Targa Miata
September 28, 2009 - The Targa's been over for a week now.
The last day was stupendously wet by all accounts, and the leaderboard got all shaken up. At the end, Roy Hopkins in his BMW 2002 took the win for the third year in a row. The green 911 was right behind in second. The much-anticipated Nissan GTR finished in 6th, right behind Paul's beautiful Mk1 Escort. Glen Clarke's car was almost undriveable in the wet and he made the wise decision to back off. Stories abound of cars spinning on the transit sections on the Trans-Canada.

Naturally, there's a lot of fuss about handicapping. The Stillen-prepped GTR was supposed to win. Fast car, experienced driver. But not a driver with Targa Newfoundland experience, and the navigator was a rally novice. The Stillen folks are upset. Road and Track is upset. It appears that a number of the competitors - including Jim Kenzie, whose opinion carries a lot of weight with me - are upset. After all, no Modern car has ever won the race outright and the big orange Nissan was supposed to.

I wonder. I'm looking at last year's results where two of the top five cars were brand new models. Roy Hopkins reminded me that he came in second with a "Modern" car a few years back, only one second behind Bill Arnold.
I don't see anyone returning year after year to try to win with a Modern car. Roy built that 2002 specifically to win Targa, and he has a huge amount of experience in the event. The inexperience of the Stillen team did cost them some time early in the week, and in order to win you have to be perfect for the entire race.
Still, the complaining will be high-profile. I expect the article in R&T about the race will mention it, and Jim's already published something in the Toronto Star (or at least on their website, I don't see the paper itself). Everyone following the Stillen effort - a bunch of folks introduced to the Targa for the first time - will have heard it. Stillen is proclaiming that they are not interested in returning because of the unfairness.
It should be acknowledged that a number of teams are bringing cars that are built to the extent of the rules, as should be expected. However, these cars show the results of decades of development. Paul's 1968 Escort is likely not a car that could have been built in 1968 but the rule set assumes it is.
And of course the fact that the complaining is coming from a high-profile team means that the Targa organizers are more likely to listen. The rule set is usually fixed for 4 years, and 2010 marks the implementation of a new one. I doubt we'll see the end of handicapping, but we may see some massaged time factors and the allowable modifications for Modified might be tightened up. I think the latter might actually be the way to go, forcing some of the highly modified Classic cars into Open. Thankfully, I'm not the person who has to deal with this!
entry 704 - tags: 2009, rules
October 21, 2009 - The 2010-14 regulations are available.
The rules are kept mostly static for five years at a time, allowing people like me to delay their Targa adventures without fear their classes will be moved out from underneath them. 2010 is time for the new rule set, and there are a few changes.
Some were expected, such as a minimum tire wear of 140. This is the same as "street tire" autocross classes, and there's quite a tire war going on in this category right now. They're not much cheaper than full-on R compound tires, but they also don't stick as well. I believe this is an attempt to slow the cars down.
Pump gas will also be required. Not a concern for me - we ran that way last year - but some past competitors have complained about problems with contaminated fuel. You're still allowed to carry your own fuel but can no longer refuel outside specified service stops.
Now we get into the interesting stuff. As expected with the fuss about handicapping and "modern cars can't win", there have been some changes. One simple one is the splitting of Modern and Classic Divisions. The organizers will essentially view the event as two races. Three, really, as Open also gets a separate win. Will this keep people from viewing the car with the lowest penalty points as the overall winner? No. But it's a good effort.
The various Categories have also been shuffled around. The year breaks for different classes have been moved a bit. Class 2 (up to 1961) is gone, merged with Class 3. A new Category has been added between ours (the old Category 8) and the newest, ranging from 1998-2004. Open used to be Category 1, now it's 0. The net effect is that we're in the same grouping of cars as before, but we're now the fourth-fastest category instead of third-fastest. Our category would be 6 in the new numbering scheme.
One of my suggestions had been to rework the rules between Standard and Modified, to make it more clear when a vintage car had been hugely modified and should run in a faster category. And the Targa organizers did something similar. Instead of just Standard and Modified, there is now Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3. On my first reading, it looks as if we'd land in Level 2 - and only barely! That category is only allowed a 10% displacement increase from stock, which means we'd be allowed to go up to 2023cc. Our engine is 2020cc. Whew! I'll have to go through the rest of the specs to be sure, but that seems to be the case.
Minimum weights have gone up. We used to be allowed a 10% weight loss from the factory curb weight, now we have to match it. Level 3 is allowed a 100 lb weight loss. This means we have to pork the car up to 2293 lbs. That's in "as raced" condition, so it would include tools and a spare. Honestly, that may not be far off what we eventually had.
There are some minutae as well, such as the method of adjusting displacement for things like overhead cams, four-valve heads and the like.

