Targa Miata
March 11, 2007 - Driver development time!
Most of my track time is spent in the Seven, but it's time to start paying more attention to Miatas. So this weekend I was at the track with a big blue car instead of the usual little orange one. The Miata is supercharged (about 155 hp at the wheels, I'd estimate) and has an off-the-shelf suspension from Flyin' Miata that works very well - FM springs, Tokico Illumina shocks, FM rear shock mounts and FM sway bars. There's one of Flyin' Miata's "butterfly braces" underneath so it's a good solid chassis. I was also running a set of Toyo RA-1s that were nicely broken in and some autocross brakes. Overall, it's a pretty good test bed for the rally car as it's running the same ride height and spring rates we expect to use.
After all the time spent in the lightweight car, it's good to see how well a sorted Miata works. It's forgiving, it's controllable and it sticks like crazy. There's obviously more weight transfer going on (and this car is heavier than the Targa car will be) but it's easy to use this as part of your driving technique. The autocross brake pads weren't up to sustained hard braking, so this meant I had to carry in higher entry speeds and worked as an excellent training tool. We'll be running better brakes in the Targa.
I spent some time driving "off line" at the track, pretending I didn't know where I was going and trying to deal with very different situations than the usual ideal line. I also tried to avoid using all of the track to give myself some extra room like we'll have to do in Newfoundland. It's tricky to pretend you don't know a track that's quite familiar to you, but it's also quite eye-opening how a well-known corner changes when you enter it from a different angle! Not only did this help me improve my skills, it also illustrated quite dramatically how much of a difference it makes in speed around the track.
Luckily, there were very few cars on the track so nobody thought I was crazy.
A good day overall. Time to get back to work though!
entry 90 - tags: testing, other cars, skills
November 26, 2007 - Study material.
My coworker Jeremy dropped a binder on my desk this morning - the course material from the California Rally Series rally school. It's a pretty good collection of information, and it should be good prep for the school itself. I'm hoping to take it in early 2008.
A note about the car's alignment - I've had a couple of comments about my "alignment difficulties". I wouldn't characterize the results of the damage as particularly difficult. I've been writing about it a lot because I haven't been doing much else, but really all I've done is replaced one suspect part with a known good one. Once I get the chance to check the car, I think it will be all good. The fact that the suspension had to come out for evaluation in a different car is unrelated.
entry 342 - tags: skills, crash
January 16, 2008 - The date for the California Rally School has been released.
It's on February 9th. Yikes. Now I have to figure out just what schools Janel and I need to take to become reasonably competent and eligible to run. The requirements aren't clear cut.
I may have mentioned this before, but I do have the course book from the California school here thanks to my coworker Jeremy. It's the navigation part that's important. How to drive on dirt will not be a required skill at the Targa.
entry 379 - tags: skills
January 19, 2008 - Time to weld the header together.
And learn how to TIG weld. Might as well pick something simple as a first project, right?
As I've mentioned before, the order of welding on this critter is going to be crucial. Luckily, the entire #4 runner can be welded together without causing problems for any others, which means I can use it to locate the collector. But since it was also the first runner I put together (without the help of a belt sander), the fitment of the tubes wasn't perfect. So I used the #3 runner to locate the collector, then reworked #4 to have a perfect fit. Naturally, this took a little time.
Then it was time to start working on my welding. It took surprisingly little time to come up to speed, although nobody's going to mistake my work for that of a professional. No matter, as long as it's airtight and strong I'll be happy.
Once the #4 runner was all welded up, I did a test fit of the header on the car. Whoops. The collector shifted, and my 1/4" of clearance to the block turned into about 1/4" of interference. That's not going to work. So the next step will be figuring out how to fix that. It'll involve at least one cut through the #4 runner along with a rotation, but the trick will be finding the magic place to do that without messing up the other three tubes. More fun to come, I'm sure.
In other news, Janel and I have signed up for the California Rally Series school in three weeks. We'll learn how to deal with the really tough part of rallying - the driver/codriver teamwork - and it'll help us get the necessary licenses for the race. Plus we get to spend a day in Las Vegas on the way!
entry 381 - tags: skills, header
February 11, 2008 - Rally school!
Janel and I travelled to Ridgecrest, California for the California Rally Series school on Saturday. This allows us to earn NASA Rally licenses for the Targa as well as teaching us, well, how to be a rally team.
