane tank, not a little camping stove thing you screw in and out every time you need it
A nice sink with more than 15 gallons of water (not safe to drink for reasons that are a bit complicated to go into)
And the big bonus is: a microwave. With the microwave, we ended up heating most of our food and barely use the gas outside of cooking eggs and stuff like that.
The one thing missing, which is available in more expensive campervans, is a toilet. Having some makeshift toilet would have been nice, but realistically it's not in any campervan of that class.
Back to the power system, our version (not all Kugas have power fed from the alternator to the rear battery, but ours did as I requested it), the main issue, was that the microwave, or expresso machine we added, would not work unless the van wan plugged in utility power (RV site), so I decided to fix that.
this is how it's supposed to work
similarly, RV sites have water that you can use to refill the Kuga
This is how it looks by default: big cable to allow jump starting the car if its battery is dead, power input from the car's alternator to charge the battery when the engine is on, and solar charge controller:
my big 3000W inverter didn't quite fit in the battery cabinet, but there was a hole to feed cables to the battery
non standard equipment, but nice addition :) (uses over 1000W, just like the microwave)
the kitchen is definitely better than other campervans that trade this space for a 2nd row of seats
Because I made a temporary addition, I didn't wire the inverter into the car's 120V system, so cheated by making a male-male plug (totally illegal ;) ):
Two things have to be done to use the inverter: turning off external power (to make sure outside power is never backfed into the inverter), and the 2nd breaker turns off battery charging from external power. This one is important or the battery charger tries to charge the battery from 120V while the 120V is coming from the battery through the inverter:
our Kuga had been upgraded with a 12V and USB plug coming from the battery, my inverter meter is on the left. The 12V plug there was only good for 10A though, so you can't use it for an inverter
Here is a demo of the microwave. The start was a bit rough because the microwave needs around 150A from the 12V battery at start, my connecting cables didn't have the best connection for so many amps, and the battery was a bit low, so the voltage sagged a bit at start:
Demo of the expresso machine, which also requires over a 1000W and peaks at more than 120A on the 12V battery:
I will however stress that, if you attempt this:
have a good understanding of Amps, Volts, and wire gauges. Understand how many Wh are usable in your 12V battery, so that you don't run it flag and damage it
if your battery is not fully charge, run the engine and the alternator will bring in a lot of extra amps
unless you really know what you're doing, not the best thing to do a rental vehicle. If you damage the electrical system, that's on you. If you create a terrible short without a fuse and start a fire, that's definitely on you
you need a big inverter, and it really should be pure sine wave or the microwave will not be happy. My inverter is 3000W for a 1500W use.
you need thick and short cables between the inverter and the battery. 150-200A is a lot of amps, you need fat cabling for this to work, and many inverters come with cables that are too thin.
again, keep track of your battery voltage. Running 1500W from the battery will work for 5 to 10mn at most if the battery is full, or not at all if it ran the fridge all night and it's low on charge in the morning
Lead acid batteries get damaged if you run them down, the Kuga's electrical system does not have a low voltage battery disconnect (it could), so it is on your to make sure the battery is not run down
Space in the Kuga
While the Kuga can fit 3 people, it's not comfortable when you drive (the middle seat is small and narrow). Also, the 3rd person needs to sleep on top, which requires setting up boards and shifting luggage every night (we did use the top space to store luggage, which was more for 3 people). Yes, you can have a passenger ride in the back, it's legal in some states, illegal in some others (CA, but no points for the driver, while in NM it's definitely a big fine for the driver)
don't let the picture fool you, the middle seat is only ok for someone not very wide and ok being somewhat sandwiched for many hours of driving
The kuga is not meant to have 2 boards on top, or hold luggage or more than the first, non moveable, board. If you put 2, you need a way to stop the luggage from flying off, and even the board from sliding around:
because there was no way to stop the bottom board from sliding, I jerry rigged something with duct tape and got it secured that way. Ghetto, but it worked well enough.
normally if you only need the minimal of luggage depth, there is fabric and clips to hold things
this was the 2nd board before I found the way to properly secure it
The bottom bed is big enough, albeit a bit short. I'm 5"10 / 1M77, and my feet stuck out a bit, but thankfully stopped just before the doors:
you're actually supposed to sleep in the other direction, but if you're short both directions work
One of the boards used for the bed, is conveniently also the table, that works pretty well:
we can also note on this picture that the pantry had decent space
while we often used the microwave, the gas cooker was quite functional
At the end of the trip, we had to refill the little propane we used:
the container is well sized and should be enough for most trips
The Kuga is not even close to a $200,000 custom converted Mercedes campervan, but it also doesn't come close to costing the same. It's so much cheaper. We got ours from travellers-autobarnrv and we were very happy with the pricing and service (including free unlimited miles).