Hmm, it looks like my use of a 1999 cylinder head would bump me into Level 3. That's not good. It looks as if the big difference in engines in Level 2 and Level 3 are 10% displacement and the ability to change the number of camshafts and valves. If you have an old crossflow Ford and stuff a twin-cam Lotus head on top, this is for you. If you want to add a four-link suspension to your old Escort, same deal. But for those of us who already have four valve twin cam engines and good dual-wishbone suspensions, it's not dramatically different. Would it be worth dropping back to an earlier head to stay out of Level 3? Probably. Some dyno time would tell.
Or I could stick with my current plan of stuffing a V8 in there, running Open and scaring myself silly.
entry 706 - tags: 2010, rules
January 29, 2010 - There's a huge change in the factors for 2010.
I've discussed this with the event organizers and it appears it's become public now so I can talk about it. You might remember the discussion of last year's factors. Basically, a base time is set for Class 9 Modified Large. This time is multiplied by the factor for other classes to provide the handicapping. The point is to try to make it an even race so the best team can win, regardless of car.
Naturally, it's the subject of some controversy. No Modern (roughly, 25 years old or less) car has ever won overall although it's been a lot closer than you might think a few times. Some classes seem to be more strongly penalized than others. And of course, there was the very public complaining by the Stillen team, who did not win the event - due to the quality of the navigation in my opinion. The other Targas don't try to handicap the Modern cars, and the Newfoundland organizers have been paying attention.
The end result? A few more classes in Classic, as mentioned earlier, to try to spread the field out a bit. And more fundamentally, the abolition of factors for the Modern division. Awards will still be given for the winner of each class, but given the number of classes this doesn't have a lot of meaning. There's still a 135 kmh maximum average and a 200 kmh maximum speed, so the Modern winner will be the person who can come closest to that average on every stage. The Classic division will be given their own first place award, so the race hasn't changed for the older cars at all.
The result is that Modern classes really don't matter. It's going to come down to the fastest Open Class car, and the rule book is pretty wide open. Worrying about things such as "will my 1999 head put me into Class 8, level 3 and is it worth 10 hp?" is irrelevant. Very few of the older cars are going to be competitive, it'll come down to a race between rally refugees like Subarus, Evos and the GTR with 600 hp and all wheel drive. Should be a dramatic race.
This is going to have an effect on a pretty large number of competitors. I'd say between 1/3 and 1/2 of the teams are suddenly going to be like us, completely out of the hunt because they're less than 25 years old and not equipped with the firepower of the latest supercars.
If I wanted the Targa car to be even close to competitive for a win, I'd have to do something dramatic such as install a V8. Had these rules been in place when we ran, it would have been cheaper and easier to simply stick an FM II turbo system on a stock engine instead of building up what I have. But I ended up with a pretty fun car, so no regrets there. The turbo engine wouldn't have been as operatic to drive as this one is.
It's a big change. Will it be enough to bring Stillen back? That team would have won last year under the 2010 rule set, as they expected to. Word is that Sprongl is preparing his Group B Audi to run as a 1981 classic with Level 3 preparation. Yowza.
There have been a few other tweaks. Cars with 14" or smaller stock wheels (we could do this with a different brake setup) are allowed to run R compound tires if they take a time penalty of 12 seconds/day. Race octane fuel is also allowed for 2010 only with a 10 second/day penalty. Nothing too exciting there.

So, if I was prepping the Miata for a competitive run for the win in 2010, I'd drop in one of the cammed LS3 motors we're using at Flyin' Miata. 480 horsepower and a total weight of around 2300 lbs would give it a decent turn of speed. It would be a fun (and terrifying) car to drive, but would require a fair investment. With the right driver/navigator combo, I think it would work. Unfortunately, that's unlikely to happen.
entry 724 - tags: rules, 2010