The school's been on for around 12 years or so, and most of the bugs have been worked out. The day started off with a lot of classroom work, covering the basics such as classification, license types and how the heck to get involved. Then we moved on to basic timing and scoring - including a little rally run around the hotel. This is the area that Janel and I really need practice on, and it gave us a good idea of what to expect.
The section on course following and safety was unfortunately given by someone unfamiliar with the material, and she ran over time so some of the most useful sections were glossed over very quickly. We'll go back and spend some time with the workbook that was given to each of us. Still, it gave both Janel and I an idea of how the in-car interaction will work. That's the part we need to practice the most.
Around 2:30, the class split up. The drivers headed for a rallycross course. Now, I'm going to be racing a rear wheel drive 5-speed Miata on tarmac roads with racing tires. So the obvious way to practice for that is by driving a front wheel drive automatic family sedan in mud, isn't it? Okay, maybe not. And maybe I didn't pick up a lot of useful tips in the driving practice because of it and because I have more experience behind the wheel in extremis than some of my classmates. But I did have a lot of fun, and I can definitely not recommend you buy a used rental car. You might get mine.
Meanwhile, as I was throwing mud onto the roof of our respectable sedan and left-foot braking until the car reeked of cooking brake pad, Janel was working hard. She has a good idea now of just how much preparation she's going to have to do each night during the rally. Codriving isn't just about being a lump of ballast as some nutcase tries to get you both killed, it's about preparation and being able to juggle dozens of inputs under fairly stressful conditions. And that's the sort of thing that she does very well. While she's not excited about the amount of work that will have to be done during the event, she's now asking the sort of questions I love to hear - questions about regulations, timing controls and the capabilities of our rally computer. She was disappointed in her practical training during the school, but she's got what she needs to get started. Being a rally fan helped out a lot and she knows a lot more about driving than her classmates.
Overall, a decent school. Both of us would have preferred a higher level of instruction - perhaps by splitting the two groups apart earlier in the day - but we now know enough to learn the rest on our own. If we can find a TSD in our area, that would be ideal.
entry 400 - tags: skills
March 10, 2008 - What about in the car?
Once I'd roused Janel from the comfort of a warm tow vehicle, we discovered that our concerns about nausea were unfounded. With the rally computer to play with, she was distracted and forgot to get sick. Excellent!
The intercom worked well, allowing me to hear her clearly. She couldn't hear me quite as well - probably because the speakers were further from her ears - but that's a good setup. I did discover how hard it is to concentrate on driving quickly while also carrying on a conversation about how the trip computer works. Once the communication became more one-way, I was able to work better on dealing with the inputs.
For one session, she brought along a book and read it to me. Seems like an odd test, but we didn't have pace notes for the track, you see. Again, no problems with nausea as long as she kept her legs braced and didn't let them flop around. So the track day was a good test then. We learned a few things, that was the goal.
Eric asked for a picture of the whole interior in the mostly-final configuration. Here you go!
entry 432 - tags: testing, skills, computer, intercom
May 22, 2008 - I got a Garmin nuvi GPS for my birthday.
No really, this is related to the Targa. I have it set up to give me directions when I'm driving around, mostly so I can get used to distances. Now when I'm told that a turn is coming up in 150 meters, I have a better idea of how far that is.
Or maybe that's simply my justification for playing with it.
entry 458 - tags: skills
June 7, 2008 - At the crack of dawn, Janel and I took off for Glenwood Springs to try our hands at a TSD (Time-Speed-Distance) rally.
There's actually a TSD aspect to the Targa in the Grand Touring class, but we're not running that. Still, we figured the experience would be a good one, allowing us to spend some time in an organized rally environment that's fairly low pressure. And with cool cars. There were at least 60, including two or three other (stock) Miatas and a newer Corvette. Pretty much everything else was a classic.
Let me tell you, rolling up into a parking lot full of vintage cars in a stickered-up and Martini-liveried car with a full rally computer, well-broken in race rubber and your names on the roof makes you feel a little conspicuous. And people certainly don't believe you're novices!
entry 466 - tags: testing, skills
June 7, 2008 - Janel, hard at work watching for instructions.
A TSD is more of a treasure hunt than the Targa is, and there wasn't as much navigation as we would have preferred. They have to be run in rural areas, though, and rural in Colorado means you don't get a lot of turn-offs because you're usually running along a valley or climbing a pass. Still, we did get much more familiar with communicating with each other, dealing with problems ("I said slow down!" "But it's sooo boring!") and Janel got to spend lots of quality time with the trip computer.