And here are the adventures we went on with ours. Maybe it'll inspire you for yours:
It had been a while since my last track day, things have been hard with Covid-19, and then the more recent devastating fires all over California.
I left for Sears Point early in the morning, going through the fire smoke:
It had been 6 years since I last went:
Fast Toys had this rental race car for me:
no space for a passenger
the bumper started to get melted by the exhaust
Alex owned the car and got data from it for me, as well as gave me basic coaching
My best lap was a 1:53:98. I think I never learned to fully use the car, especially on this track I don't know well (jump to 6:38):
While an instructor did a 1:49:68. Doh, I left a lot of time on the table (jump to 6:00)...
I also drove my Mclaren 650S for 30mn, and got the time down to 1:57 on used tirees. Car could have gone faster, but I need to get better at this track.
We took a few pictures at the end of the day:
The drive back took me back through the fog and downstream from the fires:
I ended up doing one of the last track days before everything shut down for Covid-19, and I was able to get a spot for one of the first track days after Laguna Seca re-opened. It was with speed ventures, and they nicely allowed me to buy 2 rungroups, so I had a pretty packed day for the single day I went, Sunday.
I was not able to get my racecar back, as it was up for sale, so I had to take the Mclaren.
Unfortunately, McLaren had an issue on my service that week (they were a bit overwhelmed, and I'm sure difficult conditions), and they did not fix an undertightened leaky valve, which forced me to stop twice during the drive there to add air as my tire was getting empty. I arrived there, uncertain that I'd be able to drive.
made it with a bit of air in my tires
with Covid-19, no drivers meeting
everyone had masks and we mostly kept social distancing
a couple of teslas were there, that's dedication
It had been a while since my car saw the track:
as always, the car was wasting my time with alerts when the tires were fine.
that said, one lap my valve failed and I lost almost all my air, barely made it out
turns out all it was, was a valve that was never tightened right
Thanks a lot to BR Racing for helping me with my car when the valve of my tire popped out and I lost almost all my air. Thanks to their help, I was able to get back on track, but by then, my tires had lost their grip, and my brakes had sadly also gotten a lot more worn than they should have.
All in all, it was a bit vexing, I started with 1:39's in the morning with my tire issues and my not remembering the track much, and as the day went by and the track and my tires got slower, I got faster and finished with the same 1:39 until my tires and brakes gave out.
the front sensors melted and went to metal without any warning, as usual
rear brakes were not happy
Oh yeah, and I got a reminder that my Mclaren is not as stable and planted as my racecar, along with cresting a small hill, getting the car light, not having the wheel completely straight, a bit of coolant on the track left by the previous car, and my using too much of the track with differential grip between the track and the runble strip, didn't work out indeed (jump to 11:45):
Thanks to my friend Justice, I learned about this track day, which ended up getting few cars. I was able to attend with my F458C, maybe the last time I get to drive it since I'm looking at selling it, given that I just don't do track driving enough to be worth owning my own racecar. It was a bit bittersweet, but I was able to get a few 1:31 times. Unfortunately, by the time I put fresh tires, the track got warmer, and my times went up instead of down. I know I could have had 1:29 early in the morning, but never got to actually do it, oh well.
The plan is that I'll be able to rent from Fast Toys Club in the future:
ideally that's the one of the cars I'll be able to rent/drive after selling mine
After a quick drivers' meeting, it was time to go on track:
Lots of Mclarens:
Justice took his SVJ, beautiful car:
Ken came with my car and gave me support during the day:
I had fun, despite my times getting worse throughout the day as the track got warmer. In the afternoon, all the rungroups merged, so it was interesting, but it worked out pretty well.
Thanks to Fast Toys Club for the good day.
