TLC

•October 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I have owned my ’01 Mazda Miata for about seven years now. She is now approaching 150’000 miles, so I figured it was time to take care of some things that have been causing me headaches lately.

First up? A recurring CEL that has been making it a real PITA to get inspected. The issue is related to the VVT system found on the ’01+ 1.8L engine, which causes the  Powertrain Control Module (PCM) to signal a P0012 “CMP Timing Over-Retarded” error. I have actually been dealing with this for a few years. It got to the point where it was predictable. Any time I drove at low speed and low RPM it would come on.  I had some luck with the “go-to” fix of running a lighter weight oil for a while, but unfortunately this last year it has become a persistent issue. I noticed that Mazda issued a TSB for this very issue, and it required a dealership to replace the PCM with a reprogrammed one. So, I stopped by the dealership to see if they would be able to take care of it despite being a good eight years since the recall. I was suprised with great news: Mazda was going to replace the unit for free! This was a massive win, considering the cost of a replacement unit and the immobilizer programming that goes with it. Two weeks later, and the code has not returned.

My next issue was the soft top, which had seen better days and was beginning to leak. Since a soft top does not insulate well, the car is hot in the summer, cold in the winter and noisy all the time. It is nice to randomly put the top down from time to time, but since mine was so old and brittle I have not even been risking it.

So I got a hard top! All problems solved. Since my old soft top was a worthless pile of garbage I figured I would remove it altogether. Some people like to keep it in even if they have the hard top, but I like the idea of keeping the car light. If anyone wants the frame for a soft top, let me know. I took a moment to clean up the weather stripping with some Meguiar’s Vinyl and Rubber Protectant while everything was easy to get at. I will eventually paint the hard top to match the car, and tint the rear glass.  So far the top has been a major improvement.

Every now and then, the rear of the car behaves enthusiastically in the rain. As a result of unexpected wags of the tail, my wheels have taken a few beatings. This means that one wheel in particular refuses to properly balance when getting tires mounted. It also means that the poor wheel bearing it is attached to hates its life. I scored a replacement set of stock 15″ wheels on Craigslist, and decided to make them awesome. My dad suggested that I make them look like the old American Racing wheels, and I was inclined to agree. I will eventually post a full write-up in the Miata.net forum to share my process. They still need a coat of clear, but at this point I think they look pretty great!

The bulbs in my instrument cluster have slowly been going out one by one, and so I finally tackled that issue this weekend. I bought the replacement bulbs from the Rosenthal Mazda site, as well as a new shift boot, parking brake cover, license plate lamps, and caliper rebuild kits for when I tackle the brakes next weekend. There is already quite a bit of information out there regarding removing the instrument cluster and replacing the bulbs; however, there is not a lot of information regarding the HVAC panel lighting, so I was flying blind when I took that puppy out. It was a trick, but I will post a write-up on that soon too. Some say you can get at the lights in that panel from the top by just taking the radio out. These people clearly are magicians with impressive capabilities. I was disappointed to find out the lights in the HVAC panel were not your typical 194 bulbs, so I would unfortunately not be able to take care of them just yet. I moved on to the instrument cluster and was surprised to find out Mazda included bulbs for ABS and overdrive indicators. Since I have neither of these options, it meant I would be able to use them in the HVAC panel! I now have a fully functioning dash (minus the odometer which mysteriously decided to stop working). I also finally got around to properly installing my Pioneer head unit with a trim kit, and replaced the festoon light with a nice LED bulb.

 

I still have a lot of work to do on the car, so I will be posting as I go along. I’ll also be writing a few how-to guides in the forums soon.

2014 Lone Star LeMans

•September 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The 2014 Lone Star LeMans at the Circuit of The Americas was an event to remember! The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) brought three series to compete for the weekend: the Porsche GT3 Cup, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and the newly-formed Tudor United SportsCar Championship (USCC). The USCC – which ran a 2.75 hour race on Saturday afternoon – was formed by merging the NASCAR Grand-Am Rolex  Sports Car Series and the American LeMans Series.

The main event was the fourth round of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship, the 6 Hours of Circuit of The Americas. The race got underway at 5 PM CST and finished under lights and stars. As usual, I took a camera and lots of photos:

First Track Days at Hill Country Kart Club

•July 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I recently became a member at Hill Country Kart Club in New Braunfels, which is a great facility for getting seat time at a great price. I took the kart out for the first time on May 3rd to get a feel for what I would be in for; this was my first time driving a shifter kart and it was intense. The power and acceleration alone is enough to spike your adrenaline, and the cornering speeds are enough to crack ribs if you do not have a proper fitting seat. It was already aware that I did not have a proper fitting seat, so I took it somewhat easy this time around. My friend Robert came out to assist me throughout the day, and snap some photos and video when I was on track.

I had a few issues  come up, with the biggest being my motor mount coming loose. This caused the entire engine to be pulled backwards under load, and this in turn pulled my throttle open. It’s an unsettling feeling to not be in control of your throttle anymore! It was also quite hot, so I got pretty fatigued early on. The adrenaline deceives you and makes you push harder than you probably should. It’s not until you come to a stop that you notice how thoroughly worn out you are. I accomplished maybe 25 laps for the day before packing up and heading back to Austin.

 

 

 

A few weeks later I took the kart to Texas Karts in San Antonio and installed a seat that fits me like a glove. I fixed the motor mount issue, cleaned everything up, and bought some brackets to mount my fuel pump and ignition control to the engine instead of my new seat. I also got a rolling box to transport my tools and spare parts, and an EZ-Up canopy for the pit space.