All joking aside, despite the warnings of others never to do a TSD with a loved one, we had no compatibility problems. Both of us were in pretty good spirits throughout the day. This was probably in large part due to our rally computer. See, the required average speed varied fairly frequently thoughout the stages. But for us, we set the Coralba to display the average speed and simply reset the tripmeter at each change. So I could simply look at the display and see that I was 0.1 mph high, or we could stop and wait until our speed dropped to the ideal level. Normally there would be much work with stopwatches and calculators along with a lot of stress. Our biggest problem was my apparent inability to drive very very slowly at times. We didn't get lost, though. That's the important thing. And any frustration was tempered with humor instead of anger.
We also learned quite a bit about the car. It turned out to be an excellent shakedown test as we'd never spent 12 continuous hours in the car before. First off, both Janel and I found we need more padding in the seats. My memory foam must not be thick enough. Our butts were asleep before we even got to the start line, over an hour from our house. Also, the car is hot and noisy on the highway and cracking the windows seems to draw in exhaust fumes through a number of small holes in the transmission tunnel. The latter is easy to fix. Hot, well, that's probably not going to be a big concern in Newfoundland. Noisy - it's time to look for some transit headsets. We won't be at a sustained 80 mph on the transits, but even the background nose at 40 would get tiring over the course of the day. I'm going to throw some light sound deadening at the back of the car to see if I can help this at all. I think I'm also going to go to a 4.10 rear end instead of my current 4.30, as I don't need such short gearing.
Mechanically, the car was faultless. Some sadistic organizer put a 20-minute stop in at Leadville. That's about 10,000' up, and you should have heard the poor carburetted British cars trying to struggle back to life. Let's hear it for fuel injection!
Okay, almost faultless. The suspension got a nice dirt bath after we spent about half an hour trying to maintain 38 mph on a fairly rough road, and it's creaking badly. I think I just need some bushing lubrication underneath.
A long day, but a good day.
entry 467 - tags: skills, testing, ergonomics, computer, seats
June 7, 2008 - The holy grail!
A competitor from previous Targas lent us a copy of his route book from 2007. It's day 3, and it's marked up by his navigator both before and after the event. This page is the infamous wooden bridge.
This is fantastic. I have in-car footage of the entire event. Now we'll be able to compare it to the book to get a better idea of how the book corresponds to the new world. It's 2006 video and the 2007 notes, but it's close enough. I can't wait to see how some of the notes in the Greenspond stage correspond to the roads. It looks tough!
There are also the times for the various stages included. For those who have asked me why I didn't go turbo - I'd have to go faster. For example, on the Musgrave Harbour stage, I have to complete the course in 3:18 with an average speed of 110.4 kmh to avoid penalties. The aftermarket turbo Miata would have to do it in 3:07 or 116.9 kmh. That's a significant enough difference. If I'd built a 1990 Miata instead of a 1994, I'd have 3:22 to complete. But then I'd be stuck with about 400cc less engine displacement (have to keep the original block) and a weaker, less effective rear end. So I think I'm pretty good there.
There's a schedule of the day included as well. Looks like our 12-hour day today might have been good practice. Ugh.
entry 468 - tags: skills
July 7, 2008 - Our NASA rally licenses are here!
Yes, the same licenses we took the class for back in February. I didn't send in the paperwork for a while, but it took about two months for the licenses to arrive. After all that, they're only good until the end of 2008. Oh well, now we have the qualifications required!
entry 488 - tags: skills
August 24, 2008 - Another track day.
Yes, August has been a busy month! This time, the Targa car stayed in the garage. There was no need to beat on it any more, and I was busy defending my shiny new lap record in the Seven. So I took the old race rubber off the Targa car and stuck them on Janel's little Miata so she could have some fun. She did pretty well, taking a second off her previous best time.
I took her car out for a few laps to show her how much she could trust the race tires, and it was an interesting drive. Her car is fitted with a small, responsive turbocharger (an FM Voodoo II with the smallest turbo) and has a number of chassis braces installed as well as a Flyin' Miata Stage 2.5 suspension. Peak power isn't much different than the Targa car although it's a more civilized drive due to the full interior and a bit of extra sound deadening. But other than the lack of a full cage, it would be a good specification for the Targa for much less work and cost than our purpose-built racer. It uses off-the-shelf components and the whole car would cost less to duplicate than building a Spec Miata. It would have to run in the Unlimited class thanks to the turbo, however.
