Targa Miata
December 5, 2011 - I spent the weekend working for the 949Racing race team at the 25 hours of Thunderhill.
The two team cars finished 1st and 3rd in class, won the under 2.0 liter trophy and came in 8th and 11th overall. An excellent result, due to good cars, great driving and some very hard work by every member of the service crew - particularly when both cars had problems at the same time at around 1 am. And yes, that's what one car looked like at the end of the race.

It's really interesting to see what's involved in a successful endurance team. It's not just about going quickly, although that's obviously important. You have to watch your fuel use, because every moment you're not circulating the track your competitors are getting away. The cars have to be monitored as much as possible so that any failing components can be replaced quickly and before they become a major problem. Even something as simple as taking 20 seconds to check the oil every time you fill up can add 5 minutes of time in the pits over the course of the race. We practiced fuel stops, tire changes and driver changes with a stopwatch, trying to find a way to shave off 5 seconds each time. You could really see a difference in the pits between teams.

For example, on a four tire change, we had five guys. When the car stopped, two started lifting up the car with a jack on each side while a third lifted from the back. Two others pulled the rear lug nuts off with an impact gun. When the nuts were off, they'd move to a front wheel and start on those lugs. As soon as the car was up, the side jack guys went to the rear wheels, pulled off the old wheel and slotted a new one on to the lugs. Once the front nuts were off, the impact guns were tossed over to the guys at the rear wheels to tighten them on. When that was done, the front wheels had been changed and the guns went back to the front to tighten those up. The side jack men were back on the jacks by this point and the car was dropped to the ground. During all of this, the rear jack operator was placing wheels within reach and catching hot ones. Total time, less than a minute and every person and tool was busy the entire time.
And, of course, there are always repairs done while the clock ticks away. We had a car run off the track after brake use spiked up and the pads wore down to the backing plates - that left us with not only body damage, but also a damaged caliper. Another lost a wheel due to stud failure. Several hubs went out, along with an alternator. The team was ready for all of these with spare parts, but they still cost time and the repairs had to be done on a smoking hot car in the dark on a moment's notice. We had an excellent service crew and all of this was sorted out far more quickly than you'd expect with very little wasted effort. Quite a rush.