Since I was at Laguna Seca with my racecar and I had driven in the Model 3 (AWD LR, but not performance, 18" aero wheels), I figured I'd try the Tesla for a few laps. I should have planned this better and re-read my friend Matt Crowley's report when he tried that in his car a while back. Also, I didn't know Matt spent $3500 fixing his brakes after the day. This probably would have talked me out of trying :)
trying to get some charge from the 50A/220V plug I found.
Laguna unplugged me soon thereafter and put a nice note that such power was worth $700 + 40% surcharge, how nice of them, over $1000 for $4's worth of electricity.
ready, all you need is stickers, right? (they fit nicely on top of the mud I got driving in the snow in tahoe)
Anyway, given that ignorance is bliss, I went out with all my crap in the car, I figured removing it wouldn't change much anyway, and planned on doing only 3 laps so as not to thoroughly destroy the brakes. I did manage to hit 119 mph on my 2nd lap, and that was just when the brakes started not working due to overheating. Stopping in turn 2 was going to be "fun" (I made it though).
After 2 laps and boiled brake fluid, but also having passed a lamborghini and a porsche on the outside of the corkscrew, and being blackflagged for it :) I figured I'd call it a day. My 2nd lap (which was far from clean) was 1:56.
Those were not fast drivers, but it was cool to pass a few of them:
I passed several cars on the outside after the corkscrew in my ferrari, but got one in my tesla too :)
Sorry to the driver, I must have scared him a bit, he likely never saw/heard me until 'WTF is that car doing here'
And then there was the lambo I passed fair and square :)
Here is the first "session": (really 2 full laps and then I got black flagged for passing the porsche and scaring it). I passed the porsche at 3:40 and the lambo at 5:00
I came back for 2 more laps later in the afternoon when the track was warmer, my tires still over inflated, and my brake fluid still boiled (no firm pedal), and I got 2 laps of 1:55. I didn't commit for more speed in the straights because honestly I didn't know that car would stop and I didn't really want to completely destroy my braking hardware. Had done my first lap right, now knowing how to drive that car, I should have been able to get a single lap at 1:50 before the brakes gave up.
4 laps, 13 miles, 35% battery used
Two cleaner laps at 1:55 each, obviously not that fast, but my brake fluid was alrady boiled, my tires were likely too inflated (55psi) and the track was already 3-4 seconds slower than it was in the morning when I started I wonder how much faster the car could have been (I was already 10 mph slower before 2 due to the lack of brakes):
Looks like a full battery would have given 36 miles and 12 laps or so. This makes me question the wisdom of going through the work of tracking a tesla with proper brakes and tires. 12 laps is not a lot, and if you don't have a supercharger nearby (which is still 1h charge), that's not a lot of laps.
Overheating stuff, made other stuff unhappy :)
1.5Kw/mile, it's 1.5H of my house's power used in a single mile
On the plus side, despite all the errors I got, the car recovered when it cooled down, and even the brake fluid got back in a state that my brakes work somewhat. Not as well as before, but enough to stop the car :)
At least I didn't ran the pads down to the backing plates while destroying the rotors. That said, it's still amazing how a single lap at laguna seca can overheat stock breaks and boil brake fluid (which is exactly what happened in my case).
This was stupid, but it was fun. For comparison I did some 1:31's in my Ferrari F458 Challenge GT3 that morning on used tires. Looks like a stock Model 3 Performance with proper tires and brakes, can go 10 seconds faster than my 1:55's, not bad!
when not going racing on ice, there isn't much else to do but ice skating and snowmobiling
We met most of our time there having dinners after a long day of driving
The first morning, we had a short class on car dynamics:
how controlled sliding through an icy turn is the quickest way compared to the sticky track line which doesn't work
the most fun you can have, driving 90 degrees or more from the direction of travel
Every day, we then took a 40mn bus from Esterel to Circuit Mecaglisse, which is in the middle of nowhere:
we then got to meet our cars
we drove 992s and 991 Turbos
someone, drove our car at 262kph, I don't think it was us :)
we had 3mm studs for god like traction on ice
Kees, our instructor, introducing the cars to us, with our assistant, Emilie
The big whiteboard on the ground made it easy to write instructions
By luck, I got paired with the best student in the group, Mathieu, so he doubled as my instructor :)
Kees, showing us how to do a scandinavian flick around a corner with a set of cars showing a snapshot of the line
Our assistants worked hard for us :)
but more seriously, they kept us on track, and cleaned our cars of all the snow we shoved into them. Poor Emily got her wooden spoon broken by all our snow
Here are a few nice pictures from our professional photographer:
driving sideways with the wheels straight
this is why the cars had snow stuck everywhere :)
we often helpded make the track a bit wider :)
yes, this is fun :)
I did my part helping clean the loose snow at the edge of the track :)
I might have done this too :)
Here are a few videos, 3 way snow drifting:
And videos of my crashing in snow banks in different ways :)
Thanks to all the instructors, also to Porsche for letting us drive their cars and make mistakes, and the great codrivers in our group (blue group was still #1 !) :)
After the program was over, we had a celebration dinner and prices for the best drivers:
Mathieu, my co-driver, won the price for best driver in our group
This was so much fun, there are no higher levels, but I'm quite tempted to go back :)
Iwas interested in getting a decent amount of amps from my car while it's parked at home if I'm in a power emergency situation (i.e. no power) for maybe 2-3 days (as sadly is now a new "normal" in california).