On the track, the car felt softer. The suspension dealt well with the berms, although I wasn't taking anywhere near as many liberties with them! The car had good power that was easy to control, friendly handling and nice brakes. But everything was just turned down and softened a bit. The brakes were nowhere near as aggressive, the power response wasn't as hyperactive and the car just didn't have the sharp reflexes of the full-on race car. I didn't have a transponder on the car so I didn't get times, but I'd guess it would be at least a couple of seconds a lap slower. That will translate to a lot of time over the course of a Targa stage. This isn't a big shock and I was quite happy with how friendly the blue car was to drive. It's under full braking in the picture, in case you're wondering. That's Janel setting a personal best.
One piece of good news: while the bruising to my hands did make things a little less comfortable and meant I didn't have much grip strength in my right, it didn't seem to slow me down. By the time the Targa rolls around, I'll be just fine.
entry 517 - tags: skills, suspension, other cars
August 29, 2008 - Janel and I took a First Aid course yesterday.
Both of us have had fairly extensive training in the past - I used to be a swimming instructor, her job in the construction industry opens up the option for all sorts of gruesome problems - so it wasn't a difficult thing. Still, it's good to shake the dust off those skills again.
While going through the regulations one last time to avoid problems at scrutineering, I discovered that our first aid kit (supplied by the good folks at Rallylights.com) needed to be in the cockpit instead of in the trunk where I'd mounted it earlier. Finding room for the big white box was a bit tricky, so I stuffed everything in a small tool bag. This is strapped up under the dashboard where it can be in Janel's hands in seconds, but it's out of the way. It's also less than half the weight it used to be!
entry 521 - tags: skills, preparation, safety
October 15, 2008 - It's hard to believe that it's been a full month since the race.
I haven't just been trying to catch up with my life - although there's been a lot of that. The weekend after returning home, I had the car out on the autocross course again. It was an interesting day, not just because it was rainy and so foggy at times that you couldn't see two gates away. No, it was interesting because of how long it took me to get back into autocross mode again.
During the race, I'd been staying well within the limits of the car because of the consequences of an off. So when I loaned the car to my friend Brandon to see how he would do on the course, it took me the rest of the day to beat him in my own car! I had to get used to dancing the car around closer to the edge of adhesion.
The good news is that he was really impressed with the car's setup and it turns out it does run really nicely in the wet!
entry 633 - tags: testing, skills
October 20, 2008 - Video time!
I've been hard at work logging and digitizing all the video files throughout the race. It's actually been really interesting and a real trip down memory lane. They're starting to slowly appear on the video section of the site - keep your eyes open.
I also have a special treat. I've dissected a stage. And a fun one: Brigus.
You can view the route book (1.2 MB PDF) including the map, trophy time and base times. Janel's notes to herself are on the book, and I've annotated sections of it to explain how it works.
There's also a subtitled video to go with it, letting you get an idea of when Janel would call corners and the sort of terminology she'd use. Brigus was on the last day so we were a pretty good team by this point.
High quality DivX version (13.5 MB, requires the free DivX video player).
Google Video version.
By contrast, here's the Alfa team on YouTube. They're running at a different pace than we are and don't have the same sort of odometer, but they have to keep an eye on their average speed. It's a different set of skills.
entry 638 - tags: leg 5, brigus, skills, navigation
March 25, 2009 - A great weekend at Laguna Seca.
I drove out to California expecting a two-day track event, and ended up with quite a bit more than that.
Of course, there was a big track event. The Targa car spent around 7 hours on the track. I was playing with the fast guys in the A group. The open passing and chance to play tag with some of my friends in close company made the track far more interesting. Partway through the first day, circulating alone, I was sick of the same 11 corners over and over. But once I got into a chase with a few others, it added a whole new dimension. I can see how wheel-to-wheel racing could be addictive, although it's a different sort of game from the open road. I did notice that my peak speed on the track was only about 160 km/h.
During the Targa, our top speed on the Leading Tickles stage was 190 km/h. With trees and rock walls lining a bumpy road that we'd never seen before.
In the rain.