It's interesting to contrast the demands of endurance racing with something like the Targa. The latter's often called "the ironman of motorsports" because of the level of abuse the cars get. The total distance the vehicles cover is actually pretty similar in this case. But the track cars are at full race pace the entire time, with the clock running non-stop. Targa cars have long road sections in between timed stages, and there's always some down time during the day when the car can get checked over.
However, on the track the pits are never more than a couple of minutes away. Even with a wheel missing or running on a badly abused battery, our cars always made it back home - and if the car gets disabled on-track, it's towed in as soon as possible. On the Targa, the service crew could be a long way away and the cars might have to travel quite a distance for repairs. So you may have to perform a field repair with what's carried in the car. It's less a matter of getting it done in seconds and more a matter of doing what needs to be done to get to service.
The damage is different as well. On the track, things either wear out due to stress or (less often) get damaged when the cars make contact. If there are bad bumps on the track, the drivers know about them and will usually avoid or minimize them to protect the car. On the rally, damage is more likely to be related to impacts and pounding. Off-track excursions are usually much more serious due to the lack of runoff areas, and there are surprises lurking in the road that can punish everything underneath.
Some things are the same. Tires need to be managed, either because there's a limited number available or because it takes a valuable minute to change to fresh ones. You still have to trade off speed vs caution, whether it's preserving the car or taking fewer risks. The speech given by the crew chief before the 25 hour race started sounded much like my speech to the Targa crew, stressing the importance of getting the car home.
They're both long, tiring and very challenging types of racing. I'm glad I was given the opportunity to take part in the 25 Hour race with such a good team!
entry 1011 - tags: 25 hours of Thunderhill, endurance racing
May 18, 2012 - Last weekend, we went racing in a different way.
The track days that usually run every six weeks or so were replaced with a two-hour kart enduro. Not the fastest karts out there, but we were racing wheel-to-wheel in equal vehicles so it added quite a different flavor to the day. There's a lot to be learned by doing this - not just the usual of how to set up a pass or figure out why someone is just a little bit faster through a corner, but usually passing someone involved an unusual line which could be helpful in rally. Huge fun, especially after the field had spread out a bit and there were slow karts and fast karts all mixed up. I did get called "merciless" by one of the other drivers!
Janel and I shared a kart and came third overall out of 10 teams. She's fun on the track - if someone's in front of her, she'll push hard to catch up. She needs a rabbit to chase. In the picture, that's me in the white helmet and Brandon's in the black one. We got a chance to have a bit of fun chasing each other around. We're usually a very close match on speed, but I had a bit of an edge with the karts for some reason. I don't expect that to remain the case if we do much more of this...
entry 1038 - tags: karting, racing, track
August 22, 2012 - Pikes Peak!
One of the world's best known races, and it's in our backyard. So Janel, Brandon and I headed for the 2012 running to check it out. It's been in the back of my mind as a "possible", but I've never thought I would have the nerve. It's one thing to run a rally and balance risk vs reward, but on a "known" course like this it's a flat-out time trial. With some big penalties for mistakes.
Dave Kern used to run with me at track days years ago and always made me feel timid and slow - he has set records on the mountain. But watching the event, the most obvious thing was the number of amateurs in the event. We could usually identify the ones that wouldn't make it to the top, either due to a lack of talent or an over-abundance of enthusiasm. Still, it did get me thinking about the possibility. The event is within the range of mere mortals, and the Time Attack division is essentially for rally cars complete with navigators. One thing that was kind of cool is that Andrew Comrie-Picard was running, and he's a Targa mainstay. I've also met winner Rhys Millen in the past.
If you've been reading the motorsport news, you know that there were a couple of extreme accidents this year. One was a 1400 hp car that got a stuck throttle almost immediately and went spearing off into the trees at well over 100 mph. That's a bit frightening and I do wonder what happened mechanically. More frightening and closer to my imagination was an Evo that took a dive off a cliff and rolled a long, long way down the mountain.
That latter one has me looking at the cage in the Targa Miata. There are a few things I'd like to change after living with it for so long, and looking at the shattered remains of the Evo has put that a little higher up the priority list. We'll see what comes about.
Very few of the Unlimited monsters did well this year. Only two finished - a Ford RS200 Group B rally car and the Palatov D4 shown here, which took first place. The D4 is an interesting little car technically, but more interesting to me is how they got to the event. They took a similar crowdsourced approach to our own, although it was significantly more successful in terms of money raised. There's no scale on their fundraising thermometer, but the top is $175,000. I'm going to be spending some time trying to figure out exactly what they did that worked so well, although some differences are fairly apparent - the Palatov site is a very popular one and the cars they build are quite a bit more expensive than our little Miatas. Also, Pike's Peak is a higher profile event than the Targa Newfoundland.
One interesting difference is that the team blog was restricted to sponsors only until after the race. It's a great way to make your sponsors part of the team and treat them like insiders, but I would also expect it to cut down on a certain level of sponsorship. I'm going to keep looking through their blog to see what I can learn from the approach.
Overall, an interesting weekend for a bunch of different reasons. I have looked at the rules, and thanks to our engine swap we'd probably have to run in Open class against a number of purpose-built vehicles like the D4. Well, we wouldn't expect to win anyhow!
Photo by Ben Padolsky. It's not the best one he took all weekend, but it illustrated my point nicely.
entry 1064 - tags: sponsorship, racing
November 27, 2013 - Paco Motorsports is a new sponsor of the Targa car, and here are a few goodies that are being installed.
The master cylinder brace (available from Flyin' Miata) is a simple bolt-in, and it makes a pretty dramatic difference to the amount of flex in the braking system.
You can also see the base for the new shock tower brace. It's no coincidence that this is compatible with the master cylinder brace. It's a step up from the one I've been using for the past few years, both in terms of strength and with improved access to the shock adjustment knob. I like it.
There are some new prototype parts from Paco on the way
entry 1116 - tags: brakes, bracing, paco motorsports