Targa Miata
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November 4, 2007 - The track day was with the Peak-to-Peak Miata club and took place at Pueblo Motorsports Park.
I was last there in March and it's a track that's fairly familiar to me. Not the greatest track in the world, but it does have a couple of interesting corners. More importantly, the club runs the track day as an open format. There are no run groups, so you can enter and exit the track whenever you want. This makes it excellent for both driver and car development and takes a lot of the tension out of a day. It wouldn't work with a group of unknown drivers, but these days tend to be invitation-only and everyone uses their heads.
For me, the goal was to sort the handling out and see how my new alignment worked as well as test the suspension at high speed. The first few laps felt good - the car was composed, but it was uninspired. There was a little bit of understeer. Very stable, but I didn't have the adjustability I wanted. So I installed a stock 11mm rear sway bar, as the car had been running without one. As you can see, the trailer makes an excellent sway bar adjustment rack.
That was better. The car was a bit more adjustable and turned in better, but it still wasn't quite there. I popped on a 14mm rear bar from a Mazdaspeed MX-5 and voila, we have a Miata. The car came alive with a great handling balance and excellent adjustability. It could dance.
Meanwhile, I also took a few sorties to work on the suspension tuning. A bit more rear compression damping, a touch more rebound and the car was able to handle just about anything on the track. I was driving over berms and trying to upset the car, but to no avail. One corner did give me the ability to bottom out the suspension, but I had to hit a berm at full cornering force to do it and it didn't upset the car at all. Once again, I found that I could move the rear end around if I wanted but it was still very easy to control. I believe this is due to the long travel available, keeping the wheels well planted on the ground. There are other suspensions out there with decent travel, but most will unweight the spring before reaching full extension. Not in this case!
There's one spot on the track where the exit berm on a corner has big bumps or teeth in it. On one lap, I brought the tail out on this one and went around with the rear wheels going over the teeth at full throttle. It was bumpy, but it didn't upset the car. That's the sort of composure I need.
The last turn on the track is a fast one that has widely varying surfaces as it travels across a drag strip. This means you go from patched asphalt to VHT-soaked asphalt to coarse concrete to VHT to asphalt again, with a couple of metal plates thrown in for good measure. Oh, and it's bumpy and you take it at wide open throttle in 4th gear. In a stiff car, it's painful and the car keeps skipping around. In the Targa car, I could feel the changes in lateral grip but the car didn't get upset at all. Very nice - I think we have a winner with this suspension setup. The Torsen differential was working as intended as well, putting down the power smoothly and cleanly.
So, all very promising then. I was able to run down and pass a Spec Miata which was gratifying, as he was running a much more track-biased suspension than I was. His front spring rates are more than double mine! There was a good battle with a Subaru STi that was promising as well, my handling and grip were able to make up for a 150 hp (or so) shortcoming.
Bill Cardell of Flyin' Miata tried the car and was impressed. The suspension he considered to be "suitable for a NYC taxi" because of the way it would absord anything. The engine feels good but it really needs more top end, that's something we'll work on. His only concern was the brake bias, as I have it a little strong in the tail for maximum braking. This means that the tail feels a bit loose in some situations. Not a problem on the track where you know exactly what the next corner looks like, but he pointed out that with the unexpected nature of the Targa course this could be a liability. Luckily, that's easy to adjust, even between corners.
So that's the good news.
tags: suspension