The car was handling perfectly. I'd nailed the balance with the new springs and sway settings, and I didn't touch the setup all weekend. When my good friend - and ex-pro driver - Rick Weldon took the wheel, he came in laughing and completely in love with the car. He didn't want me to change a single thing. It's good to get his stamp of approval, as it's always a bit worrisome to think that maybe I've adapted to the car instead of getting the car right. He really felt the car was prepared well and the handling was bang-on. Another fast driver commented on how it was impossible to get the car upset. No matter what I did, the car just ate it up and came back for more. Naturally, this seemed to be in context of my habit of making full use of the berms. "The track is wider for that car", one other driver noted. The hearty engine came in handy as well, even holding off at least one turbo Miata down the long front straight. Rick went out with Tom Matano in the passenger's seat of my car and got into a big scrap with one of his Spec buddies, everyone coming in with big grins.
Janel was also there, getting friendly with the driver's seat on the car. It was the first time she's really had the car up to temp and she was much happier than she had been at our little kart track day a few weeks back. As soon as she discovered how well the brakes worked, she started using them in earnest - she's always had the habit of coasting up to corners, so that's a big step. And more importantly, she discovered that all that information coming from the car is useful. As she described it to someone else - her Miata will do the same thing whether she takes a corner well or takes it badly, but not tell her. But the Targa car will let her know if she takes a corner well, giving her the feedback to improve. She can feel the tires working. She figured out turn 10 almost immediately, and I worked with her over the weekend to take what she was doing on that corner and apply it to others on the track. We worked our way around piece by piece - 6, then 4, then 5. It turns out she likes fast corners best. The Corkscrew wasn't her favorite as she had to muster the nerve to go over that blind drop. On her last session, she went out with Rick and he managed to coach her best driving ever out of her, including figuring out the Corkscrew. She was overjoyed and Rick was bubbling over with praise about how well she takes instruction. She's got a good feel for the car, and after this weekend I think she likes the driver's seat almost as much as the navigator's! She was nervous that Rick would be disappointed, but it was the exact opposite. Was I proud? Oh yes.
The only downer to the weekend was that, in a remarkable and extended spasm of incompetency on the part of US Air, she arrived 24 hours late and our planned mini-vacation in Monterey didn't happen. We'll be avoiding that airline in the future.
There were lots of fans of the Targa car there. I don't think Janel ever believed me about how many people know about the car and followed our race, but she got a chance to see the enthusiasm first-hand. Thanks to everyone who came up to introduce themselves! I was also surprised at the banquet on Saturday night when I was honored with an award for my contributions to the Miata community. Wow!
The car saw about 7 hours of track time. It was almost perfect, with only a couple of hitches. The first happened when Rick was driving the car, the check engine light came on and the car lost power. That's the Hydra Nemesis dropping back to the safe spark map to protect the engine. I haven't been able to figure out just what happened there, although the fuel level was getting low. I tossed in a bit of gas and some toluene (causing some real confusion in the pits, seeing as how I was pouring it out of a paint shop can) but the problem happened again. A full tank of 91 "competition" fuel and it cleared up. Weird. I'm going to change the fuel filter, as I don't know what's gone through that tank with all the small Newfoundland stations. Then, in the last couple of sessions, the high-rpm stumble from the last day of the Targa came back. Again with the puzzling problems! I'm going to brainstorm this one with my coworkers for a while and see what they say.
I also got the chance to drive Elvis, the LS1-powered Miata I autocrossed a few months back, on the track. Yee hah. The thunderous rampage down the straights was to be expected, but on top of that the rest of the car worked very well. It put down power far better than it had any right to do, and the overall balance was still very good. As it should be, because Elvis was running the AFCO suspension developed on the Targa Miata! When another car pointed us by, we didn't just pass them. We evaporated them. It would be an awesome Targa weapon, with huge acceleration, a wide powerband and the ability to dance in the twisty bits. Unfortunately, it got coolant into the cylinders and the car got parked. The current theory is that the modified heads were ported too far and got into a coolant passage. Whops.
Now, Elvis had been driven to California while I towed the Targa car out. So, other than a quick stop to change to street rubber in Reno (after going over a 7500' snowy pass on race rubber alone at 11 pm!), I drove the race car home without changing a thing. 7 hours on the track, 17 hours on the interstate. I've always said that a good Targa car was a good street car, but I never thought I'd have to prove it in this way. I averaged 30 mpg and 70 mph on the run from Sacramento to Reno, which is nothing to be be ashamed of. How's that for a dual-purpose machine?
entry 663 - tags: Laguna, skills, testing, handling