I took the kart out for the second time on July 6th, and stayed much longer this time. The new seat gave me the confidence to push harder, and I made some big improvements with my shifting. The EZ-Up tent was also a major win, considering it was in the mid 90’s by noon. I paid attention to the engine temp this time, and added some duct tape to the radiator to keep the coolant at the right temperature. If the engine is not running hot enough it affects the tuning, and my oversize radiator is actually overkill even the Texas heat (I wound up restricting the airflow by about 50%).  I also set the brake bias more rearward, to reduce some of the bite under hard braking. As I build more confidence under braking, I will begin to bring this balance back towards the front.

I think I probably did close to 50 laps this time around, and even had a chance to share the track with another stock Honda shifter kart. My fastest time of the day was 41.71 seconds, which shows an improvement of about two seconds over my last outing. Based on some of the times I have seen from the other drivers, I have about 6 seconds to find before I would be very competitive in a race. Still, I am pretty happy with these times considering I am very much a rookie.

 

 

I have a long way to go in a short amount of time. Once the weather begins to cool, I will be spending far more time on the track. I also think I will be ready for racing after a few more practice days. The goal is to race a full season in the club races at HCKC next year, and perhaps a few of the closer rounds of the Superkarts USA (SKUSA) Texas Pro Kart Challenge. By 2016 I would like to compete in a full season at the Regional Level, and attend the SKUSA Super Nationals. Ultimately, I want to be competitive enough to find some sponsorship, and just keep pushing towards the front of the pack.

A New Chapter

•March 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

For the last three years, I have been dabbling in karting, going out to Driveway Austin for rental karts on Sunday, and occasionally K1 Speed. By far, karting is the most exciting thing I have ever done. It is a perfect mix of challenge, and relaxation; you are basically in a state of focus that borderlines on meditation. Kart racing is something I wanted to do as a kid, but I never had the means to pursue it.

I could not take the anticipation anymore, so in February I took on a second job to accomplish my goal of racing in my own equipment by the age of 30. I am happy to announce that I have reached a major milestone, and bought my own kart last week. It is a Spirit SP32 chassis, manufactured by Birel, and powered by a 125cc Honda CR125 engine with a 6 speed gearbox. I bought it from Dave Ogburn, who kept it in superb condition, and was willing to negotiate the deal to make it work for me. Finding and buying a competitive kart is no easy task, and the stars aligned just right to make this work. My thanks go out to Dave, who is an impressive driver moving on to stock cars. If you are interested, you can see the history of my new kart via his personal racing blog ‘Yaw Moment Racing’.

Dave is a taller driver than me, so the first order of business so far has been moving the pedals back to their stock location, and getting everything set up to my liking. At some point the seat will need to be replaced, but with a rib protector vest on it is not a terrible situation. The issues develop during high cornering speeds, where the forces can reach 3G’s. It is not uncommon to bruise or break ribs in shifter karts, so you want your seat to fit like a glove. It will take me a while to get up to those kind of forces, so my first few outings will be with the current seat.

I will be getting a membership at Hill Country Kart Club next month, and will start going out on the weekends for seat time, seat time, and more seat time. My goal is to spend the rest of this year learning how to drive a shifter kart, and improving my skills and lap time. Next year, I plan to race competitively, and have set my sights on the Texas ProKart Challenge. My goal is to eventually move into open wheel formula cars, or even sports car racing. I would like to develop my pace to the point of winning sponsorships, and hopefully get picked up by a professional racing team. While I am more than happy to keep this as a hobby, I am hell-bent on making this a career. It is a steep mountain to climb, but it is a mountain I have been dreaming of climbing since I was a kid. This is a new chapter in my life, and I intend to write the hell out of it!

Spirit SP32/Honda CR125

Spirit SP32/Honda CR125

Karting in the Wet

•January 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

On Saturday I went to Texas Karts in San Antonio to check out their shop, and meet the folks. Tommy, the owner, is a pretty cool guy, and his shop looks pretty top notch. Afterwards I stopped by the Hill Country Kart Club in New Braunfels to check out the expansion and watch some folks in some shifters turn some laps. Hopefully I will be able to get a kart soon and spend time out there on the pavement. Sunday I decided to scratch my itch for seat time and took a GoPro with me to a rainy Driveway Austin. Here is a clip from the first session:

2013 Formula One United States Grand Prix

•November 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Once again I went to the USGP at Circuit of The Americas packing a Nikon D7000, and some good glass. Here are the pictures:

 

I also got a chance to meet the NBC Sports F1 broadcast team… Will Buxton, Steve Matchett, David Hobbs, and Leigh Diffey, at Will Buxton’s Big Time Bash:

Of course, I ALSO got to meet future American F1 star, Alexander Rossi, at K1 Speed in Austin:

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2013 Cadillac V-Series Performance Lab

•October 23, 2013 • 1 Comment

This year I was fortunate enough to be invited back for another round of the Performance Lab at Circuit of The Americas, courtesy of Cadillac;  of course, I accepted.

Last year, I finished my run feeling absolutely ecstatic about having attacked CoTA in a 560 HP V-Series.  This year, not so much. I was left contemplating missed apexes, corner speeds, braking, attacking the line more aggressively, and backing off elsewhere. I also wanted to have a go in a lighter vehicle, with plenty of time to work up to a perfect lap.  I  think I did better overall… a fact which is reflected in my corner speeds through T-1 down to T-11, but this time I left wanting more. More time, more power, more laps, more. This is not a complaint against the V-Lab, CoTA, the car, or anything really. Rather, it’s a declaration that I am addicted to driving quickly, and nailing the line.

 
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