I knew that this could void the warranty on some parts of the car. I was ok with that. Tesla wants me to buy a powerwall, but I think powerwalls are stupid.
I'd need to spend $30 to $40K in powerwalls to get the same amount of energy I already have in my car and I already paid for. Sorry, but I'm not spending that much for something I may need once every few years. Load shifting my solar in california is otherwise a straight loss, and PG&E forces some silly rules about not allow using powerwalls for time of use power arbitration if you accept the buying credit for them. You get penalized for helping take the peaks off the grid, yeah bureaucracy!
If tesla sold a powerwall that would allow using your car as a battery source for emergencies only (car batteries are not designed for daily cycling like powerwalls), I'd be super interested, but they do not, so I decided to make my own answer.
I knew that I could probably only get 2-3000W out of my car, honestly for emergency use (a couple of fridges and essential equipment), that's good enough. Sure, it wouldn't power all my house lights, or even my furnace for heating (which happens to use over 1000W just to run the fans), but eh, it's for emergency use only, so good enough.
Plugging into the standby 12V battery
What I knew from the beginning is that the battery in the car is way too small to power a proper size inverter (I have a 3000W one to be safe but honestly I only plan on using 1000W peak for my fridge and an average of 200W otherwise when the fridge is on). What I didn't know is that the Model 3 only provides trickle charge power to the battery, enough to charge it for normal use in the car, but not enough to recharge it if you plug a reasonable inverter into it (it will discharge quicker than it can recharge).
My plan was to connect a big GLA 12V battery in parallel with the car's battery, so that it could absorb big peaks and buffer a it longer in case the car's battery recharge didn't kick in quickly enough. I did however confirm that the car's DC-DC system only recharges the standby battery at a slow rate, so it was not adequate for my need.
Plugging into the cigarette lighter adapter
For some uses, it would work to use some DC-DC charging system to recharge a big 12V battery external to the car and try to keep the car awake as much as possible so that the 12V CLA port stays on. The only issue with that plan is that you can only get about 12A sustained from it, so if you are planning on using over 100W average, this will not work in the end. In my case, my fridge was more in the 200W range.
Tapping into the car's DC-DC system
This is where things get interesting. The car's battery pack is in the 400V range, and 400V DC will definitely kill you (DC is actually worse than AC), so don't even think about messing with that unless you are truly a trained professional.
For the rest of us, what you need to know is that the car has a DC-DC converter that turns 400V into 14V DC. This is used to power the car's systems when it's not sleeping, as well as recharge the small 12V battery that keeps things alive when the car is asleep. The idea is to tap directly into that 12V system which I'm told can provide up to 200A/2000W (which converted to 120V is really only 20A). A few things to note:
The 12V tap is available under the rear seats which you can remove by pushing to clips sideways
Connecting to ground is easy, connecting to the 12V pole is a bit more tricky. It's best to leave the current cable in there as it needs a perfect connection to conduct all the amps it's meant to carry. You can however add a 2nd connector on top of it an add a second nut on top (the bolt it long enough for this, and it seems to be purposely so)
If the DC-DC senses a short, it will shut down to protect itself. This is good, but also bad. The problem is that after it shuts down, it doesn't reset easily, or at all. Once it's shutdown, your standby 12V battery will discharge without being recharged, until it dies. You can recharge it with a 12V battery charger, but obviously this is only a temporary measure
If your DC-DC converter does not reset, you need to disconnect the 12V battery entirely, causing the entire car to shudown and reset. When I did that, my DC-DC converter came back online
Where it gets interesting, is that inverters come with a big capacitor to allow for transient loads. Those capacitors will take almost infinite energy when you connect them, causing a big spark, and looking like a short, causing the very undesirable shutdown explained above.
The solution is to wire a big resistor in front of your inverter so that it can charge its capacitor slowly
Then add a 200A relay to bypass the resistor when the inverter is 'charged'. The relay can be powered by connecting it to the inverter itself on the 12V side, making it so that when the capacitor is charged, the voltage across the inverter poles is high enough to actuate the relay and bypass the resistor.
The 2 white holes are where the clips that you need to release. are located. You can also see the black and red tap points:
resistor limits current and starts charging the capacitor in the inverter, slowly bringing the voltage across its poles from 0V to 12V
voltage across the inverter starts rising until 10V or whatever
once it's enough, the relay is energized and bypasses the resistor
now 200A can go to the inverter and no spark/current inrush was created, and your DC-DC converter doesn't shutdown when it turns on
This shows the current meter shunt connected to the bypass relay (which is powered by the connectors on the inverter side). You then see the thick 100W resistor connected in parallel with the relay. This allows current to flow more slowly and ramp up the connection:
I tested a 1300W microwave which worked without issues, so did my fridge and other devices. The pure sine wave inverter is very important for a microwave, but a cheaper inverter worked well enough for my fridge and basic loads.
Since we're talking about currents of 100A or more, we need to talk about wire gauge. The inverter I got came with 10AWG cables of about 1m. These cables are insufficient for 100A (never mind 200A), but in real life will mostly work for short distances and as long as you don't use the full power continuously (which could technically heat up the cable enough to melt its insulation and cause a short eventually). In my tests with 100A, I lost 0.7V due to inadequate wiring:
0.25V lost in each of the two 10AWG cables (good quality)
Extra wire from relay to inverter lost 0.06V
200A relay only lost 0.06V
100A shunt for power meter lost 0.1V (and gets warm)
Given that the car outputs 13.5 to 14V, this drop is not big enough to matter since the inverter works all the way down to 10V or so, but be mindful of potential heat. Here is the end result:
Keeping the DC-DC system awake
One thing that you still need, it to keep the car from going to sleep if you want the DC-DC converter to stay on. Thankfully a recent software update added camper mode. You can just go in the climate screen/fan icon, set the car in park, and set 'keep climate on' to 'Camp', turn off AC and set the temperature to something low in order to save batteries (i.e. not waste the batteries into climate control).
If you know of a more battery efficient way to keep the DC-DC system on without having to run climate or even having the control screens on, let me know (contact Email link at the bottom of this page). Hell, if you build one and get it working, shoot me an Email too :)
Backfeeding your house
If you really know what you're doing, you could use this with a custom made male-male outlet, to backfeed one or both phases of your house (it won't power anything 240V of course). The advantage is that you don't have to run extension cords and power existing lights in your house. If you do this, you must carefully disconnect utility power so that you don't backfeed the grid, as well as potential solar panels that could decide to sync with your inverter and feed more power than you're using, causing other issues you don't want to deal with. Of course, you'll find that 1000-3000W may not be enough power unless you do careful load shedding
I'm not going to give more details because there is definite potential for things going wrong in many ways, but if you absolutely know what you're doing, there you go...
Little did I know that 1H away from Amsterdam, The Hague has a world class car Museum, actually one of the best collections I've seen. I spent a few hours in Den Hagg to see other things, but Louwman Car Museum was where I spent the most time.
The story is that a successful Dutch businessman started collecting cars, and eventually realized that he needed a better place to house them, so he built this extensive multiple building, multiple story museum to house them all. The collection is heavily weighed towards older rare cars:
very old steam powered car
face to face sitting car, using candles for lights
another very strange design, makes you wonder why it didn't catch on :)
the controls look 'interesting'
unusual steering control
boat car, which apparently was a poor boat and a poor car
not a boat car, but pretending to be one
another steam car
the first hybrid gas/electric car, some 90 years before the prius!
looks like every crazy thing has been tried
6 wheel drive formula 1!
And after 4H, the visit was over, just as the museum was closing. It was definitely a museum that was one of